"Yeah, it's like she copy-pastes the entire coursework," Yifan grumbled.
Yixing chuckled, turned entirely towards his best friend as the group of people crossed the campus.
"And yet you keep failing your tests."
"Shut up, man."
Jongin was walking to his right, fiddling with his headphones. It wasn't like he wanted to listen to music right now but the sad wad of cables in his pocket was a good distraction. Dance practice always left his mind a little frazzled, and it might actually keep the inner clutz from coming out.
Because whenever he was around Zhang Yixing, he turned into a walking and talking mess. Not like any of that was Yixing’s fault. All that Zhang Yixing - captain of the university's dance club - did, was being the most amazing person he had ever met. He was around Jongin's height, three years older, and preferred a hip hop approach to dance. His dancing was incredibly impressive, really, and his work ethic even more so. Jongin had been quite intimidated during his tryouts for the dance club, but within the first weeks he realized that as long as one took dancing seriously, Yixing was nothing but supportive (albeit strict). He respected Jongin's ballet background and actually seemed to enjoy seeing Jongin incorporate it into his routines.
And as if all that wasn't enough already, he was also fairly popular among people in his year, had pretty good grades and looked handsome with his soft features and simple T-shirts. And abs.
If there was one single flaw people would associate with Yixing, it would be that he tended to be in his own world. Not like he tended to daydream and scribble little flowers all over his notes, or was… weird in any way. He was simply lost in thought a lot, missing a lot of hints thrown his way, and just generally poured all his attention onto the one thing he was occupied with.
Still. That hardly counted as a flaw in Jongin's book.
Next to him, Jongin felt gangly and awkward, like a pre-teen hanging out with his sister's friends.
And worst of all-
He tripped, fingers still tangled in the headphones, and Yixing held him up without as much as looking his way. His conversation with Yifan didn't even stutter. Jongin mumbled an awkward "Thanks," cheeks burning up.
Worst of all was that Jongin kept embarrassing himself in front of him.
To be fair, he was always at least a little messy. He was clumsy and forgetful enough to have a spare set of just about anything in his locker, just in case he left whatever he needed in the dorm. Which happened a lot. Sometimes he forgot to refill his locker, though.
He'd never considered himself to be that bad, but Yixing seemed to amplify his awkwardness by a hundred. This day alone, Jongin had tripped twice (with Yixing catching him both times,) had accidentally kicked over his water bottle (Yixing had shared his,) and dropped his backpack (Yixing had helped him gather his things). He just looked like the biggest loser and surely, Yixing was growing sick of babysitting him. But whenever Jongin tried to be less, well, him, things would get even worse. And since he definitely did not want a repeat of that one time he'd tried to wear a towel around his hips after a shower in an attempt to look attractive - only to lose it and get tangled in it - he'd stopped trying to actively impress Yixing.
Yes, Jongin was definitely not trying to impress Zhang Yixing anymore with anything other than dancing. He just wanted to look and act normal at this point.
Why was the universe so against that concept?
"I can't find it anywhere, can I give up?" Jongin whined, slipping into one of the cheap plastic chairs. They were less comfortable than the indoor ones, but after spending hours cooped up in the gym, fresh air was a blessing.
"Jongin, it's your phone," Taemin stated, judgement dripping from every syllable. With a sigh, Jongin slumped in his seat, not even flinching when Taemin nudged him with his foot.
"Go and search some more."
"Can't you help me?" Jongin tried, but of course his self-proclaimed best friend didn't even blink.
"Nah. Too much work. Besides, I'm too busy playing this game on my phone. Which I very much didn't lose."
"This time," Jongin grumbled, actually flinching when he heard a very familiar voice behind him.
"What didn't you lose?" Yixing asked, taking a seat opposite them, placing down a tablet with what seemed to be nothing but salad. His hair was still slightly damp from taking a shower earlier, and his sunny smile made for a pretty contrast- Focus, Jongin told himself. Before he could properly dismiss the worry, however, his traitor of a friend exposed him.
"Jongin lost his phone again," he drawled out, clearly wearing a smug smile that Jongin wanted to punch very badly right now. With a cushion. They were friends, after all.
"You suck," he whispered, but Yixing only nodded in understanding, placing a shiny object on the table.
"You forgot it on the shelf next to the gym entrance," was all he said.
Around them, people were making lighthearted jokes or cooing over Jongin, and he wanted to sink under the table.
"Oh," he muttered.
Taemin was still smiling. That jerk.
Jongin shot him a withering glare...
...which found new heights of heat an hour later, when they were lounging around their shared dorm room.
"I think Yixing is into you."
Jongin didn't even look up from his book(which was totally part of his research and not the second book in a series about witches).
"No, for real," Taemin insisted.
Jongin sighed. Took a deep breath and looked up as soon as he was sure he had his own expression of bored exasperation perfected.
"What exactly about him would make you think that? The way he corrects my posture?"
Taemin snorted, lying on his bed in the most uncomfortable-looking position, with one leg up on his desk and the other somewhere between the bed posts. Right now, he looked like the opposite of the fluid, graceful dancer he could be; now he just looked fluid, like a cat taking up random spaces just out of sheer spite.
"Please," he began, and Jongin could hear him roll his eyes. "That guy could be getting a lap dance by a stripper and would still correct their posture. Which, by the way, would be a good valentine’s day gift for him. Just saying. But no, I mean, like. Outside of the practice room."
"What about outside of the practice room?" Jongin repeated, patience wearing thin already. He had already fulfilled his daily quota of embarrassing himself in front of Yixing, and he had certainly not signed up for a flashback.
"Well, did you never notice how much attention he pays to you?"
"I'm kinda asking for it with how I manage to look like a complete moron on a daily basis. I can consider myself lucky he's nice enough not to laugh at me. Like a certain someone would."
"Zitao acts like a moron as well, and you don't see Yixing jumping to his aid," Taemin argued, to which Jongin could only shrug, fighting off the heat creeping up his neck.
"Coincidence? You probably just missed the times he did cause you always hang out with me-"
"Remember when Zitao burned his hand on a coffee cup but Yixing was busy lending you a pen?" Taemin asked blankly.
"That was- well yeah, maybe he is looking out for me," Jongin admitted, fingers digging into the forgotten book in his lap. "But only because he views me as a kid. You want me to be proud of that?"
Taemin looked at him like he was an absolute idiot.
"Uhm. That might be the most dense thing I have heard in awhile, and I'm friends with... you. Huh. Never mind," he sighed, reaching for his phone. "Have fun fooling yourself. Maybe one day, Yixing will also get the memo."
"What memo?" Jongin whined, but Taemin ignored him - mature as he was - leaving him with no other choice but to pretend he was back to reading his book and like he definitely wasn't reconsidering every single time Yixing had somehow been right there when he needed him.
The worst thing about Taemin's thirst for gossip - even if he had to be one starting said gossip - was the fact that even just thinking about the possibility of Yixing being in any way interested in him was a bit overwhelming. In a good way. In a too-good-to-be-true way.
Because Yixing was just playing in another league. And that was fine. Jongin could accept that. There was nothing wrong with admiring him from afar, nothing offensive about looking up to him for the rest of his university life. And if Yixing ever found himself a partner, male or female, well-
Jongin blinked, staring at the page without really seeing it.
Would he be happy for him? Sure. Yes, definitely.
...but it would also sting a bit.
For the longest time, Jongin stared at the printed letters, forcing himself to not make a sound and set off Taemin's antenna for drama.
He was kinda screwed.
Jongin had been staring into his locker for a good ten minutes now. There was nothing much to see in there aside from candy wrappers and a spare pair of clothes for dancing. He'd forgotten his spare pencil case somewhere apparently. The yellow, metal one, with the bears on it.
He should really search for it. Right now, maybe-
Jongin groaned quietly.
If he stood around much longer, he would definitely not remain unseen. Someone would notice and ask questions. No, he had to do it. Now.
Jongin closed the locker and turned around, only to almost run into Zitao and Yifan.
"Woah there," Zitao began, mild surprise turning into confusion (upon seeing Jongin's panicked gaze that wandered past him and lingered on Yixing), and finally into even bigger surprise.
"You got a flower?"
Jongin winced, trying to hide the single, wrapped lily behind his back. For once, he reacted fast enough.
"Yeah. From the valentine's day event," he stammered out. “Someone just gave it to me.”
Zitao was craning his head to get a better look at it but all Jongin could focus on was the way Yixing stared at him. He seemed somewhat... judgemental.
"From whom?" Zitao asked, no, demanded, really, and Jongin shrugged.
"No idea," he began, "it was an anonymous present-"
"Oh, but there's a card," Yixing said with deceptively harmless curiosity that wasn't at all reflected in the swift way he snatched said card.
"No-" Jongin yelped, but it was too late, judging by the subtle way Yixing's eyes widened.
Zitao's grin made him look like a cat having captured a mouse at last.
"So? What does it say?"
Jongin felt like dying, mentally saying goodbye to the dance club and thinking of a dozen things to punch Taemin with, simply because it would be a stress relief-
"Nothing," Yixing said.
"Oh, come on. You can't not tell us now," Zitao began, but no matter how much he whined, Yixing didn't budge, slipping the card into his back pocket.
Jongin decided that this was as good a time as any to disappear but before he could even attempt doing so, there was a hand on his lower back, silently demanding him to stay.
And as much as the touch tingled, Jongin felt resignation settle in his stomach.
He'd messed up yet again.
The touch was subtle enough for neither Yifan nor Zitao to notice, but Jongin knew better than to decline when Yixing offered to accompany him to buy drinks for everyone.
The silence between them was awkward - at least to Jongin, who frantically tried to come up with a response to the inevitable question, but his mind was wiped blank. He didn't even try to act dumb when Yixing led him away from the on campus store and towards the deserted basketball field, where they lingered next to the fence. It was quite nice of him to walk far enough for nobody to listen in on them but Jongin had a hard time appreciating that with the way Yixing's entire attention was on him now.
"So," he began straight away, pulling out the little card. Jongin's gaze wandered from the slip of paper to his chest and came to a halt on the ground as he clutched the flower in his right hand like an idiot. Listening to Yixing's calm voice was already torture enough right now - he wasn't sure if he'd be able to stand the look in the other's eyes.
"For me, huh?"
He could pretend the flower was sent from someone else, that he was only delivering it, but would there be a point to that?
"Yeah," was all he said.
There was a long break after that, but Jongin refused to look up. If he started crying now, he'd never forget it for the rest of his life.
"I've never seen anyone give a lily for Valentine's Day."
Jongin sighed, figuring that honesty was the best way to get this over and done with.
"It's complimenting someone's ambition," he admitted. "I thought of you when I saw it."
The sound came out so soft and unreadable that Jongin had no choice but to look up. There was no telling what Yixing was thinking though. He was probably grossed out, or felt uncomfortable, and was thinking of how to let him down nicely-
"It's okay, I- I'm sorry," Jongin muttered, eager to get this over and done with. Under his tight grip, the plastic wrapping of the lily was rustling in protest.
Yixing was tilting his head, a tick of confusion flashing over his expression.
"Why are you sorry?" he asked, probingly almost
"I didn't want to make you uncomfortable."
"What's funny about that?" Jongin asked, half expecting Yixing to slip into uncharacteristic cruelty when faced with an obnoxious kid like him.
All he did was shake his head though, still wearing this expression Jongin couldn't interpret.
"Because I was thinking the same. Being older than you and everything."
Jongin blinked, genuinely not following.
"What do you mean?"
Yixing bit his lips, shoulders drawing up ever so slightly and oh-
He was nervous.
Zhang Yixing was... nervous.
"You know I'm three years older than you," he stated, and it didn't sound accusatory.
"And...?" Jongin asked slowly.
"I didn't want to be weird."
"I should be the one to say that," Jongin cut him off, words spilling out as his mind ran on autopilot, "I'm three years younger than you. Like. I'm basically a kid compared to you."
"I- I'm sorry. I would have never made a move on you though. I respect you, Jongin, I really do."
To his surprise, Yixing actually did wait, which was unfortunate because it meant Jongin was expected to say something now, when he was still too busy trying to process what Yixing had just told him.
"Wait. You- would
to- you know?" he trailed off, helpless, useless stammerings he would usually cringe at, but right now, all he could focus on was the faint, faint blush dusting Yixing's cheeks.
“Is that really so surprising? You’re quite beautiful.”
Jongin stared at him, and something about his shell-shocked expression must have translated badly for Yixing to hurriedly add, “as a person. But also in general. And passionate. I should be surprised you're interested in me. I- that came out kinda awkwardly, I’m sorry. I’m not usually like this, but…”
“But?” Jongin echoed. It was a little mean but he had to be absolutely, perfectly sure that he was getting this right.
Yixing sighed, running a hand through his hair.
“But when I saw you receiving a flower, I just- got a little jealous, I guess. I’m not proud of it. I know I’m the club president, and that I mustn’t abuse your trust in me, or even your admiration, but the card did have my name on it, so-”
“It did,” Jongin cut him off, lifting the flower before he knew it. “Here.”
Yixing looked at the lily, and back at him, obviously still seeking permission. Still not getting the memo. Maybe they really were two peas in a pod.
“Do you dislike lilies?” Jongin asked, awkwardly moving the flower in small circles.
Whatever Yixing found in his eyes seemed enough to release the tension in his shoulders.
“God, no,” he sighed. “I love them. I’m honoured you think so highly of me.”
The smile on his face was warm, albeit a little shy, quite like the fingers brushing his as he took the flower from Jongin.
That day, Yixing took him out to get ice cream after their lectures and practice session. He insisted on intertwining their fingers, to make absolutely sure Jongin wouldn’t trip.
Jongin wasn’t complaining.