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The day that Jung Jaehyun realizes he’s like, in love with Mark Lee doesn’t surprise him much. It’s a feeling that doesn’t so much as hit Jaehyun in the chest but rather creeps up on him slowly like a vine on electric wires from his mother’s small garden in the front of his house. 

The transition from “crush” to “being in love” happens in increments, over time, so slowly, that when he becomes fully cognizant of it, Jaehyun lets out a small, “Oh,” just as Mark has his hands on Jaehyun’s hands, teaching him how to press the tips of his fingers into the metal strings of Mark’s guitar. 

It isn’t at all surprising because if Jaehyun is honest with himself — and that happens rarely— well, he’s known for a long-ass while but had spent a long time pretending that that wasn’t the case. 

There are many barriers that Jaehyun has considered over the last couple of years, like the fact that he and Mark have known each other for so long, since high school, back when Jaehyun had only just started learning how to speak in English, stuttering his way through ESL class and ordering shit in the cafeteria and Mark had been his knight in stupid band hoodies and scuffed Chuck Taylors. 

When Jaehyun transfers into Waukon High School, he’s fifteen and shoved into 11th grade and awkward about it, but despite their age difference, Mark had swooped in, stutters and goofy smile and all, and said, “Hi! I’m Mark. You’re the new kid from Korea, right?” in fluent Korean and his hand sticking out in the space between them. Jaehyun had stared at his hand, and thought, ‘Fuck, maybe this divorce isn’t all bad.’ 

And it hadn’t. Sure, he only saw his dad on holidays now, but it wasn’t like they didn’t talk every day; and Jaehyun’s mom was always civil, always explaining to Jaehyun that even if they weren’t in love anymore, that she and his dad were still best friends, and that this was still the best for them all. 

And the move across the world, which he had expected to resent, having to start over with a language that he only knew from movies and the shitty prime time TV and YouTube videos he watched, turned into Jaehyun finding a best friend for the first time since kindergarten in the form of Mark Lee, this scrawny kid who definitely swore too much for a thirteen-year-old, and who, for some inexplicable reason, liked talking to Jaehyun. 

So there’s that. 

Jaehyun worries about the age thing, even if they’ve only got a two-year gap, but the biggest kicker is that this is his best friend, and he knows that that doesn’t always work out in the real world. Feelings change people, they change the dynamics that people originally had going for them. When he thinks about how they’d started out as friends when they were kids, it makes Jaehyun close in on himself, wondering how he’d allowed himself to let this emotion grow when the entire time they’d been in high school, he’d only ever thought of Mark platonically.

You see, Mark and Jaehyun, very early on, become joined at the hip, always fucking stupider together than apart, like for some reason Mark’s brilliance and Jaehyun’s intellect are offset whenever he and Jaehyun are in the same vicinity. 

They play basketball on weekends, and sometimes they’ll go out into the next city that is a thirty-minute drive out from theirs, with Mina and Lucas and Hendery, and shop for records at Underground Exchange, a store that’s run by this guy named Taeil who likes to hum under his breath and sing along to all the Khalid and Coldplay (“This is classic Coldplay, I will have you know. Nothing tops ‘Parachutes’ Coldplay.”) in his store. 

Jaehyun’s adjustment to his new city and new friends is easy, and in the span of two years, it’s how it goes: easy.

What isn’t easy is what comes in the mail just a little before high school graduation day comes around for Jaehyun, in the form of an acceptance letter to the only university he really gives a shit about getting into. 

It’s a letter that also tells him that he’s going to college on a full ride, which means that when he shows it to both his parents, they’re going to move heaven and earth to get him to New York City. Away from this tiny city, away from this place that he thought he would hate, but fell in love with anyway. Away from his best friend. 

Jaehyun doesn’t really expect the kick in the gut to come until he brings the parcel to school, shoved carefully into his backpack to show Mark when they meet up for burgers after class and pulls it out, the school seal on the back glaring in its vibrancy against the clean white of the envelope. 

Mark stares at it on the table between them, and says, “Dude, you’re leaving?”

Jaehyun has his hands clenched on his lap, folded to keep from fiddling with the rings on his fingers. 

“It is a full ride, Markie, can you believe it? Me? Columbia?” Jaehyun says. He can’t help it. He’d worked so fucking hard to get in, and when he smiles, it’s like Mark remembers where he is, who he’s talking to, because he shakes himself and says, “You did it! Fuck yeah!”

And sure, there’s a sort of lead weight in Jaehyun’s stomach at the thought that he’d only just found his (platonic? maybe?) soulmate a year ago, but beyond that is the exhilaration of knowing that he not only has what it takes to get into Columbia University but also what it takes to get there on a full scholarship. 

“I didn’t have a single doubt in my mind you’d get it, man,” Mark says, reaching out his fist for Jaehyun to bump his own against it.

Later, when Jaehyun tells his mom over dinner, and his father over Facetime, they’re both ecstatic, and Jaehyun floats on a cloud for all of a week until reality sets in that he has to start making arrangements for lodging and moving and getting back to confirm his slot. 

On Graduation Day, Mark joins Jaehyun, his mom and her new boyfriend, some nice Filipino-American guy named Piolo, for dinner at The Old Rossville Store, and they all have steaks. University is all anyone can talk about at that point, and when Jaehyun’s mom asks Mark where he intends to go when his turn is up, Mark sits up, chipper, and says, “Guess I’m gonna have to try for Columbia then, huh?” 

The next couple of weeks becomes a whirlwind of Jaehyun packing his things away in small boxes while Mark lies around on his bed playing Pokemon on his Switch and not being exactly any help. Jaehyun thinks it’s nice, nonetheless, having his best friend lounging around on his bed. It’s not something he’s gonna have while he’s gone. He’s really gonna miss this dude. 

“I’m really gonna miss you, dude,” Mark says out loud, lying on Jaehyun’s bed on his back with his head hanging off the side. 

Jaehyun pauses pulling out a strip of duct tape to look at him and laughs, even though the sentiment is the same for him. 

“It’s 2019 dude, we can Facetime all the time,” Jaehyun says.

“No can do on Android, compadre,” Mark says, waving his phone around. “I’ll just bother you on Telegram and send you stupid videos of Renjun and Xiaojun and Lucas.” 

Jaehyun sets back to working on his box, and Mark starts playing music from his phone while he hums along. 

This is what he’s going to miss the most. Being friends with Mark is easy, and it doesn’t bother him that his best friend is someone two years younger than him. It’s just nice when they’re both vegging out in each other’s rooms and watching shit on Netflix and listening to music. Jaehyun thinks about 2 years that they’ve known each other, how his vocabulary has grown since that day Mark approached him to introduce him to the rest of the admittedly larger-than-he-expected Korean-and-Chinese-American population their school had for some reason. 

Thinks about how this scrawny kid wormed his way into his space and how nice it is that they get to marathon old-school anime and jam to songs together. Mark, who eats cereal for dinner and plays the guitar and raps under his breath to Frank Ocean and TY Dolla $ign. New York is a big city, and he’s gonna be alone there, but not really, not when he remembers that when Mark had flown back to Canada for the break, Mark has not shut the fuck up for like, two seconds and sent him videos of the most mundane things. 

“I’m just gonna be gone for a couple of months at a time, man,” Jaehyun says, trying to be reassuring. 

“I know, I know, but it won’t be the same you know? Like, nothing funny is ever really funny funny when you’re retelling it and not witnessing for yourself, you feel?” Mark says, setting aside his Switch and still staring at Jaehyun upside down. 

“Guess you’re just going to have to wear a bodycam all the time and be on like, Insta live or whatever while I’m in class,” Jaehyun says, throwing a shirt in Mark’s direction, hitting him in the face and making him sputter out indignantly. 

“Nevermind, I take it back, I’m not gonna miss you at all, bitch,” Mark says, sitting up, his hair sticking out behind him. 

“Lies, little man,” Jaehyun says. “And I already told you to stop swearing so much. You’re fifteen.” 

“I can do whatever the fuck I want, Jae,” Mark replies, and Jaehyun shrugs, knowing that Mark’s right. 

Jaehyun pulls off his Rurouni Kenshin and Full Metal Alchemist posters from the wall, careful not to rip the flimsy paper they’re printed on, and rolls them up, securing them with a rubber band. He pads over to the bed where Mark is scrolling through his Twitter feed and kneels on one knee, his head cast down, arm extended like the posters are a sword and Mark is the king.

“An offering, my liege, your Highness,” Jaehyun intones. 

“Wait, holy shit, you’re really giving me your posters?” Mark says, scrambling to reach out for the roll. 

“Yes, good sir, it is yours now,” Jaehyun says in the worst English accent he can muster. 

“You’re so lame, dude, how are we friends?” Mark says, pulling the posters out of Jaehyun’s hand, just as Jaehyun pulls him in to lock Mark’s head under his arm and rub his fist in Mark’s hair while saying, “Take that back or else I take them back, loser,” and then Jaehyun is laughing, Mark is laughing, trying to push him off, and they dissolve into the dumbest attempt at wrestling  imaginable. 

 

-

On his third month in New York, Jaehyun meets Mingyu, a business major with arresting eyes and lips that feel like sin. Jaehyun is eighteen and has finally come to terms with the fact that he is, in fact, gay, and that being in a big city on his own, in place where everyone identifies in one way or another and hardly anyone bats an eyelash means that aside from focusing on the Literature Humanities homework he has, he’s also got a chance to make friends that understand, and now, a cute boy to maybe fall in love with. 

That is, until Mingyu comes over to his apartment three weeks after they first start making out and hanging out and telling Jaehyun that he likes Jaehyun, but that they’re probably not seeing eye-to-eye on what they want out of their set up. 

It leaves Jaehyun a little (read: a lot) crushed, but he waves it off, tells Mingyu that it’s all cool, he didn’t expect anything much, just liked hanging out, and so Mingyu suggests that maybe they can still do that, even if they’re not— well, making out anymore. 

Jaehyun tells Mark, who is now 16 and has eyes only for Mina, and Mark is indignant on his behalf, telling Jaehyun that he didn’t need to waste time on someone who didn’t see just how wonderful Jaehyun is.

Objectively, Jaehyun knows that Mark is just looking out for him, and doesn’t know jack shit about being in a relationship to be of any use, but it still makes him smile to know that not only did Mark just let the fact that Jaehyun was seeing a man slide without any fanfare, but also that he had Mark in his corner, even if Jaehyun was being stupid and crying on the steps of his tiny fire escape at 1 in the morning over a boy he barely knew. 

“Enough about me,” Jaehyun says, sniffing into the phone. “What’s going on with you over there? Balancing equations still giving you hell?” 

“Dude, I am so fucking over Silberberg okay, I have been hunched over reading this chem book for days now and I still feel like I’m beyond screwed for midterms. Why did I let you talk me into AP Chem again?”

Mark sounds hysterical over the line, and it feels so familiar that Jaehyun almost forgets that he’s dealing with what is technically his first heartbreak. 

“Cos you’re a nerd and you’re smart enough to get it done. Listen, I believe in you. You’re gonna do great,” Jaehyun says, pressing his phone closer to his ear as the wind picks up and muffles the sound on the line. “Kick that exam in the ass. I’ll be home for Thanksgiving.” 

“Yeah? Oh suh-sweet! See you man!” Mark says, decidedly less in despair than earlier. Makes the two of them, Jaehyun figures. 

They talk more about Mark’s project due before the Christmas break and Jaehyun helps him run through some ideas. He ends the call and looks out over the city, resting his elbows on his knees and hunching his back over himself. The wind has begun to get chillier, his breath starting to fog before him. He thinks about his home in Waukon, and how in a few short months he’s begun to change, like not only have his legs decided to keep growing, but his entire being has learned to stretch out, as well. 

Jaehyun is excited to go home, to revisit the streets, see if anything has changed. He’s excited to see his best friend again, even if they’ve talked every single day since he moved. 

A text comes in just as Jaehyun slides down the glass panel of his window in his tiny kitchen. 

Mark Lee (01:32 am)

go 2 sleep see u soon!!!!! And fuck that mingyu dud!!!

Dude*

Gnight

Jaehyun doesn’t bother responding, but he does go to sleep feeling slightly less like shit. It’s gonna be okay. There are other fish in the sea, Jaehyun reminds himself. 

 

-

In the blink of an eye, Jaehyun finishes his first year in Columbia and heads home for the summer, where he finds that the change in dynamics in their little friend group haven’t taken much adjustment. He spends most of his time hanging out in his room and heading out to spend time with Mark and Co. in the evenings until Jaehyun signs up for the gym and spends most of his time there. Mark jeers at him when Jaehyun tells him he’s laying off the burgers that summer and Jaehyun punches him in the arm for his trouble. 

One evening, just as summer closes out, when they’ve all gathered at Xiaojun’s backyard since his parents are out of town and Lucas really just wanted a reason to order a shitload of pizza, Jaehyun gets accosted by Mark and Mina who sit him by the pool and lean in to interrogate him about his “ex”. 

It’s a little unnerving, being on the receiving end of Mina’s stare, but Jaehyun figures he’d rather they were upfront about their questions. It’s 2019, sure, and they all know more now, but there isn’t exactly a huge LGBT population where they’re from, or if there is, then Jaehyun isn’t quite sure about it yet. 

“So,” Mina starts. “Like, why didn’t you tell any of us?” 

It comes off blunt, but Jaehyun knows for a fact that Mina is asking more because she’s hurt, thinking that he didn’t trust any of them when in reality, he’d only really come to terms with it when he left. He doesn’t blame her. 

“I-- I never said anything because I wasn’t sure yet,” Jaehyun says, a small smile on his face, his voice gentle. “I didn’t even tell Mark until I left.” 

Mark sits quietly, contemplative, nodding a bit. 

“I think I’ve always sort of known I was gay,” Jaehyun continues. “But when you’re a kid in Korea there isn’t much wiggle room, and then I moved here, and I just didn’t know who to tell. I didn’t know who to ask about it. Certainly not my parents-- they don’t know. They won’t know for a while.”

“Why not? Your mom’s nice!” Mina chimes in. Mark hasn’t said anything just yet. 

“She’s nice for the most part but-- I just. I’m--”

“You don’t have to say it if you’re not ready,” Mark says gently, resting his hand on Jaehyun’s wrist. Jaehyun wonders if he can feel the hummingbird-quick pulse there. “When you are, I’m sure your parents will understand. You’re their kid. They’ll love you no matter what.” 

Mark’s voice is firm if a little shaky like he’s trying to convince himself more than Jaehyun of this fact. It’s curious, but Jaehyun can’t dwell on it too much because Mina is chiming in, and asking, “When did you know? How does it feel? I’m sorry I have so many questions--” and Mina is a little embarrassed, he can tell. “I’m sorry I’m prying so much, I should--”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Jaehyun laughs, his hands up to placate her. “I get it, and I’m happy to answer them. It’s nice to get to talk about it with you guys.”

And it is, because this is the first time that Jaehyun is saying this out loud, too. Mark doesn’t even know these bits yet, because he hadn’t thought to ask. He just rolled with whatever Jaehyun gave him. Mina is curious because he’s the first in their friend group to come out to them, and he’d rather she ask him than have her make assumptions about what being gay meant. There’s a lot to unlearn, he thinks, but he’s happy to be the one to answer these things, to learn and have Mina and Mark and whoever else learn with him. 

“Well, I guess the first time I thought about liking boys was when I was still in Korea. His name was Jeonghan. I remember sitting under the shade while he ran across the field, kicking the football and then juggling it with one foot,” Jaehyun says, reliving the memory like he’s 13 again and seeing Jeonghan for the first time. “It was in slow-mo, I swear to God. His hair was so shiny under the sun, and I could hear him laughing from where I was seated.”

Mina’s misty-eyed, her chin resting in her hands, while Mark suppresses his smile. 

“How about anyone here? Did you crush on anyone here when you first moved?” 

Mark huffs. “If you did, I’d be really upset that you didn’t tell me,” he says, and he’s only joking but Jaehyun can tell that somewhere in there, he isn’t. 

Jaehyun thinks about Derek from pre-calc, Josh from history. Tries to see if his acknowledgment of their good-looks counted as a crush, and then he remembers Mingyu and the first time they met, how he’d been flustered and tripped on his own feet and landed on his ass on the corner of 47h and Amsterdam. 

“Nah,” Jaehyun replies. “No one cute enough for me in this tiny joint.”

Mark squawks, sitting up with his back straight and chest out. 

“I take offense!” Mark laughs, and Jaehyun tackles him to the ground. He’s not as scrawny as he was when Jaehyun first met him, definitely, not since Mark joined the school’s dance crew, but he’s still a light thing compared to Jaehyun and the bulk he’s started to put on since he started teaching himself how to do bodyweight exercises. 

“Don’t worry, Markles,” Mina says, her eyebrow arched while she studies her nails in the moonlight. “You’re cute enough for me.” 

Jaehyun and Mark pause in their wrestling, Mark blushing furiously and slowly extricating himself from Jaehyun’s grip. 

“Wh-what?” Mark stutters, and Jaehyun has to laugh before shoving him off. “What did you just say?”

“I’ve been waiting for you to fess up, Mark Lee, but you never did, so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” Mina says brightly. 

Jaehyun quickly sits up and brushes the grass off of his ass. 

“This is where I exit the convo, bros,” Jaehyun says. “Have a good time, lovebirds.”

Mark doesn’t even acknowledge his departure, and Jaehyun laughs to himself while he makes his way back to the rest of the party inside where Lucas, Renjun, Xiaojun, and Hendery are huddled on the couch while Saw 3 plays on the screen. 

He shoves himself in between Lucas and Renjun, who promptly turns in the plush couch and rests his feet on Jaehyun’s thighs. 

“Where are Mark and Mina?” Hendery asks absentmindedly, shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth.

“Hanging out by the pool,” Jaehyun says, eyes glued to the screen. 

“Cool,” Xiaojun says. “Fucking finally.” 

-

 

Jaehyun reaches out blindly for his phone when he hears it go off under his pillow, and he’s groggy when he sees the name on the screen before he shoots up in bed, his heart racing. 

“Mark? Mark? What’s wrong?” Jaehyun asks, reaching out to turn his bedside lamp on. 

“H-hey Jae,” Mark says, his voice small and sullen. 

“Mark, what’s wrong? Are you hurt? Where are you?” Jaehyun asks, frantic, wondering why Mark sounds so sad but doesn’t seem to be panicking. 

“No, fuck, I’m so sorry I woke you up,” Mark says hurriedly. “I’m safe, I’m in my room, I just really needed to talk to someone.”

Jaehyun takes several lungfuls of air and wills his heart to calm the fuck down. 

“Jesus, dude, you had me scared shitless,” Jaehyun says, voice low, running his hand through his hair, trying to keep his voice to a minimum so as not to wake Johnny, his roommate, who is fast asleep on the bed a few meters from his own. “What’s going on?”

“Uh,” Mark says, and then audibly swallows. “Well, Mina broke up with me.”

Jaehyun feels his heart sink and shatter on Mark’s behalf. It hadn’t even been a year yet. 

“What happened? I thought you guys were good already?” Jaehyun asks, and then swings his legs over his bed, his feet landing on the Ikea mat he and Johnny had bought earlier in the week. 

“I thought so too, but she talked to me earlier and like,” Mark hiccups. He sounds nasal like his nose is all clogged up. “She said that I should be sure about her, and I tried to tell her that I was but she just kept saying my heart wasn’t in it.” 

Jaehyun walks out into the tiny living room that his and Johnny’s dorm room has. There are only one small couch and a love seat that doesn’t even match since they’d gotten both at yard sales, but they’re lived-in and comfortable, and the floral upholstery on the one he sits on now is soft if a little faded. 

“What does she mean?” Jaehyun frowns, propping his socked feet up on the coffee table. Johnny hates when he does that, but Johnny is asleep, and it doesn’t matter. 

He can hear Mark shift positions, and sniffle a little. 

“She said that she thinks I’m not totally in this with her and that I might have to re-examine my feelings, but like, dude, I have no idea what she’s going on about because I have known my feelings for like, years, and they pretty much all point north to her, you know?” Mark says quickly. 

Jaehyun frowns, unhappy with the turn of events. 

“What did she say exactly?” 

“Something about how she feels like I only have half of my heart with her,” Mark says. His voice is small. His first reaction is to want to lash out at Mina because this makes no sense. It feels abrupt, and Jaehyun knows that explanations like these mean that Mina’s been thinking about it for a while— she just decided not to clue Mark in on it. “And there’s the college thing.” 

Mark sniffles on the line. 

“I don’t know what your relationship is like apart from what I saw and what you’ve told me. The only time she’s talked to me about you was when you guys had that huge fight over your college thing,” Jaehyun says. “And that was months ago.” 

“I guess— I don’t know. I want to get out of here, you know? Waukon isn’t a forever place for me, even if she’s the forever girl for me,” Mark says. “I thought that she’d change her mind eventually. Guess it’s just everything piling up.” 

“Maybe,” Jaehyun acquiesces. He leans his head on the back of the couch, and sighs. “Maybe that’s the biggest thing. Maybe Mina’s right— your heart’s with her but it’s not enough for you to want to stay there.” 

Mark makes a small broken noise. 

“I’m so selfish,” Mark says softly, and it makes Jaehyun’s heart break because Mark is anything but. 

“You’re not selfish for wanting to get out,” Jaehyun says, closing his eyes. “But if Mina’s not enough for you to want to change that, then maybe she isn't your forever girl, Mark.”

Jaehyun doesn’t want to kick Mark while he’s down, but it would be a disservice to him if Jaehyun started sugarcoating things now. 

“When did you get so wise and insightful?” Mark asks, his laugh a little wet and congested. 

“I’m a big city boy now, remember?” Jaehyun replies, still keeping his voice hushed. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Mark says. He breaks off for a bit and then says, “Thanks, Jae. I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“You know I’d take any call from you in a heartbeat,” Jaehyun replies, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. 

“I know,” Mark says, and sighs again. “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do, I guess. Good night, man. Thank you. For all of this.”

“Anytime,” Jaehyun says, his voice soft, his heart heavy. “Night, Markie.” 

 

-

Jaehyun nervously checks his phone to see if any message has come in. He hasn’t been able to reach Mark yet but the screen overhead tells him that Mark’s plane had already landed. A gust of warm wind blows through the car park, messing Jaehyun’s hair up and making him huff out in annoyance.

His phone chimes, a text from Mark coming in, finally, to tell him he’s on his way out, and that baggage claim took a while. This makes Jaehyun look up in time to see his best friend walk out through glass doors that slide open, with two big red suitcases that look filled to the brim, a small box with Mark’s address written on every side of it, a black Jansport backpack perched precariously on top of it, and Mark’s guitar in its case, strapped to his back.

Jaehyun’s chest fills up with inexplicable joy. 

“Hey, asshole!” Jaehyun calls out, waving his hand over his head and walking over to help Mark with his luggage. 

“Oh my god!” Mark yells, and launches himself at Jaehyun, jumping up and making Jaehyun catch him in his arms. “I’m here to ruin your life!” 

Mark slides off and pulls away, and then bumps his shoulder against Jaehyun’s, his massive smile fixed on his face while Jaehyun takes over and pushes the cart over to where it’s clear of other people filing out of the exit doors and cars passing by. 

Jaehyun pulls up his Uber app and manages to book one quickly. 

They lose track of time in the back seat of the Juke that takes them to Stuyvesant Street. 

It’s been a while since they last saw each other, and since Jaehyun had stayed in New York all summer to work on his thesis, it’s safe to say that they’ve missed each other. When Mark had called him to tell him he’d gotten accepted in NYU for the Applied Psych program, Jaehyun had all but run over to Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development to get all the details they’d need to prepare Mark for the move, to look for possible housing, job options for him. 

He had been brimming with excitement at the prospect of having Mark in the same city, and it was all they could talk about when Jaehyun could steal time away from long hours doing research and walking around the city trying to get inspiration for his film. 

By the time they haul ass and manage to pull all of Mark’s shit up the four flights of stairs to the tiny studio apartment Jaehyun had found for him three blocks from campus, Mark’s mom and Jaehyun’s mom have both Facetimed them to ask how the move is going, if Mark is okay, if they’ve both eaten. Jaehyun uses his PR voice, the one he uses to placate irate people at the cafe he works at and the voice he uses on moms to reassure them that he and Mark are safe and will be eating immediately after they’ve set Mark up. 

The apartment is fucking small, like, almost a closet in its size, with enough space for a single desk and a chair, with barely a window sill. There’s cabinet built into the wall which both of them are grateful for, and the bathroom, while a tight fit, has a heater and working toilet with a bidet. 

Jaehyun’s playing some K-R&B from his phone while they unpack Mark’s things and fold them into the cabinet when Mark flops down on the bed halfway through and looks up at Jaehyun with shining eyes. 

“What’s up, dude?” Jaehyun asks over his shoulder, trying to get the stacks of t-shirts to not topple over in the cabinet. 

“I just-- I can’t believe it,” Mark says, looking around at the bare walls of his shabby but liveable apartment. “I’m here.”

Jaehyun pauses in his folding to take the three steps to get to Mark and sits down next to him. The sunlight filtering in through the window shows the dust dancing in the sunrays. There’s chatter in the hallway outside. 

“You’re here,” Jaehyun says. 

Mark rests his forehead on Jaehyun’s shoulder, a habit Jaehyun had thought Mark had grown out of, given that he’d stopped doing it when he turned sixteen. It’s been two years since then. Sometimes it floors him, just how strangely time passes, how there are days that stretch on for weeks like watching molasses drip from a leak; how there are months that just flash by him like the people rushing past him on busy crosswalks. 

 

-

 

Jaehyun draws up a list of things that he and Mark can do in the city in the remaining week and a half that he has before his semester at NYU begins.

He doesn’t expect Mark to hit it off so well with Johnny, but he’s glad for it, because Johnny has been easily one of the best things about living in this city. Johnny may be two years older than him but he is in the same year as Jaehyun is, having had to work for a while in order to save up for college. They work part-time at the same cafe, taking different shifts so they barely get to spend time together unless it’s their day off. 

They’re sat in Jaehyun and Johnny’s apartment when Johnny’s boyfriend Yuta comes over like a hurricane, having been excited to meet Mark since Jaehyun had mentioned he was moving into the city. 

Johnny and Yuta take turns fawning over Mark, who is overwhelmed by the attention, but relishes in it regardless because Johnny and Yuta keep throwing suggestions in like “How about art? Do you wanna see the Guggenheim? Oh my god, BROADWAY YOU GOTTA GO SEE SOMETHING. Except I don’t think we can score you Hamilton tickets right about now, but we’ll keep our eyes peeled on Stubhub.” 

Jaehyun leans back against the kitchen counter, taking a sip from his La Croix, and smiles to himself while Johnny and Yuta hammer on about The Phantom of the Opera. 

They end up deciding to go to the Guggenheim that day, Johnny and Yuta hand in hand while Mark and Jaehyun trail behind with their headphones on, the audio explaining each painting and sculpture in Korean. At one point, Mark leans in too close to Giacomo Bella and a man in a uniform and white gloves advises him to step back. 

Jaehyun snickers behind his hand, and Mark’s flushed all the way to his ears, and Jaehyun thinks, “He’s cute.”

It catches Jaehyun off-guard. 

Huh. Funny, that. 

 

-

 

Mark comes out to Jaehyun on the steps of the amphitheater of the 10th Avenue Square and Overlook. 

Johnny and Yuta had gone their separate way to catch a dinner reservation and Jaehyun had suggested they grab a bite to eat at Chelsea Market, where Mark had gorged on cheese shell tacos and horchata from Los Tacos No. 1. Jaehyun had offered to buy him a lobster roll but Mark had balked at the price, saying that there would be time for them to save up for one without selling a kidney for it. 

Now they’re sat at the massive window of the High Line on 17th street, the sun having set long ago. They’d been quiet, exhausted from the walking they’d gotten in that day. Mark had spent the entire time with his eyes raised above him, looking around at the massive buildings and trying to soak it all up. 

Jaehyun isn’t expecting it at all. 

Mark, for the most part, does it without any ceremony, either. 

“Jae,” Mark says, before slipping into Korean. “I’m bisexual.” 

Jaehyun chokes on his coffee, some of it dribbling out of his mouth as he pulls the straw away and tries to not hack up a lung. 

“Wait-- excuse me-- what?”

“Yeah, I’m-- yeah, I’m bi?” Mark says, pulling his jacket around him. “I’ve been thinking about it since you came out a while back. I didn’t think it was like, you know, within the realm of me like, as a person, you know? But I guess that’s where I’m at.”

Jaehyun, to his credit, recovers fairly quickly. He just can’t seem to understand why his heart is racing all of a sudden. 

“Welcome to the world of the gays,” Jaehyun says out loud, gesturing to the expanse of the amphitheater in front of them as if the people gathered there minding their own business were part of the LGBT community. No one pays them any attention.

Mark punches him in the arm, but he seems light, lighter than Jaehyun’s seen him all day, and he wonders how long Mark’s been carrying this around. 

“Have you told anyone else?” Jaehyun asks.

“Why would I tell anyone else before telling you?” Mark replies, taking a sip from his fruit juice, metal straw clacking against his teeth. 

 

-

Thanksgiving is a noisy affair in Jaehyun and Johnny’s new apartment, which is bigger, a two-bedroom under Johnny’s name. Jaehyun can’t believe his luck that they’ve managed to find a place this big for a decent price, in the Upper West Side no less. The full ride takes a massive weight off of Jaehyun’s shoulders, so paying the rent is, while not easy, much more manageable than expected. 

They gather some friends, Irene and Seulgi coming over early in the afternoon to help with the cleanup and rearrangement of the second-hand Ikea furniture they’d found being sold online by a friend of a friend of a friend who had wanted to get rid of their old furniture for more sophisticated pieces. They manage to set up a table in the middle of the small living room, and Mark brings over the Christmas table cloth that his mother had sent over and insisted they use for the event. 

Johnny is hard at work in the kitchen, dressed in shorts, his Columbia t-shirt and a ‘Kiss The Cook’ apron that Yuta had gotten him a year prior for some monthsary or something. He’s got his hands full of stuffing, and Yuta is seated at the window sill manning the music, insisting that he’s pretty useless in the kitchen and that he’s just there to be pretty, which of course doesn’t fly for anyone and Johnny relegates him to washing the colorful carrots they’d gotten at Trader Joe’s. 

Jaehyun is on pasta duty, and he’s working on the sauce when the doorbell rings and Seulgi shouts that she’s going to get it before there’s squealing and Jaehyun knows that Mark has walked into their place. 

It seems like Mark changes a little bit every time they see each other lately, and it’s jarring for Jaehyun to see, because as the days pass, the more he starts to realize that he’s attracted to Mark in a way that crosses the border of platonic friendship and it terrifies him. It really leaves him mortified with himself, because this is his childhood best friend, someone he should see as a brother, right? So why is it that more and more lately, Jaehyun finds himself letting his eyes linger on Mark’s cheekbones that steadily become more prominent now that the last vestiges of his baby fat has begun to leave him. 

Jaehyun calls out from the kitchen to indicate where he is, hunched over the stove stirring more butter into the cream sauce, and he sees Mark’s socked feet before he looks up to see black ripped jeans and a white button-down and a green bomber jacket and Mark’s goofy smile.

Jaehyun hit his head on the exhaust hood over the stove and pulls back, the pain lancing through his scalp and down his neck. 

“Dude, you’d think you’d be less clumsy now, the hell?” Mark laughs and walks over to the fridge where he knows there are two ice packs and pulls one out to press it to Jaehyun’s head. 

“Sorry, mom,” Jaehyun says, rolling his eyes and taking hold of the ice pack so Mark can let go of it. 

“Hey, Johnny, Yuta,” Mark says, stepping into Johnny’s outstretched arm to hug him. He brings two fingers up and says, “Yo!” in greeting. 

“Whaddaya want me to do here? I am a culinary master,” Mark says, and Jaehyun has to laugh because while Mark is not terrible per se, he’s not exactly what he’d call a ‘culinary master’.

“You’re on gravy duty,” Johnny says. He’s the captain of the ship in the kitchen and Jaehyun had told him that Mark’s mom’s gravy recipe was to-die-for, so now Mark was expected to replicate that.

“Okay chief, gotcha,” Mark says, saluting to Johnny. “But I figured I’d be making that later when the turkey’s ready? Anything I can do right now?” 

“How good are you will a vegetable peeler?” Johnny asks, eyes narrowed. 

“Decent, probably an 8 out of 10 at it,” Mark replies. Yuta snorts from the sink. 

“You’re peeling these then,” Yuta says, throwing an apple towards Mark and Mark scrambling to catch it. “I don’t trust vegetable peelers.”

“How can you not--” 

“Don’t ask,” both Jaehyun and Johnny intone like it’s a long-standing issue that has never seen a resolution. 

Mark shrugs and takes a seat at their tiny dining room across Johnny who has his entire hand inside a turkey. 

 

-

There are of them gathered around the table in their living room: Johnny and Jaehyun take either end of the rectangle, with Yuta to Johnny’s right, and Mark to Jaehyun’s right. In between them, Irene and Seulgi, their lesbian neighbors; Sicheng, Yuta’s best friend, and Kun, Sicheng’s best friend-turned-boyfriend-turned-ex-turned-best friend. 

It occurs to Jaehyun, just as people start piling food onto their plates, that at the table, only he and Mark have never been romantically involved, and that makes a soft blush rise to his cheeks when he remembers that in a span of just a couple of months, he’s come to the realization that he’s got a crush on Mark Lee. He pushes the thought to the back of his mind, but it becomes a bit difficult when the candles and low yellow light that Johnny had insisted on for the evening casts this soft of heavenly anime-type of glow over Mark’s features and Jaehyun ends up spearing through his poultry with much more force than required so gravy ends up splattering across his front.

Mark, of course, is quick to reach out with his spoon, a trick he’d learned from YouTube, and scoops up the gravy so it doesn’t spread as much, and then dabs his napkin into his water goblet and brings it to Jaehyun’s maroon button-down, cleaning the remainder of the gravy off in nearly five seconds flat. Jaehyun manages to stutter out a thanks before Mark lays his napkin over his lap and throws himself back into conversation with Irene who is talking about the songs she’s been working on, Mark throwing his two cents in with his ideas for lyrics.

Jaehyun closes his eyes and counts to ten. 

More than how he relates to Mark, what really, really gets Jaehyun is how Mark relates to his friends here. That’s the kicker. 

Mark integrates himself into the little family that he’s found in New York City like it’s easy, like it’s nothing. He laughs too loud and is endearing, basically has no filter when he’s talking to people, and yet somehow, somehow he manages to ingratiate himself to everyone he meets. 

It’s frustrating for Jaehyun to acknowledge this given that he’s known this about Mark this entire time, has been on the receiving end of Mark’s kindness and courage more times than he can count, but the small part inside of him that whispers that he might actually stand a chance with Mark is the part that Jaehyun has to keep locked away for a good long while, because he isn’t about to ruin five years of friendship to confess that he’s got a crush. 

Mark pulls his chair back and starts doing the robot dance which has Seulgi and Sicheng crying from laughter in their seats, and Jaehyun has absolutely no fucking idea what the hell is going on but Mark looks so ridiculous, giving his all for this dance that doesn’t have any context, and Jaehyun only just manages to catch Johnny’s eye when he looks away-- Johnny, who looks at him with a slow smile on his face like he knows something and he’s cornered Jaehyun and Jaehyun is trapped. 

Johnny raises his eyebrow and slides his eyes over to Mark, who has taken a seat and is currently high-fiving Kun for some reason. Jaehyun raises his own eyebrow and shakes his head. Johnny frowns, and nudges Yuta, who looks up from the carrots he’d worked on earlier, looks at his boyfriend, then at Jaehyun, then at Mark, then smiles back at Jaehyun.

There’s an entire conversation that these two think they’re having with him, but he’s brought back to reality when Mark pulls on his wrist and says, “Hey, hey, you gotta sing this with me, dude!” 

‘This’, it turns out, is their rendition of ‘Breaking Free’ from High School Musical, which they had had to learn as a duet when they both decided to join the glee club when Jaehyun was in senior year and Mark had begged him for a week, relentless, until he finally caved and they went for it. 

Mark is egging him on, going through the first verse until Jaehyun is begrudgingly singing along, and then the entire table is singing along, save for Kun and Sicheng who watch in amusement, with Kun uploading the entire performance on his IG story. 

Jaehyun realizes that he’s been so in his head that he has no idea why Mark’s been taking on performances like he’s getting coin for it, but then Sicheng loops Jaehyun into a conversation about Jaehyun’s film and he’s helpless in the face of their inquisition, Kun leaning in to discuss what lenses he’s been using to shoot, since Kun like to vlog as well. 

The conversation winds down when Johnny clears his throat and raises his glass of wine. 

“So, it’s Thanksgiving,” he says as if it’s not obvious that they’re gathered here for that exact reason. “And at Thanksgiving, we give thanks!” 

“Thank you for the insight, darling,” Yuta laughs, and Johnny nudges him under the table, a small smile on his face. 

“Anyway, I thought it would be nice for us to kind of take this moment to sort of recollect, go over the year, and say a few things we’re thankful for, what do you guys think?” Johnny says, and he’s so eager and so sincere than no one can clown him for his request. There’s a round of agreement, and Johnny says, “Okay, I’ll start!”

“I am thankful for friends, and for family, and friends that have become family,” Johnny says, smiling warmly at everyone. “I am thankful for the love of my life,” he says, nodding towards Yuta. “And my best friend and roommate, Jaehyun, without whom the entire college experience would be incomplete.”

Jaehyun flushes, and he can’t help the warmth that floods him. Mark is his best friend, but steadily over the years, Johnny had become one, too. Easy to talk to, reliable, trustworthy. Jaehyun nods in Johnny’s direction, raising his own glass of red wine, and taking a sip. 

Yuta goes next, taking Johnny’s hand in his. 

“I am thankful for having gotten through our respective hell semesters,” Yuta starts, to which everyone at the table, except Seulgi and Irene, whoops to. The two girls laugh, glad to be done with that life now that they’ve both got decent nine-to-five jobs, with Irene’s singing and songwriting on the side and Seulgi’s weekends at the dance studio. “And I’m thankful that Johnny and I got to come out to our families this year.”

There’s a round of applause at this, and the adoration with which Yuta looks at Johnny with punches Jaehyun in the gut, knowing full well that it’s the same look he gives Mark whenever he does anything anymore now.

When it’s Jaehyun’s turn, the words come out stilted at first, his mouth dry. There’s so much that he has to be thankful for. The year has been good to him, but what, or rather, who he’s most thankful for is seated right next to him, so he says as much.

“It was big year,” Jaehyun says. “A lot happened in the 365 days since I last said out loud what I’m most thankful for. I’m thankful that Johnny and I got to move into this sweet place, and that we’re getting somewhere with our theses, but I guess I gotta say that this year I’m most thankful for the fact that my best friend is in the city with me. So yeah. I’m thankful for Mark.” 

Jaehyun watches the matching knowing smiles that Yuta and Johnny have, but pays them no mind because Mark is leaning into him, his arm around Jaehyun’s bicep, his forehead to Jaehyun’s shoulder again. 

“Dude! You’re gonna make me emo!” Mark says, laughing, hiding his face. The tips of his ears are red again, more so in the glowing yellow light. 

It’s Mark’s turn to speak, and he beams up at everyone at the table, and his joy is palpable, the warmth from the heater in the corner of the room no match for the warmth that Mark emanates. 

“I’d spent a long time wanting to get out of Waukon,” Mark says. Jaehyun nods, not daring to take his eyes off of Mark for a second. “When I decided I wanted to get into NYU, I needed to work for it. I thought 18 and an acceptance letter would be my ticket out of there, but that timeline didn’t exactly work out for me, so here I am, a year later, and I finally did it.” 

Mark nudges his ginger ale with the side of his hand.

“I’m thankful for the people I’m with right now. I thought helping me adjust to New York would be a challenge for Jae over here but you guys have been so great at making me feel welcome, and I feel like you guys really pulled hands to help Jaehyun help me. So I’m grateful that I got here, grateful for Jaehyun, and for all of you.” 

Seulgi, already so endeared by Mark, to begin with, coos and reaches both arms out to smother him, and Mark is drowning in her weepy embrace. 

“You’re such a good kid,” Seulgi says, wiping tears from her eyes, sniffling, and Irene hands her a tissue to dab her eyes with.

Jaehyun bumps his fist to Mark’s, and they both take a sip from their respective drinks. 

There’s a lot to be thankful for, so much so that it can’t be condensed in a few sentences, but Jaehyun figures, this is enough for now. 

 

-

 

The first time Mark goes on a date with a guy that he matches with on Tinder, Jaehyun is glued to his phone, pacing in the living room while Johnny watches him from the couch. 

“Dude,” Johnny says. “When are you going to tell him?”

Jaehyun whips his head up to face his roommate. He’s tired. They’ve had this conversation several times, once even resulting in Jaehyun slamming the door to his own room in frustration, and Johnny knocking gently on his door, saying, “This is going to eat you alive. I’m just worried about you,” before walking away from the door and leaving Jaehyun alone for the rest of the day. 

Jaehyun had been so pissed, angry that Johnny was putting words in his mouth, even if they were words that he himself had thought. He wasn’t going to tell Mark. It was just a crush, nothing more, and he would get over it. His anger had deflated when he’d finally taken a step out of his room from sulking, and Johnny had been sat by their open window in the kitchen, facing out, a mug of hot chocolate in his hands. There had been another mug on the table in Jaehyun’s Hamilton mug, and a note that had been scribbled in a mix of Korean (“I’m sorry. ☹️) and English (“I’m an asshole.”)

Jaehyun hadn’t said anything, but he’d sat down, looked at the mug of hot chocolate that had gone cold. 

Only after he’d reheated it did he ask, “How long have you been sitting there?”

“An hour,” Johnny had said, taking a sip from his Mean Girls mug. “Check the ref.” 

When Jaehyun had pulled the door open, there was a plate of vegetables and chicken sauteed in teriyaki sauce, with the same Post-It on the side of the plate. 

I’m sorry I was a dick. (but you should really tell him.)

It was such a Johnny apology that Jaehyun had had no choice but to forgive him. 

“What if I hadn’t come out?”

“I was gonna head to sleep in five minutes,” Johnny had replied. 

Right now, though, Jaehyun is tired, but so is Johnny.

“Jae,” Johnny says. “You’re jealous of someone you’ve never met. You don’t even know the guy’s name--”

“I do, it’s some guy named Daniel,” Jaehyun interjects, staring at the last message Mark had sent him over an hour prior saying he was safe and at the restaurant with Daniel already. Jaehyun had only replied with a thumbs-up emoji, dead-set on trying for casual-cool when he was anything but. 

“Well you’re jealous of Daniel and for all we know he might be the one for Mark, so you gotta tell him before you miss your chance, buddy,” Johnny says like he’s a 45-year-old white father and not a 23-year-old Korean man. 

“Tell him what? Mark, I have a crush on you but if you don’t feel the same way that’s cool I hope we can still be friends???” Jaehyun says, mildly hysterical but also trying very, very hard to keep his cool. 

“I don’t think you’re dealing with just a crush here, Jae,” Johnny says seriously, his glasses slipping down his nose like he’s actually a fucking sage, old man. 

“It’s just a crush,” Jaehyun says. 

He doesn’t settle in bed until it’s half past 12, when Mark texts him that he’s home. 

Mark rambles on about how good a kisser Daniel is, and says that he’s excited for date number two. Jaehyun squashes down the hurt that he feels when Mark does not stop talking, sending text after text about how funny and charming and handsome and intelligent Daniel is, and it reminds him of how much Mark used to gush over Mina. Jaehyun tells him he’s happy Mark had a good night and tells him he’s off to sleep-- even when in truth, he’s wide awake, the crevices of his heart beating in a manner that he refuses to acknowledge. 

-

In the end, it’s Mingyu who seems to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak. 

By this, Jaehyun means that in the middle of Mingyu breaking his back, thrusting into him while he’s on all fours facing the headboard of Mingyu’s bed, he realizes that he has to tell Mark that he has a crush on him. It’s kind of a disservice to Mingyu since Mingyu is really giving it to him, but Jaehyun has already spilled his cum all over Mingyu’s pillow and his mind is starting to wander, thinking about how he knows Mark has messed around with guys already, but he’s never actually gone like, all the way. 

“Are you-- fuck,” Mingyu says, running his hand over the length of Jaehyun’s back while thrusting into him.  “Are you thinking about someone else right now?” 

“Uh--” 

“Oh my god,” Mingyu says, pulling out. 

“Hey!” Jaehyun says, turning over in bed. “You weren’t done!”

“Jae, baby, Jaeby,” Mingyu says. “I know we’re just casually fooling around but man, I’m not about to use you like that, and especially not if you’re not like, with me you know?” 

Jaehyun feels like shit, even if he knows that Mingyu means well and is less upset about the fact that he was thinking of someone else and more about the fact that it sort of crosses his lines of explicit consent on both their parts. 

“Talk to me,” Mingyu says, pulling the blanket over his slowly waning erection. Jaehyun reaches out and Mingyu smacks his hand away. 

“I am not getting a pity handjob from you, Jung,” Mingyu says, no actual heat to his words. “Who’s on your mind that’s got you so wrapped up you forgot about little old me?” 

Jaehyun snorts, and says, “Nothing little about you,” under his breath. 

“Good that you know this,” Mingyu says in return. “You used to be able to talk to me about anything. What’s going on?” 

Here’s the thing: Jaehyun doesn’t deserve Mingyu. He’s low-maintenance; they get to mess around when they’re both stressed out, he’s easy to talk to, and there’s literally never any fear of having the feelings talk. He’s a good friend, even if there are times where they go weeks without speaking to each other.

Jaehyun had tried getting into the dating scene, had tried his luck on coffeeshop meet-cutes and all the dating apps he could possibly apply for, and nada. No one. 

“So you know my best friend Mark?” 

“Yeah, Mark Lee! You’ve told me a lot about him-- wait, he’s the one on your mind?” Mingyu asks, turning over in bed to face him. 

Jaehyun sighs.

“Oh,” Mingyu says softly. “Oh man, you’re in love with him.”

“I am not in love with him,” Jaehyun bites back almost too quickly like he’d known it was coming. He’s had this conversation with Johnny. 

“Are you sure about that?” 

“I’m sure,” Jaehyun says, avoiding eye contact.

“Would be okay with a life where Mark isn’t yours? If he ended up with someone else?”

“What is this line of questioning, Kim Mingyu?” 

Jaehyun’s heart is going a mile a minute. He wants this to stop.

“Just answer the question, Jae,” Mingyu replies, reaching out to brush Jaehyun’s bangs out of his eyes. Jaehyun knows he can see how tired he is.

Jaehyun swallows.

“I’d have to be okay with it. He’s my best friend, his happiness matters more than anything, so yeah, I’d just have to deal with him being with someone else.”

There’s a pregnant pause that Mingyu lets build and build, and it stretches out like taffy between them, and Jaehyun wants to cry.

“What are you afraid of?” Mingyu asks seriously. 

Afraid. Is that what he is?

Afraid. Of rejection? Of losing the one true friend he has in his life, who knows him inside out? 

He dreads the pity, more than anything. He’d hate for Mark’s expression to fall, to crumple in on itself and his eyes would fill with pity, right before he says, “Oh, man, I’m sorry, I don’t feel that way for you. You’re like a brother to me, dude!” 

Mingyu brings Jaehyun closer to him, lets him use his bicep as a pillow while Mingyu peppers his forehead with kisses tenderly. 

“You’re never going to know how he feels unless you ask, baby,” Mingyu says softly.

Jaehyun knows. He closes his eyes. 

 

-

It’s probably the lighting. Or the weather. It’s cold, so, so cold, and winter isn’t even truly in full swing yet.

They’re sat in Mark’s apartment. The tiny Christmas tree on his windowsill has pine needles falling from it. Beside it, a small poinsettia that Mark has been tending to since mid-November. His diffuser is running and the apartment smells like peppermint.

Maybe it’s the fact that Mark is singing a Frank Ocean song under his breath.

Maybe it’s the fact that when Jaehyun jokes around and says, “Hey, teach me something on this,” nodding to Mark’s most prized possession, Mark’s face lights up, and immediately hands his guitar over, whereas no one else to Jaehyun’s knowledge has ever been allowed to, not since Mark had gotten is as a birthday present from his parents on his 14th birthday. 

Maybe it’s how patient Mark is being with him, guiding him through the motions of where exactly to put his fingers to make a C chord, then a D one.

Maybe it’s all of that, but the evening is quiet save for the two of them, intimate in a way Jaehyun isn’t used to, even if they’ve spent time together countless times. 

So the emotion creeps up on him, but it’s like Jaehyun knew it was coming, the way you can sense someone’s eyes on your because the hair on the back of your neck stands up. 

Slow, like his mother’s vines in the front of their house. 

Mark is in the middle of explaining the F chord when Jaehyun says, “I’m in love with you.”

Jaehyun blurts it out, no preamble, no introduction, just direct to the point, no fucking plan whatsoever. 

Mark’s face looks small, so startled, his head nestled in his grey hoodie. 

“What?” Mark asks, unsure that he’s heard right the first time. 

“I argued with Johnny for weeks about this,” Jaehyun says softly. “Told him I wasn’t in love and that it was just a crush I would eventually get over, but it’s nearing the end of the year and I really don’t want to start the next one with a lie, so I’m telling you now that I’m in love with you.”

Mark stares at him and stares some more.

It’s strange to see him so still. Jaehyun is used to Mark’s flurry of movement, his nervous knee-shaking, his tendency to drum his fingers on his thighs to create a beat he can rap tp in his head. 

This Mark just stares, like a deer in headlights, and Jaehyun starts to feel his stomach sink to the floor. He braces for the pity. 

“Do you know how long I’ve waited to hear you say this?”

Jaehyun looks up, and Mark isn’t looking at him, but rather at his own hands, his face obscured by the hood. 

“What did you say?” Jaehyun asks again. This is-- this is not how he expected this to go.

Mark looks up at him, a cautious smile on his face. 

“I’ve always known that like, how we grew up, people saw us as brothers,” Mark says. “But I never saw us like that. I know we’re best friends but--”

Mark runs a hand over his face like he’s too embarrassed to say this straight. 

“You’re my soulmate, Jae,” Mark says. “I’ve always thought so.” 

It’s Jaehyun’s turn to be speechless, his mind buzzing with Mark’s words. He has to recalibrate everything he thinks he knows about Mark now that he’s said this, but Mark is pulling his guitar away from Jaehyun, and he has no idea what to say next, especially since Mark brings their foreheads together. 

Jaehyun’s heart is steady, beating a little faster than usual but his breathing is even. He thinks this should be monumental, like the earth changing the course of its orbit, but it isn’t. It’s just Mark and Jaehyun in a tiny closet-sized apartment and the Christmas air seeping in through the small crack in Mark’s window, and Jaehyun wants nothing more than to kiss his best friend, so he asks, and Mark nods, and then he’s pressing his lips to Mark’s and it’s everything. 

It feels like he’s coming home, it feels like the first time his plane had touched down in New York City. 

Mark’s lips are a little chapped, but soft, and when Jaehyun runs his tongue over Mark’s bottom lip, Mark lets out a sound that shoots straight through him before opening his mouth to let Jaehyun in. 

They pull away after a few moments, both of them softly panting, the air between them warm but not oppressive. They’re forehead to forehead once again, Jaehyun’s hand cupping Mark’s jaw, his thumb brushing over Mark’s cheek.

There is so much to unpack here, so much they have to ask each other, but Jaehyun knows that he’ll answer every question, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how mortifying it might be, because Mark, his best friend, thinks that they’re soulmates, and Jaehyun can’t help but agree. There is only promise and possibility, and the coming year. Together.

“Where do we go from here?” Mark asks, his whisper clear as day in the silence of the room. 

“Wherever this takes us,” Jaehyung says, and presses in for another kiss.