It’s a Monday night at midnight when Dejun gets the first phone call.
“Hey,” he says, gentle as always as he spins around in his chair. On this night it’s just him in the studio, alone with only the sound equipment and his own voice for company, since Johnny had to leave early to finish a paper.
“You’re on NCT Night Night, I’m Xiaojun. What’s up?”
“Hey, Xiaojun.” The voice is silky smooth, but Dejun can hear the edge of nervousness, the slight hesitation in the guy’s voice as he speaks. “I’m just calling because… well, I’m scared.”
Dejun smiles to himself. After regularly hosting the radio show for nearly a year, it wasn’t uncommon to have people call in just to have someone to talk to, freaked out by the long shadows on the walls and that strange feeling of being watched that always seemed to accompany the witching hour.
“Yeah, night time can be kinda creepy. Human beings weren’t really designed for it. I seriously question my sanity when I have to walk home after the show and it’s like, 3 am and there’s nobody around but me.”
The voice laughs, and it’s louder than Dejun had expected, the laughter coming out in short bursts. “I’m not really that scared of the dark.”
“Oh really?” Dejun raises an eyebrow to himself, and he can barely see his reflection in the sound booth window, headphones on over his ears, his black hair very nearly falling into his eyes. He drums his fingers on the soundboard absentmindedly. “Then why are you calling me, a perfect stranger, so late? What else is there to be afraid of at this hour?”
“I’m gay, but nobody knows.”
Dejun freezes, eyes widening, and the stranger speaks on, stumbling over his words after the initial assuredness. “I mean, it’s stupid, right? It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I know a lot of people around campus and they don’t know the truth about me. It wouldn’t even bother me but gosh, one of my friends is friends with the most adorable boy ever and I would seriously love to ask him out but I'm way too much of a coward to ever do that and—hell, everyone thinks I’m straight!”
The caller cuts himself off and breathes in deeply. When he exhales it’s a shudder, and Dejun does his best to collect himself before he answers, voice soft in the silence.
“Well, I’m very sorry that you’re scared. What is it about the boy that you like that made you change your mind about being out?”
“He’s just so…” The boy on the other side of the line sighs, wistful and lovesick, and Dejun can’t help the small smile that pulls up on the corner of his lips at the sound. “He’s so soft-spoken and kind, and he wears these sweaters and they’re just a little bit too large on him, you know? He's just adorable. I don’t even know what made me fall for him.” There’s a pause and suddenly the boy says, so quietly that Dejun very nearly misses it, “I guess it just kinda happened. Like fate.”
Dejun nearly doesn’t respond, his heart warming at the caller’s words. “It sounds like fate to me.”
“Maybe, but he doesn’t know I exist,” the caller sighs. “Or, well, he does, but he doesn’t see me like that at all.” Dejun frowns at the words, his heart clenching on the boy’s behalf.
“I’m sure he could if he knew!” Dejun encourages, twisting the cord from the headphones around his fingers. “Or at least then you would have a chance. You never know how someone feels until you ask, after all. And even if he doesn’t like you that way, he’s made you want to be more honest about who you are. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.”
There’s silence on the other side of the line and for one long, terrifying moment Dejun is sure he’s ruined everything, but suddenly the caller lets out a small chuckle. “You know, you’re something else Xiaojun. I never thought about it like that.”
“There’s always a silver lining, I think,” Dejun says, smiling. “I wish you all the luck with your mystery man, and even more with coming out.”
Dejun swears he can hear a smile in the caller’s voice when he answers, “Thank you, Xiaojun. Have a good night.”
The next day Dejun arrives early to class and slumps over his desk, laying his head in his arms. For some reason he hasn’t been able to get the caller from the previous night out of his head.
“What’s up with you? You look like you were run over by a bus, thrown into the pits of hell and then emerged, only to be hit with a second bus the very next moment.” Dejun pulls his head up from the desk to meet Yangyang’s judgmental stare.
“You have such a way with words, Yangyang,” he groans.
Yangyang beams as he sinks into the seat beside Dejun. “Thanks! Planning on telling me what’s up? The radio show doesn’t usually have you this dead.”
“Yeah, I’ve long since adjusted to having only like, four hours of sleep during the week. Thanks for reminding me,” Dejun pulls himself upright and Yangyang looks at him, shrugging for him to explain himself. Dejun rolls his eyes. “Last night I was DJing, and I got an interesting caller.”
“Oh?” Yangyang’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline, interest piqued. He leans forward onto his elbows, stretching across the aisle towards Dejun. “Bad interesting?”
“No, no,” Dejun backtracks, shrinking back from Yangyang’s overly inquisitive eyes and holding his hands up in protest. “Just interesting.”
Yangyang leans back, and Dejun lowers his hands. His mind is already going back over the words spoken by the boy, his voice deep and shaky as he said I’m gay, but nobody knows.
“I don’t know why,” Dejun confesses, tugging the sleeves of his sweater with his fingers, “But I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Yangyang frowns. “Dude, you get so many calls. Why are you stuck on this one? What did you guys even talk about?”
Dejun looks around, but the class is scattered, people leaning on each other’s desks or huddled over their phones. He figures it’s probably safe. He leans closer to Yangyang and says as quietly as possible, “He called in and said he was scared. I thought he meant the dark, so I tried to comfort him but then he laughed and said he was scared to come out. That he’s someone really popular and he doesn’t know how people would react, but he has this crush and he wants to at least have a chance.”
Yangyang’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, what? But how is the whole campus not all over this? Almost everyone listens to NCT Night Night, or at least has it playing as they fall asleep.”
“He didn’t say he was super popular in so many words,” Dejun says, the words rushing over one another. Yangyang leans closer and Dejun obliges, their heads practically put together. “He just said he had a lot of friends. But I’ve talked to enough people to know he’s probably just being humble. I’d be willing to bet he’s pretty popular — or at least, more popular than he made himself out to be.”
“So, you think that —” Yangyang is cut off as someone falls into the seat in front of him.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” Dejun and Yangyang startle backwards, and when Dejun looks up he kind of wants to die, because there’s Hendery, and he’s looking pretty damn confused. But even as Dejun can feel his face heating up in embarrassment, Yangyang takes it in stride, as he does everything in life.
“Yo, Hendery, what’s up dude?” Dejun watches on, baffled, as they do that weird bro handshake thing that everyone but him seems to inexplicably know. “Dejun and I were just chatting about his night last night.” Hendery’s eyes, previously on Yangyang, swivel to fix themselves on Dejun, and Dejun can feel himself shrinking under his gaze, cheeks turning red.
“Oh?” Hendery sounds amused, and Dejun feels himself blush harder. He can’t exactly explain to Hendery that he’s one of the anonymous DJs for NCT Night Night — their identities are supposed to be a secret so people can feel comfortable calling in and having a chat with a total stranger, no strings attached. But now Hendery thinks he’s had a wild night out on a Monday of all days, and for some reason, Dejun doesn’t want him to think that that’s something he would ever do.
You see, Hendery Wong is one of the most popular people Dejun knows. He hangs out with Yukhei and Sicheng, and wherever he goes he’s the life of the party. Dejun would literally never speak to him if not for Yangyang, but he seems nice enough. After all, everyone knows that Hendery is willing to be friends with anyone who isn’t a complete asshole, and to be honest, Dejun would feel bad for the few people Hendery refuses to hang with — they certainly haven’t made any decent friends since Hendery rejected them — if they weren’t some of the worst people Dejun has ever had the misfortune of encountering.
Long story short, Hendery is on a completely different rung of the social ladder than Dejun. His alter ego on NCT Night Night, Xiaojun, may be able to compete with Hendery, but certainly not plain old Xiao Dejun. So they’ve always just been casual acquaintances, friends of a friend via Yangyang.
But still, with Hendery’s eyes on him, Dejun really doesn’t want him to think he had a wild night out at the bar or something. In reality, Dejun’s idea of a wild night is buying some wine from the grocery store and stealing his roommate Jeno’s cats (and sometimes their owner if he isn’t busy having a social life) to watch Netflix romcoms on the couch like a wine mom in her thirties.
“I swear, it wasn’t that exciting of a night,” Dejun mumbles, pulling down on the sleeves of his sweater. Hendery just grins at him, his smile radiant.
“If you say so,” he says cheerfully, and turns to Yangyang. “So when’s the assignment for Calculus due?”
Dejun let out a breath he hadn’t even noticed he was holding. He’s safe for now.
A week later on one of the days that Dejun is on air as Xiaojun, he gets a second call. It’s a Wednesday night and Doyoung is on the other side of the glass, his own headphones on as he monitors the calls.
The song is about to end and Doyoung gives him a thumbs up, making Dejun run a hand through his hair and hastily pull his headphones on, just as the last notes of the song end. He takes a deep breath and smiles, opening his mouth to greet the new caller.
“You’re on NCT Night Night, I’m Xiaojun. How are you tonight?”
“Hey, Xiaojun!” The voice is familiar, and his suspicions are confirmed before he can place it. . “It may have been a week, but I’m back to gush about my mystery man.”
Before Xiaojun can stop himself, he lets out a laugh. Doyoung raises an eyebrow on the other side of the glass and, thinking about it, Dejun never told Doyoung about the mystery caller. Or Johnny and Jaehyun, for that matter. Or Ten or Taeyong. “Well, knock yourself out, Mystery Man, we’re all on the edge of our seats. Any developments?”
“No,” the guy sighs. “But you know when your crush does something adorable and your heart just kind of goes whoosh?” Dejun laughs again and nods, before realizing that the boy can’t see him.
“I’m aware of the feeling,” he says, still chuckling. The boy laughs back and launches into a monologue about his crush’s eyes.
“…and last week he got flustered over some conversation that he’d been having with our mutual friend and he turned all red,” the boy says, adoration shining through his tone. “It was so adorable, I seriously wanted to cry, but I had to just sit there like, ‘remember that you’re straight’. It was genuinely painful.” He rambles on, and Dejun feels his heart compress in his chest, a wave of sympathy washing over him at the caller’s words.
“Mystery Man, you’re breaking my heart.”
“Yeah, you and me both,” he sighs over the line. “I just can’t seem to bring myself to actually come out and see if I have a chance.”
Doyoung’s eyes are wide and he looks fully invested now, a small smirk on his face as he scans Dejun up and down. He shoots Dejun a meaningful look and to Dejun’s horror he realizes he’s been sitting with one leg over the other and twirling the headphone cord with one hand, like a girl on the phone with her love interest in some kind of ‘80s sitcom. He unfolds his legs and drops his arms to glare at Doyoung, whose smirk only grows wider.
Dejun glares harder for a moment, and if looks could kill, Doyoung would be six feet under. He rolls his eyes, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Doyoung before refocusing on the call.
“Well, maybe you don’t have to come out all at once,” he suggests. “You could start small, with just one person that you really trust, maybe that mutual friend you talked about.” Dejun spins around in his chair and smiles to himself. “Besides, you don’t have to have some big official coming out event. You could just not deny attraction to guys, or mention that some guy is cute or hot or whatever. It’s not like straight people ever come out, they just start talking about people they find attractive and people accept it. Why should it have to be any different just because you’re gay?”
Dejun spins back around and he sees Doyoung nodding, a small smile gracing his features as his eyes shine with approval.
Later that night as they pack up and get ready to leave, Doyoung quirks an eyebrow up at him.
“Mystery Man, huh? Intriguing caller you’ve got there.”
“Yeah, I feel pretty bad for him. I’m kind of invested now, you know? I hope everything works out for him.” Dejun sighs as he continues to loop the wires around his wrist, making sure all the switches were off and that the speakers were in the proper place.
“Hmm, yeah.” Doyoung comes alongside him to help, taking some of the cords from his hands and starting to untangle them. “You gave him good advice, you know.”
Dejun resists the urge to preen at the compliment. Coming from Doyoung, compliments are few and far between.
“Thanks.” Dejun sits back in the chair. “I’m surprised, I didn’t think I’d hear from him again. It’s been a whole week since he called the show.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s also been a whole week since you hosted,” Doyoung said. “He might have been waiting for you.” Dejun can’t help but snort.
A week later, Dejun stands outside the library with his backpack over his shoulder. The library is monolithic, white columns towering up into the clear sky, and the first time he had seen it, it’s sheer enormity had turned his knees to jelly.
Now, he walks up the steps absentmindedly, thumb playing with the strap of his backpack. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon, students sprawled out across the green in small groups, couples smiling and walking hand in hand, and a few guys tossing around a football. Their voices carry across the wind, snippets of laughter heard even all the way across the quad.
Dejun pulls open the door to the library and when he closes it, the sounds of campus life are drowned out by quiet.
He passes rows and rows of uniform aisles of bookshelves and desks, all in order. The sound of hushed voices and cleared throats are accompanied by the rustle of pages turning as Dejun makes his way up the stairs to the second floor of the library to meet Hendery and Yangyang.
Yangyang must be late, because when he arrives at their usual table, he only sees Hendery, bent over a large book, hair falling into his eyes.
“Hey,” Dejun says softly, sliding into the chair across from him and pulling his backpack off his shoulders. “How’s it going?”
Hendery startles and looks up, eyes wide. A smile spreads across his face at the sight of Dejun, and he straightens to lean back in his chair, whispering, “Hey Dejun! It’s going okay, how about you?”
“Oh, just fine. No sign of Yangyang?”
Hendery rolls his eyes. “No. I don’t think he’s going to show, either. I told him something in confidence, and now he’s using it against me.”
Dejun frowns. “That’s not very nice,” he says, concerned, pulling his notes out of his backpack. He looks up at Hendery. “I hope he’s not being too hard on you.”
Hendery blushes, avoiding Dejun’s gaze and fiddling with his pencil instead. “Oh. Well, I don’t know.” Dejun shakes his head and breathes out sharply through his nose, the corner of his lips tilting upwards.
“I’m sure you’ll survive. Yangyang’s not that evil.” Dejun smiles reassuringly and Hendery lets out an inhuman squeak.
“Are you sure about that?” he mutters under his breath, cheeks going from pink to red. He clears his throat and leans forward again, refocusing on the book in front of him. Dejun opens his own notes and they lapse into comfortable silence, the only sound coming from Dejun’s pencil scratching against paper and Hendery’s intermittent page turns.
In the silence, Dejun’s mind starts to wander from his notes. It’s kind of weird that Yangyang didn’t show, considering just how adamant he had been on Wednesday about having a study date with the three of them.
He’d pulled out all the stops, from constant whining to never-ending barrages of text messages and phone calls, even hanging off Dejun’s arm desperately until he agreed to come. All of that and for what? He didn’t even bother to show up himself.
It’s not like things are awkward without him, Hendery is perfectly nice and it’s just studying. But it’s not like he and Hendery are best buddies, either, so Dejun can’t help but feel a little bit out of his element.
Even though Hendery is nothing but nice, he’s intimidating. He’s loved widely and Dejun knows that if he were to ever cross Hendery Wong, he’d find himself a social outcast in a lot of different circles. Plus the guy is just gorgeous. He’s got the face of a Disney prince with the personality to match, and Dejun’s poor heart just doesn’t know quite what to do about it.
It’s not like he’s attracted to Hendery, that would be ridiculous. He’s just intimidated by and slightly jealous of his face.
He jerks out of his reverie at the sound Hendery’s voice, soft and smooth, whispering, “Hey, Dejun? I don’t get what the heck this is trying to say?” His finger is pointed at a sentence in the book, and Dejun scoots his chair around the edge of the table until he’s sharing the corner with Hendery in order to read.
He does his best to explain, voice stopping and starting as he pauses to think. Hendery nods along, eyes following Dejun’s finger as he tries to map out the sentence, and when he’s done explaining he never remembers to move back.
But even when their elbows knock into each other as he reaches for a pen and their knees are squashed against each other’s under the table, Hendery just smiles at him and never asks him to move. They stay like that, trading help back and forth, and Dejun gets more comfortable by the second.
Hendery lives up to his rumors. He’s kind and considerate, eyes sparkling as he offers to help Dejun understand something that he understands. He listens wonderfully when Dejun speaks, never calling him out on the slight shake in his voice or the way his palms are sweating as he turns the pages.
Silence falls between the pair and Dejun is pretending to annotate his short story for literature while admiring Hendery’s hair out of the corner of his eye (Is it natural? Surely it’s too black to be natural, he must have dyed it — ) when Dejun’s phone rings.
It’s piercing in the silence of the library, and every eye swivels to their table. Dejun panics and fumbles for his backpack, barely managing to extract the phone from the front pocket and press the accept button frantically.
He shrinks down in his chair, all the eyes still on them, and answers in a whisper, “Hello?”
“Hey Dejun, I can barely hear you!” Johnny’s voice is booming, and from the look of amusement of Hendery’s face, everyone can hear it too. Johnny increases in volume. “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? DEJUN?”
“Jesus christ, shut up, I’m in the library,” Dejun hisses, eyes darting around. Hendery is smiling a very forced nothing-to-see-here kind of smile at the neighboring tables and thankfully, people start to return to their own work. Dejun’s not about to tell Johnny that, though, he’d go back to practically screaming. After all, Johnny only has three settings: loud, louder, and loudest. “Everyone can hear you, so can you please tone it down a bit?”
“Oops, sorry,” Johnny says at a normal volume, not even trying to whisper. “Get down here, we’re gonna do a combined show.”
“Like, everyone hosting at once.” Dejun straightens in surprise.
“Johnny, that’s literally insane.” Hendery raises an eyebrow, but Dejun ignores it, focusing on Johnny. “I know you, Jaehyun, and Doyoung combine every so often but everyone? That’ll be madness.” Dejun pauses and grins to himself, already closing his notebook with his free hand. “I’m in. I’ll be there in thirty?”
“Perfect,” Johnny says, smug as ever. “Taeyong’s already here and Doyoung and Jaehyun are on their way with Ten. See you soon.” He hangs up and Dejun sweeps the phone into his backpack along with his notebook.
“Sorry, Hendery, but work called. My manager’s trying to do something wild, and he needs me. Raincheck?”
Hendery smiles widely and waves goodbye. “I’m holding you to that! See you around, Dejun.”
“Oh,” Dejun says, still somehow surprised at Hendery’s understanding. “I mean, yeah! See you soon!” He turns and leaves the library, the image of Hendery’s smile seared into his brain.
When Dejun arrives at the radio station, he’s greeted by barely organized chaos.
They don’t even have enough mics to go around, and there’s not really very much desk space with the six of them. So little space, in fact, that Ten is practically sitting on Taeyong’s lap.
Johnny has moved the entire soundboard inside the recording studio and put it on the desk, the wires trailing out and around the door. The thought occurs to Dejun that it’s probably a tripping hazard, but there are so many hazardous things about this situation that he decides it’s probably best to let that go and focus on some of the bigger issues, like the fact that Jaehyun is sitting on the ground, having run out of chairs and Doyoung being unwilling to share.
He’s ushered in amongst the chaos and they start the radio show standing, Johnny taking pity on Jaehyun as the executive producer and forcing everyone to stand since there aren’t enough seats. It’s chaos from the very start when all of them say the intro at once, voices overlapping and varying in speed, volume, and tone. Johnny’s easygoing timbre flows around Doyoung’s straightforward, clipped words as Jaehyun’s honey smooth voice flies right over Ten’s higher pitch and faster pace, and Taeyong’s drawn out gravelly words contrast with Dejun’s faster, mid-range tone. Despite the chaos, it’s fun to hear all of their voices together.
Things go wrong from the start, all of them so focused on talking that they forget to mute themselves during the first song, leading to the audience getting to hear small talk about Ten’s dance class and Doyoung’s progress on his thesis for two minutes straight.
Only a few minutes later when they’ve laughed off the first mistake, Johnny’s wearing the headphones as Taeyong speaks into one of the mics. Ten, leaning absentmindedly against the desk, accidentally raises the volume suddenly, making Johnny shriek and rip off the headphones as Doyoung hurriedly helps Ten to turn it down, panic on all of their faces.
Their first caller ends actually being the eighth caller, since Dejun trips over Jaehyun’s feet while leaning over to press the accept button and ends up falling forward and hitting one much further down on the list. During the calls, it’s hard to tell who will take the lead, since they all are natural radio show hosts, and they’re mostly used to doing it alone. They talk over each other, stop and start, and it’s probably not the most relaxing thing to listen to if you’re trying to fall asleep or just have some white noise while you study, but it’s the most fun Dejun’s had in a long while. Hanging out with all of his coworkers and seeing the different ways they all work is fascinating to him.
That having been said, there’s only so much chaos a person can take in a solid four hour chunk of time, and it’s on hour two that Dejun breaks and calls Kun, who comes rushing in like a concerned mother. In a single song break he manages to completely move the soundboard back to where it’s supposed to be in the adjacent room and sits at the desk, ready to run it for the remainder of the show, fond exasperation on his features.
Needless to say, the show goes far more smoothly after that.
Yangyang approaches him about helping out Na Jaemin with a project about a week before it actually happens. Because he’s smart, he springs it on Dejun in the early morning while they’re walking to their shared seven o’clock class, or as Dejun likes to call it, their self inflicted hour of sleep-deprived hell. As they’re walking, Yangyang starts gesturing wildly at Dejun to take out his earbuds, and because he’d feel like a terrible person if he didn’t, Dejun obliges.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Jaemin needs help with sound for his project, would you be down? Because I kinda said I’d get somebody, and you’re the only person I know who knows anything about sound equipment whatsoever,” Yangyang blurts, cheeks turning just a little red at Dejun’s judgmental stare.
Dejun raises an eyebrow, thinking. “What, Na Jaemin? Like, Jeno’s Jaemin?” The sun is bright this early, harsh against his tired eyes, and Dejun’s so tired he thinks he could lie down on the cold hard pavement and fall asleep right there and then.
Yangyang just rolls his eyes, impatient. “Yeah, of course Jeno’s Jaemin. Do I know any other Jaemin’s?”
“Man, I don’t know,” Dejun says. “Seems to me like you know everyone.” Yangyang rolls his eyes again, but this time he smiles and shoves Dejun’s shoulder playfully with his own.
“No, you’re just introverted,” he scoffs, frowning. His lips twitch as he says, jokingly stern, “Don’t distract me. Will you meet up with me and Jaemin and some other people next Saturday to help out with the sound? He’s shooting a short film for his class.”
“Forgot Jaemin was a film major,” Dejun says, still half-asleep. He shrugs and yawns, pulling his backpack up onto his shoulder more securely. “Yeah, why not?”
Dejun would have completely forgotten to come if not for Yangyang’s texts at eight in the morning on the day of the shoot, asking if he was still coming. Dejun replied that yes, he was, and soon enough he’s standing in the park with Jaemin, who is carrying a massive bag of camera equipment, assisted by Yangyang. Surprisingly, Donghyuck is there as well, and Dejun’s mind supplies that he’s an acting major, one of Renjun’s friends, so that’s probably how he and Jaemin met. Dejun’s not very acquainted with the boy, but he’s only heard good things from Yangyang, so he introduces himself with a smile.
“Hey, I’m Dejun. Jaemin rope you in, too?”
Donghyuck laughs. “Oh yeah, via Renjun. It’s all good though, I’ll get some credit for doing this too.” Dejun hums and opens his mouth to ask more when Jaemin interrupts, saying,
“Hey, Dejun, can you help me out?” Dejun grins.
“Yeah, what the hell do you think we’re all here to?” He teases, coming over to help Jaemin set the camera up and untangle some wires. Jaemin shoots him a grateful look as he screws the two pieces of the tripod together, and Dejun turns his attention to the sound equipment.
When he’s done, he straightens up and does a double take. Hendery is standing there, a cup of coffee in hand and a small smile on his features as he chats with Donghyuck and Yangyang. His hair falls across his forehead in an effortless wave, and Dejun can’t help but admire the way he makes a hoodie and a pair of jeans look like high fashion. Whenever Dejun wears a hoodie and jeans he feels like he looks lazy, but on Hendery it looks thought through, like he chose the outfit specifically to flatter his hair and skin tone. Dejun shakes it off. Curse people who look good no matter what they wear.
Hendery must have felt him staring, because he turns and meets Dejun’s eyes. His eyes light up in recognition and he waves. Dejun waves back, and Hendery seems to take that as an invitation, leaving Donghyuck and Yangyang to come chat with him.
“Hey Dejun!” Hendery’s smile is wide as he walks over, legs a mile long in his jeans. Dejun smiles back, strangely nervous, the palms of his hands growing sweaty.
“Hey Hendery,” he says.
“Hey Jaemin,” Hendery says, and Jaemin, who had his head buried in the camera bag, surfaces so he can beam at Hendery.
“Oh, you made it!”
Hendery rolls his eyes, smiling. He shifts his weight onto one leg and holds out the coffee for Jaemin to take. “Duh, I said I would. Now take your death drink.” Jaemin snorts and takes the coffee, immediately taking a huge gulp.
“Thanks,” he says, and turns back to the camera bag. Hendery winces and says aside to Dejun, “I’m convinced his coffee order came from hell. The guy puts five shots of espresso in an americano, he’s going to have a heart attack from all that caffeine one day.”
“I can hear you, you know,” Jaemin says sourly, eyes fixed on the camera screen, pointedly taking another sip of coffee. “I’m right here.”
Dejun laughs. “You brought it on yourself.” Jaemin pouts, but he doesn’t argue further.
“Anyway, what are you doing here?” Hendery asks, crossing his arms, an eyebrow quirking upwards, questioning. “Jaemin needed someone taking drama as an elective and he asked me, but I didn’t take you for the acting type.”
Dejun stifles a laugh at the thought. “Yeah, no. I’m just here doing sound, that’s all.”
“Nice! I honestly don’t know anything about cameras or sound equipment, there’s too many buttons,” Hendery confesses, grinning widely at Dejun. “You must be pretty smart to have it all figured out.”
Dejun flushes at the sudden compliment, caught off guard. “What? Oh, no. Just practice, I guess,” He laughs nervously, fiddling with some of the wires. Hendery’s smile softens.
“Still, it’s really cool.”
Dejun opens his mouth to respond, but he’s cut off by Jaemin, who must have found what he was looking for, calling them all to attention so that they can start the shoot. Dejun frowns, frustrated that he can’t respond to Hendery, and Hendery seems to pick up on it, nudging him gently.
“Hey,” Hendery whispers over Jaemin’s mini-speech. Dejun looks over at him, curious. Hendery grins. “We never got to finish our study date, so what do you say about grabbing some bubble tea this afternoon and picking up where we left off?”
Dejun’s mind spins for a moment, caught off guard again by Hendery and his kind words. He’s so caught up in the way his eyes catch the light that he very nearly forgets to respond. He snaps back to reality, Hendery’s eyes wide and questioning, maybe even a little apprehensive. Dejun shakes himself slightly, and blurts, “Oh yeah, sure thing! Sounds fun.”
Hendery smiles, and Dejun feels dizzy. He gives Hendery a wobbly smile back and tries to focus on Jaemin’s briefing.
The shoot passes by in a blur, and Dejun’s so out of it that at the end of the shoot, he still hasn’t got a clue what the hell the plot was supposed to be. Sorry to Jaemin’s creative vision, but Dejun’s mind is on other things.
At the end of the shoot, Yangyang falls onto Dejun’s shoulder. “Well, I’m exhausted. Wanna walk back together?”
Dejun squirms uncomfortably. “Well, actually —”
“We’re getting some bubble tea,” Hendery says, inserting himself smoothly into the conversation, placing a hand on Dejun’s arm. “You can come with, if you want.”
He and Yangyang have some kind of stare off, a sneaky grin growing across Yangyang’s face, mischief sparkling in his eyes.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly intrude,” he says, dramatically backing away, eyes wide. “I’m totally beat, I’m going home. You two have fun!” Just like that, he turns tail and rushes to catch up with Donghyuck and Jaemin, leaving them alone in the park. Hendery smiles fondly after him and then sighs, shaking his head, and turns to Dejun.
“Well, shall we go then?” Dejun nods shyly and they begin their trek across the park to the campus’s bubble tea shop. They fall into step beside one another and the journey is relatively silent. Dejun is beyond relieved that the silence isn’t awkward — rather, it’s companionable, and he appreciates that.
Hendery opens the door to the tea shop like the perfect gentleman he is, ushering Dejun inside ahead of himself. The tea place is cute, quaint. The light from the afternoon sun hits the burnished wood of the table tops in just the right places to make them glow, the golden rays slanting in through the screens on the windows and painting the cafe gold.
They approach the counter to order, and Dejun sneaks a look at Hendery. The late afternoon lighting is only doing him favors, black hair shimmering and skin glowing. Despite his best efforts, Hendery insists on paying for his drink, and by the time they sink into chairs across from one another, Dejun has realized a massive flaw in this plan.
“Oh, crap, we don’t have our books or anything, how the hell are we supposed to study?” Dejun asks, genuinely confused. Hendery laughs and takes a sip of his own tea. He swallows and smiles, shaking his head.
“Oh, that’s okay, Dejun,” he says, a twinkle in his eye. “I may not have thought that far ahead, but I’m cool with just hanging out if you are. Get to know each other better, you know?” He leans forward on his elbows and takes another sip of his tea. He meets Dejun’s eyes inquisitively, asking permission silently.
“Oh,” Dejun says, flustered. He draws his hands around the tea, cool to the touch. “Sure, I’m down. Let’s do it, then.”
Hendery grins. “Cool. Dogs or cats?”
“Cats, duh,” Dejun answers without hesitation. Hendery laughs at the swiftness of his response and Dejun rushes to explain himself. “Honestly, I really like dogs, but I’ve lived with Jeno so long that I’m kind of conditioned to say I like cats more at this point.” He cuts himself off and takes another hasty sip of tea, Hendery watching on in amusement. “What about you?”
“Oh, probably cats,” Hendery replies, thoughtful. He leans back in his chair, considering it for a moment longer before he nods, resolute. “Definitely cats.”
From there the conversation flows naturally, the pair sharing questions back and forth, sharing stories and laughter. An hour flies by in a flash, and before Dejun registers the time passing, the sun is beginning to truly set over the horizon and he’s gotten multiple texts from Jeno asking where he is.
Hendery walks him to the bus station and they wait together for Dejun’s bus, talking the whole way. When the bus finally pulls up, Dejun turns to Hendery,a small smile on his face as he tugs at the hem of his sleeves.
“Thanks for everything,” he says shyly. “For inviting me, and paying, and being such a good conversationalist.” Hendery’s eyes are wide and sparkling, flushing from the praise. Dejun steps closer to Hendery until he can reach out and touch his arm and say, “I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” Hendery says, breathless. “Yeah, of course.”
Dejun smiles and steps back, boarding the bus. He pauses on the steps and turns back, giving Hendery a wave.
Hendery smiles radiantly as he waves back, and Dejun feels just a little bit more awake. “Bye, Dejun,” Hendery says, voice smooth and comforting. “Tomorrow in class.”
Dejun smiles softly back, and turns back around, boarding the bus. As it pulls away from the curb he watches Hendery wave until the bus turns a corner and he vanishes into the darkness, leaving Dejun alone and feeling oddly warm inside, despite the cold tea from earlier.
Dejun arrives in class the next day to Yukhei leaning against Yangyang’s desk and talking to him, Hendery turned all the way around in his seat to listen. He approaches and sets his bag down beside his seat, Yukhei already standing up and patting him on the shoulder with a wide smile across his features.
“Dejun! What’s going on, man?”
Yukhei’s smile is infectious, and Dejun can feel a small smile growing on his lips as he sits, carefully extracting his notebook from his bag. “Oh, you know. Busy as always, Yukhei. How about you?”
“Great!” Yukhei leans back onto the corner of the desk, arms waving excitedly as he says, “I’m having a party on Friday. You should come! Yangyang and Hendery are already on board, so we just need you!”
Hendery and Yangyang nod enthusiastically and Dejun snorts, leaning back in his chair. “I’m sure you don’t need me to have a good time. Besides, I’m pretty sure I have work that night,” he says sincerely, trying to recall whether he was supposed to work in the sound booth for Taeyong, who had the Friday slot, that night.
“The hell you do,” Yangyang says, leaning over from his seat to lightly slap Dejun’s shoulder. “You worked last Friday, remember? So you don’t have to work this week.” Dejun blinks.
“How the hell do you know that? I don’t remember ever telling you my work schedule,” Dejun mumbles, but Yangyang speaks over him, eyes pleading.
“Dejun come on, your hours are crazy, who knows when you’ll get another chance to come to one of Yukhei’s parties?” Yangyang whines, clinging to Dejun’s sleeve and refusing to let go even as Dejun shakes his arm violently. Yukhei and Hendery snicker at the spectacle, but Dejun just rolls his eyes and pries Yangyang’s fingers from his arm.
“Seriously, parties aren’t my thing,” Dejun says, leaning back in his seat. “I’m not exactly the definition of a party animal.”
“Still,” Hendery interjects, turning around in his seat to face Dejun, “I think it would be cool if you came. I mean,” He stutters and stops, looking down slightly towards the desk before looking back at Dejun, eyes shy. “I’d like you to come.”
The last part is said quietly, almost nervously, and it’s not just Dejun who’s caught off guard — Yangyang raises an eyebrow, eyes darting between Dejun and Hendery. Understanding dawns across his features, and he sits back, a smug smile on his face. Dejun wants to scream and demand that Yangyang tell him what he knows, but for now he just looks back at Hendery’s hopeful face and manages,
“Oh. Well, maybe I’ll go then.” The words come out hurried, and Dejun can feel the heat rushing to his cheeks as he says them. I’m not agreeing to go to a party just because Hendery Wong said he’d like to see me there, he tries to convince himself. It’s not like the bubble tea meant anything, I just changed my mind. It could be fun.
“Yes!” Yukhei grins, and Hendery smiles, soft and small. Dejun feels like he said the right thing.
The professor comes in the door and puts his briefcase on the desk at the front of the room, so Yukhei returns to his seat. As Dejun starts to take notes, excitement begins to bubble up inside him, already involuntarily looking forward to Friday.
“Hey, Dejun, you made it!” Hendery’s smile is bright even in the darkness when he opens the door to Yukhei’s house to let Dejun in. Behind him there are signs of the party raging, warm chatter drowned out by music and light spilling into the yard past them, casting shadows of light along the grass and concrete sidewalk.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” Dejun muses, and Hendery steps aside to let him in, smile warm and welcoming. The door closes behind him and the music seems to increase in volume, rushing through his ears now that it’s no longer able to escape out into the night.
As he ventures deeper into the house, Hendery at his side, it gets hotter, too many bodies in one area. They run into Yukhei by the kitchen, his voice booming as he welcomes Dejun and is promptly swept away by a crowd to go and dance. Hendery laughs at Yukhei as he’s dragged away, but the sound is muffled by the music. Dejun can only see the way the mirth moves him to toss his head back with an open-mouthed smile, the sweat on the line of his throat glistening in the low light.
Dejun manages to snag a drink from the kitchen counter as Hendery laughs, and he sips it as they continue on, looking for Yangyang.
“I’m pretty sure that I saw him in living room last.” Hendery is practically yelling, hands cupped around his face and leaning in towards Dejun’s ear, yet he’s still barely audible, the dance music shaking the floor with bass.
Dejun nods to show that he heard him, and they start to navigate towards the living room, several sweaty bodies brushing past them on their way back to the dance floor. In the living room, it's minimally quieter, and sure enough, Yangyang is there, sitting on one of the couches with an open beer bottle in one hand and his classic wide grin on his face. He sees them and he shouts out, waving to them with his free hand, his mouth forming their names.
Dejun doesn’t remember much for the next few hours beside warm laughter and shouted conversations, and the fact that he drinks another beer on top of whatever concoction he’d gotten from the kitchen. But before he knows it, Yangyang has gone to dance, he has somehow migrated to the couch from the floor, and his head is pounding.
He looks around but everything is blurry, mind clouded by alcohol. He barely makes out Hendery beside him on the couch, turned the other direction and talking with a girl that Dejun doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to know. He’s tired and pretty drunk, he just wants to go home.
“Hendery. Hendery.” He tugs on Hendery’s sleeve like a child, movement weak, but Hendery looks around at him, the conversation with the girl trailing off into nothingness. He looks down at Dejun questioningly.
“Wanna go home,” Dejun mumbles, eyelids fluttering shut. He can hear Hendery saying something, but it’s too loud and he’s too tired, so he just frowns, opening his eyes. “What?”
Hendery seems to laugh to himself, shaking his head and reaching his arm around Dejun’s waist to help him stand. Dejun nearly falls, and Hendery stumbles, catching his weight with his body. As a result, Dejun’s face slams into his chest.
“Mmm. Warm,” Dejun mumbles.
Dejun cracks one eye open and looks up at Hendery. “Warm,” he says, louder, and Dejun thinks that Hendery’s breathing stops, just for one split second. But then again, Dejun’s a little bit more than just tipsy, so he could be mistaken.
They venture down the hallway back to the front door, Hendery reaching out to push past people and squeeze through the crowd to get to the outside. The night air is cool on Dejun’s skin, the outdoors seeming nearly silent after the volume of the party. A moment passes, and then Hendery says,
“So where do you live?”
“Y’know Jeno?” Hendery hums a yes, eyes lighting up in recognition as he helps Dejun sit down on the front porch as they talk. “He’s my roommate.”
“Ah, okay. I’ll text him for the address.” Hendery pulls out his phone, sitting beside Dejun, and Dejun wraps his arms around one of Hendery’s. He leans into his side and puts his head on his shoulder, eyes barely open enough to see the harsh light from Hendery’s phone screen, content to just soak in the warmth of his body and the softness of his sweater against his cheek.
For a moment everything is quiet, and Dejun can feel Hendery looking upwards to the stars, so he follows. The sky is dark, void of stars, and Dejun feels irrationally sad about it for some reason, so he sniffles, tears pooling at the corners of his eyes.
“Dejun, what’s wrong?” Hendery’s eyes are torn from the heavens and fixed on Dejun in concern. Dejun just sniffles again and buries his face in Hendery’s shoulder, turning away from him.
“The stars are all gone, Hendery. Look, where did they go?”
Hendery sighs, but it seems fond, just a hint of affection behind it when he says, “Oh, Dejun, you’re so drunk.”
“But the stars are still gone, Hendery,” Dejun says, heartbroken. A tear slides from his eye down his cheek, glistening in the artificial light of the house’s outdoor lamp. “Where did they go?” Dejun tugs on Hendery’s sleeve urgently. Hendery smiles and brings his hand up to wipe away the tear, and his skin is warm on Dejun’s cheek.
“They’re okay, Junnie. They didn’t go anywhere. They’re still right up there in the sky.”
“Are you sure?” Dejun sniffs, tearful. Hendery just nods, smiling patiently.
“I’m one hundred percent sure. I promise.”
“Okay,” Dejun sniffles, clinging to the sleeve of Hendery’s sweater. At that very moment, Hendery’s phone dings.
“Oh, Jeno sent your address,” he says. “Let’s get you to the car, I’ll drive you.”
“What? No, you can’t drive, you’re drunk,” Dejun says, nearly falling over as Hendery tries to help him to his feet again.
“That’s rich, coming from you.” Hendery laughs softly, smiling gently. “But Dejun, I don’t drink. I promise you that I am one hundred percent sober right now.” Dejun squints at him, but Hendery just blinks calmly, eyes clear and hands steady on Dejun’s waist, stopping him from falling.
“Fine, but if you’re lying, I’m going to be really mad,” Dejun says seriously, letting Hendery lead him across the grass to his car. Once again, Hendery can seemingly only laugh.
“Okay, Dejun. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Hendery opens the car door for him like a gentleman, and even helps him inside. There are some car dice hanging from the mirror and one of those little Hawaiian ladies stuck to the dashboard. Dejun studies it, vision blurring, the light from the streetlight glaring down through the windshield at him.
He startles at the sound of the car door slamming, Hendery sliding into the driver’s seat beside him. He follows Dejun’s gaze to the Hawaiian figurine and snickers, shaking his head.
“That was Sicheng,” He says, pulling the seatbelt across his chest and clicking it into place. Dejun scrambles to do the same, fingers fumbling for a moment before catching hold. “He bought that for me at some convenience store in New Zealand when he went to visit his sister. I’m pretty sure Ten’s the one who superglued it to the dashboard, though.”
He starts the car and they pull away from the curb. Dejun reaches out and switches on the radio and the little blue numbers light up, strangely familiar in the darkness. He squints, but before he can mentally check the numbers against the ones in his mind, the music is fading and Jaehyun’s voice is already sliding in, smoothly saying, “Hi, you’re listening to NCT Night Night, this is Yoonoh,” confirming Dejun’s suspicions for him.
“You listen to NCT Night Night?”
Hendery hums, adjusting his hands on the steering wheel. Dejun leans his cheek against the cool window and watches the streetlights slide by, light blurring together into a long line of yellow against his eyelids. “Yeah, it’s nice to fall asleep to.”
“Oh,” Dejun mumbles, skin smushed against the glass. “I’m one of the DJ’s.”
“Yeah, Xiaojun. Xiao Dejun.” He sits up, and sure, he might be drunk, but Hendery looks like he’s about to be sick, hands white on the steering wheel. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Hendery seems to snap out of it, shooting Dejun a shaky smile. “I just didn’t know your last name was Xiao. Feel kinda stupid since we’ve been hanging out for a while now.”
“Oh,” Dejun says. “Well, it is.”
They fall into an awkward silence, Hendery’s eyes not swaying from the road for a second, leaving Dejun to fiddle with the radio volume and the sleeves of his own sweater before settling down to watch the landscape slide by, the sound of the car’s engine humming and Jaehyun’s voice, fuzzier than in real life, playing in the background.
Dejun wakes up disoriented, cheek cold from where he must have fallen asleep against the window. Hendery’s hand is warm on his arm, gently shaking him awake, and he opens his eyes blearily, Hendery coming into view.
They’re parked on the street outside Dejun’s apartment building, and Hendery has come around to his side of the car and pulled the door open. He’s leaning into the car, hand bracing his weight against the door as he wakes Dejun from his unplanned nap.
Dejun blinks slowly, Hendery’s face coming sharply into focus, and to be honest, his beauty is a little overwhelming, so Dejun tries to close his eyes again.
“Hey, Dejun. We’re here.” His voice is soft, and wow, his skin is glowing in the dim orange light of the streetlamp, and maybe Dejun is drunk enough to admit to himself that maybe, just maybe, he is attracted to Hendery.
Dejun barely has a moment to contemplate that new development before Hendery says, “Come on, up you get,” and the warm hand on his arm suddenly becomes two and he’s being pulled up out of the car, an arm slung over Hendery’s shoulders.
They walk into the building and Dejun tries to remember his room number while Hendery just listens, smiling at Dejun’s drunken rambling.
“It’s three numbers. One hundred something. Maybe one seventy two? Or maybe there’s a nineteen? Shit. I can’t remember, Hendery, why are we still going to the elevator? I can’t remember!”
Hendery laughs. “Because I already know your room number, silly. Jeno told me when I texted him.”
Dejun blinks, and he would have stopped in his tracks if not for Hendery gently continuing to move forward, one arm holding Dejun’s arm firmly in place over his shoulders, the other wrapped around Dejun’s waist. “Oh.”
Hendery presses the button on the elevator, holding back a smile as he does. “Yeah, oh.”
Dejun whines and tries his best to slap Hendery’s arm with his free hand, face falling into a pout. “I swear I’m not usually like this.” Hendery just laughs again, eyes falling into happy crescents, and Dejun pouts harder. “Don’t make fun of me, I’m drunk!”
“I’m not making fun of you,” Hendery snorts, adjusting his grip on Dejun’s waist. Dejun feels his weight shift upwards and suddenly, his head is above Hendery’s shoulder. Sensing a perfect opportunity, he lays his head down, eyes fluttering shut.
“Then why are you laughing?”
“N-nothing. No reason.” Dejun opens his eyes, and when he takes his head off of Hendery’s shoulder to look at him, the tips of his ears are red. The elevator dings, doors sliding open, and Hendery ushers him inside, avoiding eye contact. The doors slide shut and the elevator begins to move upward with a hum.
“You’re just cute.” The words are rushed and quiet, and Dejun isn’t sure he heard correctly. But Hendery is blushing, cheeks blooming pink, and staring at the ground to avoid eye contact, so Dejun is sure that he heard right.
“Oh?” He raises an eyebrow. Hendery doesn’t have a chance to respond before the elevator dings and the doors slide open again, having reached Dejun’s floor.
“Uh, anyway. Here we go!” Hendery’s voice is full of forced casualness. He reaches forward and knocks, eyes darting nervously about as they stand outside Dejun’s apartment and wait for Jeno to get the door. It suddenly strikes Dejun that he has limited time before Jeno is here and any opportunity he may have to thank Hendery is gone.
So he throws himself fully into Hendery’s arms, burying his face in his neck. Hendery lets out a huff of air but returns to hug, arms tentatively coming around to hold Dejun.
“Thank you for everything tonight, Hendery. You didn’t have to.” Dejun’s voice is muffled and quiet, barely audible against Hendery’s sweater.
For a long moment, they’re safe in one another’s arms. Hendery is warm and smells like the night air, and Dejun holds on for as long as he can until the door clicks open and they jump apart. Jeno stands in the doorway, Bongshik balanced across his shoulders, with his eyebrows raised.
He opens his mouth, but for a moment he doesn’t speak, and Dejun just knows he’s thinking up the worst thing to say. Sure enough, Jeno smirks and says, “Sorry for interrupting.”
“Jesus, Jeno, shut up,” Dejun slurs, falling forward into Jeno’s arms as Hendery goes bright red. Bongshik yelps and jumps off of Jeno’s shoulders at the jolt, streaking away deeper into the apartment. Dejun grins up at Jeno. “I’m drunk.”
“I can see that, thanks,” Jeno says, amused. He looks up at Hendery. Dejun giggles. He’s tired. When’s it time to sleep? Jeno is rolling his eyes at him. He turns to Hendery and says, “Thanks for bringing him home.”
“Uh, no problem,” Hendery manages, coughing and looking off to the side. He looks cute, Dejun thinks. Just adorable. Hendery Wong, Hendery Wong, Hendery Wong. “I guess I’ll be going now, then.” He turns to leave before turning back, frantic. “Wait, don’t forget to get him advil and water for the morning!”
Jeno laughs, and Dejun can feel his chest vibrate beneath him. “I promise I won’t forget, Hendery.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll go then, for real.” Hendery retreats down the hall, looking back over his shoulder. Dejun waves enthusiastically, sad to see him go. Hendery gives a small wave and a genuine smile back before turning and vanishing into the elevator.
The rest of the night is a blur, but somehow Dejun remembers Hendery’s smile in striking detail, and it’s all he can picture in his mind’s eye as he drifts off to sleep. Dejun doesn’t have a crush, he swears he doesn’t.
It’s just that his drunken mind isn’t on board, as it sings him to sleep with a lovesick chorus of Hendery Wong, Hendery Wong, Hendery Wong.
“I think I really like him,” Dejun groans, collapsing across the counter in his kitchen.
“Sweetie, everything will work out,” Jaemin says sympathetically. He’s perched on the opposite counter wearing an apron covered in hearts that reads Kiss the Cook, no doubt a gift from Jeno. He smiles and hops down to check on the eggs, his back to Dejun.“You just have to be honest with him.” Dejun can’t help but snort.
“Yeah, not in a million years.”
Jaemin turns around and pouts, crossing his arms. The spatula he was using sticks out from his figure awkwardly, dripping with raw egg. “Uh, yes in a million years! Do you seriously think anything would ever be accomplished if people never took risks? For love, Dejun! He’s probably already in love with you.”
“That is literally so easy for you to say,” Dejun says, groaning and falling back onto the counter. “You’re the most disgustingly confident person I know.”
Jaemin snorts, turning back to the eggs. “Good joke. That’s Renjun.”
Dejun considers it, and yeah, he has to concede the point. “Okay, but he’s Renjun.” Jaemin sighs dreamily, flipping the eggs.
“He sure is.”
Dejun grimaces. “Gross. Go be in love somewhere else.”
“Christ, your heart is bleeding all over the counter,” Jeno says, coming in from the hallway. “Literally for what reason? Hendery’s whipped, you should have seen him last night.”
He walks over and drops a kiss on Jaemin’s head as he passes by before sitting down beside Dejun. Jaemin makes a pleased sound in the back of his throat and flips the eggs again. “Thank you for proving my point, babe.” He comes over and pokes Dejun’s arm with the spatula aggressively. “Stop being a coward, Dejun! He loves you!” Dejun recoils from the poking, disgusted. He glares at Jaemin, crossing his arms for protection.
“Can you not? He’s straight!” Dejun wails.
“Dejun, you also thought I was straight,” Jeno says exasperatedly. “And I have two boyfriends.” Dejun sighs and Jaemin tuts, brushing Dejun’s hair back from his forehead.
“Don’t be sad, Jun,” Jaemin says. “If he doesn’t like you, he’s stupid, and you don’t need him anyways.”
“Yeah. Fuck men.” Dejun’s soul very nearly leaps out of his body at the sudden voice, and he turns around to Renjun, smug smile on his face. “In all senses of the phrase, if you catch my drift.”
Jaemin giggles, hiding his smile behind his hand, and Jeno turns bright red. Dejun chokes. “Renjun, why.”
Renjun shrugs, and sits down on the stool on his other side. He and Jeno share the sappiest smile that Dejun thinks he’s ever seen, but before Dejun can really appreciate it, it’s gone, and Renjun is fixing him with a calculating gaze, eyes sweeping Dejun up and down.
“Jaemin’s right on this one,” Renjun says with unshakeable certainty. “I think you should just go for it. No time like the present.”
Dejun fiddles with the sleeve of his sweater, and all three of them turn to him, eyes expectant. He swallows and tries to avoid their gaze and look at the granite countertops instead, the ugly bowl of nearly expired fruit that he and Jeno just kept buying new fruits for in an attempt to eat better, the painting of a small field on a wall that he’d found in a flea market, the cutting board with bread that Jaemin had been slicing. Anywhere but at them.
“Asking people out is scary,” Renjun says, reaching a hand out to rest on Dejun’s arm reassuringly. “It’s scary for everyone involved, no other way to say it. But sometimes it’s worth the risk.” Renjun taps his fingers on Dejun’s arm reassuringly. “Hey Dejun, look at me.”
Dejun does, and Renjun is smiling gently, eyes full of sincerity and warmth. “Think about it. Is Hendery worth the risk?”
Yes, Dejun’s brain supplies instantly. “Yes,” he blurts.
Jeno sits back in surprise, and Jaemin drops his spatula. Even Renjun seems a little bit caught off guard, blinking a few times to check he’s heard correctly. Dejun covers his mouth in shock. “I didn’t mean to admit that,” he says, rushed. His heart is racing, and he’s surprised at himself, surprised that he’s even considering telling Hendery anything.
“It’s okay, Dejun,” Jeno says soothingly. “We’ll support you, whether you decide to tell him or not.”
Jaemin nods, coming around the counter to join them. “Of course.”
“Always,” Renjun adds. “Group hug?”
They all nod and Dejun laughs wetly as three bodies engulf his own. They’re in the middle of their hug when suddenly a loud, shrill beeping interrupts them.
“Shit!” Jaemin dashes around the counter as Jeno, Renjun, and Dejun burst into laughter. “The eggs!”
“I think I might love him,” Dejun says honestly.
“Okay, damn, it is that serious,” Yangyang says. “Out of nowhere?”
“Uh, not exactly. We might have...gone on a date…?” Yangyang nearly falls off of the couch.
He scrambles up and clutches Dejun’s arm “What the fuck, when? How could neither of you tell me? Some friends you two are, I swear to god. I’ve been suffering in silence this whole time and you’ve already been on an official date?”
“Well, I don’t know if it was a date!” Dejun says quickly, waving his arms and doing his best to backtrack. Yangyang looks unimpressed, falling back on the couch and crossing his arms, giving Dejun a blank stare. “It sure felt like one though, and then he called me cute at the party and went through all the trouble to take me home and just. I thought everything was fine between us, so I don’t know why he avoided me in class today.”
Dejun had arrived to class nervous but determined, butterflies fluttering not only in his stomach, but up and under his ribcage, and inside his heart. They had only fluttered more furiously when Hendery came in, backpack slung casually over his shoulder, jet black hair falling in his eyes.
But he’d barely responded to Dejun’s hello, awkwardly turning away and focusing on his books. At the end of the class, he rushed out too fast for Dejun to even get a chance to say goodbye, ruining any hope of Dejun getting to talk to him before he left.
It had been like a punch to the gut.
“I must have read things wrong,” Dejun says despairingly, slumping down on the couch and letting Seol and Lal drape themselves all over him. Bongshik is nowhere to be seen since she only likes Jeno, and Jeno is out.
“I made him uncomfortable,” Dejun continues sadly. “I saw what I wanted to see, I’m so stupid, Hendery probably hates me!” Dejun buries his face in Seol’s fur, and she just purrs. At least somebody is on his side.
“I can guarantee Hendery doesn’t hate you, drama queen,” Yangyang says, sounding beyond exasperated. “First of all, I don’t think Hendery could really hate anyone. Second of all, you literally did nothing wrong, okay? If he’s wigging out over something, that’s a him problem, it probably has nothing to do with anything you did.” Yangyang scoots closer and wraps his arms around Dejun. “He’ll come around, don’t worry.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Dejun asks tentatively. Yangyang pulls back and grins widely, playfully shoving his shoulder.
“Well, then you’re Xiao Dejun! Who needs Hendery? He’s just a bonus prize!” Yangyang grips Dejun’s shoulders. “Come on, say it! I’m Xiao Dejun, and I don’t need no man!”
Dejun laughs, and he can feel it all the way in his stomach. Yangyang’s unbridled joy and support warm Dejun from the inside out, and not for the first time, Dejun thinks of how lucky he is to have Yangyang as his best friend.
“I’m not hearing you say it!” Yangyang says, going in to tickle Dejun’s stomach as the cats scatter.
“Oh my god, mercy!” Dejun can barely breathe for laughing, toppling over onto the couch, Yangyang’s fingers following him down.
“Say it!” Yangyang insists, smile brighter than the sun. “I’m Xiao Dejun and I don’t need no man!”
“Okay, okay, I’m Xiao Dejun, and I don’t need no man!” Dejun says. Finally, Yangyang relents and moves back. His hair is mussed from the play fight, and they couch cushions are scattered across the floor, their throw blanket scrunched up in the corner. There’s a brief moment of peace before Dejun grins and meets Yangyang’s eyes. “Sure would be nice to have one, though.”
“Oh my god, that was not the point of the exercise,” Yangyang says, rolling his eyes and already reaching out again. “You’re asking for it, now!” Dejun shrieks and scrambles away, Yangyang in hot pursuit as he chases Dejun around the living room, their laughs mingling in the air and filling Dejun with warmth from the inside out.
Dejun had done his best to keep the feelings away, but when night fell, a wave of sadness hit him like a truck. He figured there was no point in even trying to resist, so he stopped by a convenience store on campus while on his way to the studio and bought some cheap red wine.
The cashier might have looked at him like he was crazy while he did it, because who in their right mind gets drunk on a Sunday night, but fuck it, Dejun is in his feelings. Plus, Ten’s the sound technician tonight, and lord knows he won’t stop Dejun from getting drunk on air like Taeyong or Doyoung would.
“This is NCT Night Night, I’m your host, Xiaojun,” Dejun says into the mic as the intro music fades into silence. “Tonight I thought what better time than to get slightly wine drunk on the air and have a chat with you all?” It’s late as usual, but there’s something strangely haunting about the studio tonight, even with Ten’s presence. Shadows creep out of the corners in the recording room, and the building creaks every so often, like old bones, or as though it’s settling down for the night.
He sighs, spinning around in his chair so his back is to Ten as he pours himself a glass of wine. “I know it’s usually me giving the advice around here, but hey, maybe you guys can help me out this one time.” Dejun spins back and puts the bottle down on the desk as far as possible from any expensive sound equipment. He leans back in his chair and swirls the wine in his glass, watching the red liquid as it spins. He takes a sip.
“You know guys, tonight’s gonna be a bit of a sad songs only kind of night.” He sighs deeply and takes another sip of wine before continuing, saying “I like this boy, you know? And I thought we really hit it off! We went on a date, everything was super cool and fun, we even went to a party together, but he’s pretty popular. Way out of my league, you know?” Dejun laughs hollowly, staring down at his reflection in the wineglass. “Hell, I’m not even sure if he’s into guys. Probably shouldn’t get my hopes up without knowing that for sure, right?”
He moves, spinning in the chair again, just to get some kind of momentum going, to try to shake the Hendery-induced sadness from his bones. “Anyway, we kind of had a moment, or at least I thought we did, but then he ignored me in class.” Dejun drinks some more wine and runs a hand through his hair, doing his best to readjust the headphones over his ears while using only one hand.
“He’s too nice to reject me outright, so he’s probably trying to send a hint without having to confront me,” Dejun says miserably, taking another sip of wine. “But enough about my problems! Here’s our first song, and I’ll take some callers right afterwards. This is NCT Night Night, drunken late night problem rant edition thing? I didn’t think of a name,” Dejun chuckles, but even that sounds sad. Ten winces from behind the glass and Dejun shoots him a halfhearted glare. “Anyway, I’m your host, Xiaojun, and I’ll be back in just a few minutes.”
Ten plays the track and he raises an eyebrow at Dejun. He presses the intercom button and his voice echoes through the soundbooth. “You good? Because that was depressing.” Ten’s eyes are full of genuine concern, and Dejun can‘t bring himself to shrug it off completely.
“Not really,” he says honestly. “But I will be eventually.”
He can feel the sympathy radiating off Ten, and while part of him hates it, a larger part of him is overwhelmingly grateful that he cares. Ten has always been someone funny and personable, but beneath all of that, there’s a genuine kindness that can be overwhelming, and Dejun’s never been more grateful for it.
“I know you will be,” Ten says, and the intercom makes it seem as though the words are coming out of the dark from all directions, filling the room. It’s oddly comforting.
“Thanks, Ten,” Dejun says softly, and they lapse into silence, quietly listening to the rest of the song that Dejun had chosen, a slow melody with heart wrenching lyrics. Dejun drinks some more wine and closes his eyes. He leans his head back to let himself wallow, as pathetic as that is, especially since there was never anything officially going on with him and Hendery.
Suddenly the song slows, and Dejun tugs his headphones back over his ears. “Welcome, this is NCT Night Night, I’m your host, Xiaojun. If you just tuned in, we’re here having a bit of a tipsy late night sad hours confession edition of the show, where we all get tipsy together and talk about our troubles for tonight. We’re taking callers now, welcome to the show!”
“Hi there, it’s me again. Mystery Man.”
Dejun sits up in the chair, suddenly a lot more alert, the wine jumping a bit in the glass from his sudden movement. “Mystery Man! How are things?”
“Ah, they’re okay. I did something stupid, and accidentally convinced the boy I have a crush on that I’m straight,” he groans, and Dejun chuckles a little bit.
“The opposite of my problem.”
“You don’t know how true that is,” the caller says frankly, and Dejun laughs again, taking a generous sip of wine. It’s starting to hit him, now, his blood growing just a little bit warmer in his veins. “In fact, you’ve inspired me. I’m going to tell my crush that I like him tomorrow.”
Dejun can hear the nervousness in his voice, but he can’t stop the pride that swells up in his chest at the words. He puts his glass down on the counter as a smile spreads across his face. “Mystery Man, that’s fantastic! My story may have ended in tragedy, but you deserve a happy ending.”
“I don’t know about that, Xiaojun,” Mystery Man says, voice quiet, almost shaking from nerves. “I have a feeling that everything will work out for you, too. That guy was just being stupid, he’ll come to his senses.”
Dejun laughs aloud at that, but his heart swells at the kind words. “That’s awfully nice of you to say, Mystery Man.” He smiles and chuckles softly. “It’s been quite a journey for you, but I’m so glad that you’ve arrived at the end of it.” It’s strange, but his heart feels just a little bit lighter at this stranger’s happiness.
It feels good that he’s walked with this person on their journey of self acceptance, and of course he’s glad that Mystery Man will be happy. Still, it’s a little bittersweet. After all, he’s gotten the chance to know Mystery Man through his calls, and he knows that he’s become attached. Dejun feels a small pang in his chest, knowing that this will be the last call.
His tone sobers and he leans forward on the desk, hands folded. “Seriously,” Dejun says, desperately wanting to let Mystery Man know how much his calls have meant to him. “You’ve made my night. I’m really honored to have gotten to go on this journey with you, even just a little bit.”
Mystery Man laughs, and the sound is oddly familiar. So familiar, in fact, that it shocks Dejun, throws him for a loop. He sits back in his chair in shock, thoughts suddenly whizzing a million miles a minute. Where have I heard that before?
“I’m glad you came along for the journey too, Xiaojun,” Mystery Man says, voice suddenly full of fondness. “Thank you so much for everything.”
Dejun’s still a bit distracted, a name just on the tip of his tongue, but he lets it go, snapping back to the present so he can respond in kind.
“Thank you for coming on the show and being a regular for a while! I wish you the best of luck tomorrow, I’m sure they’ll like you back!”
“I think so too,” Mystery Man says, confidence starting to creep into his tone alongside the still-obvious nervousness. “Thank you for everything Xiaojun. Goodbye!”
Dejun signals to Ten to disconnect, and just like that, Mystery Man is gone. He sighs fondly, leaning back in his chair. “Well, that was the end of an era, don’t you all agree? I hope you all send positive thoughts Mystery Man’s way! It’s time for our second song of the night here on NCT Night Night, and I’m your host, Xiaojun. Play the track.”
Ten plays another song, and Dejun pulls off his headphones. He leans on the desk, fingers steepled, lost in thought.
“What’s on your mind now?” Ten’s voice is curious over the intercom, and Dejun looks up, thoughtful.
“I don’t know. It’s just his laugh…” Dejun sighs, running a frustrated hand through his hair. “I swear I’ve heard it before, I just can’t put my finger on it.”
“You see hundreds of people on campus every day,” Ten dismisses with a wave of his hand. “You probably just overheard the guy laughing one time somewhere.”
Dejun frowns. “Yeah, probably…”
He doesn’t argue the point further as Ten turns back to the soundboard, but in his mind’s eye Dejun sees the shadow of a familiar smile and hears the haunting melody of Mystery Man’s laughter echoing in his ears with aching familiarity.
Who are you?
Hendery tries to catch him before class, but Dejun arrives right on time, intent on avoiding such an encounter. Hendery’s committed, and tries to hover by Dejun’s desk, but he’s told to sit down and stop bothering his classmates by the professor.
Hendery sinks down reluctantly in his seat, frowning, and Dejun tries to focus on the drone of the lecturer’s voice in the hall rather than Hendery’s periodic glances over his shoulder and Yangyang’s clear concern beside him.
Why shouldn’t I be upset? Dejun thinks to himself petulantly, rearranging his highlighters on his desk. He ignored me on Friday, so he has no right to get all upset about me doing the same thing now.
He fully intends to leave without talking to Hendery, to give him a taste of his own medicine, but just as the class ends and he stands to leave, Hendery is already shooting out of his seat and darting over to grab onto his arm. “Dejun, wait, don’t go!”
Dejun turns as the classroom empties around them. Over Hendery’s shoulder he sees Yangyang hovering in the doorway, clearly unsure if he should leave them alone, but Dejun shoots him a look, and reluctantly, he leaves, casting one final worried look over his shoulder before the door shuts with a clang, leaving them alone.
There’s silence for a long moment, and Dejun takes the opportunity to wrench his arm from Hendery’s grip, crossing his arms across his chest, eyes fixed on the floor.
“Xiaojun,” Hendery says into the silence, “I’m mystery man.”
Dejun looks up in shock. He can feel his brow furrowing as he stares Hendery down, but he doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even blink , as he calmly meets Dejun’s gaze. Finally, the puzzle pieces click into place, and Dejun gasps and takes several steps backwards until the back of his legs hit a desk.
“That was you?”
“Yeah, that was me,” Hendery says, and he takes a step closer, smiling. “I may have been your mystery man on the radio, but Dejun, you were mine.”
At this point, Dejun is reeling. “What do you mean?”
The corner of Hendery’s lips upwards, and he simply says, “You were who I was talking about on the radio, Dejun. It was you all along.” Dejun feels his breath vanish, robbed from his chest, but Hendery doesn’t stop there, smiling widely, stars in his eyes as he continues, saying, “Imagine my surprise when you let it slip that you were Xiaojun. I’ve been talking to you about you . If that’s not fate, then what is?”
Dejun can’t hold himself back any longer — he surges forward, placing his lips squarely on Hendery’s, his arms coming up to circle the back of his neck. Hendery is warm and pliant beneath him and Dejun feels his heart overflow with bubbling joy, smiling into the kiss. They break away and Dejun reaches forward, hitting Hendery in the chest lightly.
“Hey!” Hendery frowns down at him, but any of his annoyance his cancelled out by the lazy smile on his face and the shine in his eyes as he places one hand on the back of Dejun’s head, absentmindedly stroking his hair. “What’s that for?”
“If you had just told me, I wouldn’t have been sad all weekend because I thought you didn’t like me back, idiot ,” Dejun says, exasperated.
“Sorry,” Hendery says, smile softening. “It was dumb, and it’s no excuse, but I think I was trying to wrap my head around it all.” He pauses, then his smile becomes more mischievous. “But I’m your idiot, right?”
Dejun sighs, but he can’t suppress the electric feeling in his chest, tightening around the excited butterflies that try to escape at the words. He feels himself beginning to smile.