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It All Comes Down to Research

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There's something peculiar about Lee Jeno.

Not peculiar in a bad sense, but Donghyuck feels like he's seen Jeno somewhere before. In his defense, looks like Jeno's aren't easily forgotten.

"Are you done ogling him?" Jaemin asks as Donghyuck continues to stare at Jeno from their table. Donghyuck shakes his head no. Jaemin sighs and rests his chin in his hand, looking at Jeno to see what Donghyuck finds so interesting. "His butt is nice."

"Don't tell me you're just noticing this now, I thought you were best friends for years?"

"I wouldn't say best friend, but we were pretty damn close," Jaemin says. "We lost contact after middle school when I moved away and now we're in the same uni. How cool is that?"

"Fantastic," Donghyuck replies unenthusiastically, his eyes still locked on Jeno who was slowly but surely approaching the counter (the line was quite long).

"Can I know why you're trying to melt my former BFF-ie with your laser eyes?"

"No," Donghyuck tears his eyes away from Jeno and settles them on Jaemin instead. "Is he a natural blond?"

"Nope. Pretty sure he dyed it recently, he had black hair when we were kids. The undercut looks good on him, though."

"It does," Donghyuck agrees, directing his gaze back to Jeno. Jaemin sighs dramatically. "Hyuckie, I know he's very, very pretty but if you keep staring like that then he's going to think you're creepy and weird. And then he's going to think that I'm creepy and weird by association, so please, for the love of freshly cooked french fries, try not to be too conspicuous with your ogling when he gets back."

"I wasn't ogling him."

"Oh? And what were you doing?"

"Research."

"About?"

"None of your business." Donghyuck glares at Jaemin before returning his gaze to the counter. Jeno had reached the front of the line and was now rattling their orders away with a very cute eye smile. Donghyuck wonders where he's seen it before.

Donghyuck is still staring as Jeno makes his way to their table, so Jaemin shoots Jeno his most charming smile to distract him. "Sorry it took so long," Jeno apologizes as he sits next to Jaemin.

"No problem, thanks for ordering for us! Gosh, I'm starving. Hyuckie," Jaemin is still smiling, but it looks threatening and Donghyuck is slightly intimidated. "Eat your food before it gets cold." He nudges Donghyuck's foot from under the table. If Donghyuck were any closer, he has no doubt that Jaemin would have stepped on it.

Jaemin and Jeno lose themselves in conversation. They try to involve Donghyuck as best as they can, but ultimately they're asking each other how they're doing and creating plans to meet up more often, trying to make up for all the years they've been apart. Donghyuck doesn't mind being unintentionally excluded; after all, he has more pressing matters to attend to. Like figuring out where he's seen Jeno before.

That's how the entirety of their lunch goes, with Jeno and Jaemin trading stories and the occasional laughter and gestures of acknowledgement from Donghyuck. Jeno oddly doesn't notice Hyuck boring holes into him, but Jaemin does and he kicks Donghyuck's shin five times throughout their two hour meal. Donghyuck is not amused.

"Thank you for the food," Donghyuck mumbles as they stand up to leave.

"No problem, it was my pleasure," Jeno smiles at Donghyuck, that goddamn eye smile that Donghyuck is so fixated on for some reason. "Thanks for today, we should do this again!"

"Call me anytime so we can schedule something!" Jaemin yells as he drags Donghyuck away, both of them waving at Jeno (Donghyuck waving like a regular person and Jaemin waving like he's trying to catch some wild animal's attention). As soon as Jeno's out of sight, Jaemin pinches Donghyuck's arm.

"Ow! What's that for?"

"For being weird!" Donghyuck rubs at his mistreated arm as they walk down the street together on the way back to their dorm. "And to think that even he indirectly invited you to come to our future hangouts even though you were probably freaking him out. He's still as nice as he was back in grade school."

"Please, it's not like I want to be invited in the first place. Not my fault you two had to rekindle your former friendship during a chance encounter at a fast food joint, where we wouldn't have been if you'd cooked lunch like you were supposed to, by the way. And right in front of my salad, too."

"Your 'salad' was a plate full of french fries. Which Jeno bought for all of us to supposedly share."

Donghyuck shrugs. "You guys were busy. They were really good fries. Real crunchy, not so greasy. Just the right amount of salt."

"Don't do this to me, I only had a burger because I felt bad about him paying."

"He's too good for his world," Donghyuck ponders as they enter their dorm building. "Maybe it's because he's an alien?"

"I swear to God, if your attitude earlier was because of some stupid conspiracy theory I'm going to kill you. And Yangyang too."

"What's Yangyang got to do with this?"

"Maybe he taught you that handsome boys that pay attention to you aren't human!"

"Hmmm," Donghyuck hums. "Well, you do pay attention to me an awful lot and you do act like an extraterrestrial, so maybe it's not that far-fetched."

Jaemin smirks as he turns the doorknob. "Ohoho, you think I'm handsome? I'm flattered, Hyuckie."

Donghyuck doesn't answer, pushing Jaemin out of the way as soon as the door opens and marching straight to his room to avoid Jaemin's croons of "I think you're handsome too, my cute choco ball". He's made a very big mistake in stoking Jaemin's already huge ego, so he confines himself to his study table to get some work done (and to avoid hearing Jaemin brag to Yangyang about how "Hyuckie finds me good-looking, take that loser"). Schoolwork is a welcome distraction though, because slaving over Psychology readings pushes Lee Jeno and his adorable eye smile out of Donghyuck's head.

 

***

 

A week afterwards, Donghyuck opens the door to Jeno's endearing eye smile just as he's about to leave. Jeno's hand is suspended in the air, like he meant to knock. Donghyuck stares at him in confusion for a few seconds before Jeno clears his throat. "Um, is Jaemin around?"

"Yes," Donghyuck answers after a heartbeat. He opens the door wider to usher Jeno inside.

"Jaem, Jeno's here for you!" Donghyuck hollers into the kitchen. There's a crash before Jaemin shouts back a plea to wait, and they hear some more crashes before it occurs to Donghyuck to clear out some space on the messy couch for Jeno to sit.

"Nice place you got here."

Donghyuck answers him with a snort, piling Jaemin's notes on the coffee table into an unstable tower. "I promise it doesn't look like a pigsty on the daily, you just caught us at a bad time. Actually, no, you just caught Jaemin at a bad time. My room is immaculate, I don't know why the living room looks like a tornado hit it."

"Ah, Nana and I are gonna have a study session today! We have a long test in Micro two days from now."

"You have a class with him? And he didn't notice you sooner? He said our encounter at McDonalds was the first time he's seen you in a long while."

"Oh no, I take the afternoon class and he's in the morning one, but the exams are departmental so it's all the same test content."

"You're a Bio major too?"

"Yeah." Jeno dazzles him with a wide grin, and Donghyuck really has to stop focusing on his eye smile when there's so many more of Jeno's features to admire. Like the cute little mole next to his right eye, or how he looks hot with his undercut on full display, or how his arms fill in his shirt sleeves nicely, or–

Donghyuck clears his throat to stop his dangerous train of thoughts. "So are you planning to go into medicine? Jaem is."

Jeno's smile falters a bit. "Nope, I'm leaning more towards research. Used to want to be a doctor but I'm not exactly very good with the practical aspects of it, like the extracting blood part. I just don't like hurting people, I guess?"

"Ah, sorry, you must get asked that question a lot."

"It's okay!" Jeno's smile returns in full force, and his nose crinkles. Donghyuck wants to ask the Lord what he's done in his past life to be blessed with such a glorious sight. "I don't mind."

Jaemin traipses out of the kitchen right at that moment, balancing a plate of sandwiches in one hand whole holding on to a pitcher of what looks like iced tea in another, hair messy and an apron still tied around his waist. Donghyuck hurries to relieve him of the pitcher and Jeno moves to take the plate but Jaemin signals for Jeno to stay put. Jeno clears the table from the remnants of Jaemin's solo study session while Hyuck and Jaemin set the food on the table, and when they're all set Jaemin runs back into the kitchen wordlessly and Donghyuck is left alone once more in the presence of Jeno and his beautiful, beautiful eye smile.

"You were gonna head out?" Jeno asks after a minute, and Donghyuck nods his head vigorously, like an excited idiot. An excited idiot with a neck currently in pain from how quickly it snapped up and down. "I was gonna go to the mall with a friend. I'll be bringing back dinner so please feel free to stay and eat with us!"

"Sounds great, thanks." Jeno's voice is soothing to the ears, maybe even more relaxing than his friend Yangyang's. (Probably not, but Donghyuck is very biased at the moment.)

Jaemin bursts back into the living room with his apron off and a comb in his hand. Donghyuck stands up to go and both Jaemin and Jeno wave him farewell (a bit too enthusiastically in Donghyuck's opinion), and he leaves their dorm with the thoughts of a particular eye smile (which still bothers him for some reason).

 

***

 

Donghyuck doesn't see Jaemin come in but he certainly does hear him as he slams his bag down on the chair in front of Donghyuck, startling Hyuck and earning the both of them glares from the people at the library. "Do you have a crush on Jeno?"

Donghyuck levels his stare at Jaemin, determined not to give anything away. "What?"

"Well, you keep staring at him like you want to devour him or something." Jaemin gestures wildly towards Jeno's gorgeous form that's hidden behind several bookcases and then towards Donghyuck, who was doing his best to catch a glimpse of Jeno even through the towers of literature blocking him from view.

Donghyuck rolls his eyes. "God, no. He just...looks very familiar."

"Like an old friend sort of familiar or 'he looks like my next boyfriend' sort of familiar?"

"You disgust me, Jaem."

"No, but seriously, I could be your wingman if you like! Just tell me if you like him or not. Romantic like. Like, you wanna hold his hand sort of like."

"I want to hold a lot of people's hands, Jaemin. Right now, I want to hold the Lord's so he can guide me to the correct answers for my test tomorrow."

Donghyuck can feel Jaemin's hands itching to bash him over the head, but he can't do that here, in the sacred place of learning, without causing a scene. "You know what I mean."

Donghyuck considers it seriously for a minute or two. Yes, Jeno is cute and kind and smart and good and insanely hot and Hyuck might have an itty-bitty little crushie on him but is he ever gonna tell Jaemin, Jeno's self-proclaimed best friend, that? Of course not. "I'm good, I really don't have a crush on him. Promise."

"Really?"

"Really."

Jaemin narrows his eyes at him, pushing the bag currently in front of Donghyuck onto the floor and replacing it with his body. "Liar."

"What are you even doing here, Jaem?"

Jaemin pulls out a textbook. "Studying, duh."

"Go study somewhere else."

"But I wuv you!"

"And I wuv you too, but I can't focus with you around. You're too noisy."

Jaemin zips his lips, locks them, and throws away an imaginary key. "No sound," he mouths exaggeratedly. Hyuck shakes his head and goes back to his previous activity, which was staring at Jeno who has now picked up a book and is walking towards the study tables. He passes Donghyuck and Jaemin's table breezily and Donghyuck lets out a sigh that's a weird mixture of both relief and disappointment. Jaemin, however, whisper-yells Jeno's name harshly as loud as he can. Jeno turns to look at them at Jaemin's fifth attempt.

"Oh, hey guys, I didn't notice you there for a second!" Jeno flashes them his precious eye smile and Donghyuck internally swoons. Maybe externally too, because Jaemin suddenly asks, "Do you wanna join us Jeno?" And Jeno accepts. And sits on the chair next to Donghyuck. And gives Donghyuck a shy smile. How lovely.

Donghyuck feels his face heating up as he ducks his head. He glares at Jaemin as he raises a page to shield his face from Jeno's view, but all Jaemin does is wiggle his eyebrows at him. The audacity .

Up close, Donghyuck can see the little crinkles at the corners of Jeno's eyes, and he notices a little dimple above the right side of Jeno's mouth when he purses his lips together in concentration. It's charming, and Donghyuck wants to die because (1) Lee Jeno is very , very attractive and (2) the more Donghyuck notices things about Jeno, the more Donghyuck feels that he's definitely seen him somewhere before.

Maybe that somewhere is in my dreams, Donghyuck reasons. The dream wherein I imagine my ideal type and I together on a unicorn running into the sunset. Donghyuck can't decide if Jeno is the ideal type or the unicorn, because even though Jeno is probably everyone's dream guy he feels too perfect to be real. 

As he peers secretly at Jeno he can also feel Jaemin staring at him, and when he looks to confirm he sees a smirk playing on Jaemin's lips. But Jaemin doesn't do anything else, tapping on his textbook to remind both himself and Donghyuck about what they're actually here for. It's truly tragic that Donghyuck has to spend what could be the only time in such proximity with the object of his affections and suspicions this way but alas, Jeno's distracting charisma isn't going to get him the good grades he deserves. So he delves back into his readings, ignoring the thundering of his pulse and saving the memory of Jeno's hand almost brushing his for another day.

 

***

 

When Donghyuck decided that he wanted to major in Advertising, he looked up tips and rules of advertising almost daily leading up to the university entrance exams. One of the things that stuck with him is that research is always absolutely necessary.

He's surprised he forgot that rule, actually. Because apparently if he'd only done a bit of research on Jeno's background, he would have figured out why Jeno looks like someone he once knew much, much earlier.

Or he could have taken the easy route and just asked his mom. Mothers know best, after all.

Donghyuck's mother barges into Jaemin and Donghyuck's dorm one day, armed with a load of groceries and tupperwares of kimchi. Donghyuck and Jaemin are passed out in Donghyuck's room, trying to get some rest before Jeno and his roommate Renjun come over for a group study session. 

("Having no classes together shouldn't hinder us from sharing knowledge with one another!" Jaemin states as he jokingly slams down Jeno's phone on the table, still open to a picture of Jeno's cute roommate.

Jeno rolls his eyes fondly. "Please, you just want to meet Renjun."

"I will neither confirm or deny that statement. Our dorm on Saturday, be there," Jaemin looks Jeno in the eye, trying to convey the importance of meeting said cute roommate, "or be square."

Donghyuck pouts. "What if I wanna be a pentagon?"

"Hyuck, if you don't show up I'm locking you out of the dorm. And you have to buy me a week's worth of coffee before I let you in."

"That's not fair, you drink six cups a day!"

Jaemin smiles wickedly. "All the more reason for you to turn up."

"And you can't leave me there to third-wheel," Jeno whines, and honestly the cute lilt to his voice was all it took to get Donghyuck to agree.)

When Donghyuck's mother finishes putting all of the food away, she starts preparing a meal for the kids. And when the abnormally large serving of fried rice and dumplings are ready she knocks on her son's door to see him being spooned by Jaemin, his back against Jaemin's chest. Jaemin's chin is nestled in the crook of Donghyuck's neck and shoulder, and they both look extremely comfortable. It's a precious moment, so she snaps a picture to put in her scrapbook entitled "Hyuckie's College Adventures" before she walks over to shake them awake.

They're eating at their cramped dining area when Jeno and Renjun arrive with some snacks, and Donghyuck sees the exact moment his mother recognizes Jeno. She squints at him as he gives a little wave, and when he introduces himself her eyes widen a fraction before a brilliant grin settles on her lips.

"Lee Jangmi, Donghyuck's mom and a talent scout," she says as she shakes Jeno and Renjun's hands. "Jeno, sweetie, do you remember me? I was the one who approached you about the milk commercial!"

Jeno's face scrunches up for a moment (and it's cute and so unfair because of course Jeno had to be a child model. With a face like that, it would be more puzzling if he wasn't) before his face lights up and his megawatt eye smile makes an appearance. "Hi Mrs. Lee! My mom still talks about you, you're still in touch?"

"Of course! Can't let one of my first clients slip away that easy," she winks at Jeno before ushering them towards the dining area and making a face towards her son. "Donghyuck didn't tell me there would be people coming over, much less that you would be coming, but I made enough food to last them until tomorrow at the very least so eat up!"

"Mom, I didn't even know you knew him," Donghyuck groans as he shovels rice into his mouth.

"Darling, I have three entire scrapbooks dedicated to my clients! And you looked through them so many times that I'm surprised you didn't recognize him."

"I know I recognized him from somewhere!" Donghyuck defends himself, not caring that the subject of their conversation is listening attentively. "I just didn't remember where exactly."

"Oh, is that why stare at me a lot?"

Jeno's words cause a fit of laughter not only from Donghyuck's mother but from Jaemin and Renjun as well, and Donghyuck wills the ground to swallow him whole. He shrinks into his seat, trying to make himself as small as possible, but Jeno reaches over to squeeze his hand. "I don't mind, it made me feel special. Though it also made me feel like I had something perpetually stuck to my teeth or that there was something on my face," Jeno says, still holding on to his hand, and Donghyuck has to tell himself to focus on Jeno's words instead of on the way Jeno's thumb rubs his knuckles. "Though now that apparently it was just because I looked vaguely familiar I don't feel so special anymore."

Donghyuck's brain to mouth filter is always malfunctioning when he's around Jeno, so he isn't that surprised when he spews the words "you're still special to me" out of nowhere. He immediately flounders to take it back, or say that he worded it wrong, but the soft smile Jeno gives him makes him stop and– well, if those words are what enticed Jeno to hold his hand fully and sway it a bit under the table, Donghyuck thinks that he wouldn't mind saying them again.

 

***

 

When everyone finally leaves for the night (Donghyuck's mother promises to visit again next week and invites them all to drop by Donghyuck's house for dinner whenever they're free), Jaemin turns to Donghyuck with a look of sheer disappointment. "You could have just asked him, you know?"

"Well I can't exactly tell him 'I feel like I've seen you somewhere before' without it sounding like some sleazy pick up line."

"I'm sure he already thinks you have a thing for him so it wouldn't be surprising."

"Jaem, have I ever told you how much I want to duct tape your mouth? Because I really, really want to duct tape your mouth right now.

"We can't afford duct tape, Hyuckie. We're both terribly broke college kids."

"I can ask my mom to drop some off."

"...I'll shut up now."

 

***

 

The thing about introducing your friends to your mother is that she will not stop asking questions about them. She will not stop until she knows their life stories, what their likes and dislikes are, or if they're dating anyone.

"The shorter one is named Renjun, right? From China? What's his favorite dish? I'll make it next week. I'll text you when I'm on my way over so you can tell him to join us for a meal."

"Is Jaemin still into Ryan things? I passed by the Kakao Friends store today and saw a stationery set he might like. It was half off, too."

"Do you remember our neighbor Jisung? He's so grown up now, Hyuckie, I'll send you some pictures!"

"I saw Mark at the supermarket wearing one of your hoodies! Or was it his hoodie? Donghyuck, did you steal his clothes again? Baby, how many times do I have to tell you that we do not just take things, even if they're really soft and warm and smell super nice and 'like everything good in the world"'. I already asked him what fabric softener he uses, I'll bring a bottle of it with me on my next visit."

"Chenle dropped by yesterday! He left something for you. Said it was a late birthday present, I already opened it and it's an Apple watch! An Apple watch, can you believe it? It came with this sweet little letter too, he said he misses you! I'll send you a picture of the letter later, write him a thank you message soon baby!"

"Sweetie, do you have a crush on Jeno?"

(Donghyuck chokes on air as he hears his mom ask over the phone. "Mom, what?"

"He's a nice boy, I remember him waddling around the set looking for his socks when he was younger! They were neatly folded in his mother's bag but he didn't know that, he burst into tears after a couple of minutes of searching! Took us a while to calm him down. Speaking of which, I have to call his mother to set a date for our brunch—"

"Mom. What."

"Oh? Jeno's mother and I still talk, didn't I already tell you that?"

"No, mom, I meant what as in I don't have a crush on Jeno!"

He can literally visualize his mother rolling her eyes. "Yes, of course darling. He's grown up to be such a fine young man, does he work out? You should start exercising too–"

"Mom. Really. I don't like Jeno that way."

There's silence before his mother speaks again. "Who are you trying to convince, sweetie? Me or you?"

"Mooooom."

"He's a wonderful guy, he'd be good for you! Your father would probably like the fact that he looks like he could break anyone who's mean to you. And his mom likes you too! You've never met her but I've shown her pictures of you– she thinks your moles make you look like a painting, by the way– and I talk about you all the time! Gotta be proud of my college boy, you know. Oh, you should join us for brunch! That would be nice, how about it baby–"

"Mom, I kinda have lots of homework, I gotta go now, bye, love you," Donghyuck says as he hangs up.)

Having your mom know your friends is fine. Delightful even, because she gives you extra allowance money and tells you to buy yourself and your friends something nice. But having your mom play wingman for you is where Donghyuck draws the line, because he is a Mature Young Adult who doesn't need his mom to hold his hand all the time, especially regarding his love life.

(Unironically, Donghyuck still clings to his mother when they have to cross a street though. You know, for safety reasons.)

Unfortunately, even Hyuck's cutest pout, which he considers his greatest weapon, cannot stop his mother. At this point, Donghyuck starts to think that there is no force on earth that can stop a Mother Wanting Her Child To Love And Be Loved In Return.

 

***

 

"Where are you going?"

Donghyuck stops short of turning the doorknob when he hears the question from a voice that sounds a lot like Lee Jeno. He turns to find Jeno sitting on their couch, eyes firmly set on Hyuck and tossing the remote back and forth between his hands. If it was some other person Donghyuck would have hastily told them to put it down before they break it, but since it's Jeno all that comes out of Donghyuck's mouth is, "What are you doing here?"

Jeno shakes the remote control in his grasp, and Donghyuck has to restrain himself from begging him to put it down since it's already their second remote (they lost the first one and couldn't find it no matter how hard they tried). "Nana and I are having a movie night." Jeno smiles, both rows of straight pearly-white teeth showing, and Donghyuck has a hard time peeling his eyes away from his dazzling grin. Like usual.

When he eventually manages it, he sees the packs of chips and cans of soda and beer on the coffee table, all unopened and strewn around haphazardly, like Jaemin had just tossed them there and didn't bother to arrange them to make room for other things. Which is something Jaemin would actually do.

"Oh." Donghyuck's eyes stray back towards Jeno. "That's cool."

Jeno's smile softens and he looks down at the remote still in his hands. "I called my mom today. And I asked her about your mom. They're having brunch together soon and she wondered if you wouldn't mind coming along? She kinda wants to meet you. Only if you want to, of course. I'll be there too, and it would be pretty awkward if it was just me with them, so…." Jeno looks up and locks eyes with Donghyuck. "Please?"

Donghyuck doesn't even have to think. He takes one look at Jeno's hopeful gaze and the little pout on his lips and an automatic "okay" slips out of his mouth. Donghyuck can't bring himself to be too upset about it because Jeno's smiling that eye smile that turns his legs to jelly, and he has to hold on to the door and say a hasty farewell so Jeno wouldn't see him blush beet red.

 

The brunch is nice. A bit awkward at first, but that's to be expected. Jeno's mother coos over him and pinches his cheeks while Jeno looks on forlornly, and they play footsie under the table while their moms talk about finances or whatever actual functioning adults talk about (Donghyuck wasn't really listening, he was too busy helping Jeno decide if he wanted chicken or beef). Overall it was very pleasant, and Donghyuck would definitely join them again if opportunity allows it (preferably with Jeno), but the way Jeno would smile at him with his eyes crinkling around the corners and with his nose scrunched up just the slightest bit got Donghyuck thinking that maybe he should take matters into his own hands instead of waiting for the next invite.

But yes, the brunch was nice.

 

***

 

In hindsight, Donghyuck never thought that this would ever happen. He never thought he'd be sitting in front of Lee Jeno at a cozy café, buzzing with nervous energy. The atmosphere is awkward but not really; the space between them filled with anticipation, waiting for the other to say something but not wanting to pressure the other into doing so, but the smiles they send each other are sweet. Everything's so pleasant and good, but also tinged with bashfulness.

It's almost like a date.

But it's not. Far from it, actually. "This meeting is for business matters," Donghyuck mumbles to himself as Jeno gulps down half of his macchiato. A very important business. That matters. A lot.

Jeno wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Hyuck, you're not serious about this, are you?"

"Of course I am! Do I look like I'm joking?" Donghyuck holds up the stack of papers in his lap. "Just a couple of hours, Jeno. I'll never ask you for anything ever again if you agree."

Jeno tilts his head adorably, in a confused puppy sort of way. "Donghyuck, I'm a Bio major."

"You've got the looks for it!"

"Why don't you ask Jaemin? I'm sure he'd be glad to model for you."

"Because you're prettier." Donghyuck says it involuntarily, like he can't not compliment Jeno at least once a day. It's not surprising anymore, Donghyuck has long accepted the fact that his brain turns to mush whenever Jeno is involved. He clears his throat and immediately follows up with, "And, uh, you have experience."

"Hyuck, I was literally five. And all I did was run, cry, and wipe a milkstache off my face."

"You'll be doing the same thing anyway! Just minus the running and the crying."

Jeno purses his lips together in thought, and Donghyuck prays that Jeno considers it. "What's the thing I'll be advertising, anyway?"

"Great question, Jeno." Donghyuck gestures around the café. "I have brought you here, in this humble establishment filled with the aroma of coffee beans and comfort, so you could get a feel of it. You, my dear friend, if you choose to accept my simple request, would be promoting instant coffee."

Jeno does not look impressed. "Instant coffee."

"Yes, instant coffee. Not be nosy but I asked my mom to ask your mom if you had any food allergies, and your mom said you didn't! Thorough research was conducted before selecting you as a potential model. Why, are you one of the 'whole beans are superior' people?"

"Not really. I mean, they taste better but that's not the point." Jeno sighs. "Jaemin likes coffee a lot."

"Well, this isn't about Jaemin."

"It could be."

" Jeno ."

"Fine, have fun telling Jaemin that you picked me over him for a coffee video." Jeno extends a hand and Donghyuck gingerly hands him the papers. Jeno starts flicking through the script. "What mood are you going for, by the way?"

Donghyuck taps his fingers on the table, hoping to distract Jeno with it so he wouldn't hear the answer. "Funny you should ask. We're. Uhm. Going for a romantic barista theme. Like the setting for coffee shop meet-cutes, the really cheesy ones with the flirty, charming baristas? Yeah. That."

"...romantic barista."

"I swear to God I wasn't the one who came up with the concept, it was my partner Mark! My cousin Mark! It's a joint project with the film studies people, Mark's the video producer! It's all Mark's fault!" Donghyuck's voice rises in pitch with every word, but he can't help it. Stupid Mark and his stupid obsession with stupid Yukhei, the stupid tall gorgeous barista. Donghyuck points to the counter, and Yukhei notices him and gives him an energetic wave. Despite Mark's stupid Yukhei tunnel vision Yukhei really is a great guy, so Donghyuck smiles and waves back.

"Okay, okay, you don't have to throw poor Mark under the bus. Sheesh, I haven't even met the guy yet but I already feel sorry for him."

"What do you mean? Working with me is an absolute delight ."

"Of course it is." Jeno puts the papers down and shoots Donghyuck a slight smirk, and it unsettles Donghyuck a bit because where is his cute eye smile. The audience wants the eye smile . "And what do I get in return for helping you?"

"Anything you want."

"Anything?"

"Anything."

"Really?"

"Really. So please?" Donghyuck pleads, pushing his lips together in the poutiest pout he can muster. Hyuck likes to think that he can persuade people to do his bidding even without pulling off a duck face circa 2012, but he's desperate and he's been told that a pouting Hyuck is a cute Hyuck, so he does just that and hopes for the best.

Jeno finishes the rest of his macchiato before he gives Donghyuck an answer. "Alright, I'll do it."

"Yay!" Donghyuck stands up in excitement. "Shooting starts in two days, is that enough time?"

"Yeah." Jeno's eye smile is back in full force, pearly whites showing as he grins up at Hyuck. "Don't forget your promise, okay? Anything I want."

"Gotcha. As long as I can afford to give it to you. If you ask me to pay off your student loans I won't be able to hold up my end of the bargain."

"Nothing as drastic as that, I promise." Jeno's eyes are positively sparkling, filled with a mirth Donghyuck doesn't understand. "See you in two days?"

"See you! And feel free to contact me if you have any questions!" Donghyuck waits for Jeno to get up and they amble towards the exit together. Their hands brush twice (yes, Donghyuck counted) on the twelve second walk to the door, and they exchange another polite goodbye before they go their separate ways. It's not the most memorable way to end his first –and probably only– not-date with Jeno, but he'll be satisfied with this for now. Maybe in the future he'll gather enough courage to ask Jeno to hang out non-platonically, but Hyuck fears that no amount of research would be able to prepare him for that.

 

***

 

The shoot goes well. Too well. It makes Donghyuck feel suspicious, because the universe never gives him nice things unless something bad happens to him in return. Years of being jinxed like this have resulted to Donghyuck's wariness.

Donghyuck doesn't see Jeno approaching him after the shoot has concluded, but that can be attributed to the fact that Mark had left him to gather up their equipment alone as he hobbled off to attempt to flirt with Yukhei. Hyuck glares at the back of Mark's head, who has his back facing Donghyuck. Yukhei watches Donghyuck burn a hole into Mark's skull in amusement, accidentally paying more attention to Donghyuck than to the poor creature trying to ask him about his favorite coffee orders to assemble.

"You know, when I first met you you were staring at me like that too. Less angrily, though."

Donghyuck jumps and he drops the lens cap of Mark's camera. He rushes to check if Mark had seen him drop it, and thankfully he was still engrossed in hurtling heart eyes towards Yukhei. Yukhei, however, with his amazing body proportions giving him enough of a boost to see over the top of Mark's big head, eyes the cap in Donghyuck's hand with a silly grin. He motions zipping his lips and throwing away the key, and it's so reminiscent of Jaemin that Hyuck tries not to laugh. Maybe stupid tall gorgeous Yukhei wasn't so bad after all (but Mark's stupid crush on him is still the worst thing that could have happened to his academic career, since they were both Lees and most of their professors pair people up alphabetically).

Hyuck puts the cap where it should be and turns to look at Jeno afterwards, who was still in a pristine white shirt with a black apron tied around his waist. The apron accentuates Jeno's figure marvelously, but Donghyuck does his best to keep his eyes on Jeno's face.

Jeno puffs his cheeks out cutely. "I don't feel so special anymore," Jeno complains, and Donghyuck responds like he did when Jeno first said those words to him, like he does whenever Jeno says it to him jokingly. Honestly he thinks Jeno is just messing with him at this point, since he already knows what Donghyuck would say.

"You're still special to me." Hyuck mumbles as quietly as he can, going back to wrangling the tripod back to its portable form. Jeno gently nudges him out of the way and does it for him, and Donghyuck thanks him and proceeds to put all their documents away safely.

When they've finished cleaning up, Mark has made some progress in his mission to woo Yukhei. Yukhei is the one talking now, with large gestures that include his entire body and the occasional booming laugh. Jeno and Donghyuck find somewhere to sit, and that's when Jeno brings it up.

"So, about my compensation."

"Oh yeah," Donghyuck scratches at his neck, slightly nervous. "What is it that you want?"

Jeno doesn't say anything. He just reaches out to hold Donghyuck's hands, and Hyuck lets him. Jeno plays with his fingers, pulling on them, ghosting his fingers over them, doing whatever he pleases, and Hyuck's face burns.

"You're quite strange, Hyuck."

Donghyuck's eyebrows furrow in thought. "How come?"

"I've done some research of my own, you see. You don't like vegetables but you still eat them whenever you're having a meal with people who aren't your family or Jaemin, probably because you don't like people judging you. You have a habit of doing this thing where your mouth hangs just the slightest bit open and your front teeth jut out adorably. You rush getting ready in the morning because Jaemin is slow and you want to give him more time to prepare, since you both have early morning classes. I asked Mark who got him the camera, since it's a really good quality video cam and you don't usually get those for cheap, and he said it was you. You don't drink coffee and yet here you are working on a coffee ad just to help your cousin with his, and I quote, 'stupid crush on stupid Yukhei'–"

"Actually, it's 'stupid crush on stupid tall gorgeous Yukhei'. And I'm gonna add the word kind now, so it's officially 'stupid tall gorgeous and kind Yukhei'."

"Noted," Jeno beams at him. "I have collated lots of data during the course of my investigation; are you ready to hear my favorite one?"

"Shoot." Jeno's hands still from massaging Donghyuck's, and Donghyuck would have mourned it if Jeno didn't hold his hands tighter. He raises his gaze from their joined hands to Jeno's face and his sweet eye smile, that damn eye smile, takes Hyuck's breath away.

Jeno clears his throat dramatically. "My most important and favorite discovery from my very intense research is that you have a crush on me."

Donghyuck yanks his hands away from Jeno's quickly, like he'd been scalded. Jeno swiftly gathers them back and pulls Donghyuck's hands (and the rest of his body in turn) close to his chest. Hyuck avoids his gaze, gluing his eyes to the floor.

"It's okay, I like you too." Jeno's voice is soft, like he was trying to calm a startled animal. "And I've still got some things I want to say, won't you look at me as I do, Hyuck?"

"No."

"Why not?" Jeno's whiny tone reverberates in Donghyuck's brain. Jeno is all he can think about, and yet Hyuck can't bring himself to process what's happening. "Because it's embarrassing."

"Why are you embarrassed? Is it so unfortunate to like me?"

"How did you even know that?" Donghyuck tries to pull his hands free from Jeno's vice-like grip, but the effort is futile. 

"I'll release you if you promise not to run away." Jeno leans down so Donghyuck would look him in the eye. "That's what I want from you. Your promise, remember? Anything I want."

Jeno's gaze is imploring, and Donghyuck gulps. He nods once and Jeno gently sets Hyuck's hands down on his lap, his hands still on top of them but with not enough force to keep them there. Donghyuck could make a run for it, but research has shown that he is terribly weak for Jeno. There's evidence to back up said claim, and he hopes Jeno's Study on Lee Donghyuck didn't broach much on that train wreck of a subject.

"Okay, so lastly I've got this hypothesis that I hope is correct. Care to verify for me?"

Donghyuck braces himself. "Go on."

Jeno says his next words slowly. "If I ask Lee Donghyuck on a date, he would say yes."

At that, Donghyuck finally cracks a smile. "Hmmm. I don't know, seems like an unlikely scenario."

"The date part or the yes part?"

"Neither, I'm just messing with you. Congratulations, Jeno," Donghyuck beams up at him, bright and sunny. "You have finished conducting your study entitled 'To Date a Donghyuck'. I hope you enjoyed carrying out the corresponding research for it."

"Well, it all really comes down to that, doesn't it?" Jeno grabs Hyuck's hand and presses it to his lips. The rays of the sun hit the glass walls of the café, shining a wave of light down on everyone there, from Mark to Yukhei to the other barista at the counter to the lady on her way out. It gives Jeno an angelic glow as he grins at Hyuck. "It just takes a little bit of research."