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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 dangerously 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.