Younghoon puts down his camera when he realizes Chanhee is staring at him through the lens. It's not an annoyed stare, just a curious one, like he's silently asking how many more pictures Younghoon is going to take. If it were just up to Younghoon, he'd take a hundred. It's really not his fault every situation turns into a perfect photoshoot when Chanhee is the model. Right at that moment, when the light comes into the coffee shop and hits their shared table, illuminating the half-empty drinks and making Chanhee's blue hair even brighter, he thinks he might never take a picture as beautiful at that one.
But, to be honest to himself, Younghoon has thought that same thing about the last twenty shots he has taken of the younger boy. When Chanhee keeps staring, he just smiles, unashamed, and lets the camera rest on the desk again.
"I thought we came here because you had to edit pictures, not take them." Chanhee says, voice low to not bother the rest of the clients. His expression is quite neutral but Younghoon knows there's no real complaint behind it.
"And I do, but I always need new pictures too" he answers with a grin, tapping lightly on the side of his laptop, open in front of him. "Don't you have homework to do anyway?"
"Yes, and you're distracting me."
Chanhee pouts and Younghoon immediately lifts the camera again and takes another picture. It's probably kind of blurry from how fast he tried to capture the expression, but he doesn't mind it one bit.
He can't help but start laughing at the younger's frown, bright and easy, like Chanhee always makes him feel.
"Sorry, sorry. That was the last one, I promise. You were just too cute not to capture."
"I have dark circles and no make-up."
Younghoon is not sure if he imagines the pink tint on Chanhee's cheeks, but he doesn't think too much about it and finally puts his camera inside his bag again, ready to work on his project.
They sit in silence for a while, like they always do, Younghoon focused on his editing and Chanhee focused on his equations and numbers. It's easy, studying next to each other, enjoying the quiet company that comes with subtle glances to make sure the other is okay. Sometimes Chanhee would make a frustrated noise and Younghoon would lightly tap on his hand to remind him he's not alone, he can get through anything. Other times Younghoon would get too close to the screen, trying to decide if the brightness should be a bit higher, and Chanhee would push his shoulder and make him look somewhere else until he's relaxed again. And it's also so easy, looking at Chanhee, warm and familiar and filled with a hundred emotions that he doesn't have words to describe. So Younghoon goes back to his pictures and thinks that maybe someday he'll be able to capture all the colors that he feels.
Time passes quicker than it should, and the last rays of the autumn sun give way to the artificial lights of the coffee shop, colder in tone but just as comfortable. Chanhee sighs and rubs his eyes, clicking close the document on his laptop and rearranging the sheets of paper on the table. He leans back on his chair and looks at his coffee, which is definitely empty.
"I think if I have to look at another integral today I might just faint" he says dramatically.
"You won't" Younghoon replies, "but yeah we've done enough for today. Let's go."
There's a cold breeze when they leave the coffee shop, and even if it's not bad enough to be uncomfortable, Younghoon doesn't complain when Chanhee moves closer and loops their arms together, whining about not bringing a warmer jacket. Autumn leaves are starting to cover the ground, and trees in all the shades of orange and brown stand every few steps on the sidewalk. The college campus is beautiful, Younghoon always thought so, but even more when it's like this, warm tones and soft hoodies, and Chanhee by his side. They've enjoyed many autumns together since they became friends at middle school but it's only the second one since Chanhee started college too. And Younghoon is really, really happy they're both living at the dorms, so close by.
"Wait." Younghoon suddenly says, stopping right in front of a streetlight. Chanhee looks at him, confused. "Stand here for a moment, the light is really good for this hour."
"Really? Right now?" He takes out his camera without listening to the other, and tries to find a good position. "It's cold and I told you my face is awful today."
Chanhee keeps complaining but when Younghoon looks at him through the lens, there's a slight smile on his lips.
"No, it's perfect. Look up, at the light."
The younger follows his instructions and poses naturally, like he's done a thousand times, and Younghoon's heart beats a little faster. The glow of the streetlight fits Chanhee perfectly, making him look ethereal, like a dream that doesn't feel out of place until you wake up.
"Maybe I should dye my hair again; the blue is weird for autumn colors, isn't it?" He passes a hand through his hair, messily, and moves back to Younghoon's side when he puts the camera away.
"I think the contrast is really good, and it suits you, but if you don't want it anymore you should change it."
"Hmmm, then I think I'll keep it for now. You have to show me those pictures if they really came out good, though."
They continue walking and Younghoon smiles when Chanhee grabs his arm again.
"They always come out good."
"Ooh, look at you, always so modest."
"It's not all thanks to me, though."
Chanhee laughs at that, a little embarrassed, but his eyes have a soft look when Younghoon glances at him, and he's looking back.
"I wouldn't let you take pictures of me if I didn't know you were good."
"You always let me, even when I started and I sucked at it."
"That's because I knew you were going to be good soon enough."
Younghoon lets out a half laugh scoff, and looks back at the road, before his eyes get too glued to Chanhee's features. He knows the other isn't completely lying, though. Chanhee's always been the most supportive about Younghoon deciding to study photography. Always had words of encouragement, and tips about where the prettiest places were. Even when he liked to joke around and test Younghoon's patience, he'd never been anything but nice and caring to him.
He kind of wishes he could capture all of that on his pictures, all of Chanhee's support, his little gestures, how he was always making sure everyone around him was okay. How warm he made everyone feel with his easy laugh and his friendly nature. How he made every moment with Younghoon a safe place, a kind of home, somewhere to look back to when things were hard. But then again, Younghoon knows some things were made to be kept in photography, and some things were made to keep inside his heart.
"Chanhee, how much is 356 plus 447?"
"803. I'm not a calculator, you know."
Kevin smiles and writes down the answer while Chanhee sighs. His side of the library desk is filled with papers and notebooks, a book open on top of some of them, and an actual calculator sitting untouched by the pencil case.
"Yeah but you're faster and more convenient."
Younghoon chuckles at that, trying to keep the volume low. He's sitting on the opposite side, next to Jacob and in front of Chanhee, only a laptop on the desk. Sometimes he misses the paper. The hand-written notes and homework, the feeling of the book pages, everything spread out messily and no blue-ish light from a screen. It's kind of prettier, studying like that, it has a certain aesthetic that he likes a lot. Maybe is just because he doesn't have that anymore. His homework is all digital, and as much as he likes taking pictures, there are aspects of his college work that he definitely doesn't love. Like everyone, he supposes.
"I'm never helping you with physics again" Chanhee says, but Kevin doesn't even pay attention to him anymore.
They all know is a lie. Chanhee always helps. Half of his classmates have asked at least once, and even when he says no to Kevin he ends up doing it anyway. Sometimes Younghoon wishes he was studying maths just so he could listen to Chanhee explaining some complicated topic.
"I'll get you a coffee next time, for helping him." Jacob, ever the angel, smiles at Chanhee, trying to somehow say sorry for his boyfriend's behavior. He also has just a laptop on the desk, and Younghoon likes the contrast between both sides.
"There's no need." Chanhee has a soft spot for Jacob —doesn't everyone?— so he smiles too and pushes a sheet of paper towards Kevin. "I'll make him invite me to something when he passes the class."
"Okay, I will" answers Kevin, and Younghoon knows he'll have too because Chanhee won't forget that he said it.
Chanhee always remembers every promise, every word that isn't exactly a promise but has the feel of one. He also remembers moments that Younghoon has long past forgotten, the smell of the flowers when they went to that one shop on the way home, the kinds of cake there were on his favorite pastry shop when they were fourteen, and the numbers on the plate of Younghoon's family car. His memory has always been amazing, and it keeps showing and surprising Younghoon. He's especially good with numbers, and when they were in high school his friends would sometimes ask him to do math from memory just for their amusement.
Looking at him now, his chin resting on one hand and his sweater sleeves rolled up, a pen twirling between his fingers, Younghoon realizes all over again just how smart Chanhee is. Is not that he forgot, is just that Chanhee doesn't like to boast about it, even when he wins all the strategy games, even when he stays at the top of the class because he's also a really hard-working person.
Jacob lightly kicks his leg under the table and Younghoon suddenly gets back to reality. He realizes he had been staring probably for too long, and his face warms up when Jacob shoots him a knowing look. He briefly looks back at Chanhee to make sure he's focused on his papers and didn't notice anything, and then tries to go back to his own work.
He has an essay to turn in for one of his classes and he's a little bit lost about what to write. Younghoon wouldn't say he's bad with words, he can be good when he tries, but his thing has always been pictures. Capturing moments, making everything look nice and purposeful, telling stories through images and feelings. But words are important sometimes, too.
He must have sighed out loud, because he sees Chanhee look up at him, with a question in his eyes, and he needs his words back.
"It's nothing, I'm just a little blocked."
Chanhee reaches out with his hand on top of the desk, silently asking, and Younghoon takes it on his own hand not a second later.
"Maybe we should take a rest? We've been here long enough and I finished what I had to give to Kevin."
His hand is warm and his touch familiar, and Younghoon feels reassured and safe, like a blanket of autumn leaves finding its place on the soft earth of the park.
"I'll try a bit more, is better if I at least write something, I'll edit it later."
"Okay" Chanhee answers softly, "but you need a rest too. Do you want to come watch a movie or something with me later?"
Younghoon smiles, bright and happy. There's nothing he'd like more at that moment. He squeezes Chanhee's hand lightly and tries to will his heart to beat a little slower.
"Of course, but I get to choose which one."
Chanhee rolls his eyes.
"Okay, just for this time. And if I don't like it I'll make you watch any show I want."
"You'll do that anyway."
"Maybe." Chanhee smiles a bit, and there's a mischievous shine to his eyes that Younghoon likes a lot.
They get back to their work, but it takes a couple minutes for the younger to let go of his hand, and when Younghoon starts writing again, the words flow better.
After a while, Jacob says he finished his homework too, and Kevin asks for a few minutes so he can finish his and they can all go back together. Younghoon decides he's going to stop his essay there, he'll continue tomorrow, and when he looks up from his laptop he stops for a second.
Chanhee is half-lying on the desk, his head resting on his arms, looking sideways at Kevin with a bored expression. Under him there are a few sprawled papers that he hasn't bothered to pick up yet, a green closed notebook next to him and two pencils on top of it. The light is warm and that side of the library is almost empty, so Younghoon quietly takes out his camera from his backpack and turns it on under the desk so no one sees. Then he closes his laptop and raises the camera.
The picture is perfect, Chanhee's hair and the green notebook the only bright colors amidst all the shades of brown and beige, a bookshelf on the background and the feeling of a long afternoon captured on it. Chanhee looks up at him when he realizes, and Younghoon smiles at him before putting down his camera again.
Jacob is looking at him too, his chin resting on his hand and an amused look on his face that Younghoon ignores.
They wait for Kevin to finish and when they're gathering their things to get out of the library, the promise of an evening of movies cuddled up on Chanhee's bed fresh on his mind, Younghoon thinks about the picture again. To a stranger, it would look like a young boy tired of studying all day, a nice description of college. But to him it contains so much more. The way Chanhee had been helping a friend, the hours of notes and numbers, impossible for him to understand, but so much easier for Chanhee. How smart he really is and how he doesn't give himself enough credit. How he can be faster than a calculator and how he can remember every number he came across to that day.
Sometimes Younghoon wishes he could capture all of that on his pictures. Chanhee's amazing memory, his hard work and his kindness in helping every time someone needs it. But it's okay that he can't, because Younghoon knows some things are meant to be remembered through photography, and some things are meant to be remembered close to his heart.
A week and a half later, Younghoon's essay finally turned in and Chanhee's first exam out of the way, they're watching a movie at Chanhee's room again. His roommate, Changmin, is going to be out the whole saturday afternoon, something about intensive dance practice, he said. Not that they'd mind, Changmin is a good friend and they hang out together a lot, but today Younghoon is happy it's just Chanhee and him.
The movie they've picked is kind of lame and romantic but they're not paying too much attention, instead keeping a light conversation over it. Sometimes Chanhee would predict the characters' reactions and Younghoon would laugh at how accurate it is. Other times, Younghoon would comment on how dumb a scene is and Chanhee would remind him that he's done dumber things. He's right most of the time, but that doesn't stop Younghoon from faking a hurt face and attacking Chanhee with tickles until he takes it back.
They end up lying against some pillows, Younghoon with his back to the bed's headrest, Chanhee sitting so close that he's basically lying on Younghoon's chest, the older's arm around his waist. Chanhee has a popcorn bowl on top of his stretched legs, and Younghoon has the laptop on his. It's not unusual for them to be touchy, they cuddle all the time. But lately, every time Chanhee hugs him from behind or takes his hand casually, Younghoon can't help but feel a current of sparks on every place his skin touches the younger's. It's like his warmth has multiplied and grown so much that it burns Younghoon in the best possible way. Still, nothing has changed. He keeps clinging to Chanhee and letting Chanhee cling to him like they've always done, and just hopes his heartbeat isn't loud enough for the other to notice.
"...don't you think?" Chanhee says, and Younghoon realizes he'd been spacing out, too concentrated on how soft Chanhee's hair was against his neck.
"I asked if Seungwook's actor looks familiar to you, weren't you listening?" Chanhee moves forward and turns his torso so he's looking directly at Younghoon, holding the popcorn bowl, the older's hand still on his waist. "Why are you so distracted today?"
"Yes you are, is the movie too boring? We can just change it."
Younghoon smiles and unconsciously lifts his other hand to brush a bit of hair away from Chanhee's eyes.
"Is not that, I don't care which movie we're watching, I always have fun with you."
He thinks he sees Chanhee blush a little but it could be just on his mind, or a trick of the low light they’re in.
"Then what is it? Are you worried about exams? You still have plenty of time."
"I don't know, a little, but is not that either. I guess is just one of those days when I have a lot on my mind."
Chanhee clicks the space bar, pausing the movie, and sets aside the popcorn bowl before taking Younghoon's hand and intertwining their fingers. Sparks. There's so many sparks.
"You know you can tell me anything that's bothering you, right? If you need to talk about it, I'm here."
I know, Younghoon thinks, but I can't tell you when it's you that's on my mind all day.
"Thank you" he says instead, "I know, I always tell you all my problems, it's just not something really defined today."
"Okay." Chanhee pouts, and Younghoon can't help looking at his lips. They look so soft. "But try not to put too much pressure on yourself, everyone needs to rest sometimes."
They're close, closer than he had realized. Chanhee's eyes are shining with affection and a little concern and Younghoon thinks he'd do anything to make those eyes shine with happiness all the time.
"It's funny you're the one saying that, when you stay up late studying almost every day and then fall asleep on our movie nights."
Chanhee's expression turns into a small smile, and he looks down, a bit embarrassed.
"That was just like two times, and besides, I’m not too tired, and I’m doing well."
"I know you are."
"I mean" the younger looks up again, one of his eyes almost hidden behind his blue hair, "that I'm taking care of myself, I sleep enough. Don't worry about that."
"I don't think our definitions of 'enough' are the same but okay. I trust you. And I’ll make sure you rest enough, too".
Chanhee smiles again, brighter this time, and brushes his thumb across the back of Younghoon's hand. He doesn't say anything, just stares for a second, and then his eyes flicker down and up again. Younghoon can't look away, it's like he's hypnotized, like he needs to commit to memory each one of Chanhee's features, even if he knows he has them already memorized. His perfect eyebrows, his pretty nose, his warm smile, the one that makes him feel like he has found the only pond of water in the middle of an infinite desert. It's like ever since they met they've been getting closer and closer, like magnets that manage to keep their distance until a point where they can't do it anymore. Younghoon knows he's well past that point. And he secretly hopes Chanhee is, too.
His fingers are tingling, but he's never been one to back down, so he tightens the hold around Chanhee's waist, bringing him closer still. His mind is spinning and he doesn't know what he's doing but he also doesn't want it to stop. Chanhee puts his other hand on his shoulder quickly, almost by instinct, and he thinks he sees the younger leaning in a little, but maybe he's just too deep in his own fantasies.
The air is thick between them, filled with unasked questions and hopeful heartbeats and a million possibilities. Younghoon doesn't know how long they've been just staring, but he thinks he's going to explode if he doesn't kiss Chanhee right at that moment.
And then a knock on the door breaks the spell and they jump apart, almost knocking the popcorn to the floor, and Chanhee lets go of his hand to catch the bowl before it falls.
"Hey, is Changmin in?"
Younghoon recognizes the voice and fixes a death stare at the door even if no one is going to see it. Juyeon is a nice guy but he's going to kill him.
"He's at the dance studio!" Chanhee shouts, and Younghoon gets reminded of how powerful his voice can be.
"Oh. Sorry then, thank you."
They hear the steps getting farther away from the door, and Chanhee lets out a frustrated sigh. Younghoon doesn't want to let himself think that both of them had wanted the same thing before the interruption. Hope is a dangerous thing, and maybe his heart is not ready to accept that it might get broken. Better to stay on the safe side for the moment.
Chanhee sits back again, leaving the popcorn bowl on the desk this time, and settles with his arms around his knees.
"Do you want to change the movie then? I don't think is going to get much better".
Younghoon can tell he's annoyed, but he doesn't want to risk looking directly at him and getting lost again.
"Let's just finish it, I wanna know how it ends. We can watch something else after".
Chanhee softens a little at that, presses play again and leans back, brushing his arm against Younghoon's.
They stay in silence for a while, and Younghoon doesn't know if a line has been crossed or if they can pretend nothing happened. Maybe nothing really happened and he should just forget about it too. But when a few minutes later Chanhee leans his head on his shoulder, Younghoon remembers how to smile again.
The movie has a surprisingly emotional ending, and when Younghoon starts tearing up Chanhee laughs at him, his eyes almost closed. He pretends to be offended by the giggles and pushes the younger to the side. Then he takes the laptop off his legs and sets it on the desk by the bed.
He's about to stand up and stretch his legs when a hand on his sleeve pulls him back. Chanhee has settled on the bed, his head on the pillow, and has a soft smile on his lips that makes Younghoon just melt at the sight of it.
"Don't get up yet, I'm too tired to move" the younger whines, and tugs on Younghoon's sleeve until he lies down next to him. They're close again, and somehow it feels new and familiar at the same time.
"You're a baby".
"Hey, I woke up early to study and it's the weekend, I get to be lazy on the afternoon if I want to".
Younghoon laughs, and it's comfortable, it's safe. He thinks he must be really lucky, to have found someone like Chanhee, to have a dynamic so easy to fall back into. He doesn't need anything else, even if his hearts yearns for more, he'd be happy to stay like this forever if that's what Chanhee wants.
"Do we take a nap, then?" He asks, smiling too, "we can eat dinner a little late today".
"Sounds like a good plan".
Chanhee closes his eyes, not moving at all, and Younghoon takes a moment to admire him again. His hair is getting longer and it falls against his forehead catching the last rays of the autumn sun, shining beautifully. He tries to commit the image to memory, mentally filing it next to dozens of other sleepy Chanhees he's seen through the years, every single one very dear to him. When the younger opens his eyes again, Younghoon wonders if he, too, tries to keep these moments fixed on his memory.
They end up watching short videos and laughing for a while, Younghoon keeping his phone up for both of them to watch, until they can feel their eyes closing on their own. Chanhee stays close, and throws an arm over Younghoon's stomach, lying on his side, while the older just stares at the ceiling and tries to will his heart to beat slower until he, too, finally falls asleep.
When Younghoon wakes up and hour and a bit later, Chanhee is still curled up by his side. He's not holding onto him anymore, but he's still very close, and the urge to move his hair from his eyes, to lean down and kiss his cheek, strikes Younghoon and leaves him breathless. Instead, he gets up as slowly as he can, and when he's sure Chanhee is still asleep, he unlocks his phone and takes a picture.
Is not by any means a professional picture, is not even intended to be a good one. There's no natural light anymore, and the nightstand lamp they left on doesn't really illuminate much. But Chanhee looks so peaceful, and pretty, and content in his sleep, that Younghoon doesn't care at all. He's going to have to wake him up in a minute, and Changmin is probably going to come back to the dorm soon, but for the moment, he stays still and smiles at the picture.
It's perfect, because some pictures don't need to be more than what they are. Because he's probably going to show it to Chanhee later and he'll complain but won't tell him to delete it. Because he's going to remember everything he's feeling at the moment every time he looks at it. And because some things are meant to be done while trying to be perfect, and some things are just meant to be done when his heart feels like it.
"Jacob, tell your boyfriend to stop trying, he's not gonna beat me at mario kart" Sangyeon says from his position cross-legged on the floor, his eyes not leaving the TV screen.
"Shut up, you can't have so much luck every time" answers Kevin, sitting on the sofa, one leg thrown over Jacob's thigh.
"It's not luck, I'm just good and you aren't."
Younghoon and Jacob both laugh, and Kevin feigns an offended expression, still concentrated on the game. They're all sitting on Sangyeon's living room, an improvised party quickly organized when they learnt that his family's house was empty for the weekend. They're just hanging out, playing games and talking. It’s comfortable and fun, and a little competitive. Hyunjae and Juyeon are on the other sofa, also laughing at Kevin losing the game. Changmin is next to Jacob, trying to have a conversation with Chanhee amidst all the screaming. And Chanhee is answering, while absentmindedly playing with Younghoon's hair, who is sitting on the floor right below him.
Is so comfortable, his head resting against the side of Chanhee's leg, that he thinks he might fall asleep right there, if it weren't for Kevin's and Hyunjae's loud voices every time someone falls off the course on the game. He's not paying particular attention to the conversations, too focused on the sensation of Chanhee's fingers through his hair, slow and rhythmic, like he's following the beat of a song nobody else can hear.
Eventually Kevin loses again, and Hyunjae takes the controller from him while Sangyeon just smirks.
"My turn now, let's see who's the real winner."
Kevin sighs, leaning back on the sofa, and Jacob softly holds his face and kisses him before putting an arm around his shoulders.
"You'll win at some other game next time" he says, and Younghoon can see how comfortable they are with each other ever among the rest of their friends. He's happy for them but there's also a small spike of jealousy passing through his heart, one that he wishes wasn't there, because Chanhee's hands are still on his hair and that's all he should need.
"Only if it's rock paper scissors" answers Sangyeon, and then there's chaos again when they start to play.
Younghoon likes the chaos, likes how loud his friends can be, all the excitement they bring. He's a sociable person, even a bit clingy, and he can feel his energy getting higher as they laugh.
Changmin ends up winning the mario kart competition, all of them unconsciously shifting closer to the TV for the final game. They keep bickering and complaining when someone else loses, pillows are thrown and glasses are removed from the table before they can be knocked over. Chanhee's hands move to Younghoon's shoulders and he can feel the vibrations through his whole body when the other laughs at his friend's antics.
"I didn't get to play against you, though" Younghoon says, tilting his head back to look at Chanhee. The younger leans closer over his head to watch him, and for a moment Younghoon thinks he's going to lean all the way and—. But no, he just stays there.
"You're in luck then, one more loss and you'd be tied with Kevin."
"As if you could win against me on anything."
"Oh?" Chanhee smirks, and Younghoon is seeing him upside down but he's still so beautiful it hurts. "I'm better than you at so many things, Kim Younghoon."
"At bluffing, definitely."
Chanhee laughs and gets out of his vision for a second, but the sound sticks to his mind like glue, bright and amused and contagious. It's so easy, making Chanhee laugh, and Younghoon loves it so much. The way his eyes form two small crescents, how he always covers his mouth with a hand but never entirely, how he starts clapping or just drops to the floor when it's too much. How he clings to Younghoon when they're side by side, laughing together at every small thing.
"I'll show you that I can win next time" Younghoon continues, and he gets up from the floor to stretch his legs.
"Okay, I'll take you up on that." Chanhee just looks at him from the sofa, and he feels like everyone else disappears for a second. Then a pillow hits him on the back of the head and he turns to find Changmin with a big grin on his face.
"Why don't you two go see who is better at making dinner? I'm hungry."
"Oh I'm not letting them burn my kitchen" says Sangyeon, and then he takes his phone out of his pocket, "why don't we just order something?"
"We wouldn't burn it" complains Chanhee, but he doesn't move from his seat. "But yeah, lets order, I don't feel like cooking."
They settle on some burgers and chicken, and then turn the music on on Sangyeon's speakers while they wait for the food to arrive. Younghoon gets his camera from his backpack and takes a few pictures of his friends laughing and posing ridiculously, a few of Kevin and Jacob being cute, a lot of Sangyeon trying to keep the furniture clean and safe, and a lot more of Chanhee.
He loves capturing moments like these, his friends just having fun, everyone being happy and silly together. They remind him why he loves photography, how he can make a simple moment look glamorous, or stylish. How he gets to see the smiles on other's faces when he shows them a nice picture that they will treasure. It's not just for him, to immortalize the scenes and make them last forever. It's for everybody he loves, and it makes him so happy.
A song he knows by heart starts playing, and Younghoon can feel his body wanting to move, to jump, to keep smiling. He sings out loud, pointing to Chanhee when the lyrics talks about someone beautiful, and shaking his arms the rest of the time. He's not embarrassed, he doesn't even think about how it could be kind of a confession if he takes the lyrics seriously, he's done this a million times. Chanhee tries to shake his hands off him, but he's also laughing and moving his head to the rhythm.
"Someone help me, Younghoon has too much energy today, he's so difficult to handle when he's like this." The younger whines, and Younghoon just laughs and shakes his shoulders faster.
"That's why we're leaving him to you" answers Hyunjae with a grin, and Chanhee sighs.
The song changes, and Changmin immediately gets up from his site to start dancing, probably knowing the whole choreography. Juyeon follows him, though he doesn't know it entirely, and Hyunjae gets up too and just dances as he feels like, no choreo needed. Jacob giggles and Sangyeon looks at them with a pained expression, but everybody knows he loves them anyway.
The living room is big enough for all of them to stand, the cold of the streets in autumn long forgotten, and Younghoon feels safe and energized. He gets up from the sofa too, and turns to Chanhee, offering his hand.
"Dance with me?" He asks with a big smile, and this time he's sure he didn't imagine the blush on Chanhee's cheeks.
But he takes his hand anyway and Younghoon pulls him up with maybe too much strength so he ends up almost crashing against his chest. The older takes his other hand in his, too, and starts moving them around just bouncing to the beat of the song. It's messy, and Younghoon almost steps on Chanhee's feet a few times, while the younger laughs nonstop and tries to get out of the way of their other friends. At some point Younghoon just makes them jump, Chanhee trying to tell him to stop because he's tired, but following his lead anyway.
"Ah, why are you like this? Is this even dancing?" He complains, and Younghoon laughs, throwing his head back, and spins Chanhee around for absolutely no reason.
"Everything is dancing" he answers, and takes the other's hand again, stepping left and right to the rhythm.
"Changmin and Juyeon might disagree."
"I don't care what they say."
"Why are you being so energetic today?" Chanhee asks, hitting his arm when he tries to spin him again, "this doesn't even go with the song."
And Younghoon doesn't even know how to answer, because what can he say? That he's glad they have a rest amidst the pressure of college, all together, so he's going to get the best of it? That he really, really likes having Chanhee by his side, smiling so much that his whole body feels the warmth? He just gets energy from all of it, the entire picture, one moment after another, forming a day he'll remember when he's feeling down. And he might not be this happy tomorrow, but for him, life is about keeping close the happiest moments so you can keep going because you know there'll be more. Because good memories stick around, like a picture, with feelings not seen but still there. And there's no better memory than seeing Chanhee's smile. So he decides to be honest, even if he doesn't say the whole truth.
"I don't know. I guess I'm just happy." Younghoon has a lot of feelings that he doesn't know how to explain, so he tries to make them known in other ways. "Am I being too much?"
"No" answers Chanhee immediately, giving both of his hands a gentle squeeze, "I like it."
And it's like all the oxygen in the world disappears, leaving him completely breathless. Everything around him gets blurry, like his mind is a camera and Chanhee is the only thing that isn't out of focus. The music slows and then stops, and he knows his friends are probably looking at them but he doesn't care at all.
I like you. He wants to say it. He wants Chanhee to say it. And there's no doubt in his mind anymore. But is not the right moment, so he just stares for a few intense seconds, and bites his lower lip before he can do something stupid in the middle of Sangyeon's living room. He doesn't miss the way Chanhee's gaze slides down his face, and then the next song starts.
Kevin screams and gets up from Jacob's lap before pulling his boyfriend into the improvised dance floor with him. It's a slow song, and Younghoon doesn't recognize it as he turns his head to the speaker, but it changes the whole atmosphere around them. Changmin wants to sit down after dancing and steals Jacob's spot as soon as he gets up, putting his legs up on the other side of the couch. Sangyeon takes over the other sofa and lies down too, so there's no space for anyone else.
Juyeon laughs softly and takes Hyunjae's hands, inviting him to dance, and the other accepts with giggles and a light blush. Kevin and Jacob are fully lost in each other's eyes as they slowly sway and spin, and Younghoon can feel his ears getting warmer and warmer.
When he looks back, Chanhee is still looking at him. He has a small smile on his lips, and a look Younghoon can't quite interpret. Somehow he feels way more shy and embarrassed than a moment ago, even though he's fully aware of how close he had been to kissing Chanhee right there. But this isn't flirting boldly and then laughing about it. This is soft and real and the younger's gaze has him pinned to the ground.
At least until Chanhee guides Younghoon's hands to his small waist and then gets closer until he's resting his head on Younghoon's chest, near his shoulder. The music seems to slow down even more, or maybe is the whole world going slower than his heartbeat. He knows Chanhee must be feeling it too, and he's never been more afraid and more hopeful at the same time. When Chanhee puts his arms around Younghoon's waist too, in a quiet embrace, they start moving slightly, dancing to a music they feel more than hear.
Younghoon sighs, content and happy and nervous, closes his eyes and forgets about everything else until is just the music and Chanhee.
He thinks he hears him sigh against his chest, too, and unconsciously smiles and holds him tighter.
The song is about to end when Sangyeon's doorbell rings, announcing the arrival of the food, and they all move to get ready for dinner. Younghoon is suddenly very cold, but the memory stays, like they always do, and he keeps smiling the whole evening.
They eat, and play more games, and talk a lot. They start a movie and then change it to another and then end up just watching music videos and commenting over them. And Chanhee stays by his side almost all the time, like he always does.
Younghoon is still kind of nervous, and kind of scared, but it's a surprisingly good feeling. Maybe hope is worth it after all. He's having a really good time, and he loves his friends, and no matter what happens next, or what the possibilities are, the night is perfect.
Eventually, they all leave to their dorms and apartments, and he says goodbye with a smile. Chanhee looks at him for a moment too long, and they both know there's a conversation hidden between their gazes that they need to have at some point soon, but there'll be another time for that.
That night, when Younghoon is already in bed, his eyes closing on their own and his body as tired as if he had run a marathon, a notification from Sangyeon startles him.
"Thank me later" it says, and has a picture attached.
Younghoon opens the message and his heart skips a beat.
It's a picture of him, with Chanhee in his arms. Standing in the middle of Sangyeon's house, both of their eyes closed and Chanhee's head resting on his shoulder, his face visible from that angle. And he's smiling so softly that it melts Younghoon's feelings until there's just warmth. They have their arms around each other, too, Chanhee's blue hair against the gray of his shirt, and they look like they're completely alone. Younghoon looks at his own face, and he thinks he doesn't have any other picture where he seems that happy. There are butterflies on his stomach and sparks making his whole body tingle, and he's never been as sure of anything as he is sure in his heart, looking at that picture, that he's completely in love with Choi Chanhee.
In the end, he sends Sangyeon a simple "Thanks, it's a really good picture" and ignores the winking emojis he answers with.
And it really is a very good picture. Younghoon doesn't have many good photos of himself that aren't selcas, he's usually the one taking them of other people. But this one, even if the angle isn't the best, even if there's a blur of Hyunjae's jacket on the corner, is just perfect.
Maybe he didn't take it himself, but it's okay. Because some things are meant for him to immortalize with his photography, and some things are meant for him to just live.
It's been a few days since the party, and Younghoon has only seen Chanhee once, eating at the cafeteria with Juyeon and Kevin. They've been texting like usual, sending each other any funny things they find and complaining about classes being too early in the morning. But neither of them has made any move to do anything together, just the two of them. Maybe it's the feeling that the next time they go on one of their not-dates something is going to change. If it's for the better or not, remains to be seen.
Honestly, it's driving Younghoon a little crazy.
He's sure Chanhee has to feel the same, right? He can't be reading everything that wrong. But what if he is. What if he confesses and ruins their friendship forever? That'll break him much more than a rejection. But Chanhee is not that kind of person, even if he doesn't like Younghoon back, he'll still be his friend.
But he has to like him back. Why else would he do all of those things?
Younghoon lets his forehead rest against the desk and groans. He's definitely going crazy. His homework waits untouched and his bed is a mess and he hasn't been able to concentrate on any of his classes that morning. He has to ask Chanhee on a date, a real date. He'll take him somewhere nice and hold his hand and then confess. He can't spend any more days like this. It's decided.
He takes a deep breath and lifts his head from the desk, looking for his phone. And then he sees the notification from Chanhee. He panics all over again and opens the messages without meaning to before he reads them.
"Hey, a classmate told me that the park near the mall looks very beautiful now with all the trees red and orange"
"I thought maybe you'd like to take some pictures there"
Younghoon exhales all the air he had been holding and laughs, embarrassed. All that thinking and in the end it's been Chanhee the one to give him the perfect date opportunity.
It's easy when he answers "Sounds great, but only if you let me take some of you too", and when he reads Chanhee's "Don't I always let you?" and he smiles, because no matter how much he worries, Chanhee always makes him feel comfortable.
They agree to go on Saturday's morning, because the sun goes down early in the afternoon and Younghoon wants natural light. He has his camera hanging from his neck, a warm sweater and his fast heartbeat, and all his nerves disappear as soon as he sees Chanhee's smile. Maybe they're a little more shy than usual, their cheeks warming when they brush hands on the way or when they stare for a moment too long. But everything else is the same as always, and Younghoon can't stop thinking that what he wants more than anything is to be able to stay by Chanhee's side like that, just existing together so comfortably.
When they arrive at the park he silently thanks Chanhee's classmate, because it's definitely beautiful. There are a few different paths that lose themselves into the trees and bushes, dozens of different types of plants, all of them in different autumn colors. There are some small trees with leaves so red that they almost look like blood, and some with already half bare branches and a few yellow patches of color. Big, crunchy leaves cover the ground on the path to the right, while the one on the left has still green grass and a small stream of water barely visible from the front gates. At the center there's a fountain and a few benches, some of them occupied. A couple walks hand in hand in front of them, and some kids are running around the biggest tree.
Younghoon looks everywhere, kind of shocked that he'd never been to the park before when it looks like that. And then he hears a little chuckle.
"You look like you found a pirate treasure or something."
"Well, it's really beautiful."
"I told you. Let's go find the prettiest view."
Chanhee smiles and takes his arm to drag him towards the path on the right, and Younghoon has to fight back the urge to say something incredibly cheesy like how the prettiest view is the one by his side. He follows and they walk through a leave covered ground, taking some pictures on the way. Soon the main road they came in from is not even visible, and if they ignore the sound of some cars that still reaches their ears it's like they're lost in a small forest. Younghoon captures the way the light filters through the trees and the contrast between Chanhee's blue hair and the oranges and browns of the leaves. He takes close shots of the few flowers that are still blooming, and some snails that appeared with the rain of the day before. He takes Chanhee's hand while they change to a different path, still as beautiful, and feels braver than he has in a long while.
Chanhee poses when he tells him to, like he always does, sometimes smiling and sometimes serious, like he's there just by chance. He laughs and he teases Younghoon when he takes too long, and even takes a few pictures with his phone too. One of them is of Younghoon crouched on the ground, his face in a concentrated frown while he tries to get the best angle for some purple flowers; and he might not admit it out loud, but it makes his heart soar when he sees how Chanhee enjoys taking pictures of him, too. After all, the feeling of liking something so much that he wants to keep it in an image forever is something very familiar to him.
They talk a lot the whole morning, about autumn and the change of seasons and how time passes so fast, about college and about their friends, but not about themselves.
When they get to the last part of the park they haven't seen already, the one with the stream of water, Younghoon sees a perfect spot for resting for a while. There's a big patch of grass between the path and the stream, a few trees with yellow leaves and more still green right next to the water, and there are no people around, so the sound of the running stream is clear and calming. They walk to a good sitting spot and Younghoon leaves his backpack on the ground before lying down on the grass with a sigh. Chanhee sits by his side, looking at the water.
"I'm pretty tired" he says.
"Sorry" Younghoon answers, not looking at him but at the sky above, a few scattered clouds keeping the sun from being too blinding. "I'm making you walk a lot."
"No, it's fine! This place is beautiful, and I like it a lot, it's worth it."
"It really is, I need to thank your classmate."
"Actually..." Chanhee starts, and then gets quiet for a second, so Younghoon looks at him, waiting. "It wasn't a classmate who found it. I did. I was walking around the other day and I saw all the trees and just... I had to tell you."
"What?" Younghoon sits up, all his attention on the other boy, "why were you walking around? And why didn't you tell me directly?"
The younger puts his arms around his knees and ducks his head a little low, as if trying to hide.
"I don't know. I guess I was a little afraid that if I told you I wanted to go with you to a beautiful place like this you wouldn't want to come."
"What?" Repeats Younghoon, not really understanding anything. "Why wouldn't I? Chanhee, I always want to go anywhere with you." He blinks at the younger, and then looks around them a bit, trying to see if there is something about the park that he has missed, that he wouldn't have liked. But is just the stream with some rocks in the middle, and more trees on the other side, branches hanging low and almost touching the water, the light reflecting on it from above, beautiful like a scene out of a fairytale forest.
"I know" Chanhee laughs a little, still not looking at him, "Or, I should know. I guess it was dumb but I..." he shakes his head and rests it on his arms, blue hair hanging over his eyes and shining in the light bright an unnatural and beautiful, as if he were some kind of fairy.
"Hey" Younghoon says, not really knowing where the conversation is going, or if it's going to follow his plan for the day, but he's learned that sometimes is better to just trust his heart. "I don't want you to be afraid, not with me. I don't know what you're thinking, or what you feel, but I..."
Chanhee finally looks back at him and his eyes are hopeful and deep, and he feels that if he stares too long he might fall under some kind of spell. Like a...
Something on Younghoon's mind clicks.
"Wait. Chanhee, don't kill me, but I need you to go climb that tree." He points to the other side of the stream, and he would have laughed at the younger's wide open eyes if he weren't being serious about it.
"What?! What are you... right now? What the hell?"
"I'm so sorry but listen, the light is perfect from above right now and if we wait too much..." Younghoon turns his head completely and he can clearly see the picture in his mind, the low branch of the tree and the reflections on the water. "It's just one moment, right there, I'll make it up to you, I promise."
He gets up and grabs his bag, and Chanhee is not moving, looking at him with his mouth open and his eyebrows raised. So he extends one hand and smiles, trusting his instincts.
"I can't believe you're doing this right now" answers Chanhee, but takes Younghoon's hand anyway while shaking his head.
"Come here, look, at the other side."
"There was a bridge over there."
"No time, just trust me."
Younghoon pulls Chanhee by the hand until their shoes are almost touching the water, and then he takes a big step to the first rock in the middle of the stream. It's not very big, but not very far either, and he can keep holding the other's hand with their arms outstretched.
"Ah, seriously..." Chanhee rolls his eyes, "Kim Younghoon, what do you think you're doing? Why do I even..."
He doesn't end the sentence but he does take the step, too, and Younghoon grabs his waist before he can lose balance. They look at each other's eyes for a second and Chanhee lets out an incredulous laugh, but he's smiling now.
"I swear if I fall, or if your camera falls, you will never hear the end of it."
"I have everything under control." Younghoon answers, adrenaline-driven, energy making his fingers tingle, and he steps to the next stone after letting go of Chanhee's waist, but not of his hand. The younger follows and soon they've crossed the whole stream. They take a couple of steps on the soft grass towards the tree Younghoon has pointed to, his camera secured with the strip around his neck.
"You're ridiculous." Chanhee says.
"Thank you." Younghoon answers.
"It wasn't a compliment."
And Younghoon laughs at that, bright and loud, throwing his head back. Because he knows, but he also knows Chanhee is still smiling, following him, his hand warm, and the picture in his head is as clear as his feelings. He's not afraid anymore.
"Listen, it looks just like a fairytale setting, this branch is low, if you could just sit on it while the sun is right above, it would be perfect.
"I don't know if I can climb up there."
"I'll help you, here."
Younghoon puts his hands low, and pushes Chanhee's foot up while he holds onto the wide branch, until he's fully sitting on it, his back to the tree trunk. He's a little unstable but it holds his weight perfectly, yellow and brown leaves above, and below, covering the green grass.
"You're okay there? I'm gonna step back to get the angle."
"I'm fine but you better keep your promise and get me some coffee later or something, you owe me. I still can't believe it had to be right now."
"I'm sorry, but I promise it'll be worth it."
Chanhee sighs but stays put, and Younghoon walks back a little after leaving his backpack on the ground where it wouldn't be seen in the picture.
The branch curves down at the end and almost brushes the water of the stream, where a few fallen leaves drift slowly. The light is absolutely perfect, falling in rays between the spaces and illuminating Chanhee's hair and soft skin and light colored clothes, and he's sitting with a leg up and the other dangling, looking up at the leaves. He looks gorgeous.
Younghoon takes a couple of pictures as fast as he can, his whole body wanting to get back to Chanhee's side as soon as possible, but it's all worth it. The atmosphere feels like magic and promises, intimate, like a secret in plain view. Those are the most beautiful pictures he has ever taken.
"How do I get down now?" Chanhee asks, trying not to lose balance. Younghoon puts his camera safely into his backpack and leaves it on the ground, extending his hands towards the younger.
"Is not that high, just jump and I'll catch you."
"Okay, but you better catch me for real."
Chanhee doesn't look so convinced, but Younghoon is smiling at him reassuringly, and in the end he just sighs, and jumps.
Younghoon is ready and he grabs his waist when he's close enough, trying to stop the fall. Chanhee puts his hands on his shoulders instinctively, but that pushes his weight forward and he stumbles as his feet land on the ground. Younghoon takes a few steps back, trying to regain balance, but the younger's legs get in the way too and he ends up falling backwards until he's sitting on the soft grass, Chanhee on top of his legs, his arms around his neck and their faces close. Really close.
And then Chanhee starts laughing. Loud and happy and like he's never going to stop. He raises one hand to cover his mouth, the other still around Younghoon's shoulder, who has one arm back on the ground, supporting his weight, and the other on the younger's waist. It's ridiculous and it's so funny, Younghoon can't stop the laughter either, and soon they're both giggling like crazy, their eyes almost closed and their entire bodies shaking.
Younghoon feels warm and kind of dizzy, and like the universe is full of light and sparks and blue. His heart is beating fast, and Chanhee is so, so close. He doesn't want to ever let go. He doesn't want to miss any opportunities. And instead he wants so many things. He wants to tell him how he inspired him to study photography, and how he kept him focused on his own dreams. How he always helps exactly in the right way and how much he admires the way he is honest but never unkind. He wants to tell him that he makes him feel like the luckiest person in the world. But there's a lot of time for that, and there's one thing Younghoon has to say first.
The giggles die down, and Chanhee starts getting up, holding his hand to try to pull him too. The older lets him, but instead of letting go when they're standing again, he tightens the arm around his waist, pulling him flushed against his chest. His mind is full of stars and dreams, his heart brave, impulsive, purposeful.
Chanhee puts his hands on Younghoon's shoulders, and leans back a little to look at him in the eyes, still smiling and with his eyebrows slightly raised.
"Chanhee, I like you so much."
And the world stops. It stops and then spins, making his vision blurry and his hands shake a little, like finally saying it out loud has broken some kind of seal and now everything is out of control. And it seems to be the same for Chanhee, because he inhales fast, holding his breath after, and opens his eyes wide, shinning and full of hope. He's so beautiful.
"I like you too" he answers, soft, almost a whisper.
"You do?" His face must have been really something, because Chanhee chuckles lightly.
"Silly, why do you look so surprised? I thought I was being obvious."
"I didn't wanna get my hopes up, you are so nice, and gorgeous, and I’m..."
"What are you saying? Are you aware of just how amazing, and good looking, you are?"
"What? I mean, there are so many people out there, and maybe you just didn't..."
"Younghoon." Chanhee moves his hands to both sides of his face and holds him so gently he wants to start crying.
"I'm going to kiss you."
"Okay" he manages to mumble, surprisingly clear even when his mind is spinning. And then Chanhee's lips are on his and everything else fades away.
Younghoon closes his eyes and kisses back, slow and soft, tentative, like he has all the time in the world. Chanhee's hands are on his cheeks and he might be smaller but he holds him like is Younghoon the one who's going to break in a million glass fragments. And he might, because he has never in his life felt so much at the same time. He's floating and alight and drowning in all the sensations Chanhee's lips are igniting when they move against his own. His hands find the younger's hips and stay there, keeping him in place as if he's afraid he might disappear. But it's real, and he lets out a small noise of surprise when Chanhee bites his lower lip slightly before kissing him again. His brain isn't processing everything fast enough, but he doesn't need it, lost in the feelings. Younghoon traces Chanhee's lips with his tongue and suddenly the kiss grows a little more heated, the younger's hands moving to the back of his head and through his hair. It's warm and it's finally happening, and the autumn around them almost seems to have reverted back to summer.
They stop to catch their breaths and look at each other with bright eyes, and Younghoon puts his hand on Chanhee's cheek, brushing it with his thumb, before leaning in and kissing him again. He answers and his hands move back to Younghoon's shoulders, to his chest, to his waist. Maybe they stay like that for a minute, or for an hour, time doesn't seem to be working correctly. But when they pull apart, Chanhee's lips are red and slightly open, his eyes heavy-lidded, and Younghoon wants to keep the image in his mind forever.
"You're so gorgeous" he says, breathless.
"No, you are" Chanhee whispers back, "I can't believe this is really happening."
Younghoon smiles so wide his cheeks start hurting.
"I've wanted to do that for so long."
"You should have done it sooner. I'm still not forgiving you for breaking the moment earlier for a picture. I thought you were going to confess then."
"I was." Younghoon laughs, and he feels so giddy. "But you have to see the pictures, they're worth it. And I did it anyway, didn't I?"
Chanhee pouts and he has to resist the urge to kiss him again.
"You still owe me."
"I know. There's something I've been meaning to ask you anyway." The younger tilts his head slightly, so comfortable with his arms around Younghoon. "Would you go out with me? On a date, as my boyfriend?"
Chanhee giggles and the sound finds its way to the part of Younghoon's brain where the more treasured memories are.
"I would love to."
And then he kisses him again.
Eventually they sit back on the grass, Chanhee's head on Younghoon's shoulder, and he shows him all the best pictures of the day. Chanhee ends up agreeing that it was all worth it, and compliments his photography like he always does, sincere and amazed, making him feel like maybe he's on the right path. They talk for a while, and Younghoon tells him so many things he had been keeping inside, making Chanhee blush a pretty pink and smile heartwarmingly. They laugh about how oblivious they've been, and about their friends having to witness a lot of it, and they just sit there, existing together.
"It's getting kinda late" Younghoon says at one point, Chanhee's fingers intertwined with his, feeling so happy his heart might just explode. "But I don't wanna go yet."
"Me neither" Chanhee leans close and leaves a soft peck on his lips. "But we can go get lunch and then watch a movie in my room. Or... not watch it, I think Changmin is out again."
Younghoon blushes slightly and kisses him again, because he gets to just do that now.
"Sounds like a good plan. But we have to come here again before the autumn is over. It's seriously a very beautiful place."
"Okay. It really is. Don't you want to take some last pictures?"
Younghoon leans back a little, watching Chanhee just sitting there, so pretty and so happy, making fireworks explode on his mind just by looking back at him. So, so kind, and caring, and funny, smart, warm, so breathtaking. He turns a little and puts his arms around him in a tight hug, Chanhee's chin on his shoulder. He hugs him back and laughs softly, and Younghoon thinks he falls in love all over again.
"No" he answers, "not right now."
He has taken enough pictures for a day, and just wants to stay like that a little longer. The autumn air around them is not too cold, and the leaves fly by, painting everything in colors as warms as their hearts.
And it's perfect, because Younghoon knows some things can be loved through his photography; and some things, like that moment, like Chanhee, he's always going to love with his whole heart.