One time, Donghyuck made Yukhei propose to him in a Nando’s so they’d get a free meal. He’d pulled off all the rings that adorned his fingers and placed one, a thin gold band fashioned to look like an olive branch, in Yukhei’s palm and shoved him through the door. Yukhei felt like a total moron dropping down on one knee in front of the counter and loudly asking Donghyuck to marry him but the way Donghyuck’s eyes sparkled as he stuffed his mouth with Fino Pitta made it worth it—still, “We could’ve pulled this trick in a real restaurant,” Yukhei grumbled, pouring a generous helping of Peri Peri sauce onto his chips, “Then we’d have gotten a free bottle of champagne.”
Donghyuck fixed him a look, somehow managing to make his eyes pierce into Yukhei’s soul despite his chipmunked cheeks and pout, puffy and red with Extra Extra Hot. “Firstly, how dare you imply Nando’s isn’t a real restaurant. And secondly, I have that shitty rosé Jaemin and Renjun gave me in the mini fridge at home. Wanna get drunk and consummate this marriage afterwards?”
“We only got engaged,” Yukhei pointed out, and Donghyuck only smirked harder. Yukhei had to stifle an amused sigh. “But you’re right, semantics.”
(Donghyuck’s mouth, later, burned around Yukhei’s cock.
Literally—Yukhei stood stark naked in the shower while Donghyuck unhooked the shower head to spray the fiery sting in Yukhei’s nether regions with cold water. “Promise me you’ll get Lemon and Herb next time,” Yukhei whimpered, as Donghyuck pressed comforting kisses and sweet nothings along the lines of of course, baby, you’re the only person I’d whitewash my taste buds for along his bare shoulder.)
When Yukhei was eighteen, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
When shit like that happens, there’s really nowhere else to go but down. A child prodigy, he’d read any Penguin Classic he could get his hands on, mastered every major branch of philosophy, could speak eight languages and write stories in five, and by sixth form he’d already published three Kafkaesque novels, won a slew of literary prizes that all led him to—
Sweden, body trembling with the force of his sobs, in an empty bathroom he found on the lowest floor of Stockholm City Hall. It was nearing midnight and the Nobel Banquet was starting to wind down, but it was nothing short of a miracle that Yukhei had managed to escape. He was tall and loud and his speech made the entire Blue Hall double over in laughter and, though flattered, he’d spent the entire night trying to fend off much much older women who wanted a dance, and despite all of this, he fell.
Yukhei had always wondered what climbing to the peak of Mount Everest would feel like. It was like this: cold, and white for eons. They wanted to commercialise him. A face like that? It wasn’t easily forgotten. Unlike other Nobel laureates in Literature, Yukhei Wong would not fade into obscurity.
But there was one thing they couldn’t account for: Yukhei Wong didn’t much like the cold.
After Sweden, he pretty much stopped thinking altogether, found healing grinding against a pretty girl in Ibiza and hedonism floating in the crystal waters of Aruba. To put it another way, Yukhei wore a sign around his neck that read: please judge my book by its cover.
But an elastic band always snaps back—or it breaks forever.
Yukhei was born to learn, he ached for it. He hadn’t pulled far enough to not be able to come back—he’d learnt another two damn languages without even trying. So, at twenty one, he books a flight out of Thailand and enrols in a Classical Archaeology major at Oxford, arriving to see an English thunderstorm for the first time in three years, and the sun only breaks through the clouds the minute he enters his room and meets—
“Donghyuck,” Renjun seethes, “is the bane of my fucking existence.”
They’re sat inside Nana’s Tea Shop, at a table next to the counter so that Jaemin can keep up with their conversation from where she’s running orders, her pastel pink braid slapping against the frilly edges of her apron. This is Yukhei’s favourite place in all of Oxford—his hands are always comically large around a floral teacup of Jaemin’s chamomile brew and the mustard velvet chair by the window’s memorised the shape of his bum and the only reason he’d even come inside was to ask Jaemin out—“I have a boyfriend,” she’d said, and loudly added, “But you’re REALLY CUTE and I’m MISSING OUT. It’s a SHAME my BOYFRIEND is never open to SHARING OUR BED.”—and it’s great.
“Donghyuck’s not that bad,” Yukhei defends, and poorly at that. Donghyuck’s usually the one sticking up for himself. Yukhei mostly cheers him on—or just, stands behind him, that works too.
“The fact that that description is the best you can give me only proves my point,” Renjun says, taking a sip of his Earl Grey tea, and it stings a little. Yukhei hasn’t written a word since his last book but when he looks at Donghyuck, he wants to. But he can’t. “There I am, walking into the JdP to practice for my spring recital and guess who happens to be sucking dick right next door,” Renjun goes on to say. Yeah, that’s why.
“A complete stranger?” Yukhei tries, always one to hold out some hope.
“I wish,” Renjun says, and Yukhei sinks back against the dainty frame of his chair—well, as much as he can. He never likes sitting on these ones because, as Jaemin once pointed out, they make him look like a Great Dane trying to curl up on top of a cat bed. “How Donghyuck managed to time his gagging along with Le cygne I have no fucking clue, but I’m going to kill him. I’m really going to do it this time.”
“Sure, babe,” Jaemin calls out, stirring a jasmine tea for the elderly lady who’d just walked in. “And maybe we can move onto another topic? I’m trying to run a respectable establishment here,” and she gives Yukhei a pitying look that makes him squirm uncomfortably in his seat.
“Right,” Renjun says, eyeing Yukhei like he’s noticing him for the first time. He gets the same look as Jaemin. “No more Donghyuck.”
Yukhei wishes he could say the same.
Donghyuck was in his second year of Music at St Hilda’s College when Yukhei got in, and apparently he’d tried to apply for a room swap before Yukhei arrived because he thought he’d been stuck with a snotty Londoner straight out of high school—but when Yukhei walked in, a first year older and bigger than Donghyuck himself, Donghyuck’s eyes had widened and he muttered, “Oh, how the turntables, Donghyuck Lee.”
That lasted about two seconds, before Yukhei opened his mouth and Donghyuck wanted a room swap again.
Donghyuck wasn’t rude exactly—just, busy? Classical Archaeology was fun, it was cardio for Yukhei’s brain but, ultimately, a breeze, and he found himself with a single focus: he was desperate to get to know Donghyuck. But Donghyuck spent all his time in class or practicing at the Jacqueline Du Pré Building or at Drama Society, run by a grad student called Ten or simply gave a no thank u, not tonight whenever Yukhei asked if he wanted to hang—and Yukhei just wanted a friend—okay, that’s a lie, he’d definitely told Jaemin and Renjun the other day that he wanted to die with his face buried in Donghyuck’s ass—but he ends up with more when Donghyuck sits on his bed one night and says, “So, Jeno’s informed me that I might’ve been neglecting you.”
“You…” and Yukhei struggles to find the right words here because what? Why would Jeno say that? He wasn’t even aware Jeno remembered his name that one time they met when Yukhei passed by Drama Society? “…haven’t? I mean, you don’t owe me anything.”
“Well, as your more experienced and knowledgeable senior,” Donghyuck starts, fingertips tapping against Yukhei’s stretched-out calf, “I’d say I’m partly responsible for your settling into Oxford. Plus you’re friends with Renjun Huang and I feel like I need to steer you away from the dark side before he has you in his clutches for good.”
“Renjun’s nice though?” Yukhei says. He closes the lid of his laptop, lecture recording for Advanced Latin abruptly cutting off, and he immediately regrets getting rid of that crutch when Donghyuck leans in closer, hand sliding further up Yukhei’s leg.
“That’s what he wants you to believe,” Donghyuck whispers, eyes darting to their mirror like saying Renjun’s name three times too many might make him appear, out for blood. All of a sudden, he slaps Yukhei’s thigh, and grins at Yukhei’s glum expression. “Cheer up, big boy,” he says, “We’re about to go get Nando’s.”
Jaemin’s closing up shop when Yukhei receives the text that, to put it lightly, changes the course of his and Donghyuck’s friendship forever. She’s sweeping around him, quietly telling him about her plans to invite Renjun home for Christmas, and she makes to move onto another section of tables when Yukhei reads study date @ st hilda’s library in 30, y/n? and promptly knocks his gold-rimmed teacup onto the floor. He and Jaemin stare at the shattered ceramic and soppy dregs of English Breakfast for a long moment before Yukhei reaches out for the broom.
“You and Donghyuck have been hanging out a lot lately,” Jaemin remarks, head resting on a table as she watches Yukhei clean up the mess.
“And I still freak out every time,” Yukhei says. It’s gotten easier and easier to hide his nerves around Donghyuck—or at least easier to mask them with his usual brand of dumbassery, which Donghyuck seems to be endeared by (see: yesterday, the gardens near Magdalen College, Yukhei scaling a tree and yelling DO IT FOR THE VINE while Donghyuck nearly pissed himself laughing. And afterwards, they sat on the Lyra & Will bench and talked until sunset about their wildly specific fantasy of having a kid born in Antarctica, so Yukhei is definitely feeling better about himself.) “I’m getting pigeons in my stomach just thinking about seeing him!”
“Isn’t it butterflies?” Jaemin laughs, undoing her tight braid to massage her scalp, hair fanning out over the table.
“No! Pigeons! Fat ones!” Yukhei exclaims, and Jaemin just laughs some more. He eyes the cuckoo clock above the counter and leans the broom against Jaemin’s chair to grab his things. “I better get going.” He turns back, chewing on his bottom lip. “Hey, should I tell Donghyuck about the—you know—the Nobel prize thing?”
Jaemin hums, “If you really like him, then yeah. It’s a part of you.”
“It’s just an award,” Yukhei says, walking backwards to the front door, “We all have them. If he ever goes to my parents’ house he’ll look at the trophy cabinet and go ‘wow, Yukhei, you must be an amazing writer’ and ‘oh my gosh I didn’t know you were good at golf, that’s kinda sexy’ and ‘this is a weird amount of participation medals for Quidditch, how do you even play that?’ Maybe I should just tell him about the Quidditch now—as a preemptive measure? I feel like it’s way too confusing?”
“Yukhei,” Jaemin groans, standing up but the bell above the door’s already jingling.
“Good talk, Jaemin!” Yukhei mouths through the window.
Hands shoved into the pockets of his duffle coat and speed-walking to St Hilda’s, he manages to make it to the library with a minute to spare. Donghyuck’s already leaning against the brick wall outside, and Yukhei waves as he approaches, so hard he feels his fingers might fly off. Donghyuck doesn’t wave back, so Yukhei awkwardly curls his fingers into a fist and lowers his arm, and Donghyuck smiles around the straw of his strawberry milk.
He pushes off the wall, crushing up the carton and tossing it into some far off bin. “Hey, big boy. Were you at Jaemin’s?”
Yukhei nods, following Donghyuck into the library. “Brought you some chocolate & lavender brownie, they’re surprisingly good? You should come with me one day, Hyuck. It’s the best.”
“Can’t,” Donghyuck mutters, “Renjun’s banned me.”
“All the more reason to go?” Yukhei tries.
Donghyuck twists back, getting that no good glint in his eye. “Huh. You know me well.” He leads them to a table blocked off by a shelf of Russian literature, and Yukhei drops his backpack to the ground and sits across from Donghyuck. Donghyuck takes out his laptop and a slab of notes on 18th century opera, and says to Yukhei, “Whoever stays quiet longest gets to pick what we’re having for dinner?”
Yukhei grins, and rubs his palms together. “Get ready to pay big bucks for Hawaiian pizza, Donghyuck, I am a MASTER! OF! SILENCE!”
“Truly proved your point there, buddy,” Donghyuck snorts.
Yukhei’s smile doesn’t waver as he announces, “Starting now!” and cracks open his textbook for Roman architecture.
Fast forward to Yukhei’s current predicament: he’s just started on the properties of Roman concrete when something touches his foot. It’s Donghyuck (obviously, Yukhei sincerely hopes it isn’t anything else, the library is already creepy enough), his ankle curling around Yukhei’s for a moment, gentle, like a cat’s tail, before his socked toes starting to trail up Yukhei’s calf.
Yukhei does his very best not to start breathing heavily. He looks up at Donghyuck, but Donghyuck’s face is impassive, eyes trained on his laptop like he isn’t engaging in some kind of freaky shoeless footsie with Yukhei right now. His foot pushes along Yukhei’s thigh, the fabric of his sweats dragging in its wake, and his big toe is barely millimetres from where the head of Yukhei’s cock is.
“Hyuck?” Yukhei croaks, willing Donghyuck to look at him.
He does, a little smirk at the corner of his mouth. “Do you like this?” Donghyuck asks.
Yukhei doesn’t know what else to do but nod, as much as his neck will allow him. He feels like a statue, gone rock hard beneath Donghyuck’s gaze. He doesn’t know what the fuck is going on right now but yeah, he likes it.
“Should I keep going, big boy?” Donghyuck presses, foot massaging Yukhei’s hip.
It tumbles out of him, a raspy, barely audible, “Please, Hyuck.” God, could he sound any more desperate? Yukhei’s hands reach up to cover his face as blood floods to his cheeks, and when Donghyuck’s foot suddenly presses against his clothed dick, hard, he has to bite into the flesh of his palm to keep his whimper from being heard.
Donghyuck just goes back to his squinting at his screen, twirling a pen in his right hand. The arch of his foot is rubbing up and down Yukhei’s shaft and honestly, the friction burns like hell but the fact that it’s Donghyuck doing it to him means that Yukhei is probably definitely this close to coming right then and there.
“Donghyuck,” Yukhei tries, “I don’t think we should be doing this here—fffuck.”
Shit, when Yukhei told Renjun that he wished Donghyuck would step on him he didn’t exactly mean it like this—Donghyuck digs his sole into the base of Yukhei’s cock, his balls getting crushed underneath. Yukhei’s face scrunches up in pain, but he can also feel a sputter of precome against his briefs, and he knows Donghyuck felt him twitching beneath his toes if his smile is anything to go by. Betrayed by his own penis, huh?
“This is mean,” Yukhei wheezes, when Donghyuck pulls away, his leg dropping to the floor. He immediately curls forward, a hand reaching down to cup tenderly around his crotch.
“Am I hurting you?” Donghyuck asks.
“Yes,” Yukhei says, pouting.
“I’m sorry,” Donghyuck says, a cheeky lilt to his voice. And then he’s sinking to the floor quicker than Yukhei can think oh God, I’m a masochist. Yukhei bends down to see where he’d gone, and he’s met with Donghyuck crawling towards him. It’s new and predatory, the way his back is curved and his pupils are pitch black, and it makes Yukhei want to scrape his chair back and run. But again, he freezes up, every hair on his body standing on end when Donghyuck places his palms on Yukhei’s knees and slowly, purposefully spreads his legs apart.
“I’ve thought about this a lot,” Donghyuck mutters, reaching up to help Yukhei pull his waistband down, just enough to get his cock out. If it weren’t for how quiet the library is, Yukhei might not have even heard him.
“Yeah?” he asks. It sounds more like a squeak than a fully formed word. He’s thought about this too. In fact, the minute he’d laid eyes upon Donghyuck their dorm room, he couldn’t decide what he wanted more: to pin Donghyuck to the nearest surface and fuck him silly or to marry him and have five kids and live in a big house by the sea (it was both. It still is.)
“Yeah,” Donghyuck repeats, laughing a little as he strokes Yukhei off. “You’re kinda hot, Yukhei.”
“Thanks,” Yukhei blurts out, trailing off into a small whine as Donghyuck thumbs at his slit, squeezing around him. What he really wanted to say was not as hot as you but his answer seems to amuse Donghyuck anyway.
“Are you always like this in bed?” Donghyuck asks, lowering Yukhei’s cock a little so he can drag his bottom lip across the head before suckling at it.
Donghyuck shrugs. “Pliant?”
“I don’t know. I guess?” Yukhei says, thinking back to Honolulu, Vancouver, Osaka, sixth form when he first did hand stuff with Yuqi, seeker on the Quidditch team and president of Magic: The Gathering (the most popular club in school, thanks to her face). And Donghyuck might be right. If a guy wanted him to be rough, he would. If a girl wanted to finger him open, he’d let her. He was always a follower, a pleaser. And right now, Donghyuck wants to suck him off in the middle of the library and Yukhei never thought he was an exhibitionist but he’s happy to play the part if it means Donghyuck is happy.
“You have to be quiet, alright?” Donghyuck tells him. The table is too low for him to kneel fully, so he settles back on his calves, chin digging right into the muscly flesh above Yukhei’s knee, and he prompts Yukhei to slide forward until his ass is right at the edge of the chair. Yukhei can’t see Donghyuck’s face anymore, met with only a row of dusty Pushkin novels bathed in yellow light, but he can feel him and it makes it all the more tantalising when Donghyuck’s breath ghosts over his cock as he says, “I’m not sure you can actually do that.” His tone is snide, and it pulls another pout out of Yukhei.
“I promise,” Yukhei whispers, reaching blindly for Donghyuck’s hair. “I promise I can be quiet.”
Spoiler alert: he can’t. The librarian on duty is a drowsy postgrad who sighs, “Happens all the time,” as Yukhei nearly wears out his vocal chords repeating, “SORRY SORRY SORRY SORRY…”—probably serves him right for growling out Donghyuck’s name when Donghyuck’s nose reached the trimmed pubes at the base of Yukhei’s cock and Yukhei had orgasmed out of shock because no one has ever deepthroated him all the way before.
And yeah, Donghyuck was never like the others. Maybe it wasn’t love at first sight but it was—it was nostalgia? As Alain de Botton once said, ‘most of our childhood is stored not in photos but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet’—this is how Yukhei feels around Donghyuck, a deep, maudlin ache for a childhood he barely had.
But there was lust too, obviously. When they get to their dorm, Yukhei presses Donghyuck up against the door, drops to his knees, and hoists his legs up with a casual strength that makes Donghyuck gasp so he can finally finally eat the meal he’s been dying to taste.
But what is it that makes Yukhei say, “Yes! Absolutely!” when Donghyuck clings to his back as he’s drifting to sleep, like a little koala, and coos in his ear, “Promise me we’ll do that again…”? Exhaustion? Excitement? #YOLO?
It doesn’t really matter because this—this is the beginning of Yukhei’s second plunge over the edge of Mount Everest.
“This is my disguise,” Donghyuck announces, stepping out of the bathroom. Yukhei expects large Ray-Bans, a bucket hat, maybe even a feather boa but instead Donghyuck has on a pair of round glasses, the sort with a chain that hangs around your neck, where his collar is fastened all the way up, a speckled red sweater over the top. “It’s ingenious. Renjun will never recognise me like this,” he says, and Yukhei claps loudly as Donghyuck twirls around, drawling, “Thank you, thank you, please, save the applause for later.”
“Hi, Donghyuck,” Renjun deadpans the second Donghyuck and Yukhei step foot inside Nana’s Tea Shop. “It’s cute that you thought you could trick me but little did you know that you looking like an Oxford nerd is actually one of my deepest darkest fantasies. Just wanna bend you over a desk and—”
Donghyuck grabs Yukhei’s arm, saying, “Okay, we’re going.”
“Leaving so soon, Donghyuck?” Renjun calls out, “I haven’t even gotten to the part where I take out my ruler and pull down your slacks—”
“Hey, I wanna hear the rest of that,” Yukhei jokingly protests as Donghyuck pulls them out of the door, and then loops back around at the sound of Renjun’s borderline cackle inside. “We come in peace,” Yukhei tells Renjun before Donghyuck can say anything.
“Yeah, I’m here to visit Jaemin, who actually owns this place,” Donghyuck says, letting go of Yukhei’s arm to flit over to the counter, where Jaemin is already looking weary from the exchange between her boyfriend (RENJUN HUANG AKA THE SHOULDER GANGSTER, A LEAN MEAN KILLING MACHINE) and his arch nemesis (DONGHYUCK LEE AKA THE HONEYPOT, BORN FROM THE ETERNAL FLAMES OF
HELL THE SUN GODDAMMIT RENJUN) (they have a lot of spare time to kill between practice sessions at the JdP)—but it’s quickly replaced by a comfortable smirk when Donghyuck presses his nose against the display cabinet of pastries.
“You’re… different,” Renjun says when Yukhei sits across from him, not feeling up for a tea just yet. He’s as eagle-eyed as ever, leaning back and raising an eyebrow despite Yukhei’s gaze having unwittingly landing on Donghyuck—now sampling a forkful of carrot cake straight from Jaemin’s hand—for less than a split second. “You’re together now, aren’t you?”
Yukhei eyes Donghyuck again, shaking his head. “It isn’t like that,” he leans forward to divulge, “It’s just sex.”
“Maybe,” Renjun says, eyebrows now pinched, “But I think you’re going to get yourself hurt, Yukhei.”
Yukhei doesn’t get a chance to respond because Donghyuck’s exclaiming, “You have three seconds to stop gossiping about me, I’m on my way,” and three seconds later, he places a plate of raspberry cheesecake in front of Yukhei. “Why raspberry you may ask, Mr Wong? Well,” Donghyuck says, mouth pulled up in a light smirk, “That’s what I’d like your mouth to taste like when I’m licking into it later.”
Renjun gags, while Yukhei’s entire face experiences what it must feel like to have your skin drenched in gasoline and set on fire. “Just so you know,” Renjun starts to say, “This?” He gestures between Yukhei and Donghyuck. “I disapprove. You’ll ruin him, Donghyuck.”
“That’s not true,” Donghyuck sulks. He catches Yukhei’s eye, a grin playing at his lips as his foot winds around Yukhei’s ankle under the table. “I really like Yukhei.”
“I like you too,” Yukhei shoots back, grinning as well.
Renjun slumps in his chair, letting out a drawn-out groan at the ceiling. “Fucking hell, it’s already started.”
“Are you going home for Christmas?” Donghyuck asks, sprawled out on Yukhei’s bed in nothing but one of Yukhei’s Lacoste jumpers.
Yukhei sits at his feet, the pads of his thumbs massaging Donghyuck’s calf. A feeling shoots through him at Donghyuck’s question—filial guilt, the crack of a book’s spine being bent in half. He closes his eyes, sees his mother’s face saturated in white airport light. “Maybe. I should. I haven’t been in a while.”
Donghyuck hums in what might be agreement, and sits up, legs still stretched out onto Yukhei’s lap. “You never did tell me what you did after school. Why’d you leave England?”
Yukhei’s parents had come to the airport the day he left, even though they weren’t talking to him. They didn’t say a word until his mum gave him a final, bone-crushing hug before he left for boarding and muttered, “I’ll support anything you do if it’s something you love. Please figure out what you love, my dear Xuxi.”
Yukhei takes Donghyuck’s other calf into his hand, and Donghyuck’s eyelids start to droop as he sighs contentedly. “I won a Nobel Prize,” Yukhei says, keeping his tone light so that Donghyuck will take it for the joke it sounds like. “For the books I wrote.”
Just like that, Donghyuck takes the bait. His ears visibly perk up but he tries to keep his face serious as he says, “And why would that make you leave?”
Yukhei shifts on the bed, plants the leg that isn’t folded underneath him next to Donghyuck’s hip and starts to gesticulate with his hands because it feels natural to do so. The only times he’s bemoaned about this is wildly drunk, to a stranger at a bar, sometimes even the entire bar if he can project his voice loud enough. He just likes talking, alright?
“Okay, so—when you’ve always been really good at something you liked to do as a hobby—in this case, writing—and everyone around you pushes you to do something meaningful with that hobby, so you do,” Yukhei explains. Donghyuck wraps an arm around Yukhei’s left thigh, cheek squished against Yukhei’s knee as he gazes up at him. Yukhei stutters, but doesn’t stop. “And you earn a sizeable income and win a whole bunch of awards which make you feel like wow, this is fun, I could keep doing this. And then, unexpectedly, you win the biggest prize of all. But it’s way too soon, it’s too overwhelming, the entire world is watching and reactions range from you’re only eighteen, you’ve just made history and you don’t deserve it to you HAVE to take this opportunity to write more books and make millions and all you’re thinking is where the fuck do you go when you’ve peaked this damn early over a dream that was never truly yours?”
Understandably, Donghyuck looks just as gobsmacked as his entire room in a Bora Bora hostel had when Yukhei first told this story. They didn’t believe it either. “I think that,” Donghyuck starts to say, arm squeezing tighter around Yukhei’s leg and his fingertips slowly, reflexively dipping beneath his shorts. “You haven’t given yourself the time or space to be proud of yourself. To be alone with that feeling. You did all of that because other people pushed you to but it was still your talent and hard work that made it happen and no one else has a right to tell you anything. Only you get to decide your purpose.”
“Wow, Hyuck,” Yukhei exhales, unable to hide the fact that there are goosebumps all over his skin when Donghyuck is touching him like that. “Have you ever considered being a shrink?”
Donghyuck finally cracks a grin. “You don’t have to tell me the truth if you don’t want to,” he says, “We’ll just go with Second Youngest Nobel Laureate Takes Gap Year for Three Years, that’s cool, that’s the coolest cover story I’ve ever heard. But just know that you can trust me, just like I trust you.”
And the truth was there, wrapped in a lie wrapped in the truth, but somehow, despite Donghyuck not knowing that, his words make Yukhei feel like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, enough to make him text his mother later with: looking forward to seeing you for christmas! <3
Jeno comes over to walk to Drama Society with Donghyuck when Yukhei receives a reply—but not before Donghyuck’s managed to squeeze in one more orgasm as he is wont to do, greedy little fucker—and Yukhei has to cover up his smile with his hand when he opens it: i love you darling but give your poor mum a little warning, i already did xmas groceries! but of course there’s always room for my growing boy xxx
It’s snowing when Yukhei arrives in Bath. His mum picks him up from the train station, the thick dark hair Yukhei inherited dusted with snowflakes, cheeks flushed and wrinkled up from how wide she’s smiling, and the sight of her feels like something magical. Yukhei just wants to collapse in her arms and never leave again.
But he just has to leave, fifteen minutes later, when he enters their living room and sees his dad sitting by the fireplace, looking so cosy and huggable in the Christmas jumper he’s been wearing for years. “It sucks that there are two of you and only one of me,” Yukhei grumbles, legs stretched out across the rug, head resting on his dad’s knees. “Ugh, I wish I had four arms to cuddle you both equally.”
His dad cards a hand through his hair, shaking his head at his wife in amusement. “Our weird Xuxi, did you know you said the exact same thing when you kept sneaking into our bed until you were eleven?”
“We could hardly handle two arms, let alone four,” Yukhei’s mom says from where she’s curled up on the other armchair, finishing the reheated tea she’d left to go get Yukhei. “They’ve always been so long and gangly. Can’t count the number of times your dad and I got whacked in the face trying to sleep.”
Yukhei pouts. “Stop trying to make me grow then!”
She grins. “Never. We’re never letting you go again.”
Yukhei has never felt so stuffed in his life. He has to pop open the first button of his jeans as he plonks down on the armchair next to the fireplace, sleepily watching their Christmas gathering wind down. His Nobel Prize came up in conversation with nearly every relative (“It’s a shame you didn’t continue writing, Xuxi, your novels were incredible, truly,” to “Waddup, William Shakespeaaaaaaare!”) but mostly his family were proud to hear he’d started studying at Oxford, that he had finally found a path for himself. Yukhei forgets, sometimes, that people usually want what’s best for him, and what he achieved was the best of the best, even if it wasn’t the best for him.
He squeezes his phone out of his front pocket, pawing through all the Merry Christmas!’s from Renjun, Jaemin, people he’d met during his travels, even Jeno, until he gets to a string of texts from Donghyuck: dude!!! i can still feel ur dick in me like a fckn phantom limb. I CAN’T EVEN PEE PROPERLY OR PUT ON PANTS BC I’M SO SENSITIVE. I WILL LITERALLY KILL U WONG. also merry xmas hehe ilu ♡
still??? Yukhei texts back, (also merry xmas too hehe :D)
YES STILL U OBLIVIOUS FOOL I CAME THREE TIMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They went all the way the day before they both went home. It’s almost cathartic, how it happens: they burst into their room after a round of mulled wine at Nana’s after hours and Donghyuck pushes Yukhei onto his bed, sucks him off until he comes and then does something that makes Yukhei’s belly churn with acid, in a really confused really hot way. His lips part and he allows Yukhei’s cum to dribble back onto his cock, slowly working his hand over him, before rearing back and spitting the rest onto it.
“There,” Donghyuck says, tilting his head sweetly while Yukhei just fucking spaces out, his brain folding itself up into a little suitcase and catching a plane to Florida. Donghyuck squeezes around the base of Yukhei’s cock, palm wet and slimy and so adorably small like that. He then stops, musing, “I—I don’t think you’ll fit inside me.”
That throws Yukhei. “We can try,” he protests, “I’ve fingered you before, I can—”
“No way,” Donghyuck cuts him off, but even as he shakes his head he can’t help the telling smirk that plays on his lips. Yukhei knows Donghyuck doesn’t truly believe what he’s saying (right?) but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to literally sink into the ground and hide forever in Guanheng’s room on the floor below, as Donghyuck sneers, “You’re just soooo huge, it’s actually terrifying? It’s a miracle I managed to fit you in my mouth. You think I’d let you inside of me? I’d break.”
A sob escapes Yukhei’s mouth. His dignity seems to have taken a vacation with his brain because he can’t stop himself from bucking up into Donghyuck’s loose fist, whimpering at the lack of friction—no, no, he has to fuck Donghyuck, he has to prove himself, he has to—
“Beg,” Donghyuck commands.
“Please, Hyuck, I can be good,” Yukhei slurs, “I’ll be so good for you, Donghyuck, you won’t regret it. Please, you can just take me in halfway, I promise.”
As he’s rambling, he fails to notice that Donghyuck’s already started to peel off his boxers. He climbs onto Yukhei’s lap, positioning himself so he can grind Yukhei’s cock between his ass, all slippery and hot against Yukhei’s stomach. From Florida, Yukhei realises Donghyuck must’ve prepped before they went out because he’s already reaching down to guide Yukhei’s cock inside, back arching and head thrown back in a scrunched-up moan. And if Yukhei start tearing up from how fucking good it feels, he does when Donghyuck starts to wail, “This isn’t halfway, you’re hurting me! I can feel you in my stomach!”
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” Yukhei cries, not knowing what to do when Donghyuck continues to eagerly bounce on his cock anyway. He just watches, wipes his tears and watches.
When Donghyuck eventually gets weary, he flops onto his back, pulling Yukhei down to fuck into him again, with a pleased, breathy, “Mmmm, just like that, big boy.” Yukhei braces a palm next to Donghyuck’s head, using the other to squeeze around the underside of Donghyuck’s thigh. He goes slow, shallow, unsure, until Donghyuck looks him in the eye and taunts, “Can’t go any faster, huh? Your granddad could fuck me better than this.”
And then he just snaps. The airplane flying to Florida crashlands in the middle of the ocean, and the impact is monstrous, no survivors, just Yukhei pistoning into Donghyuck, not even stopping to breathe. Donghyuck’s nothing but a ragdoll with a voice beneath Yukhei, the way he screams at Yukhei’s hips slamming against the swell of his ass, his fingers desperately scrabbling over Yukhei’s shoulders, literally lies there afterwards, body twitching as he fades into a slumber that lasts until the next afternoon. Yukhei is mortified even looking back on it again but the fact that Donghyuck had more than one orgasm without him noticing the last two—fuck?
omg… that would explain why there was THAT much cum on ur stomach… Yukhei concludes, i can’t believe i did that i’m so shy i’m an idiot :(
no shit sherlock, Donghyuck replies, but it’s alright :( u were in That headspace we talked abt and i fully underestimated the endless reserves of stamina ur body seems to have… god ur like a fucking machine with a personality. my ideal man ♡
Somehow, that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to Yukhei. He does have good stamina. …rlly? but will u be alright? he sends, feeling pretty chuffed, but still concerned for Donghyuck’s well-being slash ass. He grins to himself anyway.
rlly! don’t make me say it again! but when we go back ur carrying me everywhere ok
my ideal man ♡
“There’s this boy,” Yukhei explains, when their last family member leaves and his mum sinks into the chair opposite him, handing him his favourite Hogwarts mug topped up with leftover hot toddy and raising an eyebrow at the speed at which he was typing on his phone.
“You met him at Oxford?” she queries, voice tender with sleep.
Yukhei nods, taking a sip of his drink. It warms his throat enough to be able to admit the rest. He’s always talked to his mum about his love life, at least what little he had of it in school, but Donghyuck—he’s different. “I’ve never had so much fun with someone before,” Yukhei says, laughing a little, “And he kinda scares me but—”
“You’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” his mum finishes, a fond smile peeking over the rim of her own mug, printed with the Penguin Classic cover of A Room of One’s Own. “What’s his name?”
He takes an even longer sip, feeling like he’s swallowed the sun. “Donghyuck Lee.”
She hums, repeats his name, and Yukhei likes the way she says it, hopes Donghyuck can hear it himself one day. After a long moment, she tells him, “Remember how I told you to figure out what you love? Try not to lose it when you find it, Xuxi.”
Yukhei has had this Edna St. Vincent Millay poem stuck to the back of his laptop since sixth form: My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—It gives a lovely light! That’s how he would describe much of the Hilary term when he and Donghyuck return to the dorms. They spend nearly every waking second together when they don’t have to be in class—having sex, studying at Nana’s Tea Shop so they can freeload off Jaemin and bother Renjun whenever he comes in, and soaking up what sun they can on the banks of the River Cherwell outside their college. It’s the kind of happiness that only truly comes with being home but Yukhei knows they can’t last forever like this. He can hold his breath forever and the Earth will still rotate and the sun will shine on the other side of the moon and it’ll give the loveliest light.
“I’ve never seen you think so hard,” comes Donghyuck’s voice. He’s skipping out of Drama Society, drowning in Yukhei’s fleeciest jacket that Yukhei had hung up to wear himself this morning. Donghyuck sidles up to him, looping his arm around Yukhei’s, and stretches up on his tiptoes to kiss the side of Yukhei’s jaw. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” Yukhei hums, reaching out to shake out a bit of chipped paint that must’ve caught itself in Donghyuck’s hair from the set. They’re putting on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the end of Hilary term and Yukhei has gotten to know Ten and the rest of the Society pretty well, at least from a distance as he spends most nights studying in the dress circle. “Was thinking about you,” he murmurs, the words wafting out of his mouth like smoke in the cold.
“Only good things, I’d imagine,” Donghyuck says, leaning his head against Yukhei’s shoulder, a sigh leaving his mouth as he does so. Yukhei doesn’t hear it but he sees it. Ten and Jeno are the last to emerge from the building, gloved hands clasped together and heads close as they whisper between them, and Donghyuck uses the arm that isn’t latched onto Yukhei to exuberantly wave them over.
“We were just about to invite you two out for drinks,” Ten says, briefly eyeing the way Yukhei and Donghyuck are attached. He and Jeno look cute, in their matching turtlenecks and glasses, and Yukhei wonders if they planned that (“Fuck them theatre kids!” he immediately hears Renjun hollering in the back of his mind, but grey-haired and shaking a cane about.) “Double date?”
“Oh, we’re—” Yukhei starts to say, at the same time Donghyuck bursts out, “Yes! Yes, we’d love that.”
And if Yukhei notices the curious look Jeno shares with Donghyuck, he’s definitely not going to say anything about it. The candle continues to burn, getting closer and closer.
“I regret every life decision I’ve ever made,” Ten sighs, sat on a lumpy leather couch in the closest tavern to St Hilda’s, lap taken up by his lightweight boyfriend’s head and flanked by Donghyuck and Yukhei who for the record aren’t as lightweight as Jeno but have a combined volume of, like, a trillion decibels when drunk (to quote Jeno halfway through his last pint of lager).
“Aw, you should drink more then,” Jeno mumbles from somewhere near Ten’s left knee, hand reaching up to pat the approximation of Ten’s cheek.
Donghyuck slings an arm around Ten’s shoulders and squeezes his chin. “He’d love to but our Ten has to be a responsible adult. Old people are so cute.” He lets go of Ten’s now-murderous face to smack Yukhei’s shoulder. “Big boy, take me to the loo?”
He drags Yukhei into the bathroom, mouth already pressed hot against his until he realises he actually needs to pee. Yukhei turns to face the wall, struggling to stand still with how woozy he feels himself, and Donghyuck talks to him, “I liked singing up there with you. We should start a band.” He flushes the toilet. “Your voice is shit though. I’ll be front man, ‘kay?”
“What are you talking about, Hyuck,” Yukhei says, holding Donghyuck’s waist and manoeuvring them out of the bathroom, “I could rival Whitney Houston.”
As they make their way through the tavern, they’re interrupted by a hesitant, “Excuse me. Are you Yukhei Wong?” behind them. “Oh! It is you!” It’s a woman, around her late 20s and blonde and wrapped in a giant lilac scarf, and Yukhei has never seen her before.
“Hey! Do I know you?” Yukhei asks.
She smiles. “No, but I’m a huge fan of your books. They were yours, right? I haven’t got the wrong person?”
Yukhei stiffens, suddenly hyper-aware of Donghyuck sleepily nosing along his shoulder, and even Donghyuck stops at that, eyeing Yukhei as he struggles to respond. He’s been recognised before, years ago when he was actually in the spotlight and considered a ‘literary heartthrob.’ But now? “Wow, I don’t even know what to say? Thank you?”
“Hi!” Donghyuck interjects, sticking his hand out to the girl, and Yukhei is somewhat grateful for this because he was definitely about to start his Bora Bora monologue. “I’m this guy’s future husband.”
“Uh huh,” Donghyuck confirms, flashing the ring, the little olive branch he still wears on his left hand. “He proposed to me in a Nando’s. It was very romantic.”
She laughs, “Very romantic.” At the entrance, a couple of her friends wave to her, and she gives Yukhei an apologetic look. “Anyway, I should get going. It was nice meeting you, I’m really looking forward to what you put out next!”
“Oh, I’m no—” But she’s already gone, and Yukhei immediately thinks, wow, I have to tell my mum about this. But the tidal wave of emotions that start to crash over him quickly come to a standstill when Donghyuck tugs on his sleeve. Yukhei glances down, dreading what he might see. “Yeah, Hyuck?”
Donghyuck’s eyes are downcast as he quietly asks, “Can we go home?”
“Yukhei,” Donghyuck calls out from across the room, after he finally manages to get them both home and tucked into bed. “Could you come here a minute?”
“Can’t be fucked,” Yukhei groans, face squished against his pillow. He’s so warm and a stranger recognised him and LIKES HIS BOOKS!!! And he and Donghyuck made out for half an hour when they got back and his bed is sooooo warm. “‘m too drunk.”
“I have to tell you something,” Donghyuck says, “I slept with someone last week. Sort of? Sucked this guy off in the JdP and it was awful and I regret it completely.”
Yukhei lifts his head up, and Donghyuck’s on his back, staring at the ceiling. “Why was it awful?”
“Because it wasn’t you,” Donghyuck admits, a stutter in his words that parallels Yukhei’s heartbeat. “And I’m no good at this but I don’t want to do anything that might make me lose you. Do you get me?”
Yukhei frowns, mind running a million miles a second and still not being able to come to a conclusion that isn’t: Donghyuck would rather be sucking him off? “I’m not sure,” he mumbles an answer.
“That’s okay,” Donghyuck says, head flopping to the side to give Yukhei a strange smile. “That’s all I wanted to say. Night, big boy.”
The next morning Yukhei barely even opens his eyes before Donghyuck’s clambering on top of him and kissing him senseless. Yukhei reflexively braces his hands around Donghyuck’s waist as Donghyuck cups Yukhei’s jaw and sucks his tongue into his mouth. Donghyuck’s eyes are squeezed shut like he’s forcing them to be, and perhaps it isn’t the sexiest thing that Yukhei’s watching him like this but he can’t help it. Donghyuck’s legs are on either side of Yukhei’s thigh and he starts to rut against it helplessly, pressing his face into Yukhei’s neck so he can’t see it anymore and making the most pitiful sounds Yukhei has ever heard.
There was a concept Yukhei always liked when he studied philosophy. The lover, Plato said, is turned to the great Sea of Beauty, and gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom, until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of such knowledge, and it is the knowledge of such beauty. Donghyuck is the sun glittering over the waves, the rays beating against Yukhei’s back, keeping him warm in the Himalayan chill.
And as Yukhei lies there, a tender hold around Donghyuck as he uses Yukhei to get himself off, he feels as though he’s sitting on a beach, burying his fingers in the sand and feeling it slipping between his fingers. “You’re my best friend,” Donghyuck says, after he’s done, rubbing his ass over Yukhei’s clothed groin and bringing him to completion with the barest amount of friction. He feels so small in Yukhei’s lap, like Yukhei could nudge him and he’d topple onto his back, but Yukhei feels overpowered nonetheless. There’s strength, a finality Yukhei can’t question in the way Donghyuck continues, “I don’t think we should do this anymore.”
For the first time in a month, Yukhei is at Nana’s Tea Shop alone. This doesn’t go unnoticed by Jaemin who uses a lull in service to sit with Yukhei by the window. “What are you working on?” she asks, gesturing to his laptop, the books strewn around it, the half-drunk peppermint tea teetering on top of his Advanced Latin exercise book. She stretches over to place it back on its doily.
“Thucydides’ work for History,” Yukhei tells her, slumping back in his mustard chair and rubbing his temple. “I’ve literally never had to revise this hard before, I’m going mad! I just scraped a pass for the last essay and I’ve been frantically studying since.”
Jaemin chuckles. “Distracted, were we?”
“I—” Yukhei thinks back to the night that essay was due and, yup, he’d been balls deep inside Donghyuck. “Well, at least this humbled me. Is it weird I felt relieved when I got my mark back?”
“Must’ve been nice to feel like a regular uni student,” Jaemin remarks.
Yukhei laughs, a real belly laugh. “I’m gonna use that reasoning every time I fail from now on.”
Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of the bell above the door jingling, and Jaemin moves to get up but is stopped by Renjun pushing her back down and kissing the top of her head. And then he turns to Yukhei and greets him with, “Wanna tell me why Donghyuck’s sitting at the River Cherwell with his nose stuck in like, five different books at once? You two having a competition on who can be nerdier?”
“Yes,” Yukhei immediately says, hoping that’ll throw Renjun off his scent if he questions why they aren’t together like they usually are.
“Congrats, you won,” Renjun says. He takes a seat on the arm of Jaemin’s chair only to be pulled down onto Jaemin’s lap a second later. Renjun takes one look at the way Yukhei rolls his eyes at them and wraps his arms around Jaemin’s neck and smugly says, “Hmph, this could be you and Donghyuck but you playin’. What really happened between you two?”
Eagle-eyed as ever, Yukhei thinks to himself. He just scoffs, slumping even further until his posture becomes a chiropractor’s wet dream, and he fully intends not to answer that until he catches Jaemin’s eye and the disappointed look she gives him nearly makes him whimper out loud. “Well,” Yukhei clears his throat, “Donghyuck ended things.”
“Oh no,” Jaemin coos, eyes softer now. “Why?”
“All he said was that I’m his best friend. So we should stop having sex,” Yukhei tells them. “He also found out about my books ‘cause someone recognised me, but he hasn’t said anything so I guess that’s something to deal with too? I dunno. I figure he wants space right now.”
Renjun exhales deeply. “I—”
“I swear to God if you say ‘I told you so’.”
Renjun looks put-upon. “That’s not what I was going to say. What I was going to say is that you’re both the biggest idiots I’ve ever met and—don’t look at me like that—but I honestly think this is just a bump in the road. Like, either be friends or date—I’m not saying friends with benefits can’t work but you went into it practically head over heels for Donghyuck, your roommate who you live with. It was a recipe for disaster!”
“This sounds a lot like ‘I told you so’,” Yukhei points out.
“Wait a second, I’m making a point here,” Renjun hisses, “You’re probably well past the point where you can stay friends and I didn’t think Donghyuck was capable of it but he seems to really care about you. And you’re moping, Yukhei, you look like a mess. Can’t you just ask him out?”
“Did you not hear the part where he,” Yukhei whispers the next bit behind the back of his hand, “friendzoned me?”
“Technically he called you his best friend which is basically the most romantic thing you can say to someone,” Jaemin pipes up. “And they do say you should marry your best friend.” She goes starry-eyed at Renjun, grabbing his chin and pressing a kiss against his squished lips. “Isn’t that right, Mr. Renjun Na?”
“God, Jaemin, you know you can just propose to me yourself if you want us to get married so bad,” Renjun huffs, “It’s 2021. You don’t have to keep dropping hints every hour.”
Yukhei’s already started gathering his things and he stands up, groaning, “Bloody hell, you guys are cute but so gross. I’m going home.”
“This could be you and Donghyuck but you—”
“Fine!” Yukhei bursts out, nearly crushing the teacup he was moving aside. “Fuck, fine! I’ll do it!”
Yukhei, regrettably, does not do it:
Donghyuck moseys into their room after the sun’s gone down, backpack hanging off one shoulder and practically tilting him over with how heavy it is. He drops it near their desk and only manages to toe off his sneakers before he’s belly-flopping onto his bed with a groan.
Meanwhile, Yukhei watches all of this with the tightest feeling in his chest, like someone has shibari’d his heart (which is actually an awesome analogy for how he feels about Donghyuck). He swallows around the lump in his throat and nervously calls out, “You alright, Hyuck?”
Donghyuck sniffs, “Knackered.”
“Do you want a cuddle?” Yukhei asks, “Like, a friendly cuddle?”
“Is a friendly cuddle as good as a regular cuddle?” Donghyuck says, and only Donghyuck would be able to make that sound both needy and sarcastic.
“It’s even better,” Yukhei says, making his way over to Donghyuck’s bed and then collapsing on top of Donghyuck’s back, face turning to meet his. “Hi.”
Donghyuck glares at him, attempting to shift underneath Yukhei’s weight but getting nowhere. “Hi,” he still replies, through a quiver of a smile.
“I’m the friendliest,” Yukhei boasts, sliding off Donghyuck until just an arm and leg are wrapped around him.
“You want a medal?” Donghyuck snorts. His fingers skate over Yukhei’s spine, circling over the first knob of vertebrae like they’re ringing a doorbell, waiting to be let in, and finally inching into Yukhei’s hair. Yukhei wants to believe it’s just instinct. His skin feels hot all over anyway. He almost doesn’t notice Donghyuck’s eyes getting that smart gleam in them as he hums, “Or maybe I should give you a doggy treat.”
And because Yukhei would literally do anything to stop himself from popping a boner right now, he barks, pants a little with his tongue foolishly hanging out of his mouth. And slobbers over Donghyuck’s nose for good measure. “Thank you, master,” Yukhei then says. Shit. Fuck. Shit.
Donghyuck just giggles, burrowing his face into the fabric beneath him to wipe off the drool, and maybe, if Yukhei’s eyes are serving him right, hide the blush that’s started to crawl along his cheeks. “There’s no way you’re getting anything now.” Yukhei doesn’t respond, his jaw is glued shut out of self-preservation. And he thinks Donghyuck knows that, given the pointed way he’s staring at Yukhei’s face, before sighing this disappointed sigh that makes Yukhei feel like he’s been banished to the kennel. “This isn’t very friendly, Yukhei.”
That’s because I don’t want it to be, is what Yukhei wants to say, what he should say. Instead, he spills his second line, the part where he asks Donghyuck on a date after confessing: “Speaking of, they’re playing the Cursed Child again at the theatre and I was wondering if you wanted to go? With me. As friends.”
Donghyuck’s hand freezes in Yukhei’s hair, and he gives him that same pitying look Jaemin has perfected. “I—I would love to, big boy, but I’m so busy right now. Spring recital… Virginia Woolf… that essay I was telling you about… I’m really sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Yukhei chirps, “I should probably focus on school too.”
Donghyuck raises an eyebrow, stroking the back of Yukhei’s head again. “You didn’t already buy tickets, did you?”
“Of course not,” Yukhei laughs, “I’m not that dumb.”
Yukhei, regrettably, is that dumb.
He offers the second ticket to Renjun (“What do you mean I never ask you to go anywhere? Nooooo, this ticket definitely wasn't meant for Donghyuck, is it so hard to believe you’d be my first choice? I love you, man!”) and he picks him up from Nana’s with a send-off from Jaemin that involves more of Renjun’s tongue than Yukhei ever wanted to see. Renjun spends the entire walk to the theatre monologuing about the identity crisis he had when he took the Pottermore quiz again this year and got sorted into Slytherin when he’s been a Ravenclaw his whole life. “I used to be a Ravenclaw too,” Yukhei offers, “But I think I’m a Hufflepuff now.”
“Huh,” Renjun says, looking up at him, “Would’ve pegged you as a Gryffindor.”
“‘m not very brave,” is all Yukhei has to say to that.
After the Cursed Child, Yukhei feels lighter, and a bit regretful that he hasn’t done this with Renjun more often, and mostly thankful Renjun didn’t ask about Donghyuck, to keep their outing sacred, probably. They part ways outside, Renjun heading to the off-campus flat he shares with Jaemin and Yukhei home—no, Nando’s.
Jeno Lee walks into the restaurant just as Yukhei’s done ordering, and he beams when he recognises Yukhei. He orders too before capering over to Yukhei’s side. “Long time no see,” he says, and while they wait they make small talk about the opening night of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? this weekend (“Ten’s using his director’s stress to get free massages and food every night, completely forgetting I’m in the play too!”). Yukhei promises he’ll go when Jeno insists, so there goes his plan to quietly slip into the last row to support Donghyuck because Jeno assures him he’ll have a spot right up front.
“You don’t have to do that,” Yukhei objects, “Won’t I be taking up someone else’s seat? Parents?”
Jeno shakes his head, mouth twisting into a wry smile. “It’ll just be you.”
Yukhei’s response—or lack thereof—is interrupted by his order being called out. He grabs it and returns to wait with Jeno, still chewing over that statement. It feels like a piece of molten rock when he swallows it, the warmth he feels for Donghyuck turning into anger, a need to do right by him. And maybe Yukhei can’t do that well, but he’ll always stand behind Donghyuck when he needs him.
“Hyuck’s favourite,” Jeno says, gesturing to the paper bag in Yukhei’s fist. “I was going to remind you to bring flowers on Saturday but I think you’ve got that covered.”
“I don’t want to pry, but—what did you mean by what you said before?”
Jeno pauses, thinking over his words, “Donghyuck’s always had a hard time receiving validation for the things he does. It’s made him a bit of a workaholic—I’m sure you’ve noticed—but also a lot more grateful for the praise he does receive. Ever since I met him he’s always told me that the first person you need to make proud is yourself.”
That molten rock is back, melting deliciously in the pit of Yukhei’s stomach. “Oh. He told me something like that once, too.”
And then Jeno has to collect his order and decides he’s said his piece about Donghyuck’s psychology. They walk back to the dorms together, Jeno leaving the elevator at the second floor while Yukhei uses the Sharpie Jeno lends him to frantically scrawl a message onto his Nando’s bag, in case Donghyuck isn’t already in when Yukhei goes to bed: sustenance for my favourite thespian! got you extra extra hot this time ♡ (Donghyuck ends up being in, but he’s fast asleep at his desk, face squished into his opera materials. When Yukhei wakes up the next morning, the bag is empty and crumpled and Donghyuck is gone).
“We should go out for drinks again, Jeno!” Yukhei says loudly, waving at him.
“Ten would rather die! And hey, Yukhei? If you bring flowers, make sure you’re really clear about what they mean,” Jeno calls out as the elevator doors start to close, “And he loves daffodils!”
On Saturday evening, to kill some time before Donghyuck’s play, Yukhei decides to visit his pigeonhole for this week’s mail. There, he finds an envelope from his mum—a note that reads My dear Xuxi, I think it will be good for you to finally attend this year. For closure, at least. Love, mummy x and a gold-accented invitation to the 2021 Nobel Banquet.
Yukhei loses his grip on his bouquet and flops back onto the low bench behind him, feeling his chest fill with something that can only be a panic attack. He was getting invited to these? Still? He can’t—he can’t go—it’s humiliating. He gets up, bending down to pick up the bouquet and stuffing the note and invitation into his coat pocket, and starts to drag himself to the JdP. People are going to ask questions, questions Yukhei’s never liked to answer. They’re going to look at him and think wow, this kid wasted every opportunity he was given.
He makes his way to the front of the JdP, zombie-like as he pushes past people, and as he takes a seat, the weight in his pocket feels as heavy as the gold medal he received nearly four years ago. But the curtains part soon enough, and Yukhei is distracted for a while. Calm. Mesmerised, really.
He’s sat in on dozens of Donghyuck’s rehearsals but none of them hold a candle to the final product: Donghyuck, under the spotlight, hair slicked back and shoulders framed by a 60s blazer. Watching him on stage, Yukhei feels like biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet, yellow daffodils on his lap.
Donghyuck catches Yukhei’s eye during the curtain call, face lighting up in the prettiest smile that Yukhei tries to return but miserably fails at given how Donghyuck’s expression becomes one of concern. Meet me outside? Donghyuck mouths, as he exits stage, making grabby hands at the bouquet he spots Yukhei holding.
“How’d you know I liked daffodils best?!” Donghyuck says as soon as he bursts through the doors of the JdP where Yukhei’s waiting for him, nose already feeling pink and waxen from the cold. He probably should’ve hung back to congratulate Ten and Jeno and the rest of the Drama Society he’s gotten to know but—not tonight.
“Lucky guess,” Yukhei mumbles, handing them to Donghyuck. A small, pale yellow bud breaks loose and he manages to catch it before it hits the snow, tucking it behind Donghyuck’s reddening ear.
“Hey,” Donghyuck says, poking Yukhei in the side. “Are you okay?”
“Better now that I’m with you,” Yukhei says, with a weak grin but a grin nonetheless.
“Shut up,” Donghyuck protests, grabbing Yukhei’s arm and pulling him into stride. Yukhei does shut up—they walk in silence for a bit, watching stray petals flutter into the yellow light of a street lamp as they make their way across campus. Then, “I read your books, Yukhei. I read all about you.”
Yukhei doesn’t know what he feels first, his heart dropping to his stomach or the Banquet invitation like lead in his pocket again. “You did?”
“What, you thought I’d never bring it up? Might’ve been drunk but I knew what that fan of yours was talking about,” Donghyuck says cheekily. “I want to say they were terrible but honestly, it’s impossible to even make that joke. I’m so sorry I never took you seriously, big boy. I did to you the one thing I hate people doing to me.”
Yukhei halts, grabbing Donghyuck’s wrist. Donghyuck turns, and he takes the other one in his hand, the daffodils the only thing stopping them from being flush against each other. “I didn’t let you take it seriously, Donghyuck, I made it sound like a tall tale. But honestly? I’m glad you didn’t know the truth then. What you told me meant so much more because of that.”
“Wait, I’m not done,” Yukhei cuts Donghyuck off, squeezing his hands. This is time. “I can’t keep letting you call the shots, you’re not just my best friend, Hyuck—I really, really like you. Shit, maybe I even love you, if that isn’t too soon. The reason I was so down tonight was because I was invited back to the Nobel Banquet and it brought up all those shitty feelings I told you about, and—” Oh. “Donghyuck Lee, will you—will you do me the honour of being my plus one? You’re the only one I want, and need, by my side.”
“Sweden?” Donghyuck laughs weakly.
“Sweden,” Yukhei repeats. Donghyuck doesn’t respond, and the panic sets in. “Sorry, I know there was a lot in there. I don’t even know if you like me too? You can be my friendly plus one, if that—”
“Stop,” Donghyuck says. “I’m the idiot. I pushed you away because I realised I was treating you like my boyfriend when we never agreed on that. I’ve never been in a relationship before, I’m probably scared of commitment, and I’m so used to saying romantic shit as a joke until it became clear I was never joking with you. And I didn’t know what to do with that. Didn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
“Was I not obvious enough?”
“In retrospect, yes,” Donghyuck teases. “But like I said,” he holds up their joined hands, lifting a finger to point at himself, “Idiot. An idiot who’d love to go to Sweden with you, in a completely not friendly way.”
Yukhei lets go of Donghyuck’s hand to cup his rosy cheek, leaning down to kiss him, after days without. Kisses, Yukhei finds, are different when you’re now committed to someone. It’s a honeymoon kiss, soft, saccharine—until Donghyuck promptly nips Yukhei’s bottom lip with his teeth, hard.
“Okay, not completely,” Yukhei grumbles, “You still have to be nice to me.”
Donghyuck’s smile is wicked, fingers tapping along the top of Yukhei’s belt. “Oh, you don’t know what you’re in for, big boy. I have a whoooole critique of your novels waiting for you at home. Our first date is going to be so romantic.”
The sun breaks through the clouds on Sunday morning. Yukhei lifts the quilt, and Donghyuck’s arm off his chest, and sits at their desk.
He opens up a fresh notebook and starts to write.
(Donghyuck angles his phone up to where Yukhei’s climbing onto the second floor balcony of Stockholm City Hall. Yukhei sits on the edge to pose for Donghyuck, legs swinging beneath him, and somehow, a glass of champagne in his hand. Behind him, Donghyuck can hear the laughter of Zhong Chenle, who’d dethroned Yukhei as the second youngest Nobel Laureate, winning the prize for Economic Sciences a couple years back. He and Yukhei were fast friends. “Okay, you can come down now,” Donghyuck yells up at Yukhei, “Was this enough symbolism for you?”
“The vine,” Yukhei wails, “I’m doing it for the vine, Donghyuck.”
“You’re like ten years too late!”
“Romeo, Romeo—” Yukhei starts to shout, arm swiping through the air and his champagne flute flying out of his hand and smashing into a window sill below. “Oops.”
“Yukhei,” Donghyuck pleads.
“I’m coming, babe!” Yukhei announces, and Donghyuck watches in horror as he tips forward, arms reaching out like he’s already readying himself to scoop Donghyuck up into a hug. He watches as Chenle returns, screaming as he wraps his arms around Yukhei’s abdomen, face going red with exertion as he pulls him onto the balcony floor, and they disappear out of view when Chenle collapses under Yukhei’s weight. Yukhei’s head pops over the edge a moment later. “That was an accident! I definitely meant to use the stairs.”
Sometimes, Donghyuck regrets the fact that he’s probably immortal now. You know what they say, if a writer falls in love with you, you’ll never die. A mere two hours ago, Donghyuck was watching this same Yukhei, looking like a proper gentleman—alright, hot as fuck—in his suit, chatting with people he somehow knew so much about, always deflecting his pride onto Donghyuck and his achievements, but carrying himself with the air of someone who’d never doubted himself in his life.
What do they say about falling in love with a writer?)
Beyond the edge of the world
there’s a space where emptiness
and substance neatly overlap,
where past and future form
a continuous, endless loop.
And, hovering about,
there are signs no one has ever read,
chords no one has ever heard.
- Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (海辺のカフカ)