Actions

Work Header

twenty hundred miles

Chapter Text

jaehyun's mom drives him and his bags the half mile over to yuta's house.

it’s a sunny tuesday morning in late august, as fine as august mornings come. most flowers are gone but the world is still green and lush. school started again last week, and it’s a bit weird seeing streets and gardens gape empty after being littered with kids all summer.

the toyota stands by the curb, doors and trunk open. yuta comes out through the front door, adding something to the pile of stuff already waiting on the sidewalk before hurrying back inside. yuta’s dad stands on the sidewalk, looking between the pile and the trunk as if trying to think of the best way to tetris all of it in there. he raises a hand in greeting when he spots them coming down the street.

jaehyun’s mom pulls up and stops a couple of meters behind.

“morning, maggie!”

“sato!” jaehyun’s mom grins and heads over to chat, leaving jaehyun to his own devices with his luggage. it’s not as much as yuta has apparently packed - one suitcase and two large duffels, plus his backpack. the upside to california is that you don’t need to bring winter clothes.

he can hear yuta’s voice from inside the house; “hey mom, where’s my…” followed by a reply in japanese from a female voice. the next moment yuta’s mom also appears, crossing the front yard out to the street, barefoot in a pair of crocs.

“hi, jeffrey,” she says, giving jaehyun a smile and a squeeze of the arm. “you all packed?”

“yep.” jaehyun nods down towards his bags which he has dumped next to yuta’s pile. “good to go.”

“when does the semester start for you?”

“next week. monday.”

“oh, good. then you have a couple of days to settle in. are you getting a new roommate this year?”

“no, it’s gonna be me and win-, uh, winston again.”

yuta’s mom hums. “second year already, can you believe it?” she adds, turning to jaehyun’s mom. “and yuta’s on his third. time sure flies, huh?”

jaehyun’s mom shakes her head. “tell me about it. feels like the other day that he started high school.”

yuta comes out of the house again, carrying a plastic bag of unknown contents. his long bangs hang messy over his face.

“we said ten, right?” jaehyun grins at him. “are you done soon, or what?”

yuta gives him a mock-dirty look behind his parents’ backs. “almost.”

it takes some twenty minutes to strategically fill the car and for yuta to run back in another couple of times for things he forgot, but then they both stand on the sidewalk and get hugged by their parents.

“drive safe, take lots of breaks,” jaehyun’s mom tells him in korean. “text me when you stop for the night, okay?”

jaehyun glances at yuta, probably getting similar admonitions in japanese.

“yes mom.”

“i love you.”

“iloveyoutoo.”

yuta’s dad pats the roof of the car when they get in. “take care of her, okay?” he tells yuta. “i’m not buying you a new one if you wreck it.”

the three of them stay on the street, waving after them until yuta turns the corner and they disappear out of sight.

“damn, no parade?” yuta says, under his breath even though they’re way out of earshot.

jaehyun chuckles. he sinks down in the seat, puts his elbow on the edge of the car door window and watches the bungalows and double-stories sail past.

he knows these streets like his own backyard. been running and biking up and down them for a decade. the house where his 5th grade crush lived (which he used to pass with butterflies in his stomach, in case she was outside). the gas station where he used to buy popsicles in the summers (pineapple were his favorites; one buck a piece). past the high school and the park, turn right and past the plaza with the mcdonalds and the smoothie place (where johnny asked out, and got rejected by, maya nguyen in front of all of her friends). up the overpass crossing the highway and then down the curving ramp, merging into the stream of cars.

this place where he grew up, where he lived most of his life, which he never doubted calling home up until a year ago.

you can’t blame him for getting a little sentimental. even if it’s not the first time he leaves.

he’s stirred from his thoughts when the car radio suddenly starts blaring. yuta fiddles with the buttons, looking between them and the road. he settles on a local station playing old rock classics or something, but doesn’t turn down the volume.

“at fucking last!” he yells over the shredding guitar. “we’re leaving!” he sends jaehyun a glance, a wild grin pasted over his face. “we’re on our way. we’re outta here!”

“yeah?” jaehyun yells back. “what about it?”

“i’ve been waiting for this for weeks already.” yuta speeds up a little, passing an old lady in a small ford. “byebye northbrook. byebye glenview.” he lifts a hand to wave out to his left. “byebye chicago!”

 

yuta called him a week ago.

“hey,” he said, sounding like he had food in his mouth. “do you want a ride to LA?”

“a what?” jaehyun asked. he had already booked his plane ticket.

“a ride,” yuta repeated. there was a pause and a swallowing sound. “dad’s getting a new car and they’re giving me his old one. i’m driving it down to cali.”

driving? that’s gonna take, like, a week.”

“how else am i gonna get it down there?”

jaehyun shrugged to himself. “well, i dunno.”

“it’d be a bitch to drive the whole way myself, though. it’d be nice to have someone to switch off with.”

“uh-huh.”

“i figured we could make it a four day trip. take some time to sightsee and do stuff. we don’t have to drive all day and night.”

“four days in a hot car with you or four hours on a plane? hmm, tough choice.”

yuta laughed. “come on, it’ll be fun. i pay for gas. you get there for free. how often do you get a chance to see the country like this?”

“where are we gonna sleep?”

“we’ll camp along the way. i’m gonna find a tent.” yuta smacked his lips. “don’t worry, jeffy. i’ve thought of everything.”

jaehyun sucked the inside of his lip in between his teeth, phone pressed to his ear. this was sudden. maybe he should ask yuta to give him some time to think it over. he could blame his ticket if necessary. it was refundable, but yuta didn’t have to know that.

“come ooon,” yuta said again when jaehyun stayed quiet. this time his voice dropped to whiny. “it’d be boring as fuck on my own. you’re the only one i can ask.”

“wow, i feel flattered,” jaehyun said dryly. “i’m the only one you know who’s also going to cali.”

the sound of yuta’s laugh drifted over the line again. high-pitched, breathy, unrestrained. jaehyun likes that sound.

“i didn’t mean it like that. i want you to come with me.”

jaehyun looked down at his feet.

“you know there’s not a lot of people i’d be willingly stuck with for half a week? but you’re one of them.”

yuta was buttering him up and he knew it. jaehyun wondered if he also knew how well it was working.

“i’ll pay for meals too. how about that?”

jaehyun let out a breath, sounding a lot like a sigh. “fine.”

“you’ll go?” yuta’s voice immediately perked up.

jaehyun felt a smile on his face. “i’ll go.”

 

he told johnny about the arrangement the next day. johnny turned up from his food to look at him, a concerned wrinkle between his brows.

“cross-country road trip with yuta? are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“why not?” jaehyun asked, despite having wondered the same thing.

johnny shrugged. “you seem to have been at each others' throats a bit lately. not a great setting for that. if you get in an argument you can’t really storm off into the desert.”

jaehyun felt heat rise to his cheeks. that hit a nerve. “none of us have ever stormed off anywhere.”

johnny cocked his brows. “fine. so you think you can stay friends for four days? being cooped up with someone like that can really get to you.” he peered up at jaehyun over his plate. as if this was more than a friendly warning. as if he genuinely wanted to know jaehyun’s thoughts on the subject.

“yeah,” jaehyun said.

he had taken advice from johnny many times. most of them maturely. but sometimes the extra year johnny had on him felt longer, bigger. sometimes feeling like the baby brother made him stubborn.

sometimes, there were things he couldn’t tell anyone. not even johnny.

“okay then,” johnny said. “i hope you guys have fun. when are you leaving?”

 

jaehyun glances over at yuta in the driver's seat. he’s tapping his fingers on the wheel, humming along to the song blasting from the car speakers. bruce springsteen. dancing in the dark.

it wasn’t just the long trip that had made him hesitate. or the risk of arguments.

but, too late to think about that now. jaehyun looks out the side window again. the clear blue sky, the shining cars, the smooth road ahead of them. it’s a good day.

nothing’s gonna happen. it’ll be fine.

Chapter Text

they take i-88, heading west. gradually the urbanscape tapers off and fields spread out around them, stretching as far as the eye can see.

they take a break and switch at a small gas station. when jaehyun pulls back out on the road yuta starts digging in his backpack.

“i brought some audiobooks,” he says, stacking a couple of square cardboard boxes on the dashboard. “figured it could kill a couple of hours.”

“what you got?” jaehyun asks, keeping his eyes on the road.

“let’s see.” yuta puts his bag back between his feet and starts picking among the titles. “ragtime by e.l. doctorow. pet sematary. 1q84 by murakami. the da vinci code, grapes of wrath and harry potter. the third one.”

jaehyun chuckles. “you’ve got some taste in literature.”

“hey, i had a limited pool of options, okay?” yuta shakes two of the boxes. “this is the best i could make of what i found at the thrift store and in mom’s bookcase.”

“fine. what are you in the mood for?”

“i dunno. pet sematary?”

jaehyun makes a face. “remember we’re gonna be sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere tonight.”

yuta leers at him. “you scared?”

“i’m just saying, let’s not push it.” jaehyun shifts up to 6th gear. “i’m not gonna hold your hand if you need to get out to pee in the middle of the night.”

“fair enough. harry potter, then?”

jaehyun laughs. “sure.”

yuta grins, gets the first cd out and pushes it into the player slot.

 

it can all kind of be traced back to johnny.

johnny, who is the closest thing to a brother jaehyun’s ever had. johnny, who lived four houses down and was just one year older.

johnny, who has a natural ability of making people congregate around him. of making people feel at ease.

when jaehyun started first grade johnny had already been going to school for a year, collecting friends and experience, and would wait for jaehyun in the school yard and hold his hand when his legs trembled.

when jaehyun started middle school johnny had already been there for a year, and would wait for him in the hallway with the lockers and slap his back and lead him when jaehyun didn’t know where to go.

when jaehyun started high school johnny was already there, surrounded by a bunch of sophomore friends whom jaehyun had already met, was already familiar with. yuta, taeyong, joshua, wendy, joy. it was so easy to fall into his circles. jaehyun was absorbed as if he was an appendage rather than a neighbor.

it’s not that jaehyun was bad at making friends himself. he always had a bunch in his own year as well, and can take credit for a couple of additions to the gang (doyoung and DK, primarily).

but it all comes back to johnny. revolves around johnny, even though he would never admit that himself.

when his class graduated and everybody left (taeyong for new york, josh for san fran, yuta for LA), johnny stayed. he was still four houses down and always had time for jaehyun, even between college classes and part time jobs. his door was always open; his basement the natural gathering spot. he organized the hang-outs when everyone came back for thanksgiving and spring break.

when jaehyun, ever the golden boy, all but aced his SATs and got into caltech, yuta was not one of the first things he thought about. they hadn’t talked much during jaehyun’s senior year - texted, of course, and kept up with each other on insta and FB, and hung out when yuta was back in town. but nothing out of the ordinary. nothing above the bare minimum for someone you had counted as one of your closest friends.

people drift apart after high school. jaehyun knew that (now more than ever).

yuta, however, seemed excited when jaehyun gave him the news. that in itself didn’t have to mean a lot, because yuta can be easily excitable. it was fun, sure. a bit nice, having someone there, waiting for him. but jaehyun could fend for himself now, and didn’t expect a major renaissance for their friendship or anything. they’d be in different schools, and college life was busy.

maybe it might have ended like that. liking each others IG posts, and the occasional dinner or movie together, slowly fading into we gotta hang out soon, it’s been forevers and yeah we shoulds until both of them stopped bothering. and then they’d only see each other at johnny’s after christmas. awkwardly laughing off the fact that they lived in the same city but hadn’t hung out since the last time they were back in chicago.

but so came august - exactly one year ago - and jaehyun headed from the airport to the dorms to meet his assigned flatmate; a winston dong, freshman just like jaehyun.

winston turned out to be a lanky, nerdy chinese guy with a pretty face and a computer addiction. he had already set up his desktop, (priorities, after all,) which was a home-built behemoth with blue LEDs and a custom cooling system, taking up most of his desk.

now, jaehyun was never an expert on computers, but he knew a gaming station when he saw one.

“what’re you running on this thing?” he asked, carefully sliding a finger over the hull. “PUBG, LOL, OW?”

winston’s eyes lit up.

jaehyun’s rank rose a lot that year. his grades? not so much.

winston (or winwin, or winnie, as he’s also known, though he prefers sicheng) and yuta quickly hit it off as well, bonding over their shared love for anime and cheesy asian dramas. because of this yuta started coming over on a regular basis. add yuta’s classmate ten, sicheng’s friend lucas, fellow caltech freshmen hendery and dejun, and before he knew it jaehyun had found himself in a new network, a new tightly knit crew, one which coincidentally meant that yuta was back as a steady component in his life.

and jaehyun realized that, maybe, he had kinda missed him.

 

they stop for lunch outside iowa city. it’s a hot afternoon and when they get back to the car the sun has started inching west.

“fucking a million degrees,” yuta mumbles. he tugs off his tank and tosses it into the backseat before getting in behind the wheel. “can you give me my sunglasses?”

jaehyun digs in his backpack. “these?” he asks, holding out a pair of dark aviator shades.

“thanks.” yuta puts them on his nose. he checks himself in the rearview mirror, adjusting some strands of his bangs before starting the engine with a revving sound.

jaehyun snorts. “what’s this, top gun?”

yuta grins. it takes a lot to offend him. “you’re just jealous that i’m hot.”

jaehyun rolls his eyes. “of course.”

yuta navigates them back out to the highway, and after a couple of minutes the AC has fully kicked in. jaehyun can’t help but notice how yuta’s nipples stiffen slightly in the draft.

jaehyun reaches over to the dashboard to raise the temperature a little.

“i was hoping we’d make it to omaha today,” yuta says.

“yeah, should be doable.” jaehyun looks out his side window. “we’ve been lucky, no traffic jams or anything so far.”

“don’t jinx it, dude.”

 

caltech students choose their major at the end of their first year. for sicheng the choice was obvious - computer science. dejun picked physics and hendery engineering.

jaehyun, after careful consideration and long phonecalls with his parents, went with biochem. he prefers the organic, hands-on side of STEM over the more theoretical areas, and he liked chemistry already in high school. maybe that’s not something to build your career on, but with multiple fine options to choose between, none of them can be all wrong, right?

either way, pharma is a lucrative business and the close links with the healthcare industry makes it feel like you’re doing something good, helping people. both of these are qualities his parents value. (and they’re the ones paying for the whole thing, after all.)

jaehyun was kind of surprised when yuta, in his senior year, applied for dance majors. he had talked about it, of course. he had been in a dance crew for years, was passionate about it. if you were out with him, just walking or whatever, he would sometimes space out and start moving to a beat in his head, falling into some moves he had been mulling over, trying to get them right.

he was definitely talented. but being a dance major is something you talk about, dream about - not something you actually do.

jaehyun remembers overhearing his mom talking to yuta’s mom one day that spring. she was over to return a pot or something, and lingered in the hallway to chat.

you can’t control that boy, she said, with something like a shrug in her voice. he goes his own way.

and so yuta ended up at UCLA, with a minor in psychology. jaehyun wondered if this was a prerequisite his parents had demanded of him, or if it was his own choice. if it was his plan B.

jaehyun felt a strange gloating satisfaction at the thought of that. that not even yuta was so sure of himself and his future as to gamble everything on an artistic career. a hint of i told you so, even if jaehyun hadn’t uttered anything of the kind.

pick a job you love and you won’t have to work a day in your life. but doing something for fun and doing it for a living can be two very different things.

they both came back to chicago for the summer, yuta to work at the 7/11 he had been part-timing at in high school and jaehyun because he had nothing better to do. he’s not used to idling, though, and has subsequently already covered most of his reading for the fall classes.

his mother ruffled his hair every time she caught him bent over one of his heavy books. a silent good boy. jaehyun let her do it, even if it made him feel a bit like a dog.

he’s turning into a nerd, he realized one day when he caught a look of himself in the hallway mirror; glasses on his nose, untrimmed hair falling flat over his forehead, a softness at his jaw. he was popular in high school. athletic, stylish, good with the ladies. is this what STEM does to you?

he booked a hairdresser appointment that day.

“you should cherish this opportunity to be bored,” johnny told him one time when he complained. “once college is over there’ll be nun’a’more of that.”

it’s been nice, jaehyun has to admit. like high school summers, except his parents can’t enforce curfews anymore, and with johnny being 21 getting their hands on alcohol has been a lot easier.

him and johnny and yuta biking to the beach, not heading back till evening had fallen and the temperature dropped. staying out all night, the sky never darkening past a dusty ultramarine in the north, tiptoeing up to his room in the wee hours of the morning. wasting an entire afternoon gaming with sicheng, or lying in the grass in the backyard listening to podcasts.

well, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, of course.

 

jaehyun slowly rolls the car down the narrow road. it’s littered with bumps and potholes, laced with tall bushes on both sides. they haven’t seen a house in over ten minutes.

“up here,” yuta says next to him. he looks up from the map on his phone. “take a left here.”

“where?” jaehyun asks. “there’s no fucking road.”

“there should be.”

that’s not helpful, but jaehyun bites his tongue. he snails them along another ten, twenty yards, and then spots an opening in the wall of leaves.

“there it is.”

jaehyun turns and comes onto a gravel road, sloping gently downwards. it soon opens up to a flat, roughly rectangular area, seemingly a countryside idea for a parking lot. it’s empty, though, and there’s no boom gate blocking further access, so jaehyun continues.

after another minute they reach a grassy clearing, facing a small lake.

yuta grins. “hey, told you we’d find it.”

jaehyun hums. he pulls up at a dry, sandy patch and climbs out to stretch his stiff legs. it’s been a long day, but they’ve made it past omaha; they’re just outside lincoln, nebraska, at one of the potential campsites yuta had previously scouted for on google maps.

“is camping even allowed here?” jaehyun asks him over the roof of the car.

yuat shrugs. “nothing says otherwise.” he stalks off, head bent and feet scuffing in the short grass, seemingly looking for a flat enough area to pitch the tent.

jaehyun turns the other way, slowly strolling down to the water. the site is empty but neatly trimmed, a rough half-circle where the shrubbery and tall grasses have been kept at bay. a barbeque pit with benches around it sits at the other end. a sliver of sand that might be called a beach separates the lawn from the shoreline.

jaehyun sinks down on his heels and dips his fingers into the water. it’s more a puddle than a lake, not more than one or two hundred yards across. the water is brown and he can only see the sandy bottom a couple feet out, but it’s warm.

the sun is setting and the surface is almost completely still, pitch black where it reflects the trees on the other side. a bird passes far out, soaring on lazily flapping wings. sleepy crickets play in the grasses.

jaehyun stands up and pulls in a deep breath. the air is sweet, smelling of plants and dew. oh, the fresh countryside air… jaehyun snorts. he better not tell yuta, or else he’ll get a whole speech on how yuta was right and how jaehyun should get out more and not spend his entire life in a lab.

he hears steps behind him in the grass.

“this is great, huh?” yuta says. “i figure we can set up camp over there.” he throws a thumb over his shoulder. “i’m gonna move the car and then we can get started.”

pitching the tent is a surprisingly easy and friction-less affair. it’s the dome kind with poles crossing in the middle, the canvas silver grey with purple details. authentic 90s aesthetic.

“can you believe it?” yuta says. “twenty bucks at the thrift shop. barely used.”

jaehyun grins. “what are you gonna do with it afterwards though? store it in your dorm room?”

yuta shrugs. “i can pass it on. let someone else enjoy it.” they’re sitting in front of the unzipped opening. yuta pokes at something in the grass. “i’ve been thinking about getting a place off-campus though. i don’t know if i can take two more years of dorms.”

“huh,” jaehyun says. “can you afford it?”

yuta makes a face. “i’ll have to talk to the folks.”

“you gonna live alone?”

“ten and i have been talking about it. we’re thinking of getting something together, split the bills.”

jaehyun nods. “cool.”

yuta turns his head and peers at him. “are you mad i didn’t ask you?”

jaehyun blinks. “why would i be?”

yuta shrugs. “you interested?”

jaehyun feels a smile tug at his mouth. “thanks for the offer, but i’m good.”

“well then.”

jaehyun isn’t sleepy. they picked up burgers for dinner some hour ago and the calories plus the whole day of sitting is getting to him. seemingly yuta feels the same way because he keeps fidgeting, shifting his legs and picking at strands of grass. finally he slaps his knees and shoots up, spinning around towards jaehyun.

“i gotta do something,” he says. “go for a run or something.”

jaehyun grins. “okay.”

“you in?”

jaehyun gets up as well. “sure.”

they dig out some clothes and better shoes, lock up the car and take off. from the parking lot they find a trail that seems to lead somewhere.

jaehyun’s not as fit as yuta, with his lean muscles and dogged stamina sculpted by years of dancing, but he prides himself on being able to keep up. he was on the basketball team in high school, and he still makes sure to hit the gym once or twice a week.

it’s darker in between the trees and thick bushes, and several times jaehyun stumbles on a root or rock sticking up through the ground. after some fifteen minutes he slows down, calling after yuta to hold up.

yuta turns back to him, panting and wiping his forehead with his arm. “you getting tired?” he asks, and jaehyun can see his smirk even in the dim light.

“fuck off,” jaehyun wheezes. “i just think we should head back the same way before it gets too dark and we get lost out here.”

this time jaehyun takes the lead. it feels easier when you get to see where you’re going, don’t have to follow. his muscles are warm and he keeps a steady pace, legs pumping, feet light against the trampled dirt.

when they approach the parking lot again the trail widens, and suddenly jaehyun feels yuta’s presence behind him. he glances to his side, enough to catch a glimpse of yuta’s grin, his bangs swept back with the wind.

as soon as there’s enough space for both of them yuta tries to pass him. jaehyun speeds up and keeps to the middle to block him. it only works for so long - once they reach open ground yuta’s by his side, sprinting like a gazelle.

jaehyun decides to play it dirty. he stays close, using his elbow to try to keep yuta back, but yuta just giggles through his breaths and shoves him in return.

they stay neck and neck almost all the way to the clearing, but then yuta pushes past him. he gains a couple of meters and reaches the car first, slamming the back of it as if it was the finish line all along.

“fuck,” jaehyun gasps. he puts one hand on the passenger-side door and leans over, just breathing for a minute, feeling his pulse pound at his temples and sweat run down his neck.

yuta pats him on the shoulder. “how you doing?” he asks, tone only half teasing.

jaehyun straightens his back, with some effort. “gotta do more cardio.”

at least yuta’s breathing hard as well, thin tank slicked to his heaving chest. “i need a bath,” he says and tugs the fabric over his head. he turns to jaehyun, grin wide. “race you down.”

“what?” jaehyun huffs. his blood is still filled with adrenaline, a caveman urge telling him not to back down from a challenge. yuta’s already out of his socks and shoes. “i don’t remember where i packed my trunks.”

“who cares,” yuta says, pulling down his shorts and dropping them on the ground with the rest of his clothes. “there’s noone here anyway.” next come his briefs; down his legs and off his feet in one fluid motion. jaehyun feels his throat tighten.

“hold on,” he starts, but yuta is already sprinting towards the water. “dammit.” he tugs off his clothes and shoes, but keeps his underwear on. ahead of him, yuta makes a large splash when his body hits the lake surface.

the sand is muddy under jaehyun’s feet. he knows the water is warm, but it still feels cold against his overheated skin. he hisses as it reaches his thighs, then takes a breath and dives. a moment of panicked confusion flashes through his body before his rational mind reminds it of what’s going on. he shoots through the water, then rises and breaks the surface again, gasping and spattering.

he hears yuta’s cackle, a couple of meters away. jaehyun wipes his hair out of his eyes. “fuck you,” he says. “i wasn’t prepared.”

“ya snooze ya lose.” yuta’s bangs are slicked back over his head, the smugness dripping off his face. jaehyun resists the urge to head over and give him a noogie. he sends him a splash instead, hitting the surface with his palm to make it sting.

for once he seems to catch yuta off-guard, because he makes a noise in his throat, hands coming up in defense. he takes a moment to rub water out of his eyes before retaliating.

the splashing match continues longer than jaehyun would like to admit, considering they’re twenty and not twelve. then they make peace and just swim around for a while, lounging and playing in the water.

it’s almost dark now, pale stars visible in the sky. when they’re quiet it’s almost entirely silent around them - no cars, no drone of a nearby road, no people. no wind or birds. just the soft clucking of the water against his arms, silky like liquid velvet. he hears his own breathing, even though it has calmed. can almost hear his own heartbeat.

yuta comes up behind him. “it’s nice here,” he says, putting his arms around jaehyun’s neck and clinging to his back.

jaehyun hums mechanically. yuta‘s hips press against his lower back and he can feel things. dick-shaped things.

“do you regret not taking the plane?”

“so far, no.” it takes some effort to keep his voice sounding casual. “but you still have three days to get on my nerves.”

yuta giggles quietly, right by his ear. the sound makes a chill run down jaehyun’s spine.

“we should get up,” jaehyun says. “it’s late. long day tomorrow.”

“oh,” yuta says. his grip on jaehyun’s shoulder loosens enough that jaehyun can slide out of it. “right.”

they walk back up to the car and yuta digs the keys out of his pile of sweaty clothes.

“i think i know where i put towels,” he says and (butt-naked) starts rooting around in his bags. jaehyun studies the black silhouette of the trees against the sky.

“thanks,” he says when yuta hands him a bath towel. he heads over to the other side of the car to dry off and change.

once dressed, yuta starts taking out his sleeping bag and other things they’ll need for the night. the lamps in the car ceiling is the only source of light until yuta finds the torch.

jaehyun shifts on his feet, hands balled up in the pockets of his hoodie, zipped up halfway. “i’m gonna take a walk,” he says finally.

yuta looks up at him over the flashlight. “now?” he frowns. “it’s all dark. you said yourself we should go to sleep.”

“well, i,” jaehyun says. “i need some me-time, okay?”

yuta’s brows inch up. “oh. okay.” he grins. it’s a very irritating grin. “sure. take your time.”

jaehyun gives him the finger before turning and heading off. he needs to use the light on his phone to stay on the road and make it to the parking lot again. he doesn’t spend much time finding a comfortable or secluded spot. it’s late and they haven’t seen anyone around all evening.

he stops by a tree, already palming himself through his pants. he was planning to watch a quick porno on his phone but realizes he won’t need it. his dick is stiff and ready, arousal sitting like a hot lump of lead in his belly.

he leans his forehead against the rough bark, pulling at the elastic of his shorts to get his dick out.

it’s too easy. it’s been too much - too much yuta for one day. he doesn’t stop the images when they flood into his mind. yuta in sunglasses with his shirt off, hand light on the steering wheel. yuta naked against him in the water. yuta panting and grinning, bangs soaked with sweat.

yuta

panting

naked against him

he brings his left arm up, propping himself against the tree. jerks himself tight and fast, just needs to get it out of him. he feels his eyes close. is distantly aware of his jaw hanging open.

then, the clenching feeling above his balls, the rush of warmth through his lower body. he makes a strangled, throaty noise when he comes. the tension in his back gives in and he sways towards the trunk, but manages to stop himself before anything rough comes in contact with his sensitive skin.

when he looks down he can see the specks of white on the bark and the undergrowth, glowing eerily in the dark.

jaehyun breathes. takes a step back, tucks himself in. brushes his hands off on his pants. sends a silent apology to the tree. finds the trail again and walks back.

Chapter Text

jaehyun wakes up because it feels like he’s in an oven. he shoots up to sit and needs a moment before he remembers where he is - in a tent, with yuta, in the nebraskan wilderness. the sweater he used as a pillow is damp. his whole body feels sticky and burning. yuta is still lying peacefully on his stomach, facing away.

jaehyun fumbles to free himself from his sleeping bag and get the tent zipper open, crawling out into the fresh morning air in just his boxers. he squints up at the sun, hanging just above the trees but beating down at the tent at full power.

yuta stumbles out some half hour later, looking dizzy and red in the face. jaehyun’s sitting leaned against the car, covered by its shadow, a bio textbook in his lap.

“hot?”

yuta nods.

“guess we shouldn’t have put the tent facing east.”

yuta combs his damp bangs out of his face. “mm,” he mutters. “live and learn, i guess.”

silver lining - they’re packed up and in the car before nine. they drive into lincoln for some breakfast, and then head back onto i-80.

they’re on the plains now, for real. the horizon sits in a flat ring around them. the fields slowly give way to pastures and grasslands. the highway leads straight ahead, narrowing to a point far in the distance. it all stretches on, endless, like they could drive for days and not notice any difference.

they’re aiming for denver, but not further. yuta is particular about that.

“i’ve decided where we’re gonna stay tonight,” he says, eyes on his phone screen.

“cool,” jaehyun says. he shifts his shoulders to loosen them without taking his grip off the wheel. it’s gonna be a long day, indeed.

 

when did things start to change?

yuta has always been comfortable with physical contact, even with other guys. he can be clingy with people he likes (sicheng is a frequent victim of this). he's playful and affectionate. likes hanging off people’s shoulders and jokingly trying to kiss them on the cheek (or actually doing it, if they’ll let him). likes teasing. likes pushing boundaries to see how far they'll go.

when did they start jerking off together? february? must have been around then.

yuta was talking about a porno he had watched, how hot it was and how jaehyun needed to see it. he texted jaehyun the link, and jaehyun clicked on it right there, just to check it out. see what it was all about. he meant to close it after a moment, or a minute.

a minute turned to two, turned to five, and then they were both sitting there, crowded around jaehyun’s phone screen.

“dude,” yuta said. “get your laptop instead.”

“you wanna watch it?” jaehyun asked. “now?”

yuat grinned. “if you’re up for it.”

jaehyun knew it was a stupid idea. he was gonna get a boner and it was gonna get awkward and he wouldn’t be able to look yuta in the eye for several days. but he still got up and fetched his laptop from his desk. sicheng was out, not due back for another hour.

halfway through and yeah, yuta was right. it was hot. jaehyun was uncomfortably hard. soon he would have to get up and excuse himself to the bathroom and yuta would laugh and tease him, and fine. but a competitive streak arose through it all - he didn’t want to be the first to go. he waited a bit, to see if he could last longer than yuta.

yuta, though, ever shameless, just dropped his hand and started palming himself right there.

something may have flashed through jaehyun at that moment. his cock twitched in his sweats, as if to ask why the fuck he wasn’t touching it yet. so he did it too - snuck his hand down and brushed his palm over the lump at his crotch.

yuta put his hand down his pants. so jaehyun did too. yuta pulled his dick out to jerk it in the open. so jaehyun did too.

he hadn’t jacked off with a friend since middle school - and things were different when you were fourteen and filled with hormones and curiosity and porn wasn’t quite as accessible.

this was different, but not in a way jaehyun expected. there was something about having yuta next to him; hearing him, seeing him from the corner of his eye. he found himself almost focusing more on that, on yuta’s presence and movements, than on the video.

he tried to go slow because he didn’t want to come too soon and give yuta another reason to tease him. but it was hard - once he got his fingers around his naked dick he was already teetering on the edge, struggling not to groan.

“you gonna come?” yuta suddenly mumbled next to him.

there was no point in lying. “yeah,” jaehyun huffed out.

yuta hummed - a thick sound, almost like a moan. “it’s okay,” he said. “i don’t mind. go ahead.”

a part of jaehyun wanted to scoff. fucking thanks? but the majority of him was too far gone for snark. he gripped himself properly, working his hand fast.

yuta was watching him, and had to be dumb if he didn’t think jaehyun noticed. jaehyun didn’t bother thinking too hard about it, though, because he wasn’t in a state to think much at all.

he came with a heavy grunt, narrowly avoiding shooting spunk on his laptop.

yuta followed some minute later. he laughed breathily, flexing his sticky fingers. he nodded towards the screen. “i told you it was good.”

it was, indeed, hard to look yuta in the eyes for the next week or two. then, when things were getting back to normal again, yuta texted him another link. seems hot af, he wrote. wanna check it out together? ;)

jaehyun squeezed out a shaky breath through his nose. he spent an afternoon debating it, then sent back; ok

it kind of became a regular thing after that. they’d send each other videos they came across, and at a later, convenient time would watch it and jerk off together.

they never touched each other during these sessions, though. strictly an exercise in self-defilement. just two bros, getting off side by side.

 

they stop in north platte to check out bailey yard - the largest railroad classification yard in the world, yuta reads off the website. they go up a tower, watch some train cars being shuffled back and forth over a maze of tracks, listen to an aging guide share trivia and then head back down for lunch at an overpriced tourist diner.

“that was some seven bucks well spent,” jaehyun says dryly as they walk back to the car.

yuta chuckles. “oh, nebraska.”

 

one night back in april the two of them were hanging out with some of ten’s friends - being pretty much the only straight people in the room. they were gathered in someone’s shared apartment, had red bag-in-box wine from an odd collection of glasses and ended up playing never have i ever.

“never have i ever… been attracted to a boy.”

ten and all the guys, plus one girl, drank under chuckles. jaehyun kept his glass down. yuta seemed to think about it, then raised his and took a sip.

an oooh passed through the room.

“okay, okay,” said chaeyoung, the girl next in line. “never have i ever wanted to sleep with a guy.”

all the dudes, again, giggled and drank. jaehyun fiddled with a loose thread on the old velvet couch. yuta made a humming sound next to him, as if this was a question that required careful consideration. all the eyes were focused on him as he lifted his glass to his lips.

“who?” ten yelled over the noise that broke loose. “you’ve never told me this, you fucker!”

yuta jerked one shoulder, a slanted grin on his face.

“wait, we gotta get to the bottom of this,” another girl, lisa, said. “never have i ever had sex with a guy.”

yuta rubbed his chin. jaehyun silently prayed that yuta wouldn’t look over at him.

“how do we define sex?” yuta asked. more oooh-ing.

“anything where you touch his dick,” ten said. “or balls. or ass. or he touches yours.”

“even over the clothes,” another guy, jun, added.

“well, i mean, if you grab someone’s ass over their pants it’s not sex…”

“you know what i mean. like dry-humping. it’s not not gay just because you kept your pants on.”

“are you done?” lisa asked them.

yuta laughed. “yeah, okay. then, no.”

“do you guys have, like, exceptions?” chaeyoung asked, looking between yuta and jaehyun. “like, you’re not into guys, but if one specific dude came onto you you wouldn’t say no.”

yuta shrugged again. “i guess you could say that.”

“jeffery?”

jaehyun cleared his throat. “i mean,” he said. “sure.”

“like who?” lisa wanted to know.

they name-dropped some male actors and celebrities. it's not like jaehyun is unable to find other guys handsome. if avan jogia came up to him, tucked a dark lock of hair behind his ear and offered a night of steamy adventures, he'd probably find it hard to decline.

"also," yuta said. he looked over at jaehyun with a sly grin. "i wouldn't say no to some jeffrey."

jaehyun felt himself froze. the whole room broke into chaos. yuta let it rage for five seconds before he laughed and yelled, "i'm joking! i’m joking!"

 

jaehyun shuts his eyes, as if it will stop him from having to see the memory that’s emerging in his mind. it doesn’t work like that, though, and the scene paints itself in vivid detail before his inner view;

him and yuta, slumped back on the couch, lazy after their wank. jaehyun’s spunk was still wet on his stomach. yuta had some on his hands.

he reached over and brushed a finger over jaehyun’s skin, catching some of his cream. then he rubbed his thumb over his fingers, mixing their jizz together.

jaehyun watched him do this - or stared, probably - and yuta chuckled when he met his eyes.

“now we’re spunk bros,” he said.

“what?” jaehyun frowned. “like blood brothers?”

“exactly.” yuta held his hand up to his face to study the sticky mess. “you can’t betray me, or horrible fates will befall you.”

jaehyun snorted. “like what?”

yuta shrugged. “limp dick, crabs, i dunno.”

jaehyun laughed. yuta glanced over at him, and then he laughed too.

another memory follows, like a playlist on auto;

in yuta’s room, mid-session, both of them close. this was later, may perhaps, and it was a warm day so jaehyun had taken his shirt off. he let his eyes slip over to yuta once in a while, without turning his head so yuta wouldn’t notice. watched yuta’s dick as he pumped it.

“hey,” yuta said, and for a moment jaehyun thought that he had caught jaehyun looking and wanted him to stop. yuta met his eyes. the tip of his tongue darted out over his lips. “can i come on you?”

jaehyun’s hand almost stilled. “what?”

“can i?” yuta repeated. “come on you?”

“why?”

“why not?”

“you fucking freak,” jaehyun teased him. he swallowed. then; “not on the face.”

yuta’s mouth split in a grin. “okay.”

he got up to stand in front of jaehyun, still working at his dick. jaehyun had nowhere else to look but straight at him. his swollen cock, his flat chest, his lip caught between his teeth.

jaehyun’s own dick pulsed impatiently in his hand, but he couldn’t concentrate on that. he was busy watching yuta’s climax - the way his abs jerked, making his hips buck forward; the way his face slacked, eyes going blank; the way the veins on his hand bulged when his grip turned clenching.

his load landed on jaehyun’s chest in scattered drops.

it was warm.

again. another time;

“do you do this with sicheng?” jaehyun asked.

“no,” yuta said. he looked over at jaehyun, eyes like a vice. “do you?”

jaehyun shook his head.

he never did this with sicheng, or johnny, or anyone else. it was only yuta.

they haven’t done it in a while though. not since june, when things started going downhill.

 

after another hour of the prisoner of azkaban i-80 swerves off and they continue on i-76. a couple of minutes later they pass the large green sign marking the border to colorado.

they stop at a parking pocket to piss in the ditch and stretch their legs. it’s hot, but the constant wind over the plains runs smooth and cooling over jaehyun’s skin. he wades through the weeds to get up on the other side, taking a couple of steps out on the dry turf.

fleeting fragments from high school history pop up in his head. it’s easy to picture roaming herds of bison, hunters on horseback. the oregon trail; covered wagons dragged by oxen and filled with malnourished kids.

crossing the plains at 70 miles per hour is slow enough. jaehyun would not like to do it without a motorized vehicle.

he tilts his head back, gazing into the expanse of the sky above. it’s a pale blue with thin strands of clouds pointing west. he turns in his spot, following the horizon 360 degrees around. a thin line separating the flat of the earth from the void of the sky. and jaehyun - just a speck in the middle, standing at the center of the world.

yuta’s standing behind him with his phone raised, snapping selfies. he changes his expression for every shot; a pout, a grin, a lip-bite. then he shakes his bangs and jogs over to jaehyun’s side.

“we gotta take some pics,” he says and flings an arm around jaehyun’s neck.

jaehyun cocks his glasses up with a twitch of his nose and looks up at the phone screen. yuta needs to tiptoe a little to get them on the same level.

yuta’s tan, angled face, and jaehyun’s slightly rounder and paler, right next to it. a breeze tugging at their hair. two grins; happy, free. a view of the road and the empty stretch of the prairie in the background.

yuta picks out one of the shots and posts it on insta with the caption x-cuntry trip with my bro @jungjeff

it doesn’t take long before johnny leaves a reply. nice to see you guys havent murdered each other yet

jaehyun snorts and writes back; gna wait till the mountains. much easier to hide the body

“what are you giggling about?” yuta asks from the driver’s seat.

jaehyun puts his phone down. “nothing.” he’ll see it sooner or later, anyway.

 

yuta and jaehyun both came back to chicago in early june. taeyong was there too, but only for a couple of weeks before he was gonna head back to new york. doyoung was taking summer classes, but was planning to come home in july.

taeyong's parents went away on a weekend trip mid-month so, naturally, a bunch of them came over to enjoy the privacy and empty living room with a 45 inch tv and surround sound system.

johnny brought the booze, they ordered pizza, listened to music and talked and dicked around, and after a while someone suggested playing truth or dare.

jaehyun had noticed that truth or dare wasn’t really a staple in college culture as it used to be in high school. still, nobody usually protested when it was brought up. they moved the coffee table out of the way and got started.

yuta seemed on a mission to make the girls do stuff with each other, picking one of them as soon as it was his turn. they quickly picked up on this, though, and only chose truth from him.

at least until sana either forgot or felt she had been exposed enough for one evening, and asked for a dare.

yuta flashed an ominous grin at her. “make out with one of the girls.”

laughter, snorts, and annoyed groans rose from the group.

sana rolled her eyes. “honestly?”

rena, who was sitting next to yuta, reached her leg out to give him a kick. “just so you can watch? gross.”

“the game’s a game,” yuta said. “we’ve done way worse.” he raised his brows at sana. “you gonna do it or not?”

sana sighed. “with who?”

“you pick.”

after some discussion joy volunteered. they sat in the middle of the ring, hands light on each other, and exchanged pecks between giggles for a minute.

jaehyun has to admit that it was pretty hot. taeyong got shy and giggled and looked down, and most of the guys shifted uncomfortably when it was over.

yuta should have expected that sana would want revenge. the next time it was her turn she immediately turned to him. yuta picked dare.

“make out with one of the guys.”

jackson and chris shot up, howling. joy and rena reached over to give sana high-fives. taeyong was slapping yuta’s back, yelling about things backfiring. the rest were laughing their asses off, jaehyun included. yuta sat in the middle of it all, scratching his head and chuckling.

“okay, so with who?” he asked sana when the noise had calmed a little.

sana shrugged. “i don’t care. you pick.”

yuta’s eyes moved over the ring. most of the guys avoided eye-contact. then yuta paused on jaehyun’s face, and suddenly jaehyun knew what was gonna happen.

honestly, he wouldn’t have thought yuta would be that stupid. he could have picked johnny or taeyong. they could have squeezed their eyes shut and pressed their puckered mouths together until sana was satisfied. what was the point in picking jaehyun?

“jaehyun.”

jaehyun could have refused. could have said he wanted no part in this and left. but acting like a homophobic dudebro wasn’t cool anymore and would only make things more awkward. it might raise suspicion. someone might ask why he was so against it, what his problem was.

playing it cool was the best way to go.

jaehyun rolled his shoulders in a shrug and got up to the middle of the circle. yuta stood on his knees in front of him. the girls were laughing and cheering around them, joy and wendy yell-singing some kind of striptease soundtrack. yuta’s grin looked annoyingly comfortable on his face.

jaehyun ignored the pulse racing up and down his neck. he managed to keep his hands from shaking.

he figured it was worth a shot to take the comedic route. he swayed a little to feign being drunker than he really was, and met yuta by pulling his lips back and just sticking his tongue in his mouth.

everybody laughed, but sana wasn't happy. she reached over to give jaehyun's butt a couple of hard slaps.

"do it properly, you fuckers!" she yelled over the noise. "us girls want a show too."

yuta wiped his mouth, giggling. “fine, fine.” he looked at jaehyun again. he was still close, just inches away. his hands came up, landed gently on jaehyun’s neck.

jaehyun swallowed. he stood still, and let him - let yuta pull him in and kiss him.

more cheering erupted when their lips met. yuta didn’t hold back, because he would never disappoint an audience. he moved his mouth against jaehyun’s - smoothly, sensually, with just enough hints of tongue, like a scene from a tasteful soft-core porno.

jaehyun played along. played his part, with as much engagement as was expected of him. he could feel all the eyes on them like spotlights. his hands sat stiff at yuta’s waist.

it lasted - half a minute, maybe? hard to tell. not too short, not too long. then yuta broke away from him, and he was immediately laughing.

jaehyun wore a grin, and they sat back down. the game continued.

jaehyun licked his lower lip. it was warm, felt slightly sore. there was a slick moisture on it - saliva that wasn’t his.

he licked yuta’s spit into his mouth. it didn’t taste of anything, had no particular texture, but it felt different from his own.

yuta had left no marks on him. there were no signs on his body that yuta had touched him. he was not different in any way. still, that feeling remained in his mouth for the rest of the evening. an awareness of the yutan particles inside of him.

johnny caught him in the kitchen when they were cleaning up, getting ready to leave. most had already left.

“you okay?” johnny asked in korean. he leaned back against the counter, snacking on some left-over chips. his tone was nonchalant. no hyung-like wrinkle of concern on his forehead.

“yeah,” jaehyun said. he stuffed some empty cans into a garbage bag. dared a; “why?”

johnny jerked one shoulder in a shrug. he threw the chips crumbs out and put the bowl in the dishwasher.

“want me to walk you home, pumpkin?” he said in english on the way out, throwing an arm around jaehyun’s neck. his voice was different now. lighter. “you got a few in you.”

jaehyun made a noise of disgust. “i think i’ll be fine.” but he didn’t shrug johnny’s arm off.

yuta was not in the hallway. maybe he had already left.

jaehyun was relieved that he didn’t have to see him.

 

when they approach denver thick clouds gather in the sky. soon a light drizzle starts falling.

the place yuta had set his eye on is an official campgrounds in a state park. they pay the fee to a perky ranger in a booth and drive around till they find a nice spot by some trees. it’s still raining, however.

“they say it should clear up towards the evening,” yuta says, forecast pulled up on his phone. “if not, we can always rent a cabin.”

they open the trunk and rearrange enough bags into the front seats that there’s enough space for them both in the back. jaehyun lies propped against one of yuta’s duffels, one foot dangling over the rear bumper, watching the rain.

it's a calm rain, the kind that falls as if it’s just got nothing better to do. it doesn’t manage to cool the air much, and jaehyun can feel the humidity like a sticky film on his skin. he already misses the winds of the plains.

they chat lazily; about high school, about college. about old friends and new.

“why did you pick chemistry?” yuta asks suddenly. he's got both feet on the rubber strip at the edge of the trunk, using a tote bag with some soft contents as a makeshift pillow.

jaehyun feels himself pull up defenses, even though he doesn’t know why. sometimes yuta’s tone can make anything sound like an interrogation.

jaehyun shrugs. “i dunno. it’s fun. good career prospects." he looks down, picking at something at his nail. "my parents thought it was a good choice.”

“your parents thought it was a good choice?” yuta looks over at him. “that’s it?”

jaehyun’s mouth tightens. “no,” he says. “i just told you. i think it’s fun. and it’s a low-saturation field. it's easy to get a good job. you don’t have to teach, or apply for research grants every time you wanna do anything.”

yuta hums. “okay.”

jaehyun shifts against the bags. the floor of the trunk is hard against his lower back. “why did you pick dance?” it’s not a petty revenge. he’s been wondering, and just hasn’t got around to asking.

yuta doesn’t shrug. he sighs, but it's not a tired sigh. it’s like the longing sigh of a young lover. “because i love it,” he says. “i had to.”

jaehyun frowns to himself. had to this and had to that. just because you want something doesn’t mean you can get it. that’s, like, one of the first things they teach you in kindergarten.

“aren’t you scared?” he asks. this is a sensitive topic; he knows it. he probably wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t yuta. but this is yuta, and yuta can handle it. “what if it’s really hard, and, or it doesn’t work out, and you end up flipping burgers in glenview with a useless degree. unable to pay back what your parents gave you.”

yuta starts chuckling next to him before he has even finished talking.

“things can always go to hell,” he says when jaehyun falls quiet. “you can get hit by a car tomorrow and end up in a coma for the rest of your short life. piling up those medical bills until your parents have to pull the plug.” he glances over at jaehyun. “there are so many ways you can fuck up your life. might as well have fun doing it. live every day like it’s your last, or whatever.”

jaehyun bites his lip. he shouldn’t get annoyed by this, but he can’t help it. “it doesn’t hurt to try making the best of what you’ve got, though.”

“isn’t that what i’m doing?” yuta seems as calm as ever, looking out over the grounds, covered in a grey veil of rain. “i’ve got talent for a thing, and i’m trying to make something out of it.”

the rain patters against the roof of the car. jaehyun watches water drop off the sides of the hatch, standing open like a canopy.

“it’s a risky move,” he says finally. “don't you think so?”

yuta shrugs. “sure. but i had to try.” he tucks one hand behind his neck. “if i didn’t try i would never know if i could do it.” he glances over at jaehyun again. “you can’t say it’s impossible if you’ve never tried.”

“i never said it’s impossible,” jaehyun mumbles. “i’m just saying... that it’s probably hard. takes a lot of work. and even if you’re good, and even if you work hard, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it.”

yuta studies him from the corner of his eye. “do you have anything you’re passionate about?”

"uh," jaehyun says.

“you’re good at a lot of things. you played basketball all through high school but quit when you went to college. you were on the school paper team for two years, but you didn’t go into journalism. you’re great at karaoke, but you've never taken singing lessons.”

jaehyun licks his lips. “where are you going with this?”

“well, i mean," yuta says. "don’t you ever want to do something just for yourself? something that you want. not just what your parents want for you.” yuta points a finger at him, as if he just thought of another example. “like computers. you like gaming?”

jaehyun snorts. “you can’t make a career out of gaming.”

“of course you can. there’s e-sports. game development; programming, character design, voice acting. you could even go into neuro or something; invent the next generation of gaming. fully immersive virtual reality, or whatever.” yuta waves a hand in the air. “look at winwin. he loves it. the wires, the coding, the whole thing. he can’t not do it, so he’s doing it.”

jaehyun watches the fuzzy surface of the curved ceiling. when he doesn’t say anything, yuta continues.

“it doesn’t have to be a career thing though. could be a hobby. just something that you want so much that you have to do it. even if there’s no guarantee of success. even if other people don’t think it’s a good idea.”

jaehyun suspects what he’s getting at. this isn’t new. yuta has expressed or implied similar sentiments before. that jaehyun plays it safe, never takes risks. that jaehyun is a coward.

“why are you so intent on me having a hobby?”

yuta laughs. “i’m not. do whatever you want.” he props his foot up on his knee. his sneaker bounces lightly in the air. “it just sounds boring to me. going all through life just doing what you’re supposed to. what’s the point if you don’t have something you love? something that makes you happy?”

“maybe having a good job and disposable income makes me happy.”

yuta snorts. “fine. then you’re all set.”

that sounds like the end of it, and jaehyun kind of hopes that it is. but yuta doesn’t seem willing to drop the subject just yet.

“so, money,” he says. “what else?”

“what?”

“what else do you want? family? love?” he runs a hand through his bangs. “where do you see yourself in ten years?”

jaehyun groans. “i thought i was done with this shit once i got into college.”

yuta cackles. “nah, cover letters are the same shit.” he pokes his elbow into jaehyun’s side. “so?”

jaehyun sighs. “i dunno. a degree, a job. a house. a girlfriend. maybe married. maybe a kid. or one on the way.” that's how he's always pictured it. but maybe he hasn't thought about it a lot.

his dad was twenty-five when jaehyun was born. they bought the house in glenview the next year.

yuta hums. “white picket fence.”

jaehyun gives him a jab with his elbow back, but harder. “fuck off.”

yuta cackles, rubbing the sore spot on his ribs. “why are you pissed off? it’s the american dream.”

“if you think i’m boring, just say it.”

“i never said that," yuta says. his voice is calm again, almost gentle. he lets his arm drop back down to the bottom of the trunk. it brushes against jaehyun's elbow.

“so,” jaehyun says. “what about you?”

“my life in ten years?”

“yeah.”

yuta hums in thought. “out," he says. "working in my field. getting gigs and doing performances. maybe getting to choreograph some stuff myself. touring all over the country. or all over the world." he smiles, as if to himself. "i just wanna dance and see the world."

“so, living in tour buses and motels.”

yuta shrugs. “i don’t really care about that. it would be worth it.”

a mini-van with a trailer passes slowly on the bumpy road beside them.

“it sounds lonely though," jaehyun says. "moving between different troupes, different places. never staying long enough to really get to know someone.”

yuta hums again. “maybe. or maybe i’ll have friends all over the world. always someone waiting for me. a girl in every port.”

jaehyun snorts. “do you really believe that or is it just something you’re telling yourself?”

yuta laughs. “fuck off," he says, imitating jaehyun's tone from before, but less sharp.

jaehyun feels a hint of a smile on his mouth.

“we’re different,” he says. it’s not a new observation. sometimes he wonders why they’re even friends. “work in different ways, want different things. nothing wrong with that.”

"yeah," yuta says. "i guess."

Chapter Text

jaehyun wakes up when yuta’s phone alarm goes off at eight thirty. he lies still, half-covered by a flap of his sleeping bag, until yuta has dragged himself up and crawled out of the tent.

when he rolls over he realizes how stiff and sore his back is, all muscles and tendons protesting movement. the tent, however, is still decently cool - they picked a good spot. it smells of polyester and attic, but it has already started to feel like some kind of home.

the morning light filtering through the canvas paints everything a greyish blue. distorted shadows of leaves move over the ceiling in the wind. jaehyun listens to the breeze and the twitter of small birds outside.

he actually got a proper shower and a shave last night, so he’s feeling fresher than he dared to expect during these four days. the facilities are located in a low building a couple hundred yards away from their spot. the men’s shower room had lockable stalls, each with a slot you had to feed coins into to get water.

when jaehyun was finished and came back out to the changing room yuta was already there, in nothing but black briefs and with his foot up on one of the benches, bent over to inspect something on his inner thigh.

he looked up when he heard jaehyun’s wet feet over the floor. “oh, good,” he said. “can you help me out? check if i’ve got any ticks on my back.”

“um,” jaehyun said. he tucked his towel a little tighter around his waist. “sure.” he angled yuta towards the light and leaned in, scanning over his skin. scraped at a couple of dark spots with his finger to make sure they were nothing more than moles or scabs.

“and the back of my thighs?” yuta asked.

jaehyun swallowed, but dutifully squatted down to look over his legs as well. a thin coat of fuzz covered the length from below his butt to the back of his knees. on the inside, up towards his crotch, a couple of the hairs were darker and thicker. jaehyun could see a small birthmark, but he didn’t touch it.

“you’re good.”

“thanks.” yuta turned around as he stood up. “i’ll check you too?”

jaehyun cleared his throat. “uh, yeah,” he said, ducking past yuta. “just gonna put some pants on.”

jaehyun almost startles when the zipper ritsches open and yuta’s head pokes into the tent.

“dude, are you awake?”

jaehyun rubs his hand over his eyes. “yeah.”

“then get up so we can get going.”

they each have a can of lukewarm beef soup for breakfast, then take down the tent and pack up.

jaehyun takes the first shift at the wheel, as per yuta’s request, making their way to i-70. at high points they can see hills rising in the distance. the highway takes them southwest, out of the city, and then begins the ascent.

yuta’s in a good mood. he sits straight up in the passenger seat, watching the sceneries passing by. there seems to be something almost spiritual to him about going up into the rockies. he wanted to spend the night in denver, so they’d start the climb in the morning.

he has told jaehyun about how his parents used to take him and his sister hiking in the western uplands of wisconsin when he was a kid. how free he felt there; how much he liked the view from a tall rock or hill, getting to look down over the landscape below.

illinois is not the best place to live if you like climbing mountains. maybe that was one of the reasons yuta was drawn to california. jaehyun knows he has gone up mount baldy and old greyback a couple of times. he has talked about doing a longer trip through sierra nevada too, but hasn’t come around to it yet. you need some proper equipment for that - like a tent that’s less than 10 pounds and two decades.

the sun hangs behind them, bathing the slopes in morning light. it doesn’t look so impressive yet, but jaehyun knows they're only at the foothills. they have a long way to go.

 

yuta didn’t bring up what happened at taeyong’s afterwards, so neither did jaehyun. why would they? it was just a dumb game. nevermind that jaehyun ended up the collateral damage of yuta’s shithead shenanigans. he was happy to just move on and forget about it.

it wasn’t that easy though. he thought about it - quite a lot - the next couple of days. revisited the scene; redrew it so it was just him and yuta there, noone else, nobody watching, to see what that might have been like.

did it make him feel something? yuta’s mouth touching his. did something stir, twitch, inside of him?

he has kissed quite a few people in his life. it wasn’t the first time he had been made to do it in a silly game either - a lot of his experience comes from spin the bottles and seven minutes in heavens in someone’s basement, fuelled by cheap beer and whatever people managed to loot from liquor cabinets without their parents noticing.

when you were fifteen it didn’t matter if a girl was hot or if you liked her. stiff fumbling lips pressing together was thrilling, simply because the close proximity of a girl in general was. these mysterious beings, and their mysterious bodies, fabled and inaccessible. the closest you got to seeing one of them naked was at the beach or at the pool, and while it was something, it just wasn’t the same.

he remembers the first time he groped a boob, in the darkness of a closet with a bunch of people whispering and giggling outside. it was packaged in a lacy, slightly-too-large bra, cup too thick for him to even feel the outline of a nipple. that five-second moment crowned his spank bank for months.

jaehyun got his first proper girlfriend in sophomore year. the first time he kissed her he was trembling, ears and cheeks scalding, heart pounding in his chest. he was bad at it - like, really. apparently that basement practice hadn’t done much for him. he wouldn’t have been surprised if she had dumped him there and then, but she must have liked him a lot too because she didn’t.

luckily he’s a quick learner.

another one comes to mind. a girl he met at a UCLA mixer, a couple months into his first college semester. she must have been a dance major because she could move her body in ways that made his mouth go dry.

they chatted for a while, and then danced together, and then jaehyun had to muster the willpower to excuse himself because she was practically glued to him and he didn’t want her to notice his boner. except she followed him to, and into, the bathroom.

when she kissed him it was like an electric charge that went right to his crotch.

in senior year there was a chick in the grade below who had a crush on him. they hung in adjacent circles and sometimes attended the same parties. he wasn’t into her. she wasn’t ugly or anything, but she wasn’t his type.

one friday night she had got pretty drunk and was clinging to him like a baby monkey on its mommy. she had her arms tied around his neck, smiling stupidly at him with big twinkling eyes. she wanted to kiss him, and eventually he let her. maybe to give it a shot, or maybe just to shut her up.

two pieces of flesh pressed against his mouth, soft and slippery from lipgloss. it made him think of snail slime. she moved them around a bit and then he pushed her off. he didn’t let her do it again.

it’s nice to be able to label things. compare them to other things and sort them into groups, organize them into boxes. but this (kissing yuta in taeyong’s living room in front of a dozen of their high school friends) wasn’t so easy to classify. it wasn't really like any of his previous experiences.

 

when they pass a sign marking eisenhower tunnel - 1 mile yuta perks up in his seat.

“we’re almost at the tunnel!” he says and pulls up his phone. “it’s the highest car tunnel in the US, and one of the highest in the world. it’s also the longest mountain tunnel in the world and the highest point on the interstate highway system,” he rants, eyes on the wiki article on the screen.

“huh,” jaehyun says. “that’s cool.”

his eyes sparkle all the way till they’re swallowed by the mouth of the tunnel. it’s three minutes of darkness, and then they’re out on the other side. yuta doesn’t seem disappointed at all.

 

two weeks after the night at taeyong’s jaehyun was over at yuta’s place. it was early afternoon and the house was empty but it was hot as hell so they were hanging in the basement, playing on the old xbox.

they started out with a racing game, but after a couple of rounds yuta said he was tired and let jaehyun play call of duty on his own. he sat next to jaehyun on the couch, watching and doing stuff on his phone.

“hey, jaehyun,” he said suddenly.

jaehyun didn’t take his eyes off the tv screen. “mm?”

“look over here.”

“why?”

“i wanna try something.”

“what?”

“you’ll see.”

"just tell me instead."

"come on." yuta sounded a little impatient. “just look at me.”

jaehyun hit pause and sat back, turning his head.

yuta was facing him, sitting sideways with one leg tucked under the other. in one smooth movement he leaned in, placed one hand on jaehyun’s cheek and put their lips together.

jaehyun froze up. the controller sat in his limp hands.

yuta moved his mouth; kissed him twice, three times. there was a smoothness, similar to the one in taeyong’s living room, but it was hampered by the fact that jaehyun wasn’t kissing back. it takes two to tango.

yuta pulled back to look at him. his eyes were hard, pupils blown wide, irises almost black in the dim light. he stared at jaehyun’s face, gaze flicking as if he was searching for something.

jaehyun still didn’t move. what was he supposed to do? how are you supposed to react when someone pulls shit like that on you? he still hadn’t decided how to categorize the last time.

yuta dropped his hand, and then he snorted. “look at you,” he said. “all deer in the headlights.”

jaehyun blinked. a wrinkle started forming between his brows.

“i’d think you were a lip virgin if i didn’t know better.” a grin had set itself on yuta’s mouth. “had you ever kissed another guy? before me?”

“what? no, i--” jaehyun wiped his mouth with the heel of his hand. “what are you doing?”

for a moment yuta looked genuinely confused. “what?”

“you can’t just go around kissing people out of nowhere!”

yuta cocked his head. “it’s not like we haven’t done it before.”

“that one doesn’t count.”

“why not?”

“because i didn’t do it because i wanted to.”

“dude.” yuta raised his brows at him. “nobody forced you.”

“it doesn’t ma--” jaehyun stuttered. “it doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you want!”

yuta leaned back against the couch. there was a curl on his upper lip. “dude, chill. it was just a kiss. don’t get your panties in a bunch.”

jaehyun stared at him. “my panties? seriously?”

yuta pulled his fingers through his bangs. “i wouldn’t have done it if i had known you were gonna make such a big deal out of it.”

jaehyun felt his jaw clench. “maybe it is a big deal? just because you’re so fucking comfortable with it doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.”

yuta raised his palms. “hey, it’s my bad. i forgot you need to be gentle with lil’ baby jeffy.”

jaehyun shot up. the controller dropped to the floor. “i’m four months younger than you!”

yuta watched him for a moment, eyes narrowed. then a dark grin came on his face. “you liked it, didn’t you? the first time. that’s why you’re making such a fuss.” he propped his elbow up on the back of the couch. “it wouldn’t be a big deal if you didn’t care.”

jaehyun’s hands clenched into fists. he could feel his chest heave in short, tight breaths.

“have you been thinking about me?” yuta continued, that smirk growing. “did you fantasize about it? dream about it while you touched yourself in your little bed?” his hand dropped to his crotch in a demonstrative gesture.

“you’re such a dick.”

yuta shrugged. “hey, it’s okay with me. you can use me to get off if that’s what works for ya.” the smirk was wider and uglier than ever. “explains why you were always so keen to jack off with me.”

jaehyun inhaled sharply. he wanted to punch yuta in the face; drive his fist into it over and over.

“go fuck yourself,” he spat, and left. he stomped up the stairs and through the hallway, slamming the front door shut after him.

 

the incline is gentle and gradual, but it’s obvious they’re not on the plains anymore. the road snakes around or cuts through sections of naked rock, striving every patiently upwards. bushes grow in ditches and crevices. soon pine-covered hills start popping up around them. when they come up on a ridge they can see the ragged silhouette of peaks in the distance, powdered white against the blue sky.

half past noon they pull into a roadside diner outside a small town. the place is picturesquely hillbilly, like a set from a movie. the waitress is a hefty middle-aged woman with ashy blonde hair and a pink uniform. she looks them both over carefully, probably not used to seeing two young asian guys stopping by in this neck of the woods.

yuta gives her his best megawatt smile. “one bacon and cheese omelette, one BLT on wholegrain, and one pancakes to share, please.”

she scribbles on her notepad. “and drinks?”

“just water, thanks,” jaehyun says.

yuta holds up his pointer and middle finger. “make it two.”

“comin’ right up.”

as soon as she’s gone yuta’s phone appears from his pocket. selfie-time again. jaehyun stifles a lopsided grin.

he leans forward to prop his elbows on the table, looking out the dusty windows. a handful of cars and trucks are parked outside. double-trailer rigs thunder past on the highway at regular intervals. an elderly couple in matching khaki, probably retirees on a roadtrip of their own, walk in through the door and up to the counter.

“hey,” yuta says suddenly. “jaehyun.” he’s still got his phone raised in front of him, but not in the usual selfie angle position.

“you taking pics of me?”

yuta grins. “yeah. the light’s nice.”

“oh.” jaehyun sits up straight. suddenly he doesn’t know what to do with his face. he’s not usually the self-conscious kind.

yuta makes a small groan. “no. just look normal.”

“how’s normal?”

“like you just did.”

jaehyun leans forward and looks out the window again. yuta taps his thumb a couple of times, then seems satisfied.

“i got some nice shots yesterday too.” he swipes his finger over the screen and then turns the phone around.

it’s a picture of jaehyun, standing on the prairie with his back to the camera, face turned to the sky. the framing is artsily skewed, making the horizon cut through the shot at an angle.

jaehyun studies it for a while. something strangely warm nestles in his chest. “you’ve got an eye for this.”

“thanks.”

“is this a habit of yours? taking pics of me when i’m not looking?”

a peculiar little twist comes on yuta’s mouth. “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”

jaehyun snorts. he reaches out his hand. “gimme.”

yuta laughs. “no way.”

“i’m just gonna check the camera roll. if i’m in it i should get to.”

“i don’t think you want to,” yuta says, sticking the phone back into his pocket. “i’ve got some… personal photographs in there.”

jaehyun tilts his head to the side. “like of your penis?”

“amongst other things.”

“dude, i thought we had all got the memo that girls don’t like dickpics.”

yuta sticks a finger up to correct him. “unsolicited dickpics.”

the food arrives and they dig in, yuta sneaking bites from jaehyun’s omelet. they split the pancakes fairly, eating them with two forks off the same plate. after some cheap, bitter coffee yuta pulls out his wallet.

“you ready to go?”

“mm.” jaehyun scans over the place, spotting a sign with a stylized male and female figure pointing into a corridor at the other end of the dining area. “just gonna take a dump before we leave.”

“knock yourself out.”

 

yuta called him several times in the days after that afternoon in the basement. jaehyun let them all go to voicemail.

one of these days johnny invited him over to watch a movie. the latest avengers one was out on netflix, and doyoung hadn’t seen it, so a bunch of them were gonna get together and have a viewing.

“i dunno…” jaehyun said. he chewed on his lip. “is yuta gonna be there?”

“i guess,” johnny said. “why?”

jaehyun lifted his shoulders in a shrug. it was dumb to ask. “no reason.”

when the designated evening came he texted johnny to say he was tired and not in the mood.

late that night he got a text from yuta. can we talk?

jaehyun didn’t reply.

finally he showed up at jaehyun’s house. the doorbell rang and jaehyun’s mom yelled at him from the kitchen to answer it. jaehyun dragged himself off the couch and into the hallway.

the look on yuta’s face was uncharacteristically somber.

“hey,” he said. he shifted on his feet. “can i come in?”

“my mom’s home,” jaehyun said.

“okay?” yuta shifted again. “then can you come out?”

jaehyun contemplated it for a moment. then he stuck his feet into his dad’s crocs and stepped out, closing the door after him.

they walked around the house to the backyard. jaehyun took a seat on the garden sofa by the hedge. yuta sat down next to him.

“so i get that you don’t want to talk to me,” yuta started. “hints received, and all.”

jaehyun looked at him, arms crossed over his chest, politely waiting for him to continue.

“but i…” yuta trailed off. he looked down at his shoes. fiddled with the string bracelet around his left wrist.

it was satisfying seeing him squirm. but jaehyun was willing to hear what he had to say.

“i’m sorry, okay?” yuta glanced up at him, just for a moment. “you’re right. i was being a dick.”

“yeah,” jaehyun said. “you were.”

the hint of a smile flashed over yuta’s mouth. “yeah. i won’t do it again.”

jaehyun’s eyes narrowed. “do what again?”

yuta looked up quickly, and then down again. “you know.” he lowered his voice. “kiss you.”

“that’s it?”

yuta blinked at him. “yeah. i mean, i know i said a bunch of asshole things too, but…”

jaehyun snorted. “you can’t promise you won’t do that again.”

yuta’s mouth tightened. “that’s not what i meant.”

“okay?”

“can we just…” yuta licked his lips. “forget that all of that shit ever happened. in the basement and… that shit at taeyong’s. it was dumb.” his fingers tugged at the bracelet knot. “like, reboot and start over, you know?”

jaehyun sighed. he knew that this was probably hard for yuta. he's not used to apologizing. usually he could joke or flirt or ignore his way out of owning up to things.

jaehyun could end it here. pretend it was fine and move on.

“no,” he said. “you don’t get to undo shit you’ve done. it doesn’t work that way.”

yuta’s eyes hardened a little. “then what do you want from me? i said i’m sorry. what else can i do?”

jaehyun felt his jaw clench again. having another shouting match in his backyard for his mom and all the neighbors to hear was not a good idea.

“you don’t get it, do you?” he said. he got up and headed for the patio door, not looking back.

maybe he was being dramatic, but he didn’t really care. he wasn’t even sure what there was to get, what yuta didn’t understand, but it felt like a good thing to say.

it wasn’t until that night, when he lay in bed trying to sleep, that he realized why he was still pissed.

if yuta wanted to kiss him he could have said so. just asked him, straight up, like a man. not make a thing out of it at a party with all their friends. not sneak it into a game, so it wasn’t so easy for jaehyun to say no.

because jaehyun might have said no. they both knew that. and actually putting yourself out there and risking rejection is scary. so who’s the coward?

but then he had done it again, when it was just the two of them. jaehyun wasn’t sure what sort of reaction yuta had been hoping for. did he do it just because it made jaehyun uncomfortable? was that the kick yuta got out of it?

it was all like a game to him, wasn’t it? yuta likes having the power, likes being able to prod at people and hold things over their heads. he knew how to push jaehyun’s buttons, and he used it for shits and giggles.

that was all there was to it.

Chapter Text

from glenwood springs i-70 runs alongside colorado river, crossing it now and again. at this elevation it doesn’t look more than a large creek, however. yuta tells him how they’ve passed the continental divide - from this point, all rivers flow west, towards the pacific.

“i mean, it’s just a matter of gravity though,” he says, taking one hand off the steering wheel to flap it in the air. “things go downwards.”

at grand junction, colorado, they leave the highway and follow the signs leading to one of the national parks in the area. a narrow road slithers around between tall rocks, leading them higher into the hills.

they stop at a dusty parking lot and yuta practically bounces out of the car.

“we need sunscreen and hats and lots of water,” he nags, slathering sun screen onto jaehyun’s naked shoulders. he’s wearing a beige bucket hat that’s not very flattering but does do a good job blocking his face and nape from the sun. jaehyun settles with a baseball cap, pushing his bangs back over his head. they fill their bottles from a tap by a cabin and head off.

the trail is challenging but the views are worth it. yuta’s ahead of him most of the time, jumping between boulders like a mountain goat. every time he reaches a crest he makes a manly squeak of excitement.

“man, come take a look at this.”

“i’m coming,” jaehyun says, for the third-or-so time. he’s panting and sweating but he can’t get annoyed. seeing yuta like a child on christmas morning makes a warm sense of affection run through him.

he takes the last steps up to yuta’s side and sees a large canyon opening up beneath them like a gaping wound on the skin of the earth. the steep sides are pale red and covered in horizontal grooves, like ribs. the bottom is full of dark green dots; hardy shrubs stubbornly growing out of the dry soil. giant white clouds stretch off into the distance, the undersides flat, like some kind of celestial hovercrafts.

“yeah,” jaehyun huffs. he tips the cap up to wipe his wet forehead with the back of his hand. “this is something.”

yuta turns to him, grin wide. “was it worth it yet?” he reaches out to nudge jaehyun’s shoulder with his fist. “coming with me.”

jaehyun chuckles. “i guess so.”

 

jaehyun’s not proud of the shit that happened next.

it was some week after yuta came by his house to apologize. a bunch of them were hanging out at doyoung’s.

if jaehyun didn’t know him so well he might have thought that yuta was entirely unaffected by the shit going on between them. yuta’s not the type to sulk or avoid people. but jaehyun could see it, sitting right under the surface. his replies a little shorter, his comments a little sharper, his grins slightly cardboard-y on his face.

yuta was miffed.

jaehyun had left his backpack in the living room. the evening progressed pleasantly enough, but after a couple of hours when jaehyun went to get his phone charger, it wasn’t there. he went around the room checking the outlets until he found it, connected to a cell that wasn’t his own. he immediately recognized the ugly anime phone case.

jaehyun could feel something rise inside of him. he tugged the plug out of the wall and went to find yuta.

yuta was hanging in the den with johnny and josh, chatting about whatever.

“hey,” jaehyun said loudly, cutting into the conversation. they all looked up at him. he held up the phone in one hand and charger in the other in front of yuta. “found something of yours. and of mine.”

“oh, yeah,” yuta said. he took his cell and pulled the cord out. “it was nearly out. thanks.”

jaehyun’s teeth pressed together. “did you take this out of my bag?” he asked, lightly shaking the charger between them.

yuta had clicked the phone awake and was looking through his notifs, thumb moving over the screen. “yeah, i forgot my own.”

“i don’t recall letting you borrow it.”

yuta looked up at him. “come on,” he said. “it’s just a charger.”

“it’s my charger,” jaehyun pressed. “you could have asked first.”

“i didn’t know where you were.”

“you could have asked someone else?”

“dons has a samsung and johnny’s charger sucks.” yuta made a gesture in johnny’s direction. johnny gave a conceding shrug. “i didn’t think it’d be a problem.”

“right.” jaehyun nodded, like to himself. “you didn’t think.”

yuta rolled his eyes. “it’s literally just a charger. what’s this about?”

“it’s about,” jaehyun said. he had to make an effort to keep his voice calm. “the fact that you went through my personal belongings without permission.”

personal belongings?” there was a chuckle in yuta’s voice. “what have you got in there?”

“it-- it doesn’t matter.” jaehyun almost lost his momentum. “it’s none of your business. the question is why you are going through people’s bags without asking?”

yuta got up from his seat on the couch armrest. “oh, my bad,” he drawled. “i shouldn't have assumed you were a normal person who’d be able to handle a friend borrowing a fucking charger without throwing a fucking fit.”

“uh,” johnny said from the couch. “guys?”

jaehyun heard a laugh leave his own mouth. “this is so you.”

yuta’s eyes narrowed. he folded his arms over his chest. “what is?”

“you’re never in the wrong, are you? you do whatever you want and if you fuck someone over in the process it’s their problem, not yours.”

“come on,” johnny tried again. “let’s...”

yuta’s eyes were still fixed on jaehyun.

"you know what your problem is?" jaehyun continued, voice hard. this was a monologue that had circled through his head in various versions over the last couple of weeks. "you never think before you do shit. you just do. you don't think about the consequences, or how other people might be affected by your actions." he stabbed a finger in yuta's direction. "it's all about what you want."

yuta sighed dramatically. "i'm sorry i'm not like you, making a pros and cons list before even taking a piss."

jaehyun’s mouth tightened. "at least i don't end up pissing all over other people."

yuta shifted on his feet. “so let me get this straight. if it rains, are you gonna call it piss and blame me for it?”

jaehyun laughed. “when has it ever fucking rained?”

he was aware of joshua sitting stiff and wide-eyed on the couch, watching them. doyoung and a couple of the others had gathered in the doorway, drawn by the raised voices. johnny was looking between the two of them, licking his lips as if trying to think of something to say.

"okay." yuta shifted his weight to the other foot, crossing his arms again. "okay. i'm sorry? i'm sorry for all the times i've fucked people over. is that what you want to hear?"

his voice still had that drawling tone, dripping with sarcasm. it made jaehyun's blood boil.

"it doesn't matter how many times you apologize if you don't mean it."

"who's to say i don't mean it?" yuta spit back. "who died and made you king of apologies?"

jaehyun scoffed.

"you know, you're right," yuta continued. "maybe i mess up sometimes. but you know what? shit happens. it's not the end of the world. life moves on. at least i'm not scared of making mistakes."

jaehyun was breathing hard at this point. his face was probably red. "and i am?"

"yeah, you are.” yuta was standing steady, but jaehyun could see that his fingers had curled into fists. “that's what your problem is, since we're apparently psychoanalyzing each other."

jaehyun made himself nod calmly. “okay.”

"straight As, high achiever, always does what he's told,” yuta continued. “you're such a cliché. you know, i know exactly how your life is gonna play out."

"oh, really?"

"yeah. you're so fucking predictable.” yuta let out a little laugh. “you're gonna move back to chicago because you're too married to your best friend--" he pointed his thumb in johnny's direction, "--to be away from him. then you're gonna find a nice korean girl and have two point five kids and work at the same university all your life and live in the same house in northbrook until you die in a cute little retirement home less than ten miles from where you were born. and you're not gonna have taken any chances, stepped out of any lines, done anything not expected of you."

jaehyun could feel his chest heave with every breath. "you don't know me," he growled. "don't fucking think you know shit about me."

"really?" yuta's right brow arched up. "i think i know more than most."

something cold ran through jaehyun's stomach.

yuta swept his hand towards their audience. "should i share something with our friends that they probably don't know about?"

he wouldn't dare. he wouldn't.

"you're a piece of shit," jaehyun spat. "you can tell them that."

he turned and stormed off, squeezing through the crowd in the doorway that immediately dispersed around him. he grabbed his backpack on the way to the hallway, shoved his feet into his shoes and left.

when he had walked off most of his anger, embarrassment kicked in. he stopped on the sidewalk to rub a hand over his face. real smooth, jaehyun. good going.

 

from grand junction it’s just some fifteen minutes to the utahn border.

“amazing,” jaehyun says when they pass the green sign. “i can’t believe they named a whole state after you.”

yuta tips his head back and rolls his eyes hard. “come back when you have a utah joke i haven’t heard a hundred times since first grade.”

they make a detour to drive through cisco - a ghost town from the late 1800s. it’s a handful of collapsed and looted shacks rather than an old-timey western relic like you’d see at a tourist site, but the feeling of desolation makes a chill run down jaehyun’s spine.

yuta drives slowly along the cracked tarmac road. they’re in the middle of nowhere, the desert gray and flat and dead around them. the tufts of grass that have made it out of the soil have all yellowed. window frames gape dark and empty at them from a faded house-front. yuta starts humming a tune, something like a nursery rhyme from a horror flick.

jaehyun slaps him on the arm. “cut that shit out.”

yuta giggles.

they’ve made good time, despite the stops. they’re not far from fish lake, where yuta wants to spend the night. they stop at a tiny village for some supplies and food for the evening and find a grocery store on the main street.

“i wanna take the route north of the lake,” yuta says, eyes on the map on his phone again. they’re sitting in the shadow outside, munching on ice cream. yuta picked a raspberry popsicle, jaehyun a caramel cone. “it’s longer, but it’s prettier.”

jaehyun squints out over the half-empty parking lot. he does not watch yuta put the long, round, pinkish thing in his mouth to suck on it. “you’re the boss.”

 

jaehyun didn't go out for a couple of days after that whole mess at doyoung's. he wasn't in the mood. the weather was nice but he spent most of the time holed up in his room, blinds closed, reading or gaming or chatting with people who were on the other side of the continent and had not witnessed his public tantrum. he didn't tell them about it either, not even sicheng. why would he? as long as yuta wasn't mudslinging him to his friends he had no urge to give his side of the story.

he sat quiet with his headset on, listening to hendery and sicheng argue about processor specs or whatever, and for a moment wished the summer was over already so he could go back to LA.

then, one afternoon, yuta barged into his room.

jaehyun was in the middle of a match but caught the sudden movement from the corner of his eye and spun around in his desk chair.

"what the fuck?" he said, tugging off his headphones. "what are you doing here?"

yuta ignored the question. "punch me in the face."

jaehyun frowned at him. "what? who even let you in?"

"your dad," yuta said. "punch me in the face."

"why?"

yuta slapped the door shut behind him with a bit more force than necessary. "because it'll get rid of your aggressions and maybe teach me to keep my mouth shut.” he looked at jaehyun with his hands on his hips. “it'll clear the air. trust me."

jaehyun rolled his eyes. "i'm not gonna punch you in the face."

yuta took a step forward. "yeah you are."

his room is small enough that yuta was now towering over him in the chair. jaehyun crossed his arms over his chest. "you can't tell me what to do."

"i'm just telling you to take it out on me so you can stop being mad at me. i'm sick of it."

jaehyun raised his brows. "you're sick of it?"

"yeah, and i know it's my fault, so.” yuta shrugged. “just hit me. then we're even."

jaehyun laughed. “what is this neanderthal macho bullshit?” he wanted to sound mocking, but a part of him was actually amused.

“hey, who’s the psych minor here?” yuta shifted impatiently on his feet. “violence is a documented conflict solving strategy between young men.”

“you just made that up.”

“no i didn’t.”

jaehyun rolled his eyes again. “just because it’s documented doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy.”

yuta sniffed. “that’s true. but i’d say it’s worth a shot.”

jaehyun sighed. “okay,” he said, getting up from his chair. he raised his fist between them. “you want some of this?”

“yeah.”

“you want me to give it to you?”

a giggle blurted out of yuta’s mouth. “yeah. give it to me good.”

jaehyun grinned, despite himself. “give it to you hard?”

“sure. lay it on me.”

jaehyun snorted. “you’re an idiot.”

“probably, yeah.” yuta was staring at him, chin defiantly raised, but there was a hint of a grin left on his mouth that he wasn’t able to wipe off. “are you gonna do it or what?”

jaehyun eyed his jaw, his cheekbone, thinking of where to land it. he could leave a bruise, maybe even split his lip. but yuta would probably flaunt it.

“okay, here goes,” he said. he drew his arm back, twisting his upper body for momentum. he could spot a slight twitch on yuta’s face. it was satisfying to see.

the blow was quick and sudden. jaehyun swept forward and drove his fist in, hard, right underneath yuta’s ribs.

seemingly it managed to catch him off-guard, because yuta gave a choked grunt and doubled over. he stumbled back towards jaehyun’s bed and squinted up at him, one arm tucked over his midriff.

“what the fuck,” he whined. “that hurt.”

jaehyun tipped his head back and laughed. “what did you expect, you moron?” he asked. “it would have hurt more in the face.”

“yeah, but…” yuta said. he carefully lowered himself to take a seat on jaehyun’s bed. “i was prepared for the face.”

jaehyun casually inspected his knuckles. “well. then i guess we’re even.”

yuta looked at him hard for a moment, but jaehyun didn’t back down. then yuta started chuckling.

jaehyun felt like something let go of his shoulders. he hadn’t even realized they were tensed up. he cracked up too. he sunk back down into his chair.

they giggled together for a minute.

"i'm sorry for the charger thing, for the record," jaehyun said. he ruffled his hair, flattened by the heatset. "i may have overreacted a little."

yuta raised his brows at him. "you think?"

jaehyun made an irritated grunt. he grabbed a pen from the desk and flung it at yuta's head. yuta whipped a hand up to protect himself.

"you're really annoying, you know that?" jaehyun said. "you're probably the most annoying of all my friends."

"yeah? why are you friends with me then?" yuta asked. his tone was playful rather than sulky. "if i'm such a pain."

jaehyun threw his hands out. "do i even have a choice? first it was johnny, who's kind of a buy-one-get-five-for-free deal. then you latch onto my roommate and weasel your way into my squad in LA as well." he tilted his head to the side in mock contemplation. "if i didn't know better i'd think you have a thing for me."

he expected yuta to protest; to scoff and shut him down with a single obliterating comment. but yuta didn’t say anything at first. he just looked down, picking at something on the hem of his shorts, a weird little smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

jaehyun stilled, forgetting whatever sharp reply he had ready on his tongue. what?

yuta rolled his shoulder in what might have been a shrug. “anyway,” he said. he nodded up to jaehyun’s computer screen, where his abandoned avatar had been killed probably several minutes ago. “what are you playing?”

 

jaehyun follows yuta’s directions and drives them down a road drifting leisurely through the hills. the slopes look rocky and dry but still manage to sustain pine and small birches. after a long turn a wide valley opens up, and jaehyun can spot the glittering of water at the bottom.

on their right the slope rises above them, on the left an arid meadow sprawls out all the way down to the lake. the ground is a pinkish brown with grass flowers and dry shrubbery. the sun hangs over the hilltops to the west, bathing the valley in sunset orange.

"damn," jaehyun says. "you were right."

yuta chuckles. "right? makes me wanna go hiking again."

the road continues southwards. it runs past a couple of campgrounds and inns along the west shore, parking lots half filled with cars.

they pull in by the south end of the lake, settling on a low, grassy field not far from the water. a couple of tents and RVs are already set up in the area, but it’s by no means crowded.

“this is great, huh?” yuta says when he gets out of the car.

jaehyun nods. he pulls out the tent bag from the trunk and they start setting up camp.

“last time pitching the tent,” yuta says as he’s pushing pins into the ground with his foot. "weird that it's already been three days."

“yeah,” jaehyun says. he gives the crossed poles a little tug to check that it's secured to the ground. “it has served us well.”

they eat a simple but hearty supper of bread, jerky, canned ravioli and apple juice, sharing an el dole fruit cocktail for dessert.

after they’ve cleaned up yuta crawls into the trunk and digs around, coming back out after a minute with a beer can in hand.

“smuggled all the way from chicago,” he says, grinning impishly.

jaehyun laughs. “interstate contraband? you felon.”

yuta opens it and takes a sip.

“what’s even the legal drinking age in utah?”

yuta shrugs. “i dunno.”

jaehyun looks around. he fishes one of the empty apple juice bottles out of the trash bag in the front seat and tosses it to yuta. “pour it over into that.”

yuta rolls his eyes gently. “you worrywart,” he says, but does it anyway.

they sit on the hood of the car, passing the bottle between them and looking out over the lake as the last daylight slowly fades.

up here in the mountains, far away from chicago and LA, far away from people and cities and everyone they know, it almost feels like they’re in a different world. as if the whole day has just been a dream.

jaehyun thinks about how it would be if this was his life - roaming the outlands with yuta, sleeping in a tent and eating food out of a can every day.

maybe they’d be herdsmen, or merchants, in a different time. but in a world like that it would probably not be a choice. it would be trade passed down to them or taken out of necessity. there would be no caltech to go to, no biochem major to choose, no career in pharma waiting. and being able to study dance and do it for a living would most probably not be a possibility.

still, sitting here, like this; drinking johnny’s beer out of a plastic bottle and watching the sky darken with yuta (quiet, for once) by his side - he thinks it wouldn’t be half bad.

yuta is an acquired taste. he can be a pain in the ass, doesn't always know when to stop or that less is more, but for the most part jaehyun has always enjoyed his company. he's funny, smart, and his energy is contagious. he can always liven up a boring party. he's not afraid to make jokes on his own expense (or others').

jaehyun likes his confidence; his easy grins and his stupid cocky comments. but also his occasional moments of depth, of wisdom, catching you off-guard. likes how fearless he is, how strong.

yuta wasn’t particularly popular in high school, but he had lots of friends and a number of girls were into him.

he’s handsome, if you like skinny asian dudes. he’s got a sleek face with a square chin and a natural pout to the lips. a nice smile. this has probably helped people with overlooking the less pleasant parts of his personality; made them stick around long enough to get to know him, to get used to it.

in retrospect, he seems to have grown a lot in the last couple of years. not like this is uncommon - late puberty, senior year, going off to college, moving out and having to take care of yourself. it’s not weird that it changes people. (hopefully it changes you for the better.)

yuta was never uncomfortable or awkward, but he still seems to have come more into his own. grown into his body, his mind. he found a haircut that suits his face, bought different clothes. he got more ear piercings, started wearing bracelets and chains around his neck. he has dyed his hair a number of times; brown and blonde and lavender and bright blood red.

right now it’s dark again, hanging long down his neck and over his forehead. he’s been too lazy to cut it over the summer, he says, but he seems to like it; how it falls over his eyes, how he can tie it into a tiny ponytail at the top of his neck.

the silver in his ears twinkle softly even in the weak light of dusk. the long earrings dangle every time he moves; raising his hand to brush through his bangs or take a sip from the bottle.

he catches jaehyun’s eyes. a grin sneaks onto his mouth. “what are you looking at?”

jaehyun looks down, away. “nothing.”

jaehyun is drawn to him - he can admit that much to himself. to his lean body, his proud posture, his pretty mouth. to the dark eyes that pull you in, that seem to pierce into you and see right through you. the way he leaves his hoodie hanging off his shoulder, exposing a bony clavicle.

also, (and this part is a bit more painful to admit,) to his dick. how every time he has seen it it’s been hard to take his eyes off it. how a small part of him has longed for more when it’s over and yuta has zipped himself back up. how his mouth tends to water a little at the thought of touching it.

he asked ten once, in private; “how did you realize you’re gay?”

ten studied him for a moment, and then he shrugged. “i liked boys. i thought they were cute, and hot, and i wanted to kiss them and hold their hand. and date them and marry one some day. and later i wanted to fuck them.”

“yeah, but,” jaehyun said. he knew the basics of homosexuality. they teach you that shit in grade school these days. he licked his lips. “you can like someone as a friend, and think they’re handsome, or hot, as a friend, and. do stuff together… as friends…”

hearing himself say it out loud made him realize how dumb it sounded. ten was kind enough not to laugh.

“is this about yuta?” he asked, grinning gently.

jaehyun felt his cheeks heat up. “no.”

ten cocked his head and returned to his tom yum goong. “everybody experiments in college. it’s no big deal.” he scooped some soup into his mouth. “you don't have to know from when you're a kid. sometimes you gotta try stuff out and figure out what you like. maybe you’re gay, maybe you’re bi. maybe you’re just a good ol’ straight after all.”

that did make jaehyun feel better. he was very comfortable being straight, had been straight all his life. never - prior to this - had any reason to question his sexuality. he was happy dating girls and eating pussy, thank you very much.

he liked the idea of having a wedding that no relatives would refuse coming to. being able to give his parents grandkids. he wanted that picket fence. he didn’t need this. he didn’t need any of this yuta shit.

the juice bottle is almost empty. yuta tips it towards him. “you want the rest?”

jaehyun takes it and downs it. it burns bitter in his throat. maybe he should ask if yuta has another can hidden in the trunk.

yuta stretches next to him, raising his arms over his head and arching his back. he sniffs, and then makes a face. “oh, man.”

“what?”

yuta raises his elbow and sticks his nose into his armpit. “take a whiff of this.”

jaehyun leans in under yuta’s arm and inhales. his face twists into a grimace. “spicy,” he says in a tight voice.

yuta cackles. he sniffs the other side as well, scrunching his nose.

“didn’t you use deodorant?”

“i did. i guess my manly pheromones just can’t be contained.” he turns to jaehyun, still grinning. “so how about you?”

“huh?” jaehyun lifts his arm to poke his nose into his own armpit. not as bad, but not particularly pleasant either. it’s been a sweaty day.

“lemme.” yuta grabs his elbow and pushes it up so he can stick his face closer. he snorts. “you’re one to talk.”

jaehyun shoves at him. “at least i’m not on your level.”

yuta hums. “so that means i have higher testosterone levels, right?”

“maybe.” jaehyun leans back, hands on the hood. “in that case you’re also predisposed for heart disease and male pattern baldness.”

“dude,” yuta whines. he cocks his head, bangs flipping. “this is why you shouldn’t be friends with a bio major.”

jaehyun grins, but then it fades. he’s not sure he wants to drag that shit up again. but it sits on his tongue, itching to get out.

“i am actually interested in biochem,” he says.

yuta looks back at him, frowning for a moment before he catches on.

“i don’t want you to think i’m just doing this for the money, or my parents.”

“dude, i didn’t mean to question your career choices or anything.”

“but you did?” he holds yuta’s gaze until yuta looks away. “mom and dad weren’t super happy about caltech at first, for the record. they’ve been talking about law school or med school since my freshman year. but i wanted to go into STEM.”

yuta nods slowly. “it’s good. that you did. that they let you.”

“not everybody has parents like yours either.”

yuta sighs. “look, i didn’t mean to…” he trails off, and then starts over. “i never would have asked if i…”

“if you had known i was gonna get my panties in a bunch?” jaehyun says. his tone is perfectly casual but he enjoys seeing the way yuta’s shoulders stiffen a little.

yuta glances back at him, just the hint of a grin on his face. “you said we're even. are you ever gonna let that go?”

jaehyun sniffs. “maybe.” he leans forward again, picking at a spot on his knee.

yuta bumps his shoulder against jaehyun’s. “i’m not saying i know everything. i could learn a thing or two from you as well.” he combs his bangs back from his face. “i just mean… you don’t have to be so sensible all the time. it’s not good for your nerves.”

jaehyun grins, despite himself.

yuta throws an arm around his neck. “you deserve to do some dumb shit once in a while. follow your heart, or whatever. if you want something, get it.”

the arm slips down and off his back. yuta looks back out over the water. it’s almost dark now. one hilltop in the distance catches the last of the dying light, glowing orange.

“YOLO, right?” yuta adds.

jaehyun looks down. he stares into the dark tufts of grass for a minute or two. then he straightens his back. looks around. clears his throat.

“yuta,” he says. his mouth is suddenly dry. “get in the tent.” his voice sounds hoarse.

yuta looks over at him again. “huh?”

jaehyun cocks his head in the direction of the tent. “go inside.”

“why?”

“just do it, man.”

“it’s not that late,” yuta says. he turns back to the view. “i’m not tired yet.”

“it's not about that. can you just--” jaehyun jumps off the car, impatiently flapping his hands towards the tent. “please?”

yuta looks at him, eyebrows raised. “okay, fine.” he walks over and hunkers down to open the zipper, kicking his shoes off before crawling in.

jaehyun is right behind him. he reaches out to close the tarp before zipping up the inner layer. yuta clicks the button on the flashlight hanging from the strap in the ceiling, making a skewed cone of light paint the floor and one of the tent corners.

when jaehyun turns around yuta’s sitting on his knees, watching him, waiting.

jaehyun licks his lips. fuck, how’s he supposed to do this?

“jaehyun.” there’s a wrinkle on yuta’s forehead. “what’s up?”

"i," jaehyun says. "i wanna try something."

he doesn't wait for a response. he puts one hand around yuta’s neck and leans in to press a kiss to his mouth.

yuta doesn’t move. jaehyun pulls back, heart suddenly hammering violently in his chest. his mind races, wondering if he has severely misunderstood the whole thing. or if it’s too late - if the ship has already sailed.

yuta looks at him, eyes dark and unmoving, face just outside the cone of light.

“are you sure?” he mouths, barely voiced at all.

jaehyun nods.

a distant smile flashes over yuta’s face. it’s gone as quickly as it came. he’s drifting closer, and jaehyun meets him, hand finding his neck again.

for a moment; lips fumbling, hot breath against his mouth, pulse tapping in his throat.

then they’re kissing. for real this time. not in front of an audience, not as a joke.

it’s not fireworks. it’s not electric, or sweet like sugar, or a feeling like coming home. but it’s warm. and jaehyun wants more of it.

yuta’s bangs brush against his forehead, tickle his face. the skin of his neck is slightly oily, slightly sticky under jaehyun’s fingertips. a smell in his nose, the scent of yuta; sweat, beer, sand, windblown skin. something sweet, and something else.

he runs his fingers up, into the strands of hair at yuta’s nape, curling them enough to tug a little. his stomach flips when it makes yuta groan.

jaehyun tilts his head, tries another angle. his glasses knock against yuta’s nose. yuta takes them off him, leaning over to tuck them into the pocket sewn onto the tent wall. only gone a second, then he’s back on him.

he kisses with the same ease, the same smoothness as the previous times. but there's something else in it now. a tremor, an urgency. his hands find jaehyun’s hips, pull him close, pressing them together. standing on his knees, jaehyun’s hair almost brushes against the ceiling.

yuta’s hands sneak up under his tank. his eager, sucking kisses make jaehyun’s head spin. then he’s pulling the fabric up.

jaehyun grips his wrist. “slow,” he mumbles, “slow down.”

yuta stills. his hands drop, coming back to jaehyun’s hips. he stays close, hovering. he doesn’t move again until jaehyun does; following, letting jaehyun set the pace.

soon the tent starts getting warm.

jaehyun pulls at the hem of yuta's shirt. yuta lifts his arms to help jaehyun peel it off.

he looks at yuta’s chest, badly lit because the flashlight is pointing the other way but still. he brings his hand up to run his fingers over the skin. he’s been thinking about this.

he’s been thinking about a lot of things while they’ve been getting off together. fragments flashing through his head whether he wanted it or not. hypothetical what-ifs rather than expressed desires.

small, simple things. like touching yuta’s chest. brushing his bangs away from his face. putting his lips on yuta’s neck, feeling his pulse. being close enough to hear his earrings jingle.

but also, other things. things involving dicks and naked bodies.

all of it, suddenly laid out at his fingertips. his mind reels with the range of opportunities.

but they don't need to go there. they could stop. leave it like this. maybe return another time.

a new image flashes through jaehyun’s mind. yuta, splayed beneath him, grinning and squirming on the tent floor. making all sorts of moans and breathy noises. his skin hot under jaehyun’s hands.

jaehyun pulls in a breath. his dick already sits stiff in his pants.

his fingers glide up, finding the nub of a nipple. he runs his thumb over it, letting the side of his nail catch just a little bit. yuta lets out an audible exhale through his nose. his abs twitch, pulling in.

jaehyun grins. does it again.

his shirt comes off as well. then yuta’s pants. and then jaehyun’s.

before he knows it yuta’s halfway in his lap, hands on his neck and licking into his mouth and jaehyun feels his stomach clench. blood squeezes into his dick in pulses, making his whole crotch grow warm and sensitive. suddenly he can feel the seams on his boxers against his inner thighs.

yuta hand wanders downwards, brushes light fingers over the fabric stretching over jaehyun’s dick. his eyes are fixed on jaehyun’s face, inches away. jaehyun swallows a whiny moan.

he knows how thin the fabric walls are, knows that if someone were to walk past they would be able to hear every little thing they’re doing.

he wonders if the flashlight is making silhouettes project on the canvas - an obscene shadow play for their temporary neighbors to watch. but he doesn’t want to turn the light off. he wants to see.

yuta inches back, getting a better angle to drag his palm over jaehyun’s dick, firm enough to press the head of it against his hip. jaehyun exhales thickly. the elastic of his underwear scratches against his sensitive skin.

“i wanna jerk you off,” yuta says, just loud enough for jaehyun to hear. “can i?”

“fuck,” jaehyun breathes. “yes.”

yuta grins, naked and unabashed. he pulls the waist of jaehyun's shorts down, getting his fingers around the shaft of his dick.

the stretching seams scrape against jaehyun’s hips. “i gotta,” he mumbles, tugging the fabric downwards.

yuta immediately catches on, helping him get the boxers off his legs. he takes off his own too while he’s at it.

jaehyun’s stomach tightens at the sight of him, fully nude. he has seen yuta naked before, plenty of times, but it’s not the same. not when yuta is drenched in lake water, dick shrunken from the cold. or when they’re in the showers after the gym, or sitting side by side with their pants on and a screen in front of them.

it’s different when it’s both of them, and yuta is touching him, and his cock stands tall and dark and hard from his crotch. when yuta just asked to jack him off.

yuta leans over him, kissing him again. then his hand is on his dick again.

jaehyun doesn’t do a very good job at keeping quiet. not when yuta is straddling his thighs, jerking him with tight steady strokes.

months of beating their meat together seems to have done something. yuta seems to know his body; how to move and how to touch, where to be careful and when to speed up.

jaehyun’s sitting leaned back on one hand, the other at yuta’s shoulder or neck. he tries to stay upright for as long as possible, because that’s where yuta’s mouth is. hot and wet and fucking delicious.

when his arm starts shaking he gives up, slumping back against the sleeping bag and discarded clothes, groaning with each shallow breath. yuta leans over him, putting messy kisses over his chest instead. lingers at a nipple till jaehyun starts squirming.

he sits back against jaehyun’s thighs again, hand falling back into pace. his eyes are on jaehyun's face, watching him.

“you look so good like this,” he mumbles. “you’re so fucking hot.”

jaehyun moans pathetically. he doesn’t have a lot more in him. “i‘m gonna come.”

yuta just hums in reply. he grins, but it’s faint and soft on his mouth. “go ahead.”

he keeps his hand working, just right. milks it out of him till oversensitivity kicks in.

for a minute jaehyun lies flat and sprawled, staring up into the tent ceiling, just breathing.

yuta gets off him, reaching for something to wipe his hand on. he’s breathing hard as well. jaehyun can hear him. he turns his head to look over, seeing yuta’s cock sit between his thighs, swollen and leaking.

jaehyun realizes that this is the part where he gets to touch him, gets to make yuta come. if yuta will let him.

he pushes himself up to sit again. puts a hand on yuta’s thigh. high, where a handful of pubes stray down from his groin. his nails brush light over the soft skin on the inside. a shaky exhale leaves yuta's nose.

jaehyun shifts over to his knees again. doesn't waste time easing into it, just wraps his fingers around yuta's cock.

a ripple of tension seems to run through yuta's body at the contact. he stretches up on his knees, leaning over jaehyun, hands clawing at his shoulders.

jaehyun mouths at the area of chest and neck presented to him, right in front of his face. he keeps his fingers light, working the foreskin over the head the way he has seen yuta do when he’s close. his left hand seems to have a mind of its own, moving over yuta's back and hip and ass.

he barely has time to savor it. ten, fifteen seconds, and then yuta is bucking against him, gasping by his ear. his load shoots up between them, landing over jaehyun's chest. some of it catches on his fingers, making them glide silky slick over the tip.

he rubs his thumb over the slit experimentally, feeling how it makes yuta's hips twitch and his nails dig into jaehyun's shoulder blade.

for a bit yuta’s just hanging on him, arms limp around his shoulders. the spunk rubs over to yuta’s belly but jaehyun doesn’t say anything. right now he doesn’t even mind being covered in semen. his dick is still tingling warm, yuta’s exhales tickling at the back of his neck.

“fuck, my legs,” yuta mumbles finally and glides off him. he slumps down, turning over to his back in the process. jaehyun flops down next to him.

“that was,” he says. “um.”

yuta snorts weakly. “yeah.”

they lie quiet until they’re both breathing normal again. the jizz is slowly drying on jaehyun’s skin, turning sticky and gross. then yuta sits up and digs around in the mess of clothes and sleeping bags they’ve been lying on. he finds his pants and underwear and pulls them on, opens the tent zipper and crawls out.

jaehyun hears the beeping of the car lock. some rustling around, steps through the grass.

he finds the shirt yuta wiped his hands on and cleans himself up best he can. pulls on his boxers as well. then lies back again, watching the ceiling. as the warm afterglow fades his brain wakes back up like from a coma.

what now?

Chapter Text

when jaehyun wakes up, he’s alone in the tent. he kicks his sleeping bag off because it’s a hundred fucking degrees in there, rubs a hand over his eyes and listens for sounds outside.

he’s kind of surprised he fell asleep at all. yuta came back after a little while, straightened out his sleeping bag on his side of the tent and crawled down. jaehyun was still warm but he also felt naked lying there in just his underwear.

what was he supposed to say? what does one talk about after exchanging handjobs with one of your best friends? maybe one shouldn't say anything, and yuta was just following praxis, and jaehyun didn’t know because he had never done anything like this before.

yuta was checking something on his phone. then he pushed up on his elbow, looking over at jaehyun.

“should i turn off the lights, or?” he asked, hand reaching for the flash light hanging from the ceiling.

“uh,” jaehyun said. “sure.”

he located his sleeping bag and pulled at it, scooting around until it was underneath him. then he lay there, staring into the darkness, back stiff before even sleeping. but at some point he must have drifted off.

jaehyun sits on his knees and digs around on the floor for some clothes. he finds something t-shirt-looking and holds it up, immediately regretting it as his brain realizes what it is. yuta’s shirt from last night, crusty and stiff with dried semen.

he stuffs it back in under yuta's empty sleeping bag.

the car key is in the pocket on the tent wall and the car is outside, but yuta is nowhere to be seen. jaehyun stumbles off to some bushes to piss, then heads over to the shore of the lake.

the morning sunlight is sharp in the clear mountain air, throwing streaks of glitter out over the calm surface. he hunches down in the wet sand, rinsing off his hands before splashing water over his face and neck. it’s cool on his sticky skin. lines of reflected light play over the pebbles covering the sandy bottom.

jaehyun stretches up again, back protesting slightly. he runs his wet hands through his hair to push it away from his warm forehead.

it’s a beautiful morning, but jaehyun can’t really appreciate it.

he slips his glasses back on and squints out over the field, up towards the road and the hills, scanning for a familiar lanky figure.

a greying white man in cargo shorts sits on a camping chair outside his RV, parked not far from the tent. someone, probably his wife, flashes by in the open doorway. jaehyun considers walking over and asking if they have seen another young asian dude around this morning. then wonders if they were within ear shot last night.

jaehyun wishes he had put on a shirt after all. he turns his face down as he heads back to the car.

he finds some left-over bread and fruit from yesterday to chew on. when he feels like he can’t wait any longer, he calls yuta’s cell.

three signals, and then he picks up. “hey?”

“hey, dude. where are you?” jaehyun does his best not to sound like a worried girlfriend.

“oh, i just went for a walk.” there’s breathing into the receiver, but yuta’s voice is light. “woke up early so i figured i’d make the most of it. i’m on my way back, i’ll be there soon.”

he shows up some fifteen minutes later, strolling over the grass. “yo.”

jaehyun crosses his arms on the car roof over the passenger door. “morning.”

“i walked to the inn and then all the way up to the crest,” yuta says, unbidden, digging a waterbottle from the mess in the backseat. “the view from up there was great. you should have seen it.”

“yeah, well,” jaehyun says. “you didn’t wake me up.”

yuta shrugs. “i thought i’d let you sleep.” he takes a sip of water.

“okay.”

yuta swallows and grins. “you’re telling me that if i had tried to drag you up at the crack of dawn you wouldn’t have bitched me out?”

jaehyun looks away, out over the field. “yeah, i guess you’re right. whatever.”

yuta pauses with the bottle in his hand, watching jaehyun over the roof of the car. “dude. is something wrong?”

jaehyun stares at him for a moment. he almost wants to say something. is this how you’re gonna play it?

“no, i just…” jaehyun runs a hand through his hair, trying to smooth out any tension on his face. he nods towards the tent. “can you grab your stuff so we can pack up?”

yuta cocks his brows. “yeah, yeah, okay.”

it takes a while to get back out to the highway. other than giving jaehyun directions, yuta doesn't say much. i-70 soon meets i-15, heading straight south.

yuta digs in the glove compartment. he slips a CD into the slot above the radio.

“1q84, by haruki murakami,” reads a male voice. “book one, april to june. chapter one.”

 

looking back, august was jaehyun’s favorite part of the summer. him and yuta were back to normal (more or less, at least), johnny cut down on his hours, the weather wasn’t too hot. taeyong came up for another week and so, for a while, the old gang was back together.

going to the middle school yard in the evening, when all the kids had gone home, shooting hoops till midnight.

yuta whining when the rest of them slipped into korean. sometimes they’d do it just to annoy him.

watching a soccer game in yuta’s basement. doyoung was there mostly for the free chips, jaehyun for the company. yuta sitting next to him on the couch, perched at the edge of his seat, eyes fixed on the old tv screen. his hair curled slightly at the back of his neck, dark strands meeting tanned shoulders. mumbling come on, come on; groaning at missed opportunities. when they scored, he and johnny shot up, howling, high fiving each other.

him and yuta skyping sicheng, sprawled on the floor in jaehyun’s room, just dicking around. sicheng and yuta starting to talk about whatever anime they’ve been watching lately, but jaehyun didn’t protest. he’d lean back, watching sicheng’s face on the screen, listening to the japanese names and titles rolling off yuta’s tongue.

joyrides in johnny’s car, staying out till four am, high off red bull and watery beer. passing a cigarette around, even though none of them really smoke. yuta in torn jeans and a loose tank and a plaid button-up tied around his hips, the fabric dancing in the slight wind as he walked. his grin in the blurry, softly blue light just before dawn.

it has occurred to jaehyun that most of these happy memories involve yuta one way or another. but so what? when you live three blocks apart and have most of your friends in common, you're bound to end up hanging out on a regular basis.

also, yuta is fun to be around. they usually have a good time together.

they’ve been friends for several years. they know each other, inside and out.

you shouldn’t underestimate that.

 

they stop for lunch at a pizza hut near the highway in st. george, utah.

“we’re really sampling the local cuisines on this trip, huh?” jaehyun jokes when they’ve sat down.

yuta gives a faint grin. he digs in on one of his slices, looking out the window.

jaehyun feels his lips purse.

they eat in silence. jaehyun catches himself considering commenting on the weather.

it reminds him of a bad date. or worse - a one night stand dragging on longer than it should. jaehyun has had one of those. took her out for breakfast in the morning because he’s fucking compulsively polite. they both soldiered through the waffles and fruit smoothies even though he was hung-over and she mostly looked like she wanted to go home and take off the push-up bra.

at least he didn’t have to spend the whole day stuck with her in a car.

johnny had been right. or, almost anyway. if you end up having sex you can’t just run off into the desert.

the state line is just south of the city. a large road sign welcomes them to “the grand canyon state”, with the copper star and stylized sunrays of the arizona flag.

jaehyun’s in the passenger seat, following their dot on google maps. i-15 cuts through the north-west corner of the state, and some half hour later they enter nevada.

the transition from mountains to lowlands is so slow and gradual that jaehyun barely notices. it’s still long stretches of barren flats, almost void of life. sandy banks and dry shrubs, hills in the distance, the occasional cliff rising out of the earth. small towns, few and far between. the roads are calm; sometimes they go miles without meeting another car.

out here, it almost feels like a different world. as if the last couple of days have only been a dream.

jaehyun scoots down in his seat and looks out the side window.

if yuta wants to pretend nothing out of the ordinary happened last night, fine. they just need to get through the day. when they get to LA they can forget about the whole thing. they'll go their separate ways, won't have to see each other for a while, won't have to talk about it. and then it'll be like it never happened.

 

“do you wanna see the dam?” jaehyun asks when they approach las vegas.

hoover dam was on yuta’s list of potential sights to stop for. there wasn’t a lot on it for the last leg of their journey so yuta had sounded excited talking about it. but that was two days ago.

feels like forever.

“i dunno,” yuta says. “not really feeling it.” he tears his eyes away from the window to shoot jaehyun a glance. “unless you wanna?”

jaehyun shrugs. the dashboard reports the outside temperature as 93, while the AC is set on 75. he’s not particularly in the mood for leaving the car to be touristy with a yuta who barely talks to him. “doesn’t matter to me. we can skip it.”

“okay.” yuta turns to the window again.

jaehyun checks the clock on the dash. it’s not adjusted to west coast time, so it takes him an extra moment to do the math in his head. “if we keep driving we could make it to LA before nine.”

yuta hums.

the road has grown, widened to sprawling, four-lane rivers of tarmac cutting across the desert. it runs straight through the city, past some tall hotels and anonymous-looking skyscrapers, snaking through looping intersections. but las vegas from the highway, on a weekday afternoon, is a largely uninteresting affair.

“you’ve been to vegas, right?”

yuta seems to sigh, but only quietly. “yeah, me and a couple guys drove up freshman year.”

“what did you think?”

yuta shrugs. “flashy and over-rated. unless you like throwing loads of money away.”

jaehyun laughs, and it earns him a tug at yuta’s mouth.

they stop at a gas station near the california border for a pee break and snacks. jaehyun comes out first, hunching down on the hot concrete to hide in the shadow of the car. the nevada sun beats down from a clear sky, pushing the temperature into triple digits.

soon yuta comes out of the small store, a bottle of diet coke in hand. as he comes closer jaehyun notices the way the fabric of his basketball shorts fall over his crotch, showing the slightly protruding shape of his junk.

jaehyun whips his eyes away. he shouldn’t get flustered over such a subtle suggestion of genitals, but he can’t help it. the memory of yuta’s dick in his hand is still fresh and painfully vivid.

“you ready?”

jaehyun clears his throat. “yeah. let’s roll.”

yuta gets in behind the wheel and drives them back out onto the highway. jaehyun props his elbow on the window ledge and watches the landscape speeding up outside. he’s still thinking about dicks.

what if this wasn’t just a one time thing for him? what if this was the catalyst of some latent homoeroticism, buried deep within him, and now he will perpetually crave cock?

he finds that the idea of this doesn’t actually bother him much. if it turns out he wants to suck dick, what’s the big deal? would it drastically change his life? he’s not a homophobe or anything. he's not sure he'd want to take it up the ass, but it's not like that's mandatory.

jaehyun chews on the nail of his thumb. would he want to date another guy, though? that feels like a different issue. but he realizes he has never actually thought about it properly, what it might be like. just automatically pushed the idea out of his mind whenever it might have popped up. it wasn’t relevant, because he was straight, he liked girls, period.

he has some gay friends. there's ten and… well, mostly ten. but still. it's not a foreign concept in most of the circles he frequents.

his mom has that gay co-worker that she likes to talk about. she invited him and his husband over for dinner one time. his dad brought out the fine wine for the occasion. jaehyun passed by the dining room a couple of times during the evening. the four of them sat in there, chatting and laughing, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

but it’s one thing to be liberal, to be open minded, in public. it’s another when it’s your own family. when it’s your own son who might not you grandkids.

jaehyun sighs, leaning his head back. maybe he’s being too hard on them. he can’t say for sure how his parents would react if he brought home a boyfriend.

a boyfriend. he speaks the word in his mind, tasting it. it almost makes him blush again, but mostly because he feels like a tween girl having her first crush. it’s a word that comes with pad-locked diaries and hearts drawn in pink glitter pen.

he knows he's being dumb. it doesn’t have to be like that. grown men can have boyfriends too.

fine, jaehyun thinks to himself. he sits a little straighter in his seat. if he - hypothetically - were to be with a guy. what would his type even be like?

ten is the first one to pop into his head. perhaps the most obvious option. jaehyun tries to picture them together, but it only makes him grimace. he likes ten, but not like that.

sicheng (if he wasn’t painfully straight)? nah. junhui? lucas? that dude at the gym with the cheekbones and the abs?

yuta?

jaehyun squirms in his seat. he knew it was coming, could feel it swim in the periphery of his mind, subconsciously pushed it away until he couldn’t anymore.

of course yuta comes to mind. he’s sitting right next to him. also last night wasn’t long ago. sex does things to you - hormones and pheromones and all sorts of psychochemical shit. hooking up with someone doesn't mean you have feelings for them.

but jaehyun knows that’s not all there is to it. there’s a reason they ended up doing it in the first place.

the problem with yuta is that he tends to raise more questions than answers. does anything yuta does mean anything? what does yuta fucking want?

he pretends to be keepin’ it real at all times but jaehyun knows he’s good at lying, at hiding parts of himself. turns out he’s all fun and games until things get serious, too close for comfort.

another memory, echoing through jaehyun’s head. a flashing image of yuta above him, eyes focused on him, something raw and naked in them. you look so good like this. you’re so fucking hot.

jaehyun wants to know. wants to turn his head and ask, not caring if it makes yuta uncomfortable. did you mean it?

jaehyun glances to his left. yuta has both hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, brows set tight. jaehyun crosses his arms over his chest and looks out the window again.

 

“i’m sorry, but i can’t listen to this shit anymore.” jaehyun hits the eject button on the radio, making the narrator fall quiet and the cd peek out of its slot. “got any second choice?”

yuta shrugs behind the wheel. “i don’t care. you pick something.”

jaehyun finds the case for 1q84 and puts the cd back. he looks through the other audiobooks for a moment before turning on the radio instead. he’s not in the mood for having to absorb anything literary.

he rolls the tuning button until he finds a frequency without static. some folksy country song is playing and jaehyun half expects yuta to protest; bark a curse and tell him to change the channel. but yuta doesn’t seem to have any opinions on his choice of music.

jaehyun sinks down in his seat, propping one foot up on the dashboard.

is this how it’s gonna be from now on? the unspoken hanging in the air between them whenever they’re alone, making them stiff and awkward, needing something to fill the silence.

will he still come over? to hang out with sicheng, but avoid jaehyun? will they be reduced to seeing each other only when the gang gets together, having to pretend everything’s like before? can one weak moment ruin a five year friendship?

jaehyun would rather go back to fighting.

maybe that’s what they need to do. fight it out. yell at each other a little. maybe jaehyun should tell yuta to punch him. sorry for seducing you?

doesn’t matter that it wasn’t his fault. that it wasn’t anyone’s fault. if yuta’s too proud to deal with it, it’ll be up to jaehyun.

they snail through the mojave at 70 miles per hour. hills loom in the distance like a mirage. when they finally reach them the only reward is a brief drive through some pale cliffs before they come out on the other side and descend into a new flat valley, just as sandy and dead as the last.

jaehyun sighs to himself. the radio is tuned in to a new local station, playing some one-hit-wonder from twenty years ago.

what does two guys dating even entail? it's hard to picture the two of them at a candle lit dinner. going to the movies for a romcom. at the carnival, yuta winning him a stuffed teddy at the shooting range. or would it be jaehyun winning the teddy?

jaehyun resists the urge to drag a hand over his face. he's being dumb again. it doesn't have to be like that. and none of them would be the girl. they're both men.

what has his dates with girls been like? getting coffee, talking. ice cream and a walk. one time a girl took him to play laser tag. that was fun.

it doesn't have to be anything. they could just hang out, like they usually do. do whatever they like doing together.

so just like being bros. except with sex. wouldn't that be friends with benefits?

jaehyun sighs again. how does he actually feel about yuta? sometimes it's a matter of suppressing the urge to strangle him. is that a solid foundation for a relationship?

but they enjoy each other's company. they know each other, have fun together. isn't that what's important?

 

jaehyun takes over for the last hour. he kneads his fingers around the wheel, chewing on his bottom lip. the numbers on the road signs marking the distance to LA shrink lower and lower. jaehyun suddenly catches himself wanting to slow down, like he’s running out of time.

i-15 runs through victorville and continues south towards the hills surrounding the city. halfway through the range jaehyun spots a sign declaring an upcoming rest area. he checks the mirrors before switching to the right-side lane, easing up on the gas.

“what are you doing?” yuta asks when jaehyun swerves them into the exit lane and slows down.

“i just wanna stretch my legs,” jaehyun says.

yuta frowns at him. “we have, like, half an hour left.”

“it always takes longer than you think. it’s good to get some fresh air before the last stretch.”

“i can take the wheel if you’re tired.”

“well.” jaehyun licks his lips. “we’d still need to stop to switch.”

yuta seems to sigh, but doesn’t argue.

the place is not much more than a gravel parking lot with some picnic tables. jaehyun drives down to the far end, furthest from the road. a low fence keeps you from rolling too far and down the sloping hillside.

jaehyun half expects yuta to stay in the car but he does get out, lifting his arms and stretching with a small grunt. jaehyun grabs one of the half-empty water bottles and walks over to the fence. he takes a slow sip, looking out over the valley.

the sun hangs low and the air is finally cool enough to be pleasant. layers of hills rise in the distance, the farthest one a misty, pale blue. some power lines run on their right side, towards the city. the nearest pylon stands tall against the sky.

jaehyun leans back against the hood of the car. he reaches the bottle out in yuta’s direction, and yuta takes it.

“so,” jaehyun says. “about last night.”

yuta snorts into the bottle. “i fucking knew it, man,” he says when he has swallowed, wiping his mouth. “i knew you were up to something.”

jaehyun frowns. “okay? you were hoping you’d make it to LA without having to talk to me?”

“that’s not what i meant.”

jaehyun folds his arms over his chest. “hate to break it to you but we've been friends for years. i’m not one of those random girls you can fuck and then never call again.”

yuta sighs. “i know that.” he screws the cap back on and takes a seat next to jaehyun. “so, fine. what about last night?”

jaehyun bites his lip. again, when it comes down to it, he doesn’t know what to say.

“was it your first time? with a guy?”

yuta seems to hesitate for a moment, but then he nods. “yeah. you?”

“yeah. obviously.”

yuta shrugs. “hey, i dunno.”

jaehyun scuffs his foot over the gravel, shifting his weight. “so,” he says. “was this a one time thing? or… like. what’s your plan here?”

a grin passes over yuta’s mouth. “plan? you’re the one who came on to me.”

jaehyun doesn’t smile. “that’s not really true.”

“no?”

he looks at yuta firmly. “why did you kiss me that time? in your basement?”

for once, it’s yuta who looks away first. he turns his face down and heaves a big sigh. “i don’t know, man,” he says, a hint of whine in his voice. his fingers start fiddling with the cap of the bottle, digging a nail in the grooves. “i… like you said. i didn’t think much about it.”

somehow, though, jaehyun doesn’t really believe that anymore. “look,” he says. “if this is… if it was just a curiosity thing. if you just wanted to bang a guy once and now you’re done with dick… that’s okay. but i wanna know.”

“fuck, i don’t know?” yuta rakes a hand through his hair. “i haven’t really thought about it.” he glances over at jaehyun. “also, how is this any of your business? if i bang dudes or not?”

jaehyun licks his lips. “well, i just wanna know if you wanna do it again. with me.”

yuta meets his eyes now. “do you?”

for a moment it seems like neither of them breathe.

“maybe,” jaehyun says.

there is a tiny pull at yuta’s mouth. “damn, jeff,” he says. “here you’ve been acting straight all summer, but it only takes one taste of this--” he gestures to his crotch, “--and you’re coming back for more?”

jaehyun snorts, but he feels his molars grind together again. the idea of giving yuta another pounding in the solar plexus is very tempting, but he settles for a hard shove at his shoulder.

“fuck off,” he spits. “like you haven’t been lusting over me for the past three months.”

yuta laughs as he topples over, catching himself with a hand on the fender. hearing him makes jaehyun chuckle too. he can’t stay mad.

yuta scoots back and props his heels up on the bumper. he puts the bottle between them, making it balance on the sloped hood.

“it was… it was good,” jaehyun says. saying it out loud makes his cheeks heat up. “i’m not denying that.”

yuta starts picking at his bracelet instead. “makes sense though,” he says airily. “that a guy would give a better handy than a girl.” he shrugs. “we know dick.”

jaehyun rolls his eyes. “it’s not about that. and you know it.”

yuta gives a vague grunt. “okay. so what do you want?” he looks over at jaehyun. “a friends with benefits kind of thing?”

“i dunno,” jaehyun says. “depends.”

“on what?”

suddenly jaehyun can feel his pulse tapping quicker. he looks at yuta again, steadily, unwavering. “do you like me?”

yuta sighs again. “dude, we don’t have to bring feelings and shit into this…”

“no,” jaehyun cuts him off. “shut up and be serious for once. after all the shit this summer… none of it would have happened… and if it did, if it had-- we wouldn’t be sitting here. if it didn’t matter. if you didn’t care.”

he knows he’s barely making sense. but yuta sits quiet, face somber, listening.

“after giving me speeches about following my heart and shit, you’d think you’d practice what you preach,” jaehyun continues, the words coming out in a rush. “so. do you like me?”

yuta swallows. he looks down between his feet. “yeah,” he says in a small voice. “i think i do.”

jaehyun pulls in a breath. “okay.” exhales. “i think i like you too.”

yuta raises his head a little. “oh,” he says quietly. “cool.”

“yeah.”

a bunch of birds cross overhead, squeaking. behind them, cars swish by on the highway.

yuta scratches at the back of his head. “so do you wanna, like… go out?”

jaehyun giggles. he can’t help it. the diary pops up again, the teddy bear at the carnival.

“what?” yuta demands.

jaehyun clears his throat. “maybe we don’t have to label it, exactly. just, like... whatever. keep it casual.”

“yeah, but,” yuta says. “what kind of thing are we talking here? do you want me to take you out on dates?”

jaehyun cracks up again. he sees the lopsided grin on yuta’s mouth. “how about we just… hang out. as usual. and have sex instead of just jerking off together.” another wave of heat to his cheeks. “and stuff like that. and we’ll… see where it goes.”

yuta nods slowly. “okay. sounds, uh. sounds good.”

jaehyun takes the water bottle between them and uncaps it for a sip. his mouth feels strangely dry again.

“do you wanna keep it a secret?” yuta asks. “that we’re… together. or whatever.”

jaehyun hums. “we don’t have to? i mean, we can tell winwin and ten, and the guys. because it’d probably be hard to keep it up without them noticing anyway.”

yuta chuckles. “yeah.”

“but i’m…” jaehyun sticks two fingers under his glasses to rub at his eye. “i’m not ready for a whole coming out thing. to the folks and shit.”

yuta sighs. “oh, fuck, me neither.” he leans forward, elbows on his knees. then he peers at jaehyun from under his bangs. “you’re gonna tell johnny though?”

jaehyun shrugs. “yeah, probably.” he feels his face split in a grin. “are you jealous?” he nudges yuta with his elbow. “because he’s my best friend?”

yuta scoffs, but it sounds meeker than usual. “you’re allowed to have friends.”

jaehyun’s grin widens. suddenly he feels an urge to throw an arm around yuta’s neck; pull him close. “well, just FYI, you’ve got nothing to worry about. i have no desire to get into his pants.”

yuta smiles, but just a little bit. “i was right though, wasn’t i?” he says. “you’re gonna want to move back to chicago after you graduate.”

jaehyun pokes at a pebble with his shoe. “i don’t know,” he says. “maybe. my family is there and all. it’s a long way.” he thinks about the last four days. maybe he hasn’t quite grasped it before - the distances that separate people. the US is big.

“i get that,” yuta says.

“and you’re gonna travel the world. live out of a suitcase.” he kicks the pebble. it bounces off and disappears under the fence. “you don’t want no bungalow in northbrook.” his tone is playful, but only half so.

yuta laughs gently. “dude, that's years away. people grow. people change. i don’t know what’s gonna happen.” he gives a shrug, palms up. “i mean who knows, maybe this doesn’t work out at all and we split up. pretty optimistic to assume we’ll stay together till graduation.”

jaehyun snorts.

“like you said,” yuta continues. “we can keep it casual. see what happens.”

the sun is setting behind him. the light makes stray strands of his hair glow golden brown. a flare glints off one of his earrings.

“yeah.” jaehyun feels a smile on his face. “sounds good.”

they sit quiet for a moment. then yuta sniffs and jumps off the car. “did you have something else to discuss or can we get the hell out of here already?”

jaehyun grins. he gets up as well but catches yuta’s wrist before he has time to get back in the car.

yuta looks back at him. “what?”

it feels cheesy but jaehyun ignores that, pulling yuta close to kiss him. it’s light, short. he feels yuta’s hands on his hips and then they separate. yuta keeps his eyes down but jaehyun can see the shy grin on his face.

“okay. let’s go.”