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get some air

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gary has always been a bit behind - he’s what his middle school and high school teachers described as a late bloomer to his parents. when they moved to the states, where school was less suppressing and the curriculum was a bit lighter, he couldn’t exactly keep up with any of his classes besides math (math is a universal language, his dad said while teaching him fractions) because of how long it took him to get a grasp on english. he didn’t decide what university he wanted to go to until right before midnight on the night before the deadline (april 30th), and he kept switching his major between art history and music until he had eighty-two credits up his sleeve.

only to add to that, gary has made a countless number (too many, more like) of mistakes so far in his life. the first major one being when they moved to america when he was six and fucking up his age first thing in front of the officer who asked about age, name, and birthday at customs (sex, he had said as the officer looked at him in horror. to his sister’s credit, she whispered the correct pronounciation in his ear the second the officer had looked away, and (miraculously) his parents hadn’t noticed), and the time the kids in his first grade class couldn’t pronounce his name, so he panicked and told them to call him gary (because gae was the dumb-but-not-really nickname his grandma made up when he was a baby, and ri just sounds cool). it doesn’t fully come as a surprise - but it still does - that gary’s possibly biggest mistake yet is falling for girls when he should be studying and thinking about the future in his fourth year of college.

though maybe it’s not girls; plural. maybe he likes just one girl.

they’re in modern photography together, which is admittedly the most boring class that gary couldn’t drop for his degree, and he just so happens to notice her from the first day (though not for romantic reasons, not necessarily). instead of going to a biggish state college in new york, he was accepted for one of the more asian-centric-californian-with-good-art-programs-universities that he vaguely remembers applying to. another mistake in itself was not realizing how immensely more biggish it was than the state college he applied to, so he floundered for a year or two with majors, switching between music and art (his parents wanted him to do something more productive, but they let him do as he wished and recommended art, like it would make more money. it’s sort of bullshit though, amature artists and c-list radio show hosts and singers are all starving, he’s gonna fail at life either way). most of his classes are over-whelmingly large and the only mandatory thing is showing up for exams. yet, the amount of people actually going through to graduation majoring in art history is generally minimal, so attendance is mandatory for his art classes besides modern art studies, with the attendance at about 50 people. naturally, they have to go through the first-day cringe fest of roll call. the professor - some old guy gary isn’t familiar with - expectedly butchers the pronunciation.

“um.. h-hee… gun? h-eegan kang?’

“i go by gary,” gary calls out, pointing his head downwards when the freshmen in the row in front of him turn around and stare at him. in the art history department, gary is well known, popular, if he wants to over exaggerate; known as witty and good to get notes from, according to his underclassmen (and he doesn’t have an accent, not really, he worked for years to separate himself from it; so most of them don't know that he's an immigrant). but every time he has to explain his name, english words feel thick in his mouth and his voices tightens. for a second, he’s not witty or outgoing or popular, he’s korean, he’s foreign. for a second, he’s six again and he’s standing in front of his first american class with a korean name gifted to him from his korean family. he’s hyperaware of every syllable that marks him as foreign, as asian, so he doesn’t correct anyone’s pronunciation of heegun. just tells them, “gary, call me gary,” and then they stop caring and he waits for them to move on. if they actually do care and pester him until he mumbles his name correctly to them, gary folds in on himself like a paper box and closes up. he just waits for them to move on again.

so the professor moves on. he moves on after he makes a note next to gary’s name and calls out elizabeth kim who gary bitterly thinks has never experienced the weird anxiety of having a name people can’t say. after andrew kung and bryan lee and a couple other people with names gary doesn’t register as asian, the professor calls out “jihyo song?” and gary can't help but crane his neck and turn his head exactly the way that makes him heat up whenever his own name is called.

“ji is fine,” she calls - ji song, song jihyo, the girl gary may be a little bit attracted to.

even so, he’s not attracted right away, not really. his first thought was, we’re the same. they are, because obviously with a korean name spelled and pronounced like that without the use of an american name or whatever, she was born in korea or lived there. yet, she has a clear, nice american voice without any trace of an accent.

another thing he notices, somewhere in his mind, is that ji song has a very, very nice, pretty face. she’s small like most other asian girls on campus, but she’s cute in her own right, and somewhat feels elegant with the way she sits cross legged in her chair with her back straightened, with a small frame. she also looks remarkably good in sweatpants, a baggy t-shirt, a baseball cap, and big, round glasses.

(more importantly, though, he has class with a korean person (he’s had classes with a lot of korean people, admittedly) who came from korea, which is something a little bit extraordinary, considering the only classes he’s ever had with real life koreans from korea is his advanced math classes in freshman year,)

in order to assign partners for the midterm research presentation, the sort of thing that only takes place in books and movies (and something that makes you feel as if fate is a little bit racist) happens, and ji pulls gary’s name out of a mixing bowl.

she pronounces both kang and heegun clearly and correctly (which makes gary’s heart flutter the tiniest bit. the tiniest. it feels good to hear his home language being spoken from someone else.), which sort of throws the professor off balance and peer at the attendance sheet, but he’s no longer confused when gary raises his hand and nods.

to be honest, they don't spend a lot of time together because most of their discussions take place outside of class over google docs when gary's drinking coffee during break while working at gil’s tiny hipster coffee place that's closer to being off campus than on campus. there are a couple times - two times, to be exact - when the professor finishes up his lecture early and they spend the remaining time in class working on their projects. gary drags his desk over to where ji sits, where they review what they'll say about alfred stieglitz and his contributions to modern photography.

ji is a bit nicer than he expects, considering that a majority of the girls he's met at college are quiet, judgmental art students, or obnoxiously loud music majors who are slowly easing out of their rebellious teenage phase. she smells like flowers and grass and everything that gary's fond of, and her face is even more exceptionally very, very nice. she also laughs at every dumb joke or comment about what the professor says that comes out of gary's mouth, which makes his heart beat a little faster, even it’s just a little bit. they meet more often in the library, and ji shows up looking perfect and gary has to contain himself from turning red.

he can admit that maybe, he possibly may have a crush on ji song, but there's countless reasons why she wouldn't like him back.

gary’s first realization that a relationship with the very pretty and smart and sleepy ji song wouldn’t happen was because ugly boys and flowers girls don’t mix. he’s not necessarily ugly, per say, but his face is considered common in neighborhoods and on the street, and he’s nothing compared to the other asian guys in the vocal and theatre departments. he’s nothing compared to guys who sing melodramatic music alone in the studio while banging on a piano early in the morning while everyone else is gone; and he’s nothing compared to the guy dancing onstage after the building closes by somehow smuggling the keys from somewhere because they’re the main characters of their own lives (high school musical three, gary thinks). he would’ve stayed in the music department if his parents weren’t so concerned, he did pretty well with his music and he still has his status of being the designated on campus radio host after four years and counting. he doesn’t mix well with flowers boys, anyway. his crew was more with the hip hop nerds and whatever business majors in his frat that were calm enough for gary to enjoy hanging out with. now he just mostly hangs out with the asian frat guys, and he'll take the freshmen and sophomore in his house out to dinner if they're broke enough and being tolerable.

the other reason is that girls like her just don't fall for guys like gary. gary has a way with words that could probably make him more popular with girls, but he doesn't have the singing voice that jongkook has. he has a nice voice, sure, but his voice cracks too much when he sings. that's why he started rapping in the first place.

theres also the fact that gary’s short and he’s dumb at everything besides music and art and math and he doesn't know a lot about girls other than their feelings. he’s a lyricist - and a fucking good one at that - and he’d rather have his ass kicked than for someone to try and tell him otherwise. he understands girls and their feelings, and he knows enough about them to know that it’ll take guts and years of charm to get someone to fall for him.

so that’s his first real realization that he likes ji song a little, maybe a lot, just because he’s already thinking about how not-good they would look together. it throws him off balance and it sort of makes him feel awkward when they meet up at starbucks to work on the final draft. he ignores the fact that he maybe sort of really likes ji during their presentation, and it makes him feel vulnerable and more tired than he might of been, even when their professor says great job and gary nods at him. ji flashes him a smile when they finish and gary's stomach lurches and he thinks what the fuck.

he slowly falls deeper and deeper into a hole of denial and what the fuck is happening to me as he keeps seeing her as finals and the end of the semester draw closer. he keeps noticing ji, and then noticing himself noticing her. his heart speeds up a little when ji nods in greeting when gary gets to class, and he notices that too. at first he thinks things like, well, shes nice, i’d probably like to be friends with her, i’m platonic with tons of girls, and then, she’s good-looking; i’m allowed to notice that she's pretty, and eventually it gets too confusing and too, too much, he’s saying to himself, okay, i like her, but so what?

so his mind brings up his list of why gary’s hopeless again, and he sort of agrees with himself for once. he doesn't even want to think about it, let alone do something about his crush. he doesn't know ji, at least not really. he knows that she's sort of soft spoken and into art and that she's also acting in the theatre apartment, but he also knows that ji song doesn’t really fit any of the stereotypes the campus’ student life is built on, let alone asian stereotypes. she’s smart and funny but also a little delicate and she can be soft spoken around people he knows she’s not familiar with (she was pretty quiet around him for the first couple classes), but he also knows by stalking her’s and jay’s and pretty much everyone else in her friend group’s twitters that she can be sharp tongued and thick-skinned and she loves to beat up the only the freshmen that gary knows - kevin lee. because she's friends with him (and even though they've only been friends for a couple weeks because gil hired him for the cashier job, gary knows that he kind of deserves it. he also knows that kevin isn't a good opportunity to get into ji's heart - he messes everything he does up). she also seems to sort of have a lot of freshmen friends, according to her instagram. so does gary, maybe their common similarity will put fate to ease and bring them together (or drive them to opposite ends to the campus, or better yet, the continent, and gary isn’t sure which option out of the three he wants fate to choose).

gary is sort of approaching the close friend zone too - if he wants to kid himself - with the way she doesn't hesitate to punch his arm or smack his hand when he says something dumb. or maybe that’s a people thing -? gary doesn't understand people much outside of relationships because he did a lot of research on love when he was in high school to help with his song writing for the up and coming small duo he and gil still perform as.

but if - and only if - ji just so happened to like him back, what would gary do? he avoids thinking about the question like it’s some sort of plague that clouds his mind when he should be studying or sleeping or watching infinity challenge re-runs to recharge his brain after online tests. yet, even so, it’s not to say he does anything about it, since he thinks about it anyway. a lot. even when he tells his brain to fuckingstopomg, whenever he’s on campus, he keeps his eyes peeled for ji’s slender frame, even though on occasions when he actually sees her, gary usually pretends he didn’t.

or he’ll wave or nod or say hi and then drop a disgusting one liner and say goodbye, with his ears red. though he probably shouldn’t, considering that he’d save his own ass and save every passerby from secondhand embarrassment if he just ignores her and just doesn’t.

it’s much safer to fantasize: to dream up scenarios in which ji would be charmed by gary’s wit and intelligence. he knows that it’s stupid and inevitably all wrong; that if he were to talk to ji, she would inevitably go off-script immediately and gary would be thrown and awkward and it would be, generally, terrible. even so, he figures that it’s not hurting anyone (except maybe himself a tiny bit, and anyone who’s on shift with him at work) to imagine.

towards the end of the semester, gary makes his way to the library to work on a paper – he can’t find peace at the house where every background noise is filled with loud swearing and half-exhaustion half-drunk laughter and league of legends from the boys who’re doing last minute papers – while running through a (one of many) favorite scenario in his head: chance upon ji at the library, ji sees him and looks up and smiles and asks what he’s doing there, gary says something terribly witty and hilarious like, oh, you know, my paper can’t copy and paste it’s sources by itself, and then ji laughs, then asks for help with her assignment, which happens to be something gary is a super gucci expert in, like postmodern japanese art galleries or the music in popular 1980’s first person shooter video games, and they spend the whole afternoon together, and then get dinner together, maybe at a place that’s not korean, like some high-end hipster place that gary can totally find money somehow to afford, and then gary will tell ji she has to get the mediterranean wrap and get two extra things of hot sauce on the side, since that’s the exact correct amount, and ji will say it’s the best wrap she’s ever had, and ask what other food secrets gary knows.

once again, his life proves that fate is a bitch. his ji-centric dream world is interrupted by the worst possible thing: actual ji. that he actually chanced upon. in real life.

“oh my god, hey, gary!” ji says - loud enough to earn a glare from a guy from the next table over - and she smiles warmly at him and waves him over with frantic hand movements.

gary waves back and returning her smile with one that definitely doesn’t hold the same level of sunshine, because surely, there’s no possible way anyone else would be able to match it. low-leveled panic mingled with a little bit of anxiety is tingling and boiling at the bottom of his stomach. “hi,” he says sheepishly as soon as he reaches her, and never once has a word uttered from his mouth felt so stupid (besides the whole sex thing, but he was six years old and had a fucking accent back then, so he still has an excuse).

“hey,” ji says again, pulling out a chair beside her and patting it for him to sit down. “that was actually kinda funny, you walked in as soon as i looked up. what’re you here for?”

he awkwardly plops down onto the chair, struggling to remember what his line from his fantasy was. the only thing he can think about is how it would be so, so so much worse if gary was tall - or godforbid, handsome - because he’d have so many limbs and facial expressions that he wouldn’t what to do with.

then he remembers his dumb one liner. now he knows what the meaning of shook is, finally. his line, his fucking line, it actually fits in with the conversation, and everything’s going to the script he made up in his head.

“um,” gary struggles, “ well, you know - i have a paper and… my paper isn’t gonna copy and paste itself.” he shrugs bashfully and clears his throat, the tips of his ears (and his cheeks, probably) are burning. he can’t believe he just said that, it… it just sounds so boring and unoriginal and dumb out loud, he wants god to take his life before his social status sinks and does it for him.

somehow, miraculously, mysteriously (a gift from god, more like) - ji laughs. like really loudly. gary laughs too, in pure relief that he hasn’t completely dug his grave. they’re noisy enough to result in a sigh from the guy who glared at them earlier.

“then what’re you doing here?” gary asks when ji’s done laughing at his miracle.

“i have an assignment about florence knoll bassett and her revolutions in postmodern furniture design. wikipedia has a lot on her, actually, but i’m sort of lost about like everything. do you know anything-?”

he manages to keep calm, altough his real life is going to the plan that’s in his head, it’s going something like that. he doesn't know too much on furniture designers since he always got graphic designers, but he’s taken all the art classes he needs for their department so far, and he knows a good amount from other people’s presentations and has done research on his own about some of them, so he knows his fair share about postmodern furniture.

“oh yeah, actually, i guess. sort of? are you taking modern design 3?”

“yeah, did you take it?” ji asks, sounding almost too hopeful considering that gary only knows a brief bit about knoll from light research he did in his second year. “was she your artist for “emerging designers” person?

“yeah, i mean, no - she wasn't my person. but someone in my class did a powerpoint on her and her badassery about her profession and her furniture kind of interested me, so i-” gary’s voice runs off, whenever he talks about art he sounds so uncool. he scratches the back of his neck, he really should’ve stayed in music. “i kind of did some research on my own,” he admits slowly. “i’m sort of what you would consider a modern art… nerd.”

“that’s really cool,” ji says, smiling. “she seems really interesting too, but i was wondering… would you mind helping me out a little bit? if you’re busy and that paper is last minute and you need to get working or something, i understand, but i’ve been here scrolling on tumblr for like half an hour and i really don't know where to start-”

“sure, i'm down to help. my paper isn't due for like three days.” it's actually due in two days, but she doesn't need to know that.

“oh god, you’re a lifesaver,” ji sighs, her smile reaching her eyes and possibly maybe even the sun. that must be where she’s harnessing some sort of energy, anyway. “thank you so much!”

it’s not that gary is suddenly not awkward – he still very much is, oh god – but somehow, ji makes him sort of forget. every time he mumbles or starts rambling or just says something dumb, ji smiles or laughs. it’s nice, and what surprises gary even more was how easy it is; how comfortable and natural. ji seems to get all of his references, all the half-formed thoughts as they come tumbling out of his mouth. gary wonders if the same ji that curses and beats kevin the freshmen online even really exists - the person sitting next to him is gentle with some form of elegance. the time slips away: gary answers ji’s questions and points her to some resources about the current modern art scene, and then scoots away a little bit because ji’s using one of those expensive, widescreen macbooks, and he figures that she needs kind of a lot of room if she’s gonna keep typing that quickly. that, and he’s still kind of awkward. they work next to each other, breaking often to talk about knoll or the other projects that happen in modern design. suddenly, it’s almost six in the evening and gary’s stomach is starting to complain to him. is it actually possible they’ll go out to eat together? could his fantasy actually come true, or will fate get bitchy again and deprive him of answers to his secret crushing revolution?

“wow, look at the time,” gary muses, hoping that it will – as it does in his head – prompt ji to say, “oh, wow! you hungry? do you wanna grab dinner?”

but instead, the opposite happens. as expected. "oh, shit," ji groans and jumps out of her seat. gary’s fantasy world is surely over by now, and delinquent ji song surely does exist. "sorry, i gotta go," she says as she starts throwing her notebooks and textbooks and laptop into her backpack. "it's my brother’s best friend’s birthday today and i promised i’d go to the party to hopefully not get drunk."

“oh, okay,” gary says, stomping down on on his disappointment before it can reach his eyes.

“thanks so much for your help, though. seriously, you saved me! you’re amazing!” ji gushes.

gary fidgets, adjusting his notebooks into a straights pile so he can avoid facing ji and showing off the blush that’s undoubtedly dusting his cheeks and ears. “i’ll see you, ah – i’ll see you in class!”

“yeah,” says gary, looking up at ji. she looks so bright and happy, a big grin plastered onto her face and gary looks down at his notebooks again. “see you in class, yeah. have a good... brother’s best friend’s birthday party,” he says, chuckling gently. “stay sober, i guess.”

“thanks!” ji says, beaming. she waves and rushes off, and gary closes his eyes and breathes three times before opening them, and he sees jihyo’s head slowly disappear behind the bookshelves and out the door. he slumps his head on the desk, quietly groaning. the guy at the desk next to him who was glaring at them finally sends his sympathy and pats gary’s back. he’s finally reached his lowest possible point, he’s whipped. he thanks the guy and the lord for getting through the afternoon, and he’s out of the library two minutes later.

he gets home not long after; he’s too wrapped up in reliving his conversation with ji to get any work done. the other guys seem to be headed out of their existential crises’, considering the swearing and screaming has died down considerably other than some freshmen yelling at some other freshmen playing halo in the room below. he feels his cheeks warm up at the sight of ji smiling at him and laughing at his dumbass jokes. shit, this is definitely a crush.

a real, serious, not-going-away-anytime-soon crush. and even more terrifyingly, he’s starting to think it’s reciprocated. maybe.

gary turns the idea over and over carefully in his mind, trying to get rid of the all the anxiety and hope he has over the situation. ji touched his arm and his shoulder and leaned on him for support like a lot, smiled a lot, and laughed a lot, and called him amazing. that’s flirting, right? gary would assume that was flirting if literally any other girl did that because a) gary likes ji, like a lot, so flirting with him must mean a miracle and gary has really bad luck, and also b) ji is not a normal girl, no matter how he looks at it. ji is strong physically and mentally and doesn't wear a lot of makeup and doesn't giggle behind her hand at unfunny jokes and she doesn't really follow blindly behind others. she also doesn’t go with other girls to the bathroom in herds (from what he’s seen), which is sort of a first time for gary.

either way, ji likes him. or something. maybe, hopefully, gary hopes this strange kind of luck will continue.

so gary’s mind becomes a little clearer. he has to figure out two things: 1) if ji actually likes to flirt with people or if she’s just sending mixed signals, and 2) does ji does have a naturally flirty personality and flirting with gary was just a tactic to get answers about knoll out of him (which would be mean and his heart would hurt and would probably (hopefully) stop beating so damn hard at the sight of her, and then he would be crushed and cry to haha about it, except not really because donghoon’s a rude ass bitch and would tell jongkook who would tell literally their entire frat on accident because he’s a loud and emotional drunk, and he knows because it's happened before). besides, ji doesn't seem like that kind of person anyway, at least not according to the birthday post she got from jay yoo on instagram.

gary thinks he can sort this out, which oddly feels achievable. which is scary, since he’s not really good at playing detective or these kind of roles. because if he finds out that yes, ji was flirting and yes, ji was specifically choosing to flirt with gary, that means that ji likes gary back.

which means they should maybe, possibly, potentially actually do something about it. hopefully.

nearly a week after their encounter in the library, gary walks sleepily over to art-photo history full of nervous anxiety. he’s going to try to talk to ji today and see how things go, see if there’s any more flirting, if anything even happens. if he can even walk up to ji so early in the morning, that’d be something itself. then if there is something, he’s going to talk to her again the next time he sees her and suggest some kind of hang out or mumble out an invitation for coffee.

something that might be a date but could just as easily be a casual get-together between two totally platonic new friends, because ji has a lot of guy friends, so a new 100% platonic one would hardly make a difference. he hasn’t figured out what the casual-get-together-disguised-as-date will be yet. maybe coffee, or if he can get a sentence out without wanting to die, going to shitty korean places on main street and giving them bad reviews on yelp. then he’ll see how ji reacts during their maybe-but-not-definitely-a-date and just – (this is the scariest part) – go from there.

he’ll observe what ji does. let her make the first move or whatever. it’s kind of a bad idea with timing because it’s finals week and everyone’s going home soon, but he figures maybe something will work, maybe hopefully. gary’s leaving a week into break and coming back three weeks or so later. it's to see his sister and her husband and kids and to check up on his parents and say hi to old friends and revisit his dog, chungin. he’s dragging gil back with him, too). maybe he can get ji’s phone number and they can text over the course of winter break, and maybe they’ll have a class together next semester too, and that can be a possible way to get a possible date-that-isn’t-a-date going if he can’t manage it before the next week and a half.

he gets to class early maybe for the first time all semester (or the first time in all four years), and there’s ji waiting outside the locked classroom door, somehow looking perfect and all too pulled together in shorts and long socks that are definitely not weather appropriate, and grey hoodie. she's wearing the converse she wears pretty much all the time (not that gary notices this, no way), and her backpack is sitting on the ground, next to her feet.

she’s texting or something on her phone, so gary could just walk right past her and bail on his whole plan, but he makes himself take a deep breath and walk slowly over.

“hey,” gary manages, standing next to ji.

ji looks up and her face breaks into a smile and gary instantly scans and remembers the image for life and files that under good things & potential flirting – evidence.

“oh, hey, gary. listen, thanks a ton for helping me out the other day, i feel a lot more confident about the whole thing now. i’m almost done with it and i don’t have to present for another two days, so you really saved me!”

“oh, that’s great! i’m happy i helped, since it was no problem.”

“well, i really appreciated it. how’d you do with your paper?”

gary has unfortunately stopped processing what ji is saying in favor of watching her mouth, and he can’t even think, you fucking dumbass!!!!!!!!! before his brain manages to catch up. before ji has to repeat herself he says, “ah, my paper paper! it’s – um, it went well, thanks. i got like half of it done that night and the rest on thursday.”

he doesn't mention that most, if not all of his paper writing was two hours before the deadline, after he numbed and gave his brain a long break of binge watching the new season of haikyuu that he missed and the first season of pokemon and then watching rent twice before crying for a good ten, twenty minutes, then remembering about the paper and feverishly typing it until almost midnight (a.k.a. the deadline), and then he collapsed from the exhaustion and sheer disbelief at his procrastination after turning it in online.

“cool,” ji says, nodding. then she catches him off guard, saying, “oh, your backpack’s really nice.”

“my backpack?” gary repeats dumbly. he looks down at the straps as though he doesn’t know what his own backpack looks like. it’s one of the expensive german backpacks which he can’t remember how to pronounce the name of that his sister bought him with her third paycheck back when he was in high school and she was fresh out of college (because she got herself takeout with the first one and took their parents out to eat with the second). it’s black and gary still uses it even though it’s sort of small, it’s good for mondays when he only has two classes, work, and a recording session if he’s lucky. and a radio show to run if geko gets sick like he always does and has gary take over, even though gary has one every other day of the week to run himself in the same studio.

“yeah, it’s one of those super expensive ones that only exist on instagram for an aesthetic brand model, right?” ji asks, laughing lightly.

she lifts her hands to gary’s shoulders, brushing across them and then down the straps, her fingertips just barely gliding over the embroidery to emphasize the apparently nice expensiveness. gary’s heart is in his throat.

“i don’t always like the way the way these look, you know? but yours suits you really well.”

and then – gary can hardly believe it and it’s happening to him, he’s about to faint – ji’s smoothes his hands over gary’s chest, feeling it. the fit. or gary’s chest. he’s not sure. but backpacks sure as hell don’t expand over people’s chests and she just complimented him, and and this is like, unreal, he’s like ninety-five-percent sure that this is flirting, or making a first move or whatever.

“hey, gary!” someone calls from down the hall, and ji’s hands slide from gary’s chest and he leans around ji to see geko fast walking towards them, partying crowds of freshmen as if he wasn’t the same height (read: short) as them. gary’s partly relieved that geko’s here to save him and partly ready to snap his neck, so he steps back away from ji, calling out, “yo, geko-ah!” and waving at him.

“hyung, don't call me that,” geko mumbles, knocking into his shoulder.

“it’s cute,” gary smiles. geko groans, stretching his hands over his face.

“you’ve got a final?” geko asks, and gary nods. there’s obvious disgust on geko’s face at the word final, and it’s sort of endearing. all of gary’s rapper juniors are endearing.

“art-photo history in a few minutes,” gary says, pointing towards the classroom door.

“i just wanted to ask if you could come by the station tonight. if you don't have a final, stop by and chat ‘cause yg and jyp said this week should be guest week and since you've always got guests during finals i figured that i’d just pull you in since everyone, including cho, is too lazy to come out. plus i was gonna come by the house for dinner tonight cause jung and cho can’t cook for shit, and af’s packed and scary to be at during finals and i need brain food or something. you know what it’s gonna be?”

“i think it’s fish tonight,” gary says. “chef keeps saying it’s good for us, but i think the kitchen budget’s just running out for the semester. and yeah, i’ll stop by, i figured that you’d get sick or something too, since it’s cold already.”

“i should’ve used that as an excuse,” geko laughs, his eye smile coming out. “all right, sounds good. see you later. you too,” he says, turning to ji, “your brother’s totally tearing up the department, all the af guys are buzzing ‘bout it. you should’ve seen dan’s face.”

“i’m sure dongwook’ll tell me as soon as he wakes up,” ji muses, “but ki’s always been a bit ruthless when it comes to grades.”

“you two are too similar,” geko laughs. “see you guys!”

gary doesn’t ask who dongwook or dan is, but he knows ki is ki song, some beast freshmen who’s more popular than any other guy in the theatre department. he waves at geko's retreating form, more thankful than unthankful at his accidental disruption, considering that gary must’ve been beet red by the time ji was done feeling his fit or whatever.

“i didn’t know you were close with geko,” ji says a moment later, turning towards him.

“yeah, well, he was one of my juniors in one of my composition classes when i was a sophmore and i got paired with him. i was also the one who sorta hired him for monday night radio spots, but that's just because he’s good,” gary shrugs, grinning.

“i never got why he’s called geko, though,” ji says leaning against the wall. gary’s starting to relax and this conversation’s going easier than he thought it would.

“well rather than his real name, shayne, he used to ask people to call him gaeko which is his rapper name or whatever because he was a really edgy teenager, and then around a year or two ago everyone just got really lazy with the pronunciation and his nickname evolved in gecko,” gary explains, “now it’s sort of a joke, even though he’s always begging us koreans to say gaeko properly.”

“is he an immigrant?” ji asks, her head tilting. gary can feel his cheeks starting to grow warm, she’s too, too much.

“nah, but he’s always been super into his korean name and loves it when we call him yoonsung. its cute.”

“then you know a lot of foreigners on campus?” ji asks.

“i know a pretty decent amount, yeah,” gary says thoughtfully, “but you’re the first person from korea for me to have a class with. the other guys i met in social groups or something.”

“oh,” ji says.

gary can’t help but feel as if that one word meant something. “oh” as in okay? “oh” as in gross disgusting, i don't want to be special to you, or oh as in like…. that’s cool? his cheeks warm up and he bites the inside of his mouth to keep from smiling too hard or saying something dumb. he looks down the hall and focuses on some white guys doing an over exaggerated dab-handshake-fistbumb manuver that gary no longer feels silly doing with haha.

even though he’s not looking at her, gary can feel the impending awkwardness. he’s tempted to do a cheesy, “so, do you think as yourself as ji song or song jihyo? i identify or whatever as kang gary, because no one calls me heegun besides my grandma anymore, not even my parents, but the last name before the first name is kind of a natural thing, you know?” as he looks back at ji, but he’s miraculously saved by the appearance of the professor.

the professor unlocks the classroom door, rushing in, turning on the lights and smiling apologetically for being late. gary smiles at ji like we both know this conversation is over, and he sits down at his normal seat while ji sits in the front with her asian friends. gary didn’t ask for her number or offer to hang out, but he still feels elated.

this is fine, he thinks. i’m satisfied with this.