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the place farthest from goodbye

Chapter Text

may.

            Across the table, Minkyuk sputtered in disbelief.

            “What do you mean, you’re quitting?” Minhyuk stared, incredulous.

            With a sigh, Dongmin looked up from stirring his iced coffee and slid lower in his chair. He was meeting up with his friend after the last tournament of the season, in which his school had faced Minhyuk’s and proceeded to lose terribly. Dongmin had known the other boy’s school was good, but not…that good. Even with their captain missing due to food poisoning – Minhyuk had informed Dongmin previously of the captain’s intense love for eating – they had still managed to secure a win.

            “I told you, I want to focus on my schoolwork next year. Besides, with what I just saw, it’s not like your team would need me anyway,” Dongmin explained. At the end of the semester, his family would be moving, resulting in him transferring to the same school as Minhyuk for the upcoming year. He stirred his drink a little harder, focusing on the sound of the ice cubes clinking together.

            Sure, Dongmin enjoyed volleyball. He didn’t live and breathe the sport the way some people did, though. On top of that, he wasn’t blessed with the seemingly endless athletic talent that Minhyuk had, so Dongmin often felt like he had to try twice as hard to play just half as well. Minhyuk lived close enough that they could see each other with reasonable effort if time allowed, and the two spent much of their time on a court. Though he was a year younger than Dongmin, the boy was a skilled player. Dongmin was certain that the only reason he was still able to play was due to Minhyuk’s help.

            “If you say so, then I guess-”

            “I do say so,” Dongmin quickly stopped the other boy before he could protest further. He knew that if he let it go on any longer, Minhyuk would talk him out of it.

            And so, it was decided. Lee Dongmin would no longer be playing.

 

august.

            A soft breeze blew through Dongmin’s hair as he made his way home. He often liked to go for evening walks in the summer, when the air had cooled and the sky was painted blush. Squinting against the setting sun glinting off the buildings, Dongmin inspected his surroundings. It had been a couple of months since he’d arrived but there were still many unfamiliar places. Every week he had made a point of trying to walk through a new area, and tonight he found himself strolling through what appeared to be an outdoor recreational park. There were large sports fields, the grass rippling in the evening air, tennis courts, and a few beach volleyball courts filled with sand. Dongmin smiled and wondered if Minhyuk ever came to play here. In the past, Dongmin might have come to play himself, but he quickly shook the thought out of his head. He had chosen to stop playing, after all.

            There was a group of boys on one of the courts now, and as Dongmin came closer, he glanced over and saw they seemed to be about his age. This realization made him walk a little faster, determined to go by unnoticed. He had never been particularly good at interacting with other people, and the thought of four strangers watching him go past was far from the top of the list of things that Dongmin wanted to accomplish tonight. It was part of the reason his parents had encouraged him to take up a sport, and although it had helped, he still sometimes struggled to get over his shyness. Dongmin looked ahead, he was almost past, if he could just –

            “Dongminnie!” A voice shrieked from the courts.

            Never mind, then.

            He turned towards the source of his possible demise and was greeted with the sight of a very tall figure leaning dangerously far over the fence, flailing an arm. Taking a step closer, Dongmin saw that it was his old teammate, Sungjun. Of course, he thought, who else is that tall and waves like that? Dongmin chose for the sake of his friend to ignore for a moment that there were still three people he very much did not know. Taking a deep breath, he ran over to the court.

            Dongmin was quickly led inside the fence and subsequently found himself being crushed in a hug. Still slightly confused, he pulled back.

            “It’s been a while,” Dongmin found himself saying, mildly dazed at seeing his friend again. “How have you been?” He asked with a smile. Previously, he and Sungjun had been fairly good friends, but the other had suddenly transferred schools over a year ago. With both of their schedules being busy, they had lost contact.

            “Everything’s been fine,” Sungjun nodded, “are you still playing?” His arms were still on Dongmin’s shoulders, and now he was shaking him lightly.

            “I quit after last season,” Dongmin admitted carefully, knowing what was coming. Before he knew it, Sungjun was shaking him harder, a familiar look of disbelief on his face.

            “You what?! Who’s going to be the dazzling visual to distract the other team now?” A pause, a cringing Dongmin, and then, “wait, what are you doing out here?”   

            “My family moved,” Dongmin explained, finally detaching himself before Sungjun could shake him to death. He glanced around the court, eyes landing on a half open backpack with a school uniform falling out of it. He recognized the crest as the same one as Minhyuk’s, and what would soon be his own. A moment passed before Dongmin realized several things at once. “I’ll be going to the same school as you again,” he smiled, glad that he would know one other person in his year. “If you’re on the team, that means you know Minhyuk too! Wait, why didn’t I see you at regionals last year? I played against your school,” Dongmin recalled.

            “Ah, yeah, Minhyuk told me you lost really badly,” Sungjun laughed, showing all of his bright teeth. Dongmin thought it was a mystery how someone could show so many teeth at once. He had tried in the mirror once, and failed. “Did the team become that bad after I left? I knew I was carrying all your lazy asses!” Dongmin couldn’t help but smile. Sungjun’s height had been a wonderful asset to have in the front row, and he had missed the other middle blocker. “Anyway, I couldn’t play that day. I went all the way out to the tournament, only to have our wonderful captain Moonbin,” he gestured at one of the three boys behind him, who had all returned to playing, “drag me into eating three bowls of rice and chicken with him, and both of us ended up getting food poisoning. Can you believe it?” Sungjun ended dramatically with a sigh. Dongmin could, in fact, believe it. Sungjun could eat a whole large pizza by himself without batting an eye or gaining a pound.

            Dongmin took another look at the one that Sungjun had identified as Moonbin, wondering who the one who was able to match his friend’s eating ability was. At the moment, Moonbin was launching himself into the air as another boy set the ball to meet his swing. For someone who supposedly ate so much, Dongmin noticed that the boy was very fit, toned arms visible in his tank top. He didn’t know if Moonbin even saw him, but he most definitely saw Moonbin. Dongmin’s breath hitched and he forced himself to snap his attention back to his friend, who was still going off about having to miss the game.

            “That’s…that’s your captain?” Dongmin said in a low voice, surprised his voice was still functioning after seeing someone so handsome.

            “Yeah, and that one over there is one of our setters, Yein. Of course you know our other setter, Minhyuk. It’s too bad you don’t play anymore, it would’ve been great to be on a team with you again,” Sungjun continued, but Dongmin was barely listening. His gaze had quietly found its way to Moonbin once more, watching his graceful approach, arms thrown back like wings. Flying. In the fading light, Dongmin would have believed Moonbin was an angel.

            “…and our coach is great too, even if he’s-”

            “I have to go,” Dongmin interrupted. “I, uh,” he paused, hands fumbling around in his pockets to find his phone and shove it towards Sungjun to put in his number. “I’ll call you! We can catch up another time! I just, really need to leave, right now, immediately,” he took his phone back and struggled to undo the latch on the fence. “Sorry!” Dongmin yelled over his shoulder, already halfway back to the path.

            Twenty minutes later, Dongmin was running into his house and into his room, much to the protest of his mother. With a string of vague excuses and a rushed comment about having bumped into Sungjun, he closed his door before he could be questioned further. Dongmin was pulling out his phone and dialling his best friend before he even reached his bed. He needed to lie down, his heart pounding, unsure if the rush in his chest was from running the whole way back or coming face-to-face with real and literal perfection.

            “Minhyuk? Please, you’ve got to help me, I have to get on the team.”

            On the other end of the line, Minhyuk yelled.

Chapter Text

september.

            It was barely two weeks into the semester when Dongmin found himself staring at Minhyuk’s locker, waiting for the other boy to arrive. Tryouts were taking place in an hour, and he had never felt so aggressively unready. As someone who generally made a point to always be prepared, he couldn’t help but feel like no amount of practice would grant him the miracle of getting on the team. Dongmin had spent the better part of the last month begging Minhyuk to practice with him every day. While he contemplated if he really was pathetic enough to attempt to join the team just to have a chance to be closer to the captain, a hand landed on his shoulder.

            “You ready?” Dongmin jumped to see Minhyuk grinning at him. “Let’s go before you melt my locker, looking at it like that.”

            “I wasn’t looking at it like anything,” Dongmin grumbled in response. He followed Minhyuk down the hall to the gym, the route already familiar. Carefully, he tried to weave his way through the rush of students in the hallway. Minhyuk grabbed his arm and began to issue a complaint about how he couldn’t possibly be any slower and even Jinwoo could walk faster than you. Jinwoo, Dongmin knew, was the team’s libero. He’d been introduced to a few of Minhyuk’s other friends on the team just before the start of the year. Along with the mousy-looking Jinwoo, he’d met Myungjun, who was also a year older than himself. Dongmin had done his best to hide the surprised he’d felt when Myungjun told him that he played right side. Minhyuk had immediately assured him that despite Myungjun’s short stature, his jump made up for it, and he could handle himself in the front row just fine. That, and a warning to never actually call the other boy short to his face. Ever. Unless you want to die.

           With that in mind, Dongmin stepped into the gym, suddenly enveloped by the sound of court shoes squeaking and students shouting. He’d already changed into his volleyball clothes while waiting for Minhyuk since he had a spare last block. Minhyuk ran off to the change rooms, leaving Dongmin to fend for himself. Honestly, Dongmin wasn’t even sure why Minhyuk even bothered to try out anymore. He could probably sit in the middle of the court the whole time and still make it on the team. The younger boy had put in enough hard work on top of his talent for the sport that he’d been asked to join the senior team with the upper grades a year early. I’m never going to make it, why am I even here? Oh right, because Bin is the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my life, even if was only for two seconds, and- Dongmin was distracted from his thoughts by the sound of his name being called. He glanced up and saw Jinwoo and Myungjun running towards him, waving excitedly.

            “Dongmin, so glad you could make it!” Jinwoo beamed, latching himself onto Dongmin’s arm and guiding him towards a relatively empty corner of the gym. It was impossible to miss the slight look of disappointment, bordering on jealousy, that Myungjun shot Jinwoo at the touch. Dongmin made a mental note to ask Minhyuk about that later.

            The three picked up a ball and started warming up their arms and shoulders, eventually breaking off into pairs when Minhyuk joined them to start a round of pepper. It was a nice exercise to warm up with, since it called for two people alternating passing, setting, and hitting to each other. Beside him, he could see how easily Jinwoo dropped low to receive Myungjun’s well-aimed hits, passing the ball back in a smooth arc. No wonder he’s a libero. He could easily imagine the older boy running around in the back line.

            Dongmin pulled his arm back, ready to swing at Minhyuk’s set to him. He never got to hit the ball, however, before something came zooming towards his head and hit him straight in the face.

            “Ohmygod I am so sorry are you okay I didn’t mean to…” A voice called from the other end of the gym. Dongmin blinked, dazed, almost as if he’d just been hit in the face. Not so lightly, either. He looked over and saw a tall boy, with a head of curly, light hair standing with his hands over his mouth. He kind of looks like a cucumber, Dongmin thought. He just flailed at the tall figure with a gesture that he hoped represented he was fine.

            Between the blood rushing in his head and the sound of Minhyuk’s laughter, Dongmin gathered his thoughts enough to jog after the ball that had bounced off his head so he could return it to the boy. It was common courtesy to return a stray ball that had come in your direction, even if it did hit you rather ungracefully.

            “Don’t worry, I got it,” a hand reached down and grabbed the ball just before Dongmin could. Following the arm up to the owner, he found himself looking straight at Moonbin.

            “Oh, I, uh, t-thanks,” Dongmin stuttered out, doing his best to look unaffected. If he’d thought Moonbin was angelic from a distance, seeing him up close only confirmed his suspicions. With slanted eyes and thin lips pulled into a soft smile, he reminded Dongmin of a kitten.

            “Sorry about that, Sanha’s arms are too long for his own good,” the other boy laughed. Dongmin was struggling, seeing him laugh. If he looked like a kitten before, Dongmin thought he looked like a puppy now, all wide smile and squinted eyes. “Are you new here? I haven’t seen you around before. I’m Bin,” Moonbin tilted his head to the side. Even more like a puppy, this is fine. And Dongmin continued to struggle, only able to nod while trying not to stare. It had only been about five seconds, surely it was too soon to be embarrassing himself by saying something stupid, right?

            “Yes, I kn- ” Apparently, it was never too soon. “I mean, I…nice! Yes, I, nice,” Dongmin desperately tried to recover from nearly revealing that not only did he know who Moonbin was, he was the whole reason Dongmin was even here. “Nice to meet you, that is.”

            Dongmin wished another ball would hit him in the head and knock him out so he would be spared. Moonbin – or Bin, Dongmin supposed, continued to just smile at him.

            “Nice to meet you too, uh,” Bin trailed off, as Dongmin gasped and realized he didn’t even properly introduce himself.

            “Dongmin,” he supplied. He could feel his ears burning, and hoped Bin would attribute it to him having been very dedicated to warming up properly.

            “Nice to meet you then, Dongmin. Sorry again,” Bin reached out to pat Dongmin on the shoulder before running back over to the tall boy apparently called Sanha. Dongmin blinked and waved, even though Bin was already gone.

            “So that’s why you suddenly wanted to join the team, huh?” Minhyuk had appeared by his side, and for the second time that day, Dongmin jumped.

            “Please stop sneaking up on me like that again, you’re going to shorten my lifespan by thirty years! I’m not ready to die young of heart problems,” I am so ready to die young of heart problems. Heart problems caused by Bin, that is. Dongmin huffed and actively ignored Minhyuk’s question. Was he really that obvious?

            The whistle blew and everyone ran to the centre of the gym to greet the coach, leaving Dongmin no more time to ponder his state of obvious, or the state of his heart, for that matter.

            “God, Dongmin, it’s 7am, what do you want?” An unimpressed Minhyuk groaned as Dongmin stood at his door on a Tuesday morning, a week after tryouts. It had been a million drills until Dongmin was sure he was going to pass out or throw up, or both. Every time he had felt tired, he just looked at Bin, who was running every line, going for every dive. If he’d thought Minhyuk didn’t even need to try out, he knew that Bin really didn’t need to, since he was the captain. He could have just stood with the coach on the sidelines and watched, observing to see who would make it. Instead, he’d played and suffered with the rest of them. Dongmin was so lost in thought thinking about how well Bin had played that he nearly forgot Minhyuk was still there, tufts of hair sticking out and an increasingly annoyed expression.

            “Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Dongmin exclaimed, finally returning to his senses.

            “It’s 7am, what do you want?” Minhyuk repeated as he started to close the door. Dongmin quickly pushed it back open and let himself in, pushing Minhyuk back towards his room.

            “We have to go to school, hurry up and get changed!”

            “But why do we have to go to school right now? It’s 7am, Dongmin, school doesn’t start for another hour and a half,” Minhyuk complained, stumbling up the stairs.

            “They’re posting the results today, Minhyukkie,” Dongmin continued to shove his friend up the stairs.

            Minhyuk let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine,” he conceded, “and how many times do I have to tell you, don’t call me that!”

            Forty minutes later, the two friends were stepping off the bus – or, in Dongmin’s case, throwing himself off – and making their way towards the bulletin board outside the gym. A small crowd had already gathered, a few disappointed faces turning away. He could already see Minhyuk’s name near the top of the list, right under Bin. Dongmin nudged his friend and Minhyuk smiled at seeing his name on the list. Stepping closer, Dongmin nervously scanned the list for his name. Past Sungjun, Jinwoo, Myungjun, a few names he didn’t recognize. Yoon Sanha. So the ridiculously tall boy had made it, after all. And there it was, towards the bottom, in the coach’s neat, slanted handwriting. Lee Dongmin.

 

october.

            Wake up. School. Practice. Supplemental classes. Homework. Sleep. Repeat. It felt like that was all Dongmin did these days.

            “You’re going too fast, I think it’s going to…never mind, too late,” Dongmin looked at Bin through their goggles. It turned out that not only did they share chemistry, they were assigned to be lab partners. Dongmin had gotten past his initial shyness and he wanted to think that soon, he could become friends with Bin instead of only teammates. It was proving to be a bit more difficult than Dongmin would have liked. Bin was always friendly enough with him, laughing at his jokes in class and occasionally whispering enough that the teacher would shush them. But each time Dongmin gathered enough courage to say something that wasn’t related to school or practice, Bin found a way to brush it off.

            “I was going slowly,” Bin whined, stepping back from the burette. It was the third run through of their titration, and he’d still managed to completely miss the titration point, meaning they had to pipette their acid and set up the base again. “Here, you try,” he gestured to Dongmin to control the valve. Dongmin was in the middle of pouring phenolphthalein, their indicator, into the larger beaker of acid. Unfortunately, he moved his arm up right as Bin had waved him over, causing him to drop the entire container of indicator into the beaker with a splash.

            “Bin!” Dongmin exclaimed, running a hand through his already messy hair (they had been at this titration for a long, long time). Most of the class had already finished the experiment, and Dongmin was sure he would have been able to finish faster on his own. He wondered why he’d let Bin control the base to start with. Probably because Bin had really wanted to, it looks cool, and Dongmin hadn’t been able to say no to Bin’s classic kitten-like expression. The commotion caught the teacher’s attention and Bin at least had the decency to look sheepish as Dongmin explained.

            “I’m so sorry, we’ve already done three runs of this and just kept missing it every time,” Dongmin pushed their mess of a data sheet towards the teacher, who looked like he wanted to leave just as much as they did. The teacher looked between the two of them, and Dongmin did his best to look upset. It was an easy expression, as chemistry was one of his best classes. Dongmin prided himself on his consistently excellent grades, and he refused to let this especially bad lab bring down his mark. Everyone he knew hated titrations, and he felt the same way. They were just tedious and made Dongmin feel like he was going to go cross-eyed staring at the base dripping, waiting for a colour change.

            After a dramatic apology for ruining the phenolphthalein, the teacher had scolded them lightly and told them to borrow a classmate’s data instead. Perks of consistently being the best student, Dongmin supposed.

            “Nice acting,” Bin laughed softly as soon as they were out of earshot, placing a hand on Dongmin’s arm, pulling back just as quickly. Is that acid burning on my arm, or Bin’s touch? Dongmin had managed to look incredibly apologetic and sincere throughout the scolding.

            “Yeah thanks, it was hard with you trying not to laugh behind the teacher,” at one point, Dongmin had made eye contact with Bin and nearly broke out smiling himself with how funny Bin found the situation. “I’m never letting you near a titration again! For someone so athletic, I thought you’d have better control of your hands in the lab,” Dongmin furrowed his brows at Bin mock annoyance. “How are you still doing so well in chemistry?” As part of the team, they were all strictly required to maintain their grades.

            “It’s not my fault I’m just bad at labs,” Bin answered a little too quickly, shrugging.

            “Whatever you say,” Dongmin let it go. From his experience, Bin was more than bad at labs. Last time, he’d accidentally stuck his hand in a beaker. A full beaker.

            Bin was quiet the rest of the way to the gym.

            Practice had been exhausting that day, and Dongmin was starting to think that the coach was just the devil himself. Our coach is great too, even if he’s Satan, is probably what Sungjun was going to finish that sentence with over the summer. They had their first game of the season coming up, so the team had been working hard to get ready. The drill they’d done today had been especially tiring, though. Split into two teams, every time you missed a hit, missed a dig, or even just not calling loudly enough, you were out. Dongmin couldn’t wait to go home and shower, even if he had piles of homework waiting for him.

            It was nearly 9pm when Dongmin got out of his supplemental classes. This late, the hallways were dimly lit, and the school felt uncomfortably empty. He trudged across the school, cursing the fact that his locker was on the other side. Passing by the gym, he noticed that the light was still on and there was the sound of running inside. Curious as to who would still be in the gym at this hour, he peeked through the small pane of glass on the door and saw Bin. The other boy was running lines, a drill often used as punishments, also called suicides. It was named that for a reason, having to run to each line on the court and back to the end line. Even one or two sets would make Dongmin’s legs feel like jelly and his chest like it was on fire.

            Dongmin frowned. Had Bin stayed here the whole time he’d been in classes? After practice, Bin had claimed that he wanted to stay just a little longer to work on his jump serve. Dongmin hadn’t thought much of it, figuring he’d meant half an hour at most.

            “Bin?” Dongmin gently pushed the door open. “What are you still doing here?”

            “Oh,” Bin turned, sweat dripping down his chin, neck, disappearing under the collar of his shirt. Dongmin swallowed and quickly looked away. “What time is it?”

            “It’s nearly nine,” Dongmin said, opting to look at Bin’s colourful shoes instead of his flushed face. “Have you been here this whole time?” He stepped a little farther into the space.

            “I must have lost track of time,” sighed Bin. He was still out of breath and walked towards Dongmin to grab his water bottle from the side. “Wanted to clear my head.”

            Avoiding my questions again.

            “Is everything okay?” Dongmin was genuinely concerned now. Was it what I said earlier today?

            Bin nodded and smiled, although it didn’t quite reach his eyes, and Dongmin didn’t quite believe him. He looked more tired than Dongmin did.

            “Come on, I’ll help you take down the nets,” Dongmin slid his backpack onto the floor. Thump. And his heart in his chest. Thump. Before Bin could refuse, he started pulling off the boundary antennae and loosening the nets. Soon, they’d rolled all the posts back to the equipment room, and it was just the two of them in the now too big room.

            “Thanks,” Bin said, eyes not meeting Dongmin’s. “And I’m fine, don’t worry about me,” he shuffled over to sit on a bench and untie his shoes, taking off his ankle guards and pulling down his knee pads. Dongmin watched as Bin ran a hand through his wet hair, and wanted so badly to smooth it back down. But he couldn’t do that, not now, not ever.

            As Bin stood up and put on his slides, Dongmin didn’t know what else to say. Whatever ability he had to talk to Bin was slowly fading again. He forced out a generic parting statement, barely able to hear himself over the rush of blood in his ears, and saw Bin wave to him.

            Dongmin didn’t see Bin watching him leave.

Chapter Text

            “Again,” the red-haired coach stood beside Dongmin, straight-faced as ever. Dongmin felt like his arm was truly going to detach from his body. They had been practicing float serves for the past twenty minutes, and Dongmin could not get the ball to float. He had a powerful spin serve, but a float serve was often trickier to receive since the ball would drift without a set path. Or, it would, if Dongmin could do it correctly.

            “Keep your hand straight, like a high five,” coach Wooseok picked up a stray ball to demonstrate. Really, Dongmin was trying his best to listen, but he could see Moonbin on the other court, precisely aiming each serve. Beautiful, he thought. The serves, definitely, not the way Bin’s gaze was narrowed with focus, or how his arm traced a smooth arc in the air each time. “Try again. Here,” Wooseok tossed another ball to Dongmin.

            Dongmin gave a solid attempt at not embarrassing himself where Bin could see him, only for the ball to go straight into the net. He sighed and turned apologetically to Wooseok.

            “Sorry, that still wasn’t straight, was it?” If it was possible to pass out from despair, Dongmin would have been on the floor nineteen minutes ago.

            “It’s alright if you can’t get it right now, since you already have a stable serve. I just want you to be able to switch it up if we’re facing a strong opponent and need to surprise them,” Wooseok nodded, looking lost in thought. Dongmin had discovered that although the coach was quite strict, he was patient when it came to teaching. “Here, hit me.”

            “Um,” Dongmin blinked in surprise, until he realized Wooseok was holding his hand up in a high five. He brought his hand up to meet Wooseok’s with uncertainty. “Like this?”

            “I’m not a fairy, you can hit harder than that,” Wooseok chuckled and grabbed Dongmin’s arm to pull it up, moving it to swing with a bit more force. “Again,” he moved his hand up higher, closer to where Dongmin would aim if he were serving. However, after a couple more rounds of this, Dongmin’s reach was past the coach’s. Wooseok frowned briefly. Suddenly, he turned to the other side of the gym and yelled, “Bin! Can you come help me for a minute?”

            Bin ran over and came to a stop beside the two. “What do you need?” He asked, looking from Wooseok to Dongmin.

            “Actually, I think I can do it,” Dongmin quickly spoke up. He had a feeling where this was going, and he’d rather not die internally on top of already barely being able to move.

            “You’ll learn faster this way,” Wooseok said to Dongmin, then faced Moonbin. “Can you show Dongmin how to move for a float serve?”

            “Of course,” Bin smiled at the coach and nodded.

            “I’ll leave you two then,” More like leave me to suffer, Dongmin anguished as Wooseok moved on to inspect the rest of the team. Why couldn’t he have asked Minhyuk? Oh right, because Minhyuk was short too. At that moment, Dongmin hated Minhyuk’s parents for not passing on some taller genes.

            Bin smiled at Dongmin and picked up a ball. Dongmin stared at it as he wondered whether he should say hi, or if that would be weird. After the night in the gym, Bin had acted like nothing happened, going right back to friendly banter and smiles delivered at arm’s length. Every evening after his supplemental classes Dongmin would pass by the gym. And every evening, Bin would be there. Some nights Dongmin saw him setting against the wall, or tossing himself a ball to practice attacking. Occasionally, he would see Bin with a determined expression, running lines over and over. One time Dongmin had stood outside the door for a few minutes, watching to see how many Bin was doing. He’d counted eight before Bin had slumped to the floor in exhaustion. Six was already among the worst punishments issued in practice. Dongmin found himself aching to go in each night, to talk to the other boy, ask why he was doing this when he already put in so much each practice. But again and again, he lost the courage and turned away.

            “Are you going to show me your serve, perhaps? So I can help you?” Dongmin gasped and realized he had just been standing there, thinking about how good Bin looked in his well-fitted shirt. In comparison, Dongmin felt like a messy, unfit potato.

            “Right,” Dongmin dragged his eyes up, avoiding avoiding avoiding looking at the low scoop of Bin’s shirt. Cause of death: Moonbin. He found Bin looking back at him with gentle eyes and an unreadable expression. Again, Dongmin cursed Minhyuk’s short stature for making him want to set himself on fire.

            Unfortunately, Dongmin could only watch as his serve flew the wrong side of the boundary markers. At least it had floated this time. Before he could pick up another ball to try again, he felt a warm hand on his arm. Suddenly more out of breath than before, he froze and risked a glance to the side.

            “You seem a bit tense,” Bin observed, moving his other hand up to rest on Dongmin’s shoulder, giving it an experimental squeeze. Dongmin was certain he was going to die from a lack of oxygen. “Relax a bit. Try to keep your hand in line with your arm, don’t twist or snap your wrist like you would for a spin,” at this, Bin guided Dongmin’s arm back and brought it through a swing. “See? Straight.” So, so straight. “Contact the ball here,” Bin stopped Dongmin’s arm, “then you can swing through. Try again,” he suggested.

            The next attempt was better, the ball going over within the boundaries, only to land outside the court on the other side. Dongmin pulled a hand through his hair in frustration. Never in his life did he want to hear the words “float serve” again.

            “I see the problem! Here,” exclaimed Bin as he took hold of Dongmin’s arm again. Dongmin was positive that Bin was half the problem at the moment. “Don’t follow through by moving your arm across, you want to finish with your arm at your hip on the same side,” Bin pulled Dongmin’s arm around again. “End right here,” Dongmin was convinced he was absolutely going to perish, because Bin’s hand was now on his hip, and there was no way Dongmin was going to survive. He squeaked out some sort of sound resembling acknowledgement, and Bin pulled his hand away. Three tries later, the ball floated into the opposite court and deposited itself just short of the end line. Beside him, Bin clapped.

            “Thanks,” excited at his achievement, Dongmin grinned at the other boy, only to find that Bin was staring at him with the same, unreadable expression he’d often seen. Dongmin blinked and it was gone, replaced by a smile.

            “Glad I could help,” Bin nodded, but wouldn’t look Dongmin in the eye again. “Let me know if you need any more pointers.” Yeah, on how to look like an angel at all times. Quickly, Dongmin shoved the thought as far away as possible. Bin returned to the other side of the gym, picking up a ball on the way. Dongmin watched him laugh with Jinwoo over something Myungjun had said before coach Wooseok glared at them for daring to laugh during practice.

            By the time practice was over, the sun had started to set outside, last of the evening rays slanting through the high windows. Wooseok dismissed them all with a lecture about making sure to eat well and rest for the upcoming game next week. Dongmin took a quick shower in the changerooms and stepped out, refreshed and ready to bother Minhyuk for a bit before heading off to his evening classes. However, the younger was nowhere to be seen. Dongmin huffed in annoyance; they usually waited for each other after practice to eat or study together. Turning the corner, Dongmin found his target standing very close to…Sanha?

            “Minhyuk, you didn’t wait for me! Also, I need to talk to you about your lack of height, I know it’s not your fault, but seriously-” Dongmin broke off as Minhyuk and Sanha both jumped about two feet into the air and apart from each other in surprise.

            “Oh my god, Dongmin, did you have to sneak up like that? Can’t you walk a little more loudly?” Minhyuk said, annoyed.

            “Wonder what that feels like, can’t relate,” Dongmin shot back. He took a step closer but was stopped in his tracks. Was…was Minhyuk blushing? The expressionless rock? Blushing? “What were you two doing?” Dongmin inquired, striding towards Minhyuk once more. “Tell me,” he stopped just in front of the younger boy, doing his best to look intimidating.

            “Nothing!” Minhyuk and Sanha insisted simultaneously. Dongmin looked at Sanha with suspicion, and he could see Sanha’s tiny ears turning furiously pink. “We were just talking about how excited we are for the game next week,” said Minhyuk.

            “Sure,” Dongmin said teasingly. “I’ll leave you two be then. Talk to you later,” he waved to the two and gave Minhyuk a pointed look before heading off to the library.

            The sound of Bin forcefully scratching his pencil into the paper caused Dongmin to turn and see what, exactly, the other boy was doing. Surely they were still in chemistry writing equilibrium equations, and not trying to impale the desk? Apparently not. Bin’s paper was covered in something that was probably supposed to be numbers, next to approximately ten million spots he had crossed out.

            “Do you want an eraser?” Dongmin leaned over, whispering. At the risk of another heart attack, he looked at Bin’s face. Today, Dongmin thought the other boy’s fluffy hair looked especially soft, and he desperately wanted to know what it would feel like beneath his fingers. Bin glanced away from his paper to nod pitifully at Dongmin.

            “Is this supposed to be a…minion?” Bin squinted at the uneven, yellow blob that Dongmin handed him. Half its face was worn down from use, leaving a pointy bean in overalls. “I can’t believe you have a minion eraser,” he laughed quietly.

            “I think they’re cute, okay?” I think you’re cute, too. “J-just hurry up and fix your,” Dongmin gestured to whatever it was that was supposed to be surviving on Bin’s page, “uh, equations?” Bin smiled again and began to murder Dongmin’s poor eraser.

            “Thanks,” Bin handed the eraser back, now with more of its face missing. Dongmin took one look at Bin’s page and saw that he had only succeeded in smudging the black marks everywhere. Knowing his minion could do better than that, he reached his arm over.

            “Do you even know how to use an eraser?” He asked, grabbing Bin’s page and starting to erase the mess for him.

            “Maybe if it was actually an eraser and not a yellow corn chip spawn of the devil!”

            “What! How could you.”

            “Just look at it! And it doesn’t even talk properly! It’s all like, badanabaa.

            Dongmin wheezed. Bin looked so cute doing his surprisingly accurate imitation, and Dongmin could feel his heart fluttering.

            “Is there something you’d like to share? Moonbin?” Suddenly, the teacher was looking at the two of them, a large eyebrow raised.

            Dongmin jumped in surprise and his eraser flew out of his hand. “Ah, Bob, no!” He couldn’t see where the tiny thing had landed.

            “Um, no sir, Dongmin was just explaining, uh,” Bin elbowed Dongmin sharply, the other still devastated at the loss of his eraser.

            “Ow,” whined Dongmin, collecting himself enough to give an answer, “right, I was telling Bin about,” he glanced down at his notes again, “the methods of finding equilibrium concentrations.” For good measure, Dongmin shot a bright smile at the teacher, Mr. Han.

            “I see,” Mr. Han bent down as something bright and yellow rolled to a stop by his foot. “I encourage you to help each other, but maybe a little more quietly?” He stood up again, Dongmin smiling in relief at the sight of Bob in his hand. “And this is yours, I believe. Very nice choice, though I must say, I prefer Kevin.” Mr. Han walked over slowly, dress shoes clicking on the floor. Depositing Bob on Dongmin’s desk with a vaguely entertained expression, the teacher returned to teaching at the front of the room.

            Dongmin heard a choked sound beside him, Bin not quite managing to hold in his laughter.

            Half an hour later, the bell rang to signal the end of the day. “Before you all go,” Mr. Han called out, a round of groans sounded from the students in response. “I’ve marked your tests from a few days ago. The marks are up by the door, and I’ll hand them back tomorrow.”

            Between the flurry of students packing and chairs scraping, Dongmin was in no rush to check his mark. Not like it could improve, anyway. He waited until most of the class had dissipated before walking over to meet Bin by the door.

            “You got first in the class again,” Bin commented, his tone strictly observant.

            Dongmin nodded and looked at the ground. He was proud of being able to maintain the spot, but he felt sometimes that being top of the class attracted too much attention.

            “Ah, I guess so,” he replied shyly. “Did you do okay?”

            “Fourth,” Bin answered. Dongmin had noticed that for someone who was so confused in labs and took horrible notes, Bin’s test scores were fairly consistent. “We should get going to practice. Do you have everything? Your demon bean eraser?”

            “Hey! Don’t insult Bob,” Dongmin pouted. “Let’s go,” he waved goodbye to Mr. Han and started down the hallway.

            Reflecting off the polished tables, the glare of the afternoon sun hit Dongmin straight in the eyes. He picked at his lunch, eating made a bit difficult by Minhyuk screaming right beside him. That, and his temporary blindness from the sun. Dongmin wasn’t sure why the school had insisted on having such shiny tables in the cafeteria when they were bound to get dirty anyway.

            “Minhyukkie,” Dongmin made a valiant attempt at getting the younger’s attention. Anything to remove him from the influence of Sanha, who was sitting on his other side.

            “I told you not to call me that,” Minhyuk whipped around, the effect of the unwanted name immediately effective.

            “But, Minhyukkie, it’s the only way you’ll notice me anymore! If you weren’t so busy screaming with Sanha all the time, Sanha this, Sanha that, maybe- ah!” Dongmin was cut off from his dramatic interpretation of Minhyuk by said boy smacking his arm.

            “When have I ever sounded like that?”

            “Oh, I don’t know, maybe yesterday, and the day before, and last week,” Dongmin rattled off with a cheeky laugh.

            “I did not!” Minhyuk protested, and behind him, Sanha giggled.

            “Minhyukkie, do you really?” Sanha asked, all wide eyes and rosy cheeks.

            “N-no, of course I don’t! That would be weird, right?” Minhyuk stuttered while kicking Dongmin under the table.

            In all the years Dongmin had known Minhyuk, he couldn’t recall a time when the younger boy had blushed, much less stuttered. Dongmin took a mouthful of rice and hid his smile behind the open textbook he had in front of him. He couldn’t wait to finally be able to tease Minhyuk for something.

            “How come you let Sanha call you that, but I can’t?” Dongmin braved another incoming smack. It was worth it.

            “What? This isn’t fair, it’s not like you don’t get distracted for hours thinking about Bin, because I know you do,” Minhyuk had the audacity to add a smirk. He opened his mouth to say something else which was probably going to be both true and embarrassing, only to be stopped by Dongmin slamming his hand over Minhyuk’s face.

            “It’s true,” Minhyuk managed, however muffled it may have been.

            “It is not,” Dongmin hissed, a panicked look directed over Minhyuk’s shoulder. Minhyuk freed himself from Dongmin’s grasp and looked behind him.

            “Oh, hey Bin!” Minhyuk greeted cheerfully.

            “Hey, Minhyuk,” Bin smiled back, puppy expression glowing. “Dongmin,” he directed a nod a little more towards the floor than to the boy he was supposedly addressing. Still smiling, brows a little closer than before. Dongmin was sure Bin had been close enough to hear Minhyuk’s comment. At this rate, Dongmin could easily start a list of reasons he wanted to kill his friend.

            Although Dongmin felt it was probably for the best interests of his cardiac health if Bin didn’t look at him, he had noticed that the other rarely made eye contact when they spoke. Bin didn’t seem to be the shy type, so Dongmin doubted that was the problem. He’d asked Minhyuk about it the other day as well, only for the younger to look at him like he was crazy. Am I that uncomfortable to look at? Dongmin frowned at the thought. Maybe he should start using those face masks that Minhyuk swore by religiously.

            “Bin, we should get the team together and go for bubble tea after practice tomorrow,” Minhyuk suggested.

            “Good idea, we can get everyone’s spirits up before the first game. I’ll send out a message.” Practice had been cancelled that day, Wooseok having been satisfied with their performance and not wanting to burn them out so close to the game.

            “Dongmin, you’ll come, right? There’s enough time for you to make it back before your supplemental classes.” Minhyuk looked to his friend.

            “Sure, I think I need a break anyway. If I look at one more physics equation, I’ll explode.”

            “Actually, Minhyuk, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it,” a strained voice came from Bin. He was staring at Dongmin now, his smile gone.

            “But you literally just agreed twelve seconds ago,” Minhyuk narrowed his eyes at the captain.

            “I’m sorry,” Bin replied softly, still looking at Dongmin. With that, he turned and left.

            The world was ending. It must have been, for Bin to not have stayed for lunch, and have said no to an outing involving food. Dongmin spent the better part of the afternoon mulling over this, becoming more concerned by the minute. Bin had changed his mind as soon as Dongmin said he’d be there. Lately, Dongmin felt that Bin distancing himself was becoming a common occurrence.

 

            Bin didn’t talk to Dongmin in chemistry that day, or the day after. Not even when Dongmin tried to show him the new minion pencil case he’d bought. He’d simply nodded and smiled thinly, before turning back to his notes.

After class, Bin made a beeline for the door, not waiting for Dongmin to walk to practice together. Dongmin haphazardly shoved his notebook and stationery into his backpack and ran after Bin, catching up to Bin in the hallway.

            “Bin, did I do something wrong?” The other boy didn’t stop. “Moonbin, please,” Dongmin let a note of desperation find its way into his voice, and he tentatively put a hand on Bin’s arm.

            Bin pulled back sharply, letting out a gentle sigh when he saw Dongmin’s expression.

            “No,” Bin shook his bangs out of his eyes, avoiding Dongmin’s searching gaze.

            “Then…can’t you come with us after practice today?”

            “I,” the other seemed to hesitate. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Bin said softly, his silky voice barely audible.

            “Is everything okay?” Dongmin’s hand drifted towards Bin again, but he quickly dropped it.

            “I told you not to worry about me,” snapped Bin, though his expression suggested he was far from angry. He looked so sad, Dongmin thought. “It’s just,” he grimaced as if in pain, “it’s best if…if we don’t spend any more time together than necessary.”

            Dongmin couldn’t breathe. All the air had been knocked out of him, without even a touch. “Oh,” he nodded numbly, “I see,” he muttered. Turning away, he missed the tears threatening to spill.

            A sob echoed in the empty hallway.

Chapter Text

 

november.

            The faint glow of the clock through the dark taunted Dongmin. Until recently, insomnia had been kind enough to skip him as a target. But now he found himself relentlessly going over everything, anything he could have done to make Moonbin act like this. Each day, he offered a shy smile and a wave in the halls. Sometimes he received an equally weak smile in return, others all he saw was a pained look, a refusal to make eye contact. It hurt Dongmin to see his captain, his friend, like this. He could tell that Bin had taken to using makeup to cover the dark circles forming. It had worked, until it hadn’t.

            Afternoons were worse, more painful than the sleepless nights. He would sit beside Bin, breath catching each time they so much as brushed elbows. Two days ago, Dongmin ended up having his heart ripped out when he cautiously laid his hand on Bin’s arm, his worry overtaking the pressure in his chest.

            “Bin.”

            Silence. The other boy faced Dongmin, the soft slant of his eyes giving no sign of what he was thinking. For the first time in days, Dongmin looked at him properly, something more than stolen glances between breaths. Disheveled hair, a crooked tie, exhausted eyes. Somehow, Dongmin still found him stunning.

            Finally, Moonbin’s gaze slid down to Dongmin’s hand on his arm, then back up.

            “What is it, Dongmin?”

            Dongmin suddenly lost every word in his mind, the sound of Bin’s silky voice saying his name enough to both make up for every sleepless night and guarantee many more.

            “Won’t you at least tell me why?” Tell me why you won’t talk to me. Why you’re so insistent on keeping yourself away from me.

            Tell me why I can’t sleep.

            Dongmin held his breath for an eternity before Bin spoke again, but not before he lightly took Dongmin’s hand and removed it from his arm.

            “I’ll see you at practice, Dongmin,” a gentle, gentle smile.

           

            Practice was something else entirely. It had turned into the only time Bin interacted anything close to normally with Dongmin. He felt Bin watching him during drills, and if he wasn’t doing something right, Bin would come over and show him. How to time his approach better, or demonstrating the correct positioning. On a few occasions, hands guiding, pulling. Dongmin found himself needing help a lot more often.

            Worst of all, what caused Dongmin the most pain out of the afternoons and nights, was the morning of their first game. The team met to go over a few things. Ensuring smooth transitions during each rotation. Making sure the front row had a synchronized block. Wooseok placed Dongmin starting in the front with Bin, meaning there were times where Bin would be pressed up next to him, sealing for a tight block. During one of the drills, Dongmin ended up catching Myungjun’s incoming attack straight into his fingers when he had tried to cover an opening Bin didn’t quite reach.

            “Jesus, Myungjun. For such a tiny person, you sure hit hard,” Dongmin winced and grabbed his fingers. Hopefully the guilt of the injury would balance out the wrath he would have otherwise incurred.

            “I was going to apologize, but not anymore,” Myungjun huffed and strode over to Jinwoo, who immediately hooked his chin over Myungjun’s shoulder and said something which made the eldest laugh.

            “Dongmin! Are you okay? Let me see.” Right next to him, Bin took his hand in his own, inspecting with a frown.

            “I’m fine, I-I only jammed my finger, it’s nothing new.”

            “You were covering the opening I left, if I was faster this wouldn’t have happened…”

            “Bin, it’s really okay. It’s not your fault,” Dongmin didn’t know what to do with his hand, so he let Bin keep holding it. The captain looked like he wanted to protest, but just sighed instead.

            “Make sure you tape this hand for our game this afternoon, okay?” Bin was now looking at Dongmin with such intensity that he could only nod.

            Later, Dongmin taped his hand, only for Bin to walk up to him and demand to see it. He’d muttered something about this isn’t how to do it properly, let me fix it. Dongmin stood in shock as he watched Bin undo the tape his fingers and wrap each one again, surprising Dongmin with how tenderly he did so. That’s better, Bin had said, letting go of Dongmin’s hand awkwardly and running off before Dongmin could thank him. It was after the game that he noticed that Bin hadn’t even done the taping any differently than what it was before. Dongmin did his best that evening to undo the tape as carefully as possible and stored it away in a drawer, not discarding it like he typically would have. He saw Bin practicing blocking every night for the rest of the week.

            Dongmin and Minhyuk were sprawled across the floor of the younger’s room on a Saturday afternoon, surrounded by stacks of textbooks and loose pages. Currently, Dongmin was poring over his lab data, rubbing his temples at the numbers he saw. He’d had the most awkward lab of his life by far a few days ago. It was a miracle they’d even finished the lab at all, Dongmin thought.

            “Minhyuk, do you think Bin is busy today? I think I might need to meet him to talk about our lab,” Dongmin sighed. There was no possible way these numbers could be right.

            “Wouldn’t it be great if you had some sort of communication device that would let you ask him yourself?” Minhyuk snorted and tossed Dongmin’s phone over. With great restraint, Dongmin stopped himself from throwing it back at his friend’s head.

[minnie !!]

Hey, if you have time, do you think we could meet up to work on our lab? My data doesn’t look so good..

[read 1:24pm]

[Bin]

just send me what you have and I’ll do the rest, it’s fine

[1:31pm]

[minnie !!]

minnie !! sent an attachment.

[read 1:32pm]

[Bin]

thanks

[1:39pm]

[minnie !!]

Let me know if you need something else, or if you change your mind :)

[read 1:39pm]

[to: Bin]

Please, I want to talk to you.

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

            Dongmin grabbed a pillow off Minhyuk’s bed and promptly screamed into it. He looked with his best puppy eyes to Minhyuk, hoping his friend was feeling generous today.

            “Do you think I could uh, try one of those sheet masks you use?”

            Minhyuk stared at the elder, dropping the pencil in his hand.

            “Um, why?

            “I really think Bin doesn’t like me…he’s barely talked to me for a couple of weeks now,” Dongmin mumbled into the pillow he was still clutching.

            “And you think a facial mask is going to help?”

            “Well, he hardly looks at me every time we do talk, so I’m starting to think it’s because I’m not handsome enough for him to talk to. I’m not that unlikeable as a person, right? So that has to be it. Like, I mean, have you seen him? So I guess it’s not-”

            Dongmin was interrupted by Minhyuk throwing a pillow at him.

            “What the hell Minhyuk!” Dongmin retaliated by throwing it back, along with the one he was holding before.

            “Have you ever looked in a mirror?”

            “Of course I have, but-”

            “Then you know that’s not the problem,” Minhyuk grumbled. “But what do you mean he’s not talking to you? He seems fine during practice.”

            Dongmin hadn’t told Minhyuk about what had been going on for the past couple of weeks, not wanting it to affect the team dynamic. He now recounted the events that had taken place, Minhyuk patiently nodding the whole time.

            “That’s not like him at all,” the younger observed, frowning. “If you want, I can try talking to him to see what’s up,” he offered. The two of them had been friends for longer, playing together and bonding over their shared love and talent for the sport. It led to the pair being an incredible pair in the front row, Minhyuk able to set Bin flawlessly from anywhere on the court, having the ball meet Bin’s hand just as he’d swing. Dongmin had witnessed this magic enough times that he knew if anyone could find out what was going on, it was Minhyuk.

            “That…would be nice, thanks Minhyuk,” Dongmin smiled appreciatively.

            “No problem,” Minhyuk replied, hand reaching over to pat Dongmin on the shoulder. “And if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll let you have a mask.”

            “Really?” Dongmin lit up with hope.

            “I guess so, but you owe me some ice cream!”

            “Deal.”

            Two hushed voices could be heard from the classroom, and Dongmin slowed his steps. He’d left his pencil case in chemistry class, only noticing after practice when he tried to start his homework in the library. Dongmin wasn’t exactly one to eavesdrop, but the need for his pencil case led him to take a step closer to see if he could go in. Through the gap of the open door he saw Mr. Han and his incredibly large eyebrows looking more serious than Dongmin had ever seen. The usually lighthearted teacher was speaking to someone hidden by the door.

            “What happened here?” Dongmin heard the sound of a paper being slid across a desk.

            “Mr. Han, I’m sorry, I…” At the sound of Bin’s familiar voice, Dongmin threw himself back against the wall. So that’s where Bin disappeared to after practice. The sudden thumping in Dongmin’s chest drowned out the rest of the sentence.

            “…expected better from you,” Mr. Han sighed. Had Bin not done well on his test? Last week, many of the students had succumbed to the flu season, including the girl sitting on the other side of the aisle from Bin. Maybe Bin had caught a cold from the other student, who along with several others, had been absent on the day of the test due to illness. Dongmin immediately felt bad, thinking about how hard Bin had still been pushing himself at practice. He concluded that Bin must not have been feeling well during the test. Strangely though, Dongmin hadn’t heard even a cough come out of the other. Perhaps Bin had an excellent immune system and recovered quickly.

            “Please don’t tell coach Wooseok,” followed by whispers that Dongmin couldn’t hear.

            Another sigh floated through the door. Dongmin risked another peek into classroom and saw the teacher fiddling with his tie, looking noticeably conflicted.

            “I’d usually have…given your situation, and since you were honest with me…don’t want to see you expelled.” Expelled? What could have… Dongmin only heard parts of what Mr. Han was saying, and he began to connect the pieces together. No, it can’t be. With dread, he realized what Bin could have possibly done that would result in something as severe as expulsion.

            Oh.

            It made sense now, how Bin always scored well.

            Dongmin couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation over his heart pounding. He registered the sound of footsteps coming towards the door and shuffled away just in time to make it not blatantly obvious that he’d been there the whole time. Bin stepped out and Dongmin caught his eye, seeing the worry and disappointment. Neither of them said anything.

            “Oh, Dongmin, what can I help you with?” A moment later, Mr. Han saw him at the door and waved him in.

            “I just forgot my pencil case,” Dongmin said, trying his best to pretend he hadn’t just overheard that entire conversation.

            “I’ve got it right here,” Mr. Han smiled and reached behind his desk. “Kevin, excellent. I see you’ve listened to my sound advice from last time,” he chuckled and handed Dongmin the yellow pouch. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dongmin.”

            Minhyuk had taken to bringing Sanha into bothering Dongmin. Coach Wooseok announced yesterday’s practice as fitness testing, leaving the entire team limping and sore. At lunch, Sanha screamed each time he had to move.

            “I can’t believe WooSatan did this to us,” Sanha looked his soul was presently leaving his body. “There’s no way I’ll be able to make it to my next class! It hurts to breathe.”

            “Same,” Minhyuk winced as he packed up his lunch.

            Dongmin agreed wholeheartedly. That morning, he’d literally rolled out of bed and dropped onto the floor, unable to sit up. It took him three minutes to untangle himself from his blankets, and he’d had to yell for his younger brother to come help him stand. Of course, he didn’t live through the experience without being laughed at the whole time.

            “Come on guys, we have to get to class,” Dongmin tried to brace his arm against the table to aid him in standing up, though only succeeded in triggering an ache down his side. Actually, his entire body. Even not moving hurt. He stood up halfway before falling back down in his seat.

            “Even holding my pencil hurts,” whined Minhyuk, he and Sanha also failing to stand successfully.

            “I almost fell down the stairs this morning, I can’t even bend my legs,” Sanha let out another shriek, managing to pull himself upright and remain that way.

            As soon as Dongmin was standing as well, the two younger boys each grabbed on to one of his arms to hold themselves up.

            “Guys, ouch, I’m not any less sore than the rest of you, you know,” Dongmin complained, but a double attack of pouting from Minhyuk and Sanha forced him to concede. “Let’s just get to our lockers before we’re all late,” he said, and the trio stumbled down the hall together.

            For the past few days, Bin had seemed a little off at practice, his façade cracking. Dongmin figured it had something to do with what he’d overheard, but he wasn’t exactly in a position to ask. Minhyuk hadn’t managed to get Bin to tell him what was going on either. Dongmin was left to watch Bin from a distance, feeling the other drifting farther and farther every day.

            “Moonbin, what are you doing?” Coach Wooseok asked at the end of the week, when Bin missed every single set that practice. “Pay attention, please,” Wooseok pinched at the bridge of his nose in mild irritation.

            “Right, sorry,” Bin bowed in apology.

            “Don’t apologize to me, apologize to your teammates. You’ve been distracted all week.”

            “Sorry,” Bin said again, addressing the group. Dongmin was looking at the floor, but he could feel Bin’s eyes on him. “I’ll do better.”

            “Let’s call it a night. You all survived fitness testing this week, so I guess you’re in decent enough shape for our tournament next weekend. I’ve talked to all your teachers and gotten permission for you to miss Friday’s class. Remember to catch up on any work you’ll be missing. We’ll sort out rooms closer to the date, but it will be random assignment to encourage more bonding.” With that, Wooseok dismissed them and told the team to take down the nets. “Have a good weekend and study hard, but make sure you rest a bit, too,” he called as he left the gym.

            “Wow, does WooSatan care about us?” An incredulous Sanha asked.

            “I told you he’s not that bad,” Minhyuk replied, after downing half a bottle of water. “I’ll see you on Monday, Dongmin. Enjoy your classes,” he made a teasing face and waved as he left the gym.

            By the time Dongmin had gotten dressed, everyone else had vacated except for Bin. He was pacing back and forth, the other boy looking like he wanted to say something to Dongmin. But he didn’t.

            “Well, I’ll be going too, so, um,” are you okay?

            “See you later, Dongmin,” a trace of a smile.

            “Right, see you,” you hate it when I ask that.

            “Bye,” Bin chuckled lightly, seeing Dongmin still standing at the door. “Don’t you have classes to go to?”

            I do, but I have to know.

            “Why can’t you tell me?” Dongmin blurted out, immediately regretting everything as he saw Bin’s expression fold back into the unreadable blankness he often wore lately.

            “There’s nothing for me to tell you,” Bin was sitting on a bench now, hands idly twisting the cap of his water bottle.

            “Okay.” Lies. “Then, I’ll uh, actually go now. Bye, again,” God, what am I doing? Dongmin quickly exited before he could cringe himself into oblivion.

 

            As he did most nights, Dongmin passed by the gym after class. It was only this morning that he felt like he’d finally regained any ability to walk without limping – was it still limping if both legs were equally in pain? It surprised him to see Bin still here, considering the grueling week they’d had. Dongmin turned to the door to look through the small pane of glass, but he couldn’t remember doing so. It was habit at this point. He often wondered if the other boy knew he was being watched, as Bin never acknowledged his presence.

            Tonight, Bin was hitting the ball against the ground by the wall, each bounce coming back up to meet his hand. Dongmin watched him for a few minutes and was about to continue to his locker when Bin tossed the ball aside and started running his lines again. But this time, he added a dive each time instead of touching down. He showed no sign of stopping, even when Dongmin could see how tired he was, struggling to stand after each dive. Dongmin couldn’t watch anymore.

            “Bin, stop,” Dongmin shoved the door open and ran in.

            “No,” the other boy said, still facing away, not even startled at the intrusion. So he knows.

            Bin stepped forward again, about to continue. Dongmin gathered any remaining strength he had and strode over to reach for Bin’s arm. Bin didn’t pull away this time.

            “What do you want?”

            “Stop, Bin, you’re going to hurt yourself like this.”

            “It’s fine,” Bin had turned to face him now.

            “It is not,” Dongmin insisted, and he could clearly tell that it wasn’t. “Stop doing this to yourself. Stop hiding from us.”

            Apparently, the wall behind Dongmin was closer than he remembered, because he suddenly found himself pressed against it. Bin was right in front of him, impossible to read as ever. He was so close.

            “Um,” Dongmin flushed. This wasn’t exactly a situation he’d imagined himself in, or at least, not under these circumstances. Why was Bin just standing there?

            Before Dongmin could pass out due to the proximity, Bin stepped back.

            “I wish you didn’t care so much,” Bin finally said.

            “I can’t.”

            Finally, Bin’s expression softened. “I know,” he whispered, the sound still too loud in the open gymnasium.

            “But why?”

            “For someone so smart, you’re really an idiot, aren’t you?”

            Dongmin couldn’t tell whether or not to take offense to that.

            “Wh-what are you talking about?” He stammered. Dongmin hadn’t left his position on the wall. At this point, he thought there was a good chance he wouldn’t be able to stand on his own, heart still jumping through his shirt at being able to see every detail of Bin’s face.

            “I know you watch me every night,” Bin replied without answering the question.

            “I…”

            A million breaths, and Dongmin still couldn’t calm his racing pulse. He wondered if dying of embarrassment was a possible way to go.

            “You’re an awful liar,” the other boy commented with a hollow laugh. Bin brought a hand up to hide his eyes and turned away. Dongmin heard a small sniffle.

            “Bin? What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing,” Bin’s voice cracked, and he tried to dismiss Dongmin with a wave of his hand.

            “You don’t have to keep pretending,” Dongmin tentatively approached Bin. “It’s just me.”

            “Oh my God, Dongmin, you don’t get it.”

            “How can I get it if you won’t tell me,” muttered Dongmin quietly. He was beside Bin now, and he saw tears falling from under his hand. “Ah, Bin…” reaching up, Dongmin tried to move his friend’s hand, lightly pulling.

            “I can’t,” Bin grabbed Dongmin’s hand and collapsed to the ground, crouching, shoulders shaking.

            Dongmin gasped sharply and immediately knelt down beside the other. As soon as he did, Bin was grabbing onto the collar of his blazer, pulling him closer. He put an arm around Bin, rubbing circles into his back. Now, Bin fell farther into Dongmin, knocking him over. Dongmin didn’t complain as he fell into a seated position, and wrapped his other arm around the beautiful boy who was crying into his shoulder, feeling tears soak through his shirt.

            “Hey…you’ll be alright,” Dongmin spoke into Bin’s hair, running fingers through the soft strands like he had wanted to do for months.

            At this, Bin only sobbed harder and curled in on himself. Dongmin crossed his legs around the other to wrap him completely in an embrace on the floor.

            “I’m sorry,” Bin gasped between shaking breaths. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Finally, Bin loosened his grip on Dongmin’s blazer, sliding his hand up to Dongmin’s shoulder, then up and into his hair. Dongmin swallowed hard, hoping Bin couldn’t hear the hopeless beating in his chest. “You know,” Bin started again, “Minhyuk told me…he told me you thought I hated you,” he paused as another round of sobs started quaking in his chest, Dongmin continuing to rub his back the whole time, holding him. “I don’t hate you, Dongmin, I could never. I’m so sorry, please…please forgive me.”

            By this point, Dongmin had started silently crying as well. He wanted to know what it was that was hurting Bin like this.

            “Shh, I know, it’s okay.”

            “Just…don’t go yet.” Dongmin held the other boy tighter, mildly appalled that Bin would even think Dongmin would consider leaving him alone.

They stayed like that for nearly another hour, with Dongmin’s soft words and Bin’s unsteady voice. When Bin had calmed down enough that Dongmin could help him stand up, still they didn’t let go of each other.

            “Come on, let’s get you home,” Dongmin had an arm around Bin’s waist. Just in case he’s dizzy from crying, he told himself. “I’ll walk you.”

            “No, it’s f-fine, I can go by myself,” still wobbly, Bin shook his head.

            “You’ll do no such thing,” Dongmin stated firmly. Without another word, he marched Bin to the door and they made their way into the night.

           

            The silence on the walk was surprisingly comfortable. Dongmin watched Bin out of the corner of his eye, the streetlamps lighting up the other boy’s hair in a muted halo. Late autumn would soon give way to winter, and Dongmin had sacrificed his blazer for Bin, who’d left his jacket in his locker.

            “Do you want to get something to eat? You must be hungry. I’ll treat you,” Dongmin offered as they walked past a corner store with neon signs. He wanted to do everything he could to cheer his friend up while he had the chance.

            “You’ve already done so much for me tonight,” Bin frowned.

            “It’s…it’s what friends do.” Friends.

            “If you insist, then, um, I’d like that.”

            Ten minutes later, they sat at the edge of the sidewalk, eating ramen together. Dongmin felt like there was nothing else in the world better than talking and laughing with Bin, illuminated under the streetlamp outside the corner store near midnight.

            “Thanks,” said Bin, the two of them standing in his driveway. Once again, Bin was looking everywhere except at Dongmin.

            “You don’t need to thank me. Whatever it is, I hope you’ll feel better soon.” Dongmin shoved his hands in his pockets before he could reach out to touch Bin. He had no reason to now.

            “Goodnight, Dongmin.”

            Moonbin lay in bed, still remarkably awake. He had Dongmin’s blazer next to him. The faint smell of cologne still lingered, and Bin thought back to just hours ago, when he was on the floor and the only thing he could think of, the only thing he could see and touch and feel, was Dongmin. And the other was so warm, like a light pulling him up from the bottom of the ocean, embrace like a lazy spring breeze. Though he’d been horribly crying and couldn’t breathe, Moonbin had felt so happy. All too soon, a tear escaped and he was brought back to reality, knowing that was the closest he could ever be to the boy who looked like hope. Another tear followed. But this time, Bin was alone.

           

[to: minnie !!]

i don’t hate you, dongmin. but it would be a hell of a lot easier if i did.

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

Chapter Text

            A week later, Dongmin was squished into Wooseok’s van with Bin, Minhyuk, Sanha, Jinwoo, and Myungjun. The rest of the team travelled in another car nearby with Mr. Han, who’d been talked into being a chaperone for the weekend. How Wooseok managed to convince the teacher that coming along for the tournament instead of teaching his class, Dongmin would never know. He was starting to believe that Wooseok could persuade anyone of anything with that sharp gaze of his.

            It was a gloomy morning, the heavy autumn rain sliding against the window in sheets. Sanha and Myungjun were yelling over a game in the row in front of him. Despite the early hour, the two of them were energetic as always.

            Dongmin had been watching the scenery pass as they drove towards the coast. At some point during the trip, the rocking of the car and rush of the rain lulled him back to sleep. When he woke again half an hour later, his head was resting on something much too fluffy to be the car seat. Dongmin froze when he realized that Bin had fallen asleep on his shoulder. The other looked so adorably sleepy that Dongmin couldn’t bring himself to move and risk waking him up, so for the rest of the ride, he tried to retain his sanity. Even though the rain had yet to cease, with Bin on his shoulder, Dongmin could only feel sunshine.

            “Why are you laughing?” Dongmin eyed Minhyuk with suspicion, grabbing his friend the second they’d all filed out of the van, Bin still half asleep.

            “I’m not,” Minhyuk replied, definitely laughing.

            “Dongmin? Sorry, I think I fell asleep on you. I could’ve sworn I was sleeping on Minhyuk’s shoulder, though,” Bin rubbed his eyes.

            “I don’t mind!” Dongmin said without hesitation, then flushed as he realized how desperate he sounded. “I mean, uh, it’s fine. Y-You can sleep on me anytime.”

            “Whatever you say,” Bin smiled sleepily before wandering over to bother the two eldest, who were clinging to each other for warmth. Or so they claimed. Dongmin thought Bin looked brighter than the rays through the parting clouds. By the time they’d reached the city, the rain had dwindled to a light drizzle. Now, the gray morning was giving way to a sliver of blue sky. It’s going to be a good weekend, Dongmin thought.

            The others walked ahead of Dongmin, splashing lightly through residual puddles. Bin had an arm each around Jinwoo and Myungjun. Those two looked especially tiny next to Bin’s tall stature, and all of Dongmin’s focus was on him as the group laughed. Myungjun could spread his infectious smile to anyone. Dongmin felt like he was always watching Bin laugh from a distance. His laugh sounds like angels singing. He wanted to be the one who could make the other look like that, wanted to see Moonbin always smiling and happy.

            “Okay boys, Mr. Han has checked us all into the hotel. I’ll give you your room assignments now. Just drop your things off and meet back in the lobby in ten minutes, then we’ll drive over to the courts. The first game starts in an hour,” Wooseok waved everyone over and started handing out key cards.

            “Dongmin, we’re rooming together,” Minhyuk came up to Dongmin. “But, um…”

            “What is it? Just tell me,” Dongmin prepared himself. He had a feeling the younger was up to no good.

            “Can you switch with Sanha? Please?”

            “I knew it!” Crossing his arms, he pretended to consider it deeply. “Hmm, I don’t know,” teased Dongmin.

            “I’ll give you another sheet mask if you do, I have some in my bag right now.”

            “Resorting to bribery, are we? Does our friendship mean that little to you?” Dongmin took advantage of his height to ruffle Minhyuk’s hair. “Fine, I’ll take it. Hand it over,” he demanded, and was presented with not one, but two masks. “Why do you have so many of these?”

            “Thanks, Dongmin. You’re the best,” Minhyuk started running off to Sanha, who was already waving excitedly in the corner of the lobby. “Oh, by the way, you’re rooming with Bin, you’re welcome!”

            “What?

            “Also, Bin was sleeping on me in the car earlier, but I pushed him onto you instead. He’s really hard to wake up.”

            “Park Minhyuk, get back here right now, you little sh-”

            “No swearing in the lobby!” Dongmin was quickly interrupted by a walking pair of eyebrows.

            “Sorry, Mr. Han.”

            “Tomorrow is going to be rough,” Minhyuk sighed dramatically and draped himself on Dongmin’s arm as they walked off the court. Since they’d ranked first in their pool after round robin, winning all of their games, tomorrow they would be matched up in a new tier based on points.

            “I know right,” Dongmin nodded, already anticipating the tough matchups. “Hopefully we can avoid the really tough teams until the last round. I’m not ready to face SM Academy,” he shuddered. SM consistently placed in the top three at nationals, though Dongmin had heard rumours that they were simply intimidating.

            Soon, the team was back in the hotel, gathered in the lobby around Wooseok.

            “All of you worked hard today,” Wooseok started, giving the closest thing to praise Dongmin had ever heard come out of the coach’s mouth. “So, as a reward, Mr. Han and I have decided to treat you to dinner.”

            “Yes!” Bin cheered. Dongmin smiled at the captain’s reaction. Any mention of food, and it was pretty much a guarantee that Bin would be thrilled.

            “You’re welcome, Bin,” laughed Wooseok. “Anyway, meet back here in an hour. Get changed, and I’d also recommend a shower,” he scrunched his nose. “Especially you,” the coach pointed to one of the left side players, Sooil. The tall boy was known for probably sweating more than the rest of the team combined at all times. The group laughed, patting their teammate in consolation.

            “Let’s go,” Bin came up beside Dongmin, still looking like an excited puppy. “You played well today,” he said, and that was all it took to send Dongmin’s heart into a frenzy again.

            “Thanks, you’re amazing too,” replied Dongmin, proud of himself for receiving a compliment from Bin without his mouth forgetting how to function. “Wait, no,” his eyes widened. So much for going a few minutes without embarrassing himself in front of Bin. “Well, actually, yes, but I was trying to say that your playing was amazing,” Dongmin wondered if it was too late for him to withdraw from the tournament. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that Bin would not be there when he opened them again, but to no avail. At least he could excuse his burning ears on the game they’d just finished.

            Bin looked as if he was about to say something else once they got into the elevator, but was stopped by the entire team rushing in behind them. Dongmin could see Myungjun pushing Jinwoo into the elevator, and then he couldn’t see anything at all, because his face was rammed into Bin’s neck and he was pressed against the wall as everyone moved to make room. Again, not exactly the circumstances he’d imagined this happening under. As Dongmin internally denied that he’d ever thought about being shoved against a wall by Bin, he added Myungjun to the list of people he definitely hated.

            Somewhere between the third and fourth floor, Dongmin began to question Wooseok’s decision to book their rooms on the eleventh floor. By the sixth floor, he was starting to suffocate, so he tried to turn his face somewhere that was not Bin’s neck. This proved to be a difficult task, considering Bin’s shoulder was in the way. Near the eighth floor, Dongmin finally managed to move without breaking his own neck, but not without accidentally sliding his lips over Bin’s exposed collarbone. No. No. I did not just do that. Dongmin made eye contact with Minhyuk across the elevator and did his best to convey his desire to be disintegrated into the void without speaking.

            “Uh, Dongmin, are you okay?” Bin asked at the ninth floor. Everyone in the elevator turned as much as they could, wanting to see what was going on. The movement caused Bin to fall back slightly, only to be jostled against Dongmin once again.

            “I’m excellent, thanks,” oh my God why is this elevator so slow? Dongmin was never getting into an elevator with his horrible teammates again.

            Ding! The doors finally slid open, and Dongmin let out a sigh, throwing himself into the hallway as soon as he could. Lest he tip over from being flustered half to death, Dongmin stayed close to the wall on the way to their room.

            “This is our room,” Bin’s fingers wrapped around Dongmin’s arm. Of course, Dongmin had been paying no attention to the room numbers, and had walked straight past.

            “Okay,” Dongmin stared at the door.

            “I left my key card in my bag, so I hope you have yours.”

            “I do,” confirmed Dongmin, nodding, still staring at the door.

            “So…are you going to open the door for us, then?” Bin leaned against the wall, raising an eyebrow.

            “Oh, right,” reaching into his bag, Dongmin thought it would have been a great opportunity for some offline/online variety show captions. “It’s not working,” Dongmin frowned as the lock indicator flashed an angry red.

            “The arrow is on the other side,” now, Bin was watching with amusement, a smile playing on the corners of his lips.

            “I knew that,” Dongmin fumbled with the card, just managing not to drop it, and opened the door successfully. “You can shower first,” he declared, throwing himself face down onto one of the beds. Leave me to die of embarrassment in peace while you shower, and please thoroughly wash all traces of my mouth from your neck. “Don’t take too long, though,” Dongmin spoke into the pillow.

            A hand was petting his hair. Dongmin had almost fallen asleep, and he opened his eyes to see Bin sitting at the edge of his bed. Wearing only a towel. Dongmin had never woken up so fast, madly flailing to put some distance between himself and this ethereal being, only to end up dropping off the other side of the bed with a yell.

            “I’m fine,” Dongmin raised a hand in a thumbs-up, holding it over the edge of the bed. He decided he should really just stay on the ground for a while, since there was no chance of falling a second time, but his plans were interrupted by Bin leaning over him curiously.

            “You should be more careful, you know,” the other boy said, reaching an arm out to help Dongmin up. “Go shower and get dressed,” Bin suggested. Really? He’s going to tell me to get dressed?

            “Yeah, thanks,” Dongmin nodded, as he tried not to stare at the chiseled lines of Bin’s torso. “You should, um, also get dressed. Before you catch a cold.” More like before Dongmin could faint. He made his way into the bathroom, stumbling only twice.

            Jinwoo was grabbing onto Myungjun, who was falling (read: being pushed) off of Moonbin’s bed. A screaming Sanha was standing on said bed, with an equally screaming Minhyuk wrapped around the tall boy’s leg. Dongmin was being pulled by Sanha and Myungjun, wondering how they’d ended up like this, and Bin was filming the whole thing.

            The screaming ceased and Myungjun landed on the ground with an oof when a knock sounded at the door. Bin, being the closest, went to open it.

            “What are you doing?” Wooseok inquired, peeking in. “Actually, don’t answer that. It’s time for everyone to go back to their own rooms,” he squinted at the strange scenario in front of him. It had started out as a game of Cards Against Humanity, and ended like this as they argued over whether or not Sanha should be kept innocent.

            After saying goodnight to everyone, Dongmin and Bin were left alone in their room once more. It suddenly seemed too quiet without the others.

            Dongmin still hadn’t fully recovered from the incident in the elevator, and dinner hadn’t helped, either. This was the first time Dongmin had ever seen Bin wearing anything other than his uniform or sports attire. The other was wearing black skinny jeans, an oversized blue hoodie, and glasses. Dongmin didn’t even know the other wore glasses until today. Over dinner, he’d found Bin so unbearably cute with his slight sweater paws, hair still damp from showering, that he choked on the noodles he’d ordered more times than he would like to admit. Dongmin wasn’t sure how he was supposed to last through a whole weekend like this.

            “Let’s go to bed, we have an early morning,” suggested Bin.

            “Okay,” Dongmin nodded, and went to put on his pajamas, which consisted of a black tank top and a minion print bottom. By the time he came out of the bathroom, Bin was already under the blanket with only his hair poking out the top. Dongmin switched off the light, whispering a goodnight to the other boy.

 

            In the middle of the night, Dongmin woke up to the sound of something dropping followed by a sharply whispered ow. He sat up with a start and saw a bright light, and Bin rubbing his forehead.

            “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

            “What happened?” Dongmin asked, looking around in confusion.

            “I dropped my phone on my face,” Bin groaned and off the bed to pick the device up from the floor.

            “Oh,” said Dongmin, as he saw Bin sliding out from under his blanket. It wasn’t so much an acknowledgement of what the other had said, rather a reaction at the fact that apparently, Bin slept without a shirt. “Why are you still up?”

            “Bad dream,” Bin mumbled, already disappearing back into his blanket.

            “Do you want to talk about it?”

            “Maybe tomorrow. Go back to sleep, yeah?”

            “Bin, wake up, it’s time for breakfast,” Dongmin frantically shook the other boy’s shoulder. So far, he’d received two pillows to the face, a bite to his arm, and a screech that his hands were freezing.

            “Don’t wanna,” Bin slid an arm out to fend off the incoming morning alarm call in the form of Dongmin.

            “We’re going to be late, hurry up,” now desperate, Dongmin grabbed Bin’s arm. He braced himself for what he was about to see and with his other hand, threw the blanket aside. “Let’s go,” he began to forcefully drag Bin off the bed. Even when Bin had landed on the floor, he still refused to function. Dongmin was questioning how the other ever made it to school on time.

            Ten minutes later, the pair was down in the main floor of the hotel, having found the team who were all in varying states of dressed. Bin slid into his seat beside Dongmin, carrying a plate piled dangerously high with a stack of pancakes and fruit.

            “This is so good,” Bin exclaimed, waving a fork uncomfortably close to Dongmin’s face.

            “If you’d woken up earlier, you’d be able to eat more,” commented Dongmin.

            “Don’t encourage him, trust me,” Minhyuk interjected. “Bin, don’t eat so fast. Remember what happened last time?”

            “The food was so delicious, I can’t believe my true love betrayed me that way,” still, Bin stuffed another pancake in his mouth.

            “I guess your true love doesn’t love you back,” Minhyuk laughed.

            “Excuse you Minhyuk, how dare you speak to your captain that way?”

            “Whatever, I can say what I want, since I can give all my sets to Dongmin or Myungjun,” teasing right back, the younger threw a grape at Bin. “Let’s go before Wooseok kills us for being late.”

            Moonbin, Dongmin had noticed, was a completely different person when he was on the court. Dongmin saw it the first time he’d laid eyes on Bin, how the other glowed when he played. The smile after each point won, words of encouragement for each point lost. He was so intense and bright that it lent him an untouchable aura. When Bin had pulled the other five on the court into a hug after winning the match, Dongmin was right beside him, nearly blinded by the brilliance. Dongmin came out of the embrace fully expecting traces of light to be lingering on his own hands.

            Perhaps it was for this reason that Dongmin was often taken by surprise at how normal the other boy was, invincibility fading the second a game was over. It wasn’t that he had stopped glowing, no. He still glowed, like a hopeful rising sun at the start of a beautiful day. Soft and vulnerable, fighting against the lingering darkness. It was all Dongmin could see for the past three months now.

            And yet, Bin didn’t seem to notice it, the effect his radiance had on Dongmin. That evening, the team had taken full advantage of their trip to the coast. Despite the November sea and freezing air, everyone went out to the beach after dinner, all puffy coats and bright smiles. Dongmin had been running around with Minhyuk, picking up a few shells while Sanha did various bird impressions. He found a particularly pretty one and was about to show Minhyuk when he noticed Bin standing alone farther down the shoreline.

            “Bin? Come join us,” Dongmin said.

            “Hmm?” The other boy turned, surprised by Dongmin’s approach. He was looking at something on his phone, but quickly put it away when Dongmin arrived. It was nearly dark now, the final rays clinging onto the surface of the ocean.

            “Come join us,” Dongmin repeated. The other boy looked strangely distant again.

            “Right. What are you guys doing?”

            “Well, Minhyuk and I are looking for shells. I’m not sure exactly what Sanha is trying to accomplish.” Suddenly, Dongmin remembered the one he still held, small and satiny white, with pink veins running through it. “Here, look at this one I found, you can have it,” he offered shyly.

            “It’s really pretty, thank you,” Bin smiled as he turned the shell over, and placed it in his jacket pocket.

            “Do you want to find some more? We can look for them together.”

            “Um,” Bin looked away again. “I’m a bit tired, sorry. I think I’ll go back to the hotel. I’ll see you later,” waving, Bin went towards the others to tell them he’d be heading back. Dongmin watched Bin laugh at Sanha’s imitation of a seagull, watched him indulge Myungjun in a brief piggyback ride.

            “Yeah, see you later,” words said too late, carried away by the seaside wind.

            The sun disappeared from the horizon.

            His friendship with Bin felt like the breaking of the waves. Every time he thought he was close, the shore kept itself just out of reach.

            It was around two in the morning, and Dongmin was awake. He’d been drifting in and out of sleep for the past three hours, each time waking to the thought of Bin. A sharp gasp and a shuffling of blankets sounded next to him. Dongmin looked over and saw stripes of moonlight illuminating Bin’s pale body sitting up. A closer look, and he could see the faint glistening of tears on the others’ cheeks. Bin raked his fingers through his messy hair and silently brushed the tears from his eyes.

            “Again?” Dongmin whispered. He wasn’t sure if the other boy heard him, as there was no response, and Dongmin let it go, drifting back to sleep.

            “Yeah,” Bin sighed, a full minute later. “Did I wake you?”

            “No, I was already awake. Do you want to talk about it?” The same question as the night before.

            “Maybe tomorrow.” And in reply, the same answer.

            Then, after another hour had passed, Bin spoke again.

            “Dongmin? Are you still awake?”

            “I am,” Dongmin turned so he could look at Bin. He pushed himself up onto an elbow, wanting to be able to stay awake for whatever Bin had to say.

            “Oh,” Bin replied, staring at the ceiling. Dongmin saw him open his mouth to try and start a sentence several times, but nothing came out.

            “Take your time,” Dongmin said. He didn’t want to rush Bin into anything.

            “Do you…do you ever wonder if you’re not good enough?”

            “All the time. Why do you ask? Do you?” I hope he doesn’t.

            “But why? You’re so good at everything.”

            This was something Dongmin had heard many times before. Always top of the class, there wasn’t anything he did that he didn’t do well. The praise had been flattering in the beginning. By now, it had nearly lost its meaning. But coming from Bin, whose gentle voice sounded so uncertain in the dark blue of night, Dongmin felt like he was lifted above the clouds.

            “It’s…I don’t know. At first it was nice, being recognized for what I did. But now it feels like an expectation, like everyone forgot that I worked hard to get here, too. If I score perfect on my test again, it’s ‘of course you did, you’re so smart,’ and not ‘congratulations, you must have studied a lot.’ I used to like trying new things. Then I thought it was pointless even if I liked it, if I couldn’t be the best at it, what was the point? I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

            “So I stopped trying. I stayed doing what I was comfortable with, things I knew I could be good at. That’s why it seems like I’m good at everything, I’ve become too afraid to do anything else,” Dongmin admitted. He couldn’t believe this was the way he’d tell someone this for the first time, at two in the morning in a small hotel by the water. There was something about the late hour, making it easier to share things Dongmin thought he’d never tell.

            “I don’t think you have to be afraid,” Bin replied after a moment. “But even if you are, you should do what makes you happy, you know?”

            “Do you? Do what makes you happy, I mean,” because I don’t think you do.

            “It seems like there’s some things, no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be good enough. Take chemistry for example. Honestly, I can put a normal amount of effort into any other class and I’ll get the results I want. This, on the other hand, I stay up every night, trying to do better, but I can never do it. And I…haven’t been able to focus in class lately. So that doesn’t help, either. But, as for your question, the answer is no,” Bin sighed quietly. “I only do what I have to.”

            “Bin…I wish you’d told me sooner.” If he’d known, Dongmin would have gladly written every lab report himself, if only to give Bin more time to rest.

            “Me, too.”

            A few hours later, when Dongmin woke, Bin was already gone.

            Minhyuk, Dongmin, and Sanha were gathered around the results chart, griping over the updated matchups for the last day.

            “So, if we win this game, I think we’ll be facing SVT in finals, since they’ll probably win their round,” Minhyuk pointed to the lines on the chart.

            “And if we lose, we’re against BTS for third, most likely. I heard they’ve gotten really strong lately,” added Dongmin.

            “We’re going to die!” Sanha yelled, then walked over to the corner where the rest of the team was sitting, flopping down onto the ground.

            In the end, they placed fourth after a painfully close match with BTS. Wooseok gathered the group briefly to go over points for improvement, then sent everyone off to get changed for a surprise.

            Bin was quiet on the way back up to their room, and as soon as they entered, he sat on the edge of his bed and sighed. After the previous night, Dongmin had a pretty good idea what the other was thinking.

            “Hey,” Dongmin sat down beside Bin, about to take his hand, then deciding against it and opting for an awkward shoulder pat instead. “It’s not your fault we lost, you did your best.”

            “I don’t know, it feels like I could have led everyone better…motivated them more. It’s always the third day that’s the hardest.” It was true that the last day was difficult, everyone tired from already having played six, seven full games over two days.

            “Bin, don’t say that. You’re already the best captain, everyone really respects and looks up to you. They all see how hard you work. And I see how hard you work, what you put into every practice, and all the extra time you spend outside of it.”

            “I…thanks, Dongmin.”

            Bin smiled as he watched Dongmin wave his hands around in the car, talking animatedly to Minhyuk about doing a song together. They were on the way to a karaoke place, Wooseok claiming it would be good for the team to go out and do something fun together.

            As it turned out, Wooseok was capable of having fun. The team had pushed the coach into singing a few songs of his own, and soon enough, he was joining in with the rest of them. Mr. Han convinced Wooseok into singing a duet together of “Love is an Open Door” from Frozen. The duo did an excellent job of it, questionable English and all.

            “Bin! Come do the next one with Dongmin and I,” Minhyuk tugged at his sleeve, Cheshire grin beaming.

            “Alright,” he nodded, and the younger jumped up in delight. The others passed the microphones along as Minhyuk picked up the remote to select a song.

            “Oh, Dongmin is really good at this one,” said Minhyuk, choosing before Bin could see what it was. But as soon as it started playing, he recognized it. In that moment, he wondered if Dongmin had ever considered killing Minhyuk.

            These lyrics, seriously. It was a song by a popular band, ASTRO, about wanting to confess to the one you like.

            “I won’t talk for long but it’s not him, why do you get attracted to bad boys?” Dongmin started, and Bin was a bit surprised at how good the other sounded.

“So your heart won’t hurt, so tears won’t fall from your pretty eyes, I’ll kiss you on your red cheeks. Starting from today…”

            “…Wanna be mine?” Every day since I met you.

            During the entire rap section, which Minhyuk was taking care of beautifully, Bin kept flickering his gaze to Dongmin. They were sitting at opposite ends of the U-shaped bench, and Bin always found Dongmin looking back at him.

            “Because you believed in me, I’ll promise you. I like you, can you hear my heart?” As they sang the closing lines together, Bin realized he was standing, and Dongmin was standing, and they were in front of each other. The music ended. Bin felt electrified.

            “Wow,” a voice spoke through the silence. Bin couldn’t tell who it was, his heart was jumping too loudly. He tore his gaze away from Dongmin, who looked slightly terrified, and scanned the rest of the room. Everyone was staring at them. Beside him, Bin registered Dongmin shuffling awkwardly back to his seat.

            “I told you, Dongmin’s really good,” Minhyuk finally said, as the rest of the team burst into applause. Bin returned to his seat as well, Myungjun clapping him on the back and saying that Bin was almost as good as he was. He couldn’t even hear anything, and spent the rest of the evening unable to see anything but Dongmin across the room.

            “Baby, I was a fool,” Sanha was up now.

            …really?

 

            Later that night, the team was crowded into Myungjun and Jinwoo’s room. The two eldest had snuck along some alcohol, and now everyone was drinking. Myungjun was beside him, telling a story about the time Jinwoo picked up a stray cat and brought it to school. But Bin wasn’t listening. He was watching Dongmin laugh over a video Minhyuk was playing. His eyes were so sparkly, and the sound of his voice could save lives, Bin thought. Just then, Dongmin looked at him with those sparkly, sparkly eyes, and Bin looked away, trying to sip his drink as casually as possible.

            Another drink later, and Wooseok was knocking at the door.

            “Whatever you guys are doing in there that you shouldn’t be, put it away so I can say I didn’t see it,” Wooseok called. Everyone quickly hid their drinks under beds and behind curtains, before Dongmin, the least drunk out of the lot, opened the door.

            “Yes?”

            “Time to go back to your rooms,” Wooseok said. “And remember, you all have class tomorrow,” he narrowed his eyes to peer past Dongmin at the rest of the team.

            Bin went over and latched himself onto Dongmin all the way to their room.

“Dongminnie,” Bin said and grasped the other boy’s arm as he jumped onto his own bed.

            “Yeah, Binnie?” His heart was doing somersaults at the nickname, but he forced it aside. Dongmin was looking at him questioningly, a soft smile on his lips.

            “Come here,” Bin pulled, and Dongmin fell down on top of him.

            “Why?” Dongmin squeaked. God, he was so cute.

            Bin didn’t reply. Instead, he pulled the blanket over both of them and wrapped his arms around Dongmin.

            “Bin, you’re drunk,” Dongmin tried to pry Bin’s arms off of him, but Bin was stronger.

            “Maybe.” Not in the slightest. Bin had two drinks, enough that he could believably pass himself off as being tipsy, but he knew how much he could drink. There was no way he’d ever trust himself to be drunk around Dongmin and ruin all the work he’d put into keeping the other away. “Just stay with me tonight, please?” He smiled into Dongmin’s neck, hoping the other would dismiss this as the alcohol, not his heart.

            “I... If you’re sure.”

            “Of course I’m sure, Dongminnie!”

            “Um, okay then,” Bin bit his lip as the other hesitantly slipped an arm around him in return.

            This feeling of Dongmin holding him. The scent of his cologne, still there after a long day, the scent of him filling Bin’s nostrils. Seeing the other’s arm around him, that it wasn’t just his imagination. He wanted to bottle up this feeling and hold onto it forever. I wish this could be real, Bin thought, closing his eyes at last. Just this once, let me pretend I can have you. And for the first time in well over a year, he slept perfectly through the night.

Chapter Text

 

december.

            At first, he had been like delicate roses. Eye-catching and pretty, but easy enough to dismiss. That late August evening, out in the park, Bin saw him.

            “It’s been a while,” said the boy Sungjun was holding onto. Whoever he was, he looked as warm as the summer breeze. Bin tried to take a closer look without being obvious. When he swept his eyes over the stranger, all the stars he saw in the other’s eyes came crashing into his heart.

            He pretended he hadn’t noticed.

            Three weeks later, Bin thought he’d pushed all thoughts of a soft summer rose out of his mind. It only took one afternoon to prove him wrong.

            Bin was warming up with Sanha. Though the other looked like he was struggling to get his long limbs under control, Bin could tell he had talent. Too caught up in observing Sanha’s posture, he accidentally dropped the ball a bit short. Sanha reached forward, and…

“            Ohmygod I am so sorry are you okay I didn’t mean to…” Suddenly the ball was nowhere to be seen, and Sanha had a panicked looked on his face. Bin turned to see what he assumed was their ball next to a boy who looked quite dazed. Out of all the people Sanha could have possibly hit in the face, it had to be him. Bin ran over to retrieve the ball, but by the time he got there, the other was already halfway to picking it up. Quickly, Bin shot out an arm.

            “Don’t worry, I got it,” he said, and ended up looking the other straight in his starry, starry eyes.

            A few moments later, Bin found out the boy’s name was Dongmin. On his way back to Sanha, he turned the sound over in his mouth, hating the way it fell so easily from his lips.

            No, he’d thought, I can’t afford to be distracted.

            Bin was unbelievably bad at chemistry labs. One time, he’d ended up with his hand in a full beaker. He didn’t know how it happened, but thankfully it wasn’t anything strong. Being with Dongmin all class wasn’t making it any easier to focus, either. After a particularly disastrous titration, he watched in amazement as Dongmin smiled his way out of the lab. And just like that, every bit of the hopeful tulips that Dongmin looked like, the ones that Bin had worked so hard to uproot at each appearance, all of them came back to life.

            “Bin? What are you still doing here?” The familiar sound of Dongmin’s voice floated through his thoughts.

            Had he been here long? After chemistry class that afternoon, Dongmin asked him how he was doing so well in chemistry. Bin insisted that he was just bad at labs. It was more than that. He was, in fact, awful at the subject as a whole. Last year, his grade had come dangerously close to being low enough to warrant removal from the team. Bin couldn’t risk that, so he’d resorted to other methods, making deals with his classmates he wasn’t proud of. But he needed to stay on the team, no matter what. Stupid Dongmin and his perfect grades.

            “I must have lost track of time,” he lied. “Wanted to clear my head.”

            “Is everything okay?”

            Why do you have to go and care? Please, don’t care about me.

            Bin had really hoped Dongmin would be unlikeable. It would have made it so much easier to push him away. At first, he’d tried simply avoiding Dongmin when possible, but the other had been surprisingly persistent.

            “It’s best if…if we don’t spend any more time together than necessary.” At the time, he wanted to hurt Dongmin. Bin thought it would be easier than stopping himself.

            “Oh, I see.”

            It seemed that lately, he’d spent a lot of time watching Dongmin turn away.

            Yet every day for weeks after, Dongmin tried to greet him in the hallways. The guilt was unbearable. Most days, he couldn’t even bring himself to wave back. He slept even worse than usual, and one day, when he finally had the will to look at Dongmin again, it looked like the other was more affected than Bin had intended. Did…I do this to him? God, what kind of person are you? You don’t even deserve him.

            Halfway through November, Bin hated himself more than ever. As always, though, he had appearances to keep up. What would everyone think if they found out the cheerful image he’d created for himself was fake? If they knew when he wasn’t being watched, he spent his time drifting at the bottom of endless oceans? So still, he perfected his smile, joked around with his teammates, and kept Dongmin at arm’s length.

            For a long time now, Bin thought he had to keep this part of himself from everyone. That talking about it might lead to accepting it, and he’d only be an annoyance to everyone else. He’d been doing a fine job of it until now, but then Dongmin came, seeing straight through him. And then the more Bin tried to hide it, it seemed it only became easier for Dongmin to tell something was wrong.

            Maybe it was because he was so, so tired. Or maybe it was because the girl he usually copied off of wasn’t there, so he’d gotten sloppy in sneaking the open-ended concept questions off the student in front of him, hadn’t been careful enough in rewriting it. And Bin, no matter how desperate he may have been, refused to even think about copying off of Dongmin. He’d made agreements with other students, it was easy enough with his status.

            Bin hated running lines. He did it anyway, over and over, because the burning in his lungs was painful enough to make him forget about everything else. And he needed to forget, to pretend this wasn’t the only thing he had.

            “Bin, stop,” behind him, he heard Dongmin come in. Bin didn’t know why the other would stop to watch him for a few minutes every night. Dongmin could do so much better than waste time on him.

            “No. What do you want?”

            “Stop doing this to yourself. Stop hiding from us.”

            Bin couldn’t stop. Every once in a while, he found himself being pulled too close, and each time he had to remind himself that he couldn’t do this.

            “You don’t have to keep pretending. It’s just me.” Why did Dongmin have to be like this? He didn’t know. He couldn’t know.

            Bin only remembered falling to the ground messily, and Dongmin staying with him the whole time.

            At last, the other had become like resilient wildflowers, coming back each time no matter how hard he tried to keep them away. And then Bin had made simultaneously the best and worst choice of his life.

            Bin woke up holding something warm, and sighed happily before realizing what he’d done. His eyes flew open and he sat up, untangling himself from Dongmin. Oh.

            “Bin?”

            “Uh, good morning…”

            Dongmin sat up beside him, rubbing his eyes and smoothing down tufts of hair. It hurt to look at him. Dongmin was beautiful.

            “Did you sleep well?” Dongmin asked. The second thing he’d spoken that day, and it was asking about Bin.

            But with each second he was awake, Bin was feeling more regret. “Dongmin, um…can we pretend this never happened? I guess I was a bit tipsy. Sorry.” Pretending it never happened, Bin thought, wasn’t as much of a stretch as pretending it could be real.

            “Right, no problem.” Dongmin’s voice was even, but Bin could see his expression drop as the other wasted no time throwing himself out of bed. At least he hadn’t fallen this time.

 

            Christmas marked precisely a week after the last time Bin spoke to Dongmin. Each day, he’d tried to text him, but could never bring himself to do it. It would only lead to bringing Dongmin further into his life, and then he would never want to talk to Bin again. Bin would rather convince himself he was okay with the way things were than to risk losing the other completely.

 

[to: minnie !!]

hey, sorry for pretending to be drunk, dragging you into my bed, and clinging to you all night

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

[to: minnie !!]

hey, sorry for spending the past four months pushing you away, I swear it’s not you

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

[to: minnie !!]

hey, sorry for all those times I let myself get too close to you before realizing I can’t contribute anything to your life except hurting you, probably

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

[to: minnie !!]

hey, sorry I’m so pathetic.

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

 [to: minnie !!]

I don’t deserve to be friends with you.

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

[to: minnie !!]

fuck.

[delete text without sending? yes/no]

[message deleted.]

[to: minnie !!]

merry christmas

[12:49pm]

 

            A minute later, Bin’s phone was ringing.

            “Hey, Dongmin,” Bin answered as casually as possible, doing his best to not sound like he hadn’t left his room in a week.

            “Bin, you’re alive!” Barely.

            “Ah, yeah, sorry…”

            “Um, anyway, Merry Christmas to you too! Have you been doing anything interesting over the break?” Bin was sure the sound of Dongmin’s voice could convince flowers to grow out of his speakers.

            “Not really,” Bin spun around in his desk chair. “How about you?”

            “Me neither,” Dongmin said. From the other end of the line, Bin could hear festive music playing. “Actually, I – oh, hold on, my mom is trying to talk to me –” Bin heard a few whispers, a panicked what?!, and then silence.

            “Dongmin?”

            “Oh, right, I’m here. Are, um, you doing anything today?”

            “I…no, not really. Why?” He’d already celebrated with his family last night, so he didn’t exactly have any pressing commitments.

            “Well, um, my mom asked if you’d like to come over and have dinner with us. I think she just wants proof that I have friends, and you’re not all just being forced as teammates to associate with me.”

            “Oh.”

            “I-I mean, you don’t have to, but…I’d like to see you, too.”

            “Oh.” Bin didn’t know how he was supposed to feel with this information. Of course, he had an idea of the other boy’s feelings. It wasn’t as if Dongmin was particularly good at being subtle. If he knew he didn’t stand a chance, it would be one thing, but… I shouldn’t be doing this, why am I doing this? “Alright, then.”

            “Really? That’s great! I’ll send you my address. See you soon,” Dongmin said, then added, “it’s cold. Make sure you dress warmly, okay?” Before Bin could think about changing his mind, Dongmin hung up.

            “See you,” he said, speaking into the dial tone.

            Bin had a whole damn garden growing in his heart.

            “I’m glad you could make it,” Dongmin said, the two of them shuffling through the streets, each equipped with a thermos of hot chocolate. His mother had insisted they get out of the house for an hour while she baked more cookies, seeing as the previous ones had disappeared suspiciously fast earlier that afternoon.

            “Me, too,” Bin nodded in agreement. “Hey, Dongmin?”

            “Yeah, Binnie?” Dongmin died a little on the inside. When had he started being brave enough to use that?

            “You’re not mad at me, are you?”

            “Um…I don’t think so, no,” Dongmin gave Bin a questioning look.

            “You don’t think so?” Bin wailed, and Dongmin couldn’t help but laugh. “Stop laughing at me, this is serious!”

            “Fine, sorry,” smoothing his face back out into a neutral expression, Dongmin tried again. “I’m not, though. Did you think I was?”

            “Well, no,” Bin shrank slightly further down into his scarf. “I just thought maybe you should be.”

            “What? Why?”

            “For…everything, I guess. I know I haven’t always been that great these past few months.”

            “Listen, Bin. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but…every time I feel like I’m finally getting closer to you, you’ll suddenly push me away again. So whatever it is you think you have to hide from me, you don’t have to be afraid, okay?” Dongmin said, holding onto Bin’s sleeve, afraid the other would run away again. “Even the fact that you agreed to see me today already makes me happy,” he admitted.

            Dongmin didn’t know what it was that he’d said, but Bin turned and crushed him in a very tight hug. Awkwardly, Dongmin reached up to return the gesture, and was reminded of the last time he was pressed this tightly against Bin. He silently thanked the heavens that Bin was wearing a scarf this time, and the chances of him terribly embarrassing himself again was minimized.

            They stood like that for several moments, until Dongmin truly thought he was going to pass out from lack of oxygen. Not that he would have minded dying that way, surrounded by a glowing angel.

            “Bin, I can’t breathe,” Dongmin finally gasped, flailing an arm slightly.

            “Ah, sorry,” Bin stepped back, and Dongmin could see that the other’s cheeks were flushed. Whether it was from the cold though, Dongmin couldn’t tell. “I…this makes me happy, too. I’m sorry it can’t be like this more often.” A faint, but genuine smile.

            Dongmin was reminded of Bin’s words from a month ago.

            “Do you? Do what makes you happy, I mean.”

            “…no. I only do what I have to.”

            How strange, Dongmin thought. Why won’t he let himself be happy more often?

            Without Bin’s arms around him, Dongmin suddenly felt a lot colder. “Let’s keep walking,” he said, not wanting to freeze.

            A few minutes later, Dongmin stopped ahead of Bin to point out a particularly pretty light arrangement on one of the houses. When he turned around, however, he was smacked straight in the chest with a snowball, and Bin was snickering a few steps away.

            “Oh, it’s on,” Dongmin put down his hot chocolate with a huff. He scooped up a snowball of his own and proceeded to chase Bin down the street. The other was fast, even in the snow. After several shots back and forth, Dongmin was sure there was snow inside his jacket, and he prepared for revenge.

            “Bin! Where did you go? You can’t hide, that’s cheating!” Dongmin had gathered several snowballs, ready to fling at a moment’s notice. “Moonbin, get out here!” He rounded the corner, refusing to give up.

            “I got you!” Bin sprung up from behind a bush, an evil grin on his face.

            “Ahh!” Dongmin screamed. He was easily startled, and this was no exception. Dropping all the snowballs he was carrying, Dongmin stumbled away – but Bin wasn’t done yet. The other boy chased after Dongmin, easily catching up, grabbing his jacket, and proceeding to shove snow down his collar. Dongmin screamed again with everything remotely threatening he could think of. “Bin, I swear, I’m really going to kill you –”

            In his desperate attempt to escape Bin’s clutches, Dongmin tried to run again, only to slip on the snow. He screamed a third time as he went down, landing in a snowdrift on the side of the road. Bin, who was still holding onto Dongmin’s jacket, fell right along with him. When Dongmin opened his eyes, he gasped. Bin was hovering above him, one hand on his chest, wrapped in his jacket. The other was so close, close enough that Dongmin could feel his breath. He could see eyelashes fluttering, crystal air glittering between them, the movement of Bin’s throat as he swallowed.

            At this distance, Dongmin could tell that Bin’s eyes looked hazy. Dongmin sighed softly, and he felt the grip on his jacket tighten, being pulled the tiniest bit closer. Suddenly, he heard Bin’s breathing catch. He watched as Bin’s eyes widened and the other boy stood up quickly, reaching a hand down to help Dongmin up.

            “Th-thanks,” Dongmin stuttered as he was pulled up. What was that?

            “No problem,” replied Bin, still looking somewhat shocked. “Sorry, I…don’t know what came over me,” he mumbled and shook his head before looking at Dongmin again. His previous, dream-like expression was gone.

            “You mean, what possessed you to shove snow into my shirt?” Dongmin shot back, and if it weren’t for the look of relief that passed over Bin’s face, he would have believed he’d imagined the whole thing.

            “I felt like it,” Bin smiled sheepishly.

            “Whatever, let’s head back, I’m going to freeze,” Dongmin groaned and brushed a few flakes out of his hair.

In the snow-covered silence of the streets, they walked. Bin with a scarf wrapped around his neck, and Dongmin with Bin wrapped around his heart.

            It’s always the same. Cold air clawing at his skin, howling through the trees. In the dark, he stumbles over a root. Struggling to stand again, he pushes his way through the branches towering above him, but he can barely see. There’s the sound of an ocean somewhere. In the strange forest, there’s never anyone else. Just him. Shivering, he tries to follow the sound of the water, looking for a way out. Sometimes he doesn’t even make it, stuck winding in the trees until morning. Tonight, he doesn’t know how much later, he stands at the edge of the trees, looking out at a moonlit beach. Above him are countless stars and huge planets which loom impossibly close. The water is black. Inexplicably, he’s drawn to the inky waves. So different from the confinement of the trees, he starts to wade into the water, even though he knows he’ll drown. He starts calling for help, for someone to stop him because he can’t stop himself.

            Something is different.

            There’s someone at his side now, a hand reaching out to him. He looks and sees a boy who looks like he’s made of starlight, all universe eyes and comet hair. Strangely enough, the rest of him looks solid, and he speaks.

            “Bin, wake up,” a voice comes out, but it’s not coming from the starlight boy. It’s surrounding them, everywhere at once, ringing like the cosmos itself.

            His eyes flew open. Bin wasn’t quite sure where he was, an unfamiliar room lit dimly by the warm lights on a Christmas tree.

            “Bin? Are you alright?” Dongmin was looking at him with concern. “You fell asleep after the second movie,” he explained. “I didn’t want to wake you, but then you started saying something about the water being cold and asking for help…”

            “Oh,” Bin said, having recovered from the confusion of waking up in Dongmin’s living room. “It’s a good thing you woke me, then.”

            “This…happens often, doesn’t it?” Bin recalled the three nights they’d shared a room, realizing the chances of him lying his way out of this one was unlikely.

            “A bit. Don’t worry about it,” he admitted. “What time is it?” With a gasp, Bin looked outside the window and saw the moon was out. Even with the sun setting so early in the winter, Bin knew it couldn’t have been early.

            “It’s a bit past one,” Dongmin informed him. “It’s late for you to go home, isn’t it? You could, um, just stay…if you want. My parents wouldn’t mind.”

            Not that he blushed easily, but Bin was glad there was no light in the room.

            “I’ll sleep on the couch, then.” That’s what he’d been doing just now, anyway. Normally, he wouldn’t even have considered it, but he really didn’t feel like walking back through the cold.

            “That won’t be comfortable,” Dongmin said, staring at the ground. “Um, you can have my bed, and I’ll stay here.”

            “I’m not going to kick you out of your own bed,” Bin stated firmly.

            “Then…” Dongmin whispered something Bin couldn’t quite hear, even through the silent room.

            “Hmm?”

            “Or…I said then we can share my bed. I mean, it’s big enough.” Dongmin was slowly inching away from him now.

            “I –” There was something about the offer to share, so different from when Bin had all but forced Dongmin to stay with him. He’d thought that would be the last time. Quickly, he tried to come up with a way to avoid it without the possibility of Dongmin being offended. “But, if I wake up again, you might not sleep well.”

            “Bin, it’s fine, okay? I told you, you don’t need to keep yourself from me.” Illuminated by the warm lights, he saw Dongmin smile faintly. The room became a million times brighter.

            “I’m not,” Bin gave the weakest lie of his existence.

            “Come with me, then.”

            “Fine,” Bin conceded. This is really the last time.

 

            Bin’s heart had been pounding at an incredible rate for the past hour as he lay awake, pressed against the wall. He was afraid to close his eyes again. Next to him, Dongmin was already asleep, the string of lights outside his window casting a myriad of colours onto his face. Bin shifted as quietly as possible so he could look at the other boy, watching his chest rise and fall with even breaths.

            He sat up, gasping for air. Somewhere between the slow blinking lights and the silent snowfall, he’d been pulled into his dark forest of sleep. It felt like there were still branches wrapping around his throat. Bin reached up to pull at the collar of his borrowed shirt, and rubbed a hand across his face. Tears. Not once could Bin remember crying, but it was more often than not that he found himself like this upon waking.

            “Bin?” A whisper, followed by the rustling of blankets.

            “I woke you, didn’t I? Sorry,” Bin whispered back, frustrated at his own inability to sleep. “I should have stayed on the couch,” he sighed and turned his face away. There had to be a limit on the number of times he could reasonably let Dongmin see him crying. Once already felt like too many.

            “No, it’s alright,” Dongmin’s voice was much closer now. He lifted a hand up to Bin’s face, brushing a thumb over his cheek to wipe a stray tear. Bin’s chest shook at the sensation, tensing, and Dongmin quickly retracted his hand. “Ah, s-sorry…”

            Bin continued to look at the wall beside him. Before Dongmin, nobody knew about this. He didn’t know what he was more afraid of: dismissal, or pity. The fact that Dongmin seemed to be doing neither was surprising to him. Still, Bin didn’t want to get anyone, least of all Dongmin, involved in his mess. But the other looked like every lifeline, every chance of a glorious day.

            “You surprised me, that’s all,” Bin said, sounding much steadier than he felt.

            “Can I hug you, then?” Dongmin asked tentatively.

            Not trusting himself to speak, Bin nodded. A pair of warm arms slipped around him and stayed, stayed until he could breathe again, stayed until they were both lying down and watching the snow falling. A silent room, two beating hearts, and an infinity of words that refused to be said.

 

january.

            “Minhyukkie, I don’t know what to do,” Dongmin threw himself back in his seat, staring up at the ceiling, imploring whatever gods were above to send help.

            “Is it about Bin? Actually, doesn’t matter what it’s about – I’m not helping you if you keep calling me that!” Minhyuk grumbled. “And stop…bending, I’m concerned for the state of your neck. Also, it’s attracting attention.”

            Dongmin sat up and glanced around, catching sight of a group of girls in the corner of the shop. As he looked in their direction, they collectively squealed, and Dongmin could practically hear Minhyuk facepalming.

            “I don’t think I can go out with you in public anymore,” the younger boy rolled his eyes. “Anyway, what’s going on?” Dropping the act of exasperation, Minhyuk was reliable as always.

            “Is Bin okay?”

            “What do you mean? Did something happen to him?”

            “No, I mean more like,” Dongmin paused, sipping on his bubble tea as he tried to think of a way to explain. “Does he seem happy to you?”

            “Oh,” Minhyuk blinked, confused. “I guess so…I don’t see why he wouldn’t be. Why do you ask?”

            “Really?” It was sometime in October that Dongmin had begun to suspect something was wrong. What he couldn’t understand now was how Minhyuk, who’d known Bin for much longer, hadn’t noticed. “Has he always been like this, then?”

            “Like what?” Minhyuk looked more confused, and Dongmin sighed.

            “Never mind,” said Dongmin. He was quickly running out of questions he could ask about this without giving too much away. Whatever it was that Bin didn’t want everyone to know, Dongmin wouldn’t be the one to ruin it for him. “Then…have you ever shared a room with him?”

            “What? Oh my god, Dongmin, are you sleeping wi –”

            “No!” Dongmin exclaimed as he nearly choked on a delicious tapioca pearl. “I-I meant something like at a tournament or something! Seriously, why would you think that,” he lamented. Minhyuk gave him a disbelieving look, and Dongmin questioned the possibility of using the remainder of his drink to drown himself.

            “I haven’t, I think he usually rooms with Jinwoo,” Minhyuk explained through his laughter. “Until last time, when it was you,” the other boy grinned. Dongmin wanted to throw his cup at Minhyuk, but it would be too much of a waste.

            “Please, we all know it was because you wanted to stay with Sanha.” At this, Minhyuk immediately stopped laughing and went back to his own drink quietly. “But the two deepest sleepers and the hardest to wake, it’s amazing they were able to get up in time for the morning games!” The two deepest sleepers…oh. Of course Bin would want to share with Jinwoo, then.

            “Yeah, I think it took a few minutes of Wooseok yelling outside their door,” Minhyuk chucked. “But now that you mention it, it seems like he’s had to try harder than usual to focus in practice lately. Everything else has been as usual though, so I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about.”

            “Alright,” Dongmin nodded, more certain than ever that he should, in fact, be worried. Why does nobody know? “Thanks, Minhyuk.”

            “No problem. Should we get going soon? There’s school tomorrow.”

            “Don’t remind me. What’s the point of giving us time off if we only have more exams coming up?” Dongmin felt like he’d just finished spending almost his whole break studying, without the opportunity to actually take a break. As usual, it was over too soon. “I’ll see you, then.”

 

[minnie !!]

See you tomorrow!

[read 5:40pm]

[Bin]

yeah, see you c:

[5:42pm]

Chapter Text

            “Hey, Dongmin?” Bin whispered without looking up from his workbook.

            “Please, no,” Dongmin groaned internally, bracing himself for what was coming. They were in the library, cramming the contents of chemistry intro their minds as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, for the past hour, Bin had been telling the worst jokes.

            “Did you hear about the man who got cooled to absolute zero?” Bin was already stifling his laughter.

            “Bin, for the sake of all things holy, don’t finish that.”

            “He’s…0K now!”

            Dongmin made a noise between a hiss and a groan, as loudly as he could reasonably do in a library. It wasn’t that he didn’t find them funny, in fact, it was quite the opposite. But he was convinced that at this rate, they were going to be kicked out for being a disturbance. Returning to his own notes, he pinched the bridge of his nose at the million things he needed to know for the exam. Dongmin couldn’t believe Mr. Han had chosen to teach the unit on organic chemistry a week before the final. He could see his autopsy now: Death by Organic Chemistry.

            “Binnie, I think we should take a break. My brain is overflowing,” stated Dongmin.

            “If we leave now, we have enough time to get something to eat before practice,” Bin suggested, and Dongmin chuckled quietly.

            “Of course you’re thinking about food.”

            “We’ve been over this, food is my true love.”

            “I thought that conversation ended with us deciding that your true love doesn’t love you back,” Dongmin teased, packing up his bag. “Where should we go? You choose.”

            “Anything with rice. Let’s go,” Bin marched out of the library promptly, and Dongmin scrambled to follow.

            A couple of weeks prior, Bin finally allowed Dongmin to help him in chemistry. Neither of them had explicitly asked, but it started with a text here and there with a question, and one day it turned into Dongmin walking into the library without Bin leaving him at the door. Dongmin noticed that lately Bin wasn’t so intent anymore on avoiding him outside of class. It wasn’t a major change, but there were one or two days after school started again that Bin asked Dongmin to go get bubble tea with him. Why, exactly, Bin wanted to drink bubble tea in January remained a mystery. Dongmin didn’t question it. If he was being honest, Bin could probably ask him to go skydiving, and Dongmin would still say yes.

            They never talked about what happened a month ago, or the month before that. There were a few times where Dongmin had tried, but he could tell Bin wasn’t ready, so he didn’t push it further. So instead, he always let Bin choose the topic, slowly confirming his impression that the other boy was nowhere near as serious as he looked.

            “Bin, if you eat that entire bowl now, your stomach will hurt during practice,” Dongmin warned as he watched Bin eating at an alarming speed.

            “If this is how I go, then so be it,” said Bin, showing no signs of slowing down.

            “Wooseok is going to kill you if you’re too full to practice,” he tried again.

            “Damn, you’re right,” Bin resigned and lowered his chopsticks. “Actually, if he kills me, I won’t have to take exams!”

            “Bin!” Dongmin exclaimed, though he couldn’t help but nod in agreement. “On second thought, that might even be a better plan.” Death by Organic Chemistry vs. Death by Wooseok. He could see it now, being disintegrated by a glare with the strength of a thousand lasers.

            “That plan might come true if we don’t hurry, I think we’re going to be late unless we run back,” Bin’s eyes widened, turning his phone so Dongmin could see the time. Frantically, Bin pushed his chair back and all but threw his bag at Dongmin. “Take my things and go, I’ll pay and catch up,” he grabbed Dongmin’s arm and directed him towards the door.

            “But –”

            “Do you want to die? It’s fine, you can pay me back later if you really want, just go so at least one of us will survive.”

            Dongmin struggled to pull on his own jacket and bag while holding onto Bin’s as well, and he could hear Bin laughing at the sight. Before he knew it, he was shoved out the door.

            “Tell the team I loved them and that I’m sorry for leaving them like this!” Bin called out behind him.

            Several minutes of stumbling down the sidewalk later, Dongmin had to stop, out of breath and contemplating what series of poor decisions he’d made in his life to end up here. He was too busy panting to hear footsteps approaching behind him. A hand clamped down on his shoulder, he yelled in surprise and dropped Bin’s bag.

            “Wow,” the owner of the dropped bag spoke, “you really do scare easily.”

            Dongmin adjusted his tie sheepishly and bent down to pick up the bag. Bin was faster, always faster, his hand stopping Dongmin’s and picking it up himself. Looking up, Dongmin’s heart beat dangerously faster as he made eye contact with Bin. The other had already undone a button on his shirt and loosened his tie, hair a mess from running. Dongmin breathed in just a little harder at the sight. The situation was strangely familiar, reminding Dongmin of the first time he’d seen Bin up close, five months ago.

            “Did you know,” Bin wheezed, apparently equally as out of breath, “running lines has no effect on the ability to run any distance longer than the length of the court?” As he took back his bag, Bin straightened, reaching out a hand to stop Dongmin from collapsing right on the sidewalk.

            “I guess we’ll have to stop every eighteen metres, then,” replied Dongmin. “But I doubt we have time for that, let’s go,” he grabbed Bin’s arm to get them moving again, agony clearly visible on both their faces.

            After running the sixteen longest blocks of his life, Dongmin stopped outside the door to the gym. He pulled it open, Bin practically falling in behind him, to find their efforts insufficient. The team was gathered in the middle of the gym and eleven heads simultaneously turned to stare at them. Wooseok stopped in the middle of his sentence. Minhyuk looked absolutely mortified. Everyone else’s expressions were in varying states of confusion.

            “Thank you for joining us,” Wooseok commented dryly. “I’d ask you to warm up, but it looks like you two have…already done that.” Behind him, Dongmin saw Minhyuk clutch Sanha’s arm and choke back a laugh. Wooseok looked mildly amused as well, so perhaps they would live to see another day. “Go get changed, and when you come out,” the coach paused to look at his watch, “you were three minutes late, and there’s two of you, so you can each run six sets of lines. Hurry up.”

            In the changeroom, Dongmin and Bin took one look at themselves in the mirror, and turned to each other with horror. They looked messy and disheveled, ties loose and blazers crooked. Both of them had hair sticking up everywhere. At the same time, they realized what the rest of the team must have thought, the two of them running in late together looking like this.

            “D-do we even want to try and explain this isn’t what it looks like?” Dongmin cried, throwing himself against the cool metal of the lockers.

            “That might just make it worse,” Bin followed suit.

            “What are you two still doing in there?” From just outside the changeroom, Wooseok was yelling.

            “No, I think that just made it worse,” groaned Dongmin. How close can I come to expiring before I actually die? Between Wooseok threatening to double their lines if they didn’t get out there right now and avoiding any further awkward conversation topics, Bin and Dongmin got changed in record time.

            On Bin’s birthday, Minhyuk made the terrible decision of suggesting the team go ice skating. Dongmin made the even worse decision, agreeing to go, knowing full well he wasn’t capable of remaining upright on the ice. So there he was, holding onto the boards for dear life, while watching Minhyuk gliding around effortlessly and impressing Sanha.

            “Minhyuk,” he called out feebly. Summoning his friend would also give Dongmin an excellent opportunity to murder him for this, but Dongmin chose to save that for another day. Minhyuk, upon hearing his name, skated over with incredible grace, followed by Sanha. Did everyone else know how to skate?

            “You’re a disaster,” said Minhyuk, giving Dongmin a pitying look.

            “I’m aware, thanks,” Dongmin rolled his eyes. “I need help, please,” he continued, wobbling more by the second.

            “You need so much help,” Minhyuk chuckled and stayed just out of Dongmin’s reach.

            “Hey! You’re lucky I can’t move right now.”

            “Yeah, I know,” Minhyuk reached out a hand to help Dongmin and gestured for Sanha to do the same. With the two of them helping him, Dongmin painfully managed to make it to the middle of the ice. “Maybe you should get Bin to help you instead,” an evil grin appeared on Minhyuk’s face.

            “Definitely no,” Dongmin shook his head violently. It was already too late, Minhyuk and Sanha both letting go of his hands. He resigned to his fate as he could do nothing but watch as Minhyuk sped over to the other side of the rink to find Bin, leaned in to say something and pointed back in his general direction. Dongmin was beginning to regret leaving his house that morning.

            Bin stopped in front of him, a warm smile lighting up his features. It was a wonder the ice underneath the other hadn’t melted, Dongmin thought.

            “I heard you need some help?” And Dongmin could only nod, afraid of what he’d say if he opened his mouth. Bin was looking dangerously cute in his fuzzy toque. “Here,” Bin said, taking Dongmin’s hands in his own. Dongmin was immediately hit with another wave of regret when he realized neither of them were wearing gloves.

            After many, many laps around the rink, Dongmin finally started to be able to move a little more comfortably. He was thankful for the cold air keeping his hands from sweating too much in Bin’s, and providing an excuse for his aggressively burning ears. “Sorry Minhyuk made you help me, I’m sure you’d rather not be spending your time keeping me alive,” Dongmin said apologetically.

            “It’s okay,” Bin replied, “I, uh, actually don’t mind.”

            Dongmin fell straight into Bin’s chest. He instinctively grabbed onto Bin’s arms, and he could feel even through the jacket how toned Bin was. A pair of hands landed on his back, Bin having reached around to hold him up. This is fine, thanks Minhyuk, I’m going to kill you the second I step off this stupid ice. Dongmin regained his balance and let go with a gasp. Bin’s hands were still at his waist, though the other had a look of panic on his face, releasing his hold a moment later.

            “Happy birthday,” Dongmin blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

            “Oh…thanks,” Bin blinked, still looking vaguely terrified. They were still standing the same distance apart, Dongmin physically incapable of moving himself back, and Bin seeming too surprised to shift away. It took a couple of seconds before Dongmin let out the breath he was holding and Bin snapped out of it, warm smile returning. “Are you tired? Do you want to sit down for a bit?”

            Dongmin nodded in agreement. “That’s probably a good idea,” he said, eager to return to not slipping every few seconds. Once Bin led him over to the benches, Dongmin gratefully sat down and loosened his skates a bit. “Do people really do this for fun?” He muttered while briefly considering the possibility that he’d need to have a foot or two amputated after this.

            “If you don’t like skating, you didn’t have to come with us,” Bin pointed out.

            “Bin, how could I not? It’s for you, of course I’d be here.” Dongmin replied shyly.

            “Oh,” out of the corner of his eye, he could see Bin shrug. For a moment, the other boy didn’t say anything else, letting the sound of blades carving the ice fill the space between them. “That’s really nice of you, Dongminnie,” another pause, and then, “you don’t have to be so nice to me all the time.”

            Dongmin turned to look at Bin in surprise, unsure of what to make of his words. “What do you mean?” Bin tilted his head, and Dongmin wanted to scream. Can he maybe just not look so cute? Before the other could either give an answer, or more likely deny one, Minhyuk skated over to ask if they should leave soon. With exams starting in two days, they all agreed it would be best not to stay out too long.

            Everyone gathered again and made their way off the ice. As Dongmin untied his skates, he could hear the shouts of his teammates. Sanha bothering Jinwoo, Myungjun’s laugh, an amused commentary from Minhyuk. He chuckled to himself. No matter what, some things would never change.

            When Dongmin was about to leave for his bus stop, Bin caught his arm. “I’m glad you were here. I…had fun.” Bin’s classic puppy-like smile was back, and he looked genuinely happy. Dongmin would willingly go skating every day for the rest of his life to keep that smile.

            Bin lay in bed, sorting through the cards and gifts from the team. Half of them had pooled their money to buy him a beautiful new pair of court shoes. He’d been using the same pair for so long that the initial jokes about his dying shoes turned into an actual concern that he’d injure himself if he kept playing in them. A while ago, Bin started saving up for a pair, not wanting to ask his parents to spend money he knew they probably didn’t have, so he was beyond thankful for the gift.

            Dongmin’s present was saved for last. Bin picked up the neatly wrapped rectangle and set the card aside. He shook his head and smiled fondly at Dongmin’s choice of wrapping paper, which was, of course, a pattern of minions. Bin couldn’t help but laugh when he peeled back the wrapping paper. Inside was a giant eraser (thankfully not minion shaped) the length of his hand, with a small note on top that read: in case you still need an eraser. He cleared his bed of everything else, making room so he could comfortably read the accompanying card.

To: Binnie

            Happy Birthday! By the time you’re reading this, I’ve probably already said it to you, but a second time is fine, right? ^_^ So, I hope you had a really good day. I want you to be happy every day!! Anyway, I’m glad I got to meet you this year. You make me smile a lot, although you shouldn’t take that as encouragement to make any more bad chemistry puns (please). Hopefully we can continue to be friends, because I really like spending time with you! :)

From,

Dongmin

            There were doodles all over the inside. Stick figures adorned a corner, arrows indicating him and Dongmin together. Beside them stood another figure with devil horns and a label Woosatan next to it. They had a volleyball with too many lines on it in the air between them. He mentally commended the effort, because in all the years of his life, he’d yet to meet a single person who could successfully draw one. Bin found the entire card to be incredibly cute.

            Gently, Bin placed Dongmin’s card and note into the top drawer of his bedside table. It only held one other item: a satiny white seashell with delicate pink lines.

Chapter Text

march.

            The seat next to Dongmin was empty. Bin was usually here by now, and it wasn’t like him to miss school. Most mornings now, they met in the classroom before the bell, just to talk. Dongmin frowned as he thought of the reasons Bin wasn’t here yet. He anxiously watched the hands of the clock, growing more anxious with each passing minute. What if…no. Dongmin wouldn’t let himself go there.

            Five minutes after the bell, the other boy walked in, drenched from the spring rain. Bin bowed a quick apology to the teacher before sliding in next to Dongmin. With a smile, Dongmin glanced up from his notes to offer a brief wave. As Bin smiled back, Dongmin noticed the rain had caused his uniform to cling to his body. It was safe to say that he had a bit of trouble paying attention for the remainder of the class.

            After class, Dongmin offered Bin an extra shirt from his locker. They went to the bathroom so Bin could change, Dongmin leaning outside the stall door, debating if he should ask.

            “Did something happen this morning?” Dongmin ventured after a moment of contemplation.

            “Don’t laugh,” Bin started, “I forgot my umbrella, and halfway to the bus stop it started raining more heavily so I thought maybe I should go back for it. But then I found out I forgot my key too, and by then I missed the bus, so I was umbrella-less and late.”

            And Dongmin did laugh, only partially out of Bin’s misfortune, the rest out of relief. “I was worried,” he admitted. “I thought maybe…something bad happened.” Bin came out of the stall, now wearing Dongmin’s shirt. Dongmin audibly gasped as he took a closer look at the other. “You look really tired, Bin. Are you okay?”

            “I didn’t sleep too well last night,” Bin said, hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure he should be sharing this. Dongmin knew that even just a month ago, he probably wouldn’t have.

            “Was it…?” Dongmin asked, and Bin nodded before he could finish. He felt bad, wishing he could be there when Bin woke in a panic every night.

            It wasn’t until the two of them stopped at Dongmin’s locker that Bin spoke again. “I know you’re probably not gonna listen to me, but you don’t need to worry so much.”

            “I just want to know what’s going on, so I can help you,” Dongmin felt like they had this exact conversation every few weeks. “Stop being so perfunctory with me,” he sighed.

            “Another day, maybe,” Bin shrugged. As expected. “But,” he added, seeing the frustration on Dongmin’s face, “it’s been getting better lately.”

            “You’re not just saying that?”

            “I mean it.”

            Dongmin believed him. Some days were better than others. Bin’s laugh didn’t always sound so sad, so guarded, when they were alone anymore. But other days, he went back to being distant, afraid of letting Dongmin get too close. Thinking back to when they still learning how to talk to each other, Dongmin remembered Bin declaring he wanted nothing to do with him outside of school, and though he knew there was still something wrong and Bin wouldn’t tell him, slowly, slowly, they were getting there.

 

            One morning, Dongmin woke up and saw a text with an ungodly timestamp.

 

[Bin]

are you there?

[4:37am]

[minnie !!]

Bin? Are you alright?

[read 7:30am]

[Bin]

everything is fine!

[7:39am]

[minnie !!]

You couldn’t fall back asleep?

[read 7:41am]

[Bin]

…yeah ://

[7:42am]

            He started leaving his notifications on at night after that.

            There were a great number of places Dongmin would have rather been on a Saturday night. Yet here he was, about to go deaf from the bass strong enough to feel in his chest, wondering for the millionth time why he ever listened anytime Minhyuk had a great idea, really! However, just like every other time, it was because of Bin. Because he was going to be here. Because Dongmin would do nearly anything to see him, be near him, even if it meant suffering through the house party Myungjun decided to throw. He stuck to Minhyuk’s side as he looked through the crowd, trying to convince himself his effort of going out and looking nice had been worth it.

            But god, he hated how desperate he sounded when he leaned in to shout in Minhyuk’s ear, “Minhyukkie, are you sure he’s here?” The younger boy nodded in response. Dongmin was starting to think this was another one of Minhyuk’s ploys to set the two of them up. What’s the point, he doesn’t even like you that way at all.

            Dongmin was starting to seriously question his sanity two hours later, when he still couldn’t find Bin. He wanted nothing more than to go home so he could at least pine away in silence but couldn’t let go of the sliver of hope he had that Bin was somewhere in this impressively large house. Minhyuk had long been lost to Sanha and the dance floor. Dongmin located Myungjun, who was flushed and laughing a little too loudly with Jinwoo in the corner, shouting over the music several times until the elder said something resembling go upstairs. It took the better part of the next ten minutes for Dongmin to force his way back through the crowd and drag himself up to the next floor. It was somewhat quieter up here, but his ears were still ringing from the music telling him to party party like ladi dadi. Unable to discern whether his heart was beating so fast out of anticipation of seeing Bin, or if it was due to the mysterious drink with an unknown alcohol content, Dongmin took a moment to locate the bathroom and splash water over his face.

            A full search of the floor revealed several hilarious pictures of a younger Myungjun, which Dongmin enthusiastically snapped away at with his phone, but no Bin. He was halfway up the next flight of stairs and about to give up. Then, he heard it. Bin’s voice, coming from the floor above. Dongmin was suddenly filled with vigour, the past hours forgotten as he was reminded why he was here in the first place. He ran up the remaining steps and followed the light sound of laughter. There was nobody else up here, the night nearly peaceful. Nearly. The balcony door was open and he broke into a smile as he walked towards it, trying to contain his excitement. Finally, finally, finally.

            “Binnie, I was l –”

            I was looking for you, but I guess you were too busy over here.

            Dongmin had been right. It was Bin up here. It was Bin, Bin, who had a girl pressed against the wall, hands in her hair and around her waist. It was Bin that didn’t see Dongmin come out, didn’t see him because he was kissing some girl.

            Oh.

            Oh.

            “Oh.” Dongmin dropped the cup he was holding, feeling so, so stupid when Bin pulled away at the sound, lips red, eyes glossy.

            “Dongmin?” No, this couldn’t be happening. The pounding in his chest was louder than the music.

            How could you.

            He clapped a hand over his mouth and ran back inside, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach. Dongmin ran down one, two flights of stairs, stumbling back onto the main floor, everything just as it was, but he couldn’t hear the music anymore. He could barely see, either, and it wasn’t until he threw himself out the front door and choked on the cold air that he realized no, there was nothing wrong with his eyesight, he was just crying. Stop crying. Stop it. It’s not like you were together, or ever could have been, or ever will be.

            The door slammed again behind him when he was crouched halfway down the driveway, sobbing against an expensive car.

            “Dongmin, Dongminnie, what happened?” A voice he registered as belonging to Minhyuk spoke, and he felt hands gripping his shoulders. Minhyuk, if it weren’t for him, Dongmin wouldn’t even be here, and he was angry, and –

            “Don’t touch me!”

            “What’s wrong, Dongmin? Did someone hurt you?” I guess you could put it that way.

            “J-just go away Minhyuk, if you hadn’t brought me here, this n-never would have happened,” Dongmin yelled between sharp breaths.

            “But what happened? Tell me,” Minhyuk reached a hand to try and pat Dongmin, only for it to be swatted away.

            “Why don’t you just go back to Sanha?”

            “What? Is that what this is about? I’m s –”

            “No!”

            “Then what is it?”

            “I-it’s, I saw,” Dongmin started, only for his words to be snatched away as another wave of sobs shook his chest. He fell against the car again, relishing in the feeling of the cold against his dizzy body.

            “Let’s go home, yeah?” Minhyuk said, waiting patiently until the tears had slowed, and Dongmin looked like he could reasonably stand. Dongmin nodded numbly and reluctantly allowed Minhyuk to help him up. Through his tears, he saw Minhyuk looking up at something behind them. Dongmin followed the other’s line of sight to see a figure standing on the third-floor balcony.

            Dongmin pretended nothing had happened. After all, Bin could kiss whoever he wanted. This was what he told himself, and it was what he told Bin the next week.

            “Look, about the other night,” Bin said, one afternoon after class. Dongmin walked a little faster. There was almost nothing he’d rather discuss less.

            “What night? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied and silently begged every deity he could think of to spare him.

            “You know, on Saturday?”

            “Saturday, nope, can’t say I do,” Dongmin kept staring straight ahead.

            “Seriously, Dongmin, I know you weren’t so drunk you can’t remember,” Bin deadpanned.

            Dongmin kept walking, waiting until they reached a quiet corner in the back courtyard, before he looked at Bin. “What is it, then?”

            “I didn’t know you’d be there.”

            “Like that would have changed anything,” Dongmin scoffed, kicking at a stray pebble. How nice it must be, to be a pebble and not have feelings.

            “Did…does it bother you?” Does it bother me that you only seem to have a problem with letting me get close to you?

            “Why would I care who you kiss?”

            “If you don’t, then why are you avoiding me?” Because, Bin. It hurts to be near you sometimes.

            “I’m not.”

            “You are.” You’re right.

            “It’s whatever.” Dongmin was longing for this conversation to be over.

            Bin frowned. “Are we okay, then?” He lifted his hand as if to touch Dongmin’s arm, but pulled back. I saw that, thanks.

            “We’re great,” Dongmin smiled weakly. Bin smiled back and just like that, Dongmin was gone again.

            We’re great.

Chapter Text

 

[Bin]

happy birthday!! meet me at your locker before next class? I have something for you!

[10:46am]

 

            “Minhyuk! Minhyukkie, oh my god, look at this!” Dongmin all but screamed as he grabbed Minhyuk’s arm and shoved his phone for the other to read. “What do you think this means?”

            “I think,” Minhyuk said slowly, staring at Dongmin like he was crazy, which was potentially true. “It means he wished you a happy birthday, and he wants you to meet him at your locker before class, because he has something for you.”

            Dongmin glared at Minhyuk and raised his hand threateningly, then dropped it with a sigh. “Do I look okay?”

            “Would you just go?” Minhyuk grumbled, pushing Dongmin rather forcefully in the correct direction.

 

            As expected, Bin was standing in front of his locker, waving when he saw Dongmin approach. “Happy birthday, Minnie.”

            “Thanks,” Dongmin fought to retain whatever was left of his composure.

            “Open this later, okay?” Bin smiled and presented a bag, overflowing with colourful tissue paper. As Dongmin took it from him, he heard something rattling quietly inside.

            Thanking Bin again, Dongmin placed the gift in his locker. “Let’s go to class?”

            “Do we have to?” Bin pouted. He pouted. Dongmin decided he needed to stop by the nearest governing office after class, because it shouldn’t have been legal.

            “Of course we have to, Bin, what are you talking about?”

            “Couldn’t we just,” he said, pout replaced by a mischievous grin, “not?”

            “Bin! We are not skipping class,” Dongmin said as sternly as possible. Considering his heart was on the verge of melting, it was not very stern at all.

            “Haven’t you ever skipped before?”

            Dongmin shook his head quickly. “Skipping class is bad,” he stated. “Have you?”

            “Well…no,” Bin replied meekly, and Dongmin laughed. “But there’s a first time for everything, right? And besides, it’s your birthday.”

            “Th-that’s not even a good reason!”

            “Just this once?”

            “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” insisted Dongmin, but his resolve was quickly weakening.

            “Please? If you really don’t want to, then we don’t have to, but –”

            “Okay,” Dongmin resigned with a small sigh. After next class it would be lunch, and if they didn’t make it back by the end of that, he supposed nobody would really get mad at him if he was a little bit late to drama. Is there such a thing as being dramatically late? What am I doing?

 

            Bin was staring up the looming wall ahead of them while Dongmin looked around nervously. “So, uh, what now?”

            “I guess we climb it? That’s what people do in movies, right?” Extremely unfamiliar with the steps of both skipping class and wall climbing, Dongmin could only imagine how poorly this could end for him

            “I’ll go first,” Bin volunteered, hooking his fingers into a gap between the bricks. A few moments later, the other boy was perched on top of the wall, reaching to help Dongmin up.

            “Seems like all that training Woosatan is making us do is paying off,” Dongmin commented as he hoisted himself up. “Let’s hurry before we get caught.”

            Without hesitation, Bin leaped off the other side. This would have been fine in itself, but Dongmin realized far, far too late that he was still holding Bin’s hand, and he was ungracefully yanked from the wall.

            “Ow,” slightly dizzy and seeing stars from the sudden impact, Dongmin wondered where Bin had gone.

            “Don’t worry, you’re fine, my neck broke your fall,” an unimpressed, muffled voice came from beneath Dongmin.

            “Are you hurt?”

            “I’ll live.”

            “Oh, good,” Dongmin nodded, vision slowly clearing. Still, he didn’t see Bin. Was the ground always this warm?

            “Are you gonna get off me any time soon, or do you intend to stay there all day?”

Oops. He rolled off to the side and Bin sat up, rubbing his shoulder. Regretfully, Dongmin wondered who he’d offended in his past life to be cursed with embarrassing himself in front of Bin continually.

“S-sorry,” Dongmin flushed. There was nothing else he could presently blame the colour of his cheeks on, so he hid his face in his hands instead.

“You seem to spend a lot of time falling,” Bin chuckled and pulled Dongmin up, who managed to not fall this time.

More like falling for you.

            “I don’t want to talk about it,” he groaned. “Why did you want to skip so badly?” Changing the topic, Dongmin followed Bin off the school grounds.

            “It’s too early to be doing math.”

            “Bin, it’s like, almost eleven. And we have this class at the same time every day.”

            “It’s always too early to be doing math,” Bin shook his head and smiled.

            It was surprisingly warm for a March day. The two of them walked until they reached the colourful bubble tea shop the team liked to frequent, easy conversation the whole way. Dongmin ordered his usual milk tea with pearls, to which Bin had claimed boring, but Dongmin genuinely enjoyed the flavour. The other boy chose a fruit concoction which Dongmin deemed as terrifying, though he admitted it didn’t taste nearly as bad as it looked.

            After situating themselves in a corner, Dongmin decided to ask Bin if he’d come see his drama production next month. “Bin, um,” he started, “are you, uh, do you…” excellent. It was proving to be significantly harder than he thought to ask a simple question.

            “Do I what?” God, now Bin was looking at him, and Dongmin couldn’t remember how to speak.

            Four sips of his drink later, Bin was still looking at him. “So, you know,” Dongmin tried again. It took chewing on two more pearls before he told himself this was a perfectly fine thing to ask. “I finally got to take drama class this semester, and, um, we’re having a production in a few weeks.” He took another sip of his drink, nearly choking when Bin smiled at him. “If you’re not busy then…do you think you would maybe want to…come see it? I mean, I’d um, like it if you did.” Suddenly, the loose thread on the arm of the seat was extremely interesting.

            “Sure, I’ll go,” Bin said, and the way his eyes were curving into crescents brighter than the moon made Dongmin wonder why he hadn’t asked sooner.

            Later that evening, Dongmin sat at his desk, having a staring contest with the suspiciously colourful tissue paper spilling out of the gift bag. One by one, he pulled at the corners of the papers. A small card popped out. From November. Happy birthday, Minnie, it read. Dongmin frowned at the cryptic message and turned it over, but there was nothing else written on it. He hovered a hand over the bag nervously, then pulled back, sighing. Picking up his phone instead, he video called Minhyuk for moral support.

            “Dongmin, what’s up?” Minhyuk answered, looking vaguely disheveled.

            “Minhyukkie, I have a present from Bin, but I’m scared to open it.”

            “You really…” Minhyuk sighed, and Dongmin heard a giggle in the background.

            “Is there someone with you?”

            “It’s just Sanha,” the other boy replied. Dongmin looked horrified. That meant Sanha had just heard him.

            The resolution on Dongmin’s phone cleared up and he now had a better view of Minhyuk and… “What’s that?” He pointed before realizing Minhyuk couldn’t actually see where he was pointing.

            “What?” Minhyuk turned to look behind him, and Dongmin was now definitely sure of what he saw.

            “Oh my god, that, on your neck, what were you doing before I called? Wait no, don’t answer that,” he laughed.

            “What? No, I – we weren’t – nothing!” Minhyuk exclaimed, reaching to cover the offending spot. Dongmin knew it couldn’t have been anything truly scandalous, seeing as his friend was still clothed, but that didn’t stop him from laughing.

            “I think I’ll go now,” he wheezed and ended the call. As he calmed down again, he realized the bag on his desk was still sitting unopened.

            Dongmin closed his eyes. Into the bag he reached, hand wrapping around a cold, smooth object. He placed it onto his desk, eyes still closed. Slowly, slowly he cracked open one eye, and then the other flew open at the sight in front of him. It was a jar. A jar of shells from November, when Bin had run back to the hotel room at the suggestion of collecting them together. And when he woke the next morning, Bin was already gone, and – oh. Dongmin never did find out after that, where exactly Bin had disappeared to, but now he knew.

 

april.

            “Has anyone seen Bin?” Dongmin pushed open the door of the next room, where Jinwoo and Myungjun were scrolling through their phones.

            Myungjun looked up in surprise. “He’s not with you? There’s not much time left before Wooseok comes to check on everybody.” Dongmin shook his head and returned to his room. He’d already called Bin twice, the other boy having left several hours ago, claiming he was going for a walk. In that time, a storm had rolled in over the coast and it was raining heavily.

            His phone was ringing. Bin only knew this because he’d been holding it in his hand, trying to get his fingers to listen to him and type out a text to Dongmin.

 

[to: minnie !!]

i think I need

h e;p

it’s cold

[10:18pm]

           

            Bin hit his screen multiple times until he sent his texts and answered the call. He knew he must have moved the phone up to his ear, because he could hear Dongmin’s voice asking him where he was, but it was difficult to speak. “The water,” he said, barely above the sound of the crashing waves. Please, come take me away before it does.

            He hadn’t planned to end up here. Hell, Bin couldn’t even remember why or how he’d come to be standing knee-deep in the ocean in the middle of the storms that came with changing seasons. He’d wanted to just go for a walk after the game, and before he knew it he was kicking off his shoes at the edge of the tide, stepping closer, closer, and closer. Then the storm crept in and Bin had just watched as the water turned dark with the night and glassy with the wind. And just like in his dreams, it was begging him to go in, somehow convincing him it would be okay if he did.

            Between his toes, Bin could feel the sand beneath him being sucked away with each wave. It was so cold and he was suddenly so tired that he thought maybe if he went in a little more, he could float away on the water. A tiny step in. One more. Just like that, if he kept going, the ocean might swallow him.

            “Bin!” The shrieking wind sure sounded a lot like his name, Bin thought.

            There was someone next to him, a hand reaching out and taking his own. It felt familiar, and when Bin turned, he saw a boy covered in starlight. He blinked. No, it was Dongmin, throwing a jacket over him and tugging at his arm. “Wh-what are you doing here?” Bin said, shaky from the cold.

            “I came to get you,” Dongmin replied, his voice, warm warm warm. “Were you here this whole time, Bin? Why didn’t you answer my calls sooner?” Bin felt himself being guided back to the shore, saw Dongmin taking off his sweater to run it over Bin’s wet clothes. He heard Dongmin whisper into his ear as the other boy wrapped his arms around him tightly, not caring that now they were both wet. “I was worried about you. Don’t do that again, okay?”

            “Thank you,” Bin spoke into Dongmin’s neck. He’d been waiting so long for someone to save him, all while maintaining that he didn’t need to be saved, but then Dongmin showed up with his warm hands and warmer gaze. Bin had spent far too long in his secret winter, and Dongmin had a smile that looked like the start of spring.

            Dongmin started getting calls from Bin in the middle of the night. It didn’t take much effort for him to figure out the reason, so no matter the hour, he answered as cheerfully as possible. Each time, they would talk until Bin could fall asleep again. Some nights it would be minutes, other nights well over an hour. Bit by bit, Dongmin learned things about Bin he’d never imagined, like how he used to want to be a dancer, or that he could play the piano, too. No matter how many new things he found out though, he still didn’t know what it was that had Bin waking in cold sweat most nights. Perhaps it was because Dongmin felt things were more comfortable between them now, or the midnight hours lowered his inhibitions, but he finally began to push for an answer.

            “You’re afraid of the ocean?” Less a question, more a statement.

            A sharp breath of surprise, silence, and then, “how did you know?”

            “Just a guess.” It was the same way he looked at Dongmin every time they got too close.

            Two nights after that, Bin told him why. Though it didn’t explain anything else, Dongmin was glad that Bin had trusted him with this. It was a start.

            The afternoon that Dongmin had been waiting for was here, and he was excited beyond words. Backstage, he was pacing a hole into the floorboards, but he didn’t care. His parents would be there, Minhyuk would be there, and Bin would be there. The thought was enough to send him into another round of pacing. It had been tiring preparing for this, combined with keeping up with schoolwork and practice. But tonight, it would be worth it.

            It was perfect. Nobody missed a cue, the lighting, the music, all of it was perfect. Dongmin bowed and waved until the curtains pulled closed in front of him, and he got dressed as quickly as possible to find Bin.

            He met with his parents, told them he would take the bus home later, and stopped to talk with Minhyuk for a while.

            “Have you seen Bin?” Dongmin asked after several minutes had passed. The crowd was starting to thin, but there was still no sign of the other.

            “I didn’t see him at all tonight. Was he supposed to be here?” Minhyuk frowned.

            “Yeah,” pulling out his phone, Dongmin saw he had a message from Bin: i’m sorry. He bit down on the inside of his cheek, hard, determined not to be upset.

            “Oh, Dongmin,” Minhyuk reached to rub Dongmin’s arm comfortingly and pull him into a hug. “I’m sure he must have a good reason for not making it.”

            Dongmin didn’t want Minhyuk to be right. After leaving the school, he rushed to Bin’s house, desperately trying to remember which way to go. He made a few wrong turns before he ended up on Bin’s front porch. In the daylight, Dongmin noticed that it was one of the plainer houses in the otherwise affluent area, a simple light blue with white trim. Dongmin rang the doorbell nervously and moments later, a middle-aged woman with a soft face opened the door.

            “You must be Dongmin,” the woman, who Dongmin presumed to be Bin’s mother, greeted. “Come in, come in.”

            “I am,” he nodded as he stepped inside and slipped off his shoes.

            Bin’s mom must have seen the confused look on his face. “Bin’s told me all about you,” she explained.

            “He…he has?”

            “Yes, he said that someone very handsome joined the team this year. I’m sure it must be you! Bin is just in his room, up the stairs and down the hall. Go ahead,” Mrs. Moon instructed.

            Dongmin tried not to think about the last time he’d gone up a flight of stairs looking for Bin. He saw a door with the initials MB hanging on it and making a safe bet that it was Bin’s room, Dongmin reached up to knock softly. The door wasn’t latched, so it creaked open at the pressure. Dongmin carefully pushed it open to see Bin in a pile of blankets, staring at the wall. The other boy turned at the sound and stared at Dongmin with red-rimmed eyes.

            Walking into the room, he noticed a bouquet of flowers on Bin’s desk, but other than that, the room was relatively bare. It made sense, Dongmin thought, an empty room for a boy who hid so much from the world. He strode across the wooden floor until he reached the edge of Bin’s bed. Bin swung his legs over the side and Dongmin crouched down so they were at eye level. This whole time, Bin had yet to say a word. So Dongmin reached up and pushed down the hood of Bin’s sweater, then silently ran his fingers through the unruly tufts of hair.

            The other made no move to pull away, so Dongmin continued. “Bin, what happened?” He asked, gently.

            Bin shook his head and avoided Dongmin’s gaze. “Nothing.”

            “You can tell me, it’s okay,” Dongmin whispered back, using his other hand to cup Bin’s face lightly. It felt like Bin would disintegrate into dust if he pressed too hard. “I’m,” he swallowed, ignoring his heart pounding at the proximity, “I’m here.”

            “I really wanted to come see you today,” Bin mumbled.

            “Then why didn’t you?” Not questioning, not accusing, just concern.

            “I…couldn’t. I tried, but I couldn’t. Please forgive me, I’m sorry.”

            “Shh, Bin, you don’t need to apologize,” Dongmin moved up to sit next to his friend, arms around him, head on Bin’s shoulder. He understood now. Why Bin was so distant with him sometimes, the forced laughter, tired smiles.

            “But I…I got you flowers, because I knew you’d be really good on stage, and I couldn’t even give them to you properly.”

            “It’s really okay Bin, I’m here now.” And Dongmin knew he would stay there, stay with Bin, for as long as the other wanted or needed.

            “Will you take them anyway?” Bin eased out of Dongmin’s embrace to cross over to his desk and pick up the flowers, sitting back down on the floor and gesturing for Dongmin to do the same.

            “I will, Bin. Thank you,” Dongmin crossed his legs in front of Bin. He took a closer look at the flowers Bin placed in his hands: a bouquet with pink and yellow roses, adorned with delicate wildflowers.

Chapter Text

            By all accounts, seven months was an incredibly short amount of time to experience repeated attempts of having one’s life ruined. And yet Dongmin, for the life of him, couldn’t figure out how Minhyuk managed to be in the middle of doing it again. He found it amazing, truly, that his friend wasn’t tired of it yet. The conversation had gone something along the lines of Minhyuk telling him you need to prove you’re not as boring as you look, really, followed by I’ve got a flawless plan this time! As far as Dongmin was concerned, where the younger was involved, flawless and plan could not exist in the same dimension, never mind the same sentence.

            Dongmin took consolation in the fact that the amusement park offered relatively few opportunities for him to trip. He hoped that if he did, however, he could at least be fortunate enough to fall onto one of the other ten people with them, preferably Minhyuk and crushing him into the ground, instead of Bin.

            “Minnie, hey,” said Bin, coming up next to Dongmin.

            “Bin! Did…” did you know I was just thinking about you? As quickly as possible, Dongmin aborted that thought before he could accidentally say it. “Uh, I mean, how are you today?”

            “Today? I’m good,” Bin replied with a smile. Dongmin stared. Bin was so, so beautiful when he smiled. “You can stop looking at me like that, I’m really fine,” the other boy added, and Dongmin flushed at being caught.

            “I’m glad,” Dongmin gathered enough will to nod and smile back. “It’s kind of warm this afternoon, don’t you think?”

            With a tilt of his head, Bin shot Dongmin a questioning glance. “You’re wearing a jacket, though?”

            “Oh, right, haha…” Dongmin turned to inspect the nearest roller coaster, trying to determine if he could throw himself off the top for saying haha in a sentence. His physics knowledge had to be useful for something, right?

            A screech sounded up ahead from Sanha as the tall boy insisted that they needed to ride the very coaster Dongmin had just been considering. Before he had time to process what was happening, Bin was grabbing his arm and pulling him along. As fate (and Minhyuk) would have it, a few minutes later, Dongmin was sliding into the spot next to Bin. It turned out Bin loved roller coasters. Dongmin didn’t have a problem with them, per se, except they were a little tall for his acrophobic self, so he always rode them with his eyes squeezed shut and screaming the whole time. He enjoyed them this way, though that didn’t mean he was particularly thrilled about the prospect of Bin seeing him in such a compromised state.

            The second the carts started moving, Dongmin already held the bar tightly enough to turn his knuckles white. Up, up, up, and his eyes were closed. Down, down, down, and he was screaming.

            “You doing alright?” Bin asked as the carts came to a stop and they stepped out.

            “I’m great, why?”

            “You were screaming the whole time.”

            “That’s, uh…I was, but it was fun!”

            “You should have seen your face,” Bin laughed and smacked Dongmin with a sweater paw.

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Dongmin shook his head. They walked past the booth showing the pictures from the ride, pausing so Dongmin could take a look. “I see,” he couldn’t decide whether to grimace or laugh at his own picture. Unsurprisingly, it captured his face contorted into a scream, holding on for dear life. Even better was Bin beside him, looking at Dongmin, expression somewhere between horrified and impressed.

            “Minnie, we have to buy a copy of this,” still laughing, Bin leaned over the counter and scanned the options.

            “What? No, oh my god, not with me looking like that!”

            “That’s the best part! I’m doing it.”

            Despite Dongmin’s best attempts to forcibly remove Bin from the immediate proximity of the booth, he ended up walking away holding a small photo of…whatever it was that was going on. Bin had bought two copies, feeling that Dongmin ought to have one, too. Dongmin wouldn’t admit it, but he was glad Bin wanted a picture of them together. Even if it looked like this.

 

            They were still at the park hours later, when the sky turned as colourful as the vibrant pennant flags above them. Long shadows and loud music found Bin and Dongmin wandering the food vendors. A hot dog each and Bin was already running off somewhere else, Dongmin in tow, looking for cotton candy because Bin said he really wanted some, share one with me?

            “Binnie, Minhyuk said to meet him and Sanha at the ferris wheel in fifteen minutes,” Dongmin read the contents of their friend’s text. Bin made a sound of acknowledgement through a mouthful of pink cotton candy.

            When Minhyuk had said to meet at the ferris wheel, Dongmin hadn’t thought it meant actually getting on the ride. But it wasn’t until he was well near the front of the line that the realization hit him, and he wanted to hit a certain person. “Minhyuk, why am I in this line? This wheel is,” he pointed up, “a little high,” Dongmin asked through his teeth.

            “It’ll be fine, I promise,” Minhyuk gave him a thumbs-up, as if that would dissolve his fear. “Remember, I have a flawless plan.”

            Dongmin had let this fact slip his mind as the day went on. However, before he could think about it, the gate attendant asked how many of them would be going in together.

            “Just these two,” from behind him, Minhyuk spoke before Dongmin could say anything else. “Have fun, Dongmin!”

            “I– what?” Dongmin turned in time to see Minhyuk and Sanha slipping out of the line, Minhyuk smiling as they backed away. Minhyuk waved his phone in the air and gestured for Dongmin to check his own before disappearing into the crowd.

 

[Minhyukkie]

Don’t be mad okay

just

Go up there with Bin

It’ll be great

[7:02pm]

[Dongmin sucks]

What? You’d better get back here right now

[read 7:03pm]

[Minhyukkie]

I’m sure your face and great personality are already doing all the work

but I found this for you just in case

Minhyukkie sent a link: 15 Ways to Flirt if Y…

[7:03pm]

[Dongmin sucks]

Do you even value your life at this point?

[read 7:03pm]

 

            “Sorry they left us,” Dongmin muttered once he and Bin were seated in the small pod. “I think I’m going to kill Minhyuk.”

            “I don’t mind,” Bin shrugged. “You think about killing him sometimes? I thought that a few times too, good to know I’m not the only one.”

            “All the time, you don’t even know,” replied Dongmin, the pain evident in his voice.

            “What for?”

            “Um, reasons. H-how about you?”

            “Also reasons,” Bin copied his answer.

            Suddenly, the pod jerked to a halt. Dongmin had been too busy until now with thinking of Minhyuk’s demise to notice just how high up they’d gone.

            “Minnie, look, it’s so pretty,” Bin commented. Dongmin risked a peek over the side, seeing the crowds milling about. He pulled back with a start at the sight of the ground so far below them. Instinctively, Dongmin scooted closer to the middle of the seat, which meant he ended up a whole lot closer to Bin than he’d planned to be.

            His hand. His hand was touching Bin’s. In his panic, Dongmin hadn’t known he’d ended up with his hand pressed against Bin’s, enough that his pinky finger was crossing over the other’s. He inhaled sharply, then didn’t move didn’t blink didn’t breathe.

            “Are you okay?” Bin’s voice snapped Dongmin out of his trance.

            “I-it’s just a little high up here,” Dongmin squeaked.

            “Ah, you don’t like heights? Why would you come on the ferris wheel if you’re afraid of heights?” A gentle laugh fell from Bin’s lips.

            “Reasons.”

            Dongmin registered Bin pulling his hand away and he let out the breath he’d been holding, only for his lungs to malfunction again when he turned his head straight into Bin’s fingers reaching to smooth down a stray hair.

            “You had a, um, some hair sticking out,” the other boy stated.

            “Thanks, then,” Dongmin forced his voice to work.

            “Minnie, you’re…kind of red, are you feeling alright?”

            “It’s nothing, just, the uh, lighting from the sunset.” Dongmin told himself this was true, and had absolutely nothing to do with the way Bin was acting.

            Bin seemed to contemplate this for a moment, then bit his lip as he glanced down to their hands, next to each other once again. “You don’t need to be scared.”

            Was that for me, or for you? Dongmin watched as Bin hesitantly slid his hand closer, closer, closer, until his fingers slipped through his own. “I know.”

With Bin beside him, Dongmin felt brave enough to look at the spread of saturated hues below them, and back up to the sky streaked pink above them. From up here, the voices were muted, the music soft. And with their fingers still sticky from cotton candy carefully laced together, Dongmin felt like they were in a separate universe, filled with the sound of Bin’s voice and his own heartbeat.

Chapter Text

may.

            You idiot. Did you really think that would work?

            Now was really not the best time to be having such thoughts.

            No? Well, you should’ve tried harder, not go and hold his pretty hands and touch his hair, stupid.

            The whistle sounded, and Bin wasted three of the eight seconds he was given to serve, spent them staring at the boy in front of him instead.

            “Bin, what are you doing?” Said boy hissed at him, returning Bin to his senses. It was match point and his serve in the game for third place for regionals. Wooseok had subbed him back in just for this last serve, in hopes of securing the win without having to extend the game.

            Bin stepped back and tossed the ball, perfectly. He took his running approach, perfectly. He jumped, hit the ball, and one of these actions was not perfect, because Bin watched the ball fly straight into the net. But that couldn’t be right. He didn’t miss, not like that.

            When Dongmin came up to pat his arm, Bin dismissed him with a shake of his head. He could feel the tension radiating off the bench, the surprise of his teammates at a missed serve from him. Stop it. Stop it stop it right now stopstopstop.

            Match point came around again, this time from the other side of the net. A serve placed between him and Jinwoo. He could hear the libero calling it but Bin hadn’t known until now that hearing and listening were not the same thing, and he wasn’t listening because he was distracted by Dongmin. Bin, in all his not-listening, moved to pass the ball and was met with a loud oof and a body running into his.

            A blow of the whistle to indicate the ball hitting the ground, one more to signal the game had ended. Bin hardly heard the shrill sound over Jinwoo’s confused gaze, and Dongmin’s disappointed one.

            Now look at what you’ve done.

            Oh, how wrong Bin was when he thought he’d be okay with the way things were. In giving himself hope that he could let himself be friends, and only friends with Dongmin, he’d given the other hope as well. He resented himself for failing to keep a sufficient distance away, and seeing as that hadn’t worked, he was mad that he wasn’t even able to find it in himself to hurt Dongmin enough for the other boy to want to stay away. There had to be something better (or worse) that he could do, Bin thought. No matter what it was, he was determined to do it. Bin couldn’t let himself continue to be so distracted.

            “Do you want to go get dinner together?” Dongmin asked as everyone was getting ready to go home.

            “Not really.”

            “Oh.” Dongmin blinked at him, Bin feeling bad enough that he was about to change his mind before he remembered that Dongmin was the entire reason for…well, everything. “Then, do you want to –”

            “No.” Why did Dongmin have to make it so fucking difficult?

            “What? But I didn’t –”

            “I said no.” Dongmin looked so sad that the pain in Bin’s chest caused him to give in again, ever so slightly. “Sorry, Minnie.” What the hell are you doing?

            Dongmin didn’t say anything after that. Bin didn’t either, turning away to leave before he couldn’t take it anymore. However, luck wasn’t having it that day, and he was stopped by Minhyuk running up behind him. There wasn’t a single instance Bin could recall that didn’t end disastrously for him when Minhyuk showed up while Dongmin was around.

            “Hey,” the younger greeted, grabbing both him and Dongmin by the arm and pulling the two of them closer.

            “Minhyuk,” said Bin, only sounding mildly pained. He didn’t miss the way Dongmin was absolutely glaring at their friend.

            “What are you guys doing? Let’s go get something to eat!”

            Bin looked at Dongmin, which was a mistake in itself, because now he had to see the look on the other’s face when he addressed Minhyuk again. “Sure.” He really, really needed to make Dongmin not want to be near him, because he couldn’t do it himself.

            “Great, we can take the subway over, there’s a station just over there,” Minhyuk started pulling them along.

            “I’d like to keep my arm, thanks,” Dongmin muttered while trying to flail his way out of Minhyuk’s grasp.

            The three of them made their way over to the station, dragged the whole distance. It was busy, which Bin wouldn’t have minded, save for the fact they were all still carrying their bags and he was tired.

            “Guess we’ll have to stand,” Minhyuk voiced Bin’s thoughts.

            Standing was fine. Standing on a subway was also fine. Standing on a crowded subway with Dongmin beside him was significantly less fine, seeing as this meant Bin couldn’t have the space between them he desperately needed if he wanted to retain any form of sanity.

            Everything became as far from fine as humanly possible several stops later, when the rush of passengers pushing their way through the doors shoved Dongmin straight into him. Bin tried to take a microscopic step back before he could spontaneously combust.

            “Ow, Bin.” Minhyuk was behind him, and behind Minhyuk, a wall. Taking this into account, Bin moved back until he was sure that his terrible friend was well and truly squished. Unfortunately, there was still approximately zero space between him and Dongmin. He hated the way he could notice how the other’s hair brushed against his own cheek, and Bin couldn’t stop his heart from beating out of his chest.

            Dinner wasn’t any less uncomfortable, with Bin nearly jumping from his seat every time his arm so much as grazed Dongmin’s. Halfway through the most unenjoyable bowl of rice Bin had ever experienced in his life, he looked up to see Minhyuk observing him curiously.

            “What’s wrong with you two?”

            “Nothing,” Bin replied, a little too harshly.

            “Seriously, Bin?” Minhyuk sat back and crossed his arms.

            “Yes, seriously,” he huffed.

            “Then why do you look like you hate your rice? You love rice. And,” Minhyuk continued, shifting his gaze to Dongmin, “why does Minnie look like he’d rather be literally anywhere else?”

            “Shut up, Minhyuk,” snapped Bin. He felt a strange twist in his gut from hearing another person call Dongmin Minnie, and wondered when he’d become so possessive of something he didn’t even have.

            “What the hell? Whatever it is, figure it out before –”

            “I fucking said shut up!”

            “Can you guys stop?” Dongmin interjected, standing up and leaving without a word.

            Bin unclenched his hands from fists under the table. Minhyuk was staring at him in shock, seeming to realize it was more than a petty argument.

            “Bin,” Minhyuk said, slowly, after an infinite silence. “Can you tell me why Dongmin just left?”

            “Stay out of it.”

            “I won’t,” the other shot back, “both of you are my friends. At least hold it together until the end of the season.”

            “What season? In case you forgot, we’re not set up to rank well after today.”

            “Oh, come on. We’re still going to provincials, and the school will probably send us to nationals, too. What does it matter that we didn’t finish in top three here?” Bin gave no response except a glare, so Minhyuk kept talking. “You’re really that upset we lost? It happens, Bin.”

            “I know.”

            “So it’s Dongmin, then,” Minhyuk pressed. Bin’s expression must have given him away. “Did he say something to you?” Silence. “You said something to him,” the younger boy sighed. “What did you say?”

            “Nothing.”

            “Yeah, right. Bin, he was upset enough to leave. Would it really kill you to stop hurting him whenever you feel like it? He’s told me, you know. I don’t understand what you’re thinking, but he really… Look, were you purposely trying to make him angry? Because it worked. One of these days he’s not gonna forgive you anymore.”

            Bin didn’t feel like explaining that was precisely what he was trying to do. “Whatever, Minhyuk.”

            The truth was, Bin hardly cared that they lost. What he cared about was how awfully he had played all weekend, especially at a bigger tournament like this, where there would undoubtedly be scouts for universities setting up their future teams. And Bin, he knew the only reason he kept playing was because he needed to be scouted.

            Six years ago when he started playing, Bin hadn’t even liked the sport all that much. He learned quickly enough to tolerate it, and then he grew to love it. When it became apparent that he was good at it as well, though, that was when he began to hate it.

            His parents called him into the living room after dinner, both of them looking serious.

            “Binnie, we need to talk to you,” his father said, gesturing to the empty seat on the couch.

            “Why? Am I in trouble?” Bin sat on the edge of the couch nervously. Did they find his report card? “Is this about my science grade? I’ll try harder next time, I swear!”

            “No,” his mother, ever gentle, smiled at him. Bin smiled back. “There’s something we have to tell you, though, but can you promise me something first?”

            “What is it? Is it a secret? I can keep secrets,” Bin nodded in confirmation. At twelve, his world was still fairly limited, and he couldn’t imagine what it was that his parents could have to tell him.

            “Promise me, Binnie, don’t be scared, okay? Everything will be fine.”

            “I promise!”

            His parents looked at each other, then back at him. “Your dad…he lost his job.”

            “Oh,” Bin looked at his father, who nodded. “So he doesn’t have to leave all the time anymore?” He knew that a job meant his parents had to go out every day to a different place, and wouldn’t come back until dinnertime.

            “Yes, that’s right.”

            “But what’s wrong with that?”

            “It means we’re not going to have as much money now, Binnie. Dad is going to try really hard to find a new job, but for now, it’s going to be hard to pay for school.”

            “Oh,” Bin said again. He still didn’t really understand what was happening, but he trusted that his parents knew what they were talking about. “What does that mean, then?”

            “You’re really good at volleyball, right, Binnie?”

            “That’s right!”

            “Okay, so, we’re going to move as close as we can to a different school. There’s one just a few hours away that has a great volleyball team, and they accept players that they think are amazing! Do you think you can do it?”

            “I…” Bin hesitated. What if he wasn’t good enough? Would his parents be disappointed? But he had to try. “I’ll do my best.”

            “We love you, Binnie.”

            The unwanted side effects of avoiding Dongmin, Bin discovered, consisted of heartache when he saw him, and heartache when he didn’t. It seemed as if he was right back where he started almost ten months ago, but it turned out that staying away was a hell of a lot harder when he’d already been so close. There had been no warning label and to make things worse, the effectiveness was minimal at best.

            Bin would take some over nothing, though. He’d thrown even more of his effort into spending time on the court, the confines of the nine-by-eighteen metre lines the only space on Earth still able to draw his mind away from the thoughts threatening to bloom anywhere else. However, anywhere else enveloped a great number of places, such as now, at the team’s end-of-year party. They were at Myungjun’s house and Bin thought he was going to implode with the effort it took to keep himself from Dongmin, stop himself from walking over and wrapping his arms around the other. If this was as close as he could get, with half a room between them, Bin would still take it.

            Wooseok was saying something to him, but Bin wasn’t paying attention. He glanced up and saw Dongmin watching him from across the room. Their eyes met, and broke away just as quickly. Beside Dongmin, he saw Minhyuk shooting a death glare in his direction. The counter he was leaning against became the second most interesting thing in the room to look at.

            A shout from Myungjun caught Bin’s attention. Myungjun was gathering everyone around for pictures, having set up a wall of silver streamers that made Bin question the elder’s sanity. Several bright flashes later, he was handed a Polaroid picture. Bin didn’t even look for himself first. Or, maybe he did, but he couldn’t remember as his focus settled onto another smile, the one he hadn’t let himself look at in weeks.

            Before Bin could excuse himself, still blinded by the flash (and Dongmin’s smile), Myungjun was pulling him in for more pictures. He turned to see what was going on, but then he was there. Dongmin. Beside him, smiling at Myungjun. So, so close. Bin felt vines constricting his chest, ones shaped a whole lot like Dongmin’s existence.

            “Bin, will you stop staring at Dongmin? We all know he’s beautiful, but the camera is over here,” Myungjun laughed.

            Beautiful? Bin didn’t think Myungjun even knew the word couldn’t even begin to describe Dongmin, who had been nothing but kind and patient with him…until now. He tore his gaze from Dongmin just as the other caught his eye, questioning. “I wasn’t even ready!” Bin protested.

            “Try again, then,” Myungjun rolled his eyes, still smiling. “One, two, three!” Another flash made Bin see stars again, but it might have been the fact he was already looking at Dongmin again. “This is yours, wait a few minutes,” instructed Myungjun as he handed Bin another small rectangle.

            “Thanks. I’m gonna go get some air, be back in a bit.” Bin stepped away, hoping nobody would question him too much.

            Bin went up the stairs until he reached the balcony. Once he made it outside, he leaned against the wall and let out a long breath, the tension in his chest fading just enough for him to breathe. It didn’t last long. In the muted evening sun, Bin watched the outlines on his photo turn into shadows, then gasped when the fully developed picture showed itself. Oh, no.

            It was the picture Myungjun had taken when he wasn’t ready, too caught up in thinking about Dongmin. But the thing was, it showed. Dongmin was smiling perfectly at the camera, and Bin was looking at him. Even Bin could tell through the vaguely grainy picture, the way he looked at Dongmin was so unmistakably intense, there was nobody who would be able to see the picture and not be able to tell what Bin insisted he didn’t feel. This was bad. If he couldn’t keep it from himself, how was he supposed to convince everyone else?

            “…just go up there already?” Voices floating up the stairs distracted Bin from his thoughts. Briefly, he recalled what had happened the last time he was in this very spot, his desperate attempt to forget about…

            “Dongmin.”

            “Bin,” the other said, so quietly he almost didn’t hear it.

            He hadn’t heard Dongmin’s voice saying his name in long enough that he thought about jumping off the balcony right there. I’m sorry, I miss you, he said, except it sounded like silence and an uncomfortable cough. “Why are you up here?” Bin asked, instead of one of the other millions of things he wanted to say.

            “Minhyuk forced me.”

            “What a surprise,” Bin chuckled, with no amusement or happiness behind it.

            “Yeah. Well, I –”

            “Please, don’t.”

            “Bin. Can you pretend you don’t dislike me long enough for me to finish a sentence?”

            “There you go.” Oh, if only you knew that wasn’t the problem.

            Dongmin came next to him and Bin flinched away. “Can I see?” He pointed to the photograph, still in Bin’s hand.

            “Hmm?” Suddenly, Bin remembered what he was holding. “No!”  His eyes widened and Dongmin blinked in surprise. “Um, I look really bad in this picture, so you can’t see it,” Bin added as calmly as possible.

            “I don’t think you do,” Dongmin said under his breath, but didn’t press further.

            Minutes passed with nothing but the soft buzz of voices below. Bin wondered how much longer he could survive like this, half a metre and too many days separating them. “Minnie.” Why can’t I stop?

            “Yeah, Bin?” Dongmin turned to look at him. Out of the corner of his eye, Bin saw how gentle he looked, this boy who hadn’t done anything wrong, and Bin mentally hit himself for treating the other like this with no explanation.

            He didn’t even know why he’d spoken, and why he’d said that, of all things. “Nothing.”

            “You didn’t text me back or answer my calls,” Dongmin said. His tone held no accusation, and it made Bin angry. Why did Dongmin have to be so good?

            “I know.”

            “Binnie, what’s going on?” It was the question he couldn’t answer.

“Go away, Dongmin.”

            Bin expected that the other would at least protest, argue back, ask him why. Instead, he was met with a silent nod and suddenly, he was left alone.

            Wait, come back…

june.

 

            Dongmin turned the corner, heading towards his locker after his evening classes. He’d taken to walking the long way around the school, if only to avoid walking past the gymnasium. On the days where he couldn’t stop himself from passing by and peeking in, he’d be hit with instant regret the moment he saw Bin. Unwillingly, Dongmin began to accept that Bin didn’t seem to want to be friends with him anymore, seeing as how far the other had been going to avoid him. But still, Dongmin was drawn to him.

            Bin was right there. Standing in front of him was a girl Dongmin recognized to be the captain of the soccer team. Dongmin was fairly sure he’d never seen the two of them speak to each other, but it wasn’t like he knew a whole lot about Bin’s life lately. They were talking now and Bin was smiling at her the way he should have been smiling at Dongmin. In the quiet hallway, Dongmin heard her say something that terribly resembled a date proposal.

            For a moment, Dongmin felt bad for her. He knew that Bin, though he had many friends, was afraid enough of getting truly close enough to anyone to accept a date. But then Bin was nodding and smiling again, and everything Dongmin thought to be true was rendered invalid.

            Bin looked up at him then and his expression faltered. Dongmin wondered why the other appeared to be getting larger, taking too long to realize it was because Bin was walking towards him now. Bin stopped in front of him. Willing himself to pretend he hadn’t just seen any chance he had with Bin disappear, Dongmin offered a faint smile directed at the ground.

            “Hey, Minnie,” Bin said, stiffly, before walking away.

            It wasn’t because of you, then. It was me?

            Of course it had to be this way.

Chapter Text

            “Move to your left. Sanha! Are you listening?”

            “I am.

            “Your other left!”

            Dongmin bit back a laugh at the scene in front of him. Wooseok (read: Woosatan) had told the entire team to put on dress shirts and meet him at school on Saturday because he had a surprise for them. Apparently, this surprise consisted of a two-hour drive to a field of tall grass and flowers. When asked why, Wooseok told them the yearbook wanted pictures of the team, and he wanted to have the best ones. Dongmin really didn’t think this is what the yearbook meant. However, watching Wooseok turn into an intense photoshoot director for a group of boys with varying degrees of willingness made for excellent entertainment.

            His amusement lasted until it was Bin’s turn, where he nearly choked watching the other.

            “Dongmin? You alright over there?” Minhyuk whispered beside him.

            “I’m great, it’s just, um, allergies.” Someone call an ambulance, I’m allergic to a hot man named Moon Bin.

            “Do your allergies cause you to murder the poor grass?”

            Looking down, Dongmin noticed he had a handful of grass and a crushed flower, which he assumed he’d pulled out while trying to not have unreasonable thoughts about Bin.

            “They do, actually.” Dongmin continued to pick at a flower, for something, anything, to do other than watch Bin. He couldn’t look at the other without being hit with a strange feeling, a wanting to be near him so badly it hurt, yet when he was close, Bin was overwhelming enough to blind him. More than anything else, Dongmin wanted to know what he’d done so wrong for Bin to avoid him like this and look so… okay with it.

            He hated that all the progressions they’d made in their friendship could be taken away without so much as an acknowledgement to what he’d given. When Dongmin had thought he was finally getting somewhere in knowing Bin, everything fell again like the waves in the cold winter sea where they had their first real beginning. But with every opportunity that presented itself where he could even start to think about talking to the other, he remembered the force with which Bin kept pushing and pushing him away. His throat would close, trapping all those words fighting to get out, and Dongmin was afraid he’d long since lost control of which ones could leave.

            “Minhyukkie,” he sighed, throwing shreds of grass at the younger.

            “I don’t even want to talk to you,” Minhyuk rolled his eyes.

            “But Minhyukkie,” Dongmin leaned over to rest his chin on Minhyuk’s shoulder.

            As predicted, Minhyuk didn’t take long to give in. “Yeah.”

            “I shouldn’t have gotten on that ferris wheel.”

            “Bin should be grateful. Does he know that literally the entire school and their mothers would love to go on a ferris wheel with you?”

            “That’s so weird,” Dongmin laughed.

            “It’s probably true though. And it got you to stop moping for a few seconds, didn’t it?”

            “I guess so. Thanks, Minh–”

            “Just stop right there.”

            Once everyone was finished, they’d all gone off to wander around the fields on their own until Wooseok yelled at them to not kill the flowers with their stomping. Dongmin went to find where he’d left his bag, only to discover it was hidden under a bouquet of flowers picked from the field, tied together haphazardly with twine. He knew the location offered flower picking, but besides the team, there was nobody else there that day, which left very limited options as to how these flowers could have appeared.

            “What is that?” Minhyuk showed up beside Dongmin.

            “They’re flowers,” Dongmin blinked at the bouquet in his hand. “Did you get me flowers?”

            “You wish,” Minhyuk snorted, taking a closer look. “Hurry up and get to the car before Wooseok kills us,” he pat Dongmin’s arm and walked off.

            Dongmin picked up his bag and turned to head back as well, but was met face-to-face with Bin. The other was too bright at this distance after nothing but stolen glances for weeks.

            “Hi,” Dongmin said, softly, delivering the word on the breath sucked out of him. He was afraid if he spoke too hard, he’d find that the boy in front of him would disappear again.

            Bin didn’t say anything, only stared at the flowers that miraculously survived Dongmin gripping them so hard his knuckles were white. Dongmin’s free hand moved without him telling it to, reaching tentatively out, like testing if a hot drink had cooled enough that he could have what he wanted without coming out the other side burned.

            The other tensed under the touch that landed on his arm. “Hey, Minnie.”

            Dongmin wanted to scream. The first words Bin had spoken to him in ages, and they were the same ones as the last time. Is that all you have left for me? He dropped his hand awkwardly, pretending he hadn’t just touched Bin for the sake of touching him.

            “It was me,” Bin spoke suddenly.

            “What?”

            “The, uh, flowers. It was me. I don’t know.” Rushed, as if he hadn’t meant to say it.

            “You…what?” Dongmin thought he was about to go insane. Something he vaguely pinpointed as anger started to burn in his chest. Over a month of nothing, and now this. What was Bin trying to accomplish? It was clear he’d made a decision regarding how he felt about him, and Dongmin couldn’t understand what this could be. “Is this a joke?”

            “No, I just…I thought you might like them. I…”

            “Why? What the hell, Bin? Don’t you…” Don’t you know I still can’t stop thinking about you? “You should be giving these to someone else.” He wanted to take them. If he accepted them, Dongmin knew he could go home and pretend for a week that Bin hadn’t ignored his texts and declined his calls too many times. But the hurt that would inevitably come when he couldn’t pretend anymore, that was something Dongmin didn’t want. So, surprising himself with his own strength, he slowly willed himself to let them go.

            When Dongmin emptied out his bag that night, he found two flowers that had slipped their way in through his open zipper. With shaking hands and an uncertain heart, he pulled them out, folding them between the pages of his favourite book. For another day, maybe.

 

july.

            “Dongmin, you’re gonna break your drink if you keep doing that,” under the table, Minhyuk kicked him lightly.

            “I’m not doing anything,” Dongmin huffed back, “and you can’t break iced coffee.” As soon as he said that, he stirred his poor coffee a little harder, resulting an ice cube flying out the top and sliding across the table.

            “You can if you keep doing that,” Minhyuk’s face had yikes stamped all over it as he turned back to Bin. “So, Bin, good to see you haven’t scared your girlfriend away yet.”

            Girlfriend. The one adoringly latched onto Bin’s arm, not even three feet away from him. Another ice cube left his drink. Minhyuk kicked him again, a little harder this time. He didn’t listen to the rest of the conversation. For several weeks now, Dongmin had been forced to watch Bin be cute and flirty and it was painful. He wasn’t sure why he still went out with them anymore. Minhyuk told him he didn’t have to, but there was a last spark of hope alive somewhere, because no matter how hard he tried, it couldn’t be put out. Dongmin sat through every outing wondering whether his hope was worth the maelstrom of feelings that came with seeing Bin. He decided, over and over, that it was.

            Dongmin woke to the sound of buzzing. Groaning, he opened one eye and saw his room lit up with a harsh light. It wasn’t until he blinked a few more times and saw his phone buzzing its way precariously close to the edge of his nightstand that Dongmin realized his phone was ringing. At the risk of scorching his retinas off, Dongmin flailed a hand in the general direction of his phone and caught it before it could fall to the ground like the rest of his life.

            The screen informed him that Minhyuk was calling at the excellent hour of three in the morning, his favourite time to be awake, really. Dongmin was about to turn over and go back to sleep, but he sat up so fast his cat went tumbling off the end of his bed with an angry meow as he recalled where Minhyuk was. The other was with Bin, having stayed over after Wooseok asked the two to look over videos of other teams from tournaments, seeing if there was anyone they could try and bring over to play for them.

            “Minhyuk? Why are you calling me at three a.m.?Dongmin answered his phone, now very awake, and not any less annoyed.

            “Dongmin, I think you should come over.”

            “Why would I want to do that,” he grumbled, moving to the floor to try and beg for forgiveness from his cat.

            “It’s Bin.”

            “Okay, I know I call you stupid like, all the time, but I think even you know by now that he doesn’t want to see me.”

            “I did, and now we were both wrong. Trust me, he wants to see you.”

            “How would you know that?” Dongmin tucked his phone between his ear and shoulder so he could hold his cat, now settled onto his lap.

            “So I was sleeping downstairs on the couch, but I woke up half an hour ago and couldn’t fall asleep. Then, I tried to look for my phone so I wouldn’t die of boredom. I left it upstairs in Bin’s room though, so I came in here to look for it –”

            “Wait, was Bin sleeping?”

            “Yes. Anyway, I came in and, uh, I hope you don’t find this as weird as I did,” Minhyuk hesitated before continuing, “He was calling for you in his sleep.”

            “Oh my god,” Dongmin dropped his phone on his cat. Scrambling to pick up his phone again, he was already stumbling out of his room and down the stairs. “Wake him up, right now.”

            “What? Why?”

            “Don’t ask, just do it! I’ll be there soon.”

            Minhyuk met him at the door of Bin’s house. Dongmin had unfortunately learned that Bin was right when he said that running lines had no effect on his ability to run a longer distance, his chest now refusing to function properly. Either that, or he was suddenly very nervous at the thought of seeing Bin again.

            “Did you wake him up?” Dongmin asked, practically falling into the house.

            “Uh, no, I –”

            “Do you ever listen?” He ran up the stairs and made his way down the hall, the thought of Bin in an unhappy place, alone, making his heart hurt. Not caring at the moment if Bin didn’t want to see him anymore, because the only thing that mattered was all the times he’d said to the other, I’m here.

            Six hours later, Dongmin woke with Bin pressed against his chest, legs tangled in his, fingers in his hair. He stayed until the other woke up, and now he could see the way Bin was looking at him, the always unreadable expression tinged with…fear. Without saying anything, Dongmin nodded in understanding, slowly pulling himself out of Bin’s grasp and walking out, leaving his heart behind. He’d come back for it another time.

Chapter Text

            It wasn’t working. So far, Bin had tried distancing himself from Dongmin, avoiding him, making Dongmin potentially irreversibly mad at him, kissing someone else, and as a last resort, dating someone else, and none of these had yielded any results other than him wanting the other more.

            Bin considered his options as he walked through the park where he first saw Dongmin. He could continue what he was doing now, but somehow, the idea didn’t seem as smart as before. This was a universe away from how he’d wanted things to work out. Bin had imagined he wouldn’t have to see the hurt in Dongmin’s eyes every time they were together, that the other would have let go, that he would have let go. Wondering what he did wrong besides everything, Bin turned to go home.

            He turned and saw Dongmin. Head down and hair falling over his face, but Bin knew it was him. Bin hadn’t noticed that he was frozen and staring at the other until Dongmin walked into him.

            “Sorry,” Dongmin mumbled without looking up.

            Bin caught his arm before he could walk off again. “Dongmin.”

            Dongmin looked at him silently. Blinking, one, two, three times. A breath, too long. He watched the other give him a faint smile in recognition, the only kind he gave anymore. With a sinking feeling, Bin remembered three months ago when Dongmin’s smile was enough to bring anything to life. He remembered two months ago when…what the hell were you thinking, giving him flowers? But he’d seen the flowers, and then he saw Dongmin, and before he could think about it, it had just happened. Finally, he remembered two weeks ago, Minhyuk at his house and being woken by someone who was very much not Minhyuk. Dongmin was there, pulling him out of his dreams again, and Bin didn’t even say anything. Minhyuk told him after that Dongmin had run to his house in the middle of the night for him. And you just let him leave.

            “Are you happy?” Dongmin was asking, giving him the look that always made Bin afraid the other could see right through him. “With her. She makes you happy, right?” What a strange question to start with, Bin thought.

            “I am.” But he knew he wasn’t, not anywhere near as happy as he could have been with Dongmin.

            “That’s good. I…” Dongmin sighed, another small smile. Bin noticed now how tired the other looked, dark circles, cracked lips, still the closest thing to perfection.

            “What is it?” Tell me. What’s bothering you? Wait. Don’t. I can’t live with the truth.

            “It’s nothing.”

            Why did he spend so much time watching Dongmin walk away from him?

 

            Bin sat at the edge of his bed, pulled open the drawer of his nightstand, and spread the contents of it beside him. A shell, a card, a picture. He turned the shell over in his hands, running fingers along the smooth inside. The first thing Dongmin had ever given him. Then Bin realized that no, it wasn’t, because even before then, Dongmin already gave him so much more. He’d given him time, kindness, patience, given him forgiveness far beyond what he deserved. Why me? The other boy was so sweet and pure, Bin couldn’t think of a single reason why Dongmin wasted so much time on someone like him.

            Keeping the shell pressed into his palm, Bin lifted the edge of the card. The words written inside seemed to burst out of the page and straight into his chest.

            …I want you to be happy every day!! Anyway, I’m glad I got to meet you this year. You make me smile a lot…

            “Do you still think that, Minnie?” Bin whispered to himself, biting his lip so hard he tasted blood. “I hope you don’t.” Heat prickled behind his eyes and he couldn’t read the words anymore because he missed Dongmin and the way the other could make his heart beat so fast. He missed how Dongmin could calm him down from anything. What he missed was…just, him.

            And it was his own fault. The weight of half an ocean of guilt pressed down on him as he dropped the card back in the drawer and picked up the photograph. Bin touched the glossy surface, brought back to the feeling of being too dazed by the other to pay attention. He drew in a sharp breath and his lungs collapsed again and he fell back onto his bed, memories of Dongmin burning tracks down his skin until exhaustion took over.

            I don’t want this anymore.

            Maybe there was one thing he hadn’t tried yet.

 

august.

            Dongmin was spread over his couch in the living room, sure that he was going to melt from the heat and watching television of questionable quality when his phone rang.

            “Hey, loser,” he answered without looking at the screen, assuming it was Minhyuk.

            “Minnie?” A voice that wasn’t Minhyuk’s spoke. Suddenly, Dongmin didn’t need the air conditioning anymore. It turned out that having his soul leave his body was equally as effective.

            “Hey, Bin.” Dongmin cringed and shrank down into his couch. With how much his hands were shaking, he was amazed he was still holding his phone.

            “I gotta tell you something,” Bin said, before Dongmin had even finished thinking about the reason for the call. “Actually, uh, you’re probably mad at me, aren’t you?”

            “I don’t know,” Dongmin answered resignedly. There was too much going on whenever he thought about Bin for him to sort out which was which. It didn’t take much thought, though, for Dongmin to recognize that buried under the mountains of hurt and uncountable number of misunderstandings they’d created along the way, he felt just the same as always. Binnie, what happened to us?

            “If you are, you should be, but just – don’t hang up on me, okay? – listen to me, even if it’s the last time.”

            “Are you okay? Bin? Where are you?” Dongmin sat up. It wasn’t like Bin to sound so frantic.

            “I’m fine. Great, actually. Walking outside. But that’s not the point. Just, um, listen until I’m done, okay? Otherwise I don’t think I can say it again. You know the café near our school? I’ve been going there every day for the past week, and I kept trying and trying to call you every time to ask you to meet me there because I– I think, I know I did something wrong and I’ve wanted to explain to you for so long. It’s taken me too long and I hate this, Minnie. I couldn’t tell you before because I was too afraid but fuck, Dongmin, it’s killing me and you were always there just like you said you’d be and today. I finally called you and I didn’t think you’d answer, but you did, and please, just come meet me. I need you to know.”

            “What are you talking about? I d–”

            “You’ll see, I promise. I’ll explain once I see you. I’m almost there, just cr–”

            The sound of screeching tires and glass shattering was the only thing Dongmin heard.

            “Bin?”

            Nothing.

            “Are you still there?”

            Somewhere, people were yelling. Call an ambulance.

            “Binnie! Answer me.”

            No, no, no.

            Dial tone.

Chapter Text

            Screaming. Dongmin wasn’t sure why there would be anyone screaming in his living room. It took running out of breath and a sharp inhale to realize it was coming from him. The room was spinning, too, and the next second Dongmin was back on his couch and seeing stars on the ceiling because he couldn’t breathe and for some reason, his face was wet. His hands were numb and he wasn’t moving, he couldn’t feel anything, his heart wasn’t beating anymore and he was still out of breath and his entire body was tingling.

            Fingers moving in slow motion as he picked his phone up from where he’d dropped it, Dongmin did the only thing he could think of.

            “Hey,” Minhyuk’s voice on the other end of the line sounded far away, barely reaching him through the ringing in his ears.

            “M-Minhyukkie,” Dongmin whispered, the movement difficult.

            The other seemed to hear the wobble in Dongmin’s voice, for once not complaining. “What happened? You don’t sound so good.”

            Dongmin didn’t know how Minhyuk could sound so normal. “Are y-you at home?” He asked between gasping breaths.

            “Yeah, why?”

            “Do you hear sirens?”

            “Dongmin, you’re being weird. Should I come over?” Minhyuk answered slowly, concern creeping into his words.

            “Minhyukkie, look out your window for me. A-across the street. Towards the café.”

            “Uh, okay,” Dongmin heard shuffling and he imagined Minhyuk walking through his apartment. “What am I looking for?”

            “T-tell me what you see,” said Dongmin, mechanically pulling his shoes on and walking out the door.

            “There’s…Shit, Dongmin, there’s a car rammed into a pole. How did you know?”

            “No. Look closer.” He was running now, every sound around him muted under the blood rushing in his ears.

            “There’s a crowd of people gathering. Someone’s on the ground. Wait, the ambulance is coming, I can hear it.”

            “Can you go downstairs? I’ll be there soon.”

            “Why?”

            “Do it, Minhyuk. Please,” Dongmin needed someone to tell him it wasn’t Bin.

            “Fine.” A faint ding through the phone moments later told him Minhyuk was waiting for the elevator. “Okay, I’m outside. The ambulance is here and they’re lifting someone onto a st–”

            “Minhyuk?”

            “Um…” The other’s voice was uncertain.

            “Tell me who it is.”

            “That’s not a good idea.”

            “Tell me.” Though he knew the hesitation could only mean one thing, Dongmin still clung to the hope that he was wrong.

            “I don’t want to,” Minhyuk replied, and Dongmin could tell the younger was afraid, too.

            “It’s Bin, isn’t it?”

            “Yeah.”

            When Dongmin arrived, all breathless and puffy eyes, Minhyuk pulled him into a hug and turned him away before he could see the red staining the pavement.

            In the waiting room, Dongmin was digging his nails into Minhyuk’s arm with how tightly he was holding on. Over the past two hours, most of the team had arrived, and everyone was nervously seated together. Dongmin hadn’t been able to stop shaking.

            Any minute, he expected Bin to walk out the doors and come up to him, smiling and happy and fine. Because he had to be fine, didn’t he? It was hard for Dongmin to imagine that anything could happen to Bin. The other had always been just far enough out of reach and glowed just enough around the edges that in Dongmin’s mind, he was still untouchable.

            But maybe even angels could fall. Another two hours later, when Dongmin was finally allowed to go in, he bit back a gasp. Bin’s forehead and half his face was covered in bandages. His legs were covered by a thin blanket, but Dongmin assumed at least one of them had been injured. One of Bin’s arms was in a sling, and he could see the outline of bandages around his shoulder under the thin gown.

            Dongmin sat in a chair in the corner of the room until everyone else had left. Slowly, he stood up and made his way over to Bin.

            “Hey,” he said, all at once feeling awkward standing there. Dongmin tried crouching instead, which proved to not be any less uncomfortable, so he settled for dragging a chair over.

            “Hey,” Bin replied quietly, looking straight ahead.

            Dongmin didn’t know what to say. Sorry you got hit by a car didn’t feel quite right, and neither did so, what was it you wanted to tell me? He cleared his throat, Bin glancing over at him briefly before looking away again. “How do you feel?”

            “Oh, you know. Like I got hit by a car,” Bin answered dryly, a soft chuckle escaping.

            “I see,” Dongmin smiled, trying not to look at the needle taped into Bin’s hand.

            “They’ll take it out when they move me tomorrow,” Bin said, seeming to notice Dongmin’s averted gaze. “Wooseok arranged for me to have a private room.”

            “Looks like he cares about us after all.”

            “Yeah.”

            “So, um.” There was only so much time before things became uncomfortable again, and Dongmin opted for silence.

            “Minnie, do you mind leaving?” Bin said, after a painfully long pause. “I…don’t want you to see me like this.”

            “I-if that’s what you want,” Dongmin shot out of his chair, sending it backwards with a loud scrape.

            “I’ll see you after I get out of here.”

            Dongmin kept it together long enough for him to make it home.

 

[Dongmin sucks]

I can’t believe it

[read 8:11pm]

 

[Minhyukkie]

Dongmin :((

I know right

[8:12pm]

[Dongmin sucks]

He was calling me to ask me to meet him

What if it’s my fault?

Feels like it.

[read 8:12pm]

[Minhyukkie]

no

it’s not

don’t even say that

[8:13pm]

are you doing okay? I know you still care about him a lot

[8:14pm]

I’m on my way over

[8:22pm]

[Dongmin sucks]

…thanks

 [read 8:25pm]

 

            When Minhyuk came in, Dongmin was curled in a corner of his bed, hugging his pillow. He acknowledged Minhyuk’s presence with a sigh. Wordlessly, the other came and sat beside him, gently shaking his shoulder.

            “He’ll be fine,” Minhyuk said reassuringly.

            “How do you know?” Of course, Dongmin knew that Minhyuk was right, but that didn’t stop him from worrying.

            “I asked him, genius,” Minhyuk dug his elbow into Dongmin’s side. “Do you want to know?” Dongmin nodded and Minhyuk continued. “First, his giant, stupid head is fine. There were some glass shards pulled out and he scraped his face a bit on the pavement. Apparently, he’ll be just as pretty after it heals, so don’t worry about that.”

            “Oh my god,” Dongmin elbowed Minhyuk back, none too lightly.

            “Seriously, though. Other than that, his ACL is torn. They’re going to do surgery on it so he’ll still be able to play at the same level.”

            “What about his arm?”

            “I think the arm itself is fine,” Minhyuk said, and Dongmin breathed a sigh of relief. “Both the collarbone and shoulder blade are broken though.”

            Then, Dongmin said what he knew they were both thinking. “He’s not gonna be able to play for a long time.” It was hardly a question at this point.

            “Not for at least three months, until everything heals. Knowing Bin though, he’ll probably be in perfect shape in time for regionals.”

            “I hope he’ll be alright,” Dongmin leaned against the other.

            “Me, too.”

            The final week of summer came around, so quietly that Dongmin almost didn’t notice. After Bin had gotten out of the hospital, Dongmin realized he couldn’t justify to himself going to visit the other. Their conversations had been brief, careful, talking about everything other than the phone call. It was twenty-four days after the last time he’d seen Bin that Dongmin felt brave enough to visit.

            But standing in Bin’s doorway, the other turned towards the window and outlined in golden sunlight, Dongmin wished he hadn’t come. His throat was dry and his hands were shaking as he stepped into the room. Bin looked up at the sound, reaching with one hand to spin his wheelchair around.

            “Oh, hey,” Bin smiled widely. He was holding something in his hand, but tucked it away into his nightstand hastily when Dongmin walked closer. “I haven’t seen you in a while,” he gestured for Dongmin to sit on his bed.

            Dongmin had to stop himself from flinching in surprise when Bin turned. One side of his face still had several fading pink marks. “Y-yeah, sorry.”

            Bin must have noticed Dongmin’s uncomfortable reaction, shifting so the scrapes were out of view. “It’s probably a good thing you didn’t come sooner. It was worse before,” he said flatly.

            “I was just a bit surprised,” Dongmin admitted. “And I wanted to come see you before. I just…didn’t know how.”

            Bin didn’t say anything, and Dongmin took the opportunity to look at him again. The thin line of his lips, eyes slanted like a cat, the adorable curve of his nose, jawline a little sharper than before. That was when Dongmin noticed how tired he looked. “Bin, haven’t you been sleeping?”

            “Of course I have. It’s not like I can do a whole lot else,” his tone was playful, but Dongmin didn’t believe him.

            “Then, have you been sleeping well?”

            “Yeah,” Bin said quickly, then, after a moment of hesitation, added, “just a little worse than usual, actually.”

            “Binnie,” Dongmin sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I know things have been a bit weird lately, but you can call me. I’ll talk with you until you fall asleep.”

            Bin’s eyes widened, causing Dongmin to immediately regret everything. “Thanks,” he said softly.

            “Hey, um,” no, don’t ask. “Can I ask you something?” Stop, what are you doing? “Why…” you’re gonna ruin it, “did you want me to meet you a few weeks ago?”

            There was nothing he could do to take back the words as he watched Bin’s expression harden. “It’s not important anymore,” said Bin, voice stiff.

            “Oh,” Dongmin said, masking the disappointment in his voice. He didn’t bring it up again, and things were on the way to being okay once more.

 

september, again.

            “You’ve improved a lot,” Bin commented. Dongmin reached to help him up from the bench, but Bin shook his head and pulled himself up and onto a crutch. Between knee surgery just over two weeks ago and an arm he wasn’t allowed to move, Dongmin was impressed that Bin hadn’t chosen to just stay in a wheelchair a little longer.

            “Thanks,” replied Dongmin, out of breath from three hours of tryouts. Minhyuk had taken over as captain for the time being, and while he was proud of his friend, he missed having Bin beside him on the court.

            “Don’t thank me, it’s true. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            Dongmin was slowly working his way through making things normal with Bin. At the very least, as normal as they were before. A few times a week, he would go to see the other and they’d watch movies together, complain about their teachers, or simply sit and talk.

            It was going well until Bin started going back to the hospital for physical therapy. That afternoon, Bin didn’t greet Dongmin like he usually did, only a fraction of his regular smile.

            “How was it?” Dongmin asked, settling on the couch next to Bin.

            “Hmm? It was fine, I guess,” Bin replied noncommittally. Dongmin stared at him accusingly until Bin sighed, yielding. “It…hurt. It was hard.”

            “Sorry to hear that,” Dongmin gently patted Bin’s uninjured shoulder. “It’ll become easier in a few weeks, right? I’ve never known you to be discouraged by hard work.”

            “I guess you’re right. Let’s go upstairs and watch something?” With some effort, Bin pushed himself from the couch.

            Dongmin was at the top of the stairs when he heard a clatter and Bin swearing behind him. Halfway up the staircase, Bin had dropped his crutch. Dongmin moved to go back down and pick it up, but Bin stopped him with a harsh “don’t.” And so he looked on as the other slowly descended the steps, one stair at a time. Bin held onto his crutch and the banister in one hand, pulling himself back up.

            “W-we could have just stayed downstairs,” Dongmin said as Bin landed on the top step, covered in a sheen of sweat. On his previous visits, Bin had already been upstairs when he arrived, and Dongmin wondered if it was this difficult every time.

            “It’s fine,” Bin spoke through gritted teeth. “I’m just a little tired today.”

            “If you say so,” he muttered as Bin determinedly moved past him.

            Towards the end of the movie they were watching, Dongmin had a feeling that Bin really hadn’t been watching. He glanced over to see the other looking at him.

            “What is it, Binnie?”

            “Um, nothing.” Bin turned back so quickly Dongmin was afraid he’d break his neck, too.

            They stayed staring straight ahead at the screen until the end credits finished rolling. Dongmin cleared his throat as casually as possible, looking at their reflections in the now dark screen. He shifted his eyes over to Reflection Bin, and found that that version was looking at Reflection Dongmin. He wondered when it became so warm in the room.

            “So, uh,” Dongmin fidgeted uncomfortably.

            “Yeah?” Reflection Bin said to Reflection Dongmin, who looked like he was trying to find a way to teleport out of the awkwardness that had settled around them.

            After a long pause, Dongmin leaned forward to close the laptop, their reverse images disappearing. “You’re bored of watching movies with me, aren’t you?”

            “What? No!  It’s not you. It’s just I don’t really do much else lately,” Bin explained.

            “Well, let’s do something else next time.” Both of them nodded and smiled silently. “I should probably get going now,” Dongmin stood up. Not knowing what to do with his hands, he reached out and patted Bin’s fluffy hair, fashioned into a glowing halo by the sunlight through the blinds.

            Bin gasped softly and stared at him in shock, then turned away at the same time as Dongmin, who decided he really needed to leave before he did anything more embarrassing. “See you,” the corners of Bin’s mouth lifted at Dongmin backing into his desk in his haste to leave.

            The next time ended up being a week and another appointment later. Dongmin stopped by Bin’s house and the other opened the door, looking more exhausted than the week prior.

            “Are y–” Dongmin’s question was cut off by Bin smacking him lightly with his crutch.

            “Let’s go.”

            On the way back, Bin looked visibly tired, and Dongmin asked several times if he wanted to stop for a bit. It wasn’t until the eleventh bench they passed that Bin finally gave in to his pestering and sat down.

            “It wasn’t any better this time?” Dongmin asked softly.

            “Not really,” Bin fiddled with the hem of his shirt, frowning. He didn’t say anything else, and Dongmin didn’t press further.

            When Dongmin was satisfied that Bin wouldn’t collapse on the rest of the walk home, he stood up just as a car whizzed by a little too close to the sidewalk. He felt a sharp pull on his arm as he was yanked back down onto the bench, and Bin was beside him with wide eyes and shaking hands. Again, Dongmin asked himself if he was the one to blame. If it wasn’t because of me, he wouldn’t have been on the phone, wouldn’t have been distracted, wouldn’t have, wouldn’t have…

Chapter Text

sometime before christmas.

           Wouldn’t it have been better if I’d just died? Bin smudged away a patch from the vapour on his mirror so he could see himself. He looked awful, he thought, ribs starting to push their way out of his skin. He’d tried to wash his hair but his arm, newly free from the sling, proved to be extremely uncooperative. There were goosebumps on his skin from standing in the shower until the water ran cold.

            I guess I’m useless now. A sharp pain bloomed along his wrist.

            The second he finished his thought, his phone rang. Bin picked it up and watched a thin stream of red drip into the sink.

            “Hello?” Drip, drip, drip.

            “Binnie.” He wasn’t cold anymore. “How are you?”

            “I’m fine,” Bin replied. Tears rolled off his chin and swirled the counter pink.

            “Do you want to go get some bubble tea? The game just finished.”

            “Y-yeah, sure.” Drip, drip. Metallic clanging sounded as Bin dropped the knife.

            “Is everything alright? What are you doing?”

            “Not much.” Drip.

            “Really?” The concern that Dongmin fit into the one word had Bin crouching on the floor, holding back a sob. Why should he care? You’ve been horrible to him. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”

            The bleeding stopped, replaced by tears and a runaway heart.

            He’s standing on the side of a road. Through the blur of cars driving past, Dongmin sees someone on the other side. Bin waves to him with a smile he can see from here. Dongmin waves back and suddenly Bin is walking towards him, crossing the street.

            “Wait, no!” Dongmin yells, but Bin doesn’t hear him over the traffic.

            The other doesn’t stop, only walks onto the street, still smiling at him. “It’s okay,” Dongmin hears Bin say, clearly.

            “Binnie, stop!” It feels like he’s shouting through water. His words are slurred, too quiet, don’t reach him.

            Dongmin screams as a car speeds towards Bin. He turns around. He can’t watch. He hears tires screeching and glass shattering and a scream, the sound unfamiliar to him, but he knew it was Bin. Dongmin’s curiosity takes over, forces him to glance over his shoulder at the scene behind him.

            Everything has stopped moving. There’s a car wrapped around the pole, a body on the ground, and…Bin is walking towards him like nothing had happened.

            “Dongmin? What’s wrong?” Bin is in front of him, his image a little fuzzy, voice a little echoey.

            “Y-you just –” Dongmin stutters, looking back to the street, but it’s back to normal.

            “Oh, that?” Bin laughs darkly, a sharp contrast to his image. A moment passes and Bin takes his hand, feeling surprisingly solid. “I did it for you.”

            Bin presses a soft kiss to his cheek, then disintegrates into fragments of light.

            “Bin?” Dongmin shoots his hand out and looks around him frantically, but the other is gone. In his palm, there’s a glowing shard. It hurts a little to look at, like trying to look at the sun. As he lifts it, it disappears too, but this time, Dongmin can’t catch the illuminated tendrils fading into the sky.

            He feels a warm presence beside him, but nobody is there. A voice, soft in his ear, asks, “why didn’t you stop me?”

            Dongmin woke in a cold sweat. He kicked his covers away and made his way to the bathroom, splashing water on his face. What had started as an uneasy shadow in his mind turned into full-blown guilt as weeks passed by and he watched Bin struggling. There were days where the other refused to see him altogether, denying there was anything wrong, blaming it on being tired. Dongmin was always afraid to pry deeper, scared that Bin would tell him that yes, it was his fault. He looked at himself in the mirror again, staring himself down, convinced that one of these days, Bin would never let him anywhere near enough again.

            School made it worse. On the first day, Dongmin had made the mistake of taking Bin into class early with him. The second Bin entered the room, girls that Dongmin wasn’t even sure were in his class flocked around Bin, telling him how sorry they all were. Dongmin had tried to ask them to give him space, which only resulted in drawing the attention to himself. Before he could blink, he was the one being surrounded and offered the chocolate, all while Bin had the audacity to chuckle at him. He hadn’t made the same mistake after that.

            It had been too many practices of seeing Bin on the sidelines, providing a thumbs-up and a half-hearted smile every time Dongmin looked in his direction. Bin kept saying he was fine with just watching, but Dongmin saw the incomplete happiness in Bin’s eyes filled with conflict. There were times where he felt Bin watching him play and Dongmin had to will himself to focus, lest he face Wooseok’s wrath. But the thing was, after some adjustment, the team played fine without Bin. He knew the other could see it too, and that was the worst part. However, no matter how many times he tried to express to Bin that they still needed him (and he needed him, too), the words burning and aching to get out were always caught in his throat, and Dongmin would make up something else, pretend his heart wasn’t breaking, and continue on.

            Dongmin went back to bed with tears he couldn’t dry and a chest he couldn’t stop from trembling. He didn’t understand why Bin didn’t seem to be mad at him when it was because of him. If he’d said something months ago, even days before Bin had called him, how would things have worked out? Surely, it would be different. Bin didn’t deserve this.

            Through blurred eyes, he reached into his nightstand until he found what he was looking for. Dongmin turned on the light and looked at the picture in his hand. Already, it was a little worn around the corners from being held so much, but Dongmin didn’t care. He was smiling. Bin was next to him, smiling as well. Despite their twin expressions, Dongmin doubted that either of them were happy in the picture. He wanted to take a new one, where both of them could feel the way they looked. Dongmin let himself believe that one day, they could, and he clung onto this happy thought, letting it talk him back to sleep.

            Why isn’t he answering? Dongmin frowned, trying the doorbell again. He’d been at Bin’s door for at least three minutes now. Bin said earlier that day that he would be home the entire afternoon, so when Dongmin came home from their first big tournament of the season, he decided to go visit Bin. On the way over, he tried to think of a way to tell Bin about how horrible it was having to room with someone who snored, and how he would have much rather had Bin be with him, without it coming across as strange.

            Taking a deep breath, he tried the doorknob. Dongmin supposed Bin must have forgotten to lock it, because the door swung open easily. It was uncharacteristically silent inside the house. Usually, he could at least hear Bin playing music upstairs.

            “Bin?” Dongmin called out. No response.

            He was considering the possibility that Bin was sleeping, but upon reaching the top of the stairs, Dongmin saw Bin’s crutch toppled over outside the bathroom. Quickly, he made his way over to the door and knocked on the doorframe.

            “Bin, are you okay?” He tapped softly on the door and it began to creak open.

            “Wait, don’t come in,” Bin spoke, voice sounding too far away. Something felt wrong.

            “I just want to see if you’re okay,” Dongmin pushed the door open a little more and peeked around the edge, bracing himself.

            “No, d–”

             Dongmin could have passed out at the scene in front of him. Bin, hunched over in the bathtub. He didn’t have his shirt on. Dongmin could see red, streaked across his torso. Stains too dark on his light blue jeans. And his arms, oh, his arms, were sliced open, dripping red against his skin, red against the white tub, everything was red and white and red and white. Slowly, Dongmin brought his eyes up to meet Bin’s.

            “Wh-what are you doing?” Dongmin stuttered out, even though it was terribly, terribly obvious.

            Bin dropped the blade in his hand. Dongmin stilled as he recognized the sound, the one he’d heard on the phone weeks ago. He looked a little closer, saw small, faint lines of varying darkness crisscrossed under the one that was too large, too deep.

            This is my fault. Oh my god, it’s my fault, it’s my fault, it’s all. my. damn. fau–

            Dongmin watched in slow motion as Bin fell against the edge of the tub. He couldn’t move fast enough across the space between them. Grabbing the closest towels, Dongmin took a deep breath and stepped into the bathtub beside Bin, hating the slick feeling of blood between his toes.

            “You’re here,” Bin mumbled, trying to lift an arm.

            Dongmin grabbed both his wrists and held on as tightly as he could. The world could end before he’d let go. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. It’s my fault.

            “Don’t be. Why are you here?” The other looked at him with half-closed eyes.

            Binnie, don’t go.

            “You’ll be okay. Keep your eyes open for me, Binnie.”

            Bin nodded weakly. “I will, for you.” The faintest of smiles. “You’re here.”

            “I’m here.”

            Dongmin couldn’t bring himself to see Bin for another six days after leaving the hospital. Bin hadn’t gone to school for the whole week, and for some reason, everyone thought to direct their questions about Bin to him. Nobody else knew. He replied to every question by saying there ended up being a complication with the surgery. After all, that’s what it was, wasn’t it? If it hadn’t been for the accident, none of this would have happened. And Bin wouldn’t have needed surgery, could still be playing, could have been happy.

            In Bin’s room, the blinds and window were open, a breeze reaching in. Bin sat in his chair at the window, didn’t turn to greet Dongmin. The sheer curtains floated around his shoulders in the wind, and Dongmin was reminded once again of the first time he’d seen Bin, flying through the air, arms thrown back like wings. Now, the other boy sat, unmoving. The breeze died down and with it, the illusion.

            “Are you just going to stand there all day?” Bin’s usually warm tone sounded harsh. Dongmin walked into the room, and he could feel the tension radiating from Bin. “Go ahead. I know you’re dying to ask,” he said bitterly.

            For once, he didn’t want to ask. But the words were pulled out of him, drawn out by Bin’s cold words. “Why?” The whispered question sounded too loud.

            Bin sighed before he answered, just as quietly and just as loudly. “I’m nothing if I can’t play.”

            I’ll be nothing if you’re gone.

            “Wh-what?” Dongmin said. He couldn’t tell if his shiver was from the almost-winter breeze that whistled in again, or from Bin’s response.

            Bin suddenly shot out his arm, still wrapped in white, and in one motion, knocked everything off his nightstand. From his hand, a small rectangle flew, carried by the wind to Dongmin’s feet.

            Dongmin knelt down and recognized it to be a Polaroid photo, face-down on the floor. With shaking hands, he flipped it over. It was nearly identical to the one he had, but in this one, Bin wasn’t looking at the camera. Bin was looking at him, with an expression Dongmin didn’t want to let himself name.

            “What’s this?” His voice came out sounding horribly unsteady.

            “Doesn’t matter now,” Bin answered, flat, emotionless.

            “Why won’t you tell me?” Dongmin couldn’t take his eyes off of the Bin trapped inside the glossy image.

            “Because it doesn’t fucking matter! You should have just let me die. I wish that car killed me.”

            “Bin. Don’t say that!” Say that it’s my fault it should have been me it should have been me I’m so so so sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.”

            “Fine.” Bin turned in his seat, and Dongmin could see an entire storm in his eyes. “You wanna know? I called you that day because I wanted to tell you…” Bin hesitated, took a breath. “I like you.”

            “Why would you say that doesn’t matter?” Dongmin could barely hear himself speaking. It was like someone else hearing the words, and he was off somewhere else, suffocating in his own heartbeat.

            “Minnie,” Bin said slowly, with a laugh. “Look at me. You’d…you’d still want me, like this?”

            And finally, Dongmin stood up, walked over to Bin, crouched down in front of him, took his hand. “I’d want you no matter what, Bin.”

            Silence.

            Then, very quietly. “Get out.” There was no real force behind the words, and Dongmin realized there never had been, not when Bin asked him to go. It was only ever when he asked him to stay.

            Dongmin was tired of this. “You don’t mean that. You always tell me to leave. Has there ever been a time where you meant it? How many times do I have to tell you, Bin? I’m here. I’ll stay with you. Just let me, for once.”

            He felt Bin stiffen in surprise, then there was a hand on his cheek, and Dongmin saw a tear splash onto the arm in front of him. “Tell me again.” Bin was looking at him, startlingly unguarded, the same intensity that was captured forever in a rectangle the size of his palm.

            “I’m here,” Dongmin said, feeling like he was on fire, because god, Bin was so beautiful, and Dongmin never wanted to see him cry.

            Bin pushed himself up from his seat, a little wobbly, and Dongmin straightened too, helping the other stand. As soon as he was upright, Bin threw his arms around his shoulders. Dongmin didn’t say anything, simply wrapped his arms tightly around Bin’s waist and held on for dear life.

            Hardly a moment had passed when he felt Bin shaking. It took Dongmin a few seconds to realize that he was laughing. “Binnie, what is it?” Dongmin laughed too, and for a while, he could forget about everything left unanswered, guilt temporarily left behind.

            “Nothing,” Bin said. Dongmin could hear the smile in his voice as he continued, “I just think I’m going to start working on doing what makes me happy.”

            It would be a long process, Dongmin knew, but at last, they could begin to move forward.

Chapter Text

in the new year.

           “Binnie? Why are you on the ground?” Dongmin pushed open the gym doors, blinking at the sudden dimness. “How long have you been…sitting here?” He’d just finished his evening classes, and with Bin having returned to practice today, he thought there was a good chance the other would be around.

            The lights clicked back on as Dongmin walked across the courts, confirming his suspicion that Bin had really been motionless on the floor long enough for the lights to turn off.

            “I don’t know,” Bin replied only when Dongmin crouched down beside him and gave his shoulder an experimental poke. “I’m tired,” he sighed, no sign of stopping his blank stare.

            “Why don’t you go home?” Dongmin frowned, though he knew perfectly well why Bin hadn’t left yet.

            “Did you even see me in practice today?” Bin leaned against the wall and started sliding down until he was lying down on the floor.

            “It wasn’t that bad,” he nudged Bin lightly, earning himself a glare. “It was only your first day back.”

            “I guess,” Bin agreed somewhat reluctantly.

            “Let’s get off the floor,” suggested Dongmin. He stood up and looked at Bin, who hadn’t moved from his spot. “Are you hungry? We can get something to eat. Come on, I’ll help you take down the nets.” At the mention of food, Bin sat up like he was rising from the dead, a faint spark of interest showing.

            Dongmin smiled over the pang of guilt that announced itself in his chest, uninvited and unwelcome. He hadn’t asked, but it was impossible not to notice that Bin hadn’t been eating well since the accident. The other was visibly thinner and Dongmin couldn’t help but feel concerned every time he saw Bin in the change room.

            The clanging of the gears as the nets were released echoed through the gym. Dongmin momentarily stopped collecting the balls scattered everywhere to watch Bin, unable to look away from the brace he still had on his knee, and the sleeves he’d taken to wearing over his forearms when he played. When their teammates had asked, Bin smoothly replied with something about keeping his circulation up.

            “Minnie, you’re so slow,” Bin called out to him. “I’ll go get changed first.”

            “Right, sorry,” Dongmin hastily tossed the rest of the balls in the cart and wheeled it over to storage before making his way to find Bin.

            Absentmindedly fiddling with a strap on his bag, Dongmin jumped in surprise when Bin came and sat down next to him, shirtless. He glanced over Bin’s torso and bit the inside of his cheek. There was a light scar on Bin’s collarbone, marking where the doctors had made a cut to attach the broken clavicle back together. Lower down, he saw that Bin took off his sleeves, leaving his arms and the lines still crossing them visible. Dongmin swallowed and looked away.

            “Go put your shirt on before you catch a cold,” Dongmin said quietly. And before I die from this feeling.

            “I can see you looking,” was Bin’s reply. Dongmin could see from the corner of his eye that Bin was watching him. “Does it bother you?”

            “No, it’s fine,” Dongmin insisted, though the image of Bin, sitting in his bathtub, covered in blood, came to him every time he saw the other boy. Dongmin squeezed his eyes shut to push the thought out of his head.

            “Hey, you okay?” Bin’s voice was gentle, meant to make Dongmin feel better, but he only felt worse.

            “I should be asking you that,” Dongmin opened his eyes and forced himself to breathe normally, smile at Bin.

            “I’m serious. You’ve been a little weird lately.”

            “Don’t worry about me, Bin. Just put some clothes on already.” Thankfully, Bin listened to him this time.

 

            They stopped at the convenience store on the way home, snowflakes settling into their hair and on their eyelashes. Dongmin’s breath caught in his throat when he saw Bin squinting at the shelf of ramen with his messy hair and cheeks pink from the cold. Seated in front of the window, the two of them ate in silence, and if their arms were pressed together the entire time, neither of them said anything about it.

            Dongmin watched Bin eat, as casually as possible, his I like you playing over and over. It had taken well over three weeks for it to dawn on him that he’d never explicitly said it back, and by then, Dongmin couldn’t find a way to casually slip it back into their conversations. Binnie, I… he’d always start, heart racing in his chest, and then his words would tie themselves back down in his stomach, refusing to leave.

            “Binnie, I…” Dongmin held his breath.

            Bin looked up from his bowl. “Hmm?” He replied, the last of his noodles still in his mouth.

            Wait. Abort. Abort. “I, uh, just wanted to ask how it tastes?”

            “Oh,” Bin smiled, and something inside Dongmin did a somersault. “It’s good. But,” he frowned, “didn’t you just eat the same thing?”

            Dongmin blinked, all of his brain cells having collectively chosen to go on strike. “I…I did, yeah,” he nodded slowly, wondering if he needed to call ahead to book an appointment at the cemetery.

            “Remind me, how are you in the top three in our class?” Bin laughed. Dongmin wanted to catch the sound in a jar and take it home with him.

            “It’s late, let’s get going,” Dongmin huffed and crossed his arms. “I’ll walk with you.”

            Dongmin stayed quiet on the walk back, listening to their footsteps in the snow and Bin’s voice. When they arrived, Bin stopped in his driveway and turned to face Dongmin. His gaze was so unexpectedly warm that Dongmin felt it fill the air between them. Dongmin opened his mouth to say something before he could melt, Bin taking a breath to speak at the same time.

            Bin’s face broke into a smile and Dongmin laughed softly. “What were you gonna say?” Bin finally said.

            “You should go inside before you freeze,” he kicked at the snow, sending up a small, glittering cloud.

            “But I don’t feel cold,” Bin’s tone was thoughtful. “Thanks for walking with me, Minnie. See you,” he punched Dongmin’s arm playfully, then retreated into his house.

            When Dongmin walked into practice, he was promptly met with a ball to the face. Two voices, a screech and a laugh, let him know that it was Sanha who hit him, and Minhyuk there to witness his demise.

            “Sanha, how do you hit so hard with those skinny arms? Maybe aim into the court next time,” Dongmin grumbled to the younger boy as he walked by. “You’ll give someone a concussion one of these days. Preferably Minhyuk, before he ruins my life,” he teased.

            “When did I ever?” Minhyuk protested.

            “I’m sure you’ll find a new way soon,” Dongmin shot back, rolling his eyes.

            To his surprise, Bin was still sitting in front of the lockers, taping and untaping his fingers. “You’ll waste the whole roll doing that,” Dongmin commented and slid onto the bench next to Bin. “Here, let me,” he said, taking the roll and pulling at one of Bin’s hands. Reluctantly, the other sighed and allowed Dongmin to peel off the current mess on his fingers. “Why are you still in here? You’re usually out by now.”

            “I don’t know,” Bin shrugged, yet another sigh finding its way out.

            “Don’t you?” Dongmin raised an eyebrow. He finished up the taping and elbowed Bin, then stood up to get changed himself. “You love playing, Binnie.”

            Silently, Bin brushed past him and left the room, leaving Dongmin confused. Almost a month had passed since Bin started practicing with them again, and while he wasn’t bad, Dongmin knew it was nowhere close to how well he’d played before. Of course, he didn’t expect Bin to be able to bounce back immediately, but the other didn’t appear to be getting any better.

            Today was especially bad. Dongmin observed Bin mistiming almost every approach, resulting in the ball flying into the net, and when he did get it over, there was none of the usual well-placed shots. Bin was fine, Dongmin knew, but this was something Dongmin had never seen from him. Only going through the motions, no real effort behind the movements.

            He wasn’t the only one who saw it. Wooseok threw a ball at Bin when he was standing around, hitting him square in the chest. Somewhere, Dongmin heard Minhyuk snort in laughter. Bin looked up in surprise, and Wooseok told Bin to focus before he was awarded a best spectator prize. It was an ordinary thing for the coach to say, and normally Bin laughed along with everyone else. Normally, Bin was the last one to be receiving these sorts of comments. However, normally didn’t include today. Bin gave a soft oh, an apology, and walked out of the gym.

            Everyone went quiet, staring after Bin. Collectively flinched at the slamming door. A very long second passed before Wooseok yelled at the team to get back to the drill, right now. Without thinking, as it often was when it came to Bin, Dongmin ran out after the other.

            It didn’t take long for Dongmin to find Bin, sitting on a desk in an empty classroom. His shoes squeaked across the floor as he walked over and sat next to Bin. Bin glanced over but didn’t say anything, hanging silence punctuated by the regular ticking of the clock. Dongmin envied the hands on the wall that moved without dwelling on a moment longer than any others. For three minutes and eleven seconds, Dongmin looked at the distorted reflections of light off the evenly spaced desks. Loose papers were still scattered across a few of them, and he wondered what was written there. If, between the margins of someone else’s life, he would find a way to make things better.

            A hand covered his own and tapped lightly. “We should go back,” Bin said, sounding as gentle as the rain against the window. Dongmin stood and let the other lead him back into the hallway, and even as they walked back to the gym, Bin didn’t pull his hand away.

            “Um,” said Dongmin, once they were standing in front of the doors. It took a few more seconds of Dongmin’s ears aggressively burning to death before Bin dropped his hand and took a rather large step back.

            “Sorry.”

            “Don’t be.”

            It took Dongmin a couple of tries to open the doors, and as soon as he did, Wooseok bestowed two sets of lines upon both of them. Dongmin didn’t mind, really. To him, it was nothing compared to seeing the rest of practice go more smoothly for Bin.

 

            He stayed after practice with Bin instead of going to the library, content with spreading his books across the rows of bleachers. In the middle of a particularly dull chapter, Dongmin was spared from his boredom by a ball flying into his pencil case.

            “No, Kevin!” Dongmin sadly watched the yellow pouch tumble over and spill stationery everywhere.

            Bin ran up the bleachers and started picking up pencils with him, apologizing while handing them over. When Dongmin had collected all of them, Bin sat down beside him, poking at a stray ball between the rows. Dongmin wasn’t sure if Bin needed something or if he was just taking a break, so he continued to flip through the pages of his horrible textbook, occasionally sneaking glances at the other.

            Eventually, Bin sighed loudly and threw the ball across the gym. Dongmin watched it bounce off a basketball hoop and found it impressive that Bin could throw that far from a seated position. Yet another sigh had Dongmin thinking this was more than just a break, so he gladly closed his book and turned to Bin before he could blow the whole school over with how hard he was sighing.

            “Binnie,” Dongmin waved a hand in front of the other’s blank stare. “What are you thinking about?”

            “Nothing,” Bin frowned, but Dongmin could tell he was hesitating. “Wait, no, that was habit. Let me try again,” he added, surprising Dongmin.

            “You don’t have to,” Dongmin said quietly. He knew Bin didn’t like to be pushed, that he needed to speak out of his own volition or they’d never get anywhere. Talking to Bin often felt like pulling at a tangled chain. The harder he tried to force it, the more difficult it became to undo.

            “I…I want to.” It took Bin another minute before he continued. “It’s been frustrating lately. Right after the accident, all I’d think about was playing again. I think because I’ve played for so long, and at some point, it became something for me to hold onto. Even if I didn’t have anything else, I knew I could come back to the court, and everything would be better. But this time, I couldn’t. So to suddenly not have that…I didn’t know what to do with myself.

            “And then I was so excited to come back, Minnie. But when I did, I-I was used to being good, you know? Now it’s like I can’t do anything right, and it’s already been a while. Oh my god, what if I can never play again? I don’t think I know who I am anymore if I don’t have this, it’s everything to me.”

            Dongmin felt infinitely worse. It should have been me, he thought. He would have been fine. To him, it was nothing. “Oh,” was the only thing he managed to say, followed by an awkward shoulder pat. Dongmin gave up on his books after that, choosing to use them instead to hide behind while convincing himself he wasn’t lost in Bin’s graceful movements, the smooth swing of his arms.

            Another ball flew towards him several minutes later, this time caught by Dongmin before it could perform an attempted murder on Kevin. Carefully, he maneuvered around the fortress of books and walked down the bleachers, footsteps echoing.

            “Binnie,” he said, tossing the ball back at the other. “Take a break. I have an idea.”

            Dongmin rummaged around in the storage room until he found a chair. It looked questionably stable, but it would suffice. He pulled it out to the middle of the court and sat down in it, waving Bin over.

            “Serve at me. Hit me in the face,” he nodded enthusiastically.

            “You…want me to hit you with the ball?” Bin looked doubtful. “I don’t know…”

            “Just pretend I’m Minhyuk or something, trust me.”

            Bracing himself, Dongmin let Bin send serve after serve towards him. But none of them hit. While he was thankful that he was still intact for the time being, he knew Bin had better aim then this. He left his seat and went over to Bin, grabbing his shoulder, shaking it a little.

            “Binnie, you don’t need to swing so hard. And,” he pulled Bin’s arm through an arc, “straight, remember?”

            Moments later, the chair was knocked onto the floor.

            “I got it,” Bin had an expression of mild disbelief.

            “You got it.”

Chapter Text

spring break.

            Dongmin was far too stressed for six a.m. on a Saturday. It’ll be fun, they said. They being Myungjun and Jinwoo, who had planned a spring break trip and invited him, Minhyuk, Sanha, and Bin to come along. The thought of not using their week-long break to study was terrifying. He couldn’t begin to fathom how the eldest two could be so relaxed about it, being in university now, no less. Naturally, Dongmin tried to refuse the invitation. Even more naturally, Minhyuk had called him lame, forced him to pack his bags, and all but shoved him into the car.

            All thoughts of dying over having to rush to finish his schoolwork once he returned were forgotten as Myungjun tore out of the driveway at breakneck speed in his very red van. Yeah, I’ll just die this way instead, then I won’t even have to worry about failing my classes, great, fantastic, excellent, amaz–

             From the passenger seat, Jinwoo let out a joyful yell as he rolled down the window. Dongmin now placed death by heart attack at the top of his list, followed by his neighbours coming after him for having such loud friends.

            His friends. Incredible, Dongmin thought, taking in the group around him. How much his life had changed in a year and a half. Meeting Bin and going from barely being able to form a sentence around him to…whatever this was now, the limbo where both of them knew, but neither said anything about it.

            “Hey Bin,” Minhyuk started. Already, Dongmin stiffened in his seat, not trusting that the younger wasn’t about to embarrass him. “You like Dongmin, right?”

            “What?!” Dongmin and Bin simultaneously sputtered out.

            “D-don’t be ridiculous, Minhyukkie,” Dongmin stammered indignantly. He didn’t dare look behind him to Bin in the back seat, but judging from the sound Sanha was making, Bin probably looked as flustered as Dongmin felt.

            “Please, you two are so obvious, you can see that, right?” Myungjun chimed in.

            “I’m nearsighted,” Bin offered, sounding somewhat strangled.

            “Can you two get together already, before Myungjun wins this bet?” Jinwoo turned to scan over them, laughing when he saw how much Dongmin had shrunk down in his seat.

            “This– you– what?” Dongmin squeaked, having lost his entire vocabulary in the span of fifteen seconds. He knew the answer to the question. But just him knowing felt so different from it being acknowledged to everyone else, because that would make it real, and Dongmin had no idea what he was supposed to do with this mess named feelings.

            “Anyway,” Minhyuk interjected, “I just thought you all should know that last year, Dongmin begged me to let him use some of my masks so he could try and look good for Bin.”

            Sanha screamed, and so did Jinwoo, and Myungjun. Minhyuk laughed through Dongmin punching his arm. With a pained expression, Dongmin turned his head so slowly he wasn’t sure he was moving, to make eye contact with Bin, who looked like he’d just seen an entire horde of ghosts. Four ghosts, to be precise, with the way the rest of the car was screaming enough to haunt anyone for the rest of their lives.

            Did you? Bin mouthed. Vaguely mortified, Dongmin nodded. He saw Bin smile shyly – Bin, shy? – and suddenly, he didn’t mind all the sound around him.  

            The car settled back into comfortable conversation soon enough, Myungjun and Jinwoo complaining about their professors, Sanha boasting that he was still the tallest. It was hard now for them to find a time where they could all be together. Dongmin discovered that he’d missed this easy camaraderie, stemmed from the same difficult push of practice, the same goal of winning.

            He dozed off the rest of the drive, waking at being harshly jolted as the car bumped its way across a gravel road. Myungjun stomped on the brakes and parked crookedly in front of a fence. Dongmin felt for the poor vehicle, which looked to be as expensive as every other shiny car he’d seen in Myungjun’s garage, being driven so carelessly.

            The eldest announced their arrival, met with a round of cheers. Dongmin stumbled out of the car and tried to recover movement in his legs, stiff from hours of sitting. He looked at the gorgeous house in front of him, situated on a lake, appearing as if out of a picture book. Myungjun ushered them all inside, showing them around and insisting they make themselves comfortable, but also to not break anything, lest his parents never let him set foot on the property again.

            A white marbled staircase spiraled up from the well-lit living room, polished banisters adorned with scattered rainbows from the glittering chandelier. Floor length ivory drapes framed the scenic window and Dongmin carefully removed his shoes, afraid to stain the space with his less than pristine existence.

            Myungjun waved everyone up the stairs and directed them to the bedrooms. Five in total, with two claimed by his family members, one that was his, which he pushed Jinwoo towards. Minhyuk and Sanha disappeared into one of the remaining rooms, leaving Dongmin with Bin in the hallway.

            Large wooden doors opened to reveal a white room with a raised platform in one corner for the bed. Myungjun had assured them that the bed could comfortably fit two people, and while it certainly looked that way, Dongmin needed to stop himself from having a meltdown at the thought of sharing a bed with Bin. It wasn’t as if they’d never done it before, but so rarely it was that it had been voluntary and intentional that Dongmin couldn’t help but grip his bag a little tighter, wishing he had the same hold on his sanity.

            Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent by the lake, the weather just warm enough for the water to be welcoming. To his surprise, Minhyuk had kindly chosen to let him live for the day, making no further unnecessary comments. When the group grew tired of throwing each other off the dock, they returned to the house and prepared for dinner.

 

            Dongmin had been standing at the door of the bathroom for a long time. So long that he could smell the burnt cookies that Sanha attempted to call a meal, could hear Myungjun shouting I explicitly told you not to set anything on fire, could feel his hair, damp from the lake when he came in, already dried. So far, nobody had come by to question why he hadn’t started the shower he claimed he was going for over thirty minutes ago.

            It’s just a bathtub, calm down. Five months and he could barely look at one. Dongmin didn’t know how Bin could do it. At home, he’d been thankful that at least one of the upstairs bathrooms had only a standing shower. He wasn’t sure if he could explain to Myungjun that although yes, this was a very nice bathtub, he didn’t particularly want to stand in it.

            Footsteps approached, stopping behind him. Without turning, Dongmin knew it was Bin.

            “We’re about to order pizza, what kind do you want?” Dongmin barely registered Bin’s question, eyes fixed on the porcelain monster before him.

            “Anything is fine.” A random press on his automatic response vending machine, and Dongmin was glad the answer that fell out of his mouth was a reasonable one. Behind him, Bin made a sound of acknowledgement and started back down the hallway. “Wait, Bin,” Dongmin called out softly. As Bin came up behind him again, he felt the familiar knot under his rib cage of his sentences tangling themselves together, anchoring in his throat, stuck in the maze of his lungs.

            “Yeah?” Out of the corner of his eye, Dongmin saw Bin appear next to him. The other followed his gaze until they were both standing under the doorway, staring at a bathtub and looking rather ridiculous.

            “Tell me,” Dongmin ripped open his chest to drag the words out; they came reluctantly, in hesitant whispers and shaky hands. “Is it my fault?”

            It took a long time for Bin to gather what he meant. Dongmin wasn’t able to bring himself to say anything else, only screamed in his head for Bin to understand what he was asking.

            “Why…why would you say that?”

            “Just feels like it,” Dongmin chewed his lip. He didn’t want to go through his list of reasons and everything it encompassed.

            “Don’t ever think that again,” Bin snapped, but his voice stayed gentle. “You’re the last person I’d blame for anything, Minnie.”

            And with that, Bin led him to the edge of the tub and they sat there together, until Dongmin thought he could be okay and that his shower might feel more like water and less like guilt.

            “How do you do it?” Dongmin asked as Bin retreated to the hallway.

            Bin turned back to him with a soft smile. “You showed me that I don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

            Dongmin woke, the lazy, comfortable kind of waking where he took a deep breath and felt nothing but warmth before his eyes could think about opening. Sitting up, he blinked the world back into view and his hand landed on a soft form next to him. He smiled to himself, looking at Bin’s cheek squished against the pillow, hair sticking up. The sun outlined Bin’s features in gold and Dongmin had to quell the fluttering in his chest that couldn’t be healthy first thing in the morning.

            He doubted anyone else was out of bed yet, so he made his way to the kitchen quietly, picking up a muffin and some fruit that Jinwoo had forced Myungjun to buy (so we don’t all die of malnutrition, he’d said). In his pajamas, Dongmin walked out to the lake and sat on the dock, the wooden planks not yet warm in the uncertain light.

            A breeze rustled the tall grass at the edge of the lake. There were ducks, paddling ripples into the water, and with the sun reaching out tentative fingers, Dongmin felt like he could be the only person on Earth. He closed his eyes and let himself breathe in the waking day around him. The backs of his eyelids lit up red with the sun on the other side, until it was too bright to bear.

            Eyes still dazed from light, Dongmin had to squint when someone sat down beside him and pushed a cup of tea into his hands.

            “Binnie? You don’t usually get out of bed this early,” Dongmin said, suddenly not sure if he’d actually looked away from the sun.

            “I woke up and didn’t see you,” Bin shrugged and took a sip from his own mug. “But I wanted to see you.”

            Dongmin nearly choked on his drink. “Oh,” he nodded, as if that was a perfectly normal thing to hear.

            They finished their tea in silence as the sun pulled into the sky. “I wanted to ask you something. About the, um, conversation in the car on the way here.”

            Dongmin resisted the strong urge to hurl himself into the lake, instead putting on an expression that he hoped was neutral. “Yes?”

            “Well, I,” Bin furrowed his brow and scooted slightly closer. “Actually, I wanted to say this sooner. But, uh,” he stopped, then laughed nervously. “It’s been kind of hectic lately, hasn’t it? I-I just…”

            “Please just say it,” Dongmin blurted out.

            “I was, uh,” Bin grabbed his hand, causing Dongmin to wonder how he’d just survived sleeping next to the other because –

            Binnie, I think…I think I love you.

            Bin cleared his throat, and just when Dongmin thought if he waited one more second he was going to die, the other said, “I was wondering if after we go home, you’d like to go on a date?”

            “Really? Yes, oh my god, yes,” Dongmin replied quickly, not caring that he probably sounded desperate or that it had started raining because he was so happy.

            Bin collapsed against his shoulder and Dongmin could feel the other boy smiling into his neck. Even when the drizzle turned into a full sun shower, neither of them moved, holding onto each other with everything.

            Twenty minutes later, Bin stood and reached his hand out to help Dongmin up. Dongmin straightened as well, shoving wet hair out of his eyes, and doing the same for Bin. Staring back at him was the most beautiful boy Dongmin had ever seen, looking at him with an expression that wasn’t so unreadable anymore. “You’re my best friend, Minnie.”

            Bin cautiously placed a hand on his shoulder and took a step closer, so close that Dongmin could feel the heat radiating from the other. The hand on his shoulder slid to the back of his neck, pulling him in, and then Bin was kissing him softly, as light and warm as the rain on their skin. Through his shirt, Dongmin registered a thumping against his chest that wasn’t only his. It wasn’t electrifying, like he thought it would be, but it felt like a fire blooming in his chest and spreading through his body until he was sure that Bin’s glow had lit him up from the inside. Perfect.

            At some point during the movie, Bin had curled himself into Dongmin’s side, arms comfortably around him. This led to Dongmin finding that at some other point in the apparently uninteresting movie four pairs of eyes were trained on them, not the screen. Dongmin nudged Bin gently to move, and he did so with a soft noise of complaint.

            “So,” Minhyuk said expectantly, pausing the movie with a smirk.

            Jinwoo and Myungjun exchanged a knowing look. “Looks like I won the bet,” Myungjun said cheerfully.

            “Um,” Dongmin looked to Bin. Nobody had said anything when they’d come in from the rain, soaked in their pajamas, holding hands and giggling like idiots. They hadn’t exactly planned how they were going to tell their friends. It seemed that they were all a little more invested than Dongmin had thought, and he flushed. Was it too late to deny anything? “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stated as firmly as he possibly could under the circumstances.

            “Really?” Sanha raised an eyebrow, smirk to match Minhyuk’s. “Then what’s this?” He swiped a few times on his phone and turned the screen towards Dongmin and Bin.

            It was the two of them. Kissing. And for some godforsaken reason, everyone else pulled out their phones as well, revealing the same scene from slightly different angles.

            “You did not,” Bin deadpanned. Sanha shrunk away from Bin’s menacing gaze, though he continued to laugh.

            “I’m so done,” Dongmin anguished, making yet another mental note on his never-ending list of Reasons to Kill Minhyuk. “I know this was your idea,” he grumbled to said target.

            “It’s cute,” Minhyuk snickered and everyone else nodded in agreement.

            Dongmin sighed and wondered why he hadn’t chosen different friends, but the truth was, he loved them all. “Just when I thought you’d decided to let me live,” he shook his head and chuckled.

            “I would never,” Minhyuk retorted, looking offended.

            “It really took you guys long enough,” said Jinwoo. “I’m glad it finally happened though, we were tired of seeing both of you mope around,” he smiled, even as he reluctantly passed a few bills to Myungjun.

            They dispersed into their rooms soon after, Dongmin gladly crawling into bed and Bin right next to him. Hours passed and he couldn’t sleep, the thought of Bin still tingling on his lips. He propped himself up on an elbow to look at Bin, ignoring the thought that this was borderline creepy, storing away this memory of how peaceful he looked. Dongmin wanted to store this feeling in his jar of seashells at home so that the next time he brought a shell up to his ear, he would hear not the ocean, but a soft, even breath that sounded like an angel’s whisper.

            A red van screeched out of the driveway. In the back seat, Dongmin’s fingers were laced in Bin’s, hands reaching across the space in the middle. The ride home was much quieter than it had been on the way there, everyone tired from nearly a week without adult supervision. Dongmin liked the silence that left him to sort his mind while Bin drifted off to sleep. All the way back, he let himself look at Bin and thought about how far they’d come, how much both of them had changed, and he smiled.

            Would it have been different if I’d said something sooner? A year and a half ago, when we’d just met? When I was clueless and Bin was cold, if I’d pushed any more, any less, maybe we wouldn’t be here today. But, Binnie…I’d wait for us again, always.

Chapter Text

almost summer.

            Dongmin was becoming genuinely concerned he would dislocate Bin’s shoulder with the effort needed to physically drag the other out of bed. It was the last day of the last tournament of their last year, and somehow, Bin was contentedly clinging to his blanket, fifteen minutes before they needed to be down for breakfast. Dongmin had given in to the other’s insistent five more minutes about ten times too many. All this time, and Dongmin remained just as baffled as to how this happened every single morning. A particularly hard pull had Dongmin on the floor, Bin flying out of bed to land on top of him. As Dongmin pondered a new existence without any intact ribs, the other boy was wrapping arms around him and pressing a kiss to his cheek. It took all of Dongmin’s willpower to push Bin off and throw a jersey at him. Bin grumbled in complaint, but dressed himself piece by piece as Dongmin continued to toss more clothing in his direction.

            They were halfway to the elevator when Dongmin noticed that only he was, in fact, halfway there. Bin was still at the door, looking as if he had absolutely no intention of taking another step.

            “Did you forget something? We really have to – hey, what’s wrong?” Dongmin’s irritation at the prospect of being late melted into worry at the other’s expression. He shuffled over to Bin, awkwardly stopping. For weeks, Dongmin felt he didn’t have a grasp on their shifted relationship, the delicate handling of the new boundaries. The same actions that would have caused him minimal panic at best suddenly seemed different and sent his heart spiralling. Just when he thought he was over it, right now he needed to be over it, the hesitancy crept in and settled, familiar, on his shoulders.

            “What if I mess up today?” Quiet. So quiet, yet loud enough to frighten Dongmin’s uncertainty into retreating.

            “It’ll be fine, Binnie. You won’t. And even if you do? It’ll still be fine.”

 

            It was fine. Later, after Bin served and won match point on quarterfinals, then semifinals, then finals, he stood unmoving for just a moment, blinking at the sudden cheers erupted on their half of the court. Dongmin pulled Bin into the group hug but Bin crushed Dongmin into his side, and there they were, surrounded by the screams and blinded by the lights and together, together, and they were fine.

            From his room, Dongmin heard the front door opening. Immediately, he jumped up and pretended he hadn’t been sitting in his room for the past four hours, readying himself for tonight. Flowers tucked into the pocket of his dark suit, and a matching bundle in his hand to be given to Bin. His hair was gelled back, a hint of pink on his lips, foundation giving him an even glow. If Dongmin were to be honest with himself, he would readily admit that he’d been looking forward to tonight since last month, when he thought he was going to definitely expire with how many times (six, for the record) he’d choked over lunch trying to ask Bin to prom. But he wasn’t going to do that. He was going to be calm and cool and not make a fool of himself in front of the world’s most handsome man, currently in his living room.

            The moment he saw the other, however, all of Dongmin’s plans were forgotten. Bin took the air out of his lungs with all the ease of the step taken towards him, and once again Dongmin was struck breathless by how beautiful he was. Sharp jaw, sharp eyes, soft lips. A deep part and bangs pushed to the side left Bin’s forehead partially exposed. Dongmin wanted to kiss the soft-looking skin, but he couldn’t, not with his parents watching and his mother complimenting Bin on his eyeshadow – Bin was in Dongmin’s living room, wearing a suit and eyeshadow – so instead he took a deep breath and let Bin take him by the hand.

            Dongmin suddenly remembered that he was holding flowers for Bin’s suit still, and steeled himself to look directly at Bin. At the same time, Bin was trying to give something to him, and Dongmin thought it looked awfully familiar when he realized that Bin had gotten the same matching flowers. He laughed, and then Bin laughed, and then the room lit up with the other’s bright, bright smile.

All throughout the ten million pictures that his mother insisted on taking, Dongmin couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. As they finally headed down the driveway, Bin paused, taking Dongmin’s trembling hands into his own.

            “Minnie, don’t be nervous,” Bin said warmly. It wasn’t so much that he was nervous as he was excited. Excited and wholly emotionally unprepared for the thought of going to prom with Bin, and oh my god I’m going to prom with The Moon Bin, and he couldn’t believe it. When Bin had said of course I’ll go with you, you’re my boyfriend, Minnie, Dongmin had half-expected himself to have a breakdown on the spot over the way Bin had called him his boyfriend, how inconceivably wonderful it had sounded.

            “I’m not,” insisted Dongmin, but his voice betrayed him. Because no matter how much he would have liked it to be otherwise, Bin was right, he was all nervous disguised as excited and terrified hidden under happiness. Bin left a feather-light kiss on the knuckles of one hand, then the other, and Dongmin felt the worst of the tension fade through the spot of warmth on his fingers.

 

            Colourful fairy lights twinkled across the room, strung up between walls and hanging in the air like fireflies. One corner was taken over by a live band, notes flying off the piano and plucked out of a guitar, the smooth tone of the trumpet accentuated by the staccato beat of a snare drum. Dongmin sat through dinner with his knee pressed up to Bin’s under the table, gentle gazes and shy smiles between them, an occasional reach to run fingers across wrists.

            With the end of dinner came the migration to the dance floor. Dongmin was sure that when he stood and walked over, the rest of his table was with him, but half an hour later, the slowing beat brought awkward laughs from classmates and he looked around to see only Bin by his side.

            “Dance with me,” Bin was saying in his ear, pulling Dongmin in and sliding arms over his shoulders. Dongmin’s breath hitched in surprise. He gave in and stiffly wrapped his arms around Bin’s waist, regretting not having sought out advice on how one was expected to slow dance. Bin must have sensed his unease, for a moment later, he rubbed light circles across Dongmin’s back and slid a hand over the soft hairs on the nape of his neck. “It’s alright, relax,” he whispered.

            And so he did. Dongmin let himself step closer to Bin, chest pressed against his, thinking that they were probably crushing their flowers but with the other so close, Dongmin couldn’t bring himself to care. Over Bin’s shoulder, Dongmin spotted the other graduating members of his team congregated around a head of red hair, all snickering in their direction. He ignored Sungjun’s too-enthusiastic thumbs-up and Wooseok’s hollering in favour of turning his face to the crook of Bin’s neck. A deep breath in and Bin hugged him in even more tightly as they swayed to the music. For the rest of the night, he hardly heard the music over the sound of his heartbeat calling Bin’s name.

 

            Stopped under a streetlamp and the stars, seated on a grassy slope and Bin’s mouth open on his, Dongmin felt so, so alive. It was far past when they both should have been home and they still had school the next day, but if tired eyes and foggy minds meant he could stay here even a moment longer, then he would take it.

            “Hey,” Bin mumbled against his lips and leaned back slightly. “Guess what?”

            Dongmin was about to protest, ask if the guessing could wait another day, but the serious look on Bin’s face stopped him. “Hmm?” He replied, a bit dizzy from the heavy kiss.

            “We’ll be going to school together in the fall. I…I got an offer from them a couple of months ago. They want me to play for the team,” Bin said, eyes bright with joy.

            “That’s such great news, Binnie! I’m so proud of you,” Dongmin gave Bin’s arm a squeeze. Earlier in the year, Dongmin had been accepted into the top university in the country for law. He was glad, of course, but for a while, there was a sliver of fear at the thought of being separated from Bin. For the past few months, he hadn’t dared ask the other where he would be going, hoping that not knowing would surely be better than having knowledge he didn’t want.

            “You don’t seem surprised,” Bin commented with a chuckle. “You knew, didn’t you?”

            Of course, Dongmin had had his suspicions when he’d seen Bin approached by a rather fancy-looking man after one of their games, and Bin walking away with a grin on his face. “How could I be surprised? They’d have to be blind not to see how amazing my Binnie is.” My Binnie. It came out unintentionally, yet it felt so right that Dongmin didn’t even try to save himself. Bin looked at him for a long time, opening and closing his mouth several times, looking like he wanted to say something else. Just before Dongmin started to believe he could set the ground aflame with the heat of his own blush, Bin laughed softly into his shoulder and Dongmin smiled into the other’s hair, and let everything else be forgotten.