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the most wine-derful time of the year

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Christmas was the pure backbone of Hyunjin’s existence.

He was a bit of a fanatic about the holidays, and it was a fact made universal when he showed up to a Christmas costume party dressed as the Grinch from head to toe, green furry face paint and all, unaware that the host of the party meant something more flattering like ugly sweaters and antler headbands. Hyunjin had unexpectedly hogged the limelight and might have ceased to function in a crowd of normally dressed people ogling at his costume, but at least his penchant for the dramatics earned him a free shiny trophy.

But his love for the holidays never dwindled even as he grew older. He adored the shared excitement and festivity, the sparkling fairy lights and colourful garlands, and the laughter of children as they stomped on Santa’s crotch and wished for something innocently mundane, like for their divorced parents to get back together (Hyunjin was totally not speaking from personal experience, not at all!) that’d make Santa choke on his fake beard. Christmas was loud and fun and it brought everybody together. It was great! It was magnificent!

Oh, but not this year.

This year, Hyunjin’s mother decided to harass him in the middle of the semester, firing calls at his phone that rang incessantly in his English class and embarrassingly to the tune of Caramelldansen -- which, was nefariously done by Minho, when Hyunjin had passed out from a single shot of tequila the other night and had his personal belongings hijacked by the older.

Now, all his peers thought he was a fucking ancient weeb and his professor looked seconds away from kicking him out. Hyunjin had never wanted to desperately become an unidentifiable and nebulous entity that lived in the woods as an omen of misfortune to come until this very moment, so he took it upon himself to gather all his things and run out of the lecture hall, dropping a flurry of pens and papers in the midst of his panicked escape.

Out in the foyer, Hyunjin took out his still ringing phone, and finally answered it with a petulant: “What, mom!”

“Hi, honey,” she cooed from the other line, sounding suspiciously sweet. “Sorry if you were in the middle of something. I just wanted to know how my son was doing on this lovely, sunny day!”

Hyunjin sent a puzzled look outside the windows. “It’s raining.”

“On this lovely, rainy day!”

Hyunjin felt a sense of foreboding creep up on him. He could tell his mother was straining to sound cheerful when that was starkly uncharacteristic of her. If he had to only use one word to describe his mother, it would not be sweet, but maybe salty like the ocean after years of a failed, competitive marriage, and for dealing with old, pasty men in the church. But most of all, she never called until early December to set up plans for the holidays, and it was only the third week of October.

“Oh no, mom,” he groaned. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” she immediately denied. There was a pause. “Well, actually. You see. I invited your father over for this year’s holiday dinner party.”

“You what?”

“And his new family.”

Hyunjin fell onto his bum. He was about to have a stroke.

“I thought it was time to bury the hatchet! You see, I’ve been reading a lot of Zen books lately, and there was this one passage that talked about how “compassion is fostered by remaining connected, no matter how painful it may be and will ensure that your loving nature remains intact.” Honey, do you know what that sounds like? Me! You know how your father and I have been battling it out ever since our divorce and, well -- I’m tired of being a grumpy old lady. I just want all of us to get along, now. What’s a better time to finally set aside our differences than Christmas? The season of giving?”

“Moooom,” he complained.

“Listen, listen. His wife is the CEO of some spiritual yoga company that focuses on the healing properties of trees and becoming one with nature. Her eldest daughter attends an Ivy League school, and her son’s a computer engineering student about your age, honey. But he’s engaged.” His mother cleared her throat. “As you can see, we’re up against quite an impressive panel of individuals. Now, I support your career path, Hyunjin-ah, but don’t you think it’s about time to find someone to settle down with in the future? Or at least, you know, to show off?”

Hyunjin rolls his eyes back and internally groans. He should have seen it coming. His lack of significant other always became the desperate paramount of their conversations despite the fact that Hyunjin was a twenty-one year old college student with no major goal in life. He was barely an adult, yet his mother somehow thinks he should be walking down the aisle by now just because she married young.

“Mom, I can barely do my taxes,” he said. “I’m basically a Teletubbie with a credit card. What makes you think I can just find someone out of the blue? Relationships take time to build.”

“Well, you’re definitely not coming home as a virgin bachelor,” she retorted, ignoring the way Hyunjin spluttered with a red face. “You will not be single when you meet your stepfamily. If you need some help, I have a few friends from church who have single sons. I can set you up -- “

“No! I’ll figure something out, but I really need to go now,” Hyunjin quickly rushed out, looking around the vicinity. With nobody near him, he lowers his voice to the quietest decibel possible, and says, “Love you.”

“Love you too, honey! Find somebody soon!”

Hyunjin closed the call and pocketed his phone. Then, he shoved his head into his backpack and screamed.

 

 

 

This was a fucking tragedy.

Despite his mother assuring him that Christmas would be a merry time to make amends and be one, happy family, Hyunjin could tell she was brimming with unbridled marital competitiveness. The family his father married into was beyond successful, not to mention that the Yoon children weren’t far apart in age with Hyunjin, so Hyunjin felt like an empty shampoo bottle in the shower of life compared to them.

He hadn’t even seen his father in years, other than the time he showed up on his fifteenth birthday party but was too busy one-upping his mother to really pay attention to Hyunjin. And now, Hyunjin had to not only deal with the awkward family reunion and to wrestle away the feelings of his debilitating self-worth, but to also find a fake boyfriend? God really said fuck you.

But as much as Hyunjin would like to succumb to his feeble heart, his mother didn’t raise a quitter (she actually raised someone so afraid of failure that they never start something, but you didn’t hear it from him). This year’s Christmas might be a clusterfuck of disaster, but he was going to make the best of it. He was going to hunt down the perfect fake boyfriend and show him off to his father’s rich, pretentious family.

It was a solid, five-star plan -- well, if he actually knew anyone who would agree to it.

“No,” Minho flat out disagreed, stealing Hyunjin’s curly fries from across the table at their usual seat in the quaint diner they frequented. “Ask somebody else to do it.”

Hyunjin clasped his hands together as he batted his eyelashes at Seungmin. “How about you, Minie? Please?”

No,” Minho answered for him, blocking Seungmin’s face with a greasy hand. “Why would you ask my boyfriend to be your fake boyfriend in front of me? Hwang, do you wanna die?”

“Hyung, it’s a fake relationship,” Seungmin said, swatting his hand away.

“What if you guys have to kiss? Families love voyeurism!”

“I don’t care about tradition,” Hyunjin immediately piped in. “If somebody tries to get me to kiss you under a mistletoe, I will punch you.”

“Well, it’s not like it’ll be the first time we kissed.” Seungmin shrugged. “Hyunjin, remember the time we kissed in the fifth grade because we wanted to recreate Sleeping Beauty? But then you started crying because you remembered your mom told you that kissing meant you’d get pregnant, so you wouldn’t stop crying until our teacher had to start early on sex education just to get you to stop crying? Fun times.”

Hyunjin groaned and face-planted onto the table. “I’m doomed. I really am. I’m going to live with the fact that I’ve disappointed my mom for the rest of my life. God, I am tired of being a human! I want to be a dog soaking up sun rays in the ruins of ancient Greco-Roman monuments. Somebody kill me.”

Minho reached over for the salt shaker. “Gladly.”

“Uh, premeditated murder aside,” Seungmin said as he took the salt shaker out of Minho’s hand and fed him more curly fries, “didn’t Jisung need a tutor for his English class since he’s on the verge of failing? If he fails it, then it’d affect his scholarship. Maybe you could ask him as a favour in return, then. He’s a pretty reasonable guy.”

Hyunjin scrunched up his face in disgust. “You’re seriously telling me to ask him?”

Seungmin intoned, “Yes.”

It was universal knowledge among the group that Hyunjin did not like Jisung. He didn’t necessarily have a valid reason to, since their friend circles had intermingled at some point -- Hyunjin just didn’t. Sure, Jisung was proclaimed to be funny by many, was personable and bubbly, and was basically a social butterfly (except for the times he ended up fluttering into the wrong kind of people), but Jisung also wore anime t-shirts from Hot Topic in public with flaming pink cargo pants. He was a walking and raging dumpster fire of a fashion disaster.

Yet, Jisung seemingly had the nerve to act all haughty just because he was one of those multi-instrumentalists who flaunted their musicality everywhere they went as a way to pick up potential swooning candidates to fuck. His talent did not match his arrogance! Plus, how Jisung hadn’t been arrested by the fashion police -- Hyunjin would never know, but he did know that popularity privilege was what helped Jisung remain untouched in society. His dick belonged in his pants, not his personality.

“Oh, that’s a nice one,” Minho said, snapping Hyunjin out of his angry reverie. “I should use it. Hey, Seungmin, your dick belongs in your pants, not your personality.”

Hyunjin slapped his mouth shut, unaware that he’d spoken his entire private spiel out loud. On the other hand, Seungmin was seemingly unaffected by the ricochet even though he looked Minho straight in the eye and poured salt all over his ripped jeans.

“Give it a try, Hyunjin,” Seungmin said, openly snickering at Minho’s expression that could cause a nuclear Armageddon. “It’s not like you’ve got anyone else who’ll potentially agree to fake date you and attend your annual Christmas party with a bunch of obnoxious family members. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

As much as Hyunjin wanted to reject the mere notion of asking Jisung for such a favour, Seungmin was right. Hyunjin didn’t have any options left. He’d asked Jeongin, but he’d probably rather sleep in a nest of vermin than to act lovey dovey with Hyunjin. Felix would have been a viable option, but Felix usually went back to his hometown during the holidays, and he had too much of a pure heart for Hyunjin to subject him to a night of family drama and unsolicited criticism. Plus, Felix kind of had a crush on the Santa Claus in the malls, and Hyunjin didn’t want to listen to him thirst over his holiday father figure throughout the drive home.

“Fine,” Hyunjin grumbled, taking the last, soggy curly fry. “I’ll ask him.”

 

 

 

The next morning, Hyunjin laid out his easy plan in securing a fake boyfriend for the day.

  1. Find Jisung. (Gross!!!!)
  2. Kindly bring up that Seungmin had mentioned his failing grade and then offer to tutor him in English.
  3. Ask for The Favour™ in return.
  4. If everything fails, maybe threaten him at knife point?

Hyunjin grabbed his nail filer just in case.

With ongoing commentary from Seungmin, he’d just told Hyunjin that he spotted Jisung in the lobby of the main arts building. As soon as his class ended, Hyunjin zoomed out of the classroom and sprinted down the hall, skipping steps down the stairs and fumbling for apologies when he ended up crashing into a few people on the way down.

Students began filling the space as they lined up for the Starbucks right outside of the cafeteria, domed by plexiglass walls, and Hyunjin sped through the crowd with long-legged strides to find Jisung sitting alone by the couches, spinning a mechanical pencil between his fingers as he bobbed his head to the music he was listening to from his headphones.

Hyunjin took in a deep breath and flung his hands around as a way to shake off all the anxious residue. He straightened his posture and put his nose in the air as he approached Jisung. Hyunjin rehearsed what he was going to say in his head for another fifty times, and as Jisung looked up at a towering figure suddenly eclipsing over him, Hyunjin started paling at the prospect of asking his self-proclaimed nemesis for a punitive favour.

Be nice, be nice, he thought, and opened his mouth to blurt out, “Are today hey how you?”

Hyunjin wanted to slap himself in the face.

Jisung blinked up at him, looked behind him, then back up at Hyunjin, pointing at himself. “Did you just talk to me, dude?”

“Okay, fuck the plan,” he muttered, taking a seat across from Jisung. God, he was wearing those stupidly eye-catching pink cargo pants with a zebra-print belt. “Look, I need a favour.”

Jisung narrowed his eyes at him. “You said you’d rather hot wax your ball sack than be friends with me in the group chat the other day -- “

“Wait, you’re in the group chat?”

“-- and now you’re asking me for favours? Damn, bro, make up your mind.”

Hyunjin tried the next route. “Okay, I know you’re failing English, so I can tutor you in exchange for my favour. If you need proof, I can pull up my GPA sheet right now and show you that I have the credentials to guide you into becoming a changed man who would no longer endure the ridicule of being sloppy and barely literate, and you’d also get to keep your scholarship! Win-win, right?”

“It’s not my fault we, as a modern society, still study a 400 year old play about a depressed Danish prince,” he snapped back, crossing his arms. He was manspreading with his hideous pants and it kind of made Hyunjin want to cry. “Like, why do I have to sit for two hours reading some dude talk to himself in flowery language?”

“They’re called soliloquies!”

“Okay, and? O hell, he hath airpods in, he hears us not! Of course I’m failing if Mr. Hammy's speaking like that for an entire volume of text.” Jisung was nearly pouting. “But you must be really desperate if you’re asking me, of all people, for a favour, that you’d be willing to spend time helping me. So, fess up already. What is it?”

Hyunjin cleared his throat. He sat up straighter and looked at the wall behind Jisung’s head. “I need you to be my fake boyfriend for my family’s Christmas dinner.”

Jisung stared at him. Stared for a long, long time, with his mouth hanging open until a string of drool started dripping down his mouth and he had to wipe it away with the sleeve of his crewneck. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I need you to be my fake boyfriend.”

“Your -- your -- “ he gagged. “Your what?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes,” Hyunjin hissed before proceeding to aggressively punctuate each and every word in a gratingly loud voice: “I. NEED. YOU. TO. BE. MY. FAKE. BOYFRIEND. FOR. CHRISTMAS!”

The lobby suddenly went quiet as heads turned to look at them. Hyunjin felt his face combust in absolute embarrassment and he shrunk in his seat, lifting up his textbook to cover his face, though Jisung was shameless about it as he cackled with his head thrown back. He laughed for what seemed like ages, until Hyunjin decided he had enough of being laughed at and brandished his nail filer right before Jisung’s nose. “Stop laughing or else I’ll stab you!”

That made Jisung laugh even more. He was wheezing, at this point. “You are so -- I can’t -- I seriously can’t breathe, I literally might die -- “

“Then die, you fool.”

“I’m so sorry,” he cried delightfully, “but I’d rather get fingered by Freddy Krueger than to agree to this.”

Fuming, Hyunjin abruptly stood up from his seat and said, “Fine! I’ll go look for someone else, then! Have fun failing English because there’s nobody else that excels at the subject other than me so I hope you lose that stupid scholarship of yours and never make music again, you -- you stupid!” And with an indignated harrumph, he spun on his heel and stormed out of the lobby.

As he left the building and seated himself by the water fountain, Hyunjin took out his phone and immediately went to the group chat to vent out his frustrations.

 

MAKING POUR DECISIONS 🍷 (8)

You:
AHHHHHHHHHHH
I HATE HIM SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!
387$T#TGwnSKUFJIkjfnnkjsvi

CHANGBIN
time for me to mute this gc see yall in 7 yrs

Seungmong🐶
Huh I thought Jisung would’ve said yes

Lee Minho
hyjhjin did u insult him beforehand
is that why he rejected you

You:
NO I WAS EXCEPTIONALLY KIND !!!

Cha-Cha-Chan
Who are we talking about right now

You:
WHO ARE U

Cha-Cha-Chan
????????!!?!!!?!?!?!?!????????/?//??

Seungmong🐶
Haha hyung he doesn’t know youuuuu

Cha-Cha-Chan
This is Bang Chan!!!
Chan Bang
Bang
Chan
Chris
Christopher

You:
I STILL DON’T KNOW U

Cha-Cha-Chan
??????
I hate kids

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
do u guys think if i proposition the santa claus at the mall
he’d hold my hand ?

Seungmong🐶
No

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
Ok Bitch

Lee Minho
hyunjin y ru talking in capslock
calm down dumas
dumafss*

You:
DESTROY THE IDEA THAT I WILL EVER CALM DOWN

Bbanginnie :3c
i just woke up what the fuck is happening

Seungmong🐶
We are witnessing Hyunjin break down over a rejection

Bbanginnie :3c
oh ok nothing new then
i’m going back to sleep

the swaggiest guy on planet earth!!!!!!!!🐿️✨
DUDE i didn’t reject him i just said id rather get fingered by the
sexy serial killer from a nightmare on elm street

You:
GO AWAY JISUNG
SOMEBODY KICK HIM OUT

the swaggiest guy on planet earth!!!!!!!!🐿️✨
??????
URE THE ONE WHO ADDED ME HERE IN THE 1ST PLCE

You:
NO I DIDNT???

Lee Minho
o ya srry kid that was me i did it thru ur phone
the other night
o-o-o-oa-oa nya ♫ ♬
(*・∀-)☆

Seungmong🐶
Hyung you know it’s scary when you use those faces

Lee Minho
and? does it look like i care? deal with it
(๑ↀᆺↀ๑)✧(=´∇`=)(^=˃ᆺ˂)

Seungmong🐶
I can’t wait to divorce you when we get married

 

Hyunjin seethed over his phone screen. Of course it was Minho. Not only would he change his ringtone to a weeb anthem, but he’d also add his nemesis to their group chat. Then again, Hyunjin should have expected it. Minho was one of those people who seemed nice and well-adjusted at first until you grow closer to them and realize how they were actually a bit insane.

In the middle of his internalized, rampant rage, Hyunjin didn’t notice someone had come up to him and sat beside him on the ledge of the fountain until he felt a tap on his shoulder. Hyunjin screamed, nearly stabbing the stranger in the chest with the nail filer he still had in his hands, but then Jisung screamed back and smacked it away with swift reflexes. The both of them watched the nail filer fly through the air in a graceful arc before it plopped into the water.

“Uh, I wouldn’t climb in there to grab it,” Jisung said, sheepishly scratching his nape. “I’m pretty sure people’s pissed in there after frat parties.”

“Noo,” Hyunjin whined miserably, looking at his nail filer inhabiting the depths of the water alongside rusty pennies.

“Anyway, you didn’t even let me finish before you stomped out of there damning me to hell,” Jisung said, unaffected by Hyunjin’s glare. “Yes, I’d rather get fingered by Freddy Krueger, but who wouldn’t? You dislike me, and because you dislike me, I’m not fond of you either, but you want us to fake date. That’s like the equivalent of me eating more than two of those fiber gummies because they taste better than any actual fruit but also makes me shit myself to death.”

“How the fuck are they equivalent?”

Jisung said some vague, weird shit while he wildly gesticulated, before saying, “Ugh, you know what I mean. But, moving on! If you add in an endless supply of coffee, and do my laundry for a whole month, then I’ll agree to be your fake boyfriend for the holidays. I’ve always wanted to trick a bunch of people and God, I’d do anything for free food and alcohol, honestly. Does that mean we get to decorate a Christmas tree? Can I put one of those hot dog ornaments or would I be disowned -- “

He cut off with a screech when Hyunjin tackled him into a hug that had the both of them almost toppling over into the fountain as Hyunjin rammed his nose into Jisung’s neck and nuzzled him like a touch-starved dog. “Holy shit, you’re the best! I take every shitty thing I’ve said to you and about you back! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Duuuude. Dude. You’re hugging me. You’re hugging me. This is so weird. Are you crying right now?”

Hyunjin sniffled, clearly crying from overwhelming gratitude and relief. “Shut the fuck up. I’m not!”

“Oh, you totally are. Oh my God. Can I take a picture?”

Hyunjin pulled away and backhanded him across the head. Jisung retaliated by snatching his ear and twisting it. Hyunjin shrieked and shoved him away with a foot to the chest, accidentally pushing with enough unnecessary force that sent him plunging into the fountain -- but not with Jisung’s hand latching onto his wrist and pulling Hyunjin with him. They both tumbled into the water with a large splash and Hyunjin inhaled most of the aged pee water by accident.

Now soaking wet from head to toe with dirty, unfiltered water, from a fountain that was the breeding grounds for germs and bacteria and piss, Hyunjin felt compelled to grab his nail filer. So he did.

“Han Jisung,” he seethed, wielding it at Jisung like a rapier.

“I mean, you know what they say -- “ Jisung put his hands up in surrender, his bangs flopping over his eyes like a wet mop dog. “Free moisture, am I right?”

“You are dead.”

Jisung blinked at him, then at the nail filer, then booked it like an olympian athlete. Cue the next few minutes of Hyunjin chasing after Jisung while the both of them screamed profanity at each other until an innocent bystander had called campus security on them. Hyunjin’s nail filer was discarded yet again, and the both of them were let off with a warning.

That didn’t stop Hyunjin from shoving Jisung into a bush, though.

 

 

 

With a fake boyfriend in tow, Hyunjin texted his mother with the good news. She flooded their conversation with a bunch of confetti emojis and congratulated his fast establishment of a relationship. She then proceeded to ask him an onslaught of nosy questions about said boyfriend, to which Hyunjin quickly shut down with a ‘you’ll see when we’re home for break!’ before throwing his phone across the room.

Hyunjin couldn’t believe he pulled it off, even if it meant he was academically enslaved and would go bankrupt from the amount of coffee he bought for Jisung. However, it was better than being the only disappointing son of his mother, and pair that up with Hyunjin’s innate predisposition as a selective people pleaser, he supposed he could endure the presence of his stupid pseudo-nemesis for the time being.

(“Is this seriously how you’re getting into the Christmas spirit this year?” Jeongin asked over the phone. “By fake dating and manipulating your whole family?”

“Absolutely.”

Jeongin hummed. “Huh. Okay. Totally beats the Grinch costume.”)

During Hyunjin’s first tutoring session, they’d agreed to meet on the first floor of the library. Jisung had sauntered over to his table with a skateboard tucked underneath his arm wearing a pink t-shirt with Nakano Azusa’s face embroidered in the center, paired with gaudy plaid pants and high top platforms. Hyunjin felt nauseous just looking at the technicolour disaster that was his outfit, and to make it worse, Jisung was wearing a wooly bucket hat with bear ears. Bear ears.

Jisung noticed him gawking and seemingly misinterpreted it as a look of admiration. He leaned his hip against the table and cocked a smile. “I’m sorry. Is my swag distracting you?”

“No. You look like an open autopsy.”

Jisung frowned and dumped his bag on the table. “And I’m 72 different flavors of done with you. Is that my coffee?”

Hyunjin slid the Starbucks cup over with a grim nod. Jisung beamed and sat down on the vinyl chair beside him, heaving out a contented sigh after taking a long swig. “Ah. I can feel the caffeine saturating my serotonin and dopamine receptors. So, my baby sweet cakes! I’m ready for you to seduce me with your knowledge of 19th century British and American literature.”

“Say shit like that again and I’m ignoring everything that comes out of your mouth,” Hyunjin said, making grabby hands at him. “Now, give me your syllabus.”

Jisung reached into his bag and took out a disarray of papers that fell out of his binder. He plucked out a green-coloured piece of paper and handed it over, tapping his feet together as he watched Hyunjin skim over his syllabus with round, curious eyes.

“So this is your only failing class?” He sifted through the mess of papers and found the worksheet needed to be completed for this week’s class. The questions were so easy that Hyunjin could answer them without the use of the internet. “Are you even trying to pass?”

Jisung puckered his forehead. “Duh. You think I got into college because I’m smart? Hell no. I’m here because of my work ethic! And why is it always Shakespeare? Aren’t there any other old English authors from the 17th century? Why is it always him? He’s not even hot.”

“His works are timeless!”

“You mean timelessly boring?”

“God, why do people think it’s okay to waste my time,” Hyunjin muttered, setting the syllabus down. He snapped his fingers at Jisung and declared, “Okay, put your coffee down. We’re beating that brain of yours into a literary connoisseur for the next two hours.”

Hyunjin spent the next half an hour guiding Jisung through Shakespearean language -- which, in retrospect, wasn’t that hard compared to more ancient texts like Gilgamesh or Beowulf, but then again, Hyunjin hadn’t known that it was okay in the first place to not understand Shakespearean humour instead of studying to the point of becoming obsessed with the Tudor Era that led to an excruciating realization that some jokes were truly lost to history.

While he left Jisung to answer one of the questions on his worksheet, Hyunjin went on his phone and asked Google to find him a hitman who would kill him for $10.

“Alexa, this is so sad, play Despacito,” Jisung mumbled, scribbling something illegible across the paper. “That literally sums up the entire play. Also, is this supposed to be teeming with homoerotic subtext or is it just me?”

Hyunjin grabbed his paper. “Jisung, you wrote ‘deez nuts’.”

“Yeah? ‘Cause they’re gay as fuck. Ha-ha. That rhymed.”

Hyunjin sighed and rolled up his sleeves. There was much work to be done.

When the sun started to set, they finally called it a day. Jisung yawned loudly as he packed up all his things and shoved them into his bag, including his crumpled text of the play, and looked seconds away from passing out. Hyunjin, on the other hand, was setting up their next tutoring session so it didn’t interfere with their individual schedules that included their extracurricular activities.

“Okay, so we’ll meet up three times a week for two hours to help you prepare for your final exam and fix your god awful academic writing,” Hyunjin said, squinting at his online planner while Jisung picked at his ear with the end of a pencil. “My mom expects us to be home by the 23rd so we can help her out, so in between tutoring, we can also talk about how we’re gonna trick my entire family into thinking we’re in love and not wanting to murder each other -- which is, like, constantly.”

“Creative writing is more useful than academic writing, asshole.”

Hyunjin didn’t know how to refute that, so he ended up sticking his tongue out at him. Jisung rolled his eyes and flipped him off with both hands.

Though there were times Jisung invoked extreme feelings of vexation that had Hyunjin reaching for his sharpened pencil to threaten to stab him with it, there were also times where they were getting along generally well enough to invoke feelings of mutual respect as well. He wasn’t sure if it was a travesty or not, but over the course of tutoring Jisung while juggling with his own courses, Hyunjin realized many, many things about Jisung. To break it down, he’d condense them all into a list of four and no more.

 

1. Han Jisung Was Not Funny (And Never Shuts The Fuck Up)

Minho had once described Jisung as a funny, little man, who wore big shoes to make up for his short stature. He was somebody with the attention span of a gnat who always fidgeted with any inanimate object he could get his hands on, as Hyunjin had observed throughout their sessions when he seemingly zoned out at any unfamiliar word used in the text. Jisung was also witty, but he was also overly confident, so Hyunjin was more often than not subjected to the hideous monstrosity of Jisung’s side job as the clown patrol that was foisted upon Hyunjin every time they met up or crossed paths.

Jisung was balancing a pencil on his cupid’s bow when he sat up from his lazy recline and pointed at Hyunjin with it. “So, a guy takes a girl to prom. He waits in the ticket line for a really long time but gets them. He goes to rent a limo. The rental line is really long but he eventually does it. He goes to buy her flowers. The line at the florist is really long but eventually he gets the flowers. At prom, she asks him to go get punch, so he goes to the refreshment table.” He wiggles his hands with a wide-eyed grin. “There is no punchline.”

Hyunjin stared at him. “I am in physical pain. I can’t believe you abandoned literature for the sole purpose of clownery.”

“You didn’t laugh,” Jisung complained, throwing his pencil down on the table. He started to spin around on his wheeled chair. “Seungmin said that you laugh really easily, though.”

“Why would he tell you that?”

“Because he was telling me the story of the time you guys kissed in fifth grade -- “

“NO!” Hyunjin bellowed, slapping a hand over Jisung’s mouth to shut him up. He recoiled in disgust when Jisung licked at his palm, and he quickly wiped away the saliva on his pants. “That topic is strictly forbidden!”

Jisung snorted and got up from his chair to dive into his bottom bunk bed. They decided to hold the session at Jisung’s dorm today since the library was occupied with a writing workshop and anywhere else was too loud or unfamiliar for Jisung to comfortably study in. But that also meant Jisung was more prone to slacking off in the premise of his room, which was why Hyunjin followed after him and picked up a pillow to smack him on the head.

“We have one more hour of Shakespeare to get through, Jisung. You can’t just give up in the middle of our tutoring session. Don’t let my coffee go to waste!” Hyunjin scolded, yanking at Jisung’s arm, but was greeted by the dead weight of his limp body that emitted a reclutant groan. “Think about -- um, I don’t know. Santa Claus. He’d be deeply disappointed in you and your lack of devotion to one of the greatest English playwrights out there.”

"Pfft. I never believed in Santa Claus ‘cause I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark."

Hyunjin opened his mouth. Then closed it. Also valid. “I once left Santa gluten-free cookies and organic soy milk and he put a solar panel in my stocking.”

Jisung peeked his head out from underneath his duvet. He looked very comfy and sleepy. “See? Santa’s just an old humanoid cryptid with a belly-beard that steals all the credit from the elves he enslaves in his factory.”

“Well, he’s been there for me more than my own dad,” Hyunjin grumbled, finally relenting from trying to pull Jisung up from his bed. He ended up laying down beside him, staring up at the underside of the top bunk in mild disdain at the fact he was relaxing beside his enemy.

“What’s the whole deal with your family anyway?” Jisung asked. When Hyunjin had supplied the entire story as to why he needed a fake boyfriend the other day, Jisung did not even bat an eyelash. He merely steepled his fingers with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. That did not bode well. “Is it really necessary for you to grab a fake hot date to piss them off? What if they’re all homophobic and we have to sit through five hours of an uncomfortable dinner trying to act like the least gayest men on earth to appease them? Because I really can’t. I am so homosexual I could be illegal.”

Hyunjin tried not to laugh because the last thing he wanted to do was enable Jisung to say more stupid shit, but Hyunjin failed when he caught a glimpse of Jisung’s gravely serious expression and had burst out laughing. He snatched the duvet out of Jisung’s hands and smothered his face with it, turning away with much more force needed that had him rolling off the bed, getting tangled up in the duvet like a hysterical burrito. His laughter had died down to uncontrollable titters when Jisung hovered over him with a slightly concerned look in his eyes.

“Get me out, please,” Hyunjin croaked, trying to squeeze his hand out of the duvet.

“You look like a silkworm ready to be devoured by the mouths of multi-eyed archangels,” Jisung said. ”I would help, but making fun of you is so much more satisfying.”

“I hate it here.”

“Nah. You love it. You love it sooooo much, and you love me too because I’m your silly little goose of a boyfriend with an immeasurable range of humor. Ho-ho-ho, Merry Dickmas Santa Cock! I’m a genius. A comedian.” Jisung cackled and settled down beside him, folding his arms behind his head as a makeshift pillow.

“Now, you can comfortably listen to the time I got into drama with this internet friend who said they’d take a bullet for me. Like, how dare they steal my chance of doing a meet and greet in the underworld? That’s why I ended up doxxing them. I also threatened to send anthrax to their home but then they called the police and I got arrested but I managed to break out of prison and I tracked down their partner and strangled them so they sought revenge by investing $10,000 in a hitman to take me out who I counter bribed with $80,000 of money which I stole from their trust fund and -- “

Jisung rambled on and on about fictional events that did not actually happen to him, but was instead, a dramatic retelling of all his dreams (but he liked to say he actually did them in order to seem cool). Hyunjin felt like he’d gotten whiplash from the amount of times Jisung changed perspectives; he didn’t even stop to breathe for a second as he incessantly prattled away into the afternoon.

Hyunjin sighed and closed his eyes. He supposed Viola and Sebastian’s reunion could wait, after all.

 

 

2. Han Jisung Did Not Sleep, What The Fuck

Sleep deprivation was a common thing among students. Insomnia was very much real, and there were times Hyunjin didn’t want to retire for the night because it was the only alone time he alloted for himself where he could do whatever he wanted.

It was apparently a collectively shared sentiment. Seungmin would reply to him after Hyunjin sent a dank meme through Instagram at four in the morning, or their group chat would suddenly become active when Hyunjin was about to sleep after he’d had enough of searing his retinas with his phone’s blue light. Nothing like a group chat that blew up at 3AM every night talking about penises.

But Jisung? He was the walking epitome of a health disaster.

“Dude,” Hyunjin said, examining the harsh dark circles underneath Jisung’s eyes as he smacked his head against his book in a zombie-like trance, hoping that by some ungodly miracle, all the information from the text would transfer into his brain by osmosis. Unfortunately, all he seemed to pick up on was the urge to nap. “Take melatonin at night or something.”

“I do.” He wrinkled his nose. “I take, like, two. Sometimes three. I’d take my mirtazapine but they make me crash until four in the afternoon and I can’t really do that if I actually want to wake up in time for my morning classes.”

“Jesus.” Hyunjin frowned. “How are you even still alive?”

Jisung tapped the coffee cup. “Caffeine, baby.”

“You seriously need sleep.”

“Sleep is for losers.”

“Therefore you need it.”

Jisung slanted him an unamused look and tightened the strings of his hoodie. “Fine, let me correct myself: sleep is for people without wifi.”

“I’m not tutoring you when you can barely keep your eyes open,” Hyunjin said, closing his anthology text. “You’re not gonna retain anything I say when you’re microsleeping every minute of our session. Just go back to your dorm and sleep.”

“No,” Jisung said petulantly, whipping out his phone. “If you’re not gonna tutor me, then I might as well do some riddles to raise my IQ since you keep calling me stupid. In fact, we’re both stupid, so we can do them together.” He slid his chair over until their knees bumped together. “Okay, first question: what’s at the end of a rainbow?”

Hyunjin scrunched up his face in distaste at another tutoring session gone to waste again, but he humoured Jisung anyway. “Gay people?”

“Wrong, but also true,” he said, bringing his coffee to his mouth. “Alright, next one. What’s sometimes black and sometimes white?”

“Uh,” Hyunjin drawled in thought, knitting his brows together. He thought of a piano, but what ended up coming out of his mouth was, “Nikita?”

Jisung spit his coffee out all over the carpet.

They were kicked out of the library after they garnered enough complaints from the students trying to study around them, and the librarian had menacingly approached them looking very unhappy at the noise they were making and the conspicuous coffee stain spreading across the beige carpet. Hyunjin frantically apologized, feeling his face burn to the tips of his ears, and only belatedly realized that Jisung had abandoned him by escaping through the emergency exit doors when Hyunjin looked to his side and found nothing but an empty outline of his ghost.

That was how Hyunjin ended up sulking by the hearth of a tree, shielding his face from the dappled sunlight slipping through the gaps of the foliage but mostly as a way to hide his identity from the entire student body. He groaned when he felt a kick to the sole of his shoe and found Jisung peeking at him from over the edge of his skateboard.

“The pure audacity of your betrayal!“ Hyunjin yelled, shooting upright from his recline. “You’re so -- ugh!” He picked up a twig and smacked Jisung on the leg with it. “You’re despicable!”

“Ow! Every man for themselves, babe.” Jisung wielded his skateboard to deflect the twig from doing damage upon his fuschia pink cargo pants. “It’s not my fault you’re such a goody two shoes.”

Hyunjin was certain that not even a festering rash could stop Jisung from being annoying. Hyunjin threw the twig aside and thumped his head against the trunk to continue brooding while he watched Jisung frolic around in a frantic fit when he saw a bug near him, swiping at his hair to rid himself of those satan-spawned inchworms that hung from the tree and made him look like a shaman in the middle of a demon exorcism ritual. Then, uninvitedly, Jisung threw down his things and laid down to rest his head on Hyunjin’s lap.

“What are you doing?” Hyunjin asked, jostling Jisung’s head off of his thigh.

“I’m gonna sleep.”

Hyunjin scowled. “For someone who’s gonna fail English because he keeps slacking, you sure do seem to be filled to the brim with warm fuzzies.”

“Oh, so you want me to stay awake and keep talking? Okay. Well, just to let you know, I have not slept for five days and I think I’m hallucinating that demon over there but right now, my body is currently craving the touch of soft, mashed potatoes and its white vegetable flesh sliding all over my body with its puree-like texture. Only the beautiful, captivating, gooey white semi-solid plant matter inspires me to continue living. Sometimes, I like to imagine -- “

Hyunjin smacked a hand over his mouth, and yelped when Jisung licked at his palm again. “Fine! Sleep, you idiot.” He forcibly positioned Jisung back onto his lap, flicking him on the forehead after the process. “I never want to hear you talk about mashed potatoes in that manner ever again.”

Jisung laughed, flashing him a heart-shaped smile that moved all his moles and made Hyunjin’s insides turn to goo, paralyzing him into silent shock. He couldn’t tell if he should be appalled or confused at a sudden flutter in his stomach, but he snuffed it out immediately and dismissed it as a result from skipping lunch. He was totally not watching the way Jisung’s chest rose and fell peacefully, or the subtle facial expressions he made in his sleep that indicated he was dreaming. Absolutely not. He’d rather be dead than be caught -- staring.

His phone buzzed with a notification and Hyunjin rummaged for it in the pocket of his pea coat, trying not to move too much in case he woke Jisung up. He narrowed his eyes at the message he received in the group chat of just him, Seungmin, and Minho.

 

2 LOSERS & MINHO (3)

Seungmong🐶
We see you~~~
🥰 🥰 🥰 🥰

 

Hyunjin blinked. He looked around and spotted Seungmin hopping behind a bush next to shrubs of dying hydrangeas, and Minho was beside him doing some bootleg Pennywise jig that included overeager jazz hands. Hyunjin felt his face burn and he quickly typed out a reply.

 

You:
THIS IS NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

Seungmong🐶
Hmmmm
It just looks like u two are getting along better than I thought ´ω`
I told u he wasn’t as bad as you made him out to be

Lee Minho
ure so single that i bet him sleeping on ur lap feels like sex

Seungmong🐶
Hyung that is so mean
but also true

Lee Minho
hynjin in case u didnt see
we just hi-5ed each other

You:
SHUT UP !!!!!
I DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS

Lee Minho
well i also didn’t ask to be at the stage of my life
where i should be eating healthy n working out when dying seems
so much easier …….. yet here i am

(i’m kidding pls practice self love xoxoxo)

You:
????
I MEANT THIS SITUATION

Seungmong🐶
You could always try to tell your mom that u
no longer want to be emotionally enslaved by familial drama

You:
I’d RATHER GET MURDERED!!!!

Lee Minho
oh my god finally smth i can succeed at
brb

 

Hyunjin looked up in time to see Minho scurrying off towards the direction of his apartment. Seungmin indecisively darted his eyes between Hyunjin and Minho, then came to a decision when he shrugged and skipped after Minho. Hyunjin scoffed and spammed a string of angry emojis in the group chat before he pocketed his phone back into his coat and rested his head against the tree trunk.

With Jisung snoring quietly on his lap underneath the blue, open sky, Hyunjin thought that it was a pretty nice day.

 

 

3. Han Jisung Did Not Celebrate Christmas (And Was Kind of Pretty?)

“Nah, man,” Jisung said, sticking his tongue out in concentration as he scribbled out a draft copy of his thesis for his upcoming essay assignment. “I haven’t celebrated it since I was a kid. I think I was ten when my parents passed away and I moved here to live with my estranged uncle who was the only one willing to take me in. He doesn’t like Christmas so we never found a reason to celebrate it.”

Hyunjin let the skittles in his mouth fall out and onto his pants. “What?”

“Yup. So, like, I just stay here and hibernate until the next semester starts. It’s not like I hate the holidays, but it’s not like I have anyone back home waiting for me either, you know?” Jisung dotted the end of his paragraph with a large period and excitedly held it up for Hyunjin to read. “Here! How’s this sound?”

Hyunjin took his notebook, but barely processed what was written when his brain was still churning over the unexpectedly sad origin story of Jisung’s lack of festive cheer. That just made Hyunjin feel slightly more guilty for hating on him for absolutely no reason, even if Jisung was annoying and arrogant and stupid with his stupid jokes and stupid one-liners and stupid, ugly fashion.

Unable to focus, he disregarded the notebook and continued prying. “Wouldn’t your friends invite you to go home with them, though? Like Changbin hyung!”

“The last time I went home with him, we spent two hours in Walmart trying to find period products that didn’t exist because his sister pranked us.” Jisung frowned, shoving the notebook back into Hyunjin’s face. “Can you read this now?”

Hyunjin swatted the notebook away. “But you’re okay with coming home with me?”

“Well, when you put it that way -- “

“I meant for Christmas!”

Jisung laughed at Hyunjin’s exasperated expression and shrugged. “If I wasn’t okay, would I have agreed to be your fake boyfriend? I think it’d be fun. Your family sounds absolutely batshit insane and I love drama.”

Hyunjin frowned. Jisung’s first ever real Christmas as an adult would be spent witnessing the bizarre and somewhat traumatic competition between his parents, and the condescension and blatant gloating disguised as humility from the successful Yoon children. Hyunjin didn’t see how that was something to be excited for -- not when Christmas was supposed to be about peace and togetherness.

His first Christmas spent alone with his mother after the divorce was a vibrant memory. She’d decked out the house in full-on decorations, from sparkling garlands to a myriad of hanging hollies and to the biggest Christmas tree that could’ve penetrated a hole through the roof in the middle of their living room. He remembered her making hot chocolate for the both of them to drink as they watched Jack Frost on the television, snuggled together beneath the throw blanket.

But most of all, even if his father rarely reached out to him, he always remembered to contact Hyunjin during the holidays. It was the only time of the year where Hyunjin could rely on his father to be the most consistent and attentive. That was why Hyunjin couldn’t relate to Jisung in this aspect. Hyunjin loved Christmas so much that he couldn't imagine not being able to celebrate it, because Christmas was when he was the most loved, too.

He flinched when he felt a thumb press against his forehead. Hyunjin blinked back to the present and realized Jisung was smoothing out the furrow between his brows.

“You look like a pug when you think too hard,” Jisung said, retracting his hand after a moment. He regarded Hyunjin with a thoughtful look and tilted his head. “If you’re feeling sad for me, you really shouldn’t. It’s been years and it really doesn’t bother me anymore. My uncle hates Christmas but he’s, like, seriously into Hexennacht. There’s all kinds of people out there.”

“But still,” Hyunjin muttered. Then, sparked with sudden resolve, Hyunjin slammed his fist onto the table, startling Jisung into covering up his chest like a scandalized maiden. Hyunjin stood up from his chair and pointed at Jisung with the menacing aura of a fish.

“Han Jisung!” He declared loudly in the middle of the library. “I may hate you and your clothes and your perfect little stupid face, but I am going to make this year’s Christmas the most perfect Christmas possible ever for you!”

Jisung looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “Okay?”

“We’re going ice skating, window shopping, bar hopping, and we’re going to take photos with Santa and drink a bunch of eggnog and also spike the eggnog with rum because it’s the holidays, and then we’re going to stay upstairs and watch from the second floor as my mother battles it out with my father and my step-siblings annihilate every piece of my self-esteem but it’s okay because I’m tall and -- “

Hyunjin didn’t get to finish when the librarian marched over to their table and handed them a yellow slip that detailed their suspension from the library for the rest of the semester. Hyunjin barely had time to properly gather his things when security escorted them out of the building and dumped them in the freezing cold. The sky was a murky grey and a chilly blast of wind had Hyunjin spitting out his silver hair that got caught in his mouth.

“Does this mean I can stop working on my thesis now?” Jisung asked, still clutching his notebook in his hands.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been banned from a library,” Hyunjin mumbled dejectedly.

“All because you wanted to declare your love for me, huh?” Jisung teased, laughing quietly. Hyunjin shot him a glare, but faltered when he saw the way Jisung was looking at him -- eyes warm with the slightest, upturned slant of his lips. “I appreciate the sentiment. I look forward to your holiday special then, Hwang.”

As though the universe decided that this strange, slightly affectionate moment was not enough to send Hyunjin into an emotional override, the first snowfall began. It was the pure, white and fluffy kind that didn’t dissolve immediately at the wispiest touch, but the kind that stayed tangled in between Jisung’s black, messy hair.

Hyunjin’s mouth wobbled like a dead fish. It was weird to see Jisung like this -- soft, quiet, gentle like a feather, and unlike all the assumptions Hyunjin had made about him from what he’s observed and heard. Jisung tilted his head to glance up at the mercurial sky and wispy snowflakes scattered across his windburned cheeks.

“It’s not even December,” Jisung breathed in awe, looking at Hyunjin with wide eyes. There was snow caught in his eyelashes. “We’re lucky this year.”

Hyunjin swallowed and tore his gaze away. The snow fell heavily, and a thin layer of it had already been accumulating across the untrodden sidewalks and surfaces. “I -- yeah. Wow. Ha-ha. Gotta love the sky -- I mean the snow. I love the sky too. God, the snow. Snow! The snow always got me feeling some type of way.”

“I think that might be hypothermia.”

Hyunjin dropped his backpack. He crouched down and clawed in all the sticky snow he could muster in his hands, balled it up, then aimed it at Jisung’s face. Hyunjin shrieked with laughter as the snow entered Jisung’s mouth by accident when he was in the middle of forming a sentence. “Stupid! It’s the magic of Christmas.”

Jisung levelled him a nasty glare. Hyunjin flashed him an innocent smile before he snatched his backpack and dashed away, but was pulled back into a painful collision of skulls when Jisung yanked onto the straps of his backpack. They spent the next half an hour play-fighting around in the falling snow until Jisung came out victorious with Hyunjin in a suffocating headlock.

“Ugh, let me go!”

“No can do, babe. Let me bask in the magic of Christmas,” Jisung parroted, grinning impishly down at him with their noses almost touching, and it took every ounce of willpower in Hyunjin’s weak heart to not punch him in the face as a flight response.

Asking Jisung to be his fake boyfriend may have been an extremely terrible idea.

 

 

4. Han Jisung Was A Weeb (Who The Fuck Was Nakano Azusa?)

Winter break was approaching faster than the speed of light.

Hyunjin was busier this term as expected from tutoring the least literary receptive person in the world, but from also babysitting said person, because Jisung had absolutely no idea how to take care of himself.

(“Do you even eat vegetables?” Hyunjin asked as he watched Jisung inhale a whole slice of tiramisu cake after two plates of french toast drizzled in a heaping pile of syrup. They’d gone out to eat a snack after Jisung complained about his brain shriveling from the lack of energy food, but it turned out a ‘snack’ meant a whole sugary meal that made Hyunjin’s teeth ache from merely looking at it.

“Yeah,” Jisung said with his mouth full, “I eat vegetable chips.”

“That does not count.”

“As if you’re any better than me,” he retorted, pointing at Hyunjin’s plate filled with discarded vegetables that he had picked out of his stir fry. “Who doesn’t like onions?”

Hyunjin pouted and flicked a slice of onion onto Jisung’s plate of cake, earning a miserable yelp. “I like onions made a certain way.”

“Just admit that the only onions you like are onion rings.”

“Shut the fuck up, you walking cavity.”)

With the library being off-limits, they held their tutoring sessions at Jisung’s dorm now, especially since his roommate was frequently absent. Ironically, Hyunjin found himself spending more time at his dorm than his own apartment from being sexiled on nights when Minho was over to “innocently cuddle with his boyfriend”, which was more often than not much to Hyunjin’s dismay. Thus, Jisung’s status as Hyunjin’s self-proclaimed nemesis was starting to dwindle down to that of just a -- friend.

“You know what I do at night sometimes when I haven’t slept for more than 48 hours?” Jisung said one night when Hyunjin had slept over and they were both up late watching an anime about magical firefighters. Hyunjin didn’t know what the fuck it was about but he liked the music. “I think about how much it would cost to make a life sized statue of anime girls in solid gold. Nakano Azusa weighs 46kg and gold is 13.72 times denser than humans, and today’s price of gold per kg is roughly 43k USD. So this statue ends up weighing 631.12kg using the given numbers. Let's assume she has a guitar or something, so 650kg seems reasonable. At today’s price of gold, that almost comes out of 28 million USD.”

Hyunjin stared at him. Then he slammed the laptop shut and dragged Jisung to bed. “You’re losing it, you fucking weeb.”

“Nakano Azusaaaa,” Jisung wailed.

It was a little weird, maybe a bit disconcerting, but spending personal time with Jisung actually opened Hyunjin’s eyes as to what a genuine dork he was, contrary to all the fuckboyish assumptions he’s had of him before. Jisung gave a lot of funny answers to most of Hyunjin’s questions too, which was why he asked him things only a blind date would.

“Have you ever read a book that made you cry?”

“General Mathematics 6th Edition,” Jisung answered promptly without looking up from his laptop.

“Favourite book?”

“Facebook.”

Hyunjin rolled his eyes and stretched his arms over his head. His eyes were starting to hurt from rereading all the notes he’d taken in his lectures. “Favourite Christmas movie?”

“Iron Man 3.”

“Oh my God,” Hyunjin cried. “Iron Man 3 is not a Christmas movie!”

“What is this? Twenty-one questions?” Jisung scoffed, plucking his earphones out. The shrill resonance of violins flooded the room in a grandiose melody from his laptop -- the type of dramatic music that would play in the background of a Hellenic epic -- and Jisung stood up from his bed to begin stretching his stiff limbs. Hyunjin watched in pure, utter confusion, as Jisung did a silly little exercising jig to Symphony No. 40 in G Minor by Wolfgang Mozart.

“Why are you listening to classical music?”

Jisung pulled a disappointed look at him. “Why not?”

“It’s so -- random. And, I don’t know. Unmotivating.”

“Excuse you. Classical music slaps the fuck off and if you don’t feel like the angels of God are quantum communicating the hidden knowledge of the universe directly to your third eye when you listen to Mozart, something’s not right.”

Baethoven,” Hyunjin blurted.

Jisung did the sprinkler as he stared at Hyunjin with a deadpan expression. Hyunjin slowly turned back around to his notes and tried to bleach the image out of his mind.

At some point in the day of staying cooped up in Jisung’s room with his mind overstimulated by notes on the virtues of Greek epics, and the incessant compilation of Mozart’s symphonies igniting a severe need within him to punch a wall, Hyunjin had abandoned studying in favour of watching Jisung play one of those gacha games he never curbed the habit of spending in despite being forced into gacha withdrawal by Changbin earlier in the year.

Hyunjin would have discouraged him from playing and instead, work on that final essay of his that was due on the same day as one of his music production assignments, but it was either Jisung watched an anime about high school girls who were more musically talented than him, or played that rip-off Breath of the Wild mobile game. He chose the latter.

“Why are you killing him,” Hyunjin asked, as Jisung controlled a character with blue hair and an eyepatch into jumping off a steep cliff.

“He’s a thot,” he answered simply. Then, he pulled up the character sheet and showed him a young man with dark green hair with teal highlights, and an arm sleeve of green tattoos. “But this guy? I’d die for him.”

“They’re all short like you.’’

Jisung slapped him on the shoulder. He didn’t have to reach far since they were lounging in bed beside each other. “I’m not short. You’re just tall. Hell, you’re not even that tall, you’re just average sized.”

“Okay, all I’m hearing is that you’re just short.”

After watching Jisung spend an entire hour exploring a pretty meadow to open up chests with shitty loot, Hyunjin snatched his phone out of his hands and threw it across the room. Even in the summit of exhaustion, Jisung’s competitive spirit never wavered as he brought Hyunjin into a headlock and knuckled his head.

“It’s almost break, so we have to plan out what to do when we get to my mom’s place!” Hyunjin exclaimed, attempting to squirm his way out of Jisung’s grasp, but the guy wouldn’t budge. For somebody who hated exercising, he sure did hit the gym a lot.

“What’s there to plan? We can just, I dunno, hold hands and call each other baby. Do old people have some kind of checklist for what makes a relationship, a relationship?”

“Knowing my dad’s family, they’d probably weed out our lies by just breathing near us.”

“Huh. Okay.” Jisung let go of him. He crawled around so he was sitting across from Hyunjin. “So, like. I guess we should make up a story as to how we met. Okay, I’ll start! God blessed me with these good looks and luscious lips, and when we met at a party, I was so irresistible that you jumped me and begged for my phone number, and because I thought you were pretty decent looking yourself, I succumbed to your pleas and gave you my number, and then you wouldn’t stop blowing up my phone asking to meet, and since I had a heart of gold, I gave it a shot. You fell harder for me once you got to know me and I realized I kinda liked you too so then you professed your undying love for me and -- “

Hyunjin pushed a finger up against Jisung’s mouth to shut him up. “This isn’t an anime, Jisung. Wake up and smell the taxes!”

Jisung stuck his tongue out. Hyunjin shrieked and scrambled off the bed before Jisung could lick him again. When Jisung started laughing, Hyunjin huffed and stomped his feet. “Stop laughing! I’m serious!”

“I'm sorry, but you're really cute like this.”

Hyunjin felt his face turn red. He spluttered with a raised fist, “Yeah? Well -- well, you're really cute with a broken nose!”

Jisung turned hysterical. Hyunjin grabbed one of the sweaters strewn across the floor (he literally did the laundry two days ago) and chucked it at Jisung’s face to shut him up.

Jisung apparently wasn’t receptive to planning as well, so that meant Hyunjin had to think of an entire, reasonable backstory all by himself to tell his family members who would no doubt pry, considering they’d be the only gay couple at the dinner party. The eureka! moment came to him in the middle of his exam when he’d been mulling over an essay question, but because Hyunjin had no brain to mouth filter, he’d accidentally cheered out loud in the lecture hall.

All heads were turned towards him. His professor stared at him. Hyunjin meekly apologized and hunched over his desk for the remainder of the exam.

After the last day of exams, Seungmin and Hyunjin decided to host a little get-together at their apartment as a way to celebrate the end of the semester. Hyunjin had no doubt he did well on his exams despite constantly embarrassing himself in front of his peers and teachers, but there was a build up of trepidation pressing against his sternum when he thought about the possible notion of Jisung failing.

He hadn’t thought that far head, in all honesty. Would that mean Jisung would retract his agreement because Hyunjin had failed to keep up his deal? After all, Hyunjin hadn’t been the greatest tutor. He may have known his stuff, but that didn’t necessarily mean he successfully translated all of his knowledge through his teaching. Now that he thought about it, they mostly bickered or ate junk food during their sessions, and Hyunjin had no idea if he even taught anything substantial and worthy of retaining.

“Hyunjin!” Someone called for him. He was broad-shouldered with dark hair and dainty dimples and was also buried underneath a collapsed fort of couch cushions. “I’m Chan! I am Bang Chan! Bang Christopher, Chris, Chan!”

“Huh?” Hyunjin squinted his eyes. “Who’s Chan again?”

“Oh my God,” he whimpered, letting himself be smothered by Felix who’d fallen on top of him after Jeongin had whacked him with the force of a Jedi. Changbin interrupted their fight by wielding two bolster pillows and spun around like a tornado in order to effectively clobber them. All three of them then toppled over Chan, who seemed to have accepted his fate as the bottom piece of the Tetris tower.

“Jisung should be here soon,” Seungmin mumbled from beside Hyunjin as they sat on the floor with their backs resting against the wall. “I think he was sleeping.”

“Of course he was,” Hyunjin said sadly.

“Why do you look like someone ate your pet hamster?” Minho asked from the other side.

“What if he failed his English exam? What if he loses his scholarship and he’s forced to move back with his uncle who hates Christmas but is totally into the worshipping of the devil and -- “

Minho looked unimpressed. “Shh. Shh. My little Chikorita -- shh. Chill, a little. Jisung is fully capable. I’m sure he’ll pass, especially since he has you as an incentive.”

Hyunjin frowned. “What does that mean?”

“It means he’s plenty of smart,” Seungmin piped up, cheeks turning red after his fifth can of beer. “And we all know how much he hates reading a bunch of old white men talk about love and lady chesticles. But, you know, I’ve seen him trying a lot harder to succeed in this class than ever, so, you know, I think he’s tried really hard for you, because he knows this whole fake dating thing is really important to you. Did that make sense? I can’t tell. I see two Hyunjin’s and three Minho’s.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s enough, lightweight,” Minho said, prying the can out of Seungmin’s hand.

“I think you should believe in yourself more, Hyunie, or else I’ll really enable Minho hyung to kill you,” Seungmin continued, thumping his chest with a fist to burp. “I will get my hyung to kill you. My cute hyung. Yes.”

Minho’s ears turned red, but he was sticking to his usual veneer of indifference. “Hey, I may threaten violence, but deep down I am a total pacifier!”

"The baby sucking thing?"

"No, the other thing.” Minho clicked his tongue. “The -- what the fuck is it called again."

"Pacific!" Seungmin chirped.

"No."

Hyunjin darted his eyes between the two. “Is that, like, your star sign?”

Minho stared at him. “Nevermind. Violence can be justified. Hyunjin-ah, do you prefer to be fried or grilled?”

Hyunjin frowned. But then he looked down at his phone when it buzzed with a new notification. He saw the preview on his lockscreen and his eyes widened when he noticed it was an individual message from Jisung. He hurriedly tapped on it and unlocked his phone.

 

the swaggiest guy on planet earth!!!!!!!!🐿️✨
[sent you 1 photo]
look who PASSED!!!!!
🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

 

Hyunjin screamed.

You:
WHERE R U RIHG TNOW

 

the swaggiest guy on planet earth!!!!!!!!🐿️✨
uhh i’m like right outside ur aparmtnent
i just got here
damn it’s so fucking cold
is there still booze

 

Hyunjin got up from his seat, knocking a few cans of beer over when he underestimated the length of his legs. He didn’t bother to grab his jacket as he sped out of the flat and down the stairs of the building. He pushed past the doors and skidded to a stop when he spotted Jisung trekking up the snowy path to the building with his eyes lowered to his phone. But then he looked up and stopped, knitting his brows together in visible confusion at Hyunjin standing there with no outerwear. Or shoes.

“Do you wanna get sick or something?” Jisung asked indignantly, unwinding his scarf, but then Hyunjin screamed again and grabbed Jisung into a bone-crushing hug.

“Oh, dude. Duuude,” Jisung wheezed as he was lifted and twirled around. “You’re hugging me. Again.”

“You passed!” Hyunjin cheered, jumping on the spot that took Jisung up with him. “You can keep your scholarship and keep making music and you won’t have to go back to your Satanic uncle!” He pulled away and vehemently shook Jisung by the shoulders. “You're the smartest! You're not stupid! You're smart and cool and I knew you could do it. I mean, I had my doubts, but mostly because I didn’t know if I really helped, and even if you didn't pass it'd be okay because you're still smart and school shouldn't determine your smartness but you passed and now you can do anything!”

“Wow. You’re a lot happier than I am for passing,” Jisung mused, his eyes bright. “As much as I'd like to take all the credit, it’s all thanks to you, Hyunjin. So, you know, thanks.”

Hyunjin beamed at the compliment and hugged him again. “Wahoo!”

Jisung giggled, trying to nudge him towards the door. “Okay, this is pretty cute, but can we please go inside now. You’re going to die from hypothermia and I’ve got snow in my underwear because I fell on my ass the way here and I’m pretty sure my balls are about to fall off any second now.”

“Oh no,” Hyunjin gasped. “Not the balls.”

“Oh yeah,” Jisung gravely said. “Balls.”

They went back inside with Jisung leading Hyunjin up the stairs. Jisung’s hand was calloused yet soft -- fingers delicate but in no way fragile. Hyunjin was certain that the fluttering in his stomach was from the buzz of the alcohol, but he let himself bask in Jisung’s warmth that enveloped him in a cloud of wintry light that seeped through his skin.

 

 

 

 

Jisung was suspiciously energetic for someone who had to wake up at six in the morning. They’d packed a few duffel bags into the truck of Hyunjin’s car since they would sleep over at his mother’s house for two nights, and Hyunjin had made sure to bring his arsenal of pretty things in order to outdress his step-siblings.

But now, as they hit the road and entered a narrow strip of a highway, Hyunjin was certain Jisung did not sleep a single wink when -- in his peripheral vision -- he saw Jisung down the thermos of scorching hot coffee Hyunjin had made for himself.

Hyunjin sighed. “Truth or dare.”

“All of a sudden?” Jisung blinked. “Truth.”

“When was the last time you slept?”

“Dare.”

“Go to sleep.”

“I don’t like this game.”

Hyunjin reached over to pinch Jisung’s thigh, earning him a shrill yowl and an unpleasant retaliation when Jisung grabbed Hyunjin’s cheek and pulled at it until he was swerving into the other lane. Hyunjin smacked him on the shoulder. Jisung smacked him back. It went on for a while -- two, young adult men, fighting like a pair of sleep-deprived crabby children.

Jisung did not sleep throughout the ride. He fiddled with the radio channel that had them listening to Michael Buble dreaming of a white Christmas, or to heavy metal where Corey Taylor screamed anarchy into his eardrums, or a song named after a fashion brand by Frank Ocean whom Hyunjin had forgotten was still alive somewhere. Hyunjin could feel an oncoming headache from the amount of nonsense coming out of Jisung’s mouth when he started talking about Nakano Azusa again.

After a three-hour drive, they arrived in the town his mother has resided in for the past ten years. He pulled into the driveway of her country house decked out in strings of Christmas lights, where glittering champagne reindeers inhabited the front yard, and wreaths and garlands with bright red bows framing the windows from inside could be seen through the clear glass.

Jisung whistled as he squished his face against the car window and gaped at the house. “Whoa. I didn’t know you guys were balling.”

“Ugh, I hate parking,” Hyunjin grouched when he hit the curb. He turned off the engine and hopped out of the car. “Also, not really. She just won a bunch of money from the divorce.”

“Huh. Do you think your dad’s new wife was his sugar mommy before they married?”

“Say shit like that again and I will kill you.”

They grabbed their things from the trunk and hiked up to the front door. The volcano of anxiety that had been building up for the past few weeks leading up to this very day erupted then and there at how he was about to go in there and lie to his family about something so trivial but was inexplicably significant to them, and he felt his heart sink to his stomach. Hyunjin snatched Jisung’s arm and hissed, “You remember our story, right?”

Clearly, Hyunjin shouldn’t have relied on Jisung for any ounce of reassurance, because he had the nerve to ask in genuine confusion, “What story?”

“Oh, we’re fucked,” Hyunjin whined. “We’re fucking fucked.”

“Honey!” His mother beamed when she threw open the door and took Hyunjin into a hug. She was a petite woman, so Hyunjin had to fold himself in half in order to return it. When she pulled away, she took his face into her hands and squished his cheeks. “Oh, look at you and your little baby cheeks. I bet they’ll still be there even when you hit thirty. And goodness, what happened to your hair? Why is it grey? Are you trying to look like your old man, right now?”

“Mom, it’s a trend right now to have this hair colour.“

“Trend? How is it trendy to look like you’re about to enter the grave? Hyunjin-ah, you’re only twenty!”

“I’m twenty-one.”

“Since when?”

“Since you gave birth to me on March 20th, 2000, Monday at exactly 2:26PM KST!”

She waved dismissively at his exaggerated vexation, but then with a glint of deviltry, her eyes locked onto Jisung who’d been standing there watching the mother-son exchange with amusement. “And you must be Jisung. You’re so much more handsome than I imagined you to be! Hyunjin was so secretive about you that I was starting to think you were fake.”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Ms. Hwang,” he replied, flaunting the striking smile he used to get free fries from the campus burger shack that made Hyunjin turn around to hide his gag. “Nothing fake here, I’m afraid. I’m your son’s man first before anything else! That is how truly, deeply serious our relationship is; he’s brought me here not only to experience the thrill of a joyful Christmas spent together with family, but also for me to ask you for your blessings.”

Hyunjin darted his eyes between the two. His mother looked visibly touched by the effortless sincerity behind Jisung’s words -- almost moved to tears. She glanced at Hyunjin and nearly wept. “What a gem you have found, honey! Come here, Jisung. Let your future mother-in-law hug you.”

His mother gathered Jisung into her arms and patted him on the back of his head. Jisung looked so comically bemused that he caught Hyunjin’s eye and mouthed: “Mother-in-law?”

Hyunjin shrugged.

Inside the house, it looked just the same as it did when he’d been a kid with the damask wallpaper and the framed baby photos lined up atop the mantle of the flickering fireplace -- warm and cozy with a gilded brightness from the sun. His mother already set up the Christmas tree in the living room, and bedecked every crook and cranny of the interior with tinsel and garlands and what looked like sprigs of hollies but were actually, in fact, the bane of his existence.

Hyunjin stuck out an arm to prevent Jisung from passing through the doorway of the living room. “Mom, what’s that?”

“Why, that’s a holly.”

Mom.” He narrowed his eyes. “That’s a mistletoe.”

“Oh, really?” she feigned ignorance. “Silly me. I must have bought the wrong thing.”

“C’mere, baby,” Jisung cooed, standing on his tippy toes as he puckered his lips at him. Hyunjin smushed his face to the side in response.

“We don’t like PDA,” Hyunjin elaborated when he caught his mother looking at them funnily. He covered Jisung’s mouth with a hand but shrieked when Jisung licked at his palm. “That’s so gross, Jisu -- Hannie!” Right. Nicknames. “Stop that! What are you, twelve?”

“On a scale of one to ten,” Jisung retorted. “Yes.”

“But you two are a young, handsome couple! It’s a tradition to kiss underneath the mistletoe and you should honour it,” she cajoled, her arms akimbo. “It shouldn’t be that hard to just give each other a peck.”

God. Minho was right. Families did love voyeurism. “Our generation doesn’t do tradition!”

“Hey, Hyunie,” Jisung said, pointing at a spot on the floor that had Hyunjin automatically looking down. “On the ground there it says you’re a gullible shit.”

“Oh, dear,” his mother sighed, watching as Hyunjin tried to strangle his own boyfriend. “Is this how you young folks court each other these days?”

After Hyunjin released his vice grip around Jisung’s neck, his mother took them up the embellished stairs where the balustrade was strewn in shiny garlands and golden ribbons, and to Hyunjin’s old bedroom that she had immaculately cleaned before their arrival. They deposited their bags onto the floor; innocently, Hyunjin asked her where Jisung was going to sleep, and knew he made a mistake when she pulled a confused frown.

“Oh, I assumed you two wouldn’t mind sharing a room together considering, well, you’re together,” she explained. “Or would that be a problem?”

“I don’t mind,” Jisung piped in. “It wouldn’t be the first time we slept together.”

Hyunjin could tell Jisung was trying to get a rise out of him because he’d slanted him a provocative smile and wiggly brows, and it worked, because Hyunjin felt his entire face heat up at the scandalized look on his mother’s youthful face that had him spluttering flimsy denials: “We don’t -- we just share a bed! We just sleep and we’re -- we've never -- it’s not like that!”

“Please, spare me the details,” his mother said, lifting up a hand. “Just let me know if you need any protection, honey, because there’s a retail pharmacy down the block that sells a whole bunch of them for a cheap price. Or -- “ she lowered her voice, “must we need the talk?”

Jisung perked up. “I thought you had the talk in the fifth grade when you -- “

And we need to unpack!” Hyunjin interrupted loudly as he pushed his mother out of the room.

“Well, remember to show him around the house later! Maybe around town if you’re not too tired,” she said as she was being temporarily evicted. “I need to head out and order the box of wine for tomorrow’s dinner from the liquor store. Do you think twenty bottles of Chardonnay and Sovignon would suffice for eight people?”

“I guess so. Can you add vodka to the list?”

“Absolutely.”

Hyunjin shut the door as soon as his mother left. He heaved out a sigh and turned around, where Jisung was idly rocking back and forth on his heels with an innocent smile. Hyunjin shuddered. “We barely survived part one.”

“You know,” Jisung said, “I had the talk when I found my seventh grade math teacher on a gay porn website.”

“Why were you on a gay porn website?”

“For pancake recipes. Why the fuck do you think?”

Hyunjin groaned and collapsed onto bed. “I can sleep on the floor if you’re not comfortable sharing a bed.”

Jisung dived into the other side of the bed and latched onto Hyunjin with his limbs. “Having someone to hug when I go to sleep? Dude. That’s like any twenty-one year old, perpetually single, touch-starved college student’s dream. You could tenderly cradle my face at this moment and I’d probably black out.”

“Are you -- did you never -- you never dated before?” Hyunjin gawked.

Jisung glared at him but not unkindly, his tousled bangs brushing just shy of his eyelids. “I've dated, but I haven't done the diddly doo. Why? You gonna make fun of me?”

“How can I make fun of you when I’m the same?” he grumbled. “Even my mom knows I’m a virgin -- or was, until you had to go plant that idea in her head!”

Hyunjin noticed that whenever Jisung genuinely laughed, it was a full belly one that resonated from his chest and stretched his mouth wide open, bunching up his cheeks that crumpled his eyes into shiny stars. It was loud and uninhibited -- not the dry chuckles he gave as a way to close a conversation or to convey his discomfort or sarcasm. Hyunjin’s heart treacherously leapt every time Jisung laughed because of him, and it was the type of accomplishment that made him feel fulfilled and happy, unlike the pitiful trophy he got from dressing up as the Grinch.

“Well, you and me both then.” Jisung grinned, lifting up a fist to which Hyunjin tapped with his own. “The concept of virginity doesn’t exist anyway. Nobody’s dick is important enough to change any part of my identity.”

“That is so true.”

“Can you show me around now before I pass out? Because that demon in the corner of the room sure wants me to sleep right now.”

“Oh my God.”

 

 

 

Hyunjin let Jisung look at the baby photos of him that his mother bragged to the world by hanging them on the walls of the dens ("Wow, you were so cute. What happened?"). Then, Hyunjin led him to the newly redesigned kitchen with pale pink cabinets, a dramatic marble backsplash that covered the entire wall behind the range, and a cozy banquette tucked in the corner.

At some point, when Jisung declared he had to “take a porcelain cracking shit that could split the bathroom tile on the floor from the sheer force of air coming out of his ass” as a result from the thermos of coffee he inhaled earlier in the day, Hyunjin pointed down the hall to where the bathroom was. While Hyunjin waited for him to finish his business, he took out his phone and noticed the group chat was blowing up with spam.

 

MAKING POUR DECISIONS 🍷 (8)

 

CHANGBIN
WHAT DO U MEAN THEY’RE DATING

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
are you sure they’re not just
u know
hate-dating ?????

Seungmong🐶
What’s hate-dating

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
hate sex but like
romantically

Lee Minho
hyunjn can’t look at a fusking boob w/o screaming
what makes u think he can eat ass
fuckng*
fukcking*

Seungmong🐶
Yeah sorry guys hate to break it to you but
Hyunjin & Jisung are very much in love now ´⌣` ❤️

Cha-Cha-Chan
I love you guys
I really do

CHANGBIN
WHEN WHERE WHAT HOW ???
there’s absolutely no fucking way
hyunjin literally tried to stab my bff like 2 months ago
with a NAIL FILER ………

Seungmong🐶
I mean if you look at me and Minho hyung
We didn’t fully understand each other until he tried to kill me with a kitchen knife

Lee Minho
it’s true
i tried to murder my own baby
i still do but i use my mouth now

Seungmong🐶
Haha

Bbanginnie :3c
as long as they’re happy i don’t give two shits
can somebody pls pass the salt now omfg i’m dying over here

Cha-Cha-Chan
I really really love you guys
I srsly do love you guys
Just
Love u guyss so much

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
hyung why does it sound like ure trying to convince urself :<

Cha-Cha-Chan
Because that’s exactly what I’m doing

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
Ok Bastard

Cha-Cha-Chan
???????????1?!???...??/>,./\?
Felix I’m the Santa you’re in love with

Felix! (🌼❛ ֊ ❛„)
HUH

Bbanginnie :3c
SEO CHANGBIN HYUNG
P L E A S E
PASS
THE
SALT

CHANGBIN
ok but are u SURE they’re not just fwb or some shit
there’s no way they’re dating

Seungmong🐶
Everyone ignore him until he passes the salt

Lee Minho
gladly

Bbanginnie :3c
I JUST WANT TO ADD SALT TO THIS SOUP
IS THAT SO HARD

Seungmong🐶
So what’s for dinner

Lee Minho
oooooooo hunny i am serving looks tonite

Seungmong🐶
Hyung we haven’t eaten for 2 days

 

Hyunjin closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Of course it was Seungmin who would purposely spread misinformation just to cause trouble. He was a devil in disguise. He and Minho were a perfect match.

Half an hour later, Jisung finally returned from his earth-splitting shit to let Hyunjin know that there was a picture of Steve Buscemi in the bathroom. Hyunjin didn’t even know what to say at that point and could only assume that his mother was exploring her various niche interests as a middle-aged single divorced parent who needed some spice in the domestic life.

“She’s pretty hot for her age,” Jisung remarked, and Hyunjin threw up a bit in his mouth.

“I never want to hear you say that about my mom ever again.”

“It was a compliment -- “

Never again!”

Privy to the innermost wonders of town, Hyunjin kept to his word about making Christmas as fun as possible for Jisung before it went to shit when his step-family arrived. Since his mother was dining out with a few of her church friends, Hyunjin took him to the heart of town brimming with festivity and visited various boutiques, stumbled through different bars, and substituted ice skating with making snow angels in a stranger’s backyard (“How does an ice rink run out of ice? Is that even possible?” “I don’t know, dude. Don’t ask me.”).

It was all fun and games until Jisung scooped up an armful of snow the size of Frosty’s buttcheek and dumped it over Hyunjin’s head. A violent snowball fight commenced right after -- a storm of icy snow being flung back and forth in a clumsy whirlwind -- until the lights from inside the house of the backyard flickered on and they instantly scurried away.

Tipsy and uncoordinated, Hyunjin slipped on a patch of ice on the frosted sidewalks in the midst of their escape and earned himself a bruise on his tailbone. Jisung had to half-carry and half-drag him because Hyunjin wouldn't stop whining about the pain.

It was nearing midnight when they got home. His mother was already dressed for bed in her silk pajamas and robe when they staggered inside while drunkenly tittering about something nonsensical. She had a glass of wine in her hands as she leaned against the wall.

“Honey, you know you have to wake up early to pick up the wine, right?” she asked.

Hyunjin kicked off his boots, shoving Jisung away when he lost his balance and fell into Hyunjin’s side. “Yeah. I can -- I’m good at waking up. I’m great. I take 8AM classes every semester.” He flicked Jisung on the ear to grab his attention. “You too, Hannie. You have to wake up early to help me. If you don’t sleep tonight, I’m literally going to kill you.”

“I wouldn’t mind that,” Jisung slurred. “Finally some good fucking sleep.”

His mother was watching the interaction with a strange, calm look in her eyes -- the kind of look Hyunjin memorized from years of getting caught trying to steal another chocolate from the advent calendar she kept stashed away when he was young. “You know, I never had the chance to ask,” she said, “but how did you two meet?”

This was it. This was what Hyunjin embarrassed himself during his exam for. He threw an arm around Jisung’s shoulder and jostled him awake.

“We met at a party,” Hyunjin answered the same time Jisung blurted out, “K-pop club.”

His mother blinked. “Come again?”

“Party in a K-pop club,” Jisung corrected simultaneously as Hyunjin said, “The K-pop club threw a party!”

They gently fist-bumped each other from behind.

“Alright,” she drawled, raising an unconvinced brow. “I’m going to sleep now. Lord knows I need it for tomorrow if I’m going to look at your father and that obnoxious woman of his in the eyes for six hours. Of course, you know, with compassion.”

As soon as she disappeared up the stairs (but not without a bottle of wine that was suspiciously a quarter half empty), Hyunjin spun around and smacked Jisung on the shoulder. So much for sticking to his carefully curated meet-cute story. “The K-pop club? Seriously?!”

What?” Jisung crossed his arms defensively. “Doesn’t it make sense that we’d meet and fall in love while one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world sings about shining through the city with a little funk and soul?”

“You are impossible,” Hyunjin hissed.

“D’aw,” Jisung cheesed. “But you loooooveeee me.”

Then he proceeded to fall flat on his face when he tripped over their mess of shoes at the doorway. Hyunjin sighed for the nth time of the night.

Upstairs, they took turns for a quick shower and got ready for bed. Hyunjin was curling his damp hair with hair rollers to leave on overnight when Jisung returned from the bathroom and jumped into bed, accidentally knocking his head against the bed frame. He let out a loud, drawn out groan, sprawling across the sheets in audible agony, and it wasn’t until he raised his voice did Hyunjin dash from the vanity desk to the bed in order to smother Jisung’s face with his hands.

“Shut up, dude, my mom’s like literally down the hall and she’s gonna hear!” he hissed. “She’s gonna think we’re doing -- you know! The deed."

As if he enjoyed being the main source of Hyunjin’s suffering, Jisung grabbed Hyunjin’s wrists and yanked them away from his mouth to yell out, “Yes! Yes! Baby, that feels so good, baby I’m gonna -- “

Hyunjin screeched and tried to wrestle out of Jisung’s grip, but he was unrelenting in his strength, and Hyunjin could feel the steam coming out of his ears from the sheer mortification of the implications that his mother undoubtedly heard, so Hyunjin did the only thing he could do -- he headbutted Jisung that promptly had him spluttering from the hair in his mouth. With his hands freed, Hyunjin debated whether to properly strangle Jisung or not when Jisung swiftly thrusted a hand into Hyunjin’s rib. Hyunjin yelped and rolled off of him.

“Don’t tickle me!” Hyunjin exclaimed, shielding his waist. “If you do, I’ll kill you!”

Jisung held up his claws menacingly. “I’m beginning to think you’re incapable of carrying out your threats.”

That was how Hyunjin found himself shrieking with laughter from Jisung straddling his hips and hands prodding at the sensitive parts of his body. The relentless attack went on for a good, two minutes, until Hyunjin violently squirmed and ended up kneeing Jisung in the crotch. Jisung went down with a painful oomph! and held up a hand as a gesture of his surrender.

“I’m pretty sure my mom thinks we’re very indecent now,” Hyunjin said a while later, when they’re settled in bed with the lights off. It was almost 2AM and he felt wide awake. When he heard no reply, he looked over to Jisung. “Are you asleep?”

“Hm? What?” he mumbled. “Sorry, I was busy thinking about myself. Did you want something?”

“Nevermind. Go to sleep.”

“Okay, but hear me out first. Hot vegetable water is a soup and beans are technically a vegetable, so that means coffee is a soup. We’ve been drinking soup this entire time.”

Hyunjin groaned and turned on his side away from Jisung. “Every time you talk, I hear the sound that plays when Pac-Man dies.”

“Vibe check!” Jisung threw an arm around Hyunjin’s chest and hooked a leg over his waist. He rested his head between Hyunjin’s shoulder blades. “Can I sleep like this?”

Hyunjin could feel his body heat radiate underneath the blanket and it sent a shiver down his spine. “Um. Sure. I’ve always wanted to be the little spoon.”

“Sweet.”

Jisung was knocked out cold immediately. Hyunjin rationalized that he should be asleep too, but he couldn’t fall asleep with Jisung pressed up against his back so comfortably. It left him unreasonably self-conscious and flustered that his first instinct was wanting to stab something for closure.

He reached for his phone from the nightstand instead. He moved carefully so as to not wake Jisung up, and tried to distract himself by messaging Seungmin and Minho. Even though their moral compass was a roulette wheel at most times, Hyunjin found that their domestic-esque quarrels were the most entertaining thing to grace the earth.

 

2 LOSERS + MINHO (3)

Seungmong🐶
Don’t you think it’s psychotic of mankind to invent the concept of time

Lee Minho
yes we shld stop calculating time
no more days or hours
just existence in limbo

Seungmong🐶
Hyung I am right beside you

Lee Minho
?????? so
hyungujuin deserves to hear my thoughts too

You:
how com eu always spell my name wrong

Seungmong🐶
He just shrugged

Lee Minho
y ru still up hyunjn

You:
I CAN’T SLEEP
JISUNG IS SPOONING ME

Seungmong🐶
:O !!!!
Whoa

Lee Minho
wooooooooow
is there smth real going on rn

You:
NO!!!
THIS IS PURELY PLATONIC
HE IS JSUT CLINGY

Lee Minho
it’s ok
denial of feelings always comes first
y do u think it took me 2 yrs to realize i liked this kid

Seungmong🐶
Hyung but we were already dating when you finally confessed to me back
How does that work

Lee Minho
i thought u were just being nice when u said u liked me the 1st time

Seungmong🐶
???????

Lee Minho
clarearly the only straight i am is a straight up idiot

You:
I DON’T LIKE HIM !!!!!!!!!
THERE IS NO DENIAL OF FEELINGS BC THERE ARE NO FEELINGS

Lee Minho
watever u say
XD

You:
more like XDone with talking to u FOREVER

Seungmong🐶
Oh that was a good one
Hahahaha

Lee Minho
u guys wana die ?

Seungmong🐶
Only by your hands
😽😽😽😽

Lee Minho
fuck

You:
???
HELLO ?
R U GUYS STILL HERE
oh ew r u guys 👉👌 right now
EW

You:
ok well
GOODNIGHT HOMOS
homies*
eh same thing

 

 

 

 

Jisung had no fashion sense. At all.

Hyunjin had become accustomed to his fuschia cargo pants and weird graphic t-shirts, but today’s potential outfit really took the cake. Once Jisung had gotten out of the shower, he decided on a green t-shirt with Nakano Azusa’s face on it with a pair of bright red pants. Hyunjin, who’d finished doing last minute touch ups on his face, stared at Jisung with the most painful grimace he’d ever mustered in the twenty-one years he’d been alive, and hoped that he’d communicated enough disapproval in his eyes for Jisung to telepathically pick up on.

“What corner of hieronymus Bosch hell did that come from?” Hyunjin asked.

“KawaiiAnimeMerch.Com.”

“Is that a tattoo of Nakano Azusa on your shoulder blade?”

“Yup.”

Hyunjin tried to ward off his headache by rubbing his nose bridge. “Okay. This won’t do. Hannie, take that off,” he commanded.

Jisung looked up from trying to button up his pants. “Excuse me?”

“Take that shirt off!”

“Damn. I know I’m, like, drop-dead gorgeous, but couldn’t you wait until after the party to ravish me -- “

Please shut your fuck,” Hyunjin muttered as he rummaged through his duffel bag. “You’re not wearing that to the dinner, Hannie. You look like you just came back from a convention three years ago. Those pants are downright hideous and you could have at least chosen a sweater because maybe it would have hurt my heart less, but here you are, wearing anime merch of all things and you don’t even see anything wrong with it! Really, you’re just trying to hurt me with that shirt and -- oh, here it is. Ta-dah!”

Hyunjin brandished a velvet, deep wine-coloured blouse, beaming at Jisung excitedly. “Take your shirt off, Hannie.”

“Um.”

Take it off or I will.”

Hyunjin spent the next ten minutes trying to yank the Nakano Azusa shirt off of Jisung’s body (“Careful of her face, dude! And stop grabbing my tit!”) and successfully dressed him in the blouse that complimented his tanned complexion well. Hyunjin swapped those bright, red hideous pants with black jeans, and was in the middle of helping Jisung tuck in the blouse when Jisung yelped and wrenched away from Hyunjin’s touch, his face suddenly turning beet red.

“Dude, don’t touch my dick!” he yelled.

Hyunjin shrieked, “I never touched your dick!”

“Your hands were literally shoved into the depths of my jeans, touching my dick.”

“No I wasn’t! I was tucking your shirt because you are incompetent!”

“Doesn’t mean you should just go and touch my fucking -- “

There was a tentative knock on the door. His mother asked from the other side, “Honey? Is everything okay? What’s this about touching?”

Hyunjin’s face was piping hot. “Nothing!”

“Now, boys. I understand you two are still young with very active libidos, but please, can we save the compromising situations until later?”

“Sorry, Ms. Hwang,” Jisung called, twisting away from Hyunjin’s attempts to shut him up. “Hyunjin get’s a little -- ow, dude, did you just bite me? -- enthusiastic, but I’ll make sure to put him in his place later!”

There was no reply, other than the sound of a mildly concerned gasp and the dragging of slippers. Once his mother left thinking she had raised an indecent, perpetually horny son, Hyunjin unleashed his wrath by pinching Jisung’s cheeks until the latter shouted for mercy.

Afterwards, Hyunjin clasped a simple gold chain around Jisung’s neck, and straightened out the wrinkles of his blouse. He left it unbuttoned at the top to reveal Jisung’s collar bones, and Hyunjin tried not to fixate on the small mole in the crevice of his right clavicle. Hyunjin stood back and admired his work, before he hurried back from the vanity table with a palette and brush in hand.

“Uh,” Jisung drawled, looking alarmed. “What are you doing?”

“We are accentuating your features,” Hyunjin intoned, dabbing the brush in a plummy red shade. “Now, close your eyes.”

“You want to wield that feather duster on my face?”

“It’s not gonna hurt you! I mean, look at mine,” Hyunjin assured, pointing at his own eyelids that were gently streaked with a shimmery champagne colour to match his simple outfit. “And I’m perfectly fine. C’mon, Hannie. Don’t be a scaredy cat.”

“You put that thing near me,” Jisung hissed, dashing away like a Roman warrior who got caught in enemy camps for stealing a shiny helmet -- as much as he could, anyway, in the limited space of his bedroom, “and I’ll kill you.”

It was starting to become a regular thing where they’d outrun each other for trivial dominance. Hyunjin chased him around the room until he caught Jisung’s ankle when the latter had been trying to roll across the bed. With Jisung temporarily incapacitated, Hyunjin took the opportunity to climb over him and straddle his hips, holding him down with his weight as he lifted the makeup palette and brush in his hands with a victorious grin.

Jisung sighed in defeat.

Hyunjin lightly applied the shade across his lids with feathery strokes, trying not to laugh when Jisung looked like he was glitching when Hyunjin instructed him to look up as he brought the colour down underneath his eyes. Then, he dusted highlighter across his cheekbones and, after some deliberation, also across his collarbones. “God, I am such a genius.”

He hopped off of Jisung and gave him the palette so he could look at himself using the mirror. Jisung sat up from the bed and studied himself, looking impressed at the result.

“Why am I so damn handsome?” he asked, sounding genuinely perturbed at the fact. “What is wrong with me?”

Hyunjin couldn’t even be bothered at the hubris. He only laughed and shoved at his shoulder.

“Okay, so you’ll make me look like a hot drug dealer of an underground crime syndicate, but you’ll make yourself look all cozy and pretty,” Jisung said, slipping off the bed to fix his shirt that’d ridden out of his jeans after rolling around in bed. “Am I just the arm candy, tonight?”

“What?” Hyunjin looked down at himself. He wore a white turtleneck underneath an oversized, beige knit wool cardigan, paired with deep brown trousers. He’d matched the outfit with simple, pearl earrings, and had his wavy hair tied loosely in a half ponytail. The juxtaposition between him and Jisung was striking, but in a way that Hyunjin thought complemented each other -- palette wise, of course. “Wait, you think I’m pretty?”

“Dude. Who doesn’t?”

Hyunjin opened his mouth. Then closed it. Flustered, he waved away the compliment and quickly tidied up their things before leaving the room.

As they headed down the stairs, Jisung blathered on about what they should piece together for the dinner. “So, is there any other intricate lie that I need to spin? Maybe that I’m a corporate lawyer and a fashion designer? I can say that I met Lady Gaga at the 2018 Seoul Fashion Week and we became best friends through Facebook. I can also totally act like I don’t have depression. By the way, I don’t understand why people think depression goes away on holidays? Like, ho-ho-ho I’m still Feliz Navidying.”

Hyunjin hummed in thought. Despite wanting to help his mother, Hyunjin couldn’t ask Jisung to dampen his loud personality just to impress people Hyunjin inherently would never care about in the future. So, he threw an arm around Jisung’s shoulder and declared, “You know what? No need. Be yourself, but please don’t mention how hot my mom is. Please.”

Hyunjin supposed he made the right decision when he saw the puckish grin on Jisung’s face.

“Okay now, honey, remember. Compassion. We’re trying to let bygones be bygones and that means getting along with your father’s new family no matter how stuck up they are. But maybe brag about your awards if possible. You too, Jisung-ah,” his mother said, checking the time. She was all dolled up in a smokey eye and a bold, red lip, and the slim-fitting provocative dress she wore revealed parts of his mother that Hyunjin wished he could unsee.

“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna sue you for tachycardic inducement when they see you dressed like that,” Hyunjin said.

“Good,” she harrumphed, pushing up her bra. “That woman may be rich, but I’ll make it known that she will never have a real package like these bosoms.”

Jisung, who’d been trying to discreetly snap a photo of his mom to send to the group chat, choked on his own spit and whirled around. Hyunjin whined and plugged his ears with his fingers. “Mom!”

They all preened at the doorbell. This was it. The time had come.

He felt like he was getting ready to go to war when he frantically placed Jisung’s arm around his shoulder as they crowded the door. His mother harshly whispered about hosting decorum in one ear while Jisung whispered in the other about how he’d like to shove his face into his mother’s tatas majores, and then Hyunjin was milliseconds away from genuinely committing first-degree murder when his mother threw the door open.

The Yoon family were as pretentious as Hyunjin expected them to be.

His mother was also a betrayer, because as soon as she plastered on a fake smile and gave Ms. Yoon a kiss on the cheek and a passive aggressive handshake with his father, she excused herself to the kitchen to check on the food (which was honestly a bunch of Italian takeout disguised as home cooked meals), leaving Hyunjin to take care of their guests.

Ms. Yoon was a tall, slender woman, who towered slightly over Hyunjin thanks to her black Louboutins, and wore a cossack hat over her salon-perfect hair, and flourished a manicured hand as she clutched her designer handbag that probably had the monetary value of his student loans. Yoon Areum, the eldest daughter, was dressed in a casually tailored suit but had the air of one used to punctual service. The son, Sanha, dressed like he was a youth pastor for fun, and did not bother to hide his shock when his eyes zeroed in on Jisung’s hand placed around Hyunjin’s hip, while his self-proclaimed beauty influencer fiancée, Hyejin, hung from his arm.

Hyunjin’s father, on the other hand, stood there awkwardly -- all grey hairs and deepened wrinkles and a bit of a growing pot belly. He gave Hyunjin a brief hug as he marvelled at how much he’d grown.

“Wow, you’re quite -- tall. Wow, I -- wow. Last time I saw you, you weren’t that big.”

“I was fifteen.”

“Oh. Oh, I see. How old are you, now?” he asked. “Eighteen? Nineteen?”

“Twenty-one,” Hyunjin deadpanned.

“What? Since when?”

Hyunjin took in a deep breath to maintain his composure. “Since you and mom were still married. Anyways, do you guys want to come into the living room instead of standing -- “

“This is a lovely home,” Ms. Yoon interrupted them as she slowly turned around to inspect the decorations. “I adore what you’ve done with the place. It’s quite cute. But I hate to say that there’s too much bad feng shui in the house -- the staircase mustn't directly face the front door because it invites a lot of unsettling energy. Does your mother have the possible means of renovating or does she still live off of the money earned from the divorce?”

Hyunjin blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Who are you?” Sanha asked, looking at Jisung. “A cousin?”

Jisung smiled breezily. “Me? A cousin? Sorry to disappoint, but I’m his homo honey! I’m Han Jisung, Jisung Han -- or as many call me, Han-some. Isn’t that right?” He looked up at Hyunjin with a cloying smile as he threw his arms around him and nuzzled his cheek against his shoulder.

Hyunjin’s father bristled. His eyes darted between the two as he stammered out, “Ho -- homo -- homo honey? Son, you’re gay?”

“Awh, how cute,” Hyejin cooed. “I love gay people!”

Areum was poking her nose around the house while rapidly texting on her phone, though Hyunjin wasn’t sure how that was possible since her acrylic nails were longer than his will to live. Ms. Yoon, on the other hand, narrowed her eyes at the both of them, no doubt picking up on something with her installed bullshit detector. Hyunjin swallowed and laughed, lifting a hand to caress the back of Jisung’s head.

“Yup, that’s me -- I mean, we. Yes. We’re gay,” he said, “and in love. Because, you know, we’re together. We have been, for a long time. I mean, three months. Three months, but we’re serious. You know, going steady. Cohabitation. Taxes. We’re, like, practically engaged too, but not really, because we’re still in school. Um.”

“Oh, how very splendid. You know, Sanha and Hyejin met at a high society wine tasting event. He’d just been selected as the recipient for the Software Solutions Scholarship and Hyejin here was just starting out as a model. Sparks just flew when they met and oh, it was meant to be! Young romance is always such a beautiful thing.” She let out a dreamy sigh, clasping her elegant hands together. “And you? How was it for you two?”

“K-pop club party,” Hyunjin said the same time Jisung chirped, “We met at a gay club where I courted him with my famous mating dance to BTS. I won him over when I showed him my capacity for blowjob shots and we’ve been inseparable ever since.”

Hyunjin’s eyes bulged at him. Jisung smiled innocently at their expressions that ranged from dismay to disgust to disbelief. His ever angelic mother then chose that very moment to pop back into the hall to announce that dinner was officially ready, and that there was a lot of wine to be finished.

While the rest of them filed into the dining room, the both of them fell back, and watched as Sanha and Hyejin exchanged a very heterosexual kiss.

“Not to be a straight hater, ‘cause like, I love straights and I think they’re super cute, but I don't want them to get married or kiss in public. Straight people just don’t need to be married,” Jisung said. “Also, the sheer force of that woman’s condescension is enough to make me go take another earth-splattering shit. High society wine tasting event? Seriously? What the fuck is that?”

“I think I might really commit murder,” Hyunjin whispered.

"We can call Minho hyung for help if you do."

"Good idea."

His mother had organized the dinner table with Italian dishes she’d deposited into large pans from the plastic containers they had initially arrived in to make it look more homely and authentic. Everyone immediately went for the wine, and as Hyunjin sat there cradling his glass of Chardonnay, he unfortunately noticed that his father was staring at his mother’s bosoms, and then realized that Ms. Yoon was also staring at his mother’s bosoms, and Sanha was staring too but not at his mother’s bosoms but at Hyunjin’s face.

Breaking the tense silence, Jisung asked lightheartedly, “So, Sanha! What’s your favourite anime?”

“I’m Christian.”

“Oh. I've never heard of that one.”

“I like anime,” Hyejin piped up, and beamed when Jisung offered her a high-five.

“I have a question.” Sanha leaned forward and lowered his voice. “How does this work?”

Hyunjin wrinkled his nose. “How does what work?”

Sanha motioned between Hyunjin and Jisung. “Like. Who wears the pants in the relationship, you know? How does it -- where do you -- how does this whole thing work?”

“I know that the taller one always tops,” Hyejin chirped brightly.

Hyunjin stared at them for a good minute, before he drained all the wine and refilled his glass.

“Well, as you can see, we’re both wearing pants, but I think I can totally pull off a skirt if that’s what you’re asking,” Jisung said, his voice deceptively light, and Hyunjin squeezed his hand under the table. “And I’m not gonna even answer that because I don’t even know where to begin with such a stupid, nonsensical, stereotypical, bullshit question and I totally take my fucking high-five back, you -- “

“Wow, the youth nowadays sure are energetic, aren’t they!” His mother exclaimed, laughing blithely as she folded her napkin over her lap. Sanha and Hyejin lacked a certain critical awareness to realize what they’d done to garner such reactions and blissfully returned to their food. “Ms. Yoon, you must have had a busy year with your business and all. Care to explain to me again how the trees help heal our, uh, inner spiritual core again?”

“Are you still unemployed, Jiwoo?” his father asked, eyes still locked on her cleavage. “What have you been doing this entire time?”

“Excuse me. Was I talking to you? No, I was talking to your wife. Exactly. Shut up and eat your food, bastard.”

“Actually, I’m much more interested in your son and his boyfriend,” Ms. Yoon replied, delicately nibbling at the rigatoni. “Jisung, was it? What do you like to do in your free time?”

“I like to cyberbully self-proclaimed sapiosexual meninists,” he said casually.

Ms. Yoon slowed down her chewing. “I’m afraid I don’t know what that means.”

Jisung shrugged. “Better that you don’t.”

“Well. What do you study?”

“Music.”

“Classical or jazz?”

“Hip-hop,” he intoned.

“Oh.”

“He’s good,” Hyunjin helpfully supplied, refilling his fourth glass of wine for the night. “He’s -- he’s really good. You should check out his SoundCloud.”

Ms. Yoon asked, “And what is this SoundCloud?”

“It’s an online audio distribution platform and music sharing website based in Berlin, Germany, that enables its users to upload, promote, and share audio, as well as a DSP enabling listeners to stream audio,” Areum idled without looking up from her phone.

Jisung snorted. “Thanks a lot, Wikipedia. Do you also happen to know what language they speak at the center of the earth?”

“What?”

“Core-ean.”

Hyunjin coughed when he inhaled his wine down the wrong hole, and tried to hold in his laughter by pretending to pick up an invisible napkin.

Areum didn’t laugh. Instead, she looked confused. “That’s incorrect. The center of the earth is around 5,430 degrees celsius. Nobody is going to live there, let alone do they need a language.”

Core-ean,” Jisung stressed.

“Are all you… hip-hoppers this unrefined?” Ms. Yoon asked, looking genuinely disturbed. “Hyunjin, please tell me you’re in the finer places of the academic world.”

“Oh, um. I’m studying literature,” Hyunjin said, balking at sudden attention. “I know it’s not, like, anything remotely impressive, but I’m hoping to, you know, land in publication somewhere in the -- “

“You know you can’t make a living off of that field, Hyunjin,” his father gruffly barged in. “Why would you continue to waste money and time down that path when you could be studying something more worthwhile?”

Hanbin,” his mother snapped.

Hyunjin blinked, feeling a hot blush spread to his face underneath the nosy eye of his father and the silent judgment of Ms. Yoon, who glossed over his answer by remaining serenely silent. Hyunjin felt like all his anxieties were suddenly mounted all over his face, but then he looked to the side when Jisung gently placed a hand on his thigh and flashed him a tiny, encouraging smile, before his face hardened into something unfriendly towards his father.

“If it makes him happy, it’s not a waste,” Jisung said. “I’ve seen him be very passionate about what he studies in. You would know, Mr. Yoon, if you reached out to him more than just once a year.”

“Oh, that’s a burn,” Sanha muttered, watching the open crossfire with an intrigued look. Even Areum had abandoned her phone to solely tune into the escalating tension between them all.

His mother jumped in, dropping her compassionate act in order to convey her displeasure with his father. “Alright, yeah, that’s it. Not even all these bottles of wine can restrain me from jumping your ass. You know nothing about your son, yet you think you have the right to criticize him? I don’t know what spending time with this new family of yours has done to you, but you don’t do that to my son.”

“Excuse me? My family?” Ms. Yoon volleyed, her voice hard as she set her silverware to the side and levelled his mother a glare. “Ms. Hwang, we are wealthy, yes, but that has absolutely nothing to do with our character.”

His mother scoffed and threw down her napkin. “Please. Are you downright delusional? The first thing you do when you come into my house is ask about what kind of money I have so I can invest it in refurbishing my entire house.”

“Can you blame me when you’re dressed as a harlot? At your age?”

“Hey,” Hyunjin snapped hotly, “leave my mom alone. She can dress however the fuck she wants.”

“Honey, it’s okay,” his mom whispered to him, before she faced Ms. Yoon and yelled, “I can dress however the fuck I want!“

“He is my son too,” his father cut in on them in a low voice. “I’ve helped for everything he needed -- “

“Oh, for the love of God! What he needed was a good father figure -- “

No. You don’t get to do that,” he snarled, slamming his hands down on the table. “Not when you’ve spent this whole entire time tearing us apart! Not when you’ve been telling him this whole time to choose you, choose you, pick your side, and to leave me because I’m incompetent as a father when all this time you have been the driving force behind my absence. You’ve made him hate me to the damn core, so what can I do about it when my own son doesn’t want to see me?”

“What?” Hyunjin suddenly felt very, very small. And embarrassed. He did not see this coming. “That’s not -- I don’t hate you, dad. Nobody’s made me hate anyone.”

“Would I make the situation worse by injecting some ill-timed humour?” Jisung whispered in his ear.

Hyunjin squeezed his hand tightly. “If you do, I’m going to fucking pee my pants.”

“As if you were ever present when we were still married,” his mother hissed. “I was the one who did everything while you were out partying and drinking with your colleagues. You couldn’t even spare a single second of your time to even change his diapers, or to just fucking watch him while I cleaned the house, so excuse me for thinking that you would be any good to him -- “

“Well, if you’d have let me into his life earlier, then maybe he wouldn’t have turned out the way he is today!”

The whole table fell silent. His father’s face immediately crumpled into a look of open regret as he turned to look at Hyunjin, babbling, “No, no no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I wasn’t -- I’m not -- “

Hyunjin was breathing heavily, unable to digest the humiliation that came from being the incessant cynosure of their quarrelling. He felt compelled to indulge in the anger that spread throughout his whole body, trembling beneath the film of his fingertips and waiting to erupt, but he couldn’t -- not when his father looked completely aghast at himself and his mother looked like she wanted to comfort him. This was a different type of anger. This was resignation and exhaustion mixed in one.

He wanted to leave, but he was stuck to his chair, too embarrassed to move a single muscle. Jisung held his hand tightly and ran a thumb over his knuckles. Hyunjin at least expected everyone to move on from the conversation, but it was Jisung who spoke up and shattered the deafening silence with his dumb and thoughtful antics.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. “It’s a mistletoe.”

Hyunjin blinked. Then he whipped his head up to where the chandelier was hanging above their heads, sparkling like shards of clinquant jewels, but tucked between the hanging lights was, indeed, a mistletoe. And it just so happened to be situated in a place that encompassed Hyunjin’s and Jisung’s spot of the table.

His mother seemed genuinely surprised. “Oh, I must have forgotten to take that one off.”

“That's fine. In fact, it's more than fine. It's perfect. I’ve been waiting for this very moment since I got here. Mr. Yoon! I am going to kiss your son on the lips right now,” Jisung declared to Hyunjin’s father, startling him into looking up from the table. “Yeah, you heard me. I’m going to give him a big, fat, wet smooch on the fucking mouth, because I like him and he likes me, and we’re two guys underneath a mistletoe. Do you have a problem with that?”

His father sputtered. “I -- no -- “

“Good, because I don’t care if you’re his dad and my future father-in-law, but if you ever say shit like that again, I will literally kill you.”

His father was stunned into silence and his mother looked rather riveted by Jisung’s threat of violence. Happy with the reaction, Jisung turned to Hyunjin and leaned forward to whisper, “Uh. Is it okay if I actually kiss you though?”

Maybe it was the way the warm, golden lights shone against Jisung in broken angles, ricocheting off his pearl-dusted cheek that landed on his chest and seeped through his skin and made his hands shake. The world was a jumble of blurry figures and gaudy colours; Hyunjin heard nothing but white noise at first, until he took in a breath and everything came rushing back in clarity -- the smell of Jisung’s sandalwood cologne, his fruity shampoo, the clinking of silverware and the ripples of light in Jisung’s eyes. Hyunjin’s heart was shaking and something inside of him untangled.

“Yeah,” he breathed.

Jisung’s face lit up. He cupped Hyunjin’s face in his hands and kissed him right on the mouth.

It was something brief, of course -- nothing improper in front of his family members. A peck, maybe. Sweet, chaste, over before it began. But then he brushed the tip of Hyunjin’s nose with the gentlest touch of his lips, and when Hyunjin’s eyes fluttered open, Jisung was grinning at him with the brilliance of the morning star. He tucked a strand of hair behind Hyunjin’s ear, grazing his temple with the pad of his thumb, looking at him so fondly that Hyunjin thought his heart might burst there and then.

Somebody cleared their throat, and the both of them jumped back. Ms. Yoon was pointedly staring at the wall behind them; Sanha and Hyejin were staring at them with bright, pink faces, and Areum was doing a poor job at hiding the fact she was trying to record them. Hyunjin’s father had on an unreadable expression, but his mother was beaming like she’d won the lottery. Then, Jisung was standing up from his seat, announcing, “With that out of the way, I’m gonna go take a soul ascending shit right now.”

“Me too,” Hyunjin rushed out, downing the rest of his wine before he followed after Jisung.

“Boys!” his mother called. “What did I say about saving the compromising situations for later?”

They hurried into the bathroom. With Hyunjin’s back pressed against the locked door, he and Jisung stared at each other for a good, whole minute, before they burst into a fit of giggles.

“Has Minho hyung been influencing you? Is that why you literally just threatened to murder my dad five minutes ago?”

“In my defense, anyone who comes at you deserves a death threat! You turned out to be an amazing person with or without him! Like, what the fuck? And I’m pretty sure you’re the one who’s been influencing me,” Jisung said, trying to stifle his bouts of muffled laughter, and Hyunjin wasn't sure whether to punch him or kiss him. “Have you forgotten the amount of times you’ve threatened to strangle me to death?”

“It was justified!” he whispered. “You kept talking about my mom’s tits.”

“Okay, but they’re really fabulous bazongers -- “

“Ew, ew, ew! Stop!”

Jisung cackled, nose scrunching, and Hyunjin softened at the sight of it. He grabbed Jisung’s hand, surprising the latter into gradual silence.

“Thanks, um. You know, for that,” Hyunjin said, inarticulately. “I appreciate it. I’m sorry you even had to witness the whole ordeal between my family members. This probably was the least fun Christmas dinner ever -- at least, it was for me -- I’m sorry I couldn’t have made it fun for you, or -- “

“Dude, are you serious? This was so fun.”

Hyunjin was pretty sure he had on an expression that looked like he ate a battery. “Huh?”

“This totally beats the time I logged onto my mom’s Facebook and blocked my aunt just to start something. Like, c’mon. This was the most fun I’ve had in ages during the holidays! I mean, it wasn’t the most ideal since you got hurt, but I’ve always wanted to threaten an adult at least once in my entire life, and I got the chance to do it to your dad. Uh, sorry about that, by the way.”

Hyunjin blinked at him. Here this guy was, more concerned about Hyunjin’s well-being than his own, especially in the middle of his first ever Christmas experience in a decade. Hyunjin had never met an optimistic blackhole like Jisung before -- his optimism was like a vanguard against Hyunjin’s ineptitude. It was a little disorientating, and definitely not great for his heart.

“You’re really cool,” was all Hyunjin could say at the moment.

That brought up Jisung’s ego by a ton as he preened. “I know.”

“I take it back,” Hyunjin said, then hurried to elaborate when Jisung’s expression fell. “No, I mean -- like, I take back what I said about this Christmas being the least fun, and -- um. Uhhh, um. Agh, close your eyes!”

“What?”

“Just do it!”

Jisung leered at him with uncertainty before he did as he was told. Hyunjin’s hands were sweaty so he kept them hidden away in his long sleeves as he leaned forward and planted a kiss on Jisung’s cheek. He quickly pulled away to see Jisung jerk in surprise, his eyes flying open in surprise.

“Merry Christmas,” he blurted out, then continued on in a panicky prattle. “That’s my thank-you for, you know, agreeing to do this with me in the first place and -- you know, being really cooperative. Like you said, this wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances, but you being here made it a lot bearable. And -- and you’re really fun to be with.” And you make my heart swell a little bit more every time we talk.

Jisung blinked widely at him, lifting up a hand to gently touch the spot where Hyunjin had kissed him. A pretty shade of pink was dusted across his cheeks, and then he let out a bashful laugh, retreating his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He tried to make himself look even smaller when he felt shy. “Yeah, of course. Your welcome.”

Hyunjin cracked a soft smile and fiddled with his sleeves. “So, um -- ”

“I’d love to continue this, I really do, but I wasn’t lying when I said I needed to take a shit,” Jisung said, doing a desperate jig as he held his ass. “It is a big shit. Please pray for me.”

That was how Hyunjin ended up back in the dining room, but with the Yoon’s gone -- except for his dad. He was a bumbling, awkward man, but he did sincerely apologize to Hyunjin and gave him a hug that lasted longer than fifteen seconds, so that made Hyunjin feel a bit better. He also told his mother that she looked good, which was weird, but promised Hyunjin to try and do better as a father after he and his mother decided that they’d continue to sort throughout their misunderstandings.

There was still a long way to go, but Hyunjin supposed he could allow himself to have some hope.

Hyunjin held onto his mother’s arm as they watched their stepfamily leave. She sighed tiredly and rested her head against his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, honey. That was an awful disaster.”

“It’s okay. I kind of saw it coming.”

“Still. I told myself I’d never want you to feel that way again -- as though we were fighting again because of you, when it’s really just me and your father who constantly have issues,” she murmured. They went back inside the house and settled at the hearth of the fireplace in the living room. “He was right. I was rather selfish back then, and I suppose I still am.”

“No, mom, it’s -- “ he panicked, hugging her from the side. “It’s fine. It’s okay. You just wanted the best for me. Maybe I can’t understand in the way that you want me to understand it, but I could never hate you for it. We’ll work through it. I mean, I grew up to be just fine, didn’t I?”

“You grew up to be more than fine,” she whispered, pressing her lips to his forehead. “You grew up to be an extraordinary person. I’m so proud of you.”

His chest flooded with warmth and he ducked his head shyly. “Thanks.”

They sat there for a while in the quiet company of each other, watching the brimstone flames of the fireplace flicker and burn. Then, because his mother truly never rested from being wicked, she brought up Jisung and said, “You’ve chosen a really good one, Hyunjin-ah. I like him a lot. Will you marry him soon?”

“Mom,” he complained as his face heated up. “Stooooop.”

“If you don’t, maybe I will.”

Mom!”

“I’m joking, I’m joking!”

 

 

 

 

Christmas came to an end, and so did their fake relationship.

Hyunjin drove Jisung back to his dorm. Everything that happened between them was still left unspoken, and even as Jisung rambled on about how much he loved Nakano Azusa, there was this underlying current of tension in the air that neither of them dared to touch upon first. And it stayed that way as Jisung waved goodbye and hopped out of the car to scurry into the building with the intentions to pass out until the arrival of the new year.

Meanwhile, Seungmin was waiting for him at their apartment, reading some book on how to get away with murder. As soon as Hyunjin stepped through the door and dropped all his duffel bags, he flopped onto the couch and screamed into the cushions.

“Denial of feelings, huh,” Seungmin said, patting Hyunjin on the back. “You guys kissed, didn’t you.”

Hyunjin whimpered.

“And you like him?”

Hyunjin looked up desperately. “Do I? Maybe I’m just mixing it up with intense feelings of companionship. Maybe it’s just -- it’s a bro thing?”

Seungmin didn’t bat an eye as he deadpanned, “Dearly bruhloved, we are swaggered here today to join these two, oblivious bros in holy matrihomie -- “

He didn’t get to finish when Hyunjin threw a pillow at his face.

Because Hyunjin was notorious for being dead set in denial, he spent the next few days brooding in his room while replaying the kiss over and over again in his head like a song on repeat. Maybe he spent too many hours obsessing over how pretty Jisung’s eyes were, how brown they were that you could grow roots in them, or how he missed the way his hands caressed his face and the way their hands interlocked underneath the table. They haven’t spoken after they got home from his mother’s place, and Hyunjin wasn’t sure where they stood now -- were they friends, back to strangers who didn't like each other, or more than friends but less than lovers?

Hyunjin groaned and kicked his feet in the air out of frustration. “I hate you, Han Jisung. Do you hear me?” He shouted at the walls. “I hate you!!!”

One thing that Hyunjin often resorted to when faced with an uncertainty surrounding a problem is to burrow said problem into the deep recesses of his mind and wait for a solution. But the thing with Jisung was that there was no solution. Zero. Nada. Zilch. There was nothing to hide away from, to push aside and wait for his brain to conjure up a solution as though the tenderness in his heart was an equation that needed to be solved and get rid of -- no, it was visceral, constant, so completely present that it demanded his attention and focus.

And then, when Jisung texted him on one, random sunny day, everything pretty much clicked into place.

 

the swaggiest guy on planet earth!!!!!!!!🐿️✨
HI HYUN
would u like to rob the bank where jeff bezos assets are held
and re-distribute his wealth ???
>:3c

 

Of all the things that made Hyunjin truly realize he liked Jisung wasn’t how they held hands or kissed each other -- no, it was Jisung being a complete fucking idiot.

And it was the kind of like that made Hyunjin want to bury himself six-feet deep but also write Petrarchan love sonnets; the kind of like that made him feel like flowers had bloomed in his springtime heart; the kind of like that induced an intense desire in Hyunjin for someone to defeneresate him, but also made him want to take a three-hour bus ride to the space centre so he can buy one of those expensive as fuck planetarium projectors for Jisung.

After repeated stages of encountering self-contradictions and denial that were truly not his best moments in life, Hyunjin could now confidently and certainly claim for the nth time that he’d been lost to the love gallows since the very beginning.

So, he called in the expert.

 

 

 

 

“Let me get this straight,” Minho idled, dipping his fries into his milkshake.

Hyunjin stared at him. “I’m not?”

“Very funny, ha-ha,” he deadpanned. “As I was saying -- so, you’ve come to finally admit you like him, but you don’t know what to do, because you don’t know if he likes you back in the same way or was just really, really good at playing his role as the boyfriend.”

Hyunjin nodded gravely.

“You are so dumb,” Minho said. “Both of you.”

“You’re supposed to be helping me!”

“Fine. Stop being fickle like Schrödinger’s catnip and stop being stubborn so you can let down your walls of oleander and communicate with him.”

Hyunjin pouted and drank his milkshake sadly. “I don’t even know what the fuck you just said.”

Minho held up a butterknife. “I am this close to gutting you with this. I know how to use knives, especially a butcher knife, but I only have a butterknife, so this will do. If you don’t ask Jisung to be your fucking New Years’ kiss or whatever the bullshit tradition they have on that day, then I will kill you. And I mean it too, because Seungmin isn’t here to disable me from carrying out my threats.”

“Wow,” Hyunjin gasped, thinking of the times he’d threatened to strangle Jisung for talking about his mom’s breasts. “You really did influence me, hyung. But what makes you think he’ll say yes to spending New Years’ with me? Maybe he already has plans and I’m doomed to pine for an eternity.”

Minho looked seconds away from losing his mind, but then his gaze flitted to something behind Hyunjin, and a wily smile grew on his face. “How about you ask him right now?”

Hyunjin frowned in confusion when Minho nodded towards the door and Hyunjin turned around. He froze, his eyes growing wide and mouth hanging southbound when he recognized the squirrely figure step into the diner in an all too familiar gait.

Jisung stood by the waiting area all bundled up like a cute snowman with his arms tucked into the front pockets of his jeans, his dark hair flattened by his beanie. Just as his head began to move towards their direction, Hyunjin instantly panicked and dived beneath the table without thinking, knocking his head against the edge with a painful thud in the process.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Minho hissed, kicking at him. “This is the perfect opportunity for you to ask him out on a date, or do you still think it’s a bro thing? Should I call it bruhnch instead?”

“Shut the fuck up!” Hyunjin frantically shushed him. “Pretend I’m not here!”

“He literally saw you.”

“So? Who cares? Just say I escaped through the back and went to the mall!”

“The mall’s a fucking hour away, Hyunjin. You need to get out of here right now and ask him, you piece of coward shi -- hey, Sungie! What are you doing here?” Minho’s uncanny ability to fluidly switch demeanors came in handy at the most bizarre times.

Hyunjin could see Jisung’s legs up close across from him, shifting weight from foot to foot. Hyunjin held in a cough and pinched Minho’s calf when he tried to kick Hyunjin and almost scuffed his nose with the tip of his sneakers.

"Hey, hyung,” Jisung greeted cheerfully. “I’m just here to grab lunch. How about you?”

“Me? I’m just, you know, brainstorming ideas for my new cookbook.”

“Oh. Sweet.” Jisung rocked on his heels. “Are you alone? Because this is Hyunjin’s coat, isn’t it? And scarf. And hat. And gloves. And -- ”

Hyunjin closed his eyes. Fuck. Minho laughed for an exceedingly long time that he started to sound deranged as a way to stall and formulate an excuse. “Oh, you’re absolutely right! Ha, well, Sungie. Let it be known that you are the first one to know about this -- not even Seungmin knows, mind you -- but I’ve found a new hobby: Hyunjin cosplay.”

“I -- um. You -- what?”

“You heard me! Hyunjin cosplay. I’m getting ready for next year’s Halloween costume.”

Hyunjin facepalmed. Minho blundered around before he cursed, and Hyunjin didn’t understand why until he watched with impending dread as Jisung took a step back and crouched down. There was an amused look on his face as he rested his elbows on top of his knees. “Hiya.”

His heart lurched to his throat. Hyunjin immediately wanted some otherworldly extraterrestrial life form to take his dumbass right fucking now. “Hannie! Hey. Hello. Um, I was just -- I dropped a coin, and I’ve been trying to look for it but I can’t find it, and I really need it because it’s a really special coin. Um, but -- it’s really good to see you.”

Jisung smiled softly. “It’s really good to see you too, babe. But are you really gonna stay down there like that?”

“Maybe,” Hyunjin mumbled, hugging his knees close to his chest as he feigned looking around the ground for the fabricated coin.

“Alright, I need to leave. Seungmin accidentally murdered Changbin in his sleep, and now he needs help hiding the body,” Minho announced, scooting out of the booth. Hyunjin squeaked and clawed at Minho’s jeans to keep him there, but the older boy successfully escaped by shimmying out of his seat. “You can take my seat, Sungie. I’m sure Hyunjin wouldn’t mind after he finds his coin.”

“Oh, okay. Bye hyung!”

Now, here Hyunjin was, dreading the magnitude of his life choices while hiding not-so-stealthily underneath the table with Jisung silently idling beside it, because of course -- who the hell would know what to do in this kind of situation?

After a moment of basking in his own mortification, Hyunjin slowly crawled out from underneath the table. He dusted off his pants and cleared his throat, trying not to squirm when Jisung asked, “Couldn’t find the coin?”

“No.” Hyunjin sat back down dejectedly. “It’s lost to the dust bunnies.”

Jisung snickered, taking a seat across from him. “I’m sure the coin appreciated the effort. You’re really red right now, by the way. Especially your nose -- like Blitzen!”

“Wrong reindeer, Hannie.”

“Oh. Comet?”

“Nope.”

“Dasher?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Cupid?”

“Oh my God.” Hyunjin couldn’t take it anymore as he watched Jisung flounder for the names. He slipped out of his booth and inserted himself into the seat beside Jisung, who looked at him with wide eyes when Hyunjin sidled up to him way too close for comfort. “You’re so dumb. I can’t believe it. You’re so dumb and I’m dumb too. I’m way too delicate and foolish for this but here I am, doing it anyway.”

Jisung narrowed his eyes, confused. “Do what? I’m just here to grab lunch, man.”

Hyunjin stretched his sleeves, losing confidence by the minute. “Look. I -- I don’t know how to say this, but every time I look at you, or think of you, my heart skips a beat.”

“That’s called arrhythmia.”

“Oh my God,” Hyunjin wailed. “Nevermind. I’m out of here.”

“Noo,” Jisung laughed, throwing his arms around his shoulders to keep him in place. Hyunjin immediately latched onto the ends of Jisung’s scarf, his heart hammering in his chest. “I’m just teasing you! You’re so easy to tease.”

Hyunjin let out a frustrated noise. “And I’m trying to ask you if you want to hang out on New Years. Together. You know. Just us two. Or something.”

“Are you asking me to fake date you again?”

“No,” he said. “As a real date.”

Jisung stilled. He blinked at Hyunjin in surprise and slowly pulled away from his half hug, and Hyunjin held onto his scarf just a bit tighter in case Jisung ran away without giving Hyunjin the chance to explain. “Wait. You’re serious? Am I hallucinating right now? Because I haven’t slept for the past few days and I’m kind of losing it.”

“Jesus.” Hyunjin looked at him in mild concern. With a sudden spark of determination, which may have just been the milk making his stomach rumble weirdly, he cupped Jisung’s face in his hands and decided to throw himself overboard. “Yes, I’m serious, and no, you’re not hallucinating. Han Jisung, I kinda like you! Like, a lot! I’m sorry for thinking ill of you at first because I thought you were kind of obnoxious, but then I got to know you and you’re actually a really kind and earnest and sincere person even if you’re obsessed with Nakini Azuka -- “

“It’s Nakano Azusa!”

“-- and I hate your stupid fucking pink cargo pants and the rest of your clothes but I think I’m becoming brainwashed by my feelings because I’m starting to think you can really pull them off because it’s actually really endearing which is awful, and I want to get to know you more as a person underneath all that terrible, rancid, yucky, nauseating fashion -- “

“Hey, hey hey hey,” Jisung said, silencing him. “You’re talking too much.”

Offended, Hyunjin’s first instinct was to deny it, but then the next thing he knew, Jisung was kissing him before he could get the words out.

He kissed Hyunjin slowly, and deeply, and with what felt like intention. Hyunjin had no choice but to grab at his waist, just for something to hold onto. It was chaste at first, but then Jisung nipped at Hyunjin’s bottom lip and licked into his mouth, memorizing it with his tongue.

Once Jisung pulled away, his face was flushed a rosy pink and his cheeks bunched up from his wide smile. “I like you too!”

Hyunjin blinked. Then his face combusted into a hot blush that spread across his face and everywhere else on his body. Even on his feet, probably. “Bastard, we’re in public. Don’t kiss me like that in public!”

“Aw, don’t be shy,” Jisung cooed, puckering his lips. “I’ve been deprived of you since Christmas. At least let me get my kisses. I can’t wait until New Years! I need them now!”

Hyunjin nearly knocked over Minho’s half-finished milkshake when they started to wrestle each other in the limited space of their booth. Heads started to turn when Hyunjin shrieked from Jisung running his fingers up and down his waist, and before Jisung could defend himself, Hyunjin circled his hands around Jisung’s neck and pretended to strangle him to death. Jisung laughed, bright and uninhibited that ignited a flurry of butterflies to prance in his stomach, and Hyunjin swooped in to press his lips against the corner of Jisung’s mouth.

“Happy, now?”

Jisung hummed. “Maybe one more?”

“You wish,” Hyunjin scoffed, flicking him on the forehead. “We’ll kiss more after you eat lunch and sleep.”

Jisung stuck out his tongue in displeasure but reluctantly listened to him anyway as he flagged down a waitress and relayed a meal off the menu he’d briefly looked. Then, after she left, their eyes met and they broke into giggles.

As they held hands underneath the table, their fingers intertwined like a primary function, Hyunjin looked at Jisung’s dimpled grin and hoped that, for a long time, they would spend many more Christmases together -- disastrous familial drama included and all.

 

 

(They do.)