Jongdae is grateful that Chanyeol doesn’t do his best imitation of the starting horn for swimming competitions, and takes a deep breath and squeezes his eyes shut for a second before jumping into the water. He doesn’t need the distraction, although it helps calm his nerves. He barely creates a splash as his body slides into the pool with practiced precision. Counting to five, he breaks to the surface, lifting his right arm and his head to the side to breathe in before ducking his head back into the water along with his hand and arm, and glides through the water like clockwork.
The feel of chlorinated water against his skin is something he’s gotten used to and something that he’s almost started to crave for. He especially likes it when the water is biting cold that it makes his palms itch, make his body shiver enough to push him to move faster. If anything, it’s the freezing temperature that pushes him to reach the finish line.
At the end of the pool, Jongdae taps the wall and turns into a tumble, blowing bubbles through his nose, then kicks his legs, feet touching the wall to push off to finish on the other end of the pool where he dove off. He gets a head rush as he makes his way back, adrenaline kicking like it does whenever he gets to the last lap of a swim, his arms and feet going into overdrive of their own volition. In a couple of seconds, he reaches the end, tapping the wall with a flourish. Jongdae ducks his head back into the water several times as he treads, blowing bubbles out of his nose as a part of his routine. When he lifts his head back up, Chanyeol is already sitting down on the starting block of his lane.
“Well?” Jongdae asks as he takes his goggles and swim cap off.
“42.01,” Chanyeol tells him, looking at the black stopwatch in his hand before looking at Jongdae. He shakes his head in disbelief. “Man, you can almost swim with the fishes with this speed.”
Jongdae laughs as he pulls himself up on the ledge, running a hand through his wet hair. “Almost,” he says. He sits on the gutter, staring at the now still waters of the 50-meter pool. It’s hard to imagine himself swimming only two years ago. Now it almost feels like home. “But I’m not quite there yet.” His times may be above the benchmark but it’s not enough to garner him a place on the podium.
Chanyeol scoffs. “You’re too hard on yourself,” he gently teases him. “You’re in one of the best universities in the country, all because of your swimming.” He shakes his head. “Man, I don’t know why I ever thought we could go to the same university together,” he continues. “We clearly have different paths in life.”
“Why do you sound so pensive?” Jongdae shoves him a little and Chanyeol complains of his arm getting wet. But he understands what Chanyeol is saying. They’ve known each other since they were young kids and, like Chanyeol, he also thought that they would be going to the same school until they graduate from school completely. “When do you move into your dorm?”
Jongdae had settled into his dorm room, his roommate still absent, the night before. Chanyeol, as he had promised, had helped him move in, bringing in all the clothing he would need and his personal effects. Jongdae doesn’t really have too many things to bring, anyway. All he really needs is proper clothing and his books. And his swimming gear.
“Day after tomorrow,” Chanyeol says, leaning back on his arms. “I can’t believe I’m going to be studying something that I’ve always thought was just a hobby.” The gutter is rough under his palms as he leans onto them even more, looking up at the ceiling of the swimming area. “It’s nice, isn’t it? Going to college for something we both want to do?” He looks at Jongdae.
Chanyeol’s smile is contented and expectant so Jongdae nods, chuckling. “You know what they say, ‘you should do what you love and love what you do’. I guess we’re just lucky,” Jongdae says.
“I still wish we were studying in the same university,” Chanyeol continues. “It would’ve been so much more fun cramming for things when you’re around, you know? At least I know you’re going to slap the back of my head for not doing my work.”
“Like you need anyone to tell you to draw things,” Jongdae retorts, rolling his eyes. Chanyeol has been drawing ever since Jongdae met him. He’s always had a pencil and a drawing book in hand because he always got that urge to sketch. Now, going to art school is truly a dream for his best friend. Chanyeol really is lucky to be doing something that he loves, Jongdae thinks.
“It’s not always going to be drawing, you know,” Chanyeol counters. “There’s theory and technique.” He sighs. “I don’t know why there has to be standards for everything, even art. I mean, art is art. It’s free expression.” Jongdae just laughs and Chanyeol makes a face at him. “Anyway, your dad would have been so proud and so excited for you,” he adds, nudging Jongdae, not caring this time if his sleeve gets wet. “First Jongdeok, and now you. Your mom must be the proudest. Two architects and two swimmers in the family.”
“Jongdeok doesn’t swim anymore, you forget,” Jongdae comments gently. “But yeah, mom is happy, which is more than I could ask of her.”
His mother hasn’t really been the same ever since their father died. Jongdae doesn’t remember much of it; he was only seven years old. All he remembers is that his mother, usually always cheerful and upbeat, had become more subdued. Her smiles had become rare and all Jongdae really wants is for her to be happy again. Doing this, going to university for architecture, on scholarship for swimming, does exactly that.
It makes Jongdae nervous how much is expected of him with his swimming. His brother was the athletic one between the two of them. While Jongdeok was the life of every party, Jongdae was more of a homebody, preferring to stay at the sidelines and observe. But he has gotten into swimming and has made a name for himself. Jongdae’s still not the best, but he is getting there. The bottom half of Division 1 swimming isn’t bad at all. He just needs to exert more effort, and that’s exactly what he’s been working on by making Chanyeol get his times for him before the actual team time trials.
Jongdae pushes himself off the ground and stands on the starting block, putting his goggles and swim cap back on. “I’m going to go again,” he tells Chanyeol, who restarts the stopwatch.
“On your mark… Go!”
Jongdae shakes his hands as he watches the members of the team trickle into the swimming pool area. He’s sitting on the farthest end of the bleachers, pretending to be busy with his phone, even though all he’s doing is go through his photos. Chanyeol has been sending him a flurry of pictures of his university, his dormitory, the sidewalk, the trees, everything and anything that excites him. Jongdae can’t help but shake his head and smile at how ridiculous Chanyeol is in finding something interesting in everything. It must be the artist in Chanyeol manifesting, always seeing things and details that no one else really sees. Just like how the guy who has just walked in is all long lines, gentle but sinewy. Or how the guy who followed after him is all dark shading, not because of his color, but because of the intensity that emanates from him.
No one really speaks to Jongdae even though he does get curious looks. The team forms into small groups, the girls mixing with the boys, and Jongdae wonders how long it would take for him to be a part of that tightly knit group, how long it would take for him to be comfortable all over again.
When he first joined the swimming team in high school, the same one that his brother swam with, Jongdae felt so nervous that he threw up in the bathroom right before the coach was to introduce him to his teammates. His stomach was in knots at the thought of getting back outside to meet people he wouldn’t have met had the circumstances been different. But his brother was there, the same person who looked so happy that he was there, had made Jongdae wipe his mouth and face the music.
Right now, all Jongdae can think of is how his mother had texted him that morning, wishing him luck because Jongdeok had told her about the time trials, the thought of which stills sends his stomach lurching.
The time trials are done at the start of every school year, which is also the start of the college swimming season, to assess each member’s speed and capability. Jongdae has been through this before; having time trials was a norm in his high school, but this—this is university, a bigger league. University swimming is competitive in a way that high school has never been. College swimming means competing with other schools in the whole country, means nationwide and, eventually, hopefully, international recognition. It’s that magnitude that scares Jongdae.
The coach arrives shortly, and everyone falls into silence as he looks them over. After a couple of seconds, his eyes fall on Jongdae. The coach then nods at him and Jongdae feels relief wash over him that he wasn’t called to go in front and introduce himself. This is college, after all, and it is time trials. Jongdae supposes that a lot of the people in the team are new.
Jongdae pays attention to the coach’s words as he discusses the format of the time trials. They will start with the 400-meter freestyle and individual medley events as representative of the long distance events, followed by the 200-meter events, mid-distance ones before going into the sprints. Women first, then the men. There’s going to be a break before going into the sprints as to maximize everyone’s energies. Jongdae strategizes in his head and decides that he’s going to go for the 400M, as well as the butterfly and freestyle 200 and 100-meter events, and then all the sprints. He needs to pull out all the stops if he’s going to make a mark.
As soon as the coach stops speaking, moving on to ask if anyone has questions, there’s a rustle by the entrance, followed by a man running, gym bag over his shoulder. He drops his bag to the floor just as he squeezes himself in between the long, sinewy guy and the one who followed after him coming in.
“You’re late again, Baekhyun,” the coach says, warning evident in his tone.
“Aww, c’mon, Donghae,” Baekhyun replies with much familiarity that startles Jongdae. “It’s just time trials. Besides, I’ve been present every day during the summer.”
“And you were always late,” Donghae emphasizes.
Jongdae watches as Baekhyun continues to rebut everything that their coach is saying, wondering why he can do so. The rest of the team laugh at the exchange and Jongdae just has to be amused at how normal this must be for them.
“Baekhyun’s brother is friends with coach,” the girl seated closest to him says, eyes on her phone. Her eyebrows are furrowed as she tries to figure out the answer to her 4 pics, 1 word question. “Baekhyun gets away with a lot of things, which he thinks is because of that. But really, he gets away with a lot because he’s one of the best new swimmers that’s joining the team this year.” She finally locks her phone, unable to answer, and looks at him with a smile. “I’m Soojung,” she introduces herself.
“Jongdae,” he answers with a nod. “So just how good is he?” He nods towards Baekhyun, who’s finally settled into his seat, head resting on the shoulder of the guy beside him.
“The question really isn’t how good he is,” Soojung says, looking at him with a slight tilt on her head. “But just how good are you.” She studies him for a second longer before she winks. “I guess we’ll find out.”
Soojung gets up and picks up her bag, heading towards the locker rooms like everyone else. Jongdae finishes changing last, the others probably having worn their swimsuits underneath their clothing. He takes deep breaths as he exits the locker room. This isn’t his first time trial, but with the way Jongdae’s nerves are shot to the ceiling, it might as well be. He knows that it’s all in his head. Jongdae won’t be there if Donghae hadn’t seen some sort of potential in Jongdae. He won’t have gotten a scholarship if they didn’t think he had it in him to make the university proud. Jongdae supposes those are the reasons why he’s so stressed over mere time trials. They’re there for evaluation and ranking, not a judgment on whether he gets to stay or leave.
Taking another deep breath, he makes his way towards the pool where the rest of the team is stretching. Some of them are already in the water, splashing each other. Soojung is doing arm stretches with another girl with dark, shoulder-length hair. Baekhyun seems to be doing no stretching at all, just lazily smiling at a tall, broad-shouldered and strict-looking guy as he does lunges.
“Hi.” Jongdae is startled, almost tripping backwards, but a hand holds him in place. He follows the hand upwards, showing a genial and handsome face. “I’m Joonmyun,” he continues. “I’m the team captain.”
“Jongdae,” he introduces himself the same way he did with Soojung.
“Let me introduce you to the rest of the team,” Joonmyun says. “Better to get it over with now rather than later.”
Jongdae gets shuffled in the midst of the members stretching, all graciously pausing to acknowledge him. Some of them stop to ask question about which high school he came from and how he got scouted, while some just immediately go back to stretching, obviously meaning business.
The time trials go by in a flash, the 400-meter events the only ones taking a bit more time than the rest. This team clearly has things in order. Jongdae has trained and competed with whom he thought were skilled swimmers. Clearly, college swimming is truly a whole new arena. Each of his new teammates is good at all the events, but excels in specific ones. Jongdae watches as Soojung swam an impressive 50.97 seconds for 100-meter butterfly and is floored when Jinri does 50.80 for her 100-meter backstroke. It isn’t even a surprise anymore when Joonmyun finishes his 200-meter freestyle with 1:20.65 on the clock or when Minseok clocks in with 44.73 on his 100-meter butterfly. Kyungsoo, who turns out to be his roommate, even finishes with 1:41.19 for his 200-meter individual medley. They’re all amazing, especially when Baekhyun swims the 400-meter freestyle in only 3 minutes and 9 seconds.
Jongdae decides to linger in the pool area, even when everyone’s starting to leave. Donghae had talked to him earlier and congratulated him on making the team and told Jongdae that he’s excited to see what he can do for them and for the university. Such big words that don’t really make the nerves go away, although it is nice to receive praise for something he’s working hard on. His new teammates smile at him and acknowledge him, knowing that they really hadn’t paid him any attention earlier, each focused on their own times.
“You’re not leaving yet?” Kris, a hell of a breaststroker with his huge hands, comes up to him. “Some of us are going to get some food.”
Jongdae smiles, noticing the way Baekhyun is hanging off of Kris’s arm, tugging on it so they can leave already. He shakes his head. “I’m okay,” he says.
“He’s not interested so let’s go,” Baekhyun tells Kris, winking at Jongdae.
“Okay,” Kris sighs. “See you at practice then.” He then slings an arm around Baekhyun and they leave the pool together.
When the pool area is empty, quiet and echoing, Jongdae slumps down on his bag in some form of relief. With the coach’s recognition, he thinks he’s done pretty well during the time trials. He opens the notepad on his phone and goes through the times he got that morning. They’re not bad, pretty good actually. It must have been the pressure and the nerves. Locking his phone, he just lays there, looking up at the lighted ceiling.
This isn’t so bad. Swimming for four years won’t be so bad.
College parties consist of barely enough food, lots of booze and really loud music. Jongdae tries to listen as Kyungsoo talks to him amidst the noise of boisterous laughter and Kanye West rapping in the background. All he can see is Kyungsoo’s mouth opening and closing but nothing he says makes Jongdae stop wondering why he even went to this party in the first place. Apparently, it’s tradition to party hard like they’re on the brink of summer break the night of the first day of classes. Kyungsoo told him it’s a sign of school spirit. How could Jongdae say no to that?
They weave themselves in and out of the crowd until Kyungsoo finds what he’s looking for: the other members of the swimming team. Jongdae should really start getting used to the fact that Chanyeol isn’t going to be his only friend anymore. It may have sufficed practically talking only to Chanyeol in his younger years, despite the fact that he did join the swimming team in high school, before he thought that it was going to be more permanent in his life.
They’re given a rowdy welcome, Soojung draping herself all over Kyungsoo, who gets the bottle of beer in her hands and takes a sip, while the rest try to shove Jongdae three different drinks all at once. Jongdae decides to take the beer that Minseok is offering him instead. Minseok is a junior, therefore his senior, and he thinks that if there’s anyone he shouldn’t piss off, it’s him.
Jongdae gets left alone after that. Kyungsoo becomes busy with Soojung, while Minseok, Victoria and Taeyeon get into some sort of discussion about their first competition that’s going to happen in a few weeks. Jongdae takes a swig of his beer and tries not to listen to the conversation. He’d really rather not think of swimming, even though he is hanging out with teammates, while he’s at a party where supposedly nothing else matters but getting wasted. He’s never really been one for parties, but he supports forgetting stresses in life every once in a while.
“Are you okay?” Zitao, another freshman, asks him, nudging him lightly. He’s tall, almost as tall as Kris, Jongdae remembers him as that guy he described with dark shading, walking in after Sehun.
“Fine,” Jongdae says.
Zitao chuckles. “You look like you’re ready to get out of here,” he says.
Jongdae looks around and turns back to him, shrugging. “This isn’t really my thing,” he admits and Zitao laughs.
“I can tell,” he says, chugging down his beer. “But you know this is a good way to make friends.”
“How come you guys all know each other already?” Jongdae asks, referring to the other team members. It’s something he’s been curious about since time trials. He kept wondering how it was that they were already so familiar with each other.
“I’ve known Sehun and Joonmyun before university. But we’ve all trained together over the summer,” Zitao explains. “I think it’s because coach saw you late that you didn’t get to.”
Jongdae nods. That makes sense. Training together over the summer would explain why they’re already so bonded and so attuned to each other. Jongdae wonders what it would have been like if he already trained with them over the summer, if he hadn’t resisted even for a second, even just subtly.
“Don’t worry,” Zitao adds. “You’ll get used to it, get used to us. Everyone’s really nice, even Kris whom you think would be mean enough to eat someone.” He nods to someone behind Jongdae and he turns to see Kris talking seriously to Joonmyun. There’s a lingering thought in Jongdae’s head, wondering where Baekhyun is because the last time he saw them, he was clinging onto Kris. “Or Yuri,” he adds as an afterthought, shuddering a little. Although Jongdae thinks that it’s more with pleasure, rather than fear. “Everyone’s really nice, but they’re also all very focused when it comes to swimming.”
“How did you get into it?” Jongdae asks him, putting down his now empty bottle of beer on the nearest table. Not even the slightest bit tipsy, he grabs another beer and starts drinking it. He doesn’t drink often but, surprisingly, he has a pretty good tolerance for alcohol.
“How does one get into something?” Zitao chuckles, grabbing another beer himself. He waves at someone who walks past before turning to Jongdae. “I originally wanted to be a diver,” he shares. “I saw this competition on television and saw how cool it was to jump off things at such a height and make it into an art. I knew immediately that I wanted to do it.”
“What happened?” Jongdae asks, brows furrowed.
“My mom didn’t want me jumping off things,” Zitao explains with a fond smile. “She was so scared I was going to kill myself. So we got into a compromise, after a long time of fighting, mind you, and I got into swimming.” Jongdae gives him an incredulous look. How was that a compromise? Zitao laughs. “I know what you must be thinking,” he assures Jongdae. “But it’s really not that bad. Swimming gives a different feeling than diving. While diving is all precision and grace, swimming is all about speed, stamina and endurance. I ended up enjoying swimming more than I thought I would have. Now I can’t imagine living without it.”
Jongdae smiles, nodding as if he understands Zitao, who’s turned away to chat with Jinri. But really he can’t understand. How could he have given up something he’s expressed so clearly his interest in? And how could his mom take that away from him? Granted that she was concerned for his safety, that was still his dream. She didn’t even let Zitao try it. Jongdae drinks what’s left of his beer and finishes it in one go.
“I would never have pegged you for a drinker.”
Baekhyun is grinning at him, dark lashes fluttering against his rosy cheeks, pink lips spread into a smile, showing his perfectly even white teeth. Jongdae looks at him in amusement as he tries to keep himself upright, but ends up leaning against Jongdae.
“And I never would have pegged you for a lightweight,” Jongdae teases, putting an arm around Baekhyun’s waist to support him. The familiarity between them makes him feel slightly awkward but Jongdae doesn’t have it in him to let Baekhyun go.
“I’m not a lightweight.” Baekhyun pouts and Jongdae can’t help but laugh. “Juuuuust a little tipsy,” he insists, making his pointer finger and thumb touch to emphasize his point. “Besides, this is a party. You should get trashed at party and make-out like there’s no tomorrow.”
Jongdae’s eyebrows disappear under his bangs. “So who are you making out with, then?”
Baekhyun gives him a coy look, lower lip in between his teeth. “I don’t know,” he starts, lifting a hand to place it at the back of Jongdae’s neck, playing with his hair. “Who do you think I should make out with?”
Jongdae swallows, a bit more nervously than he would have liked. He’s rarely ever affected by the come ons that he gets, but Baekhyun is incredibly forward and Jongdae can’t say that Baekhyun isn’t attractive or that he isn’t flattered that Baekhyun’s directed any attention towards him at all. He smirks then glances around the room.
“You can have your pick of the litter,” Jongdae tells him.
Baekhyun laughs, head tilting back. “You’re cute,” he tells him, fingers still playing with Jongdae’s hair. “Very cute.”
“Baekhyun, are you flirting with the new kid already?” Soojung calls, laughter in her voice.
Baekhyun opens his mouth to retort but before he can get a word out, Sehun is swooping in and taking him out of Jongdae’s arms. Baekhyun hiccups then giggles, while Sehun just looks fondly annoyed.
“Sorry,” Sehun tells Jongdae. “He’s a pain. I’ll get him off your hands.”
“Oh,” Jongdae is quick to defend. “It’s no problem. It’s fine.” He watches as Baekhyun wraps both his arms around Sehun’s neck and nuzzles his face into his throat, only looking away when Sehun and Baekhyun have disappeared.
“You should watch out for Baekhyun,” Kyungsoo says, suddenly appearing at his side.
Jongdae tries not to look affected, taking a casual sip of his beer. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that moths shouldn’t play with fire but they do anyway and die,” Kyungsoo explains. Jongdae looks in the direction where Sehun and Baekhyun had disappeared. “And Baekhyun is fire.”
The sound of Donghae’s whistle echoes and everyone swims back to the other end to go and shower. It’s been a long practice for all of them. With their first competition drawing nearer, Donghae is pushing them more with the team giving all out during training, pushing themselves more, even when the tiredness overwhelms them. Jongdae, himself, has never pushed himself this hard during training before. But he finds himself doing more than he normally would, spending more of his time perfecting his strokes so that they don’t become a problem when he goes for speed. This is why he stays behind after practice hours so he could work on them himself.
No one has really questioned him about it before. Most of the team has gotten used to seeing him stay behind, letting him have his extra swimming time. That evening, though, when Jongdae stops for a breath, he sees Baekhyun sitting cross-legged on the starting block next to his lane, bag on his lap.
“What are you still doing here?” Jongdae asks, treading a couple of meters away. Baekhyun is watching him contemplatively before smiling. He doesn’t ask where Kris is.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Baekhyun shoots back.
“I need to practice,” Jongdae simply states. “I need to catch up. I haven’t gotten in as much training as you guys did over the summer.” The and it shows hangs in the air, unsaid.
“Go again,” Baekhyun says, taking his bag off and dropping it to the ground. He takes his mobile phone out, fiddling with it for a second, before looking back up at Jongdae. “I’ll time you.”
Jongdae gets off the pool and climbs the starting block. He isn’t sure why he’s suddenly taking direction from Baekhyun or why they’re even talking when they haven’t exchanged any more words after the party. All he knows that Baekhyun can easily be the best swimmer on the team and it would do Jongdae good to listen to him. He takes his mark and dives when Baekhyun gives him the go signal.
Jongdae exerts more effort because Baekhyun is watching. Baekhyun whose eyes seem sleepy but are really attentive, seeing almost everything. Jongdae remembers how Baekhyun had called Joonmyun out on his breathing technique, his head lifting too high therefore impeding speed, without caring how it sounded. At the end of the day, everyone is grateful for any form of critique. It’s for the good of the team.
When Jongdae finally touches the wall, he lifts his head up to find Baekhyun looking at him. Baekhyun glances at his phone before placing it on his lap and resting his chin on his palm. “You have to extend your arm when you put it back in the water,” he advises.
“You’re not going to tell me how I did?” Jongdae asks, chuckling a little.
Baekhyun waves his hand dismissively, while making sure that his phone doesn’t fall into the water. “We already know that you can swim fast,” he says. “What you want is to swim faster.” Jongdae agrees. “So, you need to extend your arm when it goes back into the water. Putting it back the way it’s curved when you pull it out decreases the amount of water you can weave in when you make a pull.” Jongdae watches with interest as Baekhyun demonstrates. “When you stretch your arm, under the water, your pull will be more powerful,” he finishes.
Jongdae dives again and tries it out. It’s not that different from what he used to do and therefore isn’t that difficult of a change to make. When he finishes, Baekhyun is grinning at him, telling him that his time has improved. Baekhyun tells him to go another time and Jongdae does.
“Well?” Jongdae asks when he gets back.
“On your turns,” Baekhyun suggests, pulling his lower lip in between his teeth in a way that reminds Jongdae clearly of Baekhyun propositioning him during the party. He looks away and stares at Baekhyun’s fingers instead. Also a bad idea, so Jongdae just looks at the gutter and takes a deep breath. “Don’t lift your head before doing the tumble turn. You’re slowing yourself down when the turn is supposed to make you not skip a beat.” Jongdae nods. “Breathe with a stroke right before you do the turn and that breath should be enough when you directly turn.”
As Jongdae swims again to try out what Baekhyun has suggested, he can’t help but think about how skilled Baekhyun really is, how much he knows about the sport and about how to improve his speed. He feels the privilege that comes with getting coaching from someone who knows what he’s talking about.
When Jongdae first started swimming, Jongdeok had been the one to advise him about his strokes, his dives, and his turns. It was frustrating for the both of them because Jongdeok knew too much, while Jongdae knew too little, and that had them clashing. Eventually, Jongdae just gave way to receiving what Jongdeok wanted to teach him. Jongdeok knew far more than he ever will and it wouldn’t help if he countered and grumbled at everything that Jongdeok said. The countering and grumbling came from a place no one really knows about but Jongdae has learned to keep that to himself. Jongdae has learned to be humble enough to listen to other people because they usually know what’s best.
Baekhyun claps when Jongdae finishes, his time apparently improving even more than the last time. Jongdae grins as he climbs up the gutter and takes his goggles and swim cap off. It feels good to be given such enthusiastic commendation from someone who seems so detached. Baekhyun always arrives to practice late, exchanging a few pleasantries with the team before diving into practice. When practice is over, Baekhyun is one of the first to leave, usually with Kris or Sehun or some other guy who picks him up.
“I used to think that competitive swimming was hard,” Baekhyun comments as he pockets his phone, ignoring how it buzzes. “I’ve always enjoyed it. I constantly asked my parents to take me to the beach or the nearest pool just so I could play in the water. When Donghae suggested to my brother that I try really swimming, I wasn’t sure I wanted to.” He looks at Jongdae, who’s listening attentively, enraptured by the fact that Baekhyun is sharing something with him without him having to ask. “You know how sometimes you don’t want to make your hobbies into something like a job because it might lose it’s magic? I kind of worried that swimming would end up like that for me. I didn’t want to end up hating swimming because it stopped becoming fun.”
“What happened then?” Jongdae asks, eyes tracing the way the light shines on Baekhyun’s face, dousing half of his face in shadows, half in the light. It’s a beautiful photograph. Jongdae’s fingers twitch, and he traces absent lines on his thigh.
“I loved it,” Baekhyun laughs. “Donghae accompanied me to his swimming club, where he had me swim against two other guys. All he told me was to swim the way I wanted to and to do it as fast as I could. I thought to myself, ‘I could do that’. It was easy to pretend that there were sharks swimming after me.” Jongdae laughs at this, surprised at how imaginative Baekhyun could be. “I finished last,” he continues, shaking his head. “But that rush, the adrenaline, I couldn’t forget it.”
Jongdae is fascinated by how the light in Baekhyun’s eyes when he talks about swimming doesn’t even dim for a second, fascinated by how sure he is that he loves swimming and how much he does. There doesn’t even seem to be a sign of doubt in his being that swimming is going to be something he’s going to do for a long time.
“My story is boring compared to yours,” Jongdae says when Baekhyun asks. “I was more of a spectator. I guess it’s true what they say that you can get into something just by being immersed in it through watching.”
Baekhyun laughs. “You sound like you’d rather be doing something else,” he teases.
“No, not really,” Jongdae is quick to say. “It’s not like that. I mean, I’ve been swimming for two years now, and I see what my swimming does to my mom and my brother, how it makes them happy and proud so, you know, it makes me happy, too.” Jongdae wishes that he could say he loves swimming as much as Baekhyun does, but he really can’t. Some passions can’t be matched.
Baekhyun is watching him with curiosity when Jongdae meets his eyes, like there’s something he’s trying to figure out, so Jongdae looks away. He’d rather not delve deeper into things that he’s never really talked about.
“I originally wanted to do something else,” Baekhyun suddenly states. “Like, you know how my major is film. I wanted to go indie and just travel around the world, making movies about everyday life.” He chuckles dryly. “That didn’t sound like a very smart decision so I dropped it. My parents have never been so relieved in their lives.”
“I would imagine that they’d be constantly worrying in which part of the world you’re in and if you’re still alive,” Jongdae says, laughing.
Baekhyun looks at him, brows slightly furrowed, before sighing and stretching. “It’s late,” he then announces, getting off the starting block and bending to pick up his bag.
Jongdae watches Baekhyun as he slings his bag over his shoulder and then looks at the pool. “I think I’m going to do a couple more laps, you know to practice what you’ve taught me,” he says, standing and placing his goggles back on, leaving his cap on the starting block.
Baekhyun purses his lips for a second before nodding. “You know,” he says just as he turns to leave, “everyone can see that you’re trying. You don’t have to force it.”
Before Jongdae can respond to that, Baekhyun is out of the gate.
Jongdae slumps forward, face buried in massive texts of architectural terminologies, managing not to let out a loud groan. He’s been studying consistently everyday ever since the first day of school, trying his best to keep up with all the theories he has to memorize and all the methods he has to keep in mind, but he is still behind. Getting into the architecture course, he knew that it was going to be more than just sketching, but it was enough to give Jongdae a push, knowing that there would still be some form of drawing. What he didn’t know was that this sketching was more than just drawing lines on a blank sheet of paper; it was all about measurement and accuracy, something he wasn’t really prepared for. Which doesn’t make sense because he knows that architecture is embedded into mathematics and science.
Lifting his head up, he glares at the margins of his book and grabs a pencil to erase all his doodles. Chanyeol had called a couple of minutes ago, making the library echo with EXO’s ‘Overdose.’ He’d scrambled to turn the ringer off before running outside to answer it. Chanyeol had gone to an art museum for a field trip and Jongdae had sighed as he sat on one of the benches outside the library, imagining the paintings that Chanyeol was describing. When Jongdae got back inside, he absentmindedly started drawing trees and flowers and faces that he’s now paying for because now he has to erase all of them.
He should really focus on his research. Gritting his teeth as he looks through where he’s stuck, Jongdae gets up to search for another text that he needs in order to help him understand the subject better. He goes through shelves and shelves of architecture-related books, glancing every now and then at the piece of paper where he’d written down the call number. He goes through several shelves before he finds the right one. When he turns the corner towards it, he freezes in his steps as he finds two figures huddled too close to each other at the end of the row.
They’re obviously making out and trying to hide it with how they’re trying not to breathe too loudly or laugh too giddily. Luckily the book that Jongdae is looking for is far away from the sneaky couple and he tries to search for the book as quickly and as quietly as he can. If it were Jongdae, he wouldn’t want to get disturbed.
Jongdae finds the book. Except that it’s on the third shelf and he has to tiptoe to get it. He stands there for a second, figuring out the best way he could get it without injuring himself and without making a noise. Couples making out in the library make it so hard to get books. Sighing inaudibly, he climbs on the lower shelf to get a leg up and stretches his arm, struggling to reach for the textbook that he needs. Just when he thinks he’s already got it, the book beside it gets pulled out in the process and falls to the floor with a loud thud.
“I’m so sorry,” Jongdae immediately says, getting down to grab the book off the floor. He doesn’t dare look at the couple, knowing it would be embarrassing for all of them. “I’ll just come back—“
Jongdae whips his head up, knowing that voice, and sees Baekhyun staring at him with sharp eyes. Zitao is giggling, nuzzling at Baekhyun’s neck. Baekhyun and Zitao? What ever happened to Kris? Or Sehun? Baekhyun slaps Zitao’s arm and finally Zitao pushes himself off of Baekhyun and smiles at Jongdae apologetically.
“I’m really just going to come back later,” Jongdae tells them, not knowing what else to say. He glances up at the book, hanging out, and decides against getting it before he’s out of there.
Jongdae buries his face into his textbook once more. He’s not entirely sure why, but he’s slightly bothered by what he’s just witnessed. He thought that Baekhyun was with Kris, but then Sehun was the one he was hanging out with at the party. What was he doing making out with Zitao? This is all very baffling because they’re all in one team and… is Baekhyun dating all of them? Jongdae isn’t new to the idea of dating or the idea of playing around so he’s not sure why it bothers him. He doesn’t even know Baekhyun that well. They aren’t even really friends. Sighing, Jongdae decides to just focus on what he should be doing in the first place: learning about architecture and trying to find what it is that his dad and brother found so exciting about it.
Ten minutes later, Jongdae’s brain is still stuck on Baekhyun and Zitao making out. And how it strangely bothers him.
“You look productive,” Baekhyun remarks, slipping onto the empty seat beside his, a smirk on his face. Jongdae doesn’t say anything, even when Baekhyun places the book he’d been trying to get earlier on the table. “Sorry about earlier,” he says, although he looks entirely unrepentant. “Zitao gets turned on with making out in the library.”
Jongdae looks away, coughing. That’s way more information that he could have hoped to know about Zitao. “Thanks,” he says instead, pulling the book nearer towards him. “I really needed this.”
“I figured, seeing as you tried so hard to be stealthy,” Baekhyun replies with a grin. He looks at Jongdae’s books and notes before his eyes rest on him once more. “Want to go get a snack? I’m starving.” He rubs his tummy up and down, slightly lifting the hem of his shirt and showing a bit of skin.
Jongdae hesitates. “I still have a lot of ground to cover,” he starts.
“It won’t take two hours,” Baekhyun insists, pulling Jongdae off his chair and helping him pack his stuff up. “I’ll even help you with… whatever it is that’s stressing you out,” he adds, gesturing vaguely to his things. Jongdae swallows, ignoring the fact that his classes aren’t what are stressing him out at the moment. “You look like you’re not getting any work done anyway.”
Jongdae flushes at this and takes over closing his books and putting them in his backpack. Baekhyun pulls his phone out when it buzzes, replying to whatever message he’s received with a smile on his face before putting it back in his pocket.
“Ready?” he asks when Jongdae straightens up, his backpack on his back.
Having snacks with Baekhyun just means Baekhyun eating everything on Jongdae’s plate, while Baekhyun talks his ear off at the same time. But Jongdae thinks it’s a good way to relax and de-stress just like what Baekhyun’s intentions were when he pulled him out of the library.
Baekhyun talks a lot. He talks about swimming, their teammates, even his family and his film classes. He also laughs a lot on top of talking a lot, his voice rough and sketchy like jagged lines with no particular direction or purpose, which Jongdae is starting to like. The way Baekhyun is seems like he’s generally happy about the direction his life is going; he’s contented with being in film and swimming, which is more than Jongdae can say about himself.
“I have this class where all we do is watch movies,” Baekhyun shares excitedly, looking for the kiwis in Jongdae’s fruit cup. “Like each week, all we do is watch a different movie and all we have to do is critique it based on the subject that we’re tackling that week.” He grabs the fruit cup and leans back on his seat when he sees that Jongdae isn’t even eating it. “This week we watched Sunset Boulevard and had to look out for all the symbolisms the cinematography provided. It was awesome.”
Baekhyun talks about film the way Chanyeol talks about his art classes. Jongdae thinks about his architecture classes and laughs to himself. It’s admirable how much you can tell about a person with how they talk about what they’re doing with their lives.
“Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun,” Jongdae remarks.
Baekhyun shrugs, although there’s a smile on his lips. “Architecture seems complicated,” he says. “You must be good at math.”
Jongdae smiles. “My dad was good at math, at least that’s what my mother told me,” he tells him. “My brother sucked, but he passed all his classes so I guess there’s hope for me.”
Baekhyun gives him a weird look, which passes as soon as it comes. He shrugs. “You should come watch the movie that we need to see for next week,” he changes the subject. “I always watch them before classes so that I can focus on doing what’s required when we do watch it in class.”
Jongdae thinks about the way Baekhyun oozes with passion when he talks about movies and wonders what it would be like witnessing it in person. “Okay,” he agrees, smiling. “I’d like that.”
“I’m bored,” Jongdae mutters, placing an arm over his eyes. Kyungsoo, who never really hangs out at their dorm, has just gone out with some guy named Jongin.
Chanyeol laughs in response and doesn’t say anything else. Jongdae knows that Chanyeol is drawing, his phone probably tucked between his ear and his shoulder as he tries to capture the falling leaves around him. Jongdae squeezes his eyes shut as he listens to the scratch of Chanyeol’s pencil against the rough material of his sketchbook paper. He can imagine the way Chanyeol draws, the leaves ending up soft and startlingly realistic for which Chanyeol has a knack of doing.
“You know what you need to do,” Chanyeol suddenly speaks up. “You need to go out.”
“I go out,” Jongdae defends himself.
“Knowing you, going out means you went to the library and attended your classes or went swimming,” Chanyeol knowingly states. “Why aren’t you swimming?”
“I’d just come back from doing that,” Jongdae tells him. He’d done a hundred laps, fifty laps of freestyle, fifty laps of butterfly and doing ten each of backstroke and breaststroke for cooling down.
“You need to go out,” Chanyeol repeats, more firmly this time. “I’ve been sending you pictures of every place I’ve been to and all you’ve sent me are your classrooms, which look like every other classroom on the planet by the way, and your swimming pool, which I’ve seen in person.”
“I don’t really know what I want to do,” Jongdae admits with a pout, “or where to go.” He sighs. “I don’t know this place. I’m new, remember?”
“And isn’t that the best reason to go out and explore?” Chanyeol maintains. Jongdae can’t help but begrudge at how Chanyeol is right. So he just sighs and doesn’t say anything, which just makes Chanyeol laugh at him. “Go out, Jongdae,” he repeats. “And take pictures so you can show me.”
“You just want proof that I went out,” Jongdae grumbles as he sits up, now regretting that he didn’t come with Kyungsoo. This would be easier if he had someone who knows his way around with him.
“That, too,” Chanyeol agrees, chuckling. “Going to classes and swimming can’t be all that’s there.”
What else is there? is what first pops into Jongdae’s head at this but shakes it off. “Whatever,” he mutters. “I’ll call you later or something.”
“Send me pictures on Kakaotalk!” Chanyeol yells before Jongdae ends the call.
Jongdae stands up and stretches, all the while wondering where he could go and explore. He supposes he’ll just wing it and walk around; see where the road (or the sidewalk) takes him. Sounds good enough, he thinks, as he leaves his dorm room.
Jongdae ends up lost. It isn’t a surprise, really, considering that he didn’t have a particular destination in mind. Still, it’s disconcerting as he tries to figure out the map that he’s searched up from Google, which makes absolutely no sense because all he’s done is ride one bus to get to the place where a highly recommended restaurant is. Now, he doesn’t know where he is.
He goes inside a seemingly empty building, white walls with a framed photo here and there, with a lone girl manning the receptionist desk. Taking a deep breath, he gathers the courage to ask for directions.
“Jongdae?” someone calls before he can get a word out.
Jongdae turns around and finds Baekhyun coming down the stairs with a couple of other guys. They all wave their goodbyes to Baekhyun before Baekhyun approaches Jongdae with a questioning look on his face.
“What are you doing here?” Baekhyun asks, glancing around to see if he has anyone with him.
Jongdae smiles. “I’m just… walking around, looking around,” he says, hoping that Baekhyun won’t suspect anything.
Of course Baekhyun is too sharp to miss the way Jongdae’s smile is forced. “You’re lost, aren’t you?” he says, narrowing his eyes.
“No,” Jongdae defensively states, straightening up and puffing his chest out. “I’m just… wandering around.” He hopes that how he says it so determinedly will let him get away with it. But Baekhyun just snickers.
“Very well,” Baekhyun says, wiggling his fingers at him with a ‘come hither’ gesture as he walks out of the building. Jongdae is relieved that Baekhyun isn’t going to call him out on his lie. “Now that you’ve wandered enough, I’m sure you’re tired.” He snickers as Jongdae’s cheeks turn pink. “What do you want to do?”
Jongdae, very much relieved and eternally grateful that he now has Baekhyun’s company, just shrugs. “Up to you,” he says and ignores the way Baekhyun’s eyebrows raise up his forehead. “I’ll do whatever you want to do.”
“That’s exactly the very thing that gets you lost, Kim Jongdae,” Baekhyun comments before he’s shaking his head and grabbing Jongdae’s hand. “Let’s go then.”
It’s that familiar feeling—the excitement, the rush, the anxiety, the fear all rolled into one that makes Jongdae a big (or small) ball of tightly coiled tension. No matter how many times he’s done this, it’s always different every time, each one having its element that makes him nervous enough to want to throw up in the bathroom and never come out. It’s always the time where he questions what he’s doing there, why he’s even included in this when he’s clearly not good enough, not prepared enough. Jongdae bends down, reaching for his toes with his fingertips to stretch his legs and to help ease the butterflies in his stomach. The knowledge that this is his first college competition doesn’t help him at all.
There’s the sound of a splash, one after the other, and he can’t tune it out. He can’t really tune it out here, when every moment is partnered with the water. With the excitement and energy high in the arena, Jongdae really wonders why he isn’t as excited as the rest of the team. He glances to his left and then to his right, watching as swimmer after swimmer jumps off from the starting block at the sound of the whistle, sprint warm-ups taking place. He bends down once more, closing his eyes and trying to even out his breathing. Throwing up won’t help him or anyone for that matter.
“You look green,” Joonmyun tells him when he straightens up, putting an arm around his shoulders in concern. “Are you alright?”
“Of course he’s not alright,” Baekhyun pipes in before Jongdae could open his mouth. “It’s his first meet. How did you feel on your first? We’re not all as good as you are, you know.”
Joonmyun makes a face at him and grabs Baekhyun’s neck. Baekhyun pulls his shoulders up, trying very hard not to squeal like a girl. Jongdae watches in amusement, nervousness forgotten for a second, as Baekhyun tries to run away from Joonmyun. When Joonmyun’s had enough of Baekhyun squirming under his grasp, he lets go with a satisfied smirk.
“I’m going to get you a glass of water,” Joonmyun tells Jongdae go and leaves to do just that.
Baekhyun pretends to go after Joonmyun, cupping the back of his neck with both hands. “You really do look green,” Baekhyun then says to Jongdae as if nothing had happened. Jongdae groans, remembering his anxiety. Baekhyun chuckles. “You’re going to be fine. All those extra practices that you’ve done won’t go to waste.”
What if they do go to waste? What if Jongdae screws up, jumps ahead of the signal or doesn’t do the turn properly or misses a lap? What if he fails to exceed his time for a particular event or, even worse, fails to meet it at all? What if Jongdae royally screws up on his first ever college swim meet and embarrasses his teammates and his university? What then?
“You have to stop thinking so much,” Baekhyun tells him, obviously forcing himself not to laugh at Jongdae’s misery, the corners of his lips quivering. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Jongdae wants to say that it’s easy for Baekhyun to say that because swimming is not that big of a deal to him because it comes easy for him. But instead he nods. “Yeah, not that big of a deal,” he echoes, shaking his hands as his turn to do warm-up sprints gets closer.
“Look, do you remember what it felt like when you first started swimming, when all of this,” Baekhyun says, gesturing around the arena, “wasn’t in the picture? When it was just you and the pool? That’s the feeling that you should think about, that’s what you should remember.”
Jongdae started swimming in third year high school. He has never gotten near any body of water before then, never having shown interest in even going to the beach or having fun at the village pool. But he went to his brother’s swimming club that year and stepped forward to express his interest in swimming for them. He remembers the looks of pity and understanding that flitted on the coaches’ faces before they smiled and took him in. The feeling that was so prominent at that time was resignation. Jongdae doesn’t think that as an appropriate feeling to have during competition.
Jongdae climbs up the starting block and, at the whistle, dives.
It gets better after Jongdae finishes 2nd overall in 200-meter men’s individual medley. He earns himself amazed looks and pats on the back when he gets back to the team’s place on the bleachers and gets a massage on the back from Joonmyun. Baekhyun winks at him as he makes his way to the waiting area for his event. Jongdae smiles at him. He just has 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter freestyle, and the relay, where he’s swimming freestyle. Donghae had decided to go easy on the freshman on their first college competition and Jongdae thinks he’s more than grateful.
During his first ever swim meet, his mother and brother, despite the difficulty, had come to watch him swim. That was the only competition where he actually threw up because he couldn’t handle the pressure. Jongdae had known that his mother and brother wouldn’t think any less of him if he didn’t do very well, but he knew that it wouldn’t make them happy either. In a way, more than gaining a place at the podium, he wanted to prove to them that he can do this, that this is something that he has chosen. Jongdae can still remember how tightly his mother had hugged him when he managed to get 3rd place on his 400-meter freestyle event. She’d whispered in his ear how happy she was and how proud she was of him. Jongdae thought then that that was enough.
Later, as he stands several times on the silver medal podium for almost all the events he’d swum in, Jongdae thinks about his mother and how happy she would be when he tells her later about what he’d won. Then she would pass the phone to his brother if he was home and he’d tell him, as he always does, that Jongdae gives the Kim family name honor. Jongdae would probably roll his eyes because Jongdeok always gets dramatic like that as if they’re living in ancient times. Still, when Jongdae hears these things from his family, he can’t help but think that it’s still enough.
“Scoot,” Baekhyun says from above and Jongdae looks up. Just when he’s starting to get settled in his seat in the middle of the bus, Baekhyun appears, wanting to sit beside him.
“There are plenty of seats in the bus,” Jongdae points out. There are only 15 swimmers on the team, both girls and boys. If you add Donghae and Changmin, the assistant coach, there are still more than enough seats for all of them.
“Aww but you know you’d miss my company,” Baekhyun says, wiggling his eyebrows up and down just as he plops himself beside Jongdae, who grumbles that he was doing just fine sitting by himself on the way over. “C’mon, you should be cheerier, more upbeat.”
“Why?” Jongdae makes a face at him.
“Because you just won silver, dummy,” Baekhyun tells him, looking surprised. “Because you just helped this team’s standings and gave us a better edge in our future meets.”
“Right,” Jongdae says. He doesn’t know what to say after that so he just decides to look out of the window. The bus is now pulling out of the parking lot. The moon is full and big and bright. Jongdae heaves a sigh.
“If it were anyone else,” Baekhyun starts, putting his earphones on, “they’d be ecstatic with what you’d just achieved. But you act like it’s nothing. Or maybe you’re the type of person who gets happy on the inside. Weird, but possible.”
“I am happy,” Jongdae tells Baekhyun, almost pleadingly. But he’s not sure Baekhyun hears him.
“Are you alright?” Kyungsoo asks Jongdae when he gets back into their room from his shower.
Jongdae is on his bed, position awkward, his back bent at an angle that looks like it hurts. His eyes are half closed, seemingly delirious, from lack of sleep. He had spent most of the previous night talking to his mother on the phone. After he’d called Chanyeol to tell him the news about the competition, he decided to just call his mom in the morning and go to bed. But then she called him. There were so many things that his mother wanted to talk about and before he knew it, it was already 2 a.m.
“Yeah,” Jongdae answers, fixing his position on the bed so that his back doesn’t ache as much.
Jongdae isn’t really one who knows how to socialize. Despite people telling him that he’s friendly and affectionate, sometimes he thinks he can do more to actually get close to people. Like Kyungsoo. He and Kyungsoo are roommates and Jongdae barely knows anything about him. Although that may be because Kyungsoo never really talks about anything other than swimming. Kyungsoo doesn’t even really mention anything about his classes.
“I’m going out with some of the team,” Kyungsoo then tells him when he’s finished drying his hair and styling it. “We’re going to watch a movie. You should come with us.” He fixes the collar of his shirt before putting his phone and wallet in his pants pockets.
Jongdae hesitates. He glances at the books on his bed, thinking that he should get started on some homework. Having gotten too focused on the swim meet, he started getting a bit behind on some of his school requirements. He hasn’t had much sleep in a while, either. It wasn’t just that he had stayed up late on the phone; all the stress had been keeping him from getting proper rest, as well. His mind always seems to be awake, thinking about everything and anything from schoolwork to his swimming.
“You don’t have to,” Kyungsoo then says, watching with concern as Jongdae pushes himself up.
“No, no,” Jongdae said, running a hand through his already unruly hair. “You’re right. I should come.”
“It’s not should. You could but you don’t have to, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo repeats, scoffing a little.
“Well I’m going, anyway,” Jongdae insists, smiling at Kyungsoo who kind of growls at him. Jongdae laughs, slinging an arm around Kyungsoo’s shoulders as they leave their dorm room.
Going to the movies with some of the team apparently means third wheeling. The moment they arrive at the cinema, Soojung grabs Kyungsoo’s hand and pulls him to the concessionaire stand, where Joonmyun and Minseok are with Taeyeon and Jinri respectively. It’s not a surprise that Baekhyun, who is apparently waiting for his own date, is there as well. It’s awkward, to say the least, to be invited to a hangout that scream ‘couples only’.
Jongdae shrugs it off. He hasn’t been to a movie since he started college and thinks that this is a good idea to do so and unwind. He sits at the end of the row as they go inside the theater, hoping against hope that none of his friends decide that making out is a better option than actually watching the movie. Jongdae immediately starts fiddling with his phone when he overhears Jinri giggling with Minseok to appear nonchalant and sends Chanyeol a text message that says i’m watching a movie be proud of me. Chanyeol responds with an irritating emoticon that expresses exactly just that.
When the lights dim, Baekhyun suddenly appears beside him, having just come in and slips into one of the two empty seats to his left. Baekhyun crosses his arms over his chest, brows furrowed fiercely, huffing.
“Are you okay?” Jongdae whispers.
Baekhyun doesn’t respond, merely leaning closer to him, his eyes trained on the screen that’s only showing previews. Jongdae nudges him lightly to catch his attention, but Baekhyun doesn’t relent. Jongdae gives up and makes himself comfortable in his seat, leaning his head back and watching the upcoming movie previews with passive interest.
There’s a poke on his arm. “Are you sleeping?” Baekhyun sounds amused.
“No,” Jongdae says, even though his eyes are closed. “I’m just resting my eyes.” Baekhyun snickers beside him but he ignores this. The movie hasn’t even started; surely he can just close his eyes for a bit until it actually starts.
When Jongdae opens his eyes again, the theater house lights are all turned on, making him squint. As he looks around, blinking rapidly, he realizes that the seats around him are empty. In fact, almost all of the seats in the theater are empty, except for the one beside him. Jongdae blinks as Baekhyun grins at him.
“Sleep well?” Baekhyun laughs as Jongdae’s face falls. “Don’t worry,” he says, patting his head as he stands. “You didn’t miss much. I thought you were more productive than I was.” He pauses to think. “But not as productive as the rest of our friends were,” he corrects himself, smiling greasily.
“Sorry,” Jongdae mutters as they make their way out of the cinema.
Baekhyun waves his apology off. “Don’t worry about it,” he assures him. “You don’t have to apologize for being tired. So!” He claps his hands together as he faces Jongdae. They’re outside of the cinema and the night is still young. “What do you want to do?” he asks. “Do you want to go find the others or do you want us to just hang out away from the love birds?”
Jongdae doesn’t really mind doing either one so he shrugs, stuffing his hands in his pants pockets. “What do you want to do?” he returns the question to Baekhyun.
Baekhyun shakes his head. “You should never answer a question with another question,” he tells Jongdae, raising his eyebrows.
“Well then,” Jongdae rephrases. “We should do what you want to do.” He grins when Baekhyun rolls his eyes.
“I can never get a proper answer from you,” Baekhyun mutters as he grabs Jongdae’s hand. “Fine, we’ll go get food by ourselves. And you’re paying.”
“Okay,” Jongdae agrees with a laugh.
Jongdae gets used to being a part of the team. Where before he normally wouldn’t have taken part in anything other than practices and competitions, he now hangs out with them even outside of those. Kyungsoo makes sure that he always invites Jongdae to go out with them, something that Jongdae always has a hard time saying no to. That, and the fact that he would get to hang out with Baekhyun. Somehow being with Baekhyun in those first few times had blossomed into a few more times and a few more until Jongdae couldn’t count them anymore. Whatever impression he had of Baekhyun before—that he was boisterous, flamboyant and very playful, they are all true, but Baekhyun is also more than that. Baekhyun is caring, sweet, and can be very serious when he talks about things that he loves like film and swimming. Jongdae finds that he can’t get enough of him, and that is why he is grateful for being part of the team, for being suddenly a part of this group of people who have accepted him as one of their own. Jongdae has become comfortable around them the way he’s now comfortable with his pruning skin when he stays too long in the pool.
Still, swimming is rarely fun and games, especially when the season kicks in. They are continuously being hounded by Donghae (and Changmin) to stop slacking off, to pick up their times, to keep up with the training. The next competition is coming up and they really can’t afford to relax.
Jongdae leans back in his seat as Changmin starts handing out the schedule for the month. They have two competitions to prepare for, both a two-day meet, the other one they have to travel by bus to. The list of events per swimmer is also listed down and Jongdae looks through his. His eyes widen when he sees two events listed under his name that he’s never really swum in before and is, therefore, untrained for, 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle.
“Coach?” Jongdae approaches Donghae quietly. “I saw that there’s a 400-meter and 800-meter free swim under my name.”
Donghae continues writing something down on a pad, not even looking up at Jongdae. He grunts. “What about it?” he asks.
“Nothing,” Jongdae says, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry about it, Jongdae,” Donghae assures him, finally looking up at him. “I’ve noticed that your endurance is quite good. We can improve on that.” He claps him on the back. “You have big potential for long distance.”
Jongdae continues staring at the two events as he sits back down. Jongdeok was a long distance swimmer. He swam even the 1500-meter event and won it every single time. Somehow, because of that, Jongdae had it in his head that he should be anything other than a long distance swimmer. He feels that it’s not his place because that’s where his brother shone the most. Aside from that, there’s also that feeling of inadequacy. Jongdae isn’t trained for long distance events. He’s not sure if he has the endurance. Then again, Donghae knows best. He’s the coach.
Jongdae folds the paper in four and puts it in his pocket before picking up his bag to go and change for practice. He doesn’t notice Baekhyun following him with his eyes.
Jongdae grew up doing his best in everything that he did. His mother had always told him that it’s better to do things right the first time to avoid wasting time, resources and efforts and it has always stuck with him. Everything that Jongdae started, he finished with gusto and perfection. He never half-asses anything no matter how much he doesn’t like it, which, to be fair, doesn’t happen often. Jongdae enjoys everything that he does, though they just have different levels of enjoyment.
After worrying about his long distance events for the upcoming meet, Jongdae lets it go and just goes and trains for it. Aside from going to regular afternoon practices, he’s decided to add morning training as well. If he is going to swim them, he might as well go all the way and prepare properly.
Jongdae pushes the gate open and is surprised to find someone standing by the starting blocks, putting on goggles. The swimmer turns around at his entrance.
“Jongdae!” Baekhyun says, surprised, putting his goggles up to his forehead. “What are you doing here?”
“Same thing as you, I guess,” Jongdae answers, smiling as he gestures to the pool.
Sometimes when Jongdae is swimming, he thinks of how freeing it is. Being in the water always relaxes him somehow, even when he’s swum so many laps, even when he feels that his muscles are tightening due to the exertion, he still feels cool and rarely feels the tiredness. Only when he stops, when he gets out of the pool, does he feel the exhaustion and the heat. In a way, even if training can get difficult, swimming is also a way for Jongdae to let out his frustrations and stress.
“Are you going to start training in the mornings from now on?” Baekhyun asks Jongdae. He’s hanging onto a lane line, leaning his head on his arm.
Jongdae nods as he floats on his back, arms spread wide. “I need all the training I can get,” he says.
It’s quieter in the morning. Afternoon trainings usually consist of boisterous laughter and loud splashes. When the swimmers think that no one is looking, there’s a lot of playful horsing around that happens, mostly with Sehun and Zitao as the leaders. This just has the team end up swimming more than they should have because Donghae would always catch them and then would end up punishing them. Afterwards, Joonmyun would lecture them about responsibility. It’s really lucky that being in the varsity team allows them free access to the pool any time during school hours.
“I don’t know why you think you need the training,” Baekhyun comments. “You seem like such a natural at swimming. How long have you been doing this?” When Jongdae tells him that it’s only his third year, Baekhyun reacts rather wildly, ending up with Jongdae being splashed with water on the face. “And you’re worried? How do you think Minseok feels or the other juniors and seniors on the team? Some of them are not as good as you.”
Jongdae stands, moving away from a floating position, and swims to the end of the pool to get off. “Well they have been here longer,” he explains. “So they don’t really have to prove anything.”
“You don’t have to prove anything either,” Baekhyun reminds him. “You’re already in the team. That’s proof enough that you deserve to be here and that you’re good.” He follows after Jongdae and pulls himself up on the ledge. “But with you, it’s like you’re constantly seeking approval, like…” He shrugs. “Who are you trying to impress?”
“No one,” Jongdae answers honestly. “I just don’t want to screw up.” Baekhyun raises his eyebrows questioningly. “I just want to do well. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.”
“Jongdae,” Baekhyun tells him gently, “you are not wasting anyone’s time. In case you haven’t noticed, everyone is glad you’re here and not just because you’re a good swimmer. Although Donghae probably sends a prayer of thanks to the heavens for having found you. On top of finding me, of course.” He grins and Jongdae laughs.
Jongdae lies on his back, not caring if the pebbled pavement will create marks on his bare back later. Baekhyun does the same, their shoulders brushing against each other.
“My brother swam all the time when we were younger,” Jongdae suddenly shares. Baekhyun moves closer to him, the length of their arms touching. “He would always plead to my mom to take us to the beach or take us swimming somewhere. My mom indulged him because my brother could get really annoying when he was determined.”
Jongdae laughs, remembering how Jongdeok wouldn’t leave their mom alone until she sighed in resignation and gave in. Jongdae, idolizing his brother, witnessed this firsthand as he would follow Jongdeok around. He would use every tactic known to kids to get her to agree to take them swimming. Jongdeok would tell her that he would be a good boy, so good that she wouldn’t have to clean up after him, that he would do so well in school. Other times, he would say that he’s not going to eat anything until she says yes, which always fails because Jongdeok loved to eat like any other kid. Sometimes, Jongdeok would use Jongdae as a bargaining chip, saying that Jongdae wanted to come too and wouldn’t it be nice if they could all go out as a family? Jongdae remembers how their mother would smile at all his attempts and how she would laugh when Jongdeok screamed with joy when she said yes. “Such determination would always be rewarded,” Jongdae remembers her saying. His brother was rewarded every time.
“My brother, always the braver one, would go out into the deep even by himself,” Jongdae shares. “My mother would always be so worried, but then there would always be a lifeguard on standby. It never became a problem, though, because Jongdeok taught himself how to float and taught himself how to do the basic dog swim. But it wasn’t until Jongdeok was so focused on swimming in the Olympics on TV that my mom thought of giving him proper lessons. The rest is history, of course.”
“Where were you in this history?” Baekhyun then asks, his fingers drumming against the pavement, brushing every so often with Jongdae’s.
“I’d play in the shallower parts of the pool or by the shore of the beach,” Jongdae tells him, flicking Baekhyun’s fingers playfully away when they keep touching his. Baekhyun chuckles lightly beside him and intentionally brushes his knuckles against Jongdae’s. “I’d watch my brother from there as he pretended he was an Olympic swimmer. When he started having lessons, my mom would take me with her to pick him up. Sometimes we came in earlier to watch.”
“Was it your brother who taught you how to swim?” Baekhyun then asks.
“In some ways, yes,” Jongdae says, his voice quieter as Baekhyun’s pinky links with his. He isn’t sure what’s happening but this isn’t really a good idea because he’s not sure how to explain why his heart is beating fast like it’s going to run out of his chest. “But I just watched him swim and then copied what he did, I guess.”
Baekhyun laughs. “You’re all naturals then,” he remarks.
“My brother doesn’t swim anymore,” Jongdae tells him. “He got an injury that forced him to stop. I think my mom was relieved that I was still around. I think she got used to having a swimmer in the family.”
“Jongdae, that’s a really weird thing to say,” Baekhyun comments lightly, squeezing Jongdae’s pinky finger with his.
“I think I should tell you that a lot of things about me are weird,” Jongdae laughs. His chest feels light with something that probably has something to do with Baekhyun being so close.
“I know you are,” Baekhyun agrees, laughing when Jongdae nudges him. “But I think that’s what makes you interesting.”
Jongdae tries hard not to smile too wide.
Their dorm room is too small, too cramped. Or maybe Kyungsoo and Jongdae just have too many things. Their two beds occupy most of the room, along with two study tables at the ends of the beds, along with two closets and a bathroom. But Jongdae thinks there can be more space if he could only rearrange things. The problem is that the furniture is all fixed to the walls and the floor and, therefore, can’t be moved. Jongdae tried several times to no avail.
Jongdae falls into his bed, face first. He’s just so bored. He’s done nothing aside from going to his classes, except go to the library or back to the dorm, both just to study. He doesn’t bother going to the pool because he knows that Donghae will just send him back out because he isn’t allowed to swim for at least a week so that his arm muscles will feel less sore. He’d been training every morning and afternoon, as well as every break he could get, to practice his endurance and time himself for the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle. Apparently, swimming eight and 16 laps over and over again with intervals of only 15 minutes isn’t wise. Actually, Donghae had said that over-swimming isn’t wise, so Jongdae has been sent on exile from the swimming pool until he does feel better.
Not swimming so much is fine with him to be honest. It’s just that Jongdae is getting sick of going through architectural terminologies and icing his arm alternately. It’s only his second day away from training and he’s getting frustrated already. How can he do well if he can’t practice?
But really Jongdae just wants to be able to do something that is not studying. He would go out but then everyone’s really busy preparing for the competition and busy with school as well. He’d actually tried forcing Chanyeol to just talk to him on the phone but Chanyeol fell asleep somewhere in between Jongdae whining.
Sighing, Jongdae just resigns himself to his fate. He stares at his books and then his notebooks, an idea coming to him. Between him and Chanyeol, Chanyeol really is the one who has always been the artist. As young as 7 years old, Chanyeol already tried to sketch people, in the best way that he could: using stick figures. His parents always bought him sketchpads and new colored pencils and crayons, which he would always show Jongdae and then they’d draw. Or Chanyeol would draw and Jongdae would just scribble lines on the sides. At that time, Jongdae didn’t understand why Chanyeol was so excited with drawing. How would you even know what to draw?
There was a time when Jongdae had gotten a scolding from his mother. It was just a couple of months after Jongdeok’s accident and his mom was normally short tempered or tired back then. Jongdae had forgotten to wash the dishes and she got really mad because of it. Jongdae washed the dishes as quickly as he could and left to go to Chanyeol’s house. Chanyeol had then dragged him to the park. They sat on the grass near the playground and Chanyeol handed him a piece of paper from his sketchpad and a pencil, telling him to draw anything that he wants, telling him to draw what he feels or what he’d rather not feel.
Jongdae can’t forget the way he’d looked up at the trees, how it swayed with the wind, and how the light of the setting sun filtered through the leaves. He thought it looked so peaceful, so beautiful. Jongdae still doesn’t know how he did it but he ended up drawing the trees in the park quite decently for someone who doesn’t know how to draw, that even Chanyeol was surprised. He supposes he just has a knack for picking up things quickly.
Jongdae hasn’t drawn anything for quite some time now. He’s never really drawn for any particular reason, except for the fact that he likes it. But he’s been so busy with swimming that he’s never really touched a pencil or a sketchpad for a long time. This time, though, he thinks there’s nothing wrong in going back to it, even just for a bit, even just for now. Slowly, he picks up a pencil and flips to an empty page in one of his notebooks and starts to draw.
In architecture, all drawings include a ruler because the lines have to be straight and all the angles must be perfect and mathematically correct. A small mistake in calculation can result to a big problem in a construction of a building or any kind of structure. Architects are taught to be precise and to know exactly what they’re doing. There’s very little room for mistakes.
Jongdae’s father was an architect. He was very young when he passed away and Jongdae doesn’t really remember much of him, except that he carried him a lot on his shoulders and that they would run after Jongdeok around the house. But his dad’s legacy is incredibly powerful. During the funeral, several of his father’s friends and colleagues offered their condolences would follow up with variations of “your dad was a very good architect, one of the most respectable in the industry, we are sorry for the loss”. Until now, it’s something Jongdae can’t forget. Whether he’s at home or around the city where they lived and grew up in, it’s a constant reminder.
Drawing for art is something very different from what they do in his classes. Sure, there are techniques and theories, like what Chanyeol had told him, but there is also more freedom to express, to draw what you like and how you want to. People may question it or critique it, but they can’t really say that it’s wrong. Jongdae thinks it’s incredibly therapeutic.
Once he’d started drawing back then, Jongdae found he couldn’t stop. Chanyeol encouraged him, excited that his best friend is into the same thing that he is, and gave him his first ever sketchpad and set of colored pencils. Jongdae still has them in his drawer, a form of keepsake, and a reminder.
Jongdae drops his pencil as he stares at what he’s drawn. He’s rusty but it’s clear enough that one can see that he’s drawn the swimming pool area of the school, complete with the roof and the bleachers, as well as the lane lines and that small chip at the tile near the gate. He’s even drawn it with several people swimming, people he can identify because he drew with them in mind. Chanyeol used to tell him that drawing is only hard at first because of the lack of skill, but as the skill grows, the subject matter of the drawings stop to matter. Because anything can be drawn. What it comes down to is what’s on your mind. Chanyeol likes drawing people. He goes to parks and malls just to sit down and draw anyone whom he thinks is interesting. But he draws his family and friends the most. Jongdae draws places more and events. Obviously, swimming is what’s on Jongdae’s mind. Even when he’s banned from it.
The dorm room opens just then and Kyungsoo walks in.
“Hey,” Kyungsoo greets him with a small smirk. His hair is still wet, obviously having come directly from practice. Jongdae can still even smell the chlorine off of him. “How are you doing?”
“You don’t have to sound so smug,” Jongdae grumbles. He puts down his notebook and stands up to stretch. “But how was practice?”
“We did mostly sprints today,” Kyungsoo tells him as he takes his towels and wet clothing out of his bag to wash and hang them in the bathroom. “I think Donghae wants to take things easy since the competition’s so near.”
“Makes sense,” Jongdae comments.
“It’s probably because he’s scared that another one of us will pull a muscle like you did.” Kyungsoo’s laughter echoes in the bathroom and Jongdae makes a face at him even if Kyungsoo can’t see his face. “But really,” he continues, walking out. “You’re not missing much.”
“You mean, you guys don’t miss me.” Jongdae pretends to pout and Kyungsoo pushes him hard enough that he falls back on his bed.
“Hey, what’s this?” Kyungsoo asks, his eyes flickering to his drawing. He picks it up and Jongdae uncomfortably watches his eyes widening as he stares at it.
“It’s nothing,” Jongdae answers as vague as he can, swiping the notebook off Kyungsoo’s hands.
Kyungsoo doesn’t fight him for it and just shrugs, moving towards his gym bag to unpack some more. Jongdae, sighing with relief, tears the page off his notebook, folds it and stuffs it in one of his textbooks.
Classes have just ended, signaling the end of another week, but Jongdae’s already scraping his brain, thinking of what to do to occupy his time. Normally he would be going to practice, which he really wants to do, but his weeklong exile still isn’t up. He would probably finish his schoolwork because that is actually in equal priority with his swimming. His scholarship would be revoked if he ever got anything lower than a 3 and Jongdae really doesn’t want that to happen. No matter how hard of a time he’s having, he can’t afford to lose his scholarship. Their life after his father’s death hasn’t been the same since. Jongdae won’t be able to keep attending such a good university if he gets his scholarship invalidated. Still, studying all weekend long doesn’t seem too exciting. Maybe he should sleep. Rest is always good.
Jongdae gets to his dormitory building without much fanfare and he almost becomes resigned to his fate of a boring weekend when he sees Baekhyun leaning against the door of his room. Baekhyun is scrolling through his iPod, earphones on, and Jongdae can’t help but feel something at the sight of him.
“What are you doing here?” Jongdae asks, smiling a little when Baekhyun looks startled.
Baekhyun pushes himself off the door and allows Jongdae to unlock his room. “I’ve come to save you from your misery,” Baekhyun announces, following Jongdae inside the room without invitation. “I heard from a little bird that you’ve been bored.”
“You try being banned from even just going to the pool,” Jongdae snaps, gritting his teeth. “Let’s see how you like it.” He puts his bag down on top of his desk, filled with stacks of papers. Baekhyun picks up one of the Jongdae’s drawings and Jongdae has the urge to snatch it out of Baekhyun’s hands. “That’s nothing,” he says instead.
“Doesn’t look like nothing,” Baekhyun comments, sucking on his lower lip in a way that Jongdae thinks is distracting. Jongdae focuses on the drawing instead. “I didn’t know that you draw.”
“I don’t,” Jongdae is quick to respond. “I mean, it’s just something that I do here and there. Nothing serious.”
The look in Baekhyun’s eyes is curious as he puts the drawing back on the desk, which Jongdae immediately turns face down. “Okay,” he finally says. “Get dressed then.”
“Why?” Jongdae raises his eyebrows. “Are we going somewhere?”
“Do you want to go somewhere with me?” Baekhyun’s grin is wide, showing all of his teeth. It’s one of Jongdae’s favorite things about Baekhyun, his smile, if Jongdae should have any favorite thing about Baekhyun at all.
Yes. Jongdae thinks he wants to go somewhere with Baekhyun. Somewhere they aren’t required to be together for swimming or because they accidentally ran into each other. Jongdae would very much like to go somewhere with Baekhyun just because they want to, because Baekhyun wants to be with Jongdae wherever that somewhere may be.
“Don’t answer a question with a question,” Jongdae tells him.
Baekhyun laughs really loudly that Jongdae glances at the thin walls. “Touché,” he says, nodding. He walks to Jongdae’s bed and sits down. “Go and get dressed, smartass,” he tells him, slapping Jongdae’s butt. “We’re going training.”
“You know I can’t,” Jongdae tells him with a frown. Training. Of course.
“Are you really always this obedient?” Baekhyun teases. “We’re going running. I’m pretty sure you haven’t seen the whole campus. Let’s kill two birds with one stone.”
“Why are you suddenly so nice to me?” Jongdae asks, opening his closet to get clean sweatpants and a loose shirt to change into.
“When have I not been nice to you?” Baekhyun looks amused and offended at the same time that Jongdae can’t help but burst into laughter. “I have always been nice to you,” he insists, pouting. Jongdae walks up to him, shirt only halfway on and flicks Baekhyun’s lower lip in amusement.
“You baby,” Jongdae mocks.
“Why did I ever think you were nice?” Baekhyun grumbles playfully. “Dress up faster.” Baekhyun pulls Jongdae’s shirt down, his fingers brushing against Jongdae’s sides.
Jongdae inhales, stomach curving in. He squeezes his eyes shut, mentally berating himself for being so… ticklish when it comes to Baekhyun. “Don’t,” he grits out, moving to take a step back, but Baekhyun grabs Jongdae’s wrist.
“Ticklish, are we?” Baekhyun is grinning like he’s just discovered the secret to Santa Claus.
Jongdae does the first thing that comes to mind and cuffs the back of Baekhyun’s neck, which has Baekhyun folding up immediately, yelping. “Not as ticklish as you,” Jongdae declares rather smugly, proud of himself for having gotten himself out of a sticky situation in mere seconds.
Jongdae is unprepared, however, for Baekhyun grabbing him by the waist and tackling him to the bed. Jongdae’s breath swooshes out of him as his back hits the mattress and Baekhyun climbs on top of him. Baekhyun grins down at Jongdae in such a feral manner. Jongdae’s throat goes dry.
Before either of them could move, the door opens and Kyungsoo and Minseok walk in. There’s a beat of silence, and then Minseok speaks up, “I thought coach said you’re not to do strenuous activities, Jongdae.” Minseok grins as Kyungsoo snorts.
“I’m just going to grab my music sheets,” Kyungsoo announces, rummaging through the folders on his desk before pulling one out and waving it towards Jongdae, who’s frozen, and Baekhyun, who’s still grinning. “Okay, carry on.”
Minseok laughs as they walk out of the room, closing the door behind them.
There’s another beat of silence before Jongdae is pushing Baekhyun off him. Jongdae scrambles to get off the bed and turns a bright red when Baekhyun just bursts into laughter. There is nothing funny. Their position may have seemed compromising but nothing was happening. It was just a misunderstanding. Jongdae huffs as he puts his rubber shoes on, very tempted to throw one at Baekhyun’s face. Just because Baekhyun is attractive doesn’t allow him to make fun of Jongdae like that.
“Aww, c’mon, Jongdae,” Baekhyun whines teasingly as they walk out of Jongdae’s building. “I’m sure Minseok and Kyungsoo didn’t really think anything of it. They were just teasing.”
“Let’s just go,” Jongdae says, rolling his eyes.
“Not until you tell me you’re not mad at me with a smile on your face,” Baekhyun insists, smiling innocently at Jongdae and fluttering his eyelashes at him.
Jongdae stares at Baekhyun and can’t help but think about how beautiful he is. Not just because of his puppy smile, or how his skin looks like it's soft to the touch or because his dark eyes have something so endearing in them or because his lips are so pink and supple that Jongdae wonders sometimes... Baekhyun has this personality that makes anyone just like him. Even when he’s obnoxious and makes you want to smash his face on the pavement, you still end up liking him. Baekhyun is charming in that way, with his smiles and laughter, and Jongdae can’t help but think about how wonderful Baekhyun is.
“I am going to squeeze your neck until you—“ Jongdae starts.
“Okay okay,” Baekhyun immediately says, holding his hands up in surrender. Jongdae snickers. “Sheesh. Minseok and Kyungsoo know better anyway. They know we’re just friends.”
Something lurches in Jongdae’s stomach. “Of course,” he confirms. “So are we going to jog or what?”
“Last one pays for dinner afterwards,” Baekhyun yells gleefully as he rushes past Jongdae.
“Byun Baekhyun!” Jongdae shouts after Baekhyun and his peals of laughter.
They run. Baekhyun takes the lead and Jongdae follows him wherever he goes. They run on the main roads, which are empty because it’s Friday and most people have left campus to go and enjoy the beginning of the weekend or have gone back home or to the dorms to get much needed sleep.
In the beginning, they run side-by-side, with Baekhyun still teasing and laughing at the way Jongdae had reacted, until they drift onto other subjects, such as their classes, their friends, and how Baekhyun thinks there’s something going on with Donghae and Changmin. After a while, the conversations stop, the heaviness of their breathing making it too hard to keep talking. Baekhyun starts to run ahead of Jongdae, while Jongdae just tries to maintain the same pace even if his chest feels like it’s going to burst.
Jongdae isn’t really a fan of running. It seems so boring and pointless. Jongdeok always asked him to go running with him when Jongdeok stopped swimming, which is the only reason Jongdae ever got to his feet to run. Jongdae would do anything Jongdeok asked of him. Same with his mother.
“Feel better?” Baekhyun asks, panting.
Jongdae is on his back, not caring that the grass is sticking up his back and his sides. The sky is picturesque at this time of the day, the reds, yellows, and purples mixing together. It’s going to be nighttime soon.
“I think… there isn’t enough air in the world for me to breathe in,” Jongdae gasps out. They ran around the whole campus. Jongdae has underestimated how big their university is. Jongdae has also underestimated how strong Baekhyun’s stamina is. Although he really shouldn’t have. Baekhyun isn’t one of their best swimmers for nothing.
Baekhyun’s laughter curls around Jongdae and Jongdae closes his eyes to drink it in. It’s becoming one of those things that he’s committed to memory, one of the happier things, unlike the defeated slope of his brother’s shoulder when the doctor told him he couldn’t swim anymore or the tired lines around his mother’s eyes that’s been there ever since his father died.
“At least that’s a new thing for you to focus on,” Baekhyun tells him. Jongdae turns his head towards him. “Being cooped up in your room is not a good thing. Just because you’ve been banned from swimming, doesn’t mean the world is over.”
“I know that it’s not,” Jongdae chuckles, turning his attention back to the sky. It’s turning into a dark purple now. He closes his eyes at the rush of cool wind. “I was sick of doing school work all the time and I didn’t really know what else to do.” Jongdae hears Baekhyun turn to him but he doesn’t open his eyes.
“That is hard,” Baekhyun hums and Jongdae relaxes when he feels Baekhyun’s eyes leave him, “not knowing what to do.” He shifts on the grass, somehow moving closer to Jongdae. “The movie that made me fall in love with movies was ‘The Godfather’. I was 13 and it was being played on TV. My dad and brother were watching and I joined in. They didn’t want me to in the beginning because I was too young. But I was insistent and eventually my brother slapped the back of my head and told me to behave.”
“I’ve never seen that,” Jongdae comments, pushing his sticky bangs off his face.
Baekhyun flinches like he thinks this is a disgrace but doesn’t say anything about it. “I loved it,” he emphatically declares.
“What did you love about it?” Jongdae asks, curious. He’s always curious about why people love things and pursues them. Like Chanyeol and his art. Like Kyungsoo and his music. Like Jongdeok and his swimming.
“It gave something me and my brother and dad could bond about, for one,” Baekhyun chuckles. “But really it was the feeling of authenticity from it, the realness, of the world, of the relationships, of what being in a mafia family must have been like.”
“I knew you’ve always had tendencies in you,” Jongdae jokes.
Baekhyun makes a face at him. “The thing I loved most about it though, the thing that was most captivating about it, was the sense of leadership and ownership,” he continues. Jongdae can feel the fervor emanating from the heat of Baekhyun’s skin. “Michael Corleone, the youngest son, was a civilian. He was in the army. He didn’t want to have anything to do anything with the “family business”.” Baekhyun uses air quotes. “But then his father got too sick and he had to step in because Sonny—that’s the oldest brother had been killed—and Fredo—the second brother—wasn’t very bright. So Michael had to do it because it what was expected of him. And he did. Even if he didn’t want to, he followed orders and stepped up. Not only that, he did it well.”
Baekhyun takes a deep breath as Jongdae looks at him. Baekhyun’s cheeks are pink, maybe from their run, but probably from the excitement of telling the story. Jongdae thinks it’s a good look on anyone, passion.
“You know how sometimes you don’t want to do it, but you feel like you have to and you do it anyway and you do it well?” Baekhyun asks Jongdae. “It was like that. And the way he did it…” He shakes his head. “Al Pacino was amazing in it.”
It sounds like a really interesting movie, something familiar. Jongdae should go and watch it.
“I’ll go and check it out,” Jongdae voices out.
“The point is,” Baekhyun starts, turning on his side to face Jongdae completely.
“You haven’t made your point yet?” Jongdae asks, surprised.
“Sometimes there are things that happen that we don’t think is significant or life changing,” Baekhyun goes on as if Jongdae hasn’t said anything. “I didn’t know that watching ‘The Godfather’ would push me into pursuing film, but here I am.”
“Okay,” Jongdae slowly replies, brows furrowed in confusion. “Congratulations?”
“Just that,” Baekhyun sighs, frustrated. “I think you know what you want, Jongdae. You’re just not looking hard enough.”
Jongdae is quiet. He does know what he wants. He’s taking up architecture on scholarship because of swimming. It’s not bad to be obedient. It’s not bad to want to make his family happy.
“Thank you for the run,” Jongdae finally speaks up.
Baekhyun sighs, moving to lie on his back once more. “You’re welcome.”
“You’re up early,” Kyungsoo says when Jongdae walks out of the bathroom fully dressed, wet hair clinging to his forehead. It’s 6 A.M. There’s dried saliva on Kyungsoo’s cheek and his hair is flat on one side. “Does Chanyeol know you’re this excited to see him?”
“Hey,” Jongdae greets him a good morning, hanging his towel on the back of his chair, which Kyungsoo grimaces at. He laughs and Kyungsoo makes a face at him because it’s probably too cheerful of the sound at this time of day. “Well if I want to make it there in time for breakfast, I should get going.”
Kyungsoo nods. “Come back in one piece,” he says, shooing him away with his hands. “Go.”
Jongdae breathes in the fresh air that is so unique to early mornings. The sky is still somewhat dark, the first rays of the sun only starting to peek through the clouds. There is hardly anyone about, except for the lady who sweeps the fallen leaves off the roads. Jongdae smiles at her and nods a hello.
Chanyeol doesn’t know Jongdae’s coming for a visit. Jongdae didn’t know until the previous night that he was going to visit either. But they haven’t seen each other since they both started university and Jongdae thinks it’s a meeting that’s long overdue. This is the perfect opportunity to do so.
It’s not a long ride, only three hours, and Jongdae spends the time looking out of the window, watching as the trees flutter with the wind as the bus passes. He surveys the buildings and structures that they pass by and thinks about his dad. Jongdae has always wondered what his dad would have been like as he was growing up. What would he tell Jongdae? What kind of advice would he give Jongdae about his life, about his future? There are moments when Jongdae feels a gripping sadness at the thought that this is something he will never have. This is one of those moments. He’s always listened to what his mom and Jongdeok has told him. It always makes Jongdae wonder what it would have been like if his father was around to have a say as well. Because, sometimes, Jongdae feels that his father would tell him things differently.
Chanyeol is coming out of his building just as Jongdae’s taxi pulls up in front of it.
“What are you doing here?” Chanyeol blinks owlishly at him.
“Why are you up so early on a Sunday?” Jongdae asks back. Don’t answer a question with a question.
“I could ask you the same—oh right. Swimming. You wake up early for swimming,” Chanyeol corrects himself. He shifts his bag on his shoulder. “But really,” he presses, going down the steps to be on the same level as Jongdae. “What are you doing here?”
“Is it wrong to want to hang out with my best friend?” Jongdae shoves Chanyeol. “You were never going to visit me anyway. I had to make it happen. And unplanned is always better than planned with us.” Chanyeol raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. Jongdae grins because Chanyeol knows him so well. “So where are you off to?”
“To get breakfast,” Chanyeol says as they start walking. “Are you going to tag along the whole day?”
“Yes?” Jongdae says, wiggling his eyebrows up and down, hoping that Chanyeol doesn’t have any plans for the day that Jongdae can’t come to. “Or we could just have breakfast and if you have something to do, I can always just go back early. The whole point was to see you anyway.”
“You did not take a three-hour bus ride just to have breakfast with me,” Chanyeol snorts. He shakes his head and puts an arm around Jongdae. “Come on. Breakfast and then I have some schoolwork to do.”
Schoolwork to Chanyeol means clocking in some studio time to work on his sketch of a naked guy, as well as finishing his abstract painting homework. Jongdae walks around the studio-slash-classroom, looking up in wonder at the paintings on the wall, as well as the paintings stacked on one side of the room.
“Those are practice works,” Chanyeol tells Jongdae, turning in his seat to watch his best friend looking around. “People come in all the time to work on homework or just something they’ve been trying to perfect. Some bring their work home or just leave it here to collect it later on.”
Jongdae can see that there are names on the backs of the canvas. “Do you draw and paint all day?” he asks, meeting Chanyeol’s eyes.
“Mostly,” Chanyeol confirms. “Most of my classes involve drawing and painting. But I also have Sculpture, as well as lectures for World Art and Visual Computing.”
“What do you draw about?” Jongdae asks, moving from the stacks of paintings to the front of the classroom, where there are thick hardbound art books.
“Well, right now, there’s a naked guy who poses in my drawing class and we have to draw him,” Chanyeol explains, cheeks a bit pink. “We have to know the proportions of the human body, that’s why.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever drawn a whole person before,” Jongdae comments, sitting down on the teacher’s chair and clasping his hands together on top of the desk.
Chanyeol shakes his head. “Just the upper half,” he confirms. “So it is quite a challenge.”
“Well, carry on then,” Jongdae says, waving at him to go back to his work. “Don’t mind me.”
Chanyeol looks like he wants to protest but does go back to drawing. Jongdae leans back in the seat and looks around the room. It’s just like what he’s seen in one of those movies that Baekhyun’s asked Jongdae to watch with him. It’s spacious, with brown, wooden floors and big windows that let the light slip in effortlessly. Light is very important in art.
It must be nice, studying in a classroom like this, drawing, painting, and talking about art and how the lines intersect to mean something or how the darkness and lightness of a shadow would make the subject more intense. Not that Jongdae knows anything about art. He doesn’t.
“Why are you really here?” Chanyeol suddenly asks, startling Jongdae out of his thoughts. “Did something happen?”
Jongdae thinks about Baekhyun and the way his voice scratches when he talks and becomes grating when he laughs and the way his eyes sparkle mischievously when he’s having fun. He thinks about the run they did and the conversation they had later on. “Have you watched ‘The Godfather’?”
Chanyeol blinks at him. “Once,” he answers. “Why?”
“What did you think?” Jongdae wants to know. “I have this friend who’s watched it and kept on raving about it.”
“It was action-packed,” Chanyeol says with a shrug. “Who’s this friend?”
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae shares. “He’s one of my teammates.” He’s wonderful. “We went on a run the other day because, as you know, I’m not allowed to swim.”
“Come and sit beside me, Jongdae,” Chanyeol says when Jongdae doesn’t continue.
Chanyeol’s pulled an empty desk right beside his easel. He pats it and Jongdae walks over. A sketchbook turned to a fresh page is on top of it, along with several Faber Castell 9000 pencils. Jongdae sits down and picks up a pencil, turning it around in his fingers. It says 4B on the side.
“What do you think it would have been like if we took up art here together?” Jongdae asks, unable to help himself. “Just wondering.”
Chanyeol looks at him like a fish out of water that Jongdae actually reaches out to close his mouth for him. “Well,” Chanyeol starts, coughing a bit. “I’m not going to say that it wouldn’t make me happy.”
“But…?” Jongdae can hear it in Chanyeol’s tone.
“You’ve never really shown interest in art,” Chanyeol tells him. “So I don’t know how that would have worked out.”
Jongdae laughs and looks at the empty paper in front of him. “Me too.”
Jongdae doesn’t know how he gets dragged everywhere by Baekhyun (although he really does) but here he is knocking on Baekhyun’s door to pick him up. Apparently, Baekhyun has some place that he needs to visit for one of his classes and Jongdae is supposed to come with him. For what reason, Jongdae doesn’t know. All he knows is that Baekhyun’s always fun to be around, so it shouldn’t hurt.
It’s not Baekhyun who answers the door. It’s Himchan, some guy from the diving team that hangs around with the team when diving practice is over or on break. Himchan is incredibly attractive with his black hair that’s as black as Baekhyun’s sometimes… which is tousled. Himchan’s hair tousled.
“Oh hey,” Himchan says with a smile, opening the door to let him in.
The first thing that Jongdae sees is that the bed is messy and that Baekhyun is fixing his hair in front of the mirror.
“Hey!” Baekhyun says. “I should have known you’d be early.”
Jongdae tears his eyes away from Baekhyun’s hair or the bed and looks at the clock. “I’m on time,” he says.
“Early,” Baekhyun repeats. He grabs his bag and shoves Himchan on his way to the door. “There better be not a mess when I come back,” he warns Himchan, who only laughs and closes the door when they go out.
“Come on,” Baekhyun excitedly says, linking his arms with Jongdae’s as they make their way out of the building. “I think you’ll love where we’re going.”
Jongdae wants to ask. He wants to ask about Himchan and what’s going on with him. Just like he’s wanted to ask what was going on with Kris, or with Sehun or with Zitao. But Jongdae knows it’s none of his business what Baekhyun does or whom he kisses. Even though, for a while, Jongdae thought that maybe… Jongdae shakes his head. There’s Himchan. There’s Kris or Sehn or Zitao or… There’s always going to be someone.
“What?” Baekhyun asks him.
“Nothing,” Jongdae answers. This is not the time. “So where are we going?”
“Some place that is either boring or fun, depending on who you ask,” Baekhyun cryptically states.
“That can be any place anywhere,” Jongdae complains.
Baekhyun just laughs.
An art gallery. Baekhyun has taken Jongdae to an art gallery. It’s more of a room than a gallery actually. It’s small, a bit cramped, but spacious enough for people to be able to walk around and be able to see the several paintings of varying sizes hung on the brick walls. There are also easels with paintings in the middle and the end of the room, by the windows. It has a very rustic effect. Jongdae likes it.
“What do you need to come here for?” Jongdae asks Baekhyun as he looks around.
“We have art classes, too, believe it or not,” Baekhyun tells him. “We have to visit an art gallery and write about it and relate it to the art of film.” He wrinkles his nose. “I don’t know. This is all very… abstract to me.” He puts his hands up and wiggles his fingers like magicians do.
Jongdae laughs. “It’s only abstract if you don’t know what it’s about,” he tells Baekhyun, who looks at him interestedly. “Let’s look around,” he then suggests. Baekhyun nods and links his arm with Jongdae’s again.
They stop in front of each painting and, every time, Baekhyun would make some asinine comment that would make Jongdae laugh before Jongdae would try to explain how he sees the artwork. After his explanation, Baekhyun would always look at him with some sort of wonder in his eyes. It makes Jongdae’s chest hurt.
They don’t stay long, but Jongdae thinks the time they’ve spent in the art gallery is well spent. He’s never really been to one before, not having a reason to go. But he’s glad that Baekhyun had a reason to go and that he’d invited Jongdae to come with him.
“So when would the topic of you being into art have come up in the course of our friendship?” Baekhyun asks on their way back to campus.
“I’m not into art,” Jongdae corrects him easily. “All I know comes from what Chanyeol tells me.”
“Chanyeol must be very good then,” Baekhyun says contemplatively. His lower lip is in between his teeth again. Jongdae doesn’t look.
“He is,” Jongdae agrees.
“So what does he tell you?” Baekhyun presses, leaning into Jongdae’s personal space, his cheek on Jongdae’s shoulder. It’s harder to walk like this, but Jongdae doesn’t really mind. “About art, I mean.”
There are many things that he thinks he’s picked up from Chanyeol over the years. But Jongdae the one that stands out the most is still the thing that Chanyeol told him the very first time.
“Expression,” Jongdae says. “Art is a form of communication and expression, as everyone knows that it is. Artworks always have some underlying feeling in them, why they were done, what for, what the artist was trying to convey.” He smiles when Baekhyun grunts. “An artwork is full of feelings.”
“Given that explanation,” Baekhyun starts, hesitant. “That drawing that I saw in your room…”
Jongdae swallows. It was a picture of a long, winding, rocky road with a man standing at the beginning of it, holding an umbrella. The sun is beating down on him, and the man looks weary and heartbroken.
“Boredom,” Jongdae tells him. “I was bored.” He doesn’t know when things started to become a lie.
The first dive after a long break doesn’t feel any different. It feels like it always does. The water is cold. Jongdae’s arm is feeling much better but Donghae isn’t taking any chances. Donghae’s put him in a lighter set of swims for his first practice. While the others are doing a lot of butterfly sprints, Jongdae has been given more freestyle swims, more mid-distance to long distance with a much slower pacing. Jongdae thinks it’s a smart way for Donghae to ease him back while still building his endurance.
“Hey slowpoke.” Baekhyun swims into his lane, ducking under the lane line, to get to the ladder. “What time are you going to be done?”
“I just have a couple more laps,” Jongdae says, averting his gaze away from Baekhyun’s chest. “Why?”
“Dinner at Kris’s house,” Baekhyun says. “Team meeting. Joonmyun likes giving his pep talks early.”
The meet is in two weeks. Jongdae’s lost so much time. He’s probably going to need that pep talk. “Okay,” he says, nodding. “I’ll be done soon.”
“I’ll wait for you at the school gate,” Baekhyun says, pulling himself up and out of the pool.
Kris’s house is a very good picture of opulence. It’s a three-storey house with a basement garage. It has a fountain in the front lawn and in the middle of the garden. They have an elevator because it’s apparently so difficult to go up three flights of stairs. No wonder Kris seems so lazy sometimes. No wonder everyone wants to be Kris’s friend. No wonder…
Jongdae’s eyes land on Baekhyun, who is talking animatedly to Kris, hands flying about as he tries to explain his point about something. Kris has a gummy smile on his face. Jongdae lets out a breath and looks away, silently wondering what happened to Himchan. He walks to the bar, where Victoria has made herself the queen.
“What can I get you?” Victoria asks.
“We’re supposed to have a team meeting, right? Not a party?” Jongdae asks as Victoria mixes a drink that he didn’t ask for.
“Everyone’s been working so hard,” Victoria says. “Don’t you think it’s time we loosen up a bit before putting our game faces on? Here.” She places a drink in front of him.
“What is it?” Jongdae asks apprehensively. He knows you’re supposed to trust drinks as long as it’s made in front of you. Except it’s pink and yellow. Jongdae isn’t sure he should trust a drink that’s pink and yellow.
“It’s good,” Sooyoung pipes in, joining Victoria behind the bar. “A special concoction by Zitao.”
Jongdae’s eyebrows go up. Now he’s certain he shouldn’t trust this drink. But Victoria and Sooyoung are watching him expectantly. They’re swimmers, too, athletes. They wouldn’t give Jongdae anything that would be harmful to him. So he drinks. He squeezes his eyes shut when he feels the burn go through his throat to his chest. It’s sickeningly sweet.
“Thanks,” Jongdae says when he’s recovered. Victoria and Sooyoung giggle. “I think I’ll grab a beer from here on out.”
“You’re no fun!” Victoria calls after him as Jongdae makes his way to the pool area, where, unsurprisingly, some of the members of the team are swimming.
Jongdae wonders sometimes if any of them ever gets tired of swimming, if they ever stop to think if this is really something that they want, if they ever feel breathless being under water for so long. Swimming just kind of really fell into Jongdae’s lap if he was even the least bit honest with himself and he just happened to be good at it. It had felt nice to belong, to have something that he can talk about with a semblance of pride and authority. If Chanyeol was the artist, Jongdae was the swimmer. In the future, Chanyeol will probably still be an artist. Jongdae isn’t sure what he’ll be. Would it be swimming or architecture? Jongdae doesn’t know.
“Are you going swimming, too? I think the pool’s full.”
It does look full, what with Zitao and Sehun having Yuri and Jinri on their shoulders. Joonmyun worries on the side, with Himchan laughing at him, that one of the girls will fall over and hurt themselves, while Taeyeon and Tiffany look like they’re contemplating on how to dunk Joonmyun under the water.
“Nah,” Jongdae says, shaking his head. His vision sways. Wow, what was in that drink?
Jongdae turns to the guy beside him. He’s around the same height as Jongdae, his reddish hair is styled up and Jongdae thinks he has a pretty nice smile.
“You’re not a swimmer,” Jongdae says.
He laughs and shakes his head. “I’m not,” he confirms. “I was supposed to be, but no, I’m Kris’s friend.”
Jongdae glances back in the house. Baekhyun is still talking to Kris. “I didn’t know he has friends,” he truthfully states. He’s already tipsy. Because of one pink and yellow drink.
“You’ll be surprised,” he says. He has a nice laugh. “I’m Myungsoo.”
“Jongdae,” he returns with a smile. They find a seat on one of the empty benches facing the pool. “So, Myungsoo, if you’re not a swimmer, then what are you?”
“Someone who’d want to take you out some time.” Myungsoo is very straightforward. It stuns Jongdae to laughter.
“You’re skipping steps,” Jongdae accuses him, but there’s a smile on his face and probably a blush on his cheeks. He’s never gotten used to people finding him attractive and telling it straight to his face.
Myungsoo laughs and tells Jongdae about himself. Myungsoo is taking up photography and is in choir with Kyungsoo. He and Kris have studied in the same high school, having also been a swimmer back then. But Myungsoo stopped because he wanted to focus on photography. When it’s Jongdae’s turn to talk about himself, Jongdae laughs and tells Myungsoo that all he is is swimming and architecture.
They’re in the middle of laughing because Taeyeon and Tiffany had finally found a way to dunk Joonmyun’s head in the pool with Himchan’s help when Baekhyun walks out into the patio.
“Hey,” Baekhyun says, placing a hand on Jongdae’s shoulder.
“Hey,” Jongdae greets back.
“What are you doing out here?” Baekhyun asks him. “I haven’t seen you all night.” He glances at Myungsoo, but doesn’t really acknowledge him.
“I was talking to Myungsoo,” Jongdae says, gesturing towards Myungsoo, who smiles at him. “He’s Kris’s friend. He’s also with Kyungsoo in choir.” He shakes his head. “I still can’t believe Kyungsoo is in choir.” The first time Jongdae found out about it, he couldn’t wrap his head around it. Choir seems something that would fit nice and gentle people. Kyungsoo is none of those things.
“You would if you’ve heard him sing,” Baekhyun says. He squeezes Jongdae’s shoulder. “There’s food inside if you wanted some.”
“Do you want some?” Jongdae asks Myungsoo, who shakes his head. He thinks about it for a second before he shakes his head as well. “I think I’m good, too,” he tells Baekhyun with a smile.
“Okay,” Baekhyun finally says after a silence. He’s frowning. Jongdae thinks it’s not a good look on Baekhyun. “Are you sure? Because—“
“Baekhyun!” Kris calls from inside.
Jongdae shifts in his seat so that Baekhyun’s hand falls from his shoulder. “You should get back inside and see what Kris wants,” he says.
Baekhyun looks at Jongdae for a bit before he’s walking back inside the house.
Jongdae wonders when his gratefulness for being friends with Baekhyun turned into something so… weird. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, which isn’t really a surprise, because there are days where he still doesn’t understand what’s going on in his life. Jongdae figures this isn’t any different.
“Are you okay?” Myungsoo asks, peering at him in concern. “Do you want a glass of water? I could get you one.”
Jongdae chuckles and shakes his head. Myungsoo is sweet. Very bold, but sweet. His intentions are very clear right off the bat and Jongdae thinks it’s refreshing and interesting. He likes that Myungsoo seems to be the type not to beat around the bush or not the type to go around and kissing other people and making things confusing like someone Jongdae knows. Not that it’s any of Jongdae’s concern of course. Not that it matters.
“I’m fine,” Jongdae assures him, eyes going back to the pool. Joonmyun is now swimming fast after Himchan, who’s scrambling to go to the other side of the pool so he can get off and run away from Joonmyun properly. “Tell me about your classes. What do you do?”
Myungsoo seems to be another one of those people. Myungsoo is a photographer who likes capturing moments because there are so many things that are happening that it would be difficult to remember anything. He likes keeping things, to relive them, whether happy or sad.
“I’d want to keep this moment,” Myungsoo tells him.
Jongdae chuckles. “And what kind of moment would this be that you’d want to keep it?”
“The moment where I finally had the courage to talk to you, hoping you would talk to me, too,” Myungsoo answers with an earnestness that Jongdae finds endearing. “The moment where you finally knew of my existence.”
Jongdae’s laughter is loud, filling his chest. “Does that actually work on anyone?”
“I don’t know,” Myungsoo replies, shaking his head. “I haven’t tried it on anyone before.”
Jongdae blinks at him in surprise, and then he smiles. “I think you can keep trying,” he says. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.
For some reason, Baekhyun ends up clingier with Jongdae than Baekhyun ever has been before. When they would normally hang out once or twice a week in the past, more if they see each other accidentally outside of campus, which happens often, now Jongdae finds that he’s with Baekhyun almost everyday. They stay behind after practices just to chat with their feet in the water or go out to eat cheap take-out. Sometimes Baekhyun goes over to Jongdae’s and Kyungsoo’s dorm room to watch those movies that are required for Baekhyun’s classes on Jongdae’s laptop. Other days, Jongdae hangs out in Baekhyun’s and Joonmyun’s dorm room and they do homework in silence.
Jongdae is surprised when Kyungsoo nonchalantly brings up Baekhyun leaving traces of himself in their dorm room. Baekhyun’s DVD copies, notebooks, and, sometimes even textbooks can be found lying around on Jongdae’s desk or on top of his closet or on the floor by Jongdae’s shoes. Jongdae has a scarf and at least one shirt of Baekhyun’s in his possession, while he’s seen Baekhyun walking around campus in one of his. But Jongdae can’t say that he minds. Baekhyun may be confusing, but Jongdae enjoys his company and wouldn’t trade anything else for what they have.
“You’re smiling by yourself,” Baekhyun comments, lightly pinching Jongdae’s ear.
“Am I?” Jongdae laughs, rubbing his earlobe.
“It’s weird,” Baekhyun says.
“This is a fact,” Jongdae reminds him.
“What were you thinking about?” Baekhyun asks, kicking a stone as they walk the path towards the park.
They’d just come from the library, where Jongdae had been trying to make sense of his Architectural Design homework for close to two hours when Baekhyun swooped in gallantly to take him out of his misery. In short, Baekhyun was bored and he needed Jongdae to help him get out of it. Jongdae had rolled his eyes as he packed his things while Baekhyun whined. Jongdae doesn’t regret it, though. Baekhyun makes it hard for Jongdae to regret things.
“Just stuff,” Jongdae vaguely answers. Baekhyun makes a disapproving noise, making Jongdae laugh. “I was just thinking about how it seems like yesterday when I was starting university and being introduced to the team and now…”
“And now?” Baekhyun presses, sticking even closer to Jongdae, their arms brushing against each other’s, because he has no concept of personal space.
“Now, midterms are coming and Donghae is grueling us during practices because the bigger meets are coming up,” Jongdae says, pretending to look stressed. He actually is frazzled with all the work he needs to do for his classes and trying to balance it with swimming at least a thousand meters every practice.
“Do you need help with anything?” Baekhyun asks, actually looking concerned. “You know you can get a tutor.”
“It’s fine,” Jongdae assures Baekhyun and himself. “I’m fine.” While extra help would be appreciated, he doesn’t think that he has time to go meet a tutor. Donghae has been very strict with coming to practice on time in the mornings and afternoons and Jongdae can’t afford to miss any more days. “You don’t have to worry.”
Baekhyun just rolls his eyes and pulls Jongdae to sit on a bench with him. This is nice, Jongdae thinks, as he leans back on the seat. Just hanging out with Baekhyun is nice. Baekhyun’s presence is like the big splash after a dive. It’s loud and leaves you completely drenched, taking hours to dry after swimming for so long. Baekhyun is hard to shake off like that, but Jongdae doesn’t mind. To him, Baekhyun’s presence is soothing, like an anchor that reminds him that everything will be okay even when Baekhyun doesn’t actually say anything.
“I get what you mean, though,” Baekhyun speaks up, “about midterms and practices becoming more intense.” He leans closer to Jongdae, their thighs touching. “I have essays to write for all my classes, not to mention that I have to study for written and practical exams for each one.” He slumps onto Jongdae, who doesn’t hesitate to put his arm around him.
“But you love it,” Jongdae reminds him, his stomach swooping like a tidal wave when Baekhyun snuggles closer to him, pressing his nose to Jongdae’s collarbone.
“I do,” Baekhyun agrees, voice slightly muffled by Jongdae’s chest. “I love all the work that we have to do, all the essays I have to write.” Baekhyun sighs happily. “I feel like I’m lucky to have been given this chance to actually study what I love.”
“Some people are luckier than others,” Jongdae responds, his fingers playing with the seam of Baekhyun’s sleeve. “Others never come close.” He pauses as he figures out what to say what he wants to say. “My dad was an architect,” he tells Baekhyun, who straightens up to look at him. Jongdae’s arm falls to Baekhyun’s waist. “A lot of people say he was really good. My brother looked up to him—still looks up to him—and wants to be the kind of architect that he was. I wish I knew him more.”
“What do you remember about him?” Baekhyun asks, leaning back into Jongdae’s embrace.
Jongdae closes his eyes. He remembers waking up and climbing into his parents’ bed, squeezing in between them. His dad would wrap an arm around him as he tries to fall back to sleep, while his mother got up to fetch Jongdeok from his room and bring him back for early morning cuddles with them.
“That sounds nice,” Baekhyun remarks, sounding wistful. “My mom left me and my dad when I was eight years old. After a couple of years, my dad left me to my aunt and never came back.” He pauses as if to think as Jongdae tightens his arm around him. “I think my aunt hugged me sometimes.” His laughter is dry.
Jongdae would never have guessed that this is the kind of family Baekhyun has. He couldn’t tell, couldn’t see anything behind those dazzling smiles and deafening laughter. Life can be so unfair sometimes. Jongdae wraps his other arm around Baekhyun and hugs him.
“You can always come to me for cuddles,” Jongdae offers, even though he knows how detrimental this is to his heart. But Baekhyun deserves to feel loved.
“Really?” Jongdae thinks Baekhyun sounds pleased as they pull away.
“Anytime,” Jongdae promises him. “If you ever need cheering up, I’ll always be here to hug you.”
“And what if I don’t need cheering up? Can I still come for hugs and cuddles?” Baekhyun coyly wants to know.
Jongdae rolls his eyes. “You’re a flirt,” he declares.
Baekhyun wraps his arms around Jongdae’s waist and presses his face to his chest. “Just with the ones I like,” he tells him softly.
Jongdae’s heart stutters in his chest before Baekhyun’s words register. The ones he likes. Ones. Not one. Not Jongdae. But he takes a deep breath, like he’s about to dive and swim the 1500-meter freestyle event where he knows he’s going to be so tired and his body’s going to ache afterwards, and wraps an arm around Baekhyun.
“Are you sad right now? Is that why we’re cuddling?” Jongdae teases him, trying not to think so hard about what’s happening and what he’s doing.
“No,” Baekhyun says, his hair tickling Jongdae’s neck. “Don’t you think happiness deserves cuddles, too? Are you happy, Jongdae?”
It doesn’t matter that Baekhyun is in his arms in a way that Jongdae would like to think makes Baekhyun his. Even if he gets just a small part of Baekhyun… “Yes,” Jongdae tells him. “I’m happy.”
“Me too,” Baekhyun whispers. “Me too.”
Jongdae is packing up his things, shoulders tense with the project that he needs to finish for his Fundamentals and Design Communication class. He mentally goes through his schedule and breathes deeply when he thinks about how it’s going to be so hectic because he also has papers to write for Culture and Community and Social Issues, as well as submit a topic for the major research assignment that he’s going to do for his Writing and Critical Reasoning class. Jongdae lets out a breath and slings his bag on his shoulder as he gets out of the classroom. How is he going to manage his time with all his papers and midterms and swimming practices?
“You look stressed,” Baekhyun teases, pushing himself off the opposite wall of the classroom.
Jongdae looks up and immediately brightens up at the sight of Baekhyun, who laughs at the sudden transformation. “Hey,” he greets him, forgetting his earlier mood. “What are you doing here?”
Baekhyun snorts. “You ask like I haven’t been coming by your classes to pick you up for practice,” he says, rolling his eyes. “What’s gotten your panties in a twist?”
“Nothing new,” Jongdae answers vaguely, putting an arm around Baekhyun’s shoulders. “What do you think Donghae’s going to give us today?” The other day Donghae made them swim butterfly the entire time and Jongdae missed his first class the next day because he was in so much pain and felt so tired.
“The competition is in a day so I’m hoping he won’t torture us much,” Baekhyun sighs as he kind of wiggles closer to Jongdae, which is difficult to do while walking, but he somehow manages to do it. Jongdae squeezes Baekhyun’s shoulder.
“Are you okay?” Jongdae asks. He shifts his bag as they go out of the building and start heading for the pool. “You’re awfully cuddly today,” he adds just was Baekhyun wraps an arm around Jongdae’s waist.
“Just tired,” Baekhyun mutters. “We had to watch this romance film, which was incredibly gorgeous.”
“Watching romantic movies is tiring?” Jongdae chuckles.
“Romance is tiring,” Baekhyun corrects him. “It was still a beautiful movie, though. Incredibly gorgeous. Wong Kar-wai is a genius.”
Jongdae manages to let out a laugh. He’s suspected as much. He’s pretty sure that someone who dates the way Baekhyun does isn’t someone who settles down and is a fan of romance or relationships. “Good thing it’s just a movie then,” he comments.
Baekhyun scoffs, pulling away as they reach the pool area. He opens his mouth to say some retort when he stops in his tracks. Jongdae trips.
“Oh, he’s here!” There’s laughter in Soojung’s voice. “Jongdae, Myungsoo’s been waiting for you.”
Myungsoo stands up from where he’s sitting on the lowest step of the bleacher’s beside Kyungsoo, who has an eyebrow quirked up. Jongdae is surprised. He hasn’t talked to Myungsoo since the party, which has been two weeks ago. All he really remembers from that night is talking to Myungsoo and, apparently, flirting with him, which no one in the team lets him forget.
Jongdae turns to look at Baekhyun to get some direction on what to do. But when he does, Baekhyun’s not there. Baekhyun’s already made his way to the empty space beside Kris on the third step. Baekhyun leans his head on Kris’s shoulder and Kris puts an arm around him in return, a soft smile on his face. Jongdae swallows. Just a minute ago, that was Jongdae in Kris’s place.
“Sorry I came without notice,” Myungsoo speaks up, interrupting Jongdae’s train of thought.
Jongdae blinks and focuses his attention on Myungsoo. “You… you’re really here for me?” he asks, with a surprised laugh.
“Whom else would I be here for?” Myungsoo scratches the back of his neck, such a shy and endearing action. “Because I see Kyungsoo too often and I don’t really want to see Kris in just swimming trunks.”
“You’re the only one,” Jongdae jokes and Myungsoo laughs.
“But yeah,” Myungsoo confirms shyly. “I did come here for you.” Jongdae gives him a curious look. “I, uh, wanted to ask you something.”
Jongdae glances behind Myungsoo, where the rest of the team is just hanging out, some starting to get up to go and get changed. Joonmyun waves an assurance at him that there’s still time before their coach arrives, a smirk on his face that Jongdae wants to slap off. Jongdae doesn’t look at Baekhyun, who is now lying down on Kris’s lap. Jongdae doesn’t care.
“What is it?” Jongdae prompts Myungsoo, smiling encouragingly.
“My class is having a photography exhibition for our midterms,” Myungsoo starts after taking a deep breath that Jongdae thinks is hilarious and cute at the same time. No one should ever be this nervous in asking him for anything. “I was wondering if you wanted to go this weekend. Because I have an extra ticket. Not because I wanted you to go as my date. It’s not that.”
Jongdae laughs, the kind that is uninhibited and loud. It echoes. Jongdae doesn’t notice Baekhyun sitting up from where he was on Kris’s lap. Because Jongdae isn’t looking at Baekhyun. “I’d love to see your exhibit,” he tells him sincerely. “But is it open on Sunday? Because we have a meet on Saturday and I don’t want to go there half-asleep after the competition.”
“Oh. Of course. I mean, yes,” Myungsoo says, chuckling nervously. “It’s open everyday. You’re free to go any day you want. You don’t even have to go.”
“I’ll go,” Jongdae assures him with laughter. “On Sunday.”
Myungsoo nods, grinning happily. “Okay,” he replies. “That’s great. I’ll, uh, see you then.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” Jongdae calls, waving as Myungsoo leaves.
“Jongdae has a daaaaate,” Zitao announces in a singsong voice. He situates himself behind Jongdae and wraps his long arms around him, resting his chin on his shoulder. This has him hunching around Jongdae.
“It’s not a date,” Jongdae interjects, elbowing Zitao very hard on the ribs. Zitao grunts and lets go, immediately running to Yuri’s open arms. Jongdae looks away when Yuri’s hands wander lower than Zitao’s ribs. “He just invited me to his photo exhibit.”
“Which he invited none of us to,” Sehun pipes in. He smiles when Jongdae shoots him a death glare.
“It’s an open invitation,” Jongdae insists. “I bet it’s one of those things where they get a good grade if a lot of people go. We should all go together.”
“Jongdae please,” Jinri says, shaking a finger at him, while Soojung laughs beside her. Jongdae calls Soojung and Jinri ‘evil twins’ in head sometimes. “Myungsoo was clearly asking you out. He went through all the trouble to come here and wait for you and then watch you get all cuddly with…” She turns and glances at where Baekhyun is pulling Kris to his feet so they could go to the bathroom to change into their suits. “The wrong person, clearly.”
“What are you talking about?” Jongdae asks, not looking at Baekhyun and Kris’s clasped hands.
“I don’t know if anyone’s told you,” Soojung pipes in. She leans in, as if sharing a conspiracy. “Baekhyun’s a bad idea.”
“I think we all know that,” Jongdae says lightly. He even chuckles. “But Baekhyun is Baekhyun.”
“Exactly,” Jinri validates. “Baekhyun is Baekhyun. There is no going around that. He will always be who he is.” She grins at him as she picks up her bag.
“And Myungsoo did ask you out on a date,” Soojung whispers in his ear before following Jinri to the bathroom. “You just answered the wrong question.”
Jongdae has always known this. He’s known that Baekhyun doesn’t do steady relationships the moment he saw him hanging out with Sehun instead of Kris at the party. It was even confirmed when Jongdae caught Baekhyun making out with Zitao at the library. There always seems to be no strings attached in all of those trysts because they just act like they’re friends most of the time. Until Baekhyun initiates something, Jongdae guesses.
Jongdae wasn’t looking for a relationship, for anyone special, when he got in to college. All he wanted was to do what he was supposed to do, which was attending architecture classes and swimming. There was nothing in his plans about getting into anything complicated with a boy, who lights up the room when he walks in.
He isn’t even really sure if he actually has gotten into anything. Baekhyun is the type to never let anyone get close. Baekhyun makes friends with everyone and makes people think that they know him and that they’re good friends. But, in reality, he keeps everyone at arms’ length. Even Jongdae. Maybe especially Jongdae, because Jongdae is someone new in Baekhyun’s life.
But Jongdae can’t just agree to go on a date with Myungsoo just because of the confusion that he has with Baekhyun. It wouldn’t be fair. Then again, why would Jongdae hang around when he clearly isn’t going to get anywhere with Baekhyun?
“Are you just going to stand there?”
Jongdae whirls around and sees Baekhyun giving him an amused look, where he has one corner of his lips curled up into a tiny, tiny smirk. It makes him want to maybe press his lips on the even tinier mole right above it. Jongdae hates that he notices these things.
“No,” Jongdae says, shaking his head.
“Hey stranger,” Baekhyun greets, walking into the room without so much as an invitation.
Jongdae looks up from where he’s buttoning his polo shirt and frowns as he glances at the door. He should really push Kyungsoo to agree to get that automatic locking system for their door.
“Hey,” Jongdae says, trying to keep his voice neutral. He hasn’t been hanging out with Baekhyun in a week, citing school-related activities as his excuses. Although Baekhyun probably hasn’t noticed. Jongdae noticed that Baekhyun has been busy trying to woo Joonmyun.
Baekhyun sits on the bed, less excitedly than he’s done in the past. Normally, Baekhyun would be sitting with his legs folded on his bed in less than a minute, already flipping through Jongdae’s homework or playing a game on Jongdae’s mobile phone. At present, though, Baekhyun is just sitting there, quietly watching Jongdae make sense of the buttons on his shirt. Jongdae doesn’t get why they make the holes so small that the button can barely go through them.
“Is… everything okay?” Jongdae carefully asks, letting his hands fall to his sides to rest for a bit when Baekhyun stays quiet. He’s only finished buttoning his shirt halfway through.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says. “Why? Does it look like things are not okay?”
“You’re quiet,” Jongdae points out, grabbing his brush and going to Kyungsoo’s side of the room to look at his reflection on the small mirror and fix his hair. “You’re never quiet. What happened?”
“Nothing,” Baekhyun tells him. “I’m fine.”
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae says warningly. He puts his brush back to his desk and sits down beside Baekhyun. “What is it?”
“Okay,” Baekhyun lets out a breath, his shoulders sagging slightly. “So I might need a hug.” He stiffens slightly at the admission. “Just a little,” he abruptly adds. “Nothing major. Because there’s nothing wrong.”
Jongdae rolls his eyes, chuckling as he pulls Baekhyun close to him, his arms automatically wrapping around Baekhyun. Jongdae has done this so many times that it’s become second nature to him, no matter how much it’s not supposed to. Baekhyun shuffles closer to him, pressing his forehead to the crook of Jongdae’s neck. He sighs contentedly.
Baekhyun feels nice in his arms like this. Baekhyun is soft and warm even when he’s all muscle and sharp angles due to years of swimming training. His skin is always soft to the touch, which makes Jongdae wonder sometimes if it’s Kris who taught him how to take care of it. Jongdae shakes his head and closes his eyes, focusing on enjoying Baekhyun in his arms in the few minutes that it lasts. Because it’s always just a few minutes. A few minutes where he gets to pretend that Baekhyun is his.
“I watched ‘In the Mood for Love’ again today,” Baekhyun suddenly speaks, startling Jongdae to opens his eyes. “I had to watch it again to be able to write my essay about lighting and cinematography and how it helps with storytelling.”
“What?” Jongdae asks, confused.
“’In the Mood for Love’,” Baekhyun repeats, softer this time.
“Is that why you came here for cuddles because watching another romantic movie made you tired?” Jongdae teases gently, squeezing Baekhyun’s shoulder. Baekhyun sighs. “Is it really that tiring?”
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says.
Jongdae is about to say something more, like maybe comfort Baekhyun by telling him that they should watch a funny movie or an action one later in the evening, when Baekhyun lifts his head up and pulls away. Jongdae feels the loss.
“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun says, chuckling as he shakes his head. “I shouldn’t be keeping you. You have a date.”
That’s right. Jongdae has a date. With Myungsoo. Jongdae is trying this thing called having options and being more open, like Chanyeol had told him when Jongdae whined, carefully excluding the part about Baekhyun. Jongdae pushes himself off the bed and makes a face when he realizes he still hasn’t finished buttoning up his shirt. Baekhyun chuckles and stands up to help him.
“I hate these things,” Jongdae grumbles. “Why do we have to dress up for dates? It’s like putting on a front.” He tries not to inhale so harshly when Baekhyun’s fingers brush ever so lightly against his sternum.
“It’s not putting on a front,” Baekhyun laughs. He finishes buttoning Jongdae’s shirt in no time to Jongdae’s amazement. “You just want to make an effort. It shows the other person that you care. At least that’s what they say.” He pats Jongdae’s tummy. “You should tuck in your shirt.”
“Really?” Jongdae whines. “Why?” But he proceeds to do as suggested. “Just because you don’t dress up for someone, doesn’t mean you don’t care. You can show that you care in other things, too.”
“Like what?” Baekhyun asks and Jongdae looks at him because Baekhyun actually looks curious.
Jongdae shrugs. “I guess the simplest way to show that you care about someone is being there when they need you,” he shares thoughtfully. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in rags when you do it. The point is that you’re there.”
Baekhyun smiles and Jongdae thinks it’s almost wistful. “Well then,” he says, taking a step closer as he fixes Jongdae’s collar. Jongdae tries his hardest not to take the next step forward, even when Baekhyun’s lips are so invitingly close. Because if he does, he’s going to kiss Baekhyun and that’s not something he should do before going on a date with someone else. “Go and be there for Myungsoo.”
Jongdae squeezes his eyes shut and hangs his head, taking a very deep breath, when Baekhyun leaves him alone to finish preparing for his date. This feels so unfair. It feels so unfair to be so close to having Baekhyun, to have this vision of happiness at his fingertips, but not have it. It’s unfair because Jongdae knows that he is going to keep hanging around, even if he has one foot out the door.
Jongdae should really be in some place quiet, where he can actually think about Fundamental Design, and playing World of Warcraft with people who clearly have their shit together more than he does.
“Hey!” Minseok complains as Sehun sidesteps him on the game and gets him shot. “You didn’t even bother covering for me!”
“I wouldn’t have to cover for you if you’d bothered to listen to me and not go there,” Sehun retorts, rolling his eyes, lips pursed. “Now we have to start all over again. Please listen to me this time.”
“I’m older than you, punk,” Minseok grumbles but presses restart. He turns in his seat on the floor and looks at Jongdae, who has his face buried in between pillows. Baekhyun is beside him, reading a magazine. “Hey, Jongdae. Want to play?”
“No,” Jongdae says, voice muffled. “I’m just going to die here just like how my grades probably will.”
Baekhyun snorts and puts the magazine down on his lap. “Don’t be dramatic,” he says, running his fingers through Jongdae’s hair. Jongdae tries not to shiver at the touch. “You already have your outline and you’ve written half of it. You’ll be fine.”
“Maybe if you didn’t spend so much time going out with Myungsoo, you’d have more time for homework,” Sehun rags on him and laughs when Minseok shoves him. “It’s true!” He glances at Baekhyun, who’s placed his hand back on the magazine. “How many dates has it been? 10? Are you guys officially dating now?”
Jongdae wants to disappear into the sheets. He feels his whole body flushing and there’s nothing more he’d want to do than to not be there to take Sehun’s teasing. But before he can go and fling himself at Sehun, no matter how much he just wants to ignore him, Baekhyun speaks up.
“It’s only been four dates, right?” Baekhyun muses. “Jongdae’s a lot more careful than you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sehun interjects, sounding offended. He leans to his left as he tries to run his character to the left. “I’m a careful dater, too.”
“There’s nothing careful about dating,” Minseok scoffs. “That’s what dating is. It’s putting yourself out there.”
“You just date everyone that breathes in your direction,” Baekhyun retorts, grinning when Sehun looks back to glare at him.
“You’re one to talk!” Minseok blurts out, laughing. Baekhyun has the grace to blush.
“That was months ago,” Sehun grumbles. “Will you ever let it go?”
“Nope,” Baekhyun laughs and Jongdae sits up, looking curious.
“What’s going on?” Jongdae wants to know.
Baekhyun giggles when Sehun stares at him to shut up. “Sehun asked me out over the summer,” he shares gleefully. “He was very shy and very, very cute about it.”
“Baekhyun!” Sehun pauses his game and grabs the nearest thing within his reach to throw at Baekhyun. Which happened to be the remote, which Jongdae dodges with his wrist.
“Hey, no violence,” Baekhyun snaps as he grabs Jongdae’s wrist carefully. It’s red and would have a bruise in a matter of minutes. “Besides, you really were cute.”
“If you don’t shut up, I’m going to throw the whole Playstation set at you,” Sehun warns him. “I don’t even care if Jongdae dies for it.”
“Sehun is touchy about getting his heart broken,” Minseok comments and ducks when Sehun moves to slap the back of his head.
“That’s why you should be careful in dating,” Baekhyun repeats, glancing at Jongdae meaningfully.
“But Myungsoo is a nice guy,” Jongdae defends Myungsoo. Myungsoo has been nothing but sweet and such a gentleman to him. He tries to hard to make Jongdae happy that Jongdae doesn’t know if he should keep on trying for something that may have been pointless in the first place.
Baekhyun raises his eyebrows. “Is that all you’re looking for a guy? Someone nice?” he says. “Myungsoo cheats in his classes, you know, like during tests.”
“Here we go,” Sehun mutters, going back to the game. Minseok snickers beside him.
Jongdae gives Baekhyun an incredulous look. He’s not entirely sure why Baekhyun is giving him dating lessons about being careful and being picky when Baekhyun himself doesn’t seem to be doing that.
“If that’s your definition of nice…” Baekhyun continues.
“Everyone cheats on tests at least once in their life,” Jongdae counters. “That doesn’t mean he’s not a good boyfriend.” He actually thinks that Myungsoo would make a very good boyfriend, with how attentive and caring and loyal he is. It helps that he’s also attractive.
Baekhyun raises his hands up in surrender as he gets off the bed. “All I’m saying is that you should get to know him better,” he maintains, smiling innocently.
“What do you think I’ve been doing?” Jongdae yells as Baekhyun leaves the room. He slumps back into the pillows, cradling his wrist.
“You’re wasting your time,” Sehun comments offhandedly.
“With what?” Jongdae demands. “That remote control was uncalled for. What if you actually hit Baekhyun?”
“Like I said,” Sehun mutters. “Wasting your time.”
Jongdae frowns at the back of Sehun’s head, imagining what it would be like if it exploded. He thinks it would do the world some good. The world needs less snark and irritation in this world.
When Baekhyun comes back into the room, he has an ice pack in his hand. He climbs back on the bed, gently takes Jongdae’s wrist and places the ice pack on it. “You should always be careful,” he tells him. “How are you going to swim if you get yourself injured?”
“It was Sehun’s fault!” Jongdae whines. But there’s something lodged in his throat. He watches as Baekhyun’s slim fingers carefully wrap themselves on the skin just above his wrist as he concentrates on icing the now purpling bruise. Baekhyun really is soft on the inside. Now all Jongdae wants to do is to find out just how soft Baekhyun is. “So… do you not like Myungsoo or something?” he asks, more quietly, hoping that Sehun and Minseok wouldn’t hear above the sounds of the game.
Baekhyun looks startled, the ice pack almost slipping from his hand. “It’s not that,” he says, glancing up at Jongdae before returning his attention to icing Jongdae’s wrist. “I just think that you shouldn’t move so fast,” he states delicately. “Myungsoo is so…” Baekhyun wrinkles his nose in such a cute way that Jongdae is actually unable to stop himself from reaching up and pinching it. “Hey,” Baekhyun whimpers.
“Stop trying to act cute,” Jongdae says, chuckling. “Myungsoo is so what?”
“I just think that maybe your personalities don’t… jive,” Baekhyun finally says, more serious than he was earlier. He stares down for a second before looking up to meet Jongdae’s eyes.
Baekhyun is looking at Jongdae like he’s trying to tell him something, like maybe… Jongdae pushes the thought down and squashes it. Baekhyun is Baekhyun. “Well I guess I’ll just have to make sure that we jive,” he says, shrugging and icing his wrist himself when Baekhyun lets go.
Myungsoo is a good guy and Jongdae deserves good things once in a while.
Jongdae is on his way back to his dorm from a study group session (where he’s glad he had because it’s there that he realized that he’s the only one struggling) when he passes by a bakeshop. It would be weird, and it probably really is, that the first thing he thought of was how Baekhyun would love those macaroons. While Baekhyun likes anything that’s food, Jongdae knows that Baekhyun has quite a sweet tooth too no matter how much he denies it. But even if Baekhyun doesn’t like sweets, Jongdae thinks giving Baekhyun something is still a good idea (even if it’s actually a bad idea).
He walks inside the bakeshop and orders one box of a dozen macaroons of varying flavors and smiles, feeling pleased with himself. Jongdae remembers Baekhyun’s face when he gave Baekhyun some of the ones that Myungsoo bought for Jongdae. If only that kind of happiness appeared on Baekhyun’s face whenever Jongdae was with Baekhyun.
When the lady behind the counter wraps up Jongdae’s purchase and hands it to him, he goes back to the dormitories with more excitement than he had earlier. He’d only been planning to go back to his room to just crash onto his bed. But he thinks it’s better that he sees Baekhyun first.
There’s laughter inside when Jongdae knocks.
“It’s open!” Baekhyun calls and Jongdae pushes it open, only to find Himchan’s arms around Baekhyun, who has a guitar on his lap.
“Hey!” Baekhyun greets him, jumping up and handing the guitar to Himchan, who grins at Jongdae. “What’s this?”
Jongdae doesn’t register the question and just stares at the space on the bed that Baekhyun has just vacated. Himchan had his arms around Baekhyun. So he’s the guy of the moment. Of course there was always going to be someone. There is always going to be someone. Why isn’t Jongdae used to it by now?
“Jongdae?” Baekhyun touches his arm, peering at him curiously.
“Oh.” Jongdae snaps out of his trance and hands him the box. “I, uh, this is for you,” he stammers. Himchan raises an eyebrow. “It’s from the bakeshop near the outskirts of campus. I thought you might want some since you enjoyed the ones I gave you…” He shakes his head. “Those are for you.”
Baekhyun lets out a pleased noise as he opens it to find the macaroons nestling deliciously beside each other, all waiting to be eaten. He looks at Jongdae and smiles at him. “You bought them for me?” he asks, lashes fluttering on his cheek.
Jongdae looks away and shoves his hands in his pockets. “Yeah,” he says. He turns to the door. “I have to go.”
“You don’t have to go,” Baekhyun says, reaching for his hand, which Jongdae pulls out of reach. Baekhyun frowns. “Joonmyun just went out to buy food. You can eat with us.”
“No thanks,” Jongdae says a bit too snappishly. He doesn’t really want to be a witness to Baekhyun and Himchan being together. He sighs in apology when he sees Baekhyun’s eyes widen. “I’m just tired. I came from a study session. I think I’ll just go to bed.”
“Without eating anything?” Baekhyun is frowning. He makes it so hard for Jongdae when he acts concerned like this.
“Yeah,” Jongdae assures him. “Don’t worry, I’m not that hungry. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He smiles a little and waves at Himchan, who gives him a serious, almost calculating, nod. Great, now Himchan feels threatened.
Jongdae slips his right hand out of his pocket, clutching his phone on hand, as soon as he closes the door behind him. It’s quiet on the other side. He dials a number and closes his eyes as he takes a deep breath. It’s not fair, but Jongdae needs someone to talk to right now, someone with a physical presence that Chanyeol can’t give.
“Hey, Myungsoo,” Jongdae starts. “Do you think we could hang out?”
It’s hot. Jongdae’s shirt is sticking to his back even as the wind blows properly in their direction. He wraps his arms around himself, resting his forehead on his arms. He feels cold anyway. There is so much good that’s going for him; he’s coping better with college than he originally expected to. His swimming records are excellent and while he’s not performing academically the way he should be performing, it’s still okay. He hasn’t failed yet and that’s a good thing. But Jongdae really just has to get into a situation of unrequited love, which is something he hasn’t prepared himself for. He’s always been wary of relationships because they do bring trouble, because he doesn’t have time for them. Jongdae doesn’t have the luxury of getting his heart broken because he’s not sure if he can put it back together.
What exactly is different with Byun Baekhyun? Baekhyun isn’t anything extraordinary. He’s not even taller than Jongdae. He’s not more muscular or heavier, doesn’t even look like he can protect Jongdae better than Jongdae can protect Baekhyun. He’s not overly sweet or particularly caring, although he does have his moments. Baekhyun’s voice can get annoying, especially when he laughs too loud, which he does too often. He’s always teasing Jongdae, always making fun of him, always dragging him to do things when Jongdae should be doing homework instead. All in all Baekhyun doesn’t seem like that great of a person. But it looks like Jongdae is doomed because he’s in love with him anyway.
Jongdae snorts, tightening his arms around himself. He just had to fall for someone who had commitment issues.
“Hey, are you alright?” Jongdae looks up as Myungsoo takes off his jacket and drapes it around Jongdae’s shoulders before sitting beside him. “Sorry it took me a while. I had to get out of choir practice. I had to bribe Kyungsoo to cover for me. What happened?”
“Sorry,” Jongdae mutters, resting his head sideways so he can look at Myungsoo while talking to him. “Kyungsoo’s never going to let you forget this. Or me, for that matter.”
Myungsoo waves it off dismissively. “But what’s wrong? You sounded so miserable over the phone.”
Jongdae shakes his head and smiles. “I’m okay now,” he lies.
Myungsoo studies him, his eyes moving over Jongdae’s face thoughtfully, and Jongdae has to fight to keep looking at him. He hopes that Myungsoo doesn’t see anything that Jongdae doesn’t want him to see. Jongdae really doesn’t want to hurt Myungsoo, but he wants to be selfish for now, as bad as that may sound.
“Do you want to go for a walk? Maybe get ice cream?” Myungsoo then suggests.
Jongdae agrees, straightening up. He moves to return Myungsoo’s jacket to him, but Myungsoo just wraps it around Jongdae’s shoulder again.
“It’s okay. Keep it for now,” Myungsoo says. “You need the warmth.”
Jongdae wonders what it takes for a person to fall into things, what it takes for someone to start liking something or someone and how someone comes to a decision to push through with it. Falling in love seems like one of the toughest things to fall into because there doesn’t seem to be a decision point to it. It’s almost like you only realize that it’s happened once you’re already in too deep.
Jongdae mentally chides himself. It’s not right to be thinking about that when he’s with someone else. Myungsoo has been nothing short of wonderful. Jongdae should give him what’s due to him. Jongdae links his arms with Myungsoo, much to Myungsoo’s surprise.
“Thank you for coming for me,” Jongdae sincerely tells him. “Thank you.”
Myungsoo smiles, almost shyly. “Jongdae, with me, you never even have to ask,” he declares surely.
The simplest way to show that you care about someone is being there when they need you.
Jongdae thinks there’s another way to show someone that you care about them. It’s being there for someone without them having to ask.
Myungsoo gives him smiles freely, smiles that he never gives anyone else, shares his time with him without hesitation, holds him even if Jongdae doesn’t ask.
Jongdae’s heart hurts with the unfairness of it all.
Jongdae can see colors even when he draws in pencil. It’s something that he’s grown to get used to as he began to draw here and there over the years. Even when he’s not drawing anything in particular and is just doodling, he can see blues and greens and purples on the page. He can see how bright, how light or how coarse something is.
Right now, it’s easier, because the trees seem greener than he’s seen them, the sky a light purplish blue, with the white clouds so bright, they almost look like they’re silver. Even when Jongdae is sad, the colors are always exultant and cheerful. It’s a reminder to Jongdae that the world keeps turning even when he thinks it’s ending.
“There’s something you’re keeping from me.”
Jongdae is startled out of his stupor and blinks at Chanyeol. “What?”
Chanyeol surprised Jongdae with a visit this time. When he woke up early that morning, all ready to go and run for a bit before going for swimming practice, he found Chanyeol sitting on his desk. Chanyeol was playing a game on his phone as he waited for Jongdae to wake up. Kyungsoo had gone ahead and left early.
Chanyeol nods at his sketch. “Who’s that?”
Jongdae looks down at his opened notebook and sees Baekhyun. Well, it’s Baekhyun and how he’d looked like that one time when Jongdae took him to see the sunset by the beach. It was a random trip because Jongdae had been stressed and Baekhyun wanted to be spontaneous. Jongdae traces the drawing with his eyes and can clearly remember how the light shone on Baekhyun’s face, making him glow even brighter than he usually does.
“It’s Baekhyun,” Jongdae says, closing the notebook and keeping it in between his stomach and legs when he pulls his knees to his chest. “He’s a friend.”
Chanyeol doesn’t say anything, for which Jongdae is grateful. They haven’t been friends in such a long time for nothing. Chanyeol knows exactly when to push Jongdae and when to let things go. But Jongdae also knows that Chanyeol normally wants to push. He just waits for the right time to do so.
“So I have this painting class,” Chanyeol breaks the silence, putting his sketchbook down to the grass in front of him. His voice gets this faraway, dreamy lilt to it that has Jongdae smiling at his best friend curiously. Jongdae already knows where this is going. “I had to go to the bathroom and when I came back class was over, and this girl, she was hovering over my work,” he continues and Jongdae smiles a little at the look of wistfulness that overtakes Chanyeol’s face. “She looked at me when she realized I was back and told me that I was bad at mixing colors.”
Jongdae bursts into laughter at how anticlimactic that was. But, of course, Chanyeol would find that endearing.
“She said it in the most judging manner, and I just,” Chanyeol recounts, bursting into laughter as well. “Jongdae, she was so hot.”
“I bet you asked her to teach you how to do it right,” Jongdae says and scoffs when Chanyeol just grins at him. Chanyeol would. Chanyeol is the type to act right away to get what he wants.
“What else was I supposed to do?” Chanyeol asks. “I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. We might never get the chance to interact again.”
“You’re in the same class,” Jongdae points out, rolling his eyes.
“I wasn’t going to take that chance,” Chanyeol scoffs, shaking his head. “Besides,” he goes on, pushing his hair back from his forehead, only to have it falling back down. “We wouldn’t be sort of going out now if I hadn’t asked her then.” Jongdae’s mouth hangs open at this. Chanyeol grins that lopsided grin of his as wiggles his eyebrows, which just makes his whole face wiggle. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, but still. She said yes. I think she likes me.”
“Would you look at that,” Jongdae says, clapping Chanyeol’s back. “Dreams do come true.”
“Of course they do,” Chanyeol says, suddenly taking a serious turn. Jongdae doesn’t say anything, just straightens his legs, his notebook falling to his lap. Chanyeol glances at it. “They do come true,” he repeats. “You just have to know what they are.”
“Yeah,” Jongdae just agrees, staring off to the other side of the field, where some guys are playing Frisbee. “Of course.”
“This Baekhyun,” Chanyeol casually continues with the conversation. Jongdae looks to his right, away from Chanyeol, because he is now starting to push. “Who is he?”
Jongdae has to force back a laugh because that question is both easy and difficult to answer. Baekhyun is too many things that Jongdae can’t figure out just how to describe him simply, without giving anything away.
“He’s my swimming teammate,” Jongdae finally says.
“Come on, Jongdae,” Chanyeol retorts, pushing at him. “You can do better than that.”
“But he is my teammate,” Jongdae insists, ears turning red. Chanyeol snickers. “What do you want me to say?”
“You draw him a lot,” Chanyeol points out straightforwardly, making Jongdae freeze. Chanyeol notices a lot more than Jongdae gives him credit for. Even from far away, Chanyeol still sees through him. “I don’t think you should be underestimating who he is in your life. Or thinking about him so dismissively.”
“I’m not the one who is dismissive in the relationship,” Jongdae states derisively. “Trust me.”
“So there is a relationship,” Chanyeol picks up and Jongdae purses his lips. “Jongdae?”
The boys are done playing Frisbee. They’re now just sitting on the grass or lying down, obviously having exhausted all their energies. Putting in effort can be exhausting, although Jongdae also knows that it can be incredibly rewarding. He just can’t really see anything rewarding happening any time soon.
“Don’t you ever get that feeling where you think you want something, but you already know that you’re not going to get it? So you just keep on doing what you’ve been doing because it’s not bad anyway and you don’t want to jeopardize what you have?” Jongdae rambles.
“Jongdae,” Chanyeol responds. There’s a frown on his face when Jongdae looks at him.
“I know it’s silly,” Jongdae chuckles, leaning backwards on his arms, palms on the warm grass.
“It’s not silly to want something,” Chanyeol corrects him. “I think what you have to figure out is if you really want it. Thinking you want something isn’t going to get you far. At the first sign of an obstacle, you’re going to quit.”
“What if that thing that you want is the obstacle itself?” Jongdae thinks about Baekhyun and his beautiful eyes and lovely smile and how it makes him sad that they would never look at him or smile at him the way Jongdae wishes they would. “What do you do?”
Chanyeol is quiet for a while and Jongdae closes his eyes to relish the silence. Even in the quiet, Jongdae hears Baekhyun’s voice and laughter.
“I think you should keep drawing,” Chanyeol finally says.
“What? That’s your advice?” Jongdae responds in disbelief. “What does have to do with anything?”
“It has everything to do with everything,” is Chanyeol’s answer. Jongdae hits the back of Chanyeol’s head with his notebook.
When Jongdae was younger, his mother told him that he should always aim high, always reach for the stars so that when you fall, you fall above the trees. Apparently, it was from some inspirational quote that his mother picked up in one of his father’s books. But it’s never left him anyway. He’s always known that excellence is something that he should strive for and nothing less. Mediocrity is unacceptable.
Jongdae thought he could handle his workload and swimming practices at the same time. He’s done it in high school and didn’t think that university would be any different. As it turns out, university is very different. Especially since architecture is a lot harder than Jongdae anticipated. He’s trying and he’s working himself to the ground because he knows how important his grades are to keep his swimming scholarship. Except his swimming is getting affected, too, because he’s so tired all the time.
“Is everything okay, Jongdae?” Donghae looks concerned and Jongdae hates that this conversation even has to happen.
“Yes, coach,” Jongdae assures him. “Why?”
Donghae hesitates for a second before sighing. “Your times in the last competition are slower than your previous ones,” he tells him. “I normally wouldn’t bring this up, but they have been slipping even in practice and during the recent time trials. Is there anything bothering you?”
“No, coach,” Jongdae lies. “I’ll work harder to improve.” Before Donghae can say anything else, Jongdae walks to the pool and dives in.
Swimming and architecture are the only things that he has. If he loses them, Jongdae doesn’t know what he’ll do. Jongdae doesn’t know how he’ll face his mother and brother and how he’ll tell them that he failed. Over something that he’s supposed to be good at.
Jongdae stays an excess of two hours that evening. He doesn’t want to take any chances. If he’s going to make this work, he can’t let his schoolwork affect his training. He’ll have to step it up.
“Were you trying to swim yourself to death?” Baekhyun asks, looking up from his phone, when Jongdae gets up from the pool. He pockets his phone and stands up to hand Jongdae his towel.
“I just needed the extra practice,” Jongdae says, smiling at him in thanks. Baekhyun never ever fails to make him smile (even when he breaks his heart) just by his very presence.
“You always think you need the extra practice,” Baekhyun reminds him, shaking his head.
“What are you doing here?” Jongdae asks, deciding not to comment. “It’s late.” He’s used to Baekhyun staying behind with him. But there are days that he still gets surprised, like now, because they haven’t really been seeing each other as much due to his hectic schedule.
Baekhyun sits back down and shrugs dispassionately. “We haven’t seen each other as much, you know,” Baekhyun echoes Jongdae’s thoughts. “I figured I’d stay behind just in case you missed me, which you probably did.” Baekhyun grin is so big that Jongdae doesn’t even have the heart to roll his eyes at him.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you missed me,” Jongdae interjects, laughter coloring his tone.
“So what if I did,” Baekhyun snaps, poking his tongue out at Jongdae before pouting. He crosses his arms across his chest.
“Really?” Jongdae’s eyes are wide. Because he was joking, but Baekhyun looks like he is serious about what he just admitted. “Are you…” He laughs, a bit nervously. “Why would you miss me? We see each other all the time.”
“Not like before,” Baekhyun retorts, arms still crossed. “You’re always so busy, with school and Myungsoo.” He makes a face at him. “You never have time for other people anymore.”
Something blooms in Jongdae’s chest that he’s tried so hard to stamp down. It’s not healthy to cultivate those feelings. Hope really can breed eternal misery and Jongdae doesn’t want that to happen to him.
Jongdae laughs it off. “You, of all people, should know that I will always make time for you,” he tells him, pulling Baekhyun close. It’s interesting how Baekhyun doesn’t protest even though Jongdae is still wet. “You only just have to ask.”
“Well I’m asking now,” Baekhyun immediately responds. He wraps his arms around Jongdae’s bare waist and buries his face in Jongdae’s bare chest. Jongdae is too naked for this. “Please make time for me.”
Jongdae trips over his laughter and coughs a bit. Baekhyun missing him like this, wanting his time, attention and affections make him feel like he’s floating on cloud nine with a very pretty silver lining.
“Yes,” Jongdae assents softly, hugging Baekhyun in return. “You have my word.” You have me. “You’ll have my time anytime you ask.” You’ll always have me. “I’m always here for you.” I’m yours.
Jongdae presses a very soft kiss to Baekhyun’s forehead. Baekhyun rewards him with a kiss to his neck.
Jongdae swallows apprehensively and hopes that Baekhyun doesn’t feel the way Jongdae’s heart is fluttering relentlessly in his chest.
“Where are you?” Baekhyun demands.
Jongdae balances the phone using his shoulder as he tries to zip up his bag. “I went to the library to pick up some books,” he answers Baekhyun. If Baekhyun was clingy before, there is nothing to how he is now. It’s almost like… Jongdae’s brain laughs at him.
“Are you studying tonight?” Baekhyun asks.
Jongdae thinks about it as he walks out of the library. “I should,” he hedges. “Why, did you have anything in mind you wanted to do?”
“Nothing really,” Baekhyun says. “But if you have the time, you should come by the dorm. We ordered take-out and Joonmyun ordered too much. But if you need to study, you need to do that first.”
Jongdae laughs because Baekhyun, all of a sudden, is so hesitant for some reason. “I’ll let you know,” he tells him. “I think Myungsoo wanted to go and have dinner tonight. I’ll go and check.”
“Oh,” Baekhyun mutters. “Okay. Well, bye.” He hangs up before Jongdae can get another word in.
Instead of calling Myungsoo like he should, Jongdae pockets his phone instead. He and Myungsoo aren’t really dating. There’s nothing official, but Jongdae goes out with Myungsoo when he asks. They hang out, but it’s never progressed to anything. They haven’t even really held hands yet. Myungsoo has never pressed Jongdae to do anything that Jongdae hasn’t expressed interest in doing.
Maybe he knows about Baekhyun. Jongdae shakes his head. That’s impossible. No one knows about Baekhyun because everyone knows about Baekhyun. There is nothing going on between them because that’s not how Baekhyun works, that’s not how Baekhyun does relationships. Baekhyun doesn’t do relationships. Jongdae is not special enough to change that.
Jongdae knows that he should talk to Myungsoo and tell him that they should just be friends. It’s the right thing to do. Jongdae doesn’t want to lead him on until Myungsoo is in too deep that he’ll be hurting so much in the end. Jongdae isn’t worth all that, and Myungsoo deserves so much better. Soon, he thinks. He can already see that time coming fast.
Because Jongdae has dove in too deep that it’s so hard to get back up. All the water is in his lungs and it’s hard to breathe. He’s breathing all the water in and it hurts because this isn’t where Jongdae is supposed to be. Jongdae isn’t supposed to be in love with Baekhyun.
There are too many things that Jongdae thinks he isn’t supposed to be doing. Unlike Jongdeok, who seems to be having the time of his life. Apparently, from their conversation on the phone the other day, he’s been cooking a lot at home. He’s taken over the cooking duties from their mother and has been experimenting with different kinds of food, which surprisingly come out well.
Jongdae would never have pegged his brother as someone who cooks. Jongdeok had been so focused on swimming and his career that there never seemed to be anything in his sights for him. But when he lost swimming, it seemed that opened up a lot of new possibilities for him. It amazes Jongdae how things change and evolve for the better. Jongdeok certainly seems much happier than he’s ever been.
“Mom really enjoys everything I cook,” Jongdeok proudly tells Jongdae over the phone. “You should see her face when she tastes them.”
“She’s a mother,” Jongdae says, tone dripping of mockery. “Of course she’ll tell you that it’s good. She loves you for everything that you are. And aren’t.”
“When we see each other again, I will crush your head,” Jongdeok says to him so seriously that it just makes the whole thing even funnier to Jongdae.
“Okay, okay,” Jongdae replies, finally giving in. “You’re going to have to let me taste this amazing cooking, Chef Kim.”
“Sounds good, right?” Jongdae hasn’t heard his brother’s voice light up so much like that. “I’ve been thinking of attending culinary school on the side. I don’t know, it’s all just ideas right now.”
“Really?” Jongdae’s incredibly surprised. Jongdeok is an architect in a very prestigious firm, after all. Why would he want to go back to school for something else?
“I just realized that life’s too short to not do everything that I want to do,” Jongdeok says excitedly.
“Right,” Jongdae answers, even though he still doesn’t understand. Architecture is Jongdeok’s dream.
“I’m glad you’re going for what you want, too, Jongdae. I’m glad you’re doing well. You should always do what you want to do.”
Jongdae scuffs the toe of his shoe in the crack on the pavement, shifting his heavy bag on his shoulders. Jongdeok had felt down for a while after he injured himself and lost the chance to swim. Jongdae remembers how Jongdeok had locked himself in his room for days, Jongdae knocking to check on him and getting no response. Jongdae also remembers how his mother had cried.
Jongdeok made it sound so easy, going for what you want. How do you jump from one thing to the next? It’s so risky, so scary, to let go of something stable and jump. What if you fall? What if you fail? What then?
But then, risks are a part of life. Jongdae knows that, too. They say it’s what makes life so exciting. Jongdae then wonders if that’s why his life seems boring. Does it mean he hasn’t taken any risks? Being comfortable isn’t a bad thing. But what if… His phone vibrates in his pocket and he takes it out. There’s a text message from Baekhyun asking him if he’s going to come over.
Baekhyun. He and Baekhyun have known each other for half a year now and it’s interesting how many things have happened in those few months. Where before Jongdae and Baekhyun barely knew each other, now Jongdae is head over heels for Baekhyun and wants to curl up in his bed because of it. It’s so confusing and so unsettling because he doesn’t know what to do about feelings that won’t be reciprocated.
Chanyeol had told him that wanting things isn’t bad. Jongdae clearly wants Baekhyun, but he wants him more than just the physical needs to Baekhyun so willingly gives to others. Jongdae wants to be with Baekhyun. Jongdae wants to hold his hand and take him out and make him laugh and love him. Exclusively. Jongdae wants Baekhyun to be committed with him. The impossible dream.
Life’s too short to not do everything I want to do. What if Jongdae told Baekhyun about his feelings for him? What if Jongdae did ask Baekhyun out properly and just put his heart out there to be trampled upon freely? Life really is too short, after all.
Jongdae smiles to himself and shakes his head. It’s times like these that he wishes he had Chanyeol’s guts. Chanyeol never hesitates when it comes to anything that he wants. Chanyeol wanted to draw? He drew. Chanyeol wanted learn the guitar? He learned the guitar. Chanyeol liked a girl? He asked her out. There is never any hesitation. It’s almost like the bad consequences are an afterthought. Like he doesn’t care. Chanyeol doesn’t even seem to care if he fails or not. Jongdae thinks what’s more important to Chanyeol is that he did what he had to do and tried. Maybe to Chanyeol failure meant not trying.
This just puts Jongdae’s life and everything he’s done in it in a bad light. Because all Jongdae has right now, all that he does, are things that fell unto his lap. Which isn’t necessarily bad. But slowly Jongdae is coming to realize that maybe these are things that he doesn’t essentially want.
Jongdae knows that he wants Baekhyun, though. What if he started from there?
m coming over, Jongdae replies to Baekhyun.
Jongdae gets to Baekhyun’s dorm faster than he’d planned. It’s funny how fast time suddenly flies. He takes a very, very deep breath. He’s going to walk in, greet Joonmyun first before asking Baekhyun to step out. And then Jongdae is going to tell Baekhyun. The hallway may not be the most romantic setting, but if Jongdae doesn’t do it now, he may never do it at all.
“There you are.” Kyungsoo is the one who opens the door to Jongdae’s surprise. “Baekhyun has been going on and on about what time you’re arriving,” Kyungsoo says, pulling him inside.
“Jongdae, I’m so glad you’re finally here,” Joonmyun says.
Jongdae stops in his tracks. His chest reacts faster than his brain and constricts so painfully that Jongdae grimaces.
“Are you alright?” Kyungsoo asks, looking concerned.
“Jongdae!” Baekhyun greets, climbing off Joonmyun’s lap.
Baekhyun was sitting on Joonmyun’s lap, arms around Joonmyun’s neck and—Jongdae doesn’t even know how to continue that thought. Of course. Of course. What was Jongdae thinking?
“You don’t look so good,” Baekhyun says, reaching up to press his hand on Jongdae’s forehead.
Jongdae flinches away. “I’m fine,” he says. He isn’t fine. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be fine. Jongdae has been thinking so seriously about how he’s going to confess to Baekhyun when Baekhyun won’t even care. Baekhyun doesn’t care about relationships. He’s not going to care about Jongdae’s confession. If anything, it’ll just make things awkward between them.
“Jongdae,” Baekhyun starts again, arms extending to grab his hand.
Jongdae takes another step back. “I’m okay,” he assures him, them, because Kyungsoo and Joonmyun are looking at him worriedly. “You know what, I think I’ll actually just go to our room and crash. I am tired.”
“What’s wrong?” Baekhyun persists. His mouth is drooping downwards and Jongdae looks away.
“Nothing,” Jongdae promises, taking another step back. “I’m just tired. Really, really tired.”
“You do look like you can use some rest,” Joonmyun offers from the bed. “Are you having a headache? I may have something for it—“
“I’m okay,” Jongdae insists.
“Get some rest, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo states, nodding towards the door.
“I will,” Jongdae says, turning towards the door.
“I’m sorry,” Baekhyun tells him as he follows him to the door, even though he looks like he’s not sure what he’s apologizing for. He looks so sad. Jongdae doesn’t understand it.
Jongdae manages to chuckle and faces Baekhyun. He takes Baekhyun’s appearance in and thinks that Baekhyun shouldn’t ever be sad. Slowly reaching out, Jongdae cups Baekhyun’s face and grazes his thumb on the corner of Baekhyun’s lips.
“You should always smile,” Jongdae tells him ever so softly. Baekhyun furrows his eyebrows. “A happy Baekhyun is more handsome than a sad Baekhyun. Still handsome, but sad isn’t a good look on you.”
Baekhyun looks like he’s searching Jongdae’s eyes for something. “Jongdae, are you okay?” he asks quietly but urgently.
“I’m fine,” Jongdae assures him again. “You don’t have to worry about anything. You also don’t have to be sorry for anything. There’s nothing to apologize for.” Because there is nothing.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” Baekhyun hurriedly asks when Jongdae drops his hand and turns away.
“Of course,” Jongdae says, smiling. His chest is hurting so much. Why does it hurt so much? “I’ll always make time for you, remember?”
Jongdae gives Baekhyun another smile, the best one he can muster at the moment, and is satisfied when Baekhyun’s eyes light up. There’s the Baekhyun that he knows, the Baekhyun that lights up a room just by walking in it. A light so bright that Jongdae can’t turn a blind eye to even if he closes his eyes.
So Jongdae turns his back on it instead. The light is still there, but it’s dimmer, less blinding.
He’s hoping that, this way, it’ll be easier to forget.
“Are you excited?”
Jongdae looks out of the window, watching the scenery pass. He shifts in his seat.
“I’m guessing you’re less than excited,” Kyungsoo continues, tone slightly teasing but also concerned.
“I’m mostly nervous,” Jongdae admits, clasping his hands together.
“About the competition or about coming home?” Kyungsoo wants to know.
Their competition that weekend is going to take place in a university near Jongdae’s home. The thought sends both excitement and apprehension through Jongdae. It’s been a couple of months since he’s been home since college. He talks to him mom and his brother every now and then, but he hasn’t really seen them in quite a while. He’s not entirely sure if he’s excited to come home or not.
“Both,” Jongdae answers. “I don’t know.” He sighs and leans his head back on the seat. “I don’t really know what to tell my mom when I see her.”
“Well you can tell her that you’re a swimming medalist,” Kyungsoo starts. “And then you can go on from there.” He glances behind him before turning to Jongdae again. “So… Is there a reason you’re telling me this instead of someone else?” he then asks pointedly.
“What are you talking about?” Jongdae replies innocently.
“C’mon, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo presses seriously. “Why am I sitting in this seat instead of Baekhyun?”
There has rarely been a day when Jongdae isn’t seen with Baekhyun and vice versa. Except for the past couple of days when Jongdae’s been going out of his way to not see Baekhyun. Jongdae needs to nurse his heart for a bit, for that rejection he just suffered, before diving back into their friendship.
“You just want to sit with Soojung,” Jongdae mutters, ignoring the fact that he did grab Kyungsoo’s arm rather haphazardly when they got on the bus and forced him to sit beside him. He hasn’t forgotten the way Soojung looked upset. Or the way Baekhyun didn’t even care and just sat down beside Kris.
“Yes, I do actually,” Kyungsoo tells Jongdae so straightforwardly that Jongdae laughs. “But I’m sitting here because you look like you need it, so you better tell me what’s going on.”
“Nothing’s going on,” Jongdae says, smiling a little at how true that statement is. “Is it so wrong for me to want to hang out with my roommate every once in a while?” Kyungsoo stares at him. “I don’t know what you want to hear, Kyungsoo,” he continues with a sigh. “But I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jongdae ignores Kyungsoo’s stare by looking out of the window once more. He knows that Kyungsoo is referring to all those other times that Jongdae’s started practice way earlier than everyone else and left as soon as he got dressed, or the way Jongdae seems to be sticking to other members of the team, particularly Jinri.
“You know, I really don’t get why you’re going out with Myungsoo,” Kyungsoo persists, eyes piercing.
“Why?” Jongdae turns to him, eyebrows scrunched together. Kyungsoo rolls his eyes and shakes his head.
“You know why, Jongdae,” Kyungsoo states. “It’s not fair.”
“I don’t know—“ Jongdae starts.
“You do,” Kyungsoo cuts him off. “You really do, Jongdae. And I don’t know why you won’t just admit it.”
“Baekhyun doesn’t want me like that,” Jongdae finally speaks up after the short silence that Kyungsoo’s words brought. Kyungsoo is one of those people who never bullshits or skirts around an issue. It hurts more than it should because he’s always right. “We’re friends and I’m not going to take advantage of that.”
Kyungsoo rolls his eyes and leans back on his seat, taking out his iPod. “You know, sometimes you’ve got to see the other side of the coin, too,” is all he says before he puts his earphones on. “Or hear it. Either way, you should go and be honest with Myungsoo.”
Jongdae takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
Jongdae stays in the guest bedroom, right beside the foot of the stairs, after he’s gone to the bathroom to freshen up. He’s not entirely sure what he’s doing in his house with the rest of the team, but they’re all there because his mother had insisted that Jongdae invite the people Jongdae spends so much time with. He’s not sure why he’s hiding either, but it probably has something to do with the fact that his mother wouldn’t stop talking about how proud she was of her swimmer and architect son. That, and Baekhyun is in his house and he’s not really sure what to do about it.
He sits down on the edge of the queen-sized bed. The sheets are blindingly white and neatly pressed. Jongdae knows the bed has never been slept in, just like how the room is never really used because his mother doesn’t really like taking guests in after his father’s passing, which just means that they’ve never had guests stay over in a long time. He leans back on his hands, closing his eyes and cherishing the few minutes he has to himself before someone comes to find him.
Their competition had gone really well. The men’s team had placed second overall, with Baekhyun and Minseok leading the scores, while the women’s team had placed third. Jongdae had done quite well for himself. Even when he still hadn’t beat his faster times, he’d managed to place second and third in his events. He can already imagine the talk he and Donghae are going to have.
Sighing, Jongdae takes a deep breath and opens his eyes. He moves to stand up when he’s startled to sitting back down when he sees someone standing in the doorway.
“You left the door open,” Baekhyun quietly speaks, walking inside even though Jongdae hadn’t indicated that he could. Baekhyun couldn’t care less about asking for permission, especially with Jongdae. Maybe Baekhyun is just that comfortable with him. Jongdae isn’t sure how to feel about that, but his heart clenches in his chest.
“The bathroom’s right there,” Jongdae says, gesturing to the far left of the room. Baekhyun glances at the direction of the bathroom before turning back to Jongdae, hesitating. Baekhyun is never really hesitant so Jongdae furrows his brows in concern. “Is everything okay?” he asks, unable to help himself. “Did my mom send you to find me?”
Baekhyun is quiet as he sits down beside Jongdae. It’s only really been a couple of days, but it feels like a lifetime since they’ve sat beside each other like this.
“You have a nice home,” Baekhyun comments, arms brushing against Jongdae.
“It’s home,” Jongdae confirms, shifting a little in his space so that he and Baekhyun aren’t touching so much. He can hear the question on Baekhyun’s lips, just like how everyone buzzed about how architectural Jongdae’s life has been growing up. Jongdae’s father was such a famous architect that everyone wondered how Jongdae never really talked about him or architecture. “I’ve told you about it before,” he answers.
There’s an energy bustling around Baekhyun that Jongdae is unfamiliar with. It’s not how Baekhyun normally is, which is vibrant, lively, and cheeky. Right now, Baekhyun almost feels poignant. Jongdae wonders why. But instead of asking, Jongdae reaches up and wraps an arm around Baekhyun and pulls him closer. Baekhyun sighs into the embrace, making Jongdae’s heart skip a traitorous beat.
“Do you ever feel, sometimes, that you’ve made a mistake?” Baekhyun asks after a comfortable silence. His arms have found their way around Jongdae’s waist, his head resting on Jongdae’s chest. “Like you know you’re making a mistake, but you don’t quite know how to fix it?”
Jongdae chuckles lightly, his breath ruffling Baekhyun’s hair. “If you already know it’s a mistake, then why do you keep making it?”
“What if you’re afraid?” Baekhyun asks so earnestly that Jongdae tightens his embrace on Baekhyun.
“Afraid of fixing a mistake?” Jongdae returns, lightly teasing. “I don’t think you should be afraid of righting something that you know is wrong.”
“What if it’s not really wrong?” Baekhyun presses. “What if you just want to… make things better?”
Jongdae frowns, leaning his head on Baekhyun’s head. He closes his eyes because he likes this; he likes Baekhyun being in his arms, likes being able to hold him. Even though it hurts so much. “Then I don’t know how that is more scary than righting a wrong,” he muses. “Isn’t that supposed to be easier?”
“Why do you swim, Jongdae?” Baekhyun suddenly asks. “Why did you take up architecture?”
Jongdae stiffens so suddenly that Baekhyun pulls away and properly looks at him. There’s something in Baekhyun’s eyes that makes Jongdae feel like he’s searching for something. Jongdae takes his arms back and presses his hands on his lap.
“Didn’t I already tell you this?” Jongdae says, meaning for it to be light.
Baekhyun doesn’t laugh. He is still looking at Jongdae, still watching him, and Jongdae finds himself still falling. Unwittingly. Continuously. It’s a rough fall, painful, just like how it is when he fumbles a dive and he crashes face first into the water, hurting himself with permission. When Jongdae breaks the surface, he finds that he still can’t catch his breath and that every part of him hurts.
“Always answering a question with another question,” Baekhyun says. There’s a smile on his face when he stands up but Jongdae thinks it’s far from happy. Baekhyun glances at the door. “Your mom did send me to find you.”
“Well here I am,” Jongdae responds, chuckling a little. “You found me.”
Baekhyun looks at him then. “Well I did try,” he replies, the smile on his face more genuine this time. “I’ll tell her you’re in the bathroom.”
When Baekhyun turns his back on Jongdae, his hand on the doorknob, something grips at Jongdae. It’s like a reminder of all the times that Jongdae’s looked at Baekhyun while Baekhyun never saw him.
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae calls him and Baekhyun turns around immediately. “Do you… do you want to stay another day?” Baekhyun raises his eyebrows in question. “There’s… Chanyeol has an art exhibit, for his class, and I have tickets. Do you want to go with me? It’s an hour away but I thought we can catch the last bus tomorrow—but you know you’ll miss classes and—“
Baekhyun cuts him off with a laugh. “Okay, Jongdae,” he says to Jongdae’s amazement. “I’ll go with you.”
Jongdae allows himself to smile, but stomps down the sliver of hope that pushes through the cracks.
“Does Chanyeol know you’re taking me?” Baekhyun asks as he tries to catch up with Jongdae.
Jongdae pauses for a second to let Baekhyun catch up before hurrying towards the bus station. They decided to take the 7:30 A.M. bus so that they could get to Chanyeol’s university by 9 o’clock at the latest. Their plan is to see the exhibit, have lunch, maybe hang out somewhere for a bit and then go back to school via another bus. The rest of the team had gone home after the dinner at Jongdae’s house.
“Yeah, he’s wanted to meet you for quite some time now,” Jongdae absently tells him as they hand their tickets to the conductor.
“You talk to your best friend about me?” Baekhyun asks, eyes wide, clearly surprised. He watches Jongdae as they board the bus and take their seats somewhere in the middle.
Jongdae doesn’t know why his mouth ran away with him but Baekhyun doesn’t need to know just how often Jongdae mentions him to Chanyeol, whether Jongdae likes it or not. He grins at Baekhyun, wanting to pass off the whole thing as something like a joke. Because if Baekhyun finds out how serious that matter is to Jongdae, how serious Jongdae is about his feelings for Baekhyun, Baekhyun might get off the bus.
“I talk about swimming and the team a lot,” Jongdae says instead, smiling, “so yes, I guess I do talk to my best friend about you by default.”
Baekhyun makes a face at him and pouts, making himself comfortable on his window seat. “So is that why I’m the only one going with you to meet him?” he then teases, canines showing with his smug grin.
“Because you’re the one I complain a lot about,” Jongdae retorts, rolling his eyes. He knows that doesn’t make any sense but he goes with it anyway as it shuts Baekhyun up, even though there’s a shit-eating grin on Baekhyun’s face.
Truth be told, Jongdae isn’t entirely sure he knows what he’s doing. What is he thinking back then, asking Baekhyun to stay behind and having him go to Chanyeol’s exhibit with him? To add to that, Jongdae is going to introduce Baekhyun to Chanyeol. Chanyeol has wanted to meet Baekhyun ever since he noticed Jongdae drawing him a lot and talking about him in random spurts in the middle of conversations. This is, possibly, dangerous territory because Baekhyun is already so embedded in his life without him being friends with Jongdae’s best friend, too.
When they get to Chanyeol’s university, Jongdae’s heart pounds so hard in his chest that he has to go and lock himself in a bathroom stall to calm himself down. There is nothing wrong with bringing Baekhyun with him, he tries to convince himself, even if every fiber of his being insists that he’s going to regret this somehow. What need is there to introduce Baekhyun to the people closest to him, no matter how important Baekhyun is to Jongdae, when Baekhyun is just going to leave anyway?
“Are you okay? Did you get sick because of the trip?” Baekhyun is peering at him, hand warm on Jongdae’s bicep.
Jongdae shakes his head. “I’m fine,” he assures Baekhyun. The last thing Jongdae needs is for Baekhyun to look after him just like when Sehun threw a remote control at him. Baekhyun’s concern isn’t good for his heart. “Let’s just go,” he insists when Baekhyun keeps looking at him.
The art exhibit is bigger than Jongdae expected; it’s certainly bigger than Chanyeol had made it out to be. Four classes of 20 to 25 students had participated in it with two to three art works per student.
Jongdae wanders around the gallery, leaving Baekhyun by himself, as he gets lost in all the art. He looks around in wonder, looking from one artwork to another, some in paint, some in sketch, some way too colorful, some in only black and white. There is so much expression, so much freedom, and so much passion in one room that Jongdae feels a bit overwhelmed. It makes Jongdae want to sit down with a blank piece of paper on his lap and draw. His fingers twitch in his pocket whenever he sees an artwork that he likes.
Jongdae has never really considered drawing as anything more than something that he does when he feels the need to deal with his feelings. It has started as that as it had proven to be effective time and time again, which is probably why he’s drawn so much of Baekhyun in the past couple of months. But now, seeing all this art, being around students who are studying and hoping to do this for the rest of their lives, he wonders… In Jongdae’s most honest moments, he thinks about how he doesn’t see himself as an architect, not even a swimmer, in the future. This ends up with him questioning what he’s going to be if not either of those things, which he is investing so much of his time on.
“You look conflicted,” Baekhyun’s amused voice startles him out of his reverie. “What did the painting do?” He nods at the canvas in front of them.
It’s Chanyeol’s. He had painted two young boys sitting on the grass, looking at the trees that had orange falling leaves. Jongdae remembers very clearly what that day was and what it was like.
Jongdae turns to Baekhyun with bright eyes. “I think I might know what you mean about making a mistake,” he blurts out. Baekhyun takes a step back, clearly taken aback. “Making a mistake and not knowing what to do,” he adds.
Baekhyun doesn’t say anything for several seconds and Jongdae thinks Baekhyun looks scared but also expectant. “What are you going to do about it?” he asks breathlessly.
“I don’t know,” Jongdae says, chuckling as he shakes his head. He takes a deep breath when he turns back to the painting. Drawing is something he’s had, something he’s done, when he was very young but he never knew the kind of effect it had on him or what it could do for his future.
Jongdae knows about dreams and having goals. Setting targets and going after them has always been in his nature, but he has always struggled with the things that he wants to achieve. It’s always been hard for him to write down things that he wants because he never really sits down to think about them. Jongdae writes down his goals for his grades and the times that he wants to reach for his swimming, but it’s always been about those two things. He has never written a goal outside of those.
“Well,” Baekhyun starts, stepping closer to Jongdae, “you know what they say, the important thing is knowing that there’s a problem. Everything comes easy after that.”
It always feels like the wind is blowing right then and there, ruffling his hair as the yellow orange leaves fall around him. Jongdae is holding a blank paper in his hand and he is drawing what he feels. It sounds easy, fixing a problem, but Jongdae doesn’t know what to do.
“Maybe,” Jongdae responds, eyes on the painting.
“I’ll help you figure it out,” Baekhyun tells him. Jongdae looks at him when Baekhyun slips his hand into his.
Jongdae squeezes Baekhyun’s hand.
Baekhyun is drunk. Jongdae sighs deeply, feeling a mixture of amusement and annoyance as he watches Baekhyun wiggle his ass in the middle of the dance floor from the bar. Next to him, Chanyeol snorts into his drink. This has been what it’s been like for the past 30 minutes, Chanyeol drinking and Jongdae ignoring the way Baekhyun’s ass and thighs are perfectly melded into his skintight jeans, by the bar with Baekhyun dancing like there’s no tomorrow.
It started out as a perfectly normal evening. Jongdae introduced Baekhyun to Chanyeol and the two started talking a lot about a variety of things during dinner, which is good for a first meeting. Both Baekhyun and Chanyeol are friendly and confident, after all. When they finished stuffing their faces, Chanyeol asked them if they wanted to go to a club for some drinking and a bit of fun. Baekhyun immediately agreed, just because his classes don’t start until the afternoon the next day, smiling at Jongdae, who just rolled his eyes and gave in. It’s easier to give in to Baekhyun because resisting hurts more.
“I think maybe your boyfriend has had too much to drink,” Chanyeol comments, nodding to the dance floor, where Baekhyun is grinding against some girl, who looks like she’d rather go down on the girl she’s dancing with than Baekhyun.
“You think?” Jongdae scoffs, shaking his head and facing the bar. “This is your fault, you know. We couldn’t have fun without drinking?”
Chanyeol leans back on the bar, eyes still on Baekhyun. “You didn’t even deny it,” he says.
“Deny what?” Jongdae asks.
“Baekhyun being your boyfriend,” Chanyeol answers, giving his best friend a sideways glance.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” is Jongdae’s automatic response. Chanyeol turns in his seat to stare at him face-to-face. “He isn’t,” he repeats insistently. He gestures to the dance floor. “Would I let my boyfriend dance like that with someone who isn’t me?”
“I think you would do anything if it came to Baekhyun,” Chanyeol tells Jongdae straightforwardly. “Even if it meant hurting yourself.” He shrugs. “But then again, you do that with everyone else.”
“What?” Jongdae demands. “Do you think I let people step all over me?”
“No, of course not,” Chanyeol replies, shaking his head. “I just think that—hey, I think you should get Baekhyun off the dance floor.” He straightens in his seat.
“Why?” Jongdae turns around and finds Baekhyun in some random guy’s arms. The guy is tall, definitely bigger than Baekhyun, with a gross beard and an even grosser smile. “Damnit,” he curses under his breath as he gets up and stalks over there.
“Jongdae,” Baekhyun coos as soon as he sees Jongdae approaching. The bearded man looks at him, arms still around Baekhyun’s waist. “This is Jongdae,” he introduces him, giggles coloring his voice.
“Alright, we’re going to go,” Jongdae speaks up, more to the beard than Baekhyun. He reaches out to take Baekhyun back.
But the guy tightens his hold around Baekhyun. “We were just talking,” he says.
“Like he can hold proper conversation at his state,” Jongdae retorts, gesturing towards Baekhyun, who’s been giggling, leaning his head at the stranger’s chest. Jongdae’s heart clenches and his stomach swoops uncomfortably at the thought of Baekhyun going home with this guy. He can understand Baekhyun sleeping with people that Jongdae knows; he can take that. What he can’t take is Baekhyun sleeping with random guys, especially with Jongdae around. “So no, right now, he’s coming with me and we’re going home,” he insists, taking Baekhyun’s hand.
“He told me he doesn’t have a boyfriend,” the guy persists, annoying Jongdae. “So if you’re just some—“
“I’m his boyfriend,” Jongdae cuts him short.
The guy’s eyebrows scrunch to the middle. He’s suddenly hesitant. “But he said—“
“I know what he said,” Jongdae interrupts again, taking Baekhyun in his arms. Baekhyun had pushed the guy off and cuddled to Jongdae when he was let go. “We’re in a fight and he tends to say dumb things when he’s drunk.”
“Jongdae’s my boyfriend,” Baekhyun mutters, nuzzling his face onto Jongdae’s chest.
The stranger raises both his hands up in surrender and turns around to leave. Jongdae breathes a sigh of relief as he takes Baekhyun back to the bar, where Chanyeol’s already standing up.
“I’m thinking you two should just leave tomorrow morning,” Chanyeol offers as he slings Baekhyun’s other arm around his shoulder and makes their way out of the club.
“I guess so,” Jongdae says. Their original plan was to go home after dinner. “But we don’t really have a place to stay in and we can’t just in your dorm.”
Chanyeol waves his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it,” he says, grinning as he hails a cab. “I can just crash with my friend down the hall. Besides, I think as boyfriends, you two need your alone time.” He laughs as Jongdae’s hand jerks in an attempt to sock Chanyeol’s face as they get inside the cab.
Chanyeol’s dorm room is a single with one bed, a desk and a closet. It’s slightly cramped because of all the mess strewn everywhere. Jongdae helps Baekhyun onto the single bed. Baekhyun snuggles into the sheets, whining like a puppy as he presses his face even more into the pillow.
Seeing Baekhyun like this, sleeping… he looks like a kid, even younger than he actually looks, and peaceful. Jongdae sits on the edge of the bed and reaches out to gently brush Baekhyun’s fringe away from his eyes. There is so much that Jongdae wants to do for Baekhyun, things that Jongdae believes he can offer him; if only he is given the chance. In spite of the knowledge that Baekhyun isn’t a relationship kind of guy and despite the rejection, Jongdae still hopes somehow. Jongdae’s feelings for Baekhyun are just that strong. Baekhyun shifts on the bed, his eyes fluttering open.
“Jongdae?” Baekhyun murmurs, eyes fluttering open. He extends a hand towards Jongdae, who takes it. “What’s going on?”
“We leave for university tomorrow,” Jongdae tells him, assuring. “You should get some rest.”
Baekhyun looks around, eyes adjusting to the dimly lit room. “Did we kick Chanyeol out?”
Jongdae chuckles. “Yes,” he confirms. “He’s staying with a friend.” He squeezes Baekhyun’s hand. It’s warm. Baekhyun’s always so warm. “You should get some sleep,” he repeats and lets go of his hand and moves to stand up.
“We should make the most of it then,” Baekhyun suddenly utters, making Jongdae freeze and turn around towards him.
“What?” Jongdae asks.
“We kicked Chanyeol out,” Baekhyun states, worrying his lower lip. He looks everywhere else before his eyes meet Jongdae’s wide eyes. “We should…” He takes Jongdae’s hand in his and tugs him back to sit on the bed.
Baekhyun is drunk. Clearly. Because in all the time Jongdae has been friends with him, granted that hasn’t been a long time, Baekhyun has never insinuated anything like this. Because among all their friends, he’s one of those that Baekhyun doesn’t see that way. Because Jongdae is just his friend. And yet, here he is, offering something Jongdae’s seen Baekhyun offer countless other men.
Jongdae understands the request and he wants to say yes. But not like this. Not when Baekhyun’s half-conscious, not when Baekhyun doesn’t really want him the way Jongdae wants Baekhyun. “I’m not—“ Jongdae stammers. “It’s not—you’re drunk and tired,” he tries again, a small smile on his face. “You should really sleep.” He squeezes Baekhyun’s hand before letting go.
But Baekhyun is persistent. He grabs Jongdae’s hand and pulls harder so that Jongdae practically falls on top of Baekhyun.
“Baek,” Jongdae yelps.
“Just this once, Jongdae,” Baekhyun pleads.
Jongdae inhales sharply when Baekhyun cups his neck with both hands, pulling him downwards, pulling Jongdae’s face closer to his. Jongdae clenches his fist, bracing himself as he struggles not to give in. Baekhyun’s eyes are dark with want and something else that Jongdae can’t figure out. His eyes flicker to Jongdae’s lips, his own opening slightly in anticipation.
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae shakily exhales when Baekhyun’s lips find his.
“Jongdae, please,” Baekhyun breathes, presses a very gentle and chaste kiss on his lips. “Just kiss me.”
Jongdae squeezes his eyes shut as Baekhyun continues kissing him, still only a chaste pressing of lips, like he’s waiting for Jongdae to make the next move, like he’s asking for permission, like he wants Jongdae to show him that he wants this, too. It’s enough to break Jongdae down, to break all of his resistance, because Baekhyun’s lips are soft and sweet with want and because, yes, Jongdae wants this.
This is what Jongdae wants. He wants Baekhyun, has always wanted Baekhyun, in every possible way; Baekhyun’s arms around him, hands in his hair, lips moving against his. Jongdae pulls away, watching as Baekhyun’s eyes flicker open, immediately searching for his. Baekhyun’s fingers tighten in Jongdae’s hair.
Jongdae gives in, bending down, pressing even closer, and captures Baekhyun’s mouth. He traces Baekhyun’s lips with his tongue and Baekhyun willingly opens them, granting access. Jongdae licks into the cavern of his mouth and they both moan as Baekhyun sucks on his tongue.
All the feelings, all his feelings, surge through him right into the kiss, right to his fingertips that are grazing Baekhyun’s skin, moving through his cheek, through his neck and down to his arms. Jongdae has always known that it would feel good to touch Baekhyun like this, but he didn’t realize just how good it would be. Baekhyun lips taste so delightful, moans escaping every so often that are music to Jongdae’s ears, his fingers in Jongdae’s hair, hands moving from his neck down to his chest and down to his crotch.
Jongdae’s hips twitch forward when Baekhyun puts pressure on his hardness, groaning at the sudden intense pleasure. Jongdae bites Baekhyun’s lower lip, his own hand finding purchase on Baekhyun’s clothed length. He’s hard just like Jongdae and it gives Jongdae gratification to find that he has done this. He has made Baekhyun want him, too. It doesn’t even matter that it had taken a trip and some drinks to make it happen. All that matters is that they’re together now, maybe not in the way Jongdae likes, but they can work that out later on. Baekhyun is drunk, they can’t possibly discuss—
The reminder makes Jongdae pull away like he’s been burnt. Baekhyun blinks up at him, eyes hazy, cheeks pink and lips red and swollen, surprised at Jongdae’s retreat. Baekhyun is drunk. The thought squeezes Jongdae’s heart really tight. Jongdae may want Baekhyun in every way, but he doesn’t want it when there’s a chance Baekhyun won’t remember. And even if he can have this when Baekhyun is sober, he doesn’t want just this and he knows Baekhyun can’t give him that. Jongdae pulls back even further until he’s sitting back on the edge of the bed. Baekhyun doesn’t even really notice, eyes fluttering close, breathing evening out.
He can’t do this—well, he can. Baekhyun would even let him, judging by his actions earlier. But the ending would remain the same. Jongdae still won’t have Baekhyun.
“Welcome back!” Myungsoo greets him cheerfully when he opens the door and steps out.
Myungsoo wraps his arms around Jongdae in a hug. Jongdae hugs back because that’s what people who are dating do. They hug and become affectionate and hold hands and kiss. Although Myungsoo and Jongdae hadn’t done anything past holding hands and hugging, mostly because Jongdae is holding back. Because doing so would be unfair. Because Jongdae is unfair.
“Hey,” Jongdae greets back, grinning. “Sorry about being back later and sorry, I didn’t get you anything.”
Myungsoo just laughs and shakes head. He links his arms with Jongdae’s as they walk out of the building and into the sunlight. “How was the trip?” he asks. “Congratulations on winning!”
Jongdae smiles. “It was nice going home. Got to spend time with family and I met up with Chanyeol,” he shares, taking a deep breath as he remembers what happened. He shrugs. “It wasn’t anything really special.”
They arrive at the coffee shop they were heading to, ordering their usual coffee, along with a banoffee pie. Jongdae shifts uncomfortably in his seat because this place has too many good and fun memories for the both of them that Jongdae isn’t sure he wants to ruin it. Myungsoo had taken him there on their fourth date after having gone to a movie. Jongdae liked the ambiance, the wooden chairs and the wooden tables and the rustic feel of the place. It was cozy and warm, just like Myungsoo.
“We had choir practice yesterday,” Myungsoo starts, pressing his palms around his mug. “Kyungsoo and I got to talking for a bit. He mentioned that you went to an art exhibit.”
“Yeah,” Jongdae verifies, pausing to take a sip of his drink. He knows where this conversation can go, where it should go. He needs a breath. “Chanyeol had an exhibit for one of his classes and it fell on the same weekend so I decided to go.”
“With Baekhyun,” Myungsoo adds. There’s a smile on his lips but Jongdae knows that Myungsoo isn’t happy. It’s shows with how he doesn’t quite meet Jongdae’s eyes.
“Yes,” Jongdae slowly confirms. “With Baekhyun. Because....” Because Baekhyun was the only one he asked to come with him.
Myungsoo is quiet. Jongdae knows that Myungsoo isn’t blind, nor is he stupid. Sooner or later, he would have noticed and would have known that Jongdae isn’t fully invested in this relationship, if the signs hadn’t been clear right at the very beginning. Jongdae should have really said something, but he couldn’t because he was still hoping that he could turn things around. Having feelings for someone doesn’t last forever, especially when the other person doesn’t return them. Jongdae has been hoping that maybe he can get over Baekhyun and allow himself to fall for Myungsoo. It’s a dick move but Jongdae wants his chance at happiness, too, and he knows that Myungsoo can give him that.
“Because…?” Myungsoo presses, finally looking at Jongdae. “You’re going to have to tell me because I really don’t know what to think when someone I’m dating is more intimate with some other guy he claims is only a friend.”
Jongdae doesn’t know what to say. There is really nothing he can say at this point, especially with what had almost happened between him and Baekhyun. Myungsoo is wonderful, so wonderful in such a way that he’s perfect boyfriend material with how sweet, caring, and affectionate he is. All they do is pretty much hold hands and hug but in just even those things, Jongdae has felt that Myungsoo really likes him and really cares about him. In fact, Jongdae thinks Myungsoo is that kind of wonderful where he wouldn’t hesitate riding off into the sunset with him. If only Jongdae isn’t hung up on someone else.
“Sorry,” Myungsoo says, sighing and shaking his head. He reaches for Jongdae’s hand across the table and squeezes it. “I know that you and Baekhyun are practically best friends and that best friends have this bond that can’t be explained sometimes. I shouldn’t have said anything because I know—“
“I kissed him,” Jongdae blurts out. He grabs Myungsoo’s hand when Myungsoo drops his. “It wasn’t—It’s not—I didn’t mean to do it. I know this sounds like a copout,” he says when Myungsoo looks away not saying anything. “But I really didn’t mean for it to happen.” He lets go when Myungsoo struggles to free his hand. “I’m sorry.”
Jongdae knows that an apology is not enough. The heart can’t be pieced back together just because of an act of contrition. It doesn’t work that way. The heart takes months, sometimes even years, to heal. Jongdae hopes it doesn’t take so long for Myungsoo. He hopes Myungsoo doesn’t end up hating him.
“I guess I expected this,” Myungsoo finally speaks up, chuckling sardonically. “The first time I met you, Baekhyun was looking at me like I was going to take you away from him.” Jongdae’s head shoots up so he could look at him at this. “And the day I went to the pool to ask you out, you two were attached to the hip,” he continues. “So I really shouldn’t be surprised that you guys finally ended up going out.”
“We’re not going out,” Jongdae instantly corrects him. He shakes his head insistently when Myungsoo raises an eyebrow. “We’re not,” he maintains. “Baekhyun doesn’t want a relationship. I was just stupid enough to fall for him.” His eyes widen at this and he immediately looks apologetic. “I really am sorry, Myungsoo. I didn’t want to tell you like this.”
“How would you have told me otherwise?” Myungsoo asks, still smiling mockingly and Jongdae just feels even worse because there really is no other way to break up with someone.
“I just don’t want you to think that I don’t like you,” Jongdae tries to explain, “because I do, but…” He hesitates and his words leave him.
“But you’re not in love with me,” Myungsoo finishes for him. Jongdae flinches and Myungsoo reaches for his hand again. There’s a smile on his face, a more genuine one, which Jongdae doesn’t understand. “I think I’ve known about this for a while now. I tried, anyway.”
Jongdae squeezes Myungsoo’s hand with both of his. “I should have said something sooner,” he says. “I really wanted to but I was selfish.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Myungsoo admits, laughing. It sounds bitter to Jongdae’s ears. “This way I’ve had more time with you than I could have ever expected.”
Jongdae bows his head, forehead pressing onto Myungsoo’s hand. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice muffled.
“You’re so silly,” Myungsoo chuckles, sounding honestly amused.
Jongdae continues holding onto Myungsoo’s hand even as Myungsoo walks Jongdae back to his dorm building. Jongdae isn’t trying to be sadistic; it’s the only way he knows how to express how sorry he is for hurting Myungsoo. He knows what it’s like to be rejected and it’s something he didn’t want to have to do to anyone.
When they reach the steps of Jongdae’s dorm building, Myungsoo lets go of Jongdae’s hand. “Are you going to be okay?” he asks.
Jongdae blinks at him. “I can’t believe you’re asking me this,” he mutters. “I should be the one asking you if you’re okay. Or maybe the better question is if you hate me. Which, of course, I’d understand if you do.”
“I don’t hate you, Jongdae,” Myungsoo declares softly but firmly. “Sure, I’m sad that you don’t feel the same way as I do, but I also admire you.”
“What?” Jongdae weakly asks.
“Because you’re honest,” Myungsoo tells him. “Because you’re afraid of settling, because you won’t settle for anything less than what you want.”
“Being with you isn’t settling,” Jongdae interjects, shaking his head. “That’s not what this is. I just don’t want to hurt you further. I want you to be with someone who will make you happy and will take care of you and love you the way that I can’t.”
“Exactly,” Myungsoo affirms. He takes a step forward and cups Jongdae’s face. “You don’t want me to settle for something that won’t make me happy.” Jongdae’s eyes flutter shut at the tenderness that Myungsoo is showing him. “I hope you do the same for yourself, Jongdae,” he goes on and Jongdae opens his eyes. “Be afraid to settle for anything less that you want and deserve and speak up.”
Jongdae surges forward and hugs Myungsoo tightly.
“Hey, Baek,” Kyungsoo calls as he walks into the room, raising an eyebrow at how Baekhyun is practically on Jongdae’s lap as Jongdae tries to read his architectural design textbook. “Himchan’s outside for you.”
Jongdae lifts his eyes to the door, where he sees Himchan texting through the gap between the door and the wall. Baekhyun whines and complains about getting up when he’s already so comfortable. Himchan looks more handsome than usual. His hair is pushed back and he’s wearing a polo shirt and some dark jeans instead of his usual shirts and shorts combo. Jongdae averts his gaze as he sees Baekhyun touching Himchan’s arm before closing the door behind him. He shouldn’t think about what that means. Baekhyun didn’t even say a word before he left. Shaking his head, Jongdae takes a deep breath and goes back to reading, ignoring the loss of Baekhyun’s warmth and the way his heart aches.
“You two are cozier than ever,” Kyungsoo mutters as he rummages around his desk for a pen. “I don’t know why you two don’t just get an apartment and move in together. Or better yet, I should go and apply for a single. That way I can live and study in peace.”
“Why would we move in together?” Jongdae chuckles. The thought is appealing, of course, because Jongdae wants so much more with Baekhyun, now more than ever. But it isn’t something that Baekhyun would agree to. “Living with Baekhyun would be a pain. At least you don’t bring home a guy every so often.”
Kyungsoo pauses and turns to face him. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothing,” Jongdae says, turning his attention back to his book. “Just that, I’d rather not put myself in a situation where I’d have a harder time studying.”
“Are you kidding me right now?” Kyungsoo truly looks like he’s wondering if Jongdae is joking and is incredibly surprised when Jongdae gives him a straight-faced look. “What’s going on with you?”
Jongdae chuckles, not happily, and shakes his head. “You don’t want me to answer that question,” he mutters, glancing at his bag, where a folded letter is in that made Jongdae’s bag heavier.
“Are you and Baekhyun fighting again?” Kyungsoo asks, sitting on his bed. “I thought after your side trip two weeks ago…”
“We’re fine,” Jongdae assures him. Although Jongdae thinks that Baekhyun is feeling better than Jongdae will ever be. It’s easier to have been the one drunk that night and not have remembered anything. At least that’s one person out of two. It’s better than nothing. He takes a deep breath. “Baekhyun and I have always been fine.”
Kyungsoo shakes his head and makes a face at him. “You two are ridiculous,” he states. “So what is wrong if it’s not Baekhyun? Because you look like you’re about to cry.”
“I do?” Jongdae blinks. He thinks he’s been handling himself quite well, considering the circumstances.
“Jongdae,” Kyungsoo presses.
Jongdae glances at his bag again before looking back to the open textbook on his lap. “What would you do if you found out you couldn’t swim anymore, Soo?” he randomly asks.
Kyungsoo is quiet for a bit before shrugging. “I don’t really know. Throw a fit?” he answers honestly. “I’ve been swimming for as long as I could remember. I think it would be really strange if I suddenly can’t do it anymore.”
“Yeah,” Jongdae agrees, nodding. As to be expected. Kyungsoo is like most of the guys on the team, who swim because they love it.
There’s something careful in Kyungsoo’s demeanor as he studies Jongdae. “Why are you asking?”
“Just curious,” Jongdae says with a grin. He slaps his hand on his book. “Anyway, I really have to get back to this. I have an exam.”
“Didn’t you just finish exams before we competed last, last week?” Kyungsoo reminds him curiously. “What is this exam for?”
“For me not to fail,” Jongdae says it as lightly as he could because it’s not a big deal. He’s never really failed anything before and he’s not going to start now. He’d received the letter the day he got back. He’s been struggling in all of his classes, but if he doesn’t do well in this make-up exam for his architectural design class, he’s going to fall it and he will be pulled out of the team.
Kyungsoo’s wide eyes widen even more. “Are you okay? Do you need help?”
“I’m fine,” Jongdae repeats, smiling. It’s a lie but he can’t bear to speak out the truth right now. “I’ve just been having a harder time than I expected to. But I have it under control.”
“Did you tell Donghae at least?” Kyungsoo gently asks. “Because I heard that when there was a member of the team in the past who was struggling with their academics, he put a program in place so that that swimmer could practice and get tutoring at the same time. He can help.”
Jongdae shakes his head. “It’s okay,” he insists. He knows he’s being stubborn but he really doesn’t want this to be a big deal because it isn’t. “It’ll be okay.”
It should be okay because Jongdae’s family is counting on him to do well because he’s on scholarship and if he fails, he loses the scholarship and loses his spot on the team. His mother will surely be upset and that’s the last thing Jongdae wants to happen. He doesn’t want to make his family sad and embarrassed because Jongdae is failing and isn’t swimming anymore.
“What would you do if you found out you couldn’t swim anymore?” Kyungsoo suddenly asks him.
Jongdae doesn’t know what he would do either. But he thinks he wouldn’t throw a fit like Kyungsoo said he would. Jongdae probably won’t even bat an eyelash. And that, Jongdae thinks, is a terrifying thing.
The exam was hard. Coupled with the pressure, it was even harder. All Jongdae could think about how his future relied on this single test. The piece of paper that he is no holding in his hands is going to determine his future with the swimming team and with the university. All Jongdae can think about now is what’s going to happen next.
He finds Baekhyun. In spite of everything, Baekhyun is still his closest friend in university, probably his best friend after Chanyeol, and even though they almost crossed the boundaries of that friendship, Jongdae thinks there’s no one he’d talk to about this than Baekhyun.
“Jongdae,” Joonmyun calls and waves as he enters the cafeteria, his voice echoing around the place. It’s late afternoon so there aren’t many people around. Baekhyun turns around in his seat and smiles when he spots Jongdae.
“Hey,” Jongdae greets, looking around the table. He’s surprised to find Himchan, Kris, Tao and Jongin there, along with Kyungsoo and Soojung. “Is the team having a meeting of sorts that I didn’t know about?” he jokes as he takes his seat beside Baekhyun.
“I’m not even on the team,” Jongin says, grunting when Baekhyun slaps his hand, stopping him from getting more food from his plate. Jongdae doesn’t comment on this.
“Me neither,” Himchan reminds him, glancing at Joonmyun when he chuckles in agreement. Jongdae purses his lips and looks away, hoping the annoyance doesn’t show on his face. Because really, if Himchan isn’t on the swimming team, then why is he around all the time?
“Give me a second,” Baekhyun tells Jongdae as he continues to eat, finishing his food.
“No problem,” Jongdae assures him. Baekhyun leans on Jongdae’s side and Jongdae takes his phone out, one hand on the table, determined not to give a reaction to the stares that they’re receiving. Kyungsoo’s in particular is very piercing, while Soojung’s is amused.
They’ve never talked about what’s going on between them. When anyone asks Jongdae, all he says is that there’s nothing going on, which he thinks is a great answer because it’s also a truthful answer. He never knows what Baekhyun says when he gets asked, if he even gets asked because, well, everyone knows about Baekhyun and his relationships. No one’s asked them when they were together and he really hopes that no one’s going to start now, even if Baekhyun’s head is now on his shoulder, his hands playing with Jongdae’s on the table.
If there’s anything that’s most confusing to Jongdae, aside from all their alone time together, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, movie outings, DVD time at the dorm, random city walking tours, it’s Baekhyun being touchy with him in public, and not just in public, in front of their friends. Sometimes it almost feels deliberate, the way Baekhyun glues himself to him and becomes overly affectionate. It almost feels mocking at times.
“You ready to go?” Jongdae asks Baekhyun when he’s drank his water.
“Where are you two off to?” Kris wants to know.
“Just to talk,” Jongdae answers, not saying anything more as he and Baekhyun get up to leave. He catches Kyungsoo’s gaze by accident and there’s a certain understanding lingering there. Jongdae looks away.
“Be safe,” Soojung calls when Jongdae and Baekhyun are almost out of the cafeteria.
Jongdae stoutly ignores the laughter that follows after them, only letting his breath go when they’re out of earshot. Baekhyun is quiet beside him. This is something that Jongdae’s noticed the past few days but is something that he doesn’t know how to get used to. But whenever Jongdae asks, Baekhyun would always just say that nothing’s wrong. They’re still touchy and affectionate, Baekhyun just says so much less these days.
“Is everything okay?” Baekhyun finally asks when they reach the pool and take a seat on the middle part of the bleachers.
Jongdae remembers why he asked to talk to Baekhyun and, all of a sudden, he doesn’t know whether he wants to say anything or not. He leans back, resting his weight on his arms and hands and looks up at the ceiling. This has been weighing heavily on him ever since he found out about his makeup exam results.
“Yeah,” Jongdae lies. Sometimes, it’s easier to lie because the truth just hurts too much. “Just that I might be… going away. For a while.”
Baekhyun looks at him, eyes unreadable. “Why?” he asks.
Jongdae didn’t make it. He failed his architectural design class and the makeup exam just reminded him of that. Now, he has to retake the class in a different school that he can afford because he’s now out of a scholarship until he can catch up. Because of this, he is also out of the team, too. Donghae looked thoroughly disappointed when he informed him of what happened. Jongdae doesn’t think he can handle the same look on Baekhyun’s face.
“For some… out of school program,” Jongdae tells him, wondering why it’s so easy to fib this. “Like an exchange thing. I need to take up some classes in a different school so… I’m going.” Jongdae remembers Myungsoo’s words and just shakes his head.
“You’re not going to swim?” Baekhyun then asks. His brows are now furrowed.
“No,” Jongdae answers truthfully, shaking his head. “Not while I’m away. I just wanted to tell you before anyone else because—”
“Yeah, I get it,” Baekhyun interjects rather sharply.
Jongdae frowns. “We’ll still be friends. I’m just not going to be around,” he continues, grinning as he tries to lift the mood. “It’ll be almost like I’m actually here and—“
“You don’t have to,” Baekhyun cuts him off again. He stands up and picks up his bag, slinging it over his shoulder. “I don’t know why you had to use the school program to tell me this.”
“Baek, what are you—“ Jongdae starts, truly confused.
“I get it, okay?” Baekhyun snaps. His eyes are hard and cold. “I’m not stupid. I should have expected it anyway.” He shrugs and laughs derisively. Jongdae cringes at the sound. “I guess I’ll see you around then. Or not.”
Jongdae watches with confusion, his heart in pieces, as Baekhyun walks away. Of course Baekhyun would act that way. Of course Baekhyun would act like Jongdae meant nothing to him. Of course. What else did he expect?
Jongdae shakes his head, shakes off the sting in his chest, and gets up. This isn’t how he wanted things to be. If he had it his way, he would be doing well in both his academics and his sport, he would be happy and Baekhyun would be beside him.
As it stands, he has nothing.
“I can’t believe you just got up and left.” Chanyeol opens the box that contains Jongdae’s textbooks and starts taking them out one by one. They’re thick and heavy and Chanyeol makes a face each time he carries one out to place on the table. “Man, why do they make books like this?” he whines. “Everything should be digital these days.”
“Stop complaining,” Jongdae mutters as he tries to make the ramen that he’s cooking edible. He’s never really been that good in actually cooking things. He can help out with chopping things and prepping, but not the actually making of food.
“How are you doing?” Chanyeol asks, voice softer, gentler. He’s leaning back on the couch slash bed, eyes warm and comforting. Chanyeol has always known how to make Jongdae feel better even without saying anything.
“Fine,” Jongdae mutters. What can he say? He’s not ecstatic. He’s not jumping up and down. Getting thrown out of his academic and swimming program for the semester because he failed to meet the requirements isn’t something that anyone would be happy about. Especially when he could still hear the disappointment on his mother’s voice.
“Jongdae,” Chanyeol starts and Jongdae can already feel him pushing back. But Jongdae doesn’t stop him.
As soon as Jongdae told Chanyeol that he was moving out of his dormitory temporarily, Chanyeol had hopped on a bus to come to his aid. Jongdae doesn’t have many friends who would do that for him. He thinks only Chanyeol would do that for him.
“I don’t know how I feel,” Jongdae admits as he stirs the soup. “All I know is that I have to do well so that I can go back and study architecture and swim again so my family will stop being ashamed of me.”
“What are you talking about?” Chanyeol asks, sounding aghast. “They’re not ashamed of you. Disappointed, maybe, but not ashamed. No one is ashamed of you.”
“What are you talking about?” Jongdae scoffs. He turns the fire off and gets the bowls that he’s prepared. “I come from a family of achievers, of architects and swimmers. How can they not be ashamed when their youngest child is a failure on both accounts?” He may be exaggerating, but he really thinks it’s lucky that he was only able to break the news to his mother over the phone. He doesn’t think he can bear to see her disappointment right in front of him.
“Jongdae.” Chanyeol stands up and rests his hip on the counter so he can get a proper look at him. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are only two architects in your entire lineage. Two. Also, your brother is the only one who’s ever touched competitive swimming. I don’t think there’s a basis for your stress.” He grabs Jongdae’s arms and makes Jongdae face him. “You did your best,” he maintains. “Failing one—one—class isn’t cause for the embarrassment that you’re thinking it warrants.”
Jongdae sighs and drops the spoon in the saucepan. Chanyeol catches it before it sinks and continues stirring for a bit before taking the spoon out and putting the cover on it to cook the noodles more.
“I just wish I could have done better,” Jongdae confesses, hitching himself up the counter, eyes on the pot.
Jongdae really wishes he could have. He should have taken up more tutoring, should have come to Donghae for help… He should have done a lot of things. His focus was also lacking. Swimming the best that he can became a bigger priority than studying when he’s always had something to prove on both accounts. Or maybe it wasn’t swimming that distracted him at all. Maybe it was someone.
“Do you know why I started swimming?” Jongdae suddenly speaks up, looking at Chanyeol.
“Because…” Chanyeol starts but trails away, eyebrows scrunched together. “Well I used to think that it was because you loved it.”
“Because Jongdeok couldn’t swim anymore,” Jongdae comes clean, smiling a little as he looks at his shoes. “Because mom was sad when Jongdeok injured himself so badly that he couldn’t swim competitively anymore.”
“Jongdae,” Chanyeol quietly responds, but doesn’t say anything more. His eyes are wide with surprise.
“Because mom had hugged me while she was crying and told me that she wants me to be like my brother but that I shouldn’t hurt myself, that I should be more careful,” Jongdae continues, eyes still downwards. “I’d always known that I was going to study to be an architect someday, but I didn’t know I was supposed to swim, too. But I knew then because my mom had told me explicitly.”
“So you joined the swimming club,” Chanyeol pieces it together. When Jongdae looks at him, there’s something like shock on his face. “I didn’t… I didn’t know that was the reason why. I just assumed that…” He reaches for Jongdae’s hand.
“I’m not mad,” Jongdae states with certainty, gripping Chanyeol’s hand. “Not really. I guess I just wonder if I really want it enough to keep on doing this, both swimming and architecture, for the rest of my life.”
“There’s still time to figure things out,” Chanyeol assures him.
They say it’s in university where you’re formed to be the kind of individual that you need to be before you are launched as a functioning member of society. Jongdae’s only a freshman. He doesn’t have to figure it out now or this year even. He smiles at Chanyeol, who smiles back encouragingly at him. There is still time.
“How are you and Baekhyun?” Chanyeol then asks as he takes the pot and puts it on the living room table. He sits on the floor.
Jongdae flinches, rather visibly at this, as he takes his seat opposite his best friend. Baekhyun’s name was going to come up sooner or later but that didn’t mean he was prepared for it. They haven’t talked once ever since Jongdae left. Baekhyun didn’t even come to the going away party that his teammates threw for him. He didn’t even see Jongdae off at the bus station, like Kyungsoo, Soojung, Joonmyun and even Myungsoo had.
Jongdae knows that Baekhyun is picky with the people he lets come close because of a childhood of continuously being left behind, but Jongdae had hoped that Baekhyun would trust him more to be there for him even if he wasn’t physically around. Baekhyun obviously doesn’t and he obviously doesn’t care for Jongdae as much as Jongdae hoped he did. All his text messages and emails went unanswered.
“He’s busy,” Jongdae mutters, taking a spoonful of noodles and shoving them into his mouth, making it an excuse to not be able to say anything more. Baekhyun is probably with Zitao or maybe Kris, probably Himchan, seeing as Himchan’s been the one whom Baekhyun has seen around more than the others.
“Too busy to help you go through this?” Chanyeol carefully asks. He hasn’t even started eating because he’s so busy questioning Jongdae and analyzing his answers.
Jongdae shrugs. “Everything he’s told me, I already knew before he ever said anything,” he says nonchalantly, taking several gulps of the hot soup.
“And what is that?” Chanyeol presses.
“That I’m just one of his friends,” Jongdae relays. Saying it out loud hurts more than it should. Jongdae puts his spoon down and slouches in his seat. He knows better than to throw himself a pity party. He knew what he was getting into when he acknowledged his feelings for Baekhyun as more than platonic. He knew. Therefore, he doesn’t have a right to be upset when things turned out just as he expected it to.
“I don’t think—“ Chanyeol starts but Jongdae cuts him off with a glare that ends the conversation.
“The noodles are getting cold,” Jongdae finally says after a short silence. It’s only then that Chanyeol starts eating.
Jongdeok comes to visit two weeks after he’s moved into his temporary apartment. The school where he’s taking up his makeup class isn’t that far from his university, which makes it still quite far from home. But Jongdeok is standing outside of his door just as Jongdae’s coming home from class.
“What are you doing here?” Jongdae asks as he watches as Jongdeok survey the place with interest.
“Can’t I visit my baby brother?” Jongdeok asks, turning towards him with a warm smile. Jongdae is surprised that Jongdeok hasn’t started questioning him about what happened with his academics.
“Aren’t you busy with work?” Jongdae presses, still in disbelief that his brother is actually here.
“I’m on leave from work actually,” Jongdeok shares, grinning as he takes a seat. Jongdae stays, where he’s standing. “I’ve decided to go back to school. For culinary. You remember, right, when I said I wanted to go to culinary school?”
“You actually did it?” Jongdae is incredibly surprised. “What did mom say?”
Jongdeok shrugs. “Mom doesn’t really care,” he says, chuckling. “I mean, she supports me because she knows I really want to do it.”
That doesn’t make sense to Jongdae. Their lives were set right when they were kids, even when their father was still alive. Jongdae has faint memories of his dad telling him about how being an architect is a job with honor because you help give roofs over people’s heads and create structures for jobs and other important institutions. It’s confusing to Jongdae who’s only known the direction that his parents had given him and his brother and for his brother to deviate from this given path…
“What are these?” Jongdeok suddenly asks, getting up and moving to the shelf beside the couch. He picks up several pieces of paper as well as a large notebook that Jongdae uses for his drawings.
“Nothing,” is Jongdae’s default response as it always is when it comes to his drawings.
“It doesn’t look like nothing to me,” Jongdeok says as he flips over page after page, looking more and more interested as he does. “These are really good. Did Chanyeol draw these? Did he leave his sketchbook behind?”
Jongdae takes a deep breath. “Those are mine,” he corrects him. Jongdeok’s gaze whips at him and Jongdae stares at the wooden floor. “I drew them.”
Jongdeok looks at each of the drawings more intently after that, like he’s studying them, and it makes Jongdae feel self-conscious. Jongdae turns around and busies himself with preparing some snacks and refreshments for his older brother. It’s not everyday that his brother comes to visit him; it’s not everyday that he can serve his brother like this.
“These are really amazing, Jongdae,” Jongdeok states, the sketchbook still open on his lap, as Jongdae places a plate of cookies (it’s really all he has) and a glass of iced tea.
“They’re not that good,” Jongdae insists, laughing it off. He sits beside Jongdeok and leans back on the sofa. “It’s just something I do when I feel bored or when I’m taking a break from studying.”
“You’re very talented, then, if this is just some side thing for you and you already draw like this,” Jongdeok continues. He shakes his head, chuckling a little. “I didn’t realize…” He lifts his gaze and looks at Jongdae. “When did you start drawing?”
Jongdae shrugs. “Not too long ago,” he answers. “Some time in high school. It’s not important. It’s not a big deal.” He takes the sketchbook from Jongdeok’s hands, closes it and puts it on the space beside him. “I mean, it’s better than when I drew on the walls at home when I was younger.” He chuckles.
Their house has a lot of white walls, which would be inviting to any kid to draw on it or just mess it up. Which is exactly what Jongdae had done. He’d used his crayons that he’d gotten for his seventh birthday and had drawn the grass and the sky and the sun. Jongdeok, four years older than him, had seen the fun and even joined in.
“I remember seeing your drawings,” Jongdeok says, straightening up suddenly. “When we were younger.” Jongdae doesn’t meet his brother’s eyes and just continues staring at the untouched cookies on the table. He isn’t really sure why he’s so uncomfortable talking about this, but he is. “I went to your room to get the Legos that you’d borrowed from me and there were these papers lying on the bed. They were of all these superheroes. I remember.”
Jongdae remembers, too. But then he also remembers his parents scolding him with Jongdeok, hiding his crayon-soiled hands behind his back and pointing figurative fingers at him that it was Jongdae’s and only Jongdae’s fault alone.
“It’s not a big deal,” Jongdae repeats with a half shrug. “They’re just doodles.”
“But you do it a lot so it must make you happy,” Jongdeok persists.
“Just because you do something a lot doesn’t follow that it makes you happy,” Jongdae says and it comes out a lot sharper than he intended it to. Jongdeok is looking at him with concern. “Sorry,” he mutters, forcing a smile out.
Jongdae clasps his hands together and keeps his eyes down. There’s a chip on one corner of the table. It actually looks more than a chip, more like a scrape from something sharp. Maybe dog teeth? Jongdae’s pretty sure they don’t allow animals in the building.
“You’ve been drawing a lot all throughout your high school years,” Jongdeok points out.
“Not a lot,” Jongdae corrects him softly. “It’s just something I did to pass time. Besides, when I started swimming, I barely had time to—“
“You stopped when you started swimming,” Jongdeok interrupts, realization dawning on him.
“I didn’t,” Jongdae hurriedly states. It’s a lie. He did stop drawing. It’s only when he entered college that he started drawing again as a way to alleviate the stress of everything and a way to make the sadness he feels go away. “I’m still drawing.” He gestures to his sketchbook.
Jongdae hears the question before Jongdeok actually says it.
“Do you like swimming, Jongdae?” his brother asks.
“Sure, I do,” Jongdae answers swiftly. He leans forward and pushes the plate of cookies and the iced tea, which isn’t cold anymore, towards his brother. “C’mon, eat something,” he reminds him, getting up to go to the kitchen. “Is there anything else that you want?”
Jongdae is sure that his brother knows what he’s doing. They’ve never really been that close, but they have lived together long enough to know that Jongdae tends to run away when he is asked about himself. And Jongdae really doesn’t want to talk about how swimming might have possibly taken him to a path he doesn’t necessarily want for himself. It’s not that he blames his brother; Jongdae would never. But he does feel bad for not being courageous enough, for not being more outspoken about things that he possibly wants.
When Jongdae turns to Jongdeok because of his silence, Jongdeok just shakes his head. “This is good,” he tells Jongdae with a smile.
Jongdae nods and ignores how his brother looks like that wasn’t what he meant to say at all.
It takes almost a month for Jongdae to adjust properly to his current situation. He barely sleeps, worrying a lot about his academics, slipping into a routine that doesn’t involve swimming, getting used to the feeling of his family’s disappointment in him. But he wakes up earlier than he normally does, at around 5 o’clock in the morning, and jogs around the block of his apartment before getting for school. He’s only repeating one class, so he’s decided to take up the classes that he should be taking had he been still studying in his university so he wouldn’t get left behind when he returns. “We’ll always have a place for you here,” Donghae had assured him. Jongdae is glad that he’s an above average swimmer. If he were anything less, his return wouldn’t even be considered.
Weeks after and he still hasn’t made any friends. His mind has been too preoccupied with academic work, and he’s been spending all of his free time in the library to study. Pressure chokes him up, but he can’t afford to fail the second time around. He is not going to put himself and his family through that again. He’s taken up a job at a café and is working part-time in the library; staying well beyond the closing time helps him get more schoolwork done. The additional pay makes dealing with expenses much more bearable.
His mother had asked him once, if he had enough to get by, and he’d lied and said everything had been taken care of. He didn’t want to cause any more suffering to her – to them. He can fix his screw ups on his own.
It’s almost 1 o’clock in the early morning when he finds his way back to the apartment. He’d pushed himself to study until the librarian was physically pushing him to get out of there, after which he found a café where he could study further. They have an exam at the end of the week and it’s imperative that Jongdae does well. His stomach rumbles with hunger and he contemplates stopping by a convenience store before crashing into his bed, but decides against it. Jongdae would rather save his money. He can eat tomorrow.
He sighs in exhaustion and excitement when his apartment building comes in sight. He can already imagine the lumpy bed he’s going to sleep on. Sleep has been most invaluable to him because, as much as he barely gets to do it, it’s also a way to make him forget how sad he is.
Aside from struggling with his classes and his jobs, Jongdae misses Baekhyun. Sometimes, when Jongdae wakes up, he expects Baekhyun to be sitting on the edge of his bed or hovering over his desk, sneakily going through his things. There are days when Jongdae just expects Baekhyun to appear beside him, throwing an arm over his shoulder or grabbing him around the waist. Jongdae misses Baekhyun’s quips and the way he laughs like there’s no tomorrow, all teeth showing and body shaking. He misses the way Baekhyun’s fingers seem to fit well between his own, how it’s so comfortable and so easy whenever he leans his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder, how Baekhyun seems so pliant when they’re cuddling in the dorm.
As it is, Baekhyun isn’t talking to Jongdae. No matter what Jongdae tried, texting, calling, emailing, sending snail mails, giving messages through Kyungsoo, Baekhyun never responds. It’s almost as if Baekhyun doesn’t acknowledge his existence, like Jongdae doesn’t exist. The worst part is that Jongdae isn’t really sure what he did to warrant this kind of treatment. Sure, Jongdae left suddenly, but he doesn’t think that he should be sentenced to being ignored forever. It’s almost as if Baekhyun doesn’t really care for their friendship.
Jongdae closes his eyes and leans on the back of his door once he closes it. He rests for a bit, trying to rid himself of sad and self deprecating thoughts. If Baekhyun doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, he’s going to have to live with it until he gets back into university. Jongdae can’t afford to have Baekhyun distracting him even when he’s not around.
He walks inside and plops down on his sofa-slash-bed. It’s folded up right now and Jongdae really doesn’t have the energy to unfold it so he can lie down properly and more comfortably. He knows he will regret it in the morning with how stiff his neck and back will be, but he just lies there, closing his eyes and opening them again after a few seconds because he needs to get dressed and brush his teeth, among other things, before going to sleep, his eyes moving around the apartment.
Jongdae isn’t really a messy person, but there are papers strewn all over the table that Jongdae knows he should tidy up. Grumbling to himself, he straightens up, stretches satisfyingly, and gets up to fix the papers before going to the bathroom. As he does, he realizes that they are the drawings that he’d started but never finished because he had to leave for his classes that morning. Sitting back down, he grabs a pencil and starts to draw to finish it. He doesn’t even have to think, he just does it. Because, these days, there’s really only one thing that he draws.
The drawing helps alleviate the wretchedness and the loneliness somehow. But it also keeps the fire burning over something that should have been in ashes a long time ago. Still, Jongdae draws Baekhyun. Because Jongdae draws Baekhyun the way he was when Baekhyun was still happy with Jongdae around. This way Jongdae can pretend that everything is okay.
Jongdae wakes up with a crick on his neck. He groans as he very slowly gets up from the couch, his back and arms aching. He knew he was going to be sore in the morning. The papers are still on the table and Jongdae hastily shuffles them together and places the drawing of Baekhyun between the pages of one of his books. He fell asleep around the time he was shading Baekhyun’s lips.
It’s already 7:30 and Jongdae shakes his head. There are little miracles every now and then, most of which happen when he actually gets to sleep in on days when his classes don’t start earlier than the usual.
Finishing with his morning routine, he’s shrugging his jacket on, preparing to go out so he can put some food in his body, when there’s a knock on his door. He never has visitors, except for Chanyeol, who comes once every two weeks, and maybe his brother, who has only really visited once. But they’ve never come in the morning so Jongdae is wondering whom this could be.
“Mom!” Jongdae exclaims, taking a step back in surprise when the open door reveals her. “What are you doing here?” he blurts out when they hug.
“I wanted to come see you,” his mother says when they’re inside. “I’ve been meaning to come earlier but things got a bit busy and…” She looks around the place that Jongdae’s been living in for practically a month now. “So this is where you’re staying.” She doesn’t sound like she’s judging, but Jongdae knows that she’s now wishing that Jongdae had accepted her help.
“It’s home for now.” Jongdae tries to appease her with a warm smile. There’s always a tentativeness that he feels when he meets up with her, but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s always glad to see her. “Is this breakfast?” he asks, eyes falling to the paper bags that she’s placed on the kitchen counter.
“Yes,” she agrees, unpacking containers of Jongdae’s favorites. She pats Jongdae’s cheek when he yells in delight as he rubs his tummy up and down. “I hope you are taking care of yourself, Jongdae.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Jongdae tells her with a full mouth, making her shake her head at him. “I’m doing fine,” he continues when he swallows. “Classes are going well and I get lots of time for myself.”
“Tell me what it’s been like,” his mother says, eager to listen.
Jongdae talks about his daily routine, what his classes are like, how it’s different from his university, how the college doesn’t even have a swimming pool. He tells her about how the class gets restless and rowdy when the subject matter is too hard, how the professors are patient enough to go through things with the students step by step. Jongdae carefully treads on the topic of him working at a café and the library, but his mother doesn’t really say anything, which makes him relax. He then goes on what the college is like, what the people and his classmates are like. He talks about the library, how he’s made a corner for himself because he stays there so often.
“It’s weird,” Jongdae muses, “only focusing on academics and not having swimming.” Jongdae does find it weird. It’s always been a habit for him to wake up early for swimming practice and go to the pool after classes for more swimming training. Without swimming, there’s nothing left to fill his free time with but more studying.
“Do you miss it?” his mother wants to know. Her eyes are gentle and inquiring so Jongdae smiles.
“Of course,” Jongdae answers, nodding. He misses the team and how they all pretend they’re doing the assigned training until Donghae stands, staring at them sternly, hands on his hips. But they constantly make themselves available to him through incessant phone calls, most of the time from Zitao and Sehun. Still, in a way, there’s also this relief to know that he doesn’t have to swim. At least for now.
She opens his mouth to say something else, but changes her mind. “Jongdae,” his mother starts again after seemingly composing her thoughts, lips pursing a bit, which is a signal to Jongdae that their conversation is about to turn serious. He’d expected as much. She wouldn’t be here if she didn’t want to talk to him face-to-face about what happened. “Are you unhappy?” Her eyes linger on the book where he’d stuffed all his drawings before dragging her gaze back towards him.
“What?” Jongdae blinks at her in surprise and confusion.
“You’ve always been a happy kid,” she continues softly. “You’re always smiling and laughing and it never really occurred to me that you could be unhappy, that you might be miserable.”
“Mom…” Jongdae starts, hesitating. “Did Jongdeok say anything?”
His mother just shakes her head. “I just want you to know, Jongdae, that all I’ve ever wanted for you—all your father and I ever wanted for you and your brother is to be happy. So if there’s anything you want to do, if you want to try something else, to stop swimming or—“
“Mom,” Jongdae tries to stop her because this is a conversation he never thought he would have with her. Sure he and his mother talk, but not like this, not so serious and not about his future.
“You can do it,” she persists. She reaches for his hand on the countertop and squeezes it. Her hand is warm, comforting and reassuring in a way Jongdae never thought she could be. “You can do whatever you want that will make you happy, Jongdae, and I will support you.” She purses her lips again, eyes bright with a look that Jongdae knows is sincerity and love. “As long as it’s legal and it doesn’t have the potential to kill you and doesn’t endanger the lives of others and—“
“Mom,” Jongdae laughs, cutting her off. He gets up from his chair and walks over to her to hug her tightly. He has to cut her off because if she continues any further, he’s going to cry. He doesn’t know why, but for some reason, he’s never felt that he could do anything that he wanted. It never even occurred to him that there are other things he can do aside from architecture and swimming. It never occurred to him that he had that freedom all along and that his mother loved him so much. “I love you, mom.”
“Oh Jongdae,” his mother says, voice shaky, patting his arms that are around her. “You only have to tell me what you want and I will support you. You only have to speak up and everything will follow.”
Jongdae is quiet as he closes his eyes. He keeps hugging his mother from behind, his head resting on her shoulder. It’s an awkward position, kind of like the way his relationships with his mother has been stilted all this while. But it’s the most comfortable he’s been with her in a long, long time.
“Okay,” he whispers, agreeing with her. “Okay.”
Jongdae looks up from where his eyes and his brain are buried in his textbook. It’s one of his classmates—good-looking, tall, with a bit long, shaggy hair. From what he remembers, his name is Minho. They’ve talked several times about classes and homework, and when Minho asks him to hang out with them.
“You want to get lunch with us?”
Jongdae glances at his watch and realizes that it’s already lunchtime. He didn’t realize that it has been that long since he started studying. Lunch is rarely ever something that he does on time because he normally waits to eat until his shift in the café at 4 o’clock.
Minho sits down beside him and peers at his book, making a face. “Haven’t you had enough of that this morning?” he asks, leaning back on the seat and making a face.
Jongdae hesitates. Some of his other classmates had asked him to join them several times before this, not just for lunch but also to go have dinner or go to the movies. He has always said no. Maybe this time he shouldn’t. “Cafeteria?” he asks.
Minho shakes his head. “At the diner just outside of campus,” he says, moving to get up.
Jongdae nods. He knows that place. It’s only a couple of buildings away from the café he works at. “Okay,” he agrees to Minho’s surprise. He packs his things.
Minho puts an arm around his shoulders as they exit the library. He keeps it there all the way to the diner, where three more of their classmates are at already. Jinki, Jonghyun and Kibum.
“Look who’s decided to join us!” Minho announces their arrival. He pulls a separate chair, while Jongdae sits beside Kibum in the booth.
Jongdae thinks he hasn’t had this much fun since he’d gotten there. Sure, Minho can be a bit pompous and over competitive, while Jonghyun keeps on taking selcas with Kibum sneaking his face into the screen at the last minute, and Jinki keeps on humming songs to himself. They’re all a bit silly, but also fun, that Jongdae wishes he’d started hanging out with them right at the start. Maybe then he wouldn’t have felt so lonely. Studying and finishing with high grades was in the forefront of his mind that he didn’t think he had time to make friends, especially since he was leaving after the semester anyway. He realizes with a jolt that this is kind of how Baekhyun operates. The thought makes Jongdae miss him.
“You alright?” Kibum nudges him gently, gentle smile on his face. His shock of platinum blond hair glints so brightly in the sunlight that Jongdae has to keep blinking to keep himself from getting constantly blinded. “You spaced out for a while.”
“Yeah,” Jongdae hurriedly assures him. “I was just thinking that it’s too bad I’ve only gotten to know you guys just now. All that wasted time.” Kibum quirks an eyebrow in question. “I’m only going to be here for the semester.”
“Are you going to die after the semester?” Kibum asks, tilting his head curiously. Jonghyun laughs loudly when he overhears the question.
“No,” Jongdae answers, frowning in confusion.
“There you go, then,” Kibum says, waving his hand flamboyantly. “That’s not really a problem. It’s not an issue if you’re not going to die after the semester.”
“I just meant that I wouldn’t be here anymore,” Jongdae clarifies, rolling his eyes. “I only have about two more months until I leave and we probably won’t see each other again.”
“Well if you wanted to see us, Jongdae,” Jinki joins in, “you only have to say the word and we’ll come see you.” Minho smiles, wiggling his eyebrows up and down in agreement.
“Or you can come see us,” Jonghyun adds.
“The roads leading here aren’t going to shrivel up when you’re gone,” Kibum continues, wrapping an arm around Jongdae and squeezing his neck with enough pressure that Jongdae coughs. “Don’t assume that just because you leave, our friendship has to end.”
“Besides, with the way Minho has been successful in getting you to finally hang out with us, finally, I don’t think he would just stop talking to you when you leave,” Jonghyun says, chuckling when Minho slaps the back of his head.
Jongdae laughs, somewhat uncomfortably, when Minho blushes. He’s not dense; he’s sensed that maybe Minho is interested in more than just hanging out as friends. But he doesn’t let this get to him—Minho hasn’t really said anything so he isn’t going to assume any further.
“Thanks, guys,” Jongdae says truthfully.
“There’s so much time to cultivate this friendship,” Kibum states matter-of-factly. “It’s never too late.” He winks and Jongdae beams.
Jinki glances at the clock and turns to them. “Should we go?” he asks. “I have a class in 30 minutes.”
“Yeah,” Jonghyun says, picking up his bag. “Mine is in an hour but I have to head back to the dorms to cram homework.”
Minho tsks and shakes his head. “I don’t know how you pass when you cram all the time,” he says as they walk out of the diner.
“I’m just that good,” Jonghyun declares, raising his hands up wide that Jinki has to put them down himself and wrap his arm around him to stop him from doing it again.
“I’m heading back to campus, too,” Kibum says, turning to Jongdae.
“I’m going back to my apartment and freshen up before I head to work,” Jongdae tells them, smiling. “Thanks for this, guys. We should do it again.”
“Tomorrow,” Jonghyun promises before Jinki and Kibum begin to pull him to the other side of the street.
Jongdae turns to Minho, who is standing beside him, hands in his pockets. “Thank you for inviting me again and again,” he says, half teasing. He laughs when Minho blushes and makes a face. “Really, though.” He means it. It’s nice not to be given up on.
Minho just shrugs. “You want me to walk you to your apartment?” He starts to walk, but Jongdae stops him with a hand on Minho’s arm.
“It’s fine,” Jongdae assures him. “I’m… really busy and I’m…” He laughs uncomfortably. To his surprise, Minho laughs, too.
Patting Jongdae’s head, Minho says, “I understand,” he says and Jongdae looks at him worriedly. “You don’t have to worry about anything. Nothing is going to change, right?”
“Of course not,” Jongdae guarantees. He worries his lower lip. “But why would you…?”
“I had to try, right?” Minho says confidently. “It might have been too soon, but I’ve gotten you to say yes to lunch finally, might as well go all the way.”
“But you could have waited until we’ve become better friends?” Jongdae says quietly and uncertainly. That’s normally how this works, you ask someone out as friends and as you become closer, you then ask them out on a date.
“Would your answer have changed if I asked later on?” Minho wants to know. “Because I can and I will probably ask again.” He chuckles when Jongdae rolls his eyes.
“I…” Jongdae starts. A lot can happen in a couple of months. Things change for even longer than that. But he thinks of the next three years of his life, and he thinks of Baekhyun. He shakes his head. “Probably not.” He sighs apologetically. “But you couldn’t have known that,” he points out.
“I believe that we always have time for things, that there could have been time for me to pursue you properly,” Minho clarifies. “But, I figured, why waste the opportunity? We could be friends for a long time after this but I might never get the chance again, so…” He shrugs. “You’ve seen how competitive I am. I normally just go for what I want as soon as I realize I want it.”
“That’s really brave,” Jongdae says. He isn’t the type. He normally waits and lets the want simmer deep down in him until it feels like he’s going to explode. It’s a good thing he hasn’t exploded yet.
Minho claps Jongdae’s back, letting the touch linger for a second before dropping his hand. “We should go swimming some time,” he says, suddenly changing the subject. “I’m good at that, too.”
Jongdae scoffs. “We’ll see who’s better then,” he challenges.
Minho raises an eyebrow, smile lurking at his lips. “That’s a deal,” he agrees.
Jongdae smiles because this is good. This is easy and this is freeing. He wishes it could always be like this. He wishes he could always be this honest with himself.
“See you tomorrow?” Minho asks.
Jongdae nods. “Yes,” he says. “See you tomorrow.”
He watches as Minho crosses the street and jogs towards the college gates. He waits until Minho enters the college gates before turning on his heel in the direction of his apartment.
It’s inevitable to think about Baekhyun in times like this. An attractive guy had just asked Jongdae out and Jongdae had turned him down. He knows it’s not Baekhyun’s fault, but Jongdae can’t help but wonder when the time would come that Baekhyun won’t pop into his head every time someone expresses romantic interest in him. Sighing as he reaches the landing of his floor, he thinks maybe he should draw some more to try and get Baekhyun out of his system. Eventually, he’s going to have to accept the fact that Baekhyun doesn’t want him like that (he’s not even talking to him right now) and date other people.
Jongdae halts in his steps, mouth hanging open, when he reaches his apartment. Speaking of.
Baekhyun is sitting on the floor, his back resting on Jongdae’s door, head lolled to one side as he sleeps. Baekhyun is sleeping on his doorstep. Baekhyun is here.
Never could Jongdae have imagined that Baekhyun would come to visit him. Baekhyun never even calls, doesn’t even reply to emails and texts; why would he want to visit Jongdae? But Baekhyun is there, asleep on his doorway.
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae softly croons, crouching down in front of him and shaking him gently. “Baekhyun, wake up.” It feels surreal to feel Baekhyun’s skin under his fingertips, to feel him stirring under his ministrations.
Baekhyun blinks away, slowly coming to and realizing where he is. “Jongdae,” he exclaims when he sees him. “You’re here.”
“I am,” Jongdae confirms with a light laugh. “And it seems you’re here, too.”
“Yes,” Baekhyun returns, smiling a little. “I am.” He draws himself up and allows Jongdae to help him stand. “I was waiting for you,” he sheepishly explains his position on the floor.
“Sorry,” Jongdae says as he unlocks his apartment, letting Baekhyun enter first. “I was out with some friends.”
He takes off his jacket and helps Baekhyun with his, which he both hangs on the small coat rack that his brother had bought for him. Jongdae makes a beeline for the kitchen, hoping that he has something to feed Baekhyun with, while Baekhyun looks around. Jongdae’s eyes linger a little too long on Baekhyun, happy to know that he still hasn’t forgotten how Baekhyun looks, how he is when he’s curious, what he’s like when he’s excited, the way he seems to be at the moment. Jongdae hopes it’s because of him. Jongdae wants Baekhyun to be glad to see him, too.
“That’s good,” Baekhyun says, finally turning his attention to Jongdae, who is opening cupboards and taking out a big pack of ramen. “Are you feeding me ramen?” he asks, raising an eyebrow teasingly.
“I don’t really have much,” Jongdae confesses guiltily. “I don’t really eat much except during my shift at the café, which is,” he glances at his wall clock, “in less than two hours.” Baekhyun frowns at this, but doesn’t say anything. “Besides, I just ate and wasn’t expect any guests so you’re going to have to make do with ramen.”
Baekhyun laughs and nods. “I don’t mind,” he tells him. He leans on the kitchen counter and watches as Jongdae rips the ramen pack so violently that the contents almost fall to the floor. Jongdae shoots him an embarrassed look before continuing on to heat water.
While they wait for the ramen to be cooked, Jongdae regales Baekhyun with boring tales of his classes and his newfound friends, while Baekhyun shares with him what’s been happening with his classes, as well as telling him about how the team and their practices are doing.
“Donghae’s really running us to the ground,” Baekhyun says. “Or to the tiles at the bottom of the pool. I think it’s because he lost one valuable swimmer.” He smiles when Jongdae just scoffs. “We have a meet in two weeks so it’s been quite hectic.”
“I’m glad I’m not around for that,” Jongdae says, grinning, to which Baekhyun pokes his tongue out.
“Just you wait when you get back,” Baekhyun retorts. “Donghae keeps talking about how you’re going to lose all that time and that he’ll have to train you extra hard to get you back in shape.”
“I’ve been running every morning,” Jongdae tells him as he turns the stove off and takes the pot off it. He starts stirring the soup, smiling when it smells good. “So hopefully it wouldn’t be too hard.”
“With Donghae?” Baekhyun reminds him, which has Jongdae rethinking his words. “You wish.” He suddenly straightens up when Jongdae places the pot on the counter. “Hey, did you know that Zitao and Yuri are dating?”
Jongdae looks up, shoving a mouthful of noodles in. “Officially?” he asks with his mouthful. Baekhyun absently hands him a tissue, hands flinching a little as he does.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, giggling a little. “Like I knew they were dancing around each other, but I didn’t think that Zitao would actually have the guts to ask Yuri out.” He shrugs. “But I guess I should have seen it coming when we agreed we shouldn’t—“ He laughs when he cuts himself off. “Anyway, yes, they’re dating. Second sappiest couple after Kyungsoo and Soojung.”
“Kyungsoo and Soojung are sappy?” Jongdae says, ignoring the hopeful lurch of his stomach at Baekhyun’s incomplete sentence. He can fill in the blanks. Zitao and Baekhyun have stopped… doing whatever it is that they were doing.
“Yeah,” Baekhyun says, looking disgusted. “Kyungsoo keeps hinting that he’s going to marry Soojung after they graduate.”
“Just three years to go, then,” Jongdae laughs. Kyungsoo and Soojung, getting married. That’s an amazing thought for someone who is only a freshman. But who is Jongdae to judge? He thinks Kyungsoo is lucky to know what he wants his life to be like.
“Still,” Baekhyun mumbles, face contorted. “Marriage.”
Jongdae laughs to mask the sad downturn to his earlier hopeful feelings. “Well, marriage isn’t for everyone,” he says, consoling him. “It’s a big commitment.”
“Well,” Baekhyun hedges, putting his spoon down and tracing absent shapes on the wooden counter. “Maybe if I found that person, I could do that kind of commitment.”
“Just how would you know if he’s that person,” Jongdae asks, truly curious. “How does anyone know?”
Baekhyun shrugs. “How would I know?” he replies. “I guess you just know?”
“Ah, the cliché,” Jongdae agrees, nodding. “Well, I guess you will just know, then.” He smiles at Baekhyun, who just looks at him. “Maybe you will find that person, Baekhyun. I definitely want to see you fall in love head-over-heels with someone and be sappy like the way you say Kyungsoo and Soojung are.” He chuckles teasingly even as his heart clinches in his chest.
“What about you?” Baekhyun then asks. “What do you think about commitment?”
Jongdae looks up thoughtfully. “I definitely want that kind of relationship,” he admits. “It will all depend on the other person. Of course I don’t know why anyone would agree to having that with me.”
Baekhyun frowns. “You should give yourself more credit, Jongdae,” he mutters. “Anyone would be lucky to be with you.”
Jongdae just laughs. Anyone, but Baekhyun. The irony.
“I saw Myungsoo the other day,” Baekhyun suddenly shares and Jongdae freezes. “He was with Woohyun.”
“Oh?” Jongdae responds, focusing on the noodles in his bowl. He and Myungsoo have barely talked ever since he left, which is completely understandable considering the circumstances.
“Jongdae, they were holding hands,” Baekhyun reveals, staring at him intently but Jongdae continues to avoid his gaze. “I was about to go to him and punch him,” he goes on, making Jongdae look at him with wide eyes, “until Kyungsoo told me that you and Myungsoo have broken up. He told me it was right after we got back from the trip.”
Jongdae is silent, averting his eyes after Baekhyun’s gaze becomes too piercing. Baekhyun doesn’t remember what happened, which is a relief to Jongdae because then the breakup wouldn’t be linked to it. “Yeah,” he confirms, voice quiet and calm. “I—we broke up because it wasn’t working out.”
“How wasn’t it working out?” Baekhyun presses. His brows are furrowed and he looks like he wants to get every answer that he can out of Jongdae.
Because it wasn’t fair to Myungsoo, because I’m clearly in love with you, Jongdae wants to say, but he shrugs instead. “Why don’t things work out?” he answers.
“Still answering questions with a question,” Baekhyun says, smiling a little, although Jongdae thinks Baekhyun’s eyes look sad. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Jongdae says after keeping quiet for a bit. “I mean, you didn’t like him anyway, so…”
“That’s not true,” Baekhyun interjects. “You were happy with him, of course I liked him.”
“Well,” Jongdae sighs, getting up to place the used pot and bowls in the sink, then continues, “that’s just how it happened. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”
“I just don’t understand,” Baekhyun persists, placing his palms flat on the counter surface. “Why would he let you go? You were good to him and it was obvious that he adored you.” He shakes his head slightly and takes a deep breath when Jongdae turns to face him.
“Because I asked him to,” Jongdae comes clean. He might as well just give it to Baekhyun straight since he’s asking so many questions. “I asked him to let me go. I broke up with him.”
Baekhyun’s eyes are wide with shock. “But… you liked him,” he points out, eyebrows scrunching together in confusion. “You guys fit together, you guys—“
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae cuts him off, tiredly pressing his fingers to his temple. “Why did you come here?” Baekhyun presses his lips together. “Did you really come to talk to me about Myungsoo and lecture me about him and what our relationship could have been like?”
Baekhyun doesn’t answer and Jongdae walks to the couch when Baekhyun continues being so. What did Jongdae expect? That Baekhyun came because he wanted to see him? That is the first thought that came to mind because why would anyone visit someone if it weren’t for that reason? Then again, Baekhyun hasn’t spoken to him in over a month. Why would he want to see Jongdae now?
“I came to apologize.” Baekhyun says it so faintly, but Jongdae hears it loud and clear. Jongdae turns to face him, expectant. “I didn’t… I didn’t know what you meant when you said that you were leaving. I misunder—I didn’t know,” he explains. “And then Taeyeon told me what she overheard when Donghae and Joonmyun were talking.” He takes a deep breath and approaches Jongdae until they’re only a couple of inches away from each other. “I’m sorry, Jongdae,” he says, taking Jongdae’s hand in his. “I didn’t even care to ask why and, in turn, didn’t get to help you when you needed a friend. I was selfish. I’m sorry. I’ll leave if you want me to, but that’s really what I came here for, to tell you that I’m sorry.”
Jongdae pulls Baekhyun closer and hugs him as tight as he could. He didn’t think he could ever do this again and he laughs in happiness as he thinks about it. “You don’t know how happy I am to see you,” he murmurs through Baekhyun’s hair. “I missed you.”
Baekhyun whimpers and he clutches on the back of Jongdae’s shirt as he hugs him tighter. “I miss you, too,” he declares. “I felt like such an idiot when Taeyeon told me, especially when I found out that I was the only one who didn’t know. I felt so stupid and so awful and I’m just sorry. I’m really sorry, Jongdae. Please, let’s stop fighting.”
“Stop saying sorry,” Jongdae says, pulling away a little to look at Baekhyun’s face. Baekhyun’s eyes are glistening with unshed tears, something that mirroring Jongdae’s own. “We weren’t fighting, not really. We were just… This is just how we are.”
Baekhyun nods eagerly, a big smile forming on his face. “This is just how we are,” he repeats.
Jongdae wants to kiss him. Jongdae wants to so badly because Baekhyun is there, in his arms, and is looking at him like he wants to be in Jongdae’s arms. But Jongdae doesn’t because he isn’t about to do anything to call a halt to their newly rekindled friendship. So he hugs him again instead. Jongdae’s heart stutters in his chest when Baekhyun hugs him back just as tight.
Time passes quickly when one is having fun. After his somewhat teary reunion with Baekhyun, Baekhyun made sure to come visit him every weekend, sleeping over during Friday and Saturday evenings to keep him company. Every weekend becomes an adventure after that. Even something as simple as going to the grocery becomes fun just because Baekhyun is with him. Baekhyun even helps him with his classes, Baekhyun asking some of his architecture classmates to explain what they’re currently learning through video. Jongdae thinks Baekhyun really is kind of amazing, although he also thinks that this is probably just Baekhyun’s way of still apologizing.
Soon, Jongdae is done with his makeup semester and is packing up his stuff so he can move back into the university dormitory with Kyungsoo. Baekhyun is putting his textbooks in a box, wincing every time he lifts one up, while Minho and Kibum are cleaning the kitchen up, putting everything in a paper bag. Chanyeol was supposed to come and help but he had a sudden commitment that he couldn’t get out of.
“Jongdae, your books are annoyingly heavy,” Baekhyun yells from where he’s sitting on the couch.
“That just means you’re a lightweight,” Jongdae yells back, laughing, although he knows that his textbooks could probably kill someone. He turns his attention back to Kibum and Minho, who are both raiding the fridge. Baekhyun had been stocking it heavily when he started sleeping over and now all that food is probably going to go to waste.
“You sure you’re giving these to us?” Kibum asks.
“Yeah,” Jongdae says with a nod. “I don’t have a fridge in my dorm and I don’t want it to go to waste.”
Kibum hums happily as he takes the contents of the fridge out. Minho taps Jongdae’s shoulder and discreetly pulls him aside. Jongdae gives him a curious look as Minho stays quiet for a bit before speaking up.
“So is that him?” Minho asks, nodding his head in Baekhyun’s direction.
“Oh,” Jongdae says, swallowing nervously. “He’s… Baekhyun.”
“He doesn’t know, doesn’t he?” Minho asks, although it’s not really a question. Jongdae can only nod in response. “It’s really none of my business and I’m not asking because I’m jealous but… why not?”
Jongdae looks at Baekhyun, who, surprisingly, has one of Jongdae’ books open, seemingly reading. “He’s Baekhyun,” he says as an answer. “He doesn’t want to have a boyfriend like me.”
“What do you mean?” Minho presses inquiringly.
“I don’t want to play around,” Jongdae clarifies with a sad sigh. Baekhyun flips through a page of his book, biting on the nail of his thumb, which should be gross but is endearingly cute to Jongdae. “And he’s the type who does.”
“Did he say that?” Minho continues.
“I can see it,” Jongdae defends his statement, looking away from Baekhyun.
“But did he actually tell you that he doesn’t want a boyfriend like you?” Minho persists.
“Why are you questioning me like this?” Jongdae is pouting. “This is almost like torture.”
“Jongdae,” Minho says, raising his eyebrows expectantly.
“No,” Jongdae huffs. “No, he didn’t.” Because Jongdae didn’t ask. And Jongdae isn’t going to ask, because he doesn’t really want to hear rejection from Baekhyun. Because he thinks he can live like this, being close to Baekhyun even if it’s not close enough.
Minho smiles. “Ask and you shall receive,” is all he says and Jongdae blinks up at him because is he serious?
Jongdae tries not to rolls his eyes when he looks back at Baekhyun. Baekhyun is now leaning back on the sofa, shoes off, legs underneath him, looking comfortable as he still reads Jongdae’s book. He thinks about what Chanyeol, his brother, and his mother had told him about going for what he wants and about being happy and he wonders.
“Are you done exchanging bible verses or can we go?” Kibum makes Jongdae jump. Kibum looks apologetic. “I have to go,” he says. “I have a an appointment with a professor.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” Jongdae says. “You’ve helped so much. Thank you.”
Kibum hugs him. “See you around, Kim Jongdae. Don’t be a stranger now.”
“I won’t,” Jongdae says, grinning at him.
“Ask,” Minho starts.
“And you shall receive,” Jongdae finishes, rolling his eyes this time.
“It may not be the answer that you want,” Minho goes on. “But nevertheless, you get an answer and none of this assuming and wondering. Take the opportunity.”
Jongdae lets out a breath as he says his final goodbyes to them and closes the door.
“You okay?” Baekhyun asks, looking up from his reading.
“Yeah,” Jongdae assures him. He sits down beside him and leans his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder. “What are you doing reading my textbook?”
“This is actually really interesting stuff,” Baekhyun gushes excitedly. “I mean, sure, it’s complicated, but it’s also so fun and exciting, I never realized.”
Jongdae chuckles. “You’re so cute,” he says as he nuzzles Baekhyun’s shoulder.
Baekhyun is quiet and Jongdae thinks he might have crossed a line until Baekhyun shifts to wrap an arm around him, pulling him closer. “I’m glad you’re coming home, Jongdae,” he whispers.
I am home, Jongdae thinks. Baekhyun is home to him. “Me too,” Jongdae returns, unable to keep the smile off his face.
Donghae is staring at the stopwatch in his hand when Jongdae manages to get out of the pool. Jongdae puts an arm around his coach and grins when Donghae is too dumbfounded to realize that Jongdae is getting his clothes wet.
“Baekhyun only mentioned you going running when you were away,” Donghae says accusingly.
Jongdae grins. After two weeks of settling in into the college and not swimming, Jongdae looked for a swimming pool. There’s a small club nearby, and he was allowed to use the pool for free as long as he assisted with teaching some toddlers how to float two times a week. Jongdae found that even when he kept thinking that swimming was maybe forced into him, it is already in him, in his system, that he ended up missing it.
“Surprise!” Jongdae announces, grin widening.
Donghae snorts and pushes Jongdae off of him, making a face when he realizes that his shirt is soaked. “Good job, Kim,” he says, patting him on the back. “Now, swim butterfly for 1500 meters.”
Jongdae’s mouth hangs open. “Coach, that’s 30 laps!”
“Good thing you’re not out of practice then,” Donghae replies with a smirk. “Now go.”
Jongdae grumbles as he gets on the diving block and puts his goggles over his eyes. He hears a snicker beside him. He glares at Kyungsoo.
“Welcome back, champ,” Kyungsoo teases. He gets up on the same diving block as Jongdae’s and pats his back. “The rest of the team is glad that you’re back to take away the heat from us.” From what Jongdae has heard, Donghae has really been training them hard.
“You’re welcome,” Jongdae mumbles as he tries to push Kyungsoo off the block. “Now go away. I have 30 laps of butterfly to swim.”
“In intervals of 10 seconds,” Donghae calls out to him from the shade. Jongdae turns around and glares at his coach then at Kyungsoo, who laughs louder this time.
“Really, really glad you’re back,” Kyungsoo repeats, nodding more happily this time.
“Glad to be at your service,” Jongdae snaps. “Now, please leave me alone.” He pushes Kyungsoo off the block and into the pool. Kyungsoo yelps and manages to get into diving position at the last minute.
Later on, with every bit of Jongdae’s muscles aching, Kyungsoo comes into step beside him. Baekhyun is walking ahead, listening to Soojung as she talks about something that Jongdae can’t hear.
“What now?” Jongdae tiredly demands.
“I really am glad that you’re back, you know,” Kyungsoo says, putting an arm around his shoulders in a way that speaks of friendship. “It’s been weird without you around.”
“How has it been weird?” Jongdae laughs. “I’m just one member and I’ve only been away for three months.”
Kyungsoo shakes his head, snickering. “It continues to amaze me how you never know the effect you have on people,” he states. “Zitao and Sehun whined constantly because they didn’t have anyone doting on them, although Joonmyun tried his best to compensate.”
Jongdae blinks. “When did I ever dote on Zitao and Sehun?”
“All the time,” Kyungsoo says, smiling a little. “You are always handing them their towels, letting them shower first, buying them food when they ask,” he reminds him, shaking his head again when Jongdae just frowns in confusion. “It’s not just them, though. It’s also Soojung’s and Jinri, who had lost a person to tease, and Joonmyun, who missed your loud laughter. There’s Myungsoo, too.”
“How is he?” Jongdae asks.
“I’m sure you’ve heard about him and Woohyun,” Kyungsoo says. “What do you think?”
“I just want him to be happy,” Jongdae tells him. “So I really hope he is.”
“He is,” Kyungsoo assures him. “It wasn’t just them who missed you.”
“Are you going to tell me you missed me, too, Kyungsoo?” Jongdae chuckles as he wraps his own arm around Kyungsoo’s shoulders and cuddling to him. “Because you can just tell me and not go about it in a roundabout way—“
“Baekhyun missed you, too.” Kyungsoo’s voice is softer and Jongdae glances up at Baekhyun, who’s a bit farther away. “Everyone missed you, I think even the pool did.”
“I missed everyone, too,” Jongdae responds easily, grinning. “I really like it here, you know. I really like you guys. I like the pool a lot, too.”
“Jongdae,” Kyungsoo prompts him.
“I know,” Jongdae sighs, pulling his arm away. “I know that he missed me. He told me.”
“Did he,” Kyungsoo says, a small smile on his face. “And what did you say?”
“What was I supposed to say?” Jongdae says. “Of course I said that I missed him, too. Because I did. You know I did.”
“And…?” Kyungsoo presses further, an eyebrow raised.
“And nothing,” Jongdae answers in what he hopes is in a tone of finality.
“Jongdae, look at me.” Kyungsoo stops walking and Jongdae stops, too, and gives Kyungsoo what he asked for. “Is that all that happened?”
“Kyungsoo,” Jongdae says, “you know who I’m dealing with, right? Are we talking about the same Baekhyun here?”
Kyungsoo sighs and shakes his head. “Oh Jongdae, I thought you went away to learn your lesson,” is all he says before he’s walking again, catching up to Soojung and Baekhyun.
Jongdae just stands there and stares after Kyungsoo. Meanwhile, Baekhyun stops walking and waits for him.
“Everything okay?” Baekhyun asks when Jongdae’s finally started walking again.
“Yeah,” Jongdae tells him when he’s gathered his thoughts. “Everything’s fine.”
Baekhyun looks like he doesn’t believe him, but he lets it go to Jongdae’s relief. Jongdae doesn’t think he’s ready to explain what Kyungsoo meant anyway. Not when Jongdae can’t understand it himself.
Jongdae and Baekhyun fall into a familiar pattern. When they seek each other out, the other is there, ready to receive each other with open arms, with some slight changes. Where Baekhyun would normally be the one asking for a cuddle, now Jongdae finds that it’s the other way around. Jongdae is now the one initiating the touchiness, while Baekhyun just responds, whereas before, Baekhyun would be the one initiating everything. It confuses Jongdae, but he doesn’t let it get to him. At least he still has Baekhyun even if it’s just like this. At least Baekhyun never pulls away, although sometimes Jongdae can hear Baekhyun’s hesitation before holding Jongdae’s hand back, before cuddling with him, before leaning against him. Jongdae can take it because he still has Baekhyun.
Right now, though, Jongdae can’t find him. He’d let Sehun talk him into one of his brilliant ideas and went to a club with him, Kris, Zitao, Yuri and Baekhyun. Jongdae had practically vowed never to go into one again because the last time he went to a club, things almost happened afterwards, things that Jongdae still can’t forget.
He squeezes his way through a throng of people and makes his way to the bar. It’s the safest place he could stay at. If Baekhyun gets thirsty, and he probably will, because Baekhyun can drink endlessly, he will go to the bar and Jongdae will see him then. Who he sees at the bar however are Kris and Sehun, sitting together rather cozily.
“Where the hell have you been?” Sehun demands as soon as he spots Jongdae.
“Around,” Jongdae answers, gesturing to the bartender and ordering a rum and coke. “What?” he asks when Sehun continues glaring at him.
“Do you even know where Baekhyun is?” Sehun asks snappishly. Kris puts a large hand on Sehun’s forearm, which, to Jongdae’s amazement, calms him down. “Why aren’t you with Baekhyun?”
“I lost him in the crowd,” Jongdae explains with a shrug. It’s not really a big deal to him that Baekhyun went off to dance with Zitao and Yuri. Jongdae isn’t much of a dancer so it’s good that they have friends who like it. “He’s probably dancing with Zitao and Yuri.”
“Zitao and Yuri left an hour ago,” Sehun tells him, sounding annoyed again.
Jongdae straightens up at this. “So where’s Baekhyun?” He takes his phone out to check if Baekhyun left him a message, but there are none so he dials Baekhyun’s number, which is pointless because it’s too loud that Baekhyun won’t even hear his phone. “I’m going to look for him,” he announces, pocketing his phone and finishing his drink in one gulp.
Before he can walk away, Kris is stopping him and pointing in the general direction of the dance floor. Jongdae turns and he can’t see it at first. There are too many people dancing, too many gyrating bodies, that Jongdae feels slightly dizzy just watching them. But then the crowd parts a bit and he sees what Kris wants him to see.
Baekhyun, with his sinfully tight leather pants, thin gray t-shirt that leaves little to imagination with a collar so low that Jongdae really thinks Baekhyun might as well have gone topless, is dancing with some random guy. Baekhyun has his back towards the guy, pushing his ass to his crotch, while the guy, clearly enjoying this, has his arms around Baekhyun’s waist, mouth pressed against Baekhyun’s neck.
Jongdae can’t stand it. He has to put a stop to it and makes his way towards them, barely hearing Sehun calling out to him.
It’s even worse up close. Because right at the moment Jongdae arrives, Baekhyun turns around in the guy’s arm, encircling his arms around his neck, and starts making out with him. Jongdae is stunned as Baekhyun molds his frame into the guys, every inch of the front of their bodies touching, the guy grinding into him. He flinches back because his heart hurts like it’s been crushed under a hammer, the sounds of their kissing echoing loudly in his head, louder than the music the club is playing.
But Jongdae has to stop this. He has to stop Baekhyun, because even if Baekhyun isn’t his, he doesn’t belong to this guy either. Baekhyun can’t belong to this guy.
“Excuse me,” Jongdae interrupts, shouting in their ears. He has a hand on Baekhyun’s arm, pulling him away from the guy.
“Get lost,” the random guy says, pushing him away. Jongdae stumbles back. “We’re busy.”
Jongdae braces himself and interrupts them again. “I don’t think you understand,” he says, turning to Baekhyun. “Baekhyun.” He grabs at his arm to make Baekhyun look at him.
“What?” Baekhyun’s eyes focus on him. He frowns when he recognizes Jongdae. “What do you want?”
“You’re drunk,” Jongdae says, wrapping an arm around his waist, much to the other guy’s annoyance. “Let’s get you home.”
Baekhyun pulls himself away from Jongdae, which is a surprise. “I’m not drunk,” he corrects him irately, even though he clearly is. Jongdae has to steady him to keep himself from falling. “I’m busy.” He places his arms back around the guy’s neck.
“We’re busy,” the guy confirms with a manic grin.
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae says, focusing on him. “You are drunk. Kris and Sehun are ready to go, too, so let’s go.”
“Then go,” Baekhyun snaps, waving him off. “I can get home by myself.” He turns to the guy he’s dancing we and smiles flirtatiously. “We can get home by ourselves,” he adds before getting into another heated make-out session with him.
Something snaps inside Jongdae. “Alright, that’s it!” he yells, losing his patience. He grabs Baekhyun forcefully away from the guy, which was Baekhyun stumbling back, barely finding his balance, and pushes the guy away from Baekhyun, away from them. “Go home by yourself,” he angrily tells him. “Because he,” he points at Baekhyun, “isn’t going with you.”
The guy glares at him, clenching his fists, and Jongdae clenches his own because he’s ready to fight him if it comes to that. No one is touching Baekhyun. Luckily, the guy seems to think it’s not worth it so he just points at Jongdae menacingly before turning around and walking away. Sighing with relief, Jongdae turns to take Baekhyun in his arms and bring him home when he finds that Baekhyun isn’t there. He looks around and spots Baekhyun, luckily, making his way to the exit.
Jongdae only manages to catch up with him outside of the club. He jogs up to Baekhyun and gently grabs his wrist. “Hey,” he starts. “Let me—“
“Go away, Jongdae,” Baekhyun snaps and it’s with so much resentment that Jongdae immediately lets go of Baekhyun’s wrist and stops walking.
“I was just trying to—“ Jongdae starts, swallowing the shock back down.
“Stop it,” Baekhyun says heatedly, whipping around to face him. His cheeks a flushed and he’s shaking, but probably not from the cold. “You didn’t have to do that,” he continues, gesturing to the club. “You didn’t—you don’t have to do that.”
“The guy was all over you and you were drunk,” Jongdae retorts defensively. “Was I just supposed to stand there and watch?”
“Yes,” Baekhyun barks. “Yes! Because I’m adult and I can make my own decisions. So if I wanted to go home and be fucked by a stranger under the influence of alcohol that’s my choice.”
Jongdae stands there, stunned. Of course Baekhyun is right. It’s what he’s been doing way before Jongdae has even met him. But Baekhyun has never raised his voice like this, except for when Jongdae told Baekhyun he was leaving. Even then, it wasn’t like this. Baekhyun’s eyes weren’t blazing with something like bitterness and his fists weren’t clenched and he wasn’t talking to Jongdae like he truly hated him. Like what he’s doing now. They have never fought like this, never been in a situation where they needed to fight this way. And, while Jongdae thought he could never really get mad at Baekhyun, he won’t stand being spoken to like this when all he’s wanted was to take care of Baekhyun.
“An adult, huh?” Jongdae laughs scornfully and, even to his ears, it sounds awful. “You don’t even remember what happens when you get drunk. What if that guy does fuck you and leaves you in a ditch somewhere? Am I supposed to allow that to happen?”
“You are not my boyfriend!” Baekhyun shouts. Jongdae freezes, clenching his fists so tight that he knows the skin on his palms is going to break. “I am not your boyfriend,” he goes on, even more spitefully. “You don’t have to take care of me. I don’t need you to—I don’t want you to, so stop doing it. Because I can’t keep on doing this, you can’t keep on doing this. So just stop! Stop it!” Baekhyun is breathing heavily by the end of his tirade and Jongdae is looking at him like he’s seeing him for the first time.
So this is what Baekhyun really thinks. When Jongdae had thought that Baekhyun would be awkward at the knowledge of Jongdae’s affection for him, it is actually much worse. Baekhyun is appalled by the mere want of Jongdae to take care of him, repulsed by the mere thought of Jongdae being in a relationship with him. So that’s how it is.
Jongdae doesn’t stop Baekhyun when he walks away from him. Jongdae stands there and watches the person who’s made him realize so many things about himself, made him fall in love in so many different ways and at so many different things.
Jongdae watches him and, when Baekhyun is but a speck in the distance, he turns around and walks away.
The wind is biting as it whips through his skin, stinging, stabbing, almost as if it wants to cut through him. Jongdae almost wishes it would. It would probably hurt less than the way he’s feeling right now. He shoves his hands in his jacket pockets, glad that he had the presence of mind to bring one. Baekhyun doesn’t have a jacket, though, and he’s wearing such a thin shirt and—No. Jongdae isn’t going to think about Baekhyun. Jongdae isn’t going to care about Baekhyun. Because Baekhyun doesn’t want Jongdae to care about him. Because Baekhyun wants Jongdae to stop.
Baekhyun talks about Jongdae’s concern and affection for him like it’s something that can be switched off, like it’s something that Jongdae can choose to have or not have at any given day, like it’s something that’s Jongdae’s fault for having. Maybe it is his fault. It is his feelings, after all. But the look on Baekhyun’s face, the way his body shook with anger, the way his eyes flashed… Jongdae can’t forget it. It could probably be the alcohol talking. But, alcohol or no alcohol, that was still Baekhyun. Those words still came out of Baekhyun’s mouth and he’s made it very clear that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jongdae.
Breakups are hard. He’s experienced them before. But none of them felt like this, like a fist had been shoved through his chest to grab his heart, take it out and squeeze it until it’s nothing more but a shadow of what it once was. It hurts so much that Jongdae stops walking, sitting on the sidewalk and burying his face in his hands to just breathe in and out and try to alleviate the pain somehow. He’s never felt for anyone the way he’s felt for Baekhyun. Baekhyun is the kind of person Jongdae wishes he was, but, at the same time, is the person he wants to be better for.
It seems that was a mistake.
He stays there for a long time. Jongdae stays still and stares at the pavement, stares at the hard, gray road with some ants somewhere near his shoes. He doesn’t care that he looks dumb and weird sitting on the sidewalk in the wee hours of the morning; he doesn’t even really know where he is, having walked for a long time.
When he lifts his head and straightens up, his back and shoulders hurt from him being curled up into himself for an extended period. Jongdae looks up at the sky, already lightening as the sun starts to rise. He gets up, not bother to dust his pants off, and walks back to the dorms.
“Where the fuck have you been?” is what greets Jongdae when he gets back. Kyungsoo stands up from his bed, hair in disarray, cell phone on hand. He lets out a breath as Jongdae closes the door behind him.
“I was out,” Jongdae answers simply. He makes his way to his bed and flops face down on it, hiding his face from the rays of the sun that’s starting to filter through the curtains. He doesn’t care about showering or changing. Caring is overrated.
“Yeah, he’s here,” Kyungsoo is suddenly saying, talking to someone on the phone. “He just got back… okay… thank you so much! I’ll talk to you tomorrow—er, later. Bye.” He sits back on his bed and watches Jongdae. “Jongdae, what happened?” he asks, actually sounding concerned.
“Nothing. I just lost track of time,” Jongdae mutters, shifting on the bed so that his back is facing Kyungsoo. “Now please leave me alone.”
Jongdae is going to stay in bed and be one with it forever. Or for as long as it takes for his heart to stop hurting.
“Jongdae!” Jinri’s voice echoes in the food court, making Jongdae wince as he makes his way towards them.
He doesn’t really know what he’s doing there, but after two weeks of staying in bed (which is very lucky for him that it’s already their summer break), Kyungsoo, seeking Chanyeol’s help, had staged an intervention. They forced Jongdae off the bed—Chanyeol, being the biggest and tallest one, manhandled Jongdae towards the bathroom and shoved him under a cold shower. Jongdae had flinched and yelled angrily but Chanyeol kept him under the water, not caring that he was getting soaked, too.
“You are not burying yourself in bed for another minute,” Chanyeol had said in an uncompromising tone that he’s never really used on Jongdae. “You are going to get dressed and go on a walk with me.” He pulls Jongdae out of the shower, despite Jongdae’s protests and pushes him to get clothes. “I will dress you myself if I have to, Jongdae,” Chanyeol had warned him and it was enough for Jongdae to change his clothes.
Chanyeol had asked about what was wrong, asked about what had happened. Kyungsoo did the same. But Jongdae never said anything and he wasn’t going to.
“Hey,” Jongdae greets them, trying to be as outgoing as he can. Chanyeol had made him promise that he wasn’t going to bury himself in his bed sheets once he leaves. Kyungsoo had promised, too, that he would call Chanyeol is Baekhyun regressed. It annoyed Jongdae, but it was really all they could do, seeing as he wouldn’t tell them what was wrong. “What are we doing here?” he asks, sitting beside Jinri.
“Just hanging out,” Soojung says. “I want to watch a movie.”
“And we will,” Kyungsoo tells her with a contented smile on his face, his fingers playing with the tips of her hair.
Jongdae blinks and looks away, trying to fight back his urge to throw up. Kyungsoo notices and glares at him. Jongdae manages to smile.
“Sounds good,” Jongdae says, much to Kyungsoo’s surprise. A movie means he can doze off. It’s almost like being in bed, except there’s a movie playing in a big TV.
“What do you want to watch?” Jinri asks.
Jongdae shrugs. “Whatever you guys want,” he answers and Kyungsoo sighs, leaning back on his seat. “Whom else are we waiting for?”
His question is answered when Kris arrives with Sehun, Zitao… and Baekhyun. Jongdae grips his knees and winces because his palms still hurt when he applies pressure on them. It really isn’t healthy to clench one’s fists so tightly, especially when one’s nails aren’t cut short. He sees Baekhyun at the corner of his eyes and he smiles a little but doesn’t really acknowledge him. Of course Baekhyun looks okay. His hair is perfectly styled, eyes lined with dark eyeliner the way it was when they went to the club and is wearing simple but fit jeans and a hoodie. Jongdae stares at the tabletop and stops himself. Baekhyun doesn’t want Jongdae to care.
On their way to the cinema, Kyungsoo pulls Jongdae aside.
“What?” Jongdae asks, forcing a smile out.
“Are you going to tell me why you look like you’re going to pass out?” Kyungsoo hisses, smiling serenely when Soojung looks behind her to look for her boyfriend. Soojung grins back and waves before looking away.
“You’re a monster,” Jongdae mutters. “What does she see in you? Doesn’t she know you’re evil?”
Kyungsoo scoffs. “Don’t change the subject,” he says, gripping Jongdae’s arm. “Look,” he presses, voice softening with worry. “Jongdae, I’m really worried.”
“I’m fine,” Jongdae insists, untangling himself from Kyungsoo. “Everything’s fine. You don’t have to be worried about anything.”
“Jongdae, you came home at 6 o’clock in the morning, looking like a truck ran over you,” Kyungsoo recounts. “You didn’t text, you didn’t call. No one knew where you were and even Baekhyun, who was the last person to have seen you, wasn’t sure where you were. We were all friggin’ worried, okay?”
“Sorry,” Jongdae mumbles, not really knowing what else to say. He figured he should have texted at least. But he really wasn’t up for doing anything at the time.
“And now you look like you’ve seen a ghost and that you’re going to cry because you’re so scared,” Kyungsoo goes on, sighing. “What’s going on?”
Jongdae looks everywhere else but at Kyungsoo. Kyungsoo is a good friend. He may sound mean and seem uncaring but he shows his concern at the best of times and Jongdae doesn’t want to disappoint him because he can’t tell Kyungsoo what’s wrong. Jongdae can’t tell Kyungsoo how his chest feels like it’s going to implode at the mere mention of Baekhyun’s name and how he just wants to jump into the pool and swim laps forever, if only his heart would have something else to do aside from aching for Baekhyun.
“If I promise to tell you eventually, will you let me leave and skip the movie?” Jongdae bargains. Baekhyun is here and he can’t… He can’t. “I know I promised you and Chanyeol but I really can’t be here right now. I really can’t—“
“Jongdae, calm down,” Kyungsoo starts, placing his hands on Jongdae’s shoulders. His eyes are worried, as he looks his friend over. There are tears in Jongdae’s eyes. “Okay,” he agrees with a sigh. “Okay, you can skip the movie.”
“Okay,” Jongdae says, very much relieved. “Thank you.”
Jongdae rushes out of there before Kyungsoo can say another word. He’s not ready to see Baekhyun. He’s not even ready to hear his name without wanting to curl into himself. It was just too much too soon.
Baekhyun looked okay. He didn’t look like he was going through anything like what Jongdae’s going through. There didn’t even seem to be any remorse for the loss of their friendship. There was just nothing and Jongdae wonders what the past year was for. What was the use of them building their friendship up like that if feelings can bring it down so easily?
Three weeks is not enough to heal a broken heart. Jongdae thinks it would take even far longer than three months, which they say is normally when a person starts being healed and when it’s okay to start seeing other people. How can it take three months to heal a heart that’s been crushed? How can you fix something when not all the pieces are there?
“What are you doing here?” Jongdae is frozen in his step as he exits his dorm room, classmates bumping into his back because he’s blocking the doorway. He steps aside and stares as Chanyeol pushes himself off the opposite wall.
“There was a time where you complained about me not visiting you enough,” Chanyeol says casually. “You have to make up your mind.”
“I do want you visiting,” Jongdae tells him. Chanyeol looks surprised for a second before he grins. “But what are you doing here? It’s the middle of the week.” And then Jongdae remembers that Chanyeol didn’t take any summer classes, unlike Jongdae who just wanted to take two classes in advance so he could have a freer schedule next semester.
“You don’t have a class after this, right?” Chanyeol asks.
“Yeah,” Jongdae confirms, shifting the bag strap on his shoulder. He squints his eyes as the sunlight hits his eyes when they exit the building. “But I have swimming practice in the afternoon.”
“How is that going?” Chanyeol inquires, running a hand through his hair.
Jongdae shrugs. “As good as it can be,” he tells him. Swimming has been going really well, far better than Jongdae could have expected for his return. His times have improved over the past month because he’s been swimming every morning and every afternoon on a daily basis. Jongdae knows why he’s swimming so much, but he decides to ignore that reason and just enjoys the benefits, if he can call it that.
They walk with no definite destination in mind. Jongdae senses that Chanyeol just wants to walk around and talk with how relaxed he is so they just roam the campus buildings that are emptier than usual, pass by the parking lots with little to no cars, and the gymnasiums and fields that are silent.
Even up to now, Jongdae is still amazed and grateful that he got a chance to study in a prestigious university under a scholarship. It had been more difficult to grasp in the beginning, especially with him being unsure of his about taking up architecture and being on the swimming team. But he understands it better.
After that talk with his mother telling him that she wants him to pursue his happiness, he realized that he is happy. Granted, he struggled with swimming and is still having some difficulties with his academics, but he has recognized that those things are part of what makes him who he is. He may not be that good at math, which makes everything he learns in his classes just that much more difficult, but architecture is art. It may not be what he’s used to drawing, but at the end of the day, it still is a part of what he’s acknowledged now as something that he loves, too.
Swimming is something that Jongdae thought was a dream he’d pursued to fulfill his mother’s happiness, to follow his brother’s footsteps, but it’s actually part of what makes him Jongdae. Swimming completes Jongdae’s day. When he was forced to withdraw from the team, Jongdae had felt restless and even confused at not having swimming practice in the afternoons, so much so that he went out to look for a pool and trained by himself.
Jongdae’s been told by so many different people that he should do what makes him happy. It confused him because wasn’t he doing that already? He didn’t feel the same passion as Chanyeol did with his art or how Zitao was with his swimming or the way Baekhyun talked about film. Then with the way drawing seemed to calmed him down, he’d wondered if maybe he should have gone into art instead, that, maybe, it was what he’s supposed to be doing because heseemed unhappy. The truth was Jongdae was—is—happy. Drawing just made him happier. It was all just the confusion and the settling down and maybe the thing with Baekhyun that made him lose sight of that.
“I asked her to be my girlfriend,” Chanyeol suddenly speaks up.
“Who?” Jongdae asks, a bit puzzled.
“Suji,” Chanyeol says with a smile, which is so bright that Jongdae has to avert his eyes. Suji, the girl who told Chanyeol that he was bad at mixing colors. “I asked her to be my girlfriend. I went through the whole nine yards; I bought her flowers, composed as song, took her to dinner…” He smiles even wider as he looks at Jongdae, who’s grinning back at him. “She said yes.”
“Congratulations,” Jongdae says, patting Chanyeol on the back. Chanyeol talked about nothing else. It was always Suji this, Suji that. In the beginning, it was just the small things. Suji smiled at me today or Suji waved at me. And then slowly, it progressed to we’re having a study session after classes. Then to we’re watching a movie together!!! It was amusing, but it made Jongdae happy because Chanyeol really seemed so happy.
“The look on her face when I asked…” Chanyeol shakes his head, smile wistful. “God, her smile was so beautiful and she even got teary eyed and just… it was worth it.”
“Well she does seem like a special girl so I’m sure it was,” Jongdae says.
“She is,” Chanyeol agrees eagerly. He then takes a deep breath, stuffing his hands in his pockets before turning to Jongdae. “So when are you going to do it?”
“When am I going to do what?” Jongdae absently asks. They’d just reached the Arts building, which has Jongdae’s thoughts immediately going to Baekhyun. He flinches and he takes a very deep breath to shoo it away.
“Ask Baekhyun to be your boyfriend,” Chanyeol answers.
Jongdae refused to go to anything that Baekhyun attended. Kyungsoo thought he was immature at first, but Jongdae tried to make Kyungsoo understand, without telling him what happened, that it was a very bad idea to have them in the same room together. Kyungsoo couldn’t really get it because Baekhyun and Jongdae have been practically joined to the hip ever since they first met, and, even when they fought, they patched things up and acted like nothing had happened. Jongdae wishes it were that easy, that this situation they’re in is that easy to fix. But it isn’t because Jongdae’s heart is crushed and that’s something that would be very hard to fix. Kyungsoo had relented after a while, the concern in his eyes never leaving him, and Jongdae had promised that he would tell him what happened soon.
“What?” Jongdae coughs, blinking at Chanyeol.
“When are you going to ask Baekhyun to be your boyfriend?” Chanyeol repeats the question patiently. He’s looking very intently at Jongdae and Jongdae knows that Chanyeol is pushing him to talk about whatever it is that had happened.
Jongdae chuckles. It’s rough sounding and makes Chanyeol frown. “I think you can forget about that,” he says. Maybe once he had thought about it; he was about to do it, too. But now he can’t, and won’t.
“Why?” Chanyeol questions.
“Because that’s just how it is,” Jongdae vaguely answers. “It’s just not in the stars for us.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Chanyeol swears, making Jongdae stare at him in surprise. “You make it sound like the stars are the ones that decide the way your relationship is going to go.”
“Well, if it were up to me,” Jongdae chuckles cynically, “I would rather they took care of it.”
Chanyeol sighs and pulls Jongdae to the nearest bench that he sees. They sit down side-by-side, elbows touching slightly. The trees sway with the wind and Jongdae is reminded of that one day where Chanyeol had taken his hand and comforted him under the trees.
“What happened, Jongdae?” Chanyeol softly asks.
Jongdae takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Baekhyun’s furious face flashes before his eyes, his words echo in his ears, him walking away fresh in his mind. It hurts, but he opens his mouth and tells Chanyeol everything, from the moment he met Baekhyun, to the moment he realized he had feelings for him, to the incident in Chanyeol’s dorm (much to Chanyeol’s horror), and to the incident outside of the club. Each memory stabs Jongdae in the heart and he wonders why it still hurts so much when his heart is already in pieces.
Jongdae opens his eyes when he feels Chanyeol’s arm sliding around him and pulling him close. He leans his head on his best friend’s shoulders, letting out a sob. His face is surprisingly wet but Jongdae doesn’t do anything to wipe the tears away. He hasn’t cried like this since the fight and, somehow, with the tears flowing out, Jongdae finds that it eases the pain, even if only in a very small way.
“Have you…” Jongdae can feel Chanyeol’s hesitation. “Have you ever tried talking to him since then?”
“What is there to talk about?” Jongdae scoffs. “He has nothing else to say that I would want to hear. I am not putting myself through that again.”
“But Jongdae,” Chanyeol starts, sighing a little. “You and Baekhyun… I’ve seen you two together and it’s not… I can’t imagine why he would say those things because there’s obviously something between the two of you.”
“Baekhyun doesn’t do relationships,” Jongdae states in a steely tone. “Why would he change for me?”
“People do strange and life changing decisions for love,” Chanyeol tells him, squeezing Jongdae comfortingly.
“Not Baekhyun,” Jongdae responds. “Not for me.”
“Jongdae…” Chanyeol starts again.
“I just want to stop feeling like this,” Jongdae says, his voice cracking. He pulls away from Chanyeol and finally wipes his face with his hands. “I want this to be over, I want to get over him and move on—“
“Is that really what you want?” Chanyeol asks him straightforwardly. “Do you really want to go through life pretending that your friendship with Baekhyun never happened, to go through all the remaining three years of university dodging him?”
“We’ll be friends eventually,” Jongdae gives in. No matter what happened, he knows that he’ll forgive Baekhyun because he’s Baekhyun, and Jongdae is Jongdae.
“I can hear you thinking so loudly,” Chanyeol cuts through his thoughts. He grabs Jongdae’s shoulder and makes him face him. “It will never be okay because you will always be in love with him. You may end up being friends eventually, but there will always be this ache in your heart that will never go away even when you finally piece your heart back together.”
“Why are you doing this?” Jongdae snaps, pushing Chanyeol’s hand off his shoulder. “You’re supposed to be comforting me. You’re my best friend; you’re supposed to be on my side. Why do you keep insisting that I will never fall out of love with him? Why do you keep forcing me to do something about what happened?”
“Because I want you to go for what you want, Jongdae,” Chanyeol tells him without hesitation. “I want you to say what you want, to say that you want Baekhyun and that you’re going to do whatever you can to get him back and be with him. You’re my best friend, and I love you, but you’ve never asserted yourself. You always just go with the flow. You always just do what’s given to you and assume that everything’s okay. You settle, Jongdae. And that’s not okay. You should fight for your dreams, your ambitions, for all of them and not just the ones that you think other people will accept. You should never settle for anything less than you think you deserve.”
“I’m not—it isn’t—“ Jongdae blinks, forcing the tears back, trying to keep them from falling down his cheeks. “It’s not that easy,” he whispers.
“Who cares?” Chanyeol quips. “Why would you let that stop you? If you want something so badly, why would you let challenges get in your way?” He places a hand on Jongdae’s cheek and makes Jongdae look at him again. “Jongdae, I feel like all this time you’ve been let to believe that you can only reach up to a certain height, and while that may be true because you are short—“
“Shut up,” Jongdae growls, hitting his arm and making Chanyeol laugh. Jongdae takes a deep breath.
“You can do whatever you want,” Chanyeol finishes. “You can be an architect, do swimming and anything else that you’re interested in.”
“Like drawing?” Jongdae asks and Chanyeol’s eyes light up at the hope in his voice.
“Like drawing,” Chanyeol agrees, smiling. “There are no limits.” He pauses. “That’s why… I think you should go and talk to Baekhyun. You love him, Jongdae,” he hurries when Jongdae opens his mouth to protest. “You love him. Are you really going to let that go just like that? At the very least, get closure.”
Closure. Jongdae doesn’t really like the sound of that, because that just sounds like it would be a confirmation of what Baekhyun’s already told him, of what Jongdae already knows. But he nods, breathing deeply. He is probably going to regret this, but he thinks he needs it, too. They never really talkedduring their fight.
This is their chance.
Jongdae uses not knowing Baekhyun’s schedule as an excuse to put off talking to him. It’s pathetic, really, since they see each other everyday for swimming practice. But Chanyeol threatens so severely Jongdae that he’s going to come there and tell Baekhyun himself that Jongdae decides that he’s just going to do it. He’s going to do it now, with practice over and with most of the team gone.
Baekhyun is sitting down on one of the diving blocks, bag over his shoulder, and attention on his phone. He’s probably waiting for Kris so that they could leave together. They’re probably going to go have dinner together and probably hang out at Kris’ dorm—and Jongdae really shouldn’t be thinking about this at a time when he’s psyching himself up to finally talk to Baekhyun after a month and a half of silence.
When he blinks and looks at him, Baekhyun’s already on his feet, arm linked with Kris’s, while Kris’s other arm is around Sehun’s shoulders. They’re leaving. Before he realizes what he’s doing, Jongdae is jogging up to them and grabbing Baekhyun’s arm.
“Uh,” Jongdae stammers. Baekhyun’s eyes are wide with shock with Kris and Sehun not looking any better.
After the shock fades away, Baekhyun slowly removes his arm from Jongdae’s grasp and takes a step back. This makes Jongdae think that this is a very bad idea because Baekhyun doesn’t seem to want to even look at him if the way he’s staring at the ground is any indication.
“Is everything okay?” Kris asks calmly, looking from Jongdae to Baekhyun and back again. “Did you want something?”
“I…” Jongdae’s eyes remain on Baekhyun, whose hair is still wet from the showers, skin pale from the fluorescent lights, freckles visible and pretty and— “I just wondered… I was wondering if I could talk to you,” he manages to get out.
It takes a nudge from Kris to make Baekhyun look up and realize that Jongdae was talking to him.
“Me?” Baekhyun squeaks.
Jongdae nods. “If, if that’s okay,” he says, swallowing nervously. It amazes him how his heart can still thud so heavily in his chest. It amazes him, as it always has, the effect Baekhyun has on him.
Baekhyun glances at Kris and Sehun, who both nod, before he turns back to Jongdae. “Okay,” he finally consents.
Kris and Sehun linger for a while before finally leaving. Jongdae wonders if they think they’re going to have a brawl with the way the hesitated to leave them alone. He could never hit Baekhyun. He could never hurt him. He just can’t.
They stand in front of each other, awkward and uncertain. Baekhyun’s face is turned away from Jongdae so that he could only catch his profile. Baekhyun had boasted once that he had the perfect side profile and Jongdae had agreed then even if he was laughing the whole time. Baekhyun may not be handsome in the conventional way, but boy was he beautiful. Baekhyun lights up any room that he walks into and brings laughter to anyone he meets, which Jongdae thinks is a gift that not everyone can possess. Baekhyun is special and Jongdae wishes really, really hard that things turned out differently between them.
Jongdae clears his throat, and Baekhyun looks up at him in response. Jongdae takes a deep breath and drops his bag to the pavement. If he’s going to do this, he’s going to be more relaxed about it, as best as he can anyway.
“I just wanted to,” Jongdae starts, “say some things that I never said the—the last time we talked.” Baekhyun just looks at him, face unreadable. “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for whatever I might have said or done that hurt your feelings. I never should have done that,” he says, taking another deep breath. “You were right, it wasn’t my place. You are an adult and you’re perfectly capable of making decisions that you think are best for you.” He looks into Baekhyun’s dark eyes, which flicker with something that Jongdae can’t recognize. “I’m just really sorry. I’m sorry that we fought. I’m just sorry and I know that my apologies don’t change things, but rest assured that I’m not going to overstep my boundaries again.”
“Is that it?” Baekhyun asks after a silence. The disappointment is so clearly seen in Baekhyun’s features that Jongdae wonders what Baekhyun expected to hear.
“What else do you want me to say?” Jongdae asks.
Baekhyun shrugs. “I don’t know, he says. “I didn’t expect just that.”
“Do you want me to beg for your friendship back?” Jongdae asks tiredly. “Is that it? Because I know I’ve lost that forever and I don’t want to try for something that I know would be futile to have.”
“That’s your problem, Jongdae,” Baekhyun snaps so suddenly that Jongdae stumbles backwards in surprise. “You always think the game’s over before it’s even begun.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you so clearly want me to say?” Jongdae retorts. They aren’t supposed to fight. This was supposed to be a civil talk because Jongdae wants that for them at the very least. They’re in one team together and they should be at least able to handle being around each other.
“Stop letting people decide and do things for you,” Baekhyun replies. He takes his bag off in a huff and drops it to the ground. “You are always letting people take the lead, even for the things that are supposed to be in your hands. Like drawing—you like drawing but you let yourself think that you shouldn’t do it because your family says you should focus on architecture and swimming. What is that about?”
“Don’t talk about my family like you know what it’s like,” Jongdae retorts, words sharp.
“Let’s talk about us then,” Baekhyun gives in with a half shrug. “Tell me what you really want to tell me. Tell me what you’ve always thought. Tell me—“
“Trust me,” Jongdae interrupts. “You don’t want to hear what I really want to say.”
“Speak up, Jongdae,” Baekhyun persists. “You never speak up. You never say what you really want, which makes me wonder if you really know what you want, if you even have any inkling of what—“
“I WANT YOU!” Jongdae yells, pushing Baekhyun onto the wall. His eyes are flashing with resentment and yearning. “Is that what you want to hear? Is that it? You want to hear how much and how often I want to be with you? You want to hear how I’ve wished things were different between us? You want to hear how I’d hoped that I didn’t feel like this for you? Well here it is: I want you. I’ve always wanted you.”
Jongdae leans his forehead against Baekhyun’s shoulder for a moment, his hands resting on the wall on either side of Baekhyun’s head. He squeezes his eyes shut, breathing in and out repeatedly to calm himself down. When he pulls away, Baekhyun’s eyes are blown wide.
“I’m sorry,” Jongdae says, voice softer as he steps back. What else can he say? “I didn’t—“
“You rejected me,” Baekhyun reminds him in a whisper of that moment, which until then Jongdae thought he was the only one who remembered. “You kissed me and then you told me that you didn’t want to, that you didn’t want me.”
Jongdae is in disbelief. Baekhyun remembers. “Baekhyun, you were drunk. I wasn’t about to allow anything to happen when there’s a chance you wouldn’t remember it. Besides—“
“I remember everything, Jongdae,” Baekhyun says, cutting him off. But it’s not with spite. His eyes are piercing and pleading at the same time. “Every moment that we have together, I remember. Whether I like it or not, no matter how painful it is.”
Jongdae takes a deep breath and regroups in his head. He isn’t sure what’s happening, isn’t sure whether he’s assuming things again, but he plunges on. It’s now or never. Now is the time to speak up.
“Baekhyun, you were unavailable,” Jongdae starts, the reminder painfully clutching as this chest. “When we first met, you were with Kris, and then there was Sehun then there was that time when you made out with Zitao in the library.” Baekhyun’s mouth hangs open as Jongdae shakes his head as if that would shake the hurt away. “Let’s not forget about Himchan.”
“Himchan?” Baekhyun interrupts before Jongdae could continue. “What about Himchan?”
“Your latest…” Jongdae trails off, waving vaguely in the air. “I don’t know… boyfriend. Or something.”
“I’m not dating Himchan,” Baekhyun interjects so intensely that Jongdae can’t help but laugh. “I would never touch him. He’s Joonmyun’s boyfriend. I may be seen as a player but I’m definitely not a boyfriend thief.”
“But he’s always in your dorm room, and you’re always with him and—“ Jongdae is not stupid. He knows what he’s seen.
“Because Joonmyun is my roommate,” Baekhyun explains. “And all the other times you’ve seen us together or whatever, it’s all because we talk about Joonmyun. Himchan has this ridiculous thing about surprising Joonmyun every so often and he’s always getting me into his plans, even though Joonmyun never really gets surprised anymore.”
“I—but he’s—umm,” Jongdae stammers.
“They’re not very showy,” Baekhyun adds. “Joonmyun is quite strict with public displays of affection, which is why they come off across as just friends most of the time.” He sighs when Jongdae just continues frowning in confusion. “Look, Jongdae, I understand that you don’t trust me. My past clearly is something that bothers you, which is why you never told me that you—“
“It doesn’t,” Jongdae corrects him. “It’s not that. Of course I trust you, but I just… I never knew where I stood with you. We were best friends and yet… I was confused. I mean, if it wasn’t Kris, it was Sehun or Zitao or someone else and I didn’t know what to do. You would hold my hand and cuddle with me and then you would go back to them.”
“Because I didn’t know where I stood with you either!” Baekhyun exclaims. “I’m only human, Jongdae, and I need friends to comfort me when I’m sad. For the record, except for that one time with Zitao, I have never been with anyone else since I met you.”
Jongdae is still frowning, unable to comprehend Baekhyun’s words. “I don’t understand,” he voices out.
“Maybe it’s my fault, too,” Baekhyun says with a soft chuckle. “But I feel like I have clearly showed you that I wanted you.” Jongdae widens his eyes even more, disbelief thick in the way his eyebrows curve up. When has Baekhyun ever…? “Yes, Jongdae, I feel the same way,” he repeats. “But you know me, I get scared. Maybe it’s stupid, but I’ve seen way too many people in my life just walk away and leave that I didn’t want to risk that with you. So I figured, if this is what Jongdae wants, then it’s okay, we’ll just be friends. So when you never said anything, when you pushed me away that night…”
“You were drunk,” Jongdae lamely repeats for a lack of anything to say. Does this mean what he thinks he means? Does Baekhyun really…?
Baekhyun laughs. “I wasn’t so drunk that I didn’t remember,” he assures him. “I even remember everything that happened on our last fight and I was drunker that time.” Jongdae flinches so visibly at the memory that Baekhyun takes a step towards him and takes his hand. “Jongdae, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I’m sorry for hurting you.”
“So you want me, too?” Jongdae clarifies uncertainly.
Baekhyun nods, laughing again. “Yes, Jongdae. I do.” He reaches up and cups Jongdae’s face, which heats up immediately. It almost feels too good to be true.
“But what about—what about Kris?” Jongdae asks because Baekhyun was clinging to him just now.
“Kris is with Sehun,” Baekhyun shares casually.
“I know, but what I meant was—“
“Jongdae, Kris and Sehun are dating,” Baekhyun elaborates. “They’re together. They’re a couple.” Jongdae blinks. When did that happen? “Besides, like what I said, I’ve never even so much as kissed them when I met you.”
“Because you want me.” Jongdae thinks he needs to repeat it over and over to make sure he’s right in what he’s assuming.
“Yes,” Baekhyun validates. He takes a step or two towards Jongdae and leans his forehead on his. “Because I want you.”
Like this, Jongdae feels his broken heart slowly, very slowly, start to beat normally again. Jongdae can feel Baekhyun’s breath on his lips and he feels his chest constrict in the best way possible. And when Baekhyun finally kisses him, Jongdae breathes him in and kisses him back.
This kiss is unlike the first one they shared. Where that was heated, this one is gentle, almost tentative, but more certain at the same time. Because Baekhyun is sober, because Jongdae knows that Baekhyun wants this, too. The slide of their lips makes Jongdae’s breathing hitch, and Baekhyun wraps his arms around Jongdae’s waist to pull him even closer. Their lips are both dry but with time they end up slick with each other’s saliva and Jongdae thinks there couldn’t be anything sweeter.
They’re in the pool area, in school property, but that doesn’t stop Baekhyun from pushing Jongdae to the wall this time and pushing his hands in Jongdae’s shirt. Jongdae’s stomach caves in at the contact because Baekhyun’s hands are cold but warm at the same time. He can’t believe that Baekhyun wants him. He can’t believe that—
“Wait,” Jongdae pulls away, hands on Baekhyun’s chest, positioned to push him away.
“What?” Baekhyun asks huskily and Jongdae fights the moan threatening to break from his lips.
“This isn’t—I think you didn’t understand me,” Jongdae says. He can already feel the disappointment coursing through him. His heart, seemingly pieced back together, starts cracking again. “This isn’t—I don’t want this.”
“What?” Baekhyun asks in disbelief. He pushes himself off Jongdae completely and steps back so that there are a few good inches between them. None of their body parts are touching anymore, but Baekhyun’s face is flushed, his lips swollen and red. “I thought you said that you wanted me. You clearly said that—Jongdae, don’t do this. You can’t keep on doing this.” He runs a hand through his hair and turns around to look for his bag. When he finds it, he picks it up.
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae tries to stop him.
“If you can’t figure out what you want, please leave me out of it,” Baekhyun says, facing him once more. “I know I’m the one who dates around between the two of us, but I’ve never played with anyone’s feelings before. Everyone I’ve been with in any way knows what the deal is between us. So this?” He gestures between the two of them. “I don’t get this. This is cruel, Jongdae. Clearly, you don’t really want me if you keep pushing me away.”
“No, Baekhyun,” Jongdae starts, scrambling to go after Baekhyun when he starts walking away. “I do want you. I do!”
“Then what’s wrong?” Baekhyun retorts. His eyes are glassy to Jongdae’s wonder. “What’s holding you back?”
“I want you, Baekhyun,” Jongdae starts, suddenly vulnerable. He clenches and unclenches his fists. “But not in the way that you want me, not in the way that you’re thinking.”
“This is bullshit, Jongdae,” Baekhyun says, shaking his head. “You can just tell me that you don’t want to be with me and that would be the end of it.” He turns around and starts walking away.
Jongdae thinks that Baekhyun walking away from him is one of the most painful things he’s ever had to go through. But if that’s what’s going to happen again then at least Jongdae knows that he’s given it all he could, that he spoke up, that he did what he could to go for what he wants.
“I’m in love with you, Baekhyun,” Jongdae calls. Baekhyun pauses in his steps. “I do want you but not just physically, not just for sex. What I meant by ‘I want you’ is that I want all of you. I want to hold your hand, I want to hug you, I want to kiss you and be able to do all those things even in public. But I also want to talk to you about my day any time and to listen to you talk about yours. I want to be able to go with you to the movies and kiss you in the cinema. I want to kiss you good luck before your events in competitions. I want to—“
“It seems all you want to do is kiss me in public.” Baekhyun is standing in front of him, having made his way back during his mini speech.
“I do,” Jongdae solemnly says. “Because I really love kissing and I want to do that with someone I’m in love with and I want to do that with you because—“
“You’re in love with me,” Baekhyun finishes for him.
Jongdae lowers his eyes. “I’m sorry, Baekhyun. I know that isn’t what you want and I understand,” he explains. “That’s why I never said anything in the first place, that’s why I never say anything because you don’t do relationships because—“
“You idiot,” Baekhyun interrupts him and Jongdae looks at him with a pout. “What do you think I’ve been trying to tell you all this time?”
“I’ve never been with anyone since I met you, Kim Jongdae,” Baekhyun interrupts with light laughter, his anger completely fading away. “The boy who always has a glint in his eye, the boy who smiles like the sun and cackles out a laugh as sharp as lightning, the boy who is good at anything that he does even though he thinks he’s not good enough, the boy who can be anything he wants to be as long as he decides on it, the boy who makes me want to be better, who makes me want to straighten up so I can be good enough for him, the boy who thinks he’s not worth my attention, but is actually the one whom I want to take care of me, whose attention I seek the most because I do feel the same way even if he thinks I don’t.”
Baekhyun is breathing heavily at the end of his tirade, and Jongdae is, too. Baekhyun is close enough again to reach for Jongdae, which he does. He lifts his arm and loosely wraps it around Jongdae’s neck, bringing them closer.
“And if you still didn’t get that,” Baekhyun goes on very, very softly, his eyes on Jongdae’s lips. “Yes, I’m in love with you, too, Kim Jongdae. I think I always have been.”
Jongdae kisses Baekhyun hard so suddenly that their forehead and noses bump against each other. Baekhyun laughs but Jongdae just pulls him back and kisses him again, turning his laughter into a moan.
Everytime Jongdae competes, he gets terribly nervous. He’d run through his strokes and the number of laps he has to do in his head, over and over until it’s his turn. Fear clutches at him, all his uncertainties glaring at him in the spread of the water but, as soon as the signal goes off, echoing in the arena, as he breaks into the water, all his worries dissolve. And he keeps swimming. Each stroke reminds him of a fear, but he keeps pressing on, stroke after stroke, splash after splash and, before he knows it, he’s reach the finish line. He laughs at his fears as he surfaces, his worries leaving him as he gets out of the water. There’s nothing to be afraid of, after all.
It almost feels like that with Baekhyun. The plunge into the relationship, the confession is always the scariest part, and there have been bumps and may have many more along the way, but Jongdae thinks it’s going to be okay. Because from now on, it’s him and Baekhyun. Baekhyun will be there to hold his hand, hug him and kiss him, even in public.
Jongdae thinks that is worth everything.
“I’m so tired,” Baekhyun mumbles after his event, plopping down on the empty space beside Jongdae before lying down on Jongdae’s lap and curling into him.
Baekhyun is wet and sticky from the chlorine and from being under the sun, but Jongdae wraps an arm around him and cards his fingers through Baekhyun’s tangled locks, anyway. Baekhyun hums contentedly, eyes closing on their own accord. Jongdae chuckles when Baekhyun shifts in his position and buries his face in Jongdae’s bare tummy.
Baekhyun has availed of Jongdae’s cuddles even more regularly than when they were just friends. Granted, Baekhyun gets more cuddles now because he sleeps in Jongdae’s bed more than his own, but Jongdae doesn’t really mind. He likes it that Baekhyun comes to him for warmth and comfort and doesn’t wait for Jongdae to come to him. Jongdae is more than willing to give Baekhyun anything that he might need.
“Baekhyun, coach wants you,” Kyungsoo says, slapping his butt and making Baekhyun cringe.
“Noooo,” Baekhyun whines, wrapping an arm around Jongdae’s waist in case Kyungsoo decided to pull him away. “I’m cuddling. We’re cuddling. This is cuddling time and we shouldn’t be disturbed.”
Jongdae smiles affectionately at Baekhyun before grinning at Kyungsoo, whose glare is that one of death’s. “It’s cuddling time,” he echoes.
Kyungsoo pokes Baekhyun’s sides over and over again, unforgiving. “Donghae needs to talk to you about your swim and to prep you for your next week so go over there,” he demands. “Cuddling time is over.”
Baekhyun makes a sound of refusal and just continues lying down. Jongdae watches for a couple of second as the way Baekhyun is clinging onto him before Kyungsoo nudges him rather harshly.
“Baekhyun,” Jongdae starts, bending over to press a kiss on his forehead. Baekhyun’s eyes flutter open. “Coach needs to talk to you. We can cuddle for as long as you want when we get back to the dorms.”
“Promise?” Baekhyun asks, pouting so cutely that Jongdae kisses him on the lips. Kyungsoo grumbles beside him but Jongdae ignores him. Even after almost a year, Jongdae is still amazed that he can kiss Baekhyun whenever he wants and Baekhyun just lets him.
“I promise,” Jongdae says when he pulls away.
Sighing, Baekhyun sits up and slaps Kyungsoo at the back of his head before he makes his way to Donghae, who’s seated on the lower steps of the bleachers with Joonmyun. Jongdae laughs as Baekhyun’s annoyed face changes into happiness when Joonmyun starts massaging his back as Donghae talks to him.
“You two are gross, you know that right?” Kyungsoo says is so straightforwardly and so seriously that Jongdae bursts into laughter.
“I know,” Jongdae agrees. He never thought that they’d be a couple so he never even fathomed that they could be a gross couple, like Kyungsoo and Soojung and Zitao and Yuri, with runners up Kris and Sehun. Jongdae slightly shudders.
“I’m happy for you,” Kyungsoo finally says. “I mean after all the drama in your friendship, finally something went right.”
“You mean I finally did something right,” Jongdae says with a chuckle.
“Right,” Kyungsoo agrees, smiling. “It’s rewarding, isn’t it, going for what you want?”
Jongdae smiles and looks at Baekhyun, whose head is lolling to one side, completely enjoying Joonmyun’s massage, and thinks about what it took for the two of them to get to this point, the point where they’re not together, happy, healed and whole.
“It’s more rewarding if you fight for it,” Jongdae tells him, giggling because he and Baekhyun did exactly just that.
Jongdae is staring at the phone like it’s going to bite him if he goes near it, much more if he touches it. The sleek black coating is glinting at him almost tauntingly and Jongdae just wants to take a few more steps back and go outside just so he won’t have to see it again.
“Jongdae, what are you doing?” Baekhyun comes up behind him, wrapping his arms around Jongdae’s waist. He glances at the phone before pressing a kiss to Jongdae’s shoulder. “Were you staring at the phone again?”
“Of course not,” Jongdae vehemently denies, shaking his head. He starts to walk out of the room and realizes that he can’t do that because Baekhyun is holding him. “I’m just going to go outside and… do things.”
“Okay,” Baekhyun says. Jongdae feels relieved, even though he’s surprised, because normally Baekhyun would insist otherwise. “You can go out and do things after you pick up the phone and make the call.”
“Baek,” Jongdae whines, pouting soon after. He knows what picking up the phone means. It’s another one of those dives again. Even though it’s not as bad as what happened with Baekhyun or anything else that he wanted, this is also still scary to him.
Baekhyun turns Jongdae around to face him. “Babe, it’s just a phone call,” he says soothingly. “You’re not even going to ask face-to-face, just through the phone, so whatever the answer may be, the impact is less because you’re not in front of each other.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” Jongdae breathes out his frustration, closing his eyes as he leans his forehead against Baekhyun’s. “I’m not sure if this is okay.” He thought he’s over all these kinds of fears, but apparently they just keep coming at you.
“Hey,” Baekhyun says, pulling away and cupping Jongdae’s face with both hands. “This is okay. This is more than okay. This is you doing what you want and trying something else, which is always good.” He chuckles at Jongdae’s worried expression and kisses his nose. “Why are you so worried? You already know what you’re going to hear and it won’t be the first time. It’s just an invitation.”
“I don’t even know if I’m going to win,” Jongdae continues whining. “I shouldn’t have joined, I’m not even that good—“
“Jongdae, baby,” Baekhyun laughs, giving him a kiss on the lips before continuing. Jongdae contemplates whining again just so Baekhyun would give him another kiss. “It doesn’t matter. It’s something to be proud of no matter what.” He pulls away from Jongdae and picks up the cordless phone, handing it to him. “Just call.”
“Give me another kiss? Jongdae asks. “For luck?”
Baekhyun rolls his eyes and Jongdae grins with glee when Baekhyun grabs his neck and pulls Jongdae towards him. Baekhyun doesn’t give him a kiss. Baekhyun gives him a full on make-out session that has Jongdae panting and maybe wanting to rip Baekhyun’s clothes off. But before he could, Baekhyun is pushing him away and giving the phone back to him.
“Really? You’re going to let me make the call after you’ve just taken advantage of me like that?” Jongdae blurts out. “I’m…” He gestures to the tent in his pants. “I can’t possibly make this call.”
“Yes you will make this call,” Baekhyun says otherwise. “Because if you don’t, then you will have to solve that tiny problem all by yourself.” He smirks and Jongdae flushes.
“Big problem,” Jongdae corrects him, pouting again as he starts dialing. “Very big problem.”
“Okay, big boy,” Baekhyun snickers. “Just go make the call.”
Jongdae takes a very deep breath that has Baekhyun laughing again as he places the receiver to his ear, holding his breath as it starts ringing.
“Hello, mom,” Jongdae squeaks, poking his tongue out at Baekhyun, who laughs at him, yet again. Jongdae’s mom greets him happily as she always does when he calls. “I was just—I’m fine. Yeah, nothing’s wrong. I just thought I’d call—yeah, Baekhyun’s here.” He covers the mouthpiece and rolls his eyes at Baekhyun. “My mother says hi,” he says. Sometimes Jongdae thinks his mother likes Baekhyun more than he does Jongdae.
“Hi auntie!” Baekhyun greets cheerfully before shoving the phone back to Jongdae.
“Um yeah, I called because there’s this competition,” Jongdae starts, panicking internally. “It’s not for swimming, though. It’s for something else.” He pauses, thinking about all the possible ways this could go wrong, and he pauses for such a long time that Baekhyun has to kick him to start speaking again. “It’s for an art contest,” he blurts out.
Jongdae had started drawing more seriously after he and Baekhyun got together. He took to heart what everyone who cared about him said, that he should do everything that he wants to do, everything that makes him happy. (Of course the best thing that he’s done is Baekhyun so, that alone, makes him incredibly happy.) He started taking a couple of classes here and there, as long as it didn’t interfere with his academics and his time for swimming. Those are two things that he loves, too, and he’s not going to compromise any of his dreams for each other.
His mother is silent for a couple of seconds on the other line before she’s gushing about it. “The awarding is this weekend and I wanted you to be there,” Jongdae continues. “In case I win, which I probably won’t but—“
When Jongdae’s mother promises that she would be there, Jongdae puts the phone down and sweeps Baekhyun off his feet, literally. He carries Baekhyun bridal style and drops him on the bed before climbing on top of him. Baekhyun looks so beautiful with his dark hair messily spread out on the white pillowcase, eyes as small as slits as he laughs like a maniac at Jongdae’s display of chivalry and sexiness.
“Well, I’m taking that went well,” Baekhyun says breathlessly, encircling his arms around Jongdae’s neck to pull him down.
“She’s going to be there,” Jongdae tells him, grinning before pecking Baekhyun on the lips.
“I’m so proud of you,” Baekhyun says, leaning up to kiss him again.
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Jongdae sincerely states. He really couldn’t have. Baekhyun had held his hand literally and figuratively the moment they expressed their interest and extraordinary warmth for each other. Baekhyun never forgot to tell him how wonderful he is everyday, so often that Jongdae’s started to really feel that he could go for anything he sets his heart to.
“Yes, you could have,” Baekhyun says, sounding very sure that Jongdae’s heart blooms with so much love, which Jongdae sometimes doesn’t know how to handle. “You’re just that good.”
“It’s amazing how cocky you are about me,” Jongdae says, leaning his weight on his forearms so he can be closer to Baekhyun without crushing him. “You boast about me way more than I would boast about myself.”
“I don’t know about that,” Baekhyun murmurs through Jongdae’s lips as she pulls him even closer, any space between them disappearing when Jongdae falls completely on top of him. “But I can say that I am cocky about you. In fact I’m cocky for you.” He wiggles his eyebrows up and down and laughs when Jongdae feigns revulsion at him.
“I’d rather you told me you loved me rather than just wanting me for my body,” Jongdae sighs in mock resignation. “I mean I already know how hot I am. You don’t really have to remind me about it,” he adds jokingly because as much as he does love Baekhyun he doesn’t want to hear Baekhyun calling him a—
“Sap! You’re a sap!” Baekhyun pushes Jongdae and tackles him onto his back. “You are the only boy who has ever wanted me to tell them I love them more than they want me to worship their dick.”
Jongdae sits up so hurriedly that Baekhyun yelps as he falls to the side. “You mean there were other guys whom you’ve wanted to be in love with you? Who—?”
“Shut up,” Baekhyun demands good-naturedly, pushing him back down and regaining his position on top of him. “Of course there were others. I want to be loved, too,” he honestly tells him. “But you are the only one I’ve ever wanted to stay.”
Jongdae lifts his head up and kisses Baekhyun’s nose, which Baekhyun scrunches. “I will love you—“
Baekhyun groans. “Oh no, you’re going to be all mushy again,” he says, burying his face in Jongdae’s neck as Jongdae ignores him and continues.
“I will love you,” Jongdae repeats, wrapping his arms tightly around Baekhyun, “for as long as you want me around.”
“We’re only in our junior year,” Baekhyun reminds him, the movement of his lips tickling Jongdae’s neck.
“Well then, we have a long way to go,” Jongdae proudly declares. “That is, if you want it.”
Baekhyun lifts his head up and Jongdae is amazed, as he continually is, to find the adoration he has for Jongdae in his eyes. It will never cease to amaze him because Baekhyun is everything he’s wanted and it’s a miracle when someone that you love loves you back.
“Of course I want it, you idiot,” Baekhyun whispers before leaning down to kiss him. “You broke my heart, you know, so I’m really not sure why I would even think about forever with you when you could do it again.”
“Well you broke my heart, too,” Jongdae says, poking his tongue out, which he retracts when Baekhyun attempts to bite it. “So we’re even.” He grins and runs his fingers through Baekhyun’s hair. “And I won’t do it again. I’ll do my best not to break your heart again.”
“I promise to do the same,” Baekhyun says and then lets out a horrified shriek. He buries his face back in Jongdae’s neck. “Oh my god you’ve turned me into you! I have become sappy! I am not sappy!” He lifts his head again. “We are not getting married right after college or any time before that just so you know, so you better hold it in until after a couple of years when we’re settled and living in a white house with blue shutters and—“ He cuts himself off when Jongdae starts laugh. “I hate you so much, Kim Jongdae. I hate you for turning me into you.”
Jongdae had thought that have dreams, having all of them at the same time, was impossible. It drove him to struggle with his academics and with his sport and with the other relationships that he has in his life. Now, he knows it’s all possible. Because, this life, the one he is currently living, is everything he could have hoped for. He’s doing well in his academics, acing his classes, a medalist in swimming, improving his drawing, and he has Baekhyun beside him. There are more things he would probably want in the future. But right now, he is content and happy.
The dive before the start of the event is the scariest part. But once you jump, the rest is history.