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Bronze, Bass, and Brotherhood

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Taeyong barely stepped out of the vehicle onto the sidewalk when the flash of a camera blinded him.

He blinked rapidly. Little speckles of stars flickered before his vision for several moments before they finally fizzled out of view. He had to tilt his head back to make eye contact with the perpetrator, who wore a smile as though he had not just completely assaulted his retinas.

"I'm Johnny," the surprise cameraman said, extending a hand. "Nu Chi Tau president."

Taeyong dropped a glance to the offered hand before looking up at the other again. He was the chapter president, yet here he stood wearing a baggy t-shirt and joggers like he had just rolled out of bed, head capped in a beanie as though it weren't eighty degrees out right now.

Then again, this was Nu Chi Tau, so should he really be surprised?

He took his hand. "Taeyong."

"I know." Johnny's smile grew impossibly wider, only serving to push his incredibly round cheeks that much more into his eyes. "Here. Let me get your things for you."

Taeyong didn't protest.

His gaze lifted to the rather dismal house standing in front of him, small, the paint peeling in places. The "νχτ" emblem anchored over the front door was made out of a cheap wood that did not appear to hold up against the elements very well. The yellowing, shriveled grass surrounding the house didn't appear to either.

Taeyong's eyes then drifted over to the opposite end of the Greek Row, where the largest mansion heading the end of the cul de sac stood in complete contrast. The walls were white and pristine, the surrounding grass vibrantly green, and the hedges neatly manicured. A giant, metal "αιφ" was mounted over the front door, proudly displayed for the whole row to see.

Alpha Iota Phi.

Taeyong all but had those letters burned into his mind since birth. What, with his father's unending number of shirts and jackets bearing the "αιφ" brand, the "αιφ" flag on his desk, the photos, the posters, the awards, the coffee mugs…

His alumni father may have moved out of Alpha Iota Phi decades ago, but Alpha Iota Phi certainly never moved out of him.

And it had been Taeyong's fraternity for the last two years as well. It was where he should be right now. Where he would be, if he hadn't been such a careless idiot.

A truck pulled up in front of the mansion, and the front double doors opened, the Alpha Iota Phi members stepping outside. Taeyong swirled around, the eighty-degree air suddenly feeling that much warmer, and he developed a new awareness of just how open Greek Row was, how exposed he currently was.

Then Johnny was at his side, all Taeyong's luggage wrangled, and Taeyong felt a new gratitude at just how large the chapter president was, walking alongside him cautiously to use his giant body like a shield, blocking him from the sight of the largest chapter mansion at the end of the cul de sac.

"This is your house now, so feel free to make yourself comfortable," Johnny said as he led him into the dismal-looking house. "Last year's chapter president graduated, and I was voted in, leaving the vice president position open. So when the dean contacted me about your circumstances, the timing really couldn't have been better. I'm really excited to have you on board!"

That made one of them.

Johnny continued prattling away, but Taeyong zoned out, more interested in taking in the state of the inside of the house, which did not appear much better than the outside with its yellowing wallpaper and incredibly worn furniture. As soon as he stepped inside, it was like he entered a dream and not a particularly pleasant one.

He shifted on his feet awkwardly, his clothes feeling as though they were half a size too small. Everything about this felt all wrong.

A few people sat around the front room, and Johnny greeted them before turning toward Taeyong, introducing him then going on to explain that most of the other brothers had yet to arrive or were currently getting settled in, which was fine by Taeyong. He needed to take this place in, in doses.

Johnny led him up the stairs and all the way to the end of the hall, setting down the luggage in front of the door before opening it for Taeyong.

"This is your room," he explained, turning toward him and gesturing a hand toward it. "As vice president, you get a room all to yourself."

Well, thank goodness for that.

Taeyong nodded, stepping forward and taking his luggage. He turned toward Johnny. "Well, thank you for everything, and for being so… understanding."

Because Taeyong knew if the dean had contacted Alpha Iota Phi with a situation like this, there is no way the chapter president, Minjae, would've been on board. Johnny's rather enthusiastically welcoming attitude was perhaps the only detail that had gone right about this situation so far.

"I can give you a tour of the house if you like?" Johnny then offered.

"Ahhh, that's alright." As Taeyong looked up at him, he forced the corners of his lips upward, though he could only imagine how awkward he actually looked. "It was a long drive, and I think I'd rather get settled in for the night."

"Of course." Johnny nodded. He then pointed to the neighboring door that headed the hall. "My room is right here, so don't hesitate if you need anything!"

"Thank you."

Entering the room, Taeyong closed the door behind him, leaving his luggage for the moment to walk over to the window overlooking the cul de sac. He has a generous view of the entire Greek Row from here. He could see the Alpha Iota Phi mansion standing tallest at the very end, of course, and then there was the mansion next to it that was nearly as large, the infamous jock party fraternity, Epsilon Xi Omicron.

Then there was the oldest and most prestigious sorority, Sigma Nu Sigma Delta, and just catty-corner from this house was the newer but equally as refined Rho Beta Lambda, which also happened to be the sorority of Taeyong's best friend, Seulgi.

Turning away from the window, Taeyong flopped down on the bed, idly running his fingers through his sandy-colored hair. His arms loosely sprawled out as he exhaled a breath, eyes closing.

"That statue is nearly as old as this university itself!"

The dean stood with his hands on his hips, wearing a severe expression.

"I know," Taeyong all but whimpered. His shoulders were slumped, curling in on himself, and he knew how pathetic he looked, but with his life as he knew it hanging on only by a hair, it really was the least of his concerns.

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice nearly pleading. "I'm so, so sorry."

"This is grounds for expulsion. Not to mention legal action."

"Please!" Taeyong did plead then, falling out of the chair and to his knees on the office floor, hands tightly clasped in front of his face. "I'll do whatever I have to, to get it repaired, I swear! Please don't expel me! I work so hard!" His voice croaked, eyes stinging.

The dean stared down at him a long moment before he sighed. "Get off the floor, Lee."

Taeyong nodded, pushing himself back up to sit in the chair, head bowed.

The silence that filled the air was palpable as the dean gave him a hard, considering look. Then his features relaxed. "It just so happens that I need a student with your particular skills. Perhaps we could make an arrangement."

Taeyong swiftly looked up at him, hope widening in his eyes.

Taeyong's eyes opened to stare up at the ceiling.

This was going to be a very long school year.

When Taeyong opened the bedroom door the next morning, Johnny stood on the other side like he'd been waiting for him. He still wore the camera strapped around his neck. Taeyong half-wondered if he slept with that thing on.

He stared at him from the doorway, his hand still on the knob.

"Good morning!" Johnny's cheeks pushed into his eyes again.

"Hello…" Taeyong said, voice still a little raw since he had yet to consume his daily and necessary caffeine dose.

"Did you sleep well?" Johnny asked.

Taeyong closed the door behind him. "Yeah."

It was technically true if one only focused on the bits of sleep Taeyong actually managed to acquire.

"Great!" Johnny patted the side of Taeyong's bicep, gently ushering him along. "I figured I could give you a tour this morning. Introduce you to some of our other brothers."

"Yeah, thanks," Taeyong replied quickly, feeling as though he wasn't getting much choice in the matter.

Still, he was going to have to sooner or later anyway, so he might as well get it out of the way.

"At Nu Chi Tau, our goals are forming strong brotherhood bonds, so we can build up our community!" Johnny explained as he led him back down the staircase.

Taeyong nodded. That sounded very nice and all, though Taeyong wasn't sure how effective that would actually be. Alpha Iota Phi's goals had been centered around leadership and strong networking connections.

Downstairs, Johnny led him down the hall, turning the corner to show off a wall of photos and awards, displaying the history of Nu Chi Tau.

"This is our Legends Wall!" Johnny explained, gesturing toward it. "Nu Chi Tau has an extensive history. It was the first fraternity officially recognized by the university!"

As Johnny went on to explain the fraternity details, Taeyong only half-listened, his attention more focused on the display in front of him. It was about half the size of Alpha Iota Phi's, perhaps even less. What really stood out to Taeyong though was the way the awards and number of people in the photos all seemed to be much larger closer to the fraternity's founding, as though as the years went on, the number of brothers and achievements seemingly dwindled.

No wonder the dean wanted Taeyong to help recruit more members and build this place up.

Johnny continued walking, and Taeyong turned to follow. The taller man opened the door to another room and switched the light on. A long table that looked more like something you would take to a picnic sat in the center, surrounded by several folding chairs that had seen better days.

Taeyong arched a brow. Don't tell him this was…

"This is the Chapter Room!" Johnny said, confirming Taeyong's suspicion. "The council gathers here, and this is where all the meetings and decisions for the fraternity take place, and all the special events are developed!"

This room looked more like the lounge of a bunch of burnouts. The Alpha Iota Phi council wouldn't be caught dead in such conditions.

Johnny continued his way across the room to a door on the opposite end, and Taeyong followed.

"And here is the President's Office!" Johnny explained, holding the door open for him. "As vice president, you're welcome to use it as well!"

Taeyong stepped inside, unsurprised to see that the setup was as drab as everything else. Photos lay strewn all across the desk and various surfaces in a state of semi-disarray. Taeyong approached the desk and picked one up. "What's with all the pictures?"

"Oh, yeah. Sorry about this." Johnny laughed. "I'm kind of in the middle of a project." He walked around the desk, moving some of the photos aside and picking up what looked like a magazine, handing it to Taeyong.

Taeyong took it, looking down at the cover curiously. It appeared rather old. The Nu Chi Tau Greek letters were printed along the top.

"The Nu Chi Tau annual magazine used to be a tradition," Johnny explained. "It kind of fell out of practice over the years, but I wanna bring it back!"

Taeyong nodded, idly flipping through the pages. Well, he supposed that explained the camera glued to his neck.

"Come on." Heading back around the desk, Johnny patted Taeyong on the back of the shoulder. "The other brothers should be up by now. I'll introduce you."

Johnny led him back to the living room, where a handful of boys sat around.

"Rise and shine, brothers!" Johnny called out like a rallying cry. He then held out both arms toward Taeyong. "Say hello to our new vice president, the one and only, Taeyong Lee."

Johnny's fingers fluttered as though he were putting on a performance, but his energy did not catch with the rest of the group, whose eyes looked less certain as they shifted to Taeyong. Most of them did, at least, wave.

Taeyong waved back with a forced upturn of his lips. "Hello." Johnny carried on as though the room wasn't suffocating in awkward tension. "This is Doyoung, Taeil, Jungwoo, Mark, Donghyuck—"

As Johnny continued to list the other brothers, Taeyong looked out to the first set of individuals.

The one called Doyoung sat with his arms tightly crossed and nose slightly upturned as though he had a stick up his ass propping it up like that. Taeil looked a little too old to be here. Jungwoo, by contrast, looked too young to be here, or maybe that was just the awkward baby voice he kept making that had that effect.

Mark almost seemed normal, but then he took out a die with way too many sides and kept rolling it and laughing like a seal, while Donghyuck was glued to Mark's side, containing all the energy of the evil step-child that unironically did Fortnite dances.

"So." Johnny clasped his hands in front of him. "What goes on today in the social uni-sphere?"

Mark looked up from his die. "There's some social house that opened up outside Kalani Hall that has ₩3 mimosas."

"Ooh!" Johnny lit up. "Is it brunch adventure time?"

The rest of the group murmured favorably.

Johnny turned toward Taeyong. "What better way to get to know your new brothers than over day drinks, yeah?"

"You know what," Taeyong said quickly, pointing with his thumb toward the staircase before backing toward it. "I really need to go over my syllabus and get some reading in before class starts. Maybe another time."

Being a business major, it wasn’t entirely a lie.

Johnny's brow lifted a moment, but then that big grin appeared on his face. "Sure! You got my number if you need anything."

Taeyong nodded and then proceeded to make his escape.

A heavy sigh exhaled from his lips once the door closed behind him back in his room. He leaned against the door, staring off at nothing as he processed the situation, then headed over to his bed, flopping down as he took out his phone from his pocket.

He pulled up the text messages between him and Seulgi. Both of their mothers had been best friends growing up, which meant that the two of them naturally were as well. His thumbs typed out a message.

Yongie 🌹 9:31 a.m.: i can't do this

Seul 🐻 9:32 a.m.: do what? unpack?

Yongie 🌹 9:32 a.m.: hilarious

Seul 🐻 9:33 a.m.: you've been there… what? not even 24 hours?

Yongie 🌹 9:34 a.m.: yes, and these people are impossible. this place is impossible

Seul 🐻 9:34 a.m.: oh, yongie

Yongie 🌹 9:36 a.m.: i'm serious, you should see it. i swear, the dean is doing this to humiliate me

Seul 🐻 9:37 a.m.: or… he genuinely thinks your leadership skills can help them out

Yongie 🌹 9:37 a.m.: yeah, right ㅠㅠ

Seul 🐻 9:38 a.m.: well, you can always talk to your dad, and i'm sure he can help you out

Yongie 🌹 9:38 a.m.: DON'T EVEN JOKE LIKE THAT
Yongie 🌹 9:38 a.m.: if he gets even a hint that i'm not in alpha iota phi anymore?
Yongie 🌹 9:39 a.m.: omg
Yongie 🌹 9:39 a.m.: omg
Yongie 🌹 9:39 a.m.: ㅠㅠ

Seul 🐻 9:40 a.m.: jeez, i get it!
Seul 🐻 9:41 a.m.: well, you know what that means then

Yongie 🌹 9:43 a.m.: i should accept the inevitable that i'm going to be excommunicated from my family and start my life as a nomad
Yongie 🌹 9:44 a.m.: ㅠㅠ

Seul 🐻 9:45 a.m.: omg
Seul 🐻 9:45 a.m.: well, there's that
Seul 🐻 9:46 a.m.: OR you can try to befriend your new housemates

Yongie 🌹 9:50 a.m.: yeah, that's not happening

Seul 🐻 9:52 a.m.: come on, taeyong! they're your brothers now!

Yongie 🌹 9:52 a.m.: they are NOT my brothers!

The first day of school arose, and while Taeyong had been content to figure out something for breakfast for himself during the days leading up to it, he decided to join the other fraternity brothers in the dining room due to a shortage of time on this particular morning.

Except Nu Chi Tau didn't have a dining room. They basically just used the extra space in the kitchen as one.

Nor did they have their own chef, he just as quickly realized as he spotted Doyoung frantically running back and forth from the counters to the stove.

Taeyong grimaced as he watched the other members run from room to room, all squawking around like a barnyard in distress. That was entirely what Nu Chi Tau felt like in the morning, a chaotic war zone zoo.

"Excuse me," Taeyong said pointedly to one of the brothers blocking the doorway, hoping his tone and expression would convey just how inappropriate he found this behavior.

However, if the other members noticed, which seemed unlikely, then they certainly didn't care.

He came to a stop in front of Doyoung. "Can I help you?"

Doyoung stopped, nose still upturned from the proverbial stick lodged inside. "Yes," he answered with the venom as though Taeyong had just insulted him rather than, you know, offered to help. "Stay the hell out of my way."

Taeyong turned to head out of the kitchen. On second thought, he could just pick up a protein bar somewhere.

When Taeyong arrived at the university, his eyes automatically drifted over to the square brick mount where a bronze statue of one of the oldest and most accomplished alumnus had once stood.

Up until the end of last Spring Semester.

Shame weighed hot on his face, and Taeyong ducked his head, moving past the empty mount as quickly as he could.

"Hey!"

Taeyong gasped, startling to a stop and blinking up to see Johnny standing in front of him, wearing a beaming smile as well as that beanie despite the lingering summer weather.

"Hi?" Taeyong blinked up at him.

Johnny's eyes fell to the textbooks curled in Taeyong's arms. "Can I carry those for you?"

Taeyong's eyes flitted down to the books before looking up at Johnny skeptically. He had half a mind to tell him that he was perfectly capable of carrying his own books, but Johnny was still smiling, and he had been nothing but kind and welcoming to Taeyong so far.

Taeyong's shoulders slumped slightly as he held the books out. "Sure. Thank you."

"Of course!" Johnny said, nodding as he slung the books in one arm as though Taeyong had just done him a favor. "First council meeting of the Fall Semester and the school year tonight! I'm looking forward to it!"

Taeyong forced the corners of his lips up. Again, that made one of them.

Teenage Taeyong poked his head out of his room. He could hear his father's heated voice scolding his sister in the living room of their three-story home.

Carefully, he slipped out from the door of his bedroom, mindful not to let it squeak. He then tip-toed his way over to the banister, his father's chastising and his sister's weeps growing clearer.

He knelt down by the balusters, both hands wrapping around two as he pressed his face to it as much as he could to try to catch a glimpse of them in the main room two stories below. From this angle, he could catch a glimpse of their heads.

"I built this company for the two of you, but do not think for a second that you're just entitled to it!" their father's scolding voice boomed.

"I'm sorry!" his sister cried below. "I was just having fun with friends! I am taking my studies seriously, I swear!"

"Your behavior reflects my reputation!" their father continued. "If you're gonna treat college like a game, then you can go ahead and try making your own way and seeing how well you do! Is that what you want?"

"No!" his sister sobbed.

Taeyong frowned, his stomach twisting. As guilty as he felt for his sister, he knew he would be helpless to do anything about it.

Their father then stepped back, his gaze lifting and meeting Taeyong's.

Taeyong's eyes widened, and he immediately scrambled back down the hall and to his room, slamming the door shut behind him.

"Alright, brothers! First council meeting of the Fall Semester and the school year is in order." Johnny stood at the head of the picnic table that served as a meeting table in the Chapter Room. He wore a beer banner like a cape and an origami newspaper hat over his beanie.

Taeyong sat at the chair next to him while the rest of the council members were too caught up in their buzz, continuing to squawk and prod at each other.

"Hey!" Johnny shouted at the head of the table, smacking an oversized novelty hammer toy against the edge of it that squeaked upon impact. "Order! Order!"

That finally got everyone's attention enough to get them to sit down and give Johnny their undivided attention.

"As you all know, Taeyong here is our new vice president." Johnny gestured to him before holding the toy hammer in both hands in front of him. "Currently, our graduation rate has been exceeding our new pledge rate, so Taeyong here is going to help us tilt that rate and get our numbers back up."

Forcing a grin had become something of a habit around here for Taeyong. He waved, and the rest of the council just looked up at him as though Johnny had announced something much more somber.

"I feel confident that Taeyong's ideas are going to really help the chapter out!" Johnny continued. "So let's listen to him." He twirled the toy hammer around his hand before using it to point to Taeyong. "Take it away!"

"Thank you." Taeyong inclined his head before standing up, adjusting the position of his laptop screen so he could read it. He cleared his throat. "Rush Week, it's really important for drawing in new pledges. What are some things you've done in the past?"

The old man, Taeil, spoke first. "For last Spring Rush, we had movie nights! And during Fall Rush, while it's still warm out, we have barbecues!"

"Okay…" Taeyong nodded vaguely. "That's not bad. Since we want to draw in more members though, we should probably think bigger. Maybe we can have a party—"

"No parties," Stick-up-his-ass interjected.

Taeyong blinked at him.

"It's hard enough to keep this place cleaned without having a bunch of drunk idiots trashing it,” Doyoung explained.

Taeyong bit the tip of his tongue to keep from knee-jerk reacting. He swallowed. "I understand that, but since this is Rush Week we're talking about—"

"No," Doyoung said, holding his ground. "Other frats may have no problem disrespecting their houses, but we don't do that here."

Taeyong heaved a breath that visibly moved his shoulders. "Okay, then." His eyes locked onto his laptop screen as though it were a focal point for keeping his cool. "If not here, then perhaps elsewhere? Maybe we can get a hold of some concert tickets? Free shows always attract people! There are still a few summer concerts going on at the outdoor venues. It would be a great place to have fun and meet new people."

Johnny shook the toy hammer overhead. "Brilliant!"

"Ah," Taeil spoke then. "That sounds great in theory, but as chapter treasurer, I'm afraid our budget doesn't really accommodate acquiring a mass of concert tickets."

"May I see the budget?" Taeyong asked.

Taeil turned to look at Doyoung—the chapter secretary—next to him, who also had a laptop open. Doyoung's eyes narrowed as though Taeyong had just asked to see his browser history. However, after a moment, he slid the laptop around and pushed it toward Taeyong.

Taeyong leaned in, taking the laptop and peering at the screen.

Oh, this was bad…

"Okay…" Taeyong mused. "Well, maybe if everyone pitches in."

"Pitches in?" Doyoung scoffed.

"Doyoung," Johnny said, his tone not unkind but still firm.

Doyoung turned to face the chapter president. "Between our fraternity dues, not to mention school fees and the costs of textbooks, no one has any more money to pledge!"

"I know it's pretty tight for the average student," Taeyong said patiently. "But if we could all put a little in—"

Doyoung turned toward Taeyong, glaring. "Not everyone has daddy's money to pay their way through life."

Taeyong's lips pressed together. This bitch.

"That's enough, Doyoung." Johnny sat up a little straighter.

"What?" Doyoung turned toward Johnny again. "It's not feasible."

"Let's just try to be more open-minded," Johnny said.

Frowning, Doyoung reached over to take his laptop back, flopping in his seat with his arms crossed.

Taeyong looked out to the other council members, but they didn't appear to be paying attention. Jungwoo distracted himself by making paper planes, whereas Mark took out his insane number of sides die again and was rolling it. Naturally, Donghyuck was more amused to prod at Mark, who seemed to protest slightly but didn't really make the effort to stop him.

"Okay…" he continued, returning his attention to the men nearest him. "What if we hold an outdoor party, so that way we're not trashing the house? Maybe we can hire a local band? Something a little more economical than a concert?"

Taeyong's attention lowered to the sad state of the table and surrounding chairs. "You know… this house could really use some fixing up. A paint job? Clean up the yard a little?" He forced the smile back on his face as his attention lifted to the council again. "We could really make this place look fresh and inviting!"

"That's a great idea!" Johnny exclaimed next to him. "The pledges will be coming in, in droves!"

"Ah." It was Taeil again, wearing an almost pained grin. "To be honest, there's all kinds of structural maintenance this house needs, and that's where the budget for the house goes. Aesthetics aren't as critical, that's why they've always taken a backseat."

"I understand," Taeyong said in an effort to meet them halfway. "But we should think of this as an investment! We have to put a little more into it if we want a good payoff."

"What part of we don't have the money for it do you not get?" And any pretense of civility that Doyoung may have arguably had previously was long gone by now.

Taeyong's words came out a little more pointed. "If we made some simple and temporary budget arrangements—"

"And let the house fall apart?" Doyoung glared up at Taeyong. "Or maybe we should cut out the grocery budget and just starve?"

"Enough, Doyoung," Johnny said firmly.

"Johnny, this is ridiculous," Doyoung said, turning toward Johnny again. He gestured toward Taeyong, speaking as though he weren't here in the room less than five feet from him. "I'm not going to sit here while some former Alpha dog inserts himself into our space and tells us how to do things!"

A hot spike of anger pulsed through Taeyong’s chest. "What did you just call me?"

Doyoung turned his narrowed eyes toward Taeyong, who glared back just as fiercely. The energy between them clashed, crackling and popping where it collided in the middle, ready to burst at any second.

"Okay, Doyoung." Johnny stood then. "I think you got a lot of pent-up energy. I think you should go walk some of that off."

"Fine," Doyoung said through gritted teeth. He slapped his laptop shut and slid it off the table before flouncing from the room with a dramatic slam of the door that definitely did not hit him on the ass on the way out.

Taeil cleared his throat. "I really should get a head start on some of my assignments…"

Jungwoo, Mark, and Donghyuck all murmured excuses to leave as well, and when the door finally closed, Taeyong and Johnny were left at their lonesome.

Taeyong sat back down in his chair, shoulders slouched. "Well, that went great…"

"I'm still here," Johnny said.

Taeyong looked over at him to see him wearing a grin. He was starting to think nothing ruffled this guy's feathers.

"Come on." Johnny sat down and scooted his chair closer to Taeyong. "I bet between the two of us, we can get a lot done."

Taeyong exhaled a sigh. It wasn't like he had much of a choice.

He turned the laptop between the two of them.

Taeyong let himself outside one of the red brick university halls after class had ended. He stepped down the concrete stairs that led to the winding pathways, which cut through the expanses of green and led to the other various halls and schools.

He barely started down one of said pathways when a student rushed right in front of him, cackling. Taeyong jumped back startled, blinking after the figure that darted by.

"Get back here, Yangyang!" Another boy chased after the first. He was a good ten feet behind him but swiftly closing in. "I'll kill you!"

A small group of four more boys followed after the other two. They weren’t racing as quickly as them, but they were definitely amused by whatever happened and eager to see the confrontation.

Taeyong blinked and shook his head after they disappeared around one of the brick corners, continuing his way down the path, where he then spotted a set of familiar faces he had yet to run into since the semester started.

His former Alpha Iota Phi brothers. Three of them, anyway.

Shame curled in his chest first, but after calling these men brothers for the better part of the past two years, some glimmer of hope sparked in his heart as well.

"Hey!" Taeyong called out after them, walking a little faster to try to catch up. "Hey, guys!"

The three men ahead glanced back at him, eyes widening, then they pointedly looked ahead, feet moving a little faster.

It stopped Taeyong a moment. Ouch.

Still, he pursued them. "You guys!" he called out. "Talk to me! Please!"

It was Kyungmin that stopped and looked back at him, hugging his Louis Vuitton bag as though he were afraid Taeyong might try to snatch it. "We don't want to be seen with you, Taeyong."

Taeyong frowned. Double ouch.

"Really?" he asked. "After everything we've done together, you're fine with cutting me off just like that?"

The three stopped, turning to face him.

"Cut you off?" Kyungmin asked. "You're the one that left us for Nu Chi Tau!"

"Not by choice, you know that!" Taeyong lamented, desperate to make them see. "The dean made me!"

"After you humiliated all of us with that statue incident," Chunso spoke next, sliding his designer glasses back up the bridge of his nose. "You realize you made us all look bad?"

"I know…" Taeyong said more quietly, inclining his head. "I'm sorry."

The third man, Ashton, who stood with his arms unnaturally tucked into his body like he were in danger of having his ₩500 silk blouse soiled by Taeyong if he got too close, hummed then. "I bet you are."

"I'm doing the best I can," Taeyong explained. "I don't want to be in Nu Chi Tau, believe me."

"Guess you should've thought about that before you destroyed one of the university's oldest landmarks," Kyungmin said.

"Anyway." Chunso turned away from Taeyong, the other two following. "Minjae was very adamant that we're not to be seen with you."

The three continued on their way, leaving Taeyong alone with his shame.

He had to help Nu Chi Tau. If he could build up their numbers and impress the dean, then surely the dean would forgive him. And if the dean forgave him, he wouldn’t be obligated to stay with Nu Chi Tau, then surely Minjae and the rest of Alpha Iota Phi would see him as redeemed and let him back in.

They had to.

Taeyong watched them disappear up ahead, resisting the urge to give chase. He was aware enough of how pathetic he must've looked and knew that he should probably quit while he was ahead. Or at least, not dig himself that much further behind.

He turned to head down one of the opposite paths when he nearly crashed into a larger body, coming to a sudden stop and gasping.

"Hey!" Johnny smiled down at him. "Just the guy I wanted to see! So. Rush Week. I've been talking to some local bands…"

Taeyong started walking again while Johnny continued along next to him, still talking away. He only half-paid attention, still somewhat startled from the chapter president's sudden appearance but mostly dwelling on the rejection from his former brothers.

They were his brothers for two years. How could they just write him off like that?

Johnny gestured animatedly as he spoke next to him, and as Taeyong glanced up at him, for a moment he felt almost hopeful about the upcoming Rush Week from the state of Johnny's infectious energy. There was no doubt that the chapter president felt confident about it.

Taeyong looked out ahead, nodding and humming when the conversational cues called for it.

However, as the two of them made their way further into campus and the student population grew denser, it almost felt like there were a number of curious eyes on the two of them.

Taeyong blinked over at a small group of students at some philanthropy booth that had definitely been staring at them, but as soon as they were caught, they all looked away and giggled.

What the fuck?

Taeyong had wanted a grand party. He wanted a concert. He wanted excitement, something that would get the younger students of the university to overlook the Nu Chi Tau brand because what they were offering was just so exciting that they couldn't turn it down.

What he got was a backyard of shriveled yellow grass with a high school band that probably only formed a week ago if their lack of coordination was anything to go by. Refurbished white Christmas lights strung haphazardly overhead, and the council's Chapter Room table was set up outside with bowls of store-brand chips and crackers.

"This is great, isn't it?" Johnny exclaimed next to him, holding up the camera permanently dangling from his neck, snapping photos as though their dismal surroundings were much more impressive scenery.

There were many words Taeyong could use to describe this, but as he looked around to take in the meager number of Nu Chi Tau brothers and even fewer new young students, "great" was definitely not one of those words.

Right now, Taeyong knew that Epsilon Xi Omicron had the bass bumping, a multi-color of lights flooding the overflowing house while all the potentials lined up to do keg stands. He knew that Rho Beta Lambda gathered around the pool in their backyard, while Sigma Nu Sigma Delta transformed the mansion into a spa.

Taeyong had seen the large tour bus parked in front of Alpha Iota Phi, no doubt taking all the new potentials to their very own VIP lounge at some sporting event.

And here Taeyong was, standing in the dirt with their great offering of bland, cheap chips and feedback crackling from some high school kid's cheap amp.

Not for lack of trying. Taeyong had made calls and sent emails to see if he could acquire sponsorships to compensate for their scant budget, but as it turned out, Taeyong’s charm wasn’t as effective as it had been back when he had Alpha Iota Phi’s name to accompany him.

That smile that Taeyong so frequently forced onto his face felt so unnatural that it couldn't possibly be convincing, but the energy required to care happened to be more than Taeyong currently possessed, so he made himself wear it as he walked rounds through the minimal crowd.

As he heard the familiar baby-ish babble coming from none other than Jungwoo, Taeyong couldn't help but listen in to his conversation with this potential new recruit, making him grimace more by the second until it was so painful, Taeyong had to interject.

"Hi, there!" Taeyong said, injecting saccharine into his grin. "What's your major?"

The potential blinked at Taeyong, clearly caught off guard. "Oh, um, accounting. But I might change it."

"I see…" Taeyong nodded, a finger curling over his chin. "What interests you in Nu Chi Tau?"

The student scratched the back of his head. "Oh. I don't know… I just want to make friends."

"And what would you like to bring to the chapter?"

"Um." He stared at Taeyong like a deer in headlights, until finally, the pink crept up his face, and he turned away. "I think. Maybe. I should go."

That was exactly what Taeyong thought. He crossed his arms, watching the young student flee the backyard.

"What the hell?"

Taeyong looked over to see Doyoung glaring. Shocker.

"Can I help you?" Taeyong asked.

"You just scared off a potential pledge!" Doyoung said, scandalized. "Jungwoo was doing really well with him!"

It was all Taeyong could do to not roll his eyes. "More like I just spared you."

Doyoung stared at him a moment then shook his head. "We're supposed to be bringing in new pledges!"

Taeyong turned toward him directly. "And I figured you would want some quality ones?"

Scoffing, Doyoung shook his head. "What is wrong with you?"

"Heeeeey!" Johnny slid his way in between them. "No need for tensions! It's Rush Week! Tonight's a night to kick back and have fun!"

Doyoung frowned up at Johnny. "Your Alpha buddy boy here just scared off a potential pledge!"

"I did you a favor!" Taeyong snapped.

"Doyoung," Johnny said calmly, turning toward the chapter secretary. "Taeyong is here to help. Let's try to be more considerate to his methods?"

Doyoung's jaw dropped like someone had just thrown ice water in his face. "Johnny, are you serious? You're taking his side in this?" He huffed out a humorless laugh before about-facing and stomping away. "I'm so done."

"Doyoung, wait!" Johnny chased after him.

Taeyong made no move to chase after them, standing with his arms crossed, unapologetic. He did them a favor. They would see.

However, as the nights crawled on, each event attracting a crowd as pitiful as the next, if not more so, it started to sink in with him that he did not have the luxury of holding potential pledges to the standards that he did while in Alpha Iota Phi.

As their number of new recruits remained in the single digits, Taeyong was all too aware that this would not please the dean into forgiving him.

By the end of the week, said standards were all but abandoned.

They had a barbecue for the very last day, and Taeyong saw two potentially promising young men who had come together, laughing about something while they picked at their plates.

"Hi, there!" Taeyong greeted them, forcing what last bit of saccharine onto his face that he could muster. "I'm Taeyong! Vice president of Nu Chi Tau."

"Hey," the red-haired man nearest him greeted back. "I'm Yuta. This is my friend, Jaehyun."

Jaehyun, a shaggy-haired brunet, lifted a hand in greeting.

Taeyong forced the corners of his lips to stay up. "What brings you out here tonight?"

"Uh…" Jaehyun stared dumbfounded for a moment like he had been asked a very important test question. He then looked down at his plate and held it up, smiling. "Free food!"

"Yeah, we got the mad munchies," Yuta added.

The two men then started laughing as though Yuta had just fired off some witty joke.

And now that they started laughing, they weren't stopping.

That was when Taeyong registered the pink tinge to their eyes, the heavy lids, and as his nostrils flared, he caught that distinct herbal whiff.

They were high as fuck. Of fucking course.

However, Taeyong smiled despite the realization, clasping his hands in front of him. "Well, there's more where that came from if you pledge to Nu Chi Tau!"

"Right on!" Yuta proclaimed.

Someone kill him now.

By the end of Fall Rush, they acquired a whopping ten new pledges, and Taeyong had the hunch that wasn't going to be enough to please the dean.

Living with Nu Chi Tau didn't just feel like living in a new fraternity, it felt like living in an outright alternate dimension.

Every weekday morning, Taeyong got meticulously ready, hair combed neatly, clothes fresh and pressed, only to step out into the hall to see the warzone raging on from the span of the bathrooms to the kitchen.

The order and standards by which Alpha Iota Phi held themselves were nonexistent. Not even just disregarded but outright non-conceptualized. Besides himself, Doyoung was the only one that seemed to put himself together with any semblance of professionalism.

The one decent thing about living among them was that he had his own room, which Taeyong basically used as a place to sleep and study before he made his swift retreats whenever he had to pass through the rest of the house. He may have been forced into this chaos, but he could at least conceal himself from it for the most part.

Leaves started to lose their vibrancy as September rolled on, the daylight steadily growing shorter as the days passed by.

Taeyong sat at his desk, so immersed in the open textbook on the side as well as the Word document opened on his laptop in front of him that he barely noticed the screech of tires peeling around the street corner.

The distinct heavy thunk of something splattering against the front of the house at high speed, however, did not go unnoticed.

Taeyong blinked, standing up from his desk to peer out the window.

A Jeep sat in front of the house, overflowing with muscled men. A few had jumped out and were hurling handfuls of something right at the house.

Taeyong's jaw dropped. "What the fuck?"

Abandoning his assignment, Taeyong spun around and kicked open his bedroom door, rushing down the stairs and through the main room to the front door, throwing it open.

"Hey!" he shouted. "What do you think you're doing?!"

The confronted vandals all turned their wide eyes toward Taeyong in shock. However, a moment later, one of them threw two fists into the air and cheered, "EXO rules!"

The other men cheered with him before piling back into the Jeep, which then screeched down the end of the block in a not so modest display.

Taeyong stood in the doorway dumbfounded for a moment, not believing what he had just seen. Shaking his head, he stepped forward, looking over at the front of the house to see eggs splattered across the peeling paint.

When he turned back inside, the commotion had attracted much of the rest of the chapter brothers.

"Um. What's going on?" Mark asked.

"Epsilon Xi Omicron just egged the house?" Taeyong explained, still not believing the audacity.

Taeyong expected outrage. What he received was vaguely apathetic acknowledgment.

"Oh, yeah," Taeil said. "They do that sometimes."

"Well, let's clean it up!" Johnny said, heading to the kitchen to likely gather cleaning supplies.

"Hold on," Taeyong said, lifting up a hand. "You guys are just going to let them get away with this?"

"There isn't a whole lot we can do about it," Mark answered.

"Yeah," Jungwoo added, exaggeratedly puffing out his lower lip. "The Epsilon Xi Omicron guys are big! And scary!"

Taeyong gaped at them. "Stand up for yourselves?!"

The rest of the brothers just stared back at him like he was out of his mind.

Taeyong turned toward Donghyuck. "You!" He pointed at him. "You're security, right? You should be doing something!"

Donghyuck glanced up as though considering. "You're right!" He looked at Taeyong, eyes set and serious. "We have to egg them back! They'll be the egg-so house! Eeeeeeegg-sooooooo!"

The war cry transitioned into a maniacal laugh.

Taeyong stared, caught off guard a moment, then he shook his head. "That's not what I'm—"

"Are you encouraging vandalism?" Doyoung had appeared with impeccable timing.

"No!" Taeyong snapped in response.

Unsurprisingly, Doyoung didn't accept the answer. "I just saw you telling Donghyuck to egg the Epsilon Xi Omicron house!"

"That's not what I said!" Taeyong sighed, gently massaging his forehead where he could feel the beginnings of a headache blossoming. "And anyway, hello?" He gestured toward the front of the house. "Do you not see the egg splatters on the window?"

Doyoung put his hands on his hips. "That doesn't mean we need to stoop to their level!"

Johnny returned to the front room with a bucket filled with cleaning supplies dangling from one arm. "Hey! Whoa. What's the problem?"

"Alpha dog is encouraging vandalism," Doyoung answered pointedly.

"I didn't—" Taeyong huffed. "I'm not—!" By now though, he realized it didn't matter what he said. Doyoung was a brick wall with an anti-Taeyong agenda, and nothing could change that.

In the end, he threw his hands up in the air and headed back to the stairs. "I can't communicate with you people."

"Taeyong, wait!" Johnny called after him.

But Taeyong was already up the stairs and made sure to lock the door behind him. Clearly, the other members didn't want him here any more than he wanted to be here.

To a certain extent, Taeyong couldn't blame them. If some newcomer from a different fraternity had shown up at Alpha Iota Phi claiming the title of vice president, Taeyong probably would've struggled to accept them as well.

Then again, Alpha Iota Phi never would be in a position that required outside help to begin with.

Then there was Johnny. The only member of the fraternity that seemed to be on his side.

Sometimes… a little too on his side.

Like the time in the library when Taeyong strained on tiptoes, fingers splayed as he desperately tried to reach for the text he needed that was, of course, placed on one of the higher shelves.

By which point, Taeyong was not about to ask for help and further seal the humiliation. Or do something even more degrading, like find a chair to stand on.

Just when he was accepting he was going to have to give up and go order the book on Amazon, he could feel the presence sneak on his back, and his stomach fluttered, eyes going wide as he watched a larger hand slip the book he needed easily from its place.

"Here," Johnny said, and Taeyong turned around to see the Nu Chi Tau president offering it to him, smiling with his round cheeks pressed into his eyes.

Taeyong blinked, taking the book, and told himself the reason his heart was beating so fast was because Johnny had snuck up on him and scared the shit out of him.

Johnny was always doing things like that. It's like he had a tracking device on Taeyong with the way he so effortlessly seemed to find him at school, asking if he needed his books carried for him, if he needed help getting through some crowd—since Johnny's height made it easy for him.

He was there when Taeyong got up in the morning, was always around in the evening, always knocking on Taeyong's door asking how he was doing and if there was anything at all that he needed.

Taeyong had assumed initially that Johnny was going out of his way to make him feel welcome, but Rush Week was long over, they had well-entered fall, and Johnny's constant appearances had yet to slow down.

To make matters worse, Taeyong swore whenever Johnny walked with him around campus, there were always eyes on them, always whispers and hushed giggles, which made no sense. What the fuck was there to whisper about?

Until one night when he received a text from Seulgi…

Seul 🐻 6:39 p.m.: congratulations!

Yongie 🌹 6:44 p.m.: thanks?
Yongie 🌹 6:45. p.m.: for what?

Seul 🐻 6:47 p.m.: don't play coy! everyone knows!
Seul 🐻 6:48 p.m.: in fact, as your bff, i should be mad at you for not telling me, but you've been having a hard time, and this is so good for you, that i will forgive you
Seul 🐻 6:48 p.m.: now give me DEETS

Yongie 🌹 6:51 p.m.: are you high?

Seul 🐻 6:53 p.m.: rude
Seul 🐻 6:53 p.m.: tragically not
Seul 🐻 6:54 p.m.: seriously, deets!

Yongie 🌹 6:57 p.m.: i literally have no idea what you're going on about

Seul 🐻 6:58 p.m.: oh, come ON!!!
Seul 🐻 6:59 p.m.: the cutest couple on greek row!!!
Seul 🐻 6:59 p.m.: that's what everyone's calling you!

Yongie 🌹 7:02 p.m: ?????

Seul 🐻 7:03 p.m.: you're seriously gonna do this…
Seul 🐻 7:04 p.m.: you and johnny!

Yongie 🌹 7:05 p.m.: … WHAT

Seul 🐻 7:06 p.m.: okay, the playing dumb isn't cute anymore. it's getting annoying

Yongie 🌹 7:08 p.m.: we're not a couple???
Yongie 🌹 7:09 p.m.: WTF

Seul 🐻 7:11 p.m.: wait, are you serious?
Seul 🐻 7:11 p.m.: way to break my heart ㅠㅠ💔

Yongie 🌹 7:12 p.m.: why would you think that???
Yongie 🌹 7:13 p.m.: why would ANYONE think that????

Seul 🐻 7:15 p.m.: oh, i don't know, the two of you are basically attached to the hip at campus

Yongie 🌹 7:16 p.m.: omfg
Yongie 🌹 7:16 p.m.: it's not like that! we're co-running a frat!
Yongie 🌹 7:17 p.m.: i stg, when you're gay and you hang out with anyone of the same sex for any period of time, ppl just assume you're dating

Seul 🐻 7:19 p.m.: well, i think it's a little more than just that…

Yongie 🌹 7:20 p.m.: what??

Seul 🐻 7:21 p.m.: i mean, with the way johnny looks at you~ ^.^❤️

Yongie 🌹 7:23 p.m.: looks at me how?
Yongie 🌹 7:28 p.m.: what are you talking about?
Yongie 🌹 7:39 p.m.: seulgi!!!
Yongie 🌹 7:45 p.m.: ugh, i hate you!

In the end, Taeyong chalked it up to petty rumors, which was admittedly nothing new to him. Frustrating, since they were in college not high school, but something that came with the territory of being him, nonetheless.

And Taeyong already knew that making a scene in light of such details tended to exacerbate them. People would get bored eventually and move on to the next hot subject.

Besides, Taeyong thought as he came back to the Nu Chi Tau house one evening to see them gathered around a table they had brought to the living room for what Taeyong could only assume was a study session with the heavy textbooks sat at the end of the table and the sheets of paper Doyoung passed out to everybody.

Johnny just had a certain charisma about him. He was kind of like an overgrown puppy, playful in any circumstance, and he had no shortage of energy to uplift anyone within his general vicinity, which others always took to so effortlessly.

Johnny wasn't treating him in any kind of special way, Taeyong concluded. That was just how he was. Seulgi just didn't realize it because she didn't live with him.

Which was just as well with Taeyong. After he and his ex called it quits last year, Taeyong had decided he just didn't have the mental energy for relationships. He would rather put his focus on his academics.

Not that he would be caught dead dating someone from Nu Chi Tau to begin with. No. Johnny wasn't his type. He wasn't interested in Johnny, so it wasn't like any of that was even in question.

Given that Taeyong's room was right next to his and he had to work in close vicinity with him, he was not about to broach the subject and make things awkward. Better to just let it die.

And it had. Taeyong had almost forgotten about it, had started to find some semblance of settled in his new normal, adapting and working with the circumstances he had, even if they weren't the ones he wanted when one night he got a call and saw it was from home.

Expecting it to be his mother, who checked in on him frequently, Taeyong didn't hesitate to answer. "Hello?"

His father's voice greeted him on the other line. "Taeyong! Hello!"

Ice branched through Taeyong's veins, freezing him in place. "Hey, Dad."

"How's that ol' Alpha Iota Phi life treating you?"

"Great!" Taeyong winced, realizing how quickly and forced his tone sounded only after he heard himself. He cleared his throat, attempting to make himself sound more natural. "Really, great! You know, just living the Alpha Iota Phi life!"

"Oh, man, I miss those days." His father sighed on the other line, and Taeyong could see his face in his mind, that nostalgic look he would get in his eyes whenever he recounted the glory of his own old college days. "Those were some of the best memories I had! Well, until I met your mother and had you and your sister, of course."

"Yeah," Taeyong laughed, eyes darting around the room, his fingers curling a little tighter around the phone and holding it closer to his face as though trying to conceal it.

It was a phone call, not a video call, yet Taeyong just couldn't shake the pit in his stomach, like somehow his father would be able to see through it and realize just where Taeyong was and figure out he had been lying.

As if on cue, Taeyong's father suggested, "You should put your phone on speaker! I wanna talk to the other guys!"

Panic fluttered in Taeyong's gut. "Uh, you know what, we are all studying right now, actually."

Which was half true.

His dad, however, was undeterred. "Aww, come on! It'll only be a few minutes!"

"Sorry, Dad," Taeyong said quickly. "I'm by myself right now, and everyone else is hiding away in their rooms!"

"Damn, I sure do miss that place," his father said, seemingly dropping the subject.

Taeyong foolishly allowed relief to start to settle in when his father followed with, "I was thinking about maybe coming down for a visit—"

"No!" Taeyong snapped, rising to his feet, his heart pounding in his chest.

"No?" His dad's tone fell somewhere between understandably confused to outright affronted.

Taeyong swallowed the dry lump in his throat, digging in his brain for any excuse that sounded believable. Because above all else, his father could not come down here. He might as well kiss his whole life goodbye now.

"Sorry, Dad, the school has new strict visitor policies!" he said quickly. "You can't!"

"What?" his father asked. "Why would they have that?"

"I don't know," Taeyong replied. "I don't make the rules."

His heartbeat thrummed in his ears, skin burning, and Taeyong screwed his eyes shut with such ferocity, as though if he did so hard enough he could make himself simply cease to exist.

"I should talk with the dean…" his father said.

That had Taeyong's eyes shooting back open. "No!" He rapidly shook his head. "No, I don't want to make my brothers resentful if I have strings pulled since you're an Alpha Iota Phi alumni!"

Taeyong's teeth sunk so hard into his lower lip that he was surely going to leave a mark. However, right when Taeyong thought his life was over, his father lightly laughed.

"Ahhh, always thinking of your brothers!" he said. "You make me so proud!"

A nervous laugh slipped from Taeyong, and he tried to ignore the way guilt twisted in his stomach. "Yeah… Anyway, my battery is running low, so I gotta go! Send Mom my love!”

"Wait—"

“Bye!”

Ending the call, Taeyong powered off his phone. He flopped down on his bed face first, releasing a heavy breath before groaning into the pillow.

The surprise phone call had Taeyong realizing that he had perhaps been getting a little too settled into his alternate dimension life. Fall Rush may have passed, but that didn't mean all hope was lost. They still had Spring Rush to recruit more members, and given that they had a couple months before Winter Break, that meant they had more adequate time to prepare for it.

If there was one thing this last rush had been severely missing, it was funding. That was what had Taeyong turning to Jungwoo one night, his last hope.

"Jungwoo!" Taeyong forced the smile on his face as he sat down next to him in the Nu Chi Tau living room one evening. "You are in charge of philanthropy for the chapter, yes?"

Jungwoo blinked up from his phone, but the subject had him grinning. "That's right!"

"I could really use your help setting up charity events," Taeyong explained.

Jungwoo put his phone away and gave Taeyong his attention. "Absolutely!"

Taeyong's smile felt a little less strained. Jungwoo's baby-ish mannerisms could be awkward and annoying, but he really couldn't deny that the kid had a sweet disposition, which is more than Taeyong could say about some of the other Nu Chi Tau brothers.

"What kind of philanthropy projects have you been working on?" he asked.

Jungwoo's face lit up. "This year, I started a Save the North Atlantic Right Whale campaign!"

Taeyong stared, replaying that in his mind a few times as though it might help him comprehend it better. "I'm sorry? A what whale campaign?"

"The North Atlantic Right Whales!" Jungwoo repeated with a smile as though that weren't completely fucking absurd. "They've been endangered since the 1970s!"

"I see…" Taeyong nodded slowly. He found himself having to force the grin on his face again. "Have you ever thought about focusing on something a little more…" His wrist twisted in gesture. "Local?"

"The whale population affects us all!" Jungwoo explained, not in the least bit deterred. "Whales play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere and are important for preventing climate change!"

"This is important, yes…" Taeyong's lips idly pressed together, then he forced the smile on his face again. "However, I was thinking in terms of giving back to our own community."

"Oh, I know a local community cause!" another voice interrupted.

Both Taeyong and Jungwoo looked over to see Jaehyun grinning.

"Yes?" Taeyong asked.

"Yuta and I have been trying to petition for the legalization of marijuana for forever!" Jaehyun said.

Taeyong felt the corners of his lips slump.

Jungwoo pumped a fist in the air. "Save the whales! Free the green!"

"Fuck yeah!" Yuta cheered, and Jaehyun joined.

The two of them certainly fit in here, didn't they?

"No!" Taeyong snapped. "No, that's not what we're doing!"

Jungwoo's expression dropped, and he puffed out his lower lip.

That happened to also be the moment that Doyoung entered the living room because of course it was. "Excuse me? Are you being rude to Jungwoo?"

"No!" Taeyong answered quickly.

Jungwoo maintained his pout. "He doesn't want to save the whales, Doie!"

Taeyong sighed. "That's not what I said."

"Jungwoo has been putting all his heart into that campaign!" Doyoung chastised. "Don't disrespect it!"

Taeyong looked around, eyes wide, like surely there was someone in this fraternity that wasn't insane, but even if there was, everyone present conveniently turned their attention elsewhere.

At the very least, he hoped Johnny's Taeyong-senses might be tingling since he was the only one that might defend him, but of course, now that Taeyong actually wanted him around, the chapter president was nowhere to be seen.

"You know what." Taeyong pushed himself to his feet. "Never mind. I will get this figured out." He had the decency to incline his head toward Jungwoo. "Thank you for your help."

"No problem!" Jungwoo smiled up at him like he hadn't been whining like a baby just sixty seconds ago.

And of course, once Taeyong was up the stairs and opening the door to his room was when Johnny finally poked his head out of his own room.

"Hey!" he beamed. However, his expression turned serious a moment later. "You good?"

"Fantastic," Taeyong muttered before slamming the door behind him.

Taeyong never would've thought he would miss the days of his college social life before he had pledged to Alpha Iota Phi, but being a part of the fraternity had integrated into his social life so prominently that now that it was removed, it basically ceased to exist.

Dropping from the highest point of the totem pole to the lowest tended to have that effect.

Thus, Taeyong had a new appreciation for his pre-fraternity college life, in which those details hadn't yet mattered.

Thank goodness he still had Seulgi, who called him up one Friday evening. Taeyong had resigned to spending that evening working on an essay that wasn't due for weeks (because at least one unintentional happy consequence of his circumstances was that he certainly had no shortage of time to put into his studies).

"You're gonna be at the party tonight, right?" she asked on the other line.

Taeyong sat at his desk, holding his phone to his ear, his brow creasing. "What party?"

Parties had once been second knowledge to Taeyong, whether he was attending them or not. In this alternate dimension, however, the know of social gatherings now eluded him.

"Are you serious?" Seulgi asked, as surprised by Taeyong's lack of being in the know as he was. "It's Jackson's annual toga party! Duh!"

"Oh my God, I'm so out of the loop." A hand automatically smacked into Taeyong's forehead.

Everyone knew about Jackson's parties, especially Jackson's infamous toga party. Even the bottom of the social barrel.

It was said that Jackson threw down so hard that the college kids flocked to his parties even when he was still in high school. Now, he had long since graduated college, but the parties continued.

Taeyong's hand slumped down his face. "Trying to help this place out is stressing me out so much, I don't know what's going on anymore."

Seulgi just laughed on the other line. "It can't be that bad…"

"You know what a huge bust Rush Week was, Seulgi!" Taeyong bemoaned, rubbing the spot he had smacked. "I'm supposed to help them get new members, but everyone here is just so…" Taeyong shook his head, unable to find the words.

"My life is over," he quietly concluded. "I should just drop out now. Go find some menial job and get a head start on paying off that statue…"

"You are so dramatic," Seulgi said with another laugh. "Aww, Taeyong, you should come out! You could use a night out! Have some fun! Loosen up a little."

Taeyong's gaze lowered to his laptop, teeth idly nibbling at his lower lip.

However, any excuses he might have come up with just as quickly faded. "Fuck it, you're right."

On the other line, Seulgi cheered. "Yay!"

"Ah, but…" Taeyong glanced over at his closet. If he got ready here, he still would have to pass through the hall and living room, and he knew that Friday nights were when the rest of Nu Chi Tau liked to have their weird study sessions. He didn't want to have to explain to them where he was going. Especially not to Johnny.

"Is it cool if I come change over there?" he asked.

"Yeah," Seulgi said. "But be quick about it. I don't need Joohyun getting on my case about having boys over."

Taeyong rolled his eyes as he closed his laptop and stood up from his desk. "What part of 'I am not straight' does Joohyun not get?" He paused, brow furrowing. "Also, last I checked, neither were you."

Seulgi sighed. "Rules are rules, Yongie. Even the arbitrary, irrational ones."

The October air was not exactly toga friendly, so Taeyong and Seulgi had to all but run to Jackson's place to escape the chill, which was especially fun for Seulgi in her gold stilettos. When they arrived, they were greeted by bumping bass, white pillars lit up by a rainbow of spotlights, and several bodies crammed into the multilevel house.

Any lingering chill was taken care of once they found some drinks, and as the two of them made their rounds, greeting faces both familiar and new, Taeyong realized just how desperately he needed this.

White fabric clung to every party-goer, though he and Seulgi certainly wore their white silks in a more refined way, emphasized with gold jewelry and hair ornaments as well as smoky shadow and glittery highlighter.

They had the energy of royalty making their way through the court as the crowd of people parted around them, allowing them access to the dance floor.

Seulgi twirled while the music pulsing through the subwoofers had Taeyong rolling his body, feet moving elegantly across the floor as though it were a stage. With the way the eyes naturally gravitated to the pair, it may as well have been.

Whether it was the alcohol in his veins, the vibrations of the bass, or just the energy of everyone dancing around them, Taeyong forgot all about the stresses of Nu Chi Tau and repaying the dean. At least for the moment.

"Okay, you were right!" Taeyong leaned in, practically shouting in Seulgi's ear to be heard over the music. "I did need to get out!"

Seulgi laughed, a particularly pleased grin adorning her glossy peach lips. "I usually am!"

"That's arguable!" Taeyong tutted, though he was grinning too.

"No, not really!" Seulgi smirked.

However, she came to a stop, and the smug expression disappeared as the color then drained from her face. Quickly, she turned, fleeing the dance floor and all but diving behind one of the nearest pillars.

Taeyong blinked, caught off guard, but he had a sneaking suspicion he knew what had elicited the reaction. Turning around, he was not surprised to see one of their classmates, Sunmi, standing at the other end of the room as though she had just arrived, and damn, what a presence she had.

Her toga had a large slit that ran all the way up the side to her hip. Gold dangled from her wrists and ears, and her hair and makeup were immaculate. Taeyong may not have been interested in women, but he really couldn't deny that Sunmi looked like a whole Greek goddess.

Sunmi was a graduate student, whose entire college career had been funded by scholarships on account of her diligent work ethic, entirely self-made. It was said that Sigma Nu Sigma Delta, Rho Beta Lambda, and all the other sororities had tried to scout her out, but she turned down every single one.

Taeyong knew this, not because he was particularly invested in Sunmi's life but because Seulgi literally never shut up about her.

Everyone within Sunmi's immediate vicinity took a step back and regarded her as though they were so lucky to be graced by her presence.

Amusement flickered onto Taeyong's lips, and he headed over to the pillar where his best friend fled, curling his head around the corner to see a panic-stricken Seulgi with her back pressed against it.

"Generally, when you like someone, hiding from them isn't really conducive to showing interest!" he shouted over the music.

"Shut up!" Seulgi hissed. "Don't look at me! She'll notice!"

Taeyong turned in Sunmi's direction. "Hey!" he called out, stretching onto his toes and waving a hand frantically over his head. "Hey, Sunmi! SUNMIIIIIIIII!"

"Taeyong!" Seulgi leaned over to punch at his shoulder, but Taeyong dodged. "Oh my God, fuck you!"

Taeyong's cheeks hurt from how large he was smiling. Across the room, Sunmi grinned, having noticed him and heading over his way.

He turned his attention back to Seulgi, leaning in to shout over the music. "She's coming over! You better come out! It's going to look even weirder if she sees you hiding!"

"Fuck you, Taeyong!" Seulgi huffed, but with some reluctance, she made herself step out from behind the pillar, smoothing out her toga and doing her best to appear natural like she hadn't totally just been hiding behind it.

"Taeyong, hey!" Sunmi warmly greeted him as she approached, lightly taking him into a hug. "I haven't seen you all semester! How have you been?"

Taeyong returned the hug. "Yeah, I kinda got a lot on my plate this time around," he offered as explanation. "But I've been good!" Looking over, he lightly reached for Seulgi's wrist, tugging her closer. "You remember my best friend Seulgi?"

"Of course, I do!" Sunmi's smile took on a softer appearance as she regarded the other woman. "How could I forget that cute laugh?"

Seulgi laughed on impulse, and although the nerves she must've been feeling underlay it, Sunmi still wasn't wrong. Taeyong could feel the way she tensed as she swirled her wrist from his grasp, and he knew how much she wanted to glare at him, but with Sunmi so close, all she could do was hold her hands together in front of herself and grin.

"Hi, there!"

Sunmi's smile brightened, and to be honest, Taeyong thought Seulgi probably didn't need to be as nervous around her as she was.

"Do either of you know where the drinks are, by chance?" Sunmi asked, looking around the room. "I need one!"

Taeyong gently pressed one of Seulgi's elbows. "Why don't you show her?"

Seulgi shot him a quick look, but she was just as quickly returning her attention to Sunmi. "Oh, yeah! They're right this way!"

She led Sunmi back through the crowd, and Taeyong turned to watch them, giving Seulgi a thumbs up. She half-glared, but then ended up returning it before giving all her attention to the older woman.

That left Taeyong at his lonesome, but he just couldn't be upset about it. His attention returned to the dance floor. There were several faces present that he recognized although he hadn't really spoken to so far this semester, but it was one small group in particular that had Taeyong doing a double-take.

In the middle of the dance floor, the brothers of Nu Chi Tau were wrapped in white sheets and dancing away. Now that he thought about it, he hadn't seen them setting up their table in the middle of the living room like they did most Friday nights.

In the center of them, dancing the most enthusiastically of all, was Johnny. It looked like he tossed a white sheet over whatever he had been wearing for the day. His trademark camera was slung over the back of his neck. However, in lieu of a beanie, Johnny's ear-length brown locks flowed free, embellished with a makeshift laurel wreath.

What Johnny lacked in sophisticated dance moves, he certainly made up for in energy. Yet… somehow it worked for him, like he was just genuinely unafraid of looking like a dork, and that level of confidence just emitted an aura that was honestly just fun.

Without even realizing it, a smile found its way to Taeyong's face.

Then Johnny looked over and their eyes met, and if Taeyong felt a little warmer then, he would say it was because he had just been caught staring.

His eyes flitted down, but then Johnny was walking over to him, and Taeyong knew there was no subtle way he could sneak off.

"Hey!" Johnny greeted. "I'd wondered where you got off to!"

Taeyong's grin turned sheepish, and he reached up to tuck one of his ash-blond locks behind his ear. He felt exposed, not only for being caught staring but because of his awareness that he had kind of snuck here without asking them if they were going, which wasn't exactly gracious.

"I came with my best friend, Seulgi," Taeyong explained. "Coming here is kind of our tradition!"

If Johnny was offended that he chose to come with her without saying anything, he certainly didn't show it, that round-cheeked smile plastered on his face. "Well, right on! Come dance with us!" He extended a hand to Taeyong.

Taeyong looked down at the offered hand, and maybe it was the alcohol in his veins loosening him up, or perhaps it was just Johnny's energy being that infectious, but he found himself lifting his own hand to take it.

Until that inexplicable feeling of eyes on him curled in his stomach and had him glancing over. Sure enough, two of his former Alpha Iota Phi brothers, Kyungmin and Louis, flanked the current chapter president, Minjae, and all three sets of eyes were on him.

As soon as they realized Taeyong had spotted them, they leaned into each other, lips moving and eyes critical. Then they turned on their heels, disappearing into the crowd.

Taeyong yanked his hand back right before it touched Johnny's, and he looked up at him. "Sorry. I'll be right back."

Before Johnny had a chance to reply, Taeyong ran past him and into the crowd.

He saw their heels just up ahead, but every time Taeyong thought he was closing in, they would disappear around another group of people, leaving Taeyong stopping and looking around until he spotted them again.

Turning around a corner, he nearly crashed into a group of people surrounding a keg. A muscular boy gripped the edge of the keg while two others held him upside down by his ankles, and everyone in the immediate vicinity chanted, "Jeno! Jeno! Jeno!" while he chugged directly from the tap.

Sweeping past the group, Taeyong weaved through the crowd until he spotted his three former brothers slipping out the back door.

Taeyong ran after them, leaving behind the heat and cacophony of the party into the chill of the evening air.

"You guys!" he called out after them in between pants. "Hey! Wait up!"

The three of them stopped, turning to face him.

"What do you want, Taeyong?"

"To talk to you?" Taeyong leaned over as he caught his breath, hands resting against his knees. "You're my brothers."

Minjae folded his arms in front of his chest. "Were."

"As far as I'm concerned, you still are, okay?" Taeyong wanted to wince at how desperate his voice sounded, but he resisted the urge. "I didn't ask for this!"

"Really?" Kyungmin arched a brow, glancing past Taeyong to the bumping mansion behind him, the muted bass rattling the windows. "It definitely looked like you moved on in there."

Swallowing, Taeyong stood upright. "I came here tonight with Seulgi."

The three in front of him eyed him skeptically.

Taeyong heaved a breath. "Listen, I fucked up, and I know it. I gotta help Nu Chi Tau out to please the dean, but once I do, I'm done with them. You guys are my brothers! I want to come back. Please."

The three of them stood like an impenetrable wall.

Taeyong looked at the chapter president. "Minjae. Please."

The other two turned their attention to him expectantly.

Minjae regarded him cooly for several painstaking moments, then he snorted. "If you somehow pull this off, I'll think about it."

He looked to the other two, and the trio then turned to head off.

Taeyong didn't follow. His wide eyes gleamed with the first hint of hope he felt all semester.

"What is this?" Minjae brandished a piece of paper in one fist, holding it right in the face of a senior member.

"Don't worry about it," the upperclassman replied, his tone a couple octaves too high. "I'll sort it out!"

Taeyong stood among the other younger pledges. It was his first year as an Alpha Iota Phi brother alongside the rest of them, and while this display taking place in the main room in front of everyone felt incredibly uncomfortable for a number of reasons, fear kept them all rooted in place, mouths tightly shut.

"Academic probation?" Minjae's voice was as collected as his posture, and that somehow made his presence more unnerving. "Do you think that is an adequate representation of the Alpha Iota Phi code?"

"I fell behind," the upperclassman admitted. "Between my schedules and organizing all our events… some of my homework slipped through the cracks." He swallowed, looking up at Minjae pleadingly. "But I'll take care of it, I promise!"

"I'm sure you will," Minjae said, nonchalantly handing him the paper and turning away.

The upperclassman breathed his relief. "I won't let you down, I promise!"

"Your doings are no longer my concern," Minjae said, glancing back. "Pack up your things and have them removed this evening."

"Wait!" The upperclassman pleaded. "Minjae!"

But the pleas fell on deaf ears as Minjae approached Taeyong and the younger pledges.

"Need I remind anyone that here at Alpha Iota Phi we uphold certain standards?" he asked. "As a brother, you represent the Alpha Iota Phi chapter. Fail to uphold those standards, and you will be dismissed, no questions."

Taeyong fervently nodded his understanding alongside the others.

A chilly fall moved into an even brisker winter, and Taeyong returned to the Nu Chi Tau house every day to find the other members doing something that didn't particularly interest him.

A lot of the time, they were just lounging around the living room, sometimes watching a movie or engaging in their table study session, which if the level of noise they made was any indication, Taeyong figured would be more distracting than useful.

When they weren't lounging around or cleaning up EXO's latest vandalism, they were going off to some party or an adventure to a café or something of the sort. As far as Taeyong could tell, it was never anything productive. Networking wasn't even a concept in the Nu Chi Tau chapter.

Johnny always headed these ventures. He had a kind of energy that the rest of the brothers immediately latched onto.

He also always made sure to invite Taeyong, but having no interest in wasting time with Nu Chi Tau, Taeyong would find some excuse to decline.

Johnny would always smile, would always remind him he was only a text message away if he needed anything, and if there was ever any underlying disappointment in his tone, Taeyong didn't pay enough attention to notice.

One thing was for sure, if Johnny was disappointed about the declination, he was definitely the only one.

That basically reduced Taeyong's social life to talking to Seulgi. On the other hand, all this time being freed up for him meant that Taeyong stayed on top of his homework and studies quite effortlessly. He was sure that he hadn't stayed this ahead since he was a freshman.

He was alone in his room with his laptop open as he so often was many of these nights when he heard yelling in the hall. Taeyong looked back at the door and glared. This kind of behavior wasn't new here, and he turned his attention back to his laptop, assuming it was an isolated incident, and he could go back to his peace and quiet.

However, the yelling voices continued, the escalation heightening. Taeyong sighed and massaged his temples with two fingers. Given his technical position as vice president, he figured he should probably do something about it.

More like, his annoyance had been struck in such a way that he was ready to give the offender a piece of his mind, but he could default to that title as justification.

Pulling the door open, Taeyong poked his head out into the hall to see Mark standing in the middle, while others stood in the doorway, harsh words being viciously thrown back and forth.

Taeyong opened his mouth, but then he heard the door open next to him, and he looked over to see Johnny marching out of his room, swiftly making his way over to the verbal altercation. "Hey, hey!" He placed a hand on Mark's shoulder. "What's going on?"

"He's being a dick!" the man in the doorway shouted.

"Fuck you!" Mark snapped back.

"Whoa!" Johnny lifted his free hand. "Let's all just maybe take a step back and let this settle a moment."

The man in the doorway rolled his eyes and slammed his door.

Johnny looked around at the other nosy eyes peeking out, and he waved at them. "Alright, guys, back to your business. I got this."

Taeyong could've just as easily gone back into his own room and done the same, but there was something about Johnny's effortless energy and how effective it seemed to be that intrigued him.

So he stepped out into the hall rather than disappear back into his room. He was vice president, and this was his business, after all.

Johnny didn't seem to mind. His attention was on Mark. "What's going on, man? This isn't like you."

The fire in Mark's eyes died down, and he heaved a breath, burying his face into his hands. "I'm so stressed. I'm failing my economics class. They're gonna kick me out of school! My parents are gonna kill me! Johnny, I don't know what to do!"

"Whoa, whoa, let's not get ahead of ourselves," Johnny said, his hand remaining on Mark's shoulder. "You're not kicked out of school. Grades aren't set yet. There's time to fix this."

Mark nodded, dropping his hands.

"Alright." Johnny patted Mark's shoulder, nodding toward his room. "Okay, come on. Let's take a look at your syllabus. We'll get you caught up."

Mark looked up at him quickly. "You'll help me?"

"Of course, man!" Johnny smiled as the two of them turned to head to Mark's room. "We're brothers. We gotta help keep each other up!"

"Thank you," Mark said, opening the door. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Johnny looked back at Taeyong before he disappeared into the room, smiling and holding his thumb up as though to silently tell him that he had a handle on the situation.

Taeyong nodded, then headed back into his own room, but his eyes stared off at nothing in particular, stunned by what he just witnessed.

He really was living in an alternate dimension. A situation like that would've been handled so differently back in Alpha Iota Phi, and Taeyong had no idea what to make of it.

A layer of snow glistened across all the campus buildings and courtyards, bright and sparkling. Taeyong could see his breath, so he tried to keep it contained as he hid behind one of the hedges, peeking around the corner until his best friend drew near enough that he could try to get her attention.

"Pssst!" he hissed. "Seulgi!"

Seulgi came to a stop, blinking in surprise and looking around until she spotted him. "Taeyong?"

"Shhhh!" Taeyong pressed his index finger to his lips, whispering. "Keep it down!"

Still looking confused, Seulgi walked over to him, amusement twitching up the corner of her lips. "What are you doing?"

Taeyong glanced over his shoulder then back at her. "Have you seen Johnny around?"

Seulgi looked over her shoulder then back at him. "No?"

Poking his head out, Taeyong looked around for good measure, then finally slipped out to walk with Seulgi, exhaling a relieved sigh. "Thank goodness."

Seulgi walked with him, laughing as she spoke, "What is this about?"

"Johnny is everywhere I turn, Seulgi!" Taeyong bemoaned. "I need some breathing room!"

"Ah, yes," Seulgi hummed. "God forbid you have a hot guy wanting to be around you."

Taeyong quickly looked over at her with a raised brow. "Hot?"

"Yes?" Seulgi shot back, then she regarded Taeyong with an expression that fell somewhere between surprised and amused. "Oh my God, do not seriously tell me you don't think he is?"

Taeyong's eyes drifted upward in consideration. Sure, Johnny had attractive qualities. He was tall. He had a handsome face, and maybe the way his cheeks got all round when he smiled was kind of cute. "I guess so," Taeyong concluded. "If you look past the whole Nu Chi Tau thing."

Seulgi huffed out a laugh, eyebrows shooting up to her hairline. "Wow!"

"What?" Taeyong replied defensively. "The guy looks like he just rolls out of bed in his pajamas, slaps on a beanie, and walks around the rest of the day like that!"

Exhaling a sigh, Seulgi shook her head. "Taeyong, you are positively shallow."

Taeyong's jaw dropped. "I am not!"

"You so are!" Seulgi laughed.

Taeyong huffed, the shoulders of his puffy winter jacket hunching up as he crossed his arms.

He was not shallow.

Later that evening when Taeyong returned to the Nu Chi Tau house, he saw they had a table set up for their Friday study session, so immersed in it that Taeyong could've easily slipped past them unnoticed.

He intended to. However, as he glanced over, he realized there were more than just textbooks and sheets of paper littering the table. A board sat in the center with little figurines, and Mark headed the table, his hand in a box of what appeared to be a collection of dice.

Although Taeyong preferred to keep to his own, the sight was so peculiar that he couldn't shake the curiosity.

He approached the table. "What is this?"

Mark smiled up at him. "D and D!"

Taeyong blinked in confusion.

"Dungeons and Dragons!" Johnny elaborated. He leaned back into his folding chair, balanced on the back two legs, and it honestly looked ridiculously small under his large, long limbs. "It's a tabletop game. Kind of think of it like collaboratively creating your own fantasy video game. Just, you know, analog."

He emphasized the last comment with that trademark round-cheeked grin.

Arching a brow, Taeyong vaguely nodded. "I see…" He had, of course, heard of Dungeons and Dragons before. He knew it was a nerdy fantasy game, but that was about the extent of his knowledge.

"You wanna play?" Mark then asked.

"Yeah!" Johnny immediately chimed in, the front two legs of his chair hitting the ground as he sat upright. "Come join us! We'll show you how."

"Oh. Um—" Taeyong's brow creased, and he awkwardly shifted the strap of his backpack that was draped over one shoulder.

"Yeah, right," Doyoung huffed under his breath, eyes locked onto the sheet of paper held in his hands. "He's too good to hang out with us."

Taeyong frowned, a nerve struck.

Then he remembered Seulgi calling him shallow earlier, and the combination of comments hit Taeyong's ego in such a way that he found himself slipping his backpack from his shoulder, lifting his chin a fraction as he moved over to the table. "You know what? I will."

Doyoung blinked up with an expression that admittedly had Taeyong feeling a bit smug, where Johnny grabbed the chair next to him that Jaehyun currently occupied and dumped him onto the floor, setting it down next to him. "Come have a seat!" he said, patting the now empty chair.

And if Johnny heard Jaehyun's grumbled complaints while the stoner picked himself back up to go sit elsewhere, he didn't acknowledge them.

Taeyong took the seat, slipping out of his puffy jacket and draping it over the back of his chair.

Mark, as it turned out, was what everyone called the DM or "Dungeon Master," which meant he really was the one in charge of the game and the story.

Johnny helped Taeyong with his character sheet. Although there was a creative story-telling element about the game, it also revolved a lot around numbers and dice rolling. There were so many details that Taeyong found it confusing and a tad overwhelming at first, but as they got into the campaign, he started to pick up on it.

Their ragtag band of heroes stumbled onto a clan of trolls that Mark explained hated humans and elves—the primary races of their party—yet their village was the only safe passage through the unrelenting mountain terrain, which of course they needed to get through as part of their current quest.

"We only wish to pass," Taeyong said, in character. "We mean no harm."

"The head of the clan huffs and crosses his arms," Mark replied. "They don't believe you."

"Okay…" Taeyong's brow creased slightly. "I tell them if they let us pass, I'll make it worth their while."

"He says," Mark cleared his throat and sat up exaggeratedly as though to really emphasize the mood. "You could have nothing of interest to offer us!"

Taeyong frowned. "If you let us pass through, you will be under our eternal protection!"

"He laughs!" Mark then let out a boisterous laugh of his own for effect. "And all the other trolls laugh with him."

Off to the side, Doyoung snorted, hitting Taeyong with an immediate pang of irritation, and he had to exercise conscious self-control to keep from glaring over at him. This affected his character as much as it did Taeyong's.

Keeping his cool, Taeyong regarded Mark as though he were legitimately addressing the head guard of the troll clan. "The success of our mission will ward off all the dark creatures that have been plaguing your village, so it really is in your best interest to help us!"

Mark's face lit up, the facade of the troll guard fading as he chirped, "Charisma check!"

Taeyong blinked. "What?"

"You have to roll for charisma," Johnny explained next to him, reaching into the box to take out one of the dice that had a ridiculous number of sides and offering it to him.

Taeyong accepted it, though he looked down at it skeptically. "Why?"

"’Cause like, that's gonna determine whether you convinced them or not," Mark replied in his Mark voice.

Taeyong still looked skeptical, but he rolled the die anyway. He blinked down at it as it landed on the board, the number "2" pointed to the ceiling.

Mark put a hand over his mouth as he lightly called out, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Blinking up at him from the die, Taeyong arched a brow. "What does that mean?"

Clapping, Mark let out one of his quick, high-pitched laughs, but then he cleared his throat, features set more serious as his DM voice returned: "The trolls pull their weapons out."

Taeyong's eyes widened while down the table, Doyoung groaned.

"Hey, there! Let's not get too hasty!" Johnny interjected quickly. He smiled, the bravado in his voice even more exaggerated than Mark's. "Please excuse my friend. The urgency of our situation has him nervous. Grant us passage, and we will happily retrieve anything from up north that you would like on our return back. And as an act of good faith, we'll give them the Sun Crystal."

Taeyong's attention snapped to Johnny. "What? We worked hard for that!"

But Johnny just grinned at him with a wink. "Trust me."

"Charisma check!" Mark chimed.

Scooping up the die, Johnny then rolled an "18."

"Alright," Mark said. "They sheath their weapons, and after some deliberation, they step aside."

Taeyong frowned. This game was stupid.

A couple hours later, their party was caught up in a battle with an assortment of magical creatures.

By now, Taeyong had the workings of the game mostly down. "I cast 'Produce Flame'!" he declared before rolling a few dice.

"The flesh golem has, like, magic immunity, so it does nothing," Mark said, ducking his head and giggling a little.

Taeyong's jaw dropped. Okay, maybe he didn't have them down.

"The golem counters with 'Slam Attack,' meaning you take—" Mark rolled a few dice of his own then leaned in to see the numbers they landed on. "—minus eight damage."

Taeyong looked down at his character sheet. "That leaves me with two hit points! I'm going to die!"

Mark, however, appeared unperturbed by that. "The will-o-whisp casts 'Lightning Bolt' on everyone!"

Taeyong set down his character sheet in defeat, but Johnny reached across from him, moving the figurine that represented his character in front of Taeyong's.

"I jump in front of him and take double-fold of the damage," he declared, rolling a set of dice to confirm the action.

Donghyuck then cast a healing spell on Taeyong's character, bringing his hit points back up to a sizeable amount.

Everyone went through their sequence of turns until it came back to Taeyong again. He frowned. This stupid flesh golem (What even was that? It sounded gross) had magic immunity, but Taeyong's character's fighting techniques were all magic-based.

He shrugged and shook his head. "I hit the golem with my staff?" Grabbing the dice, he shook them and tossed them on the board.

Everyone leaned in to see the numbers.

"It's a critical hit!" Mark declared, and the rest of the table cheered.

One of Johnny's large hands draped over his shoulder and squeezed in assurance.

Taeyong laughed. Okay, maybe this game was actually kind of fun.

December meant impending finals before Winter Break, which meant that the overall atmosphere both at the Nu Chi Tau house as well as on campus was subdued.

Which was fine by Taeyong, because he was stressed enough without attaching any extraneous distractions to it.

On top of studying for finals, he knew that when they returned from break, Spring Rush would follow, Taeyong's second and final chance to bring in some more recruits and hopefully please the dean enough to finally earn his way out of this alternate dimension and back to Alpha Iota Phi where he belonged.

Except his fundraising attempts had gone over about as dismally as their Fall Rush had, which didn't give them much more of a budget to work with than they had the first time, so Taeyong had no idea what he was going to do.

However, there was something that stressed him out even more than that, as impossible as it seemed. He was going to spend the whole Winter Break with his parents, and he was going to have to act like he's been spending this past semester with Alpha Iota Phi this whole time.

The very idea twisted in Taeyong's stomach so sickly that he almost considered skipping going home on Winter Break altogether. Except that would be really suspicious, and the last thing he needed was his parents to come down here to try to visit him. Also, Taeyong really needed some time away from this house and everybody.

By contrast, his late-night study sessions almost felt like a pleasant distraction.

Almost.

He woke up one morning to his phone alarm going off in his pocket. Groaning, Taeyong lifted his head, realizing he passed out laying on his stomach on his bed, his textbooks and laptop still open in front of him.

It took some time for consciousness to settle in with him as he blinked the bleariness from his eyes and took in his surroundings.

Ah, he realized. He must've passed out while in the middle of studying.

Taeyong pushed himself up to sit along the edge of his bed, grunting and stretching his arms overhead, features twisted. Releasing a breath, his limbs flopped down and his expression relaxed.

Looking down at himself, he realized he was still wearing yesterday's outfit, which was all creased and clinging to him in awkward bunches. He ran his fingers through his sandy hair, which was sticking up in all sorts of odd directions and held in place by a coat of sweat acquired over the course of the evening.

He scrunched his nose and then pushed himself up to head over to his closet to fetch clean clothes and shower necessities.

Taeyong preferred to shower at night. The warm water relaxed his muscles and made it easier for him to sleep. On top of that, since the rest of Nu Chi Tau seemed to like to shower in the morning, that meant that Taeyong didn't have to contend with them to get in since he regrettably only had his own bedroom while the bathrooms remained communal.

He didn't have much of a choice this morning though.

The din of chaos filling the Nu Chi Tau hall greeted Taeyong as he stepped out of his room. He didn't pay it any mind though, letting his tired feet drag him over to the bathroom on autopilot, lifting a hand to reach for the doorknob.

However, the bathroom door swung open right as Taeyong's fingertips grazed the knob, and the suddenness of it startled him the rest of the way awake.

"Whoa!" Johnny jumped back right before they could collide with each other.

Taeyong blinked up at him. Johnny wore only a towel that hung too low on his hips, exposing his torso and entire upper body, all broad shoulders and defined muscles, decorated with a floral tattoo over his left collar and another along the dip of his bicep.

The sheen of lingering moisture only emphasized the definition, glistening and immaculate. A slight flush ran across his whole body, veins popping up along his warmed skin, and it did him nothing but favors. Moisture slicked back his longer brown locks from his forehead, highlighting the more mature details of his features, the plushness of his lips, his broad jaw.

Taeyong knew that Johnny was a big guy. It didn't take a particularly keen eye to see that. In that specific moment though, with Johnny standing not even a foot away from him, one-hundred and eighty-five centimeters of glowing, dripping cut precision, Taeyong felt tiny in his presence.

So very tiny.

"I—"

Oh God, he was staring.

Taeyong scrambled back, inclining his head in an attempt to hide the heat that had flared across his cheeks. "Sorry."

"You're good," Johnny replied casually, and Taeyong did not need to look at him to hear the amused grin the chapter president must've been wearing.

He couldn't. As Johnny made his way out of the bathroom, Taeyong pointedly directed his eyes anywhere and everywhere that wasn't him.

"It's all yours," Johnny added, before heading off down the hall back to his room.

Taeyong nodded then slipped into the bathroom, slamming the door shut and pressing his back into it as he blinked at the foggy but empty shower stall, his heart rattling in his sternum.

Seulgi was right. Taeyong was shallow, way too caught up in his predispositions because Johnny Seo was fucking hot, and no amount of beanies or compulsive photo-taking could take away from that fact.

Taeyong stood at the head of the table in the chapter room, his laptop open in front of him. He cleared his throat. "Excuse me?"

The rest of the council members all seemed preoccupied chattering away with each other, playing with folded bits of paper, and laughing at God knew what else.

With Winter Break just a couple days away, Taeyong could be a little more forgiving about their waning attention spans, but he really didn't want to stay in here all night.

"Excuse me?" he said a little louder. "Can we focus, please?"

His words flew over the whirlwind of chatter, unheard.

"Hey!" Johnny called out with the energy of a dad commanding the children that had just ignored their mom. "Focus, guys!" He smacked the squeaky hammer against the edge of the table. "We all wanna get to break."

Everyone quieted down and then turned their attention to the head of the table.

Taeyong glanced over at Johnny with a nod of thanks, who just smiled that round-cheek smile back at him as he twirled the hammer, then looked back out to the group.

"Okay," Taeyong said. "Fall Rush got us ten more pledges. That's…" Sucky. "…good. Between the new pledges and our charity drives, what is our budget looking like, Taeil?"

The treasurer smiled, but it appeared almost pained. "I'm afraid not too different than how it was at the start of the semester."

"We should've saved the whales!" Jungwoo interjected, slumping in his seat with his arms crossed and his lower lip puffing out.

Taeyong resisted the urge to sigh. "I'm sorry, Jungwoo, but that's not really practical to our goals."

"Our goals?" Doyoung cut in then with a scoff. "Don't you mean your goals?"

Heat pulsed through Taeyong's veins in sharp spikes. His fingers twitched, and his teeth sunk into the tip of his tongue to keep from giving in to the impulses that wanted to shoot out of his mouth then.

He swallowed, speaking slowly. "I am trying to help the chapter."

"Well, what a wonderful job you're doing," Doyoung said, his tone as saccharine as the smile on his face. "All your brilliant Alpha dog ideas have been the salvation we have desperately required, so thank you."

Johnny stood up. "Doyoung, that's enough."

Doyoung rolled his eyes before glaring over at him. "Don't be so blind, Johnny. You know it's true. But of course, there's only one reason you're defending him, right?"

"We're a council," Johnny replied quickly, but his voice sounded a pitch too high, as though his usual unshakable default of casual charisma had actually faltered. "We need to work together."

Doyoung's eyes narrowed that much further. "Oh, please."

The nuances of their tones eluded Taeyong though as he stared intently at his laptop screen without really seeing it.

Images flashed in his mind. His head bowed in shame in the dean's office, all his belongings unceremoniously left on the lawn of the Alpha Iota Phi house, his father wearing his Alpha Iota Phi shirt, holding his Alpha Iota Phi mug, with all his Alpha Iota Phi banners and awards and photos filling the wall of his study behind him that was essentially an Alpha Iota Phi shrine.

Taeyong felt like he was falling, like all the will had slipped from his muscles, dropping forward with nothing to catch him, and all he could do was sink.

At this point, drowning would be a mercy.

"You know what?" Taeyong looked up at the group as he snapped his laptop shut. The council fell silent, all eyes locking on him.

"You're right." Taeyong hunched his shoulders. "I haven't been much help at all. You guys seem to have it under control though. I won't intrude."

With that, he slipped his laptop off the table to tuck under his arm and marched out of the room, the door slamming behind him.

A dark laugh slipped from Taeyong's lips.

His life was over. It had been over, and he had been lying to himself to accept this proposition and believe he could sort the situation on his own in the first place.

Spring Rush wasn't going to go any better than Fall Rush. He knew that. Not with these people.

The only thing he had effectively done this school year was prolong the inevitable.

"Taeyong, wait!"

Taeyong paused a moment, glancing back to see Johnny swiftly running after him, but then he looked forward again and kept walking.

"What Doyoung said back there…" There was something hesitant about Johnny's tone, his casual swagger seemingly absent. "He didn't mean— The reason I defend you— I mean, I—"

However, Taeyong was too caught in his own woes to give his tone much notice. He spun around and looked up at Johnny. "He hates me!" He exhaled a breath, shoulders slumping in defeat. "They all hate me. I can't help them."

Johnny blinked, face momentarily frozen as though caught off guard by that, though Taeyong didn't understand why such a declaration would be a surprise after what just transpired.

His expression softened then, almost as though he appeared relieved.

"Taeyong…" he said quietly. "Please. I know tensions are high, but… let's just step out of here. We can go somewhere far. I'll buy you a drink!"

All of Taeyong's impulses wanted to just keep on walking.

However, as hopeless as Nu Chi Tau and everything about this situation felt, Johnny was trying, and Taeyong just couldn't ignore that.

"Alright," he said.

That smile returned to Johnny's face.

The two of them sat across from each other at an elevated round table in the corner of a sports bar, each with their own drink.

"I'm sorry about Doyoung," Johnny said. "He, ah… had initially tried to pledge to Alpha Iota Phi and didn't make the cut."

Taeyong's eyes flitted up to Johnny from where he had been staring at his drink.

"So I think he might be taking some of his resentment about it out on you," Johnny continued. "He's very protective of the other brothers, especially the younger ones, and I think in his mind he doesn't want them to be judged the way he was."

Taeyong frowned, his defenses flaring. Doyoung had no right to treat him that way, regardless of what he may have dealt with.

Then again… Taeyong certainly understood the sting of being rejected by Alpha Iota Phi. It was like completely exposing yourself in the most vulnerable way to the harshest of judges. To be accepted was a great victory, but oh, did the rejection leave you maimed.

As much as he hated to admit it, a part of him couldn't help but feel empathetic.

A one-sided grin appeared on Johnny's face. "Please don't tell him I told you that."

Taeyong sighed. "I won't." He took a sip of his beer. "I'm sorry I haven't done much for the chapter…"

"What are you talking about?" Johnny said, sipping from his own. "You're doing great!"

"No, I'm not." Taeyong sat back and buried his face in his hands. "I'm trying, I really am, but just between the dean and the whole statue incident on top of the usual stresses of college life…" Not to mention trying to live up to his father's expectations while keeping the whole situation under wraps, but Johnny didn't need to know all that.

"I just…" Shaking his head, Taeyong dropped his hands.

"You have a lot more on your plate than the average student," Johnny softly acknowledged.

Taeyong lightly nodded. "I feel like maybe the dean's confidence in me was misplaced."

"No, it wasn't," Johnny said. "Were you not the head of that capital campaign that got all those nonprofits onboard to raise money to better equip the underfunded elementary schools last year?"

That had Taeyong blinking. "You knew about that?"

"Who didn't know about that?" Johnny shrugged, and if Taeyong didn't know better, he would say he saw something almost wistful in Johnny's eyes then. "I was there. I was planning on donating anyway, but after your speech, I ended up emptying my whole bank account."

Something warm tugged in Taeyong's chest, a small grin finding its way to his lips despite himself. He tried to recall if he had seen Johnny that day, but Taeyong had interacted with so many people and had been a bundle of stress running around like a chicken with its head cut off that he honestly couldn't recall.

The whole event felt like a lifetime ago, and now he felt like a feeble shadow of that Taeyong who could easily charm nonprofits and rally everyone's attention.

Granted, it had been easy when he had the Alpha Iota Phi brand backing him.

"The school year isn't over yet," Johnny moved the subject along. "We have Spring Rush when we get back from Winter Break, and I'll do whatever I have to, to make sure it goes over even better than the first."

Johnny spoke with such easy confidence that Taeyong felt that impossible weight ease up a little despite the odds.

"You've been nothing but understanding and nice to me from the beginning, Johnny," Taeyong said, voice soft in his gratitude.

"You're a brother!" Johnny replied, mirroring the grin. "And you're helping me run the place."

"My Alpha Iota Phi brothers were so angry with me after the incident," Taeyong sighed in confession. Both hands curled around his beer mug, and he took another sip. "They said I humiliated them."

"That's a little harsh," Johnny replied. "I mean, obviously it was an accident."

"A really stupid one…" Taeyong mumbled behind his mug.

Johnny hunched his shoulders and chuckled. "Shit happens, man. I had to give a valedictorian speech at my high school graduation, and I was so excited when I ran up on stage that my feet got caught up in the sound system cords, and I ended up not only tripping in front of the entire audience but cutting the power for the whole ceremony for a bit there too."

Taeyong snorted. "Oh, wow."

Johnny took a sip of his beer, his tongue peeking out to catch the foam on his lip. "Yeah… Good times."

"What did you do?"

Johnny shrugged. "Well, once they got everything reconnected, I just got up and did my speech! Though I did add a little note at the end about how I like to make a memorable impact." He emphasized the point with a wink and lift of his glass.

Taeyong laughed. Johnny totally could embarrass himself in front of his whole class then pick himself up and dust himself off like it was nothing. Taeyong probably could learn something from him.

However, a little detail about the story stood out in Taeyong's mind. His eyes narrowed slightly as he regarded Johnny in consideration. Valedictorian, huh?

"Johnny… what's your major?"

The chapter president's face lit up. "Computer science!"

"Yeah?" Taeyong's head tilted slightly, intrigued. "What are you hoping to do with that?"

"I mean, I have a lot of ideas. Right now, I'm working on this startup." Leaning back, Johnny pulled out his phone, his thumb swiping over the screen in search of something. "It's to help smaller businesses that want to invest in information systems get started. It breaks down a lot of the confusion and cuts out so many of the middlemen, just adding to the profit margins of all the directly networked companies."

He turned his phone to show Taeyong, swiping through and explaining some of the finer details. Taeyong leaned in to get a closer look as Johnny went on to explain the technical details, most of which were outside of Taeyong's area of expertise and flew over his head, but Johnny clearly knew what he was talking about, and he had obviously put a lot of thought and work into this. Taeyong couldn't help but be impressed.

And perhaps also a little humbled.

He had always assumed that Johnny was kind of a slacker that just rolled out of bed in his beanie and went through the motions of the day, but as he sat here with him now while Johnny showed him the details of his work, Taeyong realized that Johnny was actually kind of a genius.

A silly, compassionate, hot genius.

He blinked up at him. "Johnny, this is incredible."

Johnny breathed a laugh, lowering his gaze modestly. "I mean, it's not much, but. Gotta start somewhere, right?"

Taeyong couldn't take his eyes off of Johnny while he locked the screen and slipped his phone away.

"Why Nu Chi Tau?" Taeyong asked. "You could've gotten into Alpha Iota Phi. Or one of the others, easily."

"My great grandfather was one of the initial Nu Chi Tau founders." Johnny settled back in his seat, taking hold of his beer again. "Everyone in my family was a part of Nu Chi Tau."

Well, Taeyong understood that feeling. Still, given the state of Nu Chi Tau versus Alpha Iota Phi, it didn't exactly feel equivalent.

"With all due respect," Taeyong said quietly. "Given your talents, don't you think your family would understand if you didn't follow tradition?"

"Oh, absolutely," Johnny replied. "But I wanted to. My great grandfather founded the Seo Film company, which was a great success! Until the digital age hit, and they didn't exactly… adapt to the times. My father finally had to sell it and close it down. He gave me what little of the money remained from it. So I kind of want to pay it forward, you know? Take what little we have left, and build it back up into something better."

Taeyong blinked. Okay, maybe he didn't understand that feeling at all. Johnny apparently came from a line that did things the complete opposite of how his did. He ran a fraternity that did things the complete opposite of how his did.

Though it now occurred to Taeyong that just because things were done differently didn’t necessarily mean that they were being done wrong.

A small grin appeared on his face. "You impress me, Johnny Seo."

Johnny laughed, lowering his gaze all sheepish again, and it was honestly one of the cutest things Taeyong had ever seen. This up close, Taeyong noticed that when Johnny smiled hard enough, a little dimple appeared on his left cheek. When he looked up at Taeyong again, the way the light reflected off his eyes gave them this almost gold sheen.

A flush of heat ran through Taeyong's veins then. He chalked it up to the alcohol.

"Coming from you, that's quite the compliment," Johnny said.

It was Taeyong's turn to laugh sheepishly.

"You know…" Johnny said, fingertips idly tapping the sides of his beer mug. His lips spread into a playful grin. "You should've just given the dean the boba eyes."

Taeyong arched a brow. "The boba eyes?"

"You know, when your eyes go all big and round and innocent-looking," Johnny explained. He then sat up straighter, placing a hand on his chest, wearing an expression of mock earnest. "I swear, when you do that, you could get away with murder."

Taeyong laughed, shaking his head. "Well, if I end up breaking more statues in the future, I'll keep that in mind."

Johnny smiled, and honestly, it should be illegal how gorgeous it was.

Taeyong went back home for Winter Break in better spirits than he thought he would, even despite having to awkwardly navigate around his father and upkeep the lie about being a part of Alpha Iota Phi.

However, what he hadn't braced himself for was his mother's inquiring if he had met someone of interest at the dinner table one evening. Johnny flashed in Taeyong's mind, and he immediately sputtered that he absolutely hadn't, he was focused solely on his studies, before proceeding to shovel more food into his mouth to hide the heat that had taken over his face.

As much as Taeyong enjoyed the break and spending time with his family, returning to campus brought about a certain relief, no doubt because he no longer had his father breathing down his neck reminiscing about the details of his own previous Alpha Iota Phi life.

Taeyong settled back into his room on that January afternoon, his laptop open as he reviewed his syllabus for the new semester. His attention was so devoted to it that the sudden hard thunk against the window in front of him had him nearly jumping out of his seat.

He blinked up at the window to see runny egg splattered against the frosted glass, slowly dribbling its way down.

He gaped in disbelief a few moments then shook his head, jumping to his feet and leaning over the desk to look outside to the front yard, where—sure enough—Epsilon Xi Omicron were spilling out of their Jeep, all bundled up in jackets and hats, throwing eggs at the house and jeering about it.

Taeyong blinked, his jaw still dropped. It really was one thing for them to do this during the warmer months, but they seriously were going to do this in the dead of winter when there's snow on the ground?

Grabbing the bottom of the window, Taeyong wrenched it open. "Hey!" he shouted down to the front yard. "You better be planning on cleaning this shit up!"

The vandals stopped, eyes lifting to Taeyong's window.

Then one threw a fist in the air and shouted, "EXO rules!"

The rest cheered and laughed before they all scrambled back into the Jeep, the squealing tires chucking a curtain of snow into the air before it slid off.

Taeyong slammed the window shut and frowned. Enough was enough.

"That's it!" Taeyong shouted as he kicked his bedroom door open into the hall. He stomped over to Johnny's door and pounded on it with the side of his fist. "Get up! Everyone, come on!"

He swirled around and continued his tirade down the hall, pounding on every single door. "Up! Now! We're confronting EXO! We're putting an end to this once and for all."

Slowly but surely, the doors began to open, the brothers of Nu Chi Tau poking their heads out curiously.

"What's going on?" Johnny asked, closing his door behind him.

Taeyong whirled around in a huff. "EXO egged the house again!" His voice was a little harsher than he meant for it to be, but with the indignation coursing hot through his veins, it couldn't be helped.

"Ah…" Johnny sighed.

"They're big dumb jocks," Doyoung chimed in then. "That's what they do."

Taeyong turned to address him. "That doesn’t mean we should just take it!"

"Yeah," Mark said from his other side. "But, like, what are we supposed to do about it?"

"We confront them!" Taeyong said to him next, hands on his hips. "We make it clear that we will no longer tolerate disrespect!"

"It's freezing balls out there right now…" Yuta muttered.

Taeyong turned his attention to the redhead. "All the more reason to confront them."

"Yeah, but…" Turning, Taeyong saw Jungwoo speaking, nibbling at his lower lip apprehensively. "They're a lot bigger than us. They're scary…"

"That's why we all go together," Taeyong insisted.

The voices and glances down the hall still looked reluctant, and Taeyong could feel his resolve dwindling.

However, Johnny made his way into the hall, coming to a stop next to Taeyong.

"Taeyong's right," he said. "Come on, you guys. There's no reason to be scared, we'll all be together. Taeyong and I will take the lead."

When Taeyong looked over at him, Johnny met his gaze with that smile that revealed his dimple, and if his pulse felt warmer then, Taeyong would say it was because of the renewed resolve he felt about the indignation of this situation to begin with.

Taeyong and Johnny headed the way as every member of the Nu Chi Tau fraternity marched down Greek Row toward the Epsilon Xi Omicron house, all properly bundled, bits of fog exhaling from their scarves.

As they approached the door, the rest of the members stood back a couple feet as Taeyong raised a fist, rapping his knuckles against the doorway.

A man about an inch shorter than him that looked reminiscent of a surly penguin answered.

"Can I help you?" the surly man asked.

"My name is Taeyong," he introduced himself. "Vice president of the Nu Chi Tau fraternity. This is Johnny, chapter president."

He gestured to Johnny, who waved and smiled in such a way that one might think they were here to sell cookies.

Taeyong placed his hands on his hips. "And we insist on speaking with the Epsilon Xi Omicron chapter president."

The surly man frowned, appearing as though he might shut the door on them. However, another voice, a gentler one, then called out behind him: "Kyungsoo? What's going on?"

At that, any argument Kyungsoo may have had died, and he looked back at the man that entered. "They're here to see you."

He stepped back while the other man came to greet them. "Hello, there!"

Taeyong recognized the Epsilon Xi Omicron president, Junmyeon Kim.

"How can I help you?"

This time, Johnny introduced them. "I'm Johnny, and this is Taeyong," he said. "We're the president and vice president of the Nu Chi Tau chapter respectively."

"Ah, yes!" Junmyeon beamed, and one might never guess that this fraternity had been vandalizing their house this past school year with as friendly as he seemed. "It's good to meet you officially!"

However, Taeyong was not about to let his cheerfulness have him step back from the reason they were here. "Are you aware that some of your brothers have been vandalizing our house for the past semester?" he asked, his tone as firm as his posture. "Even longer than that, if I'm not mistaken."

The smile on Junmyeon's face faded, a surprised expression taking its place. "I had no idea!"

"Well, they have been," Taeyong continued. "And we're tired of it. You don't treat fellow chapters that way, and as vice president of Nu Chi Tau, I insist that they come clean up the mess they made."

Behind him, Taeyong could hear the nervous coughs and shifts of the other Nu Chi Tau members, but Taeyong just stood up taller.

However, Junmyeon appeared neither defensive nor affronted about the confrontation. Instead, he bowed. "I am deeply sorry about this." As he came back up, he turned toward Kyungsoo. "Go round up the boys."

Kyungsoo nodded, then turned to leave.

He returned a short while later with the rest of the EXO brothers rounded up.

Junmyeon turned to face them. "Have you guys been vandalizing Nu Chi Tau's house?"

The tallest, who also happened to be the university football team's head quarterback, Chanyeol, laughed with a lopsided grin. "Yeah!"

Next to him, a shorter man with a mischievous face—Baekhyun, Taeyong believed his name was—tossed his fists into the air and cried out, "EXO rules!"

The rest of the brothers cheered in response to the rallying cry, throwing their own fists into the air.

All except Junmyeon, who bowed his head and sighed.

Kyungsoo moved up behind Chanyeol and Baekhyun, taking hold of them by the ears and smacking their heads together. "Imbeciles."

That had the two humbling quickly, frowning and rubbing the spots where their skulls had collided.

Junmyeon approached them with his hands on his hips. "That is not how we treat brothers! Whether they be ours or from any other chapter!" For as kind and inviting as he had seemed when he came to the door, this side of him sure was scary. "Do you think that is a befitting representation of our fraternity? Being a bunch of bullies?"

The rest of the Epsilon Omicron Xi brothers bowed their heads, sufficiently shamed.

"Now you are going to apologize to these men then go over there and clean up your mess," Junmyeon ordered. "And I better never hear of you sullying our name with this kind of behavior again, or there will be consequences. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir," the rest of the EXO brothers muttered.

Junmyeon apologized several more times, promising their house would be cleaned, and he would make this up to them.

When the members of Nu Chi Tau finally turned to leave, all that initial hesitance had dissolved away, and they surrounded Taeyong and Johnny more confidently.

"Wow," Mark said. His eyes were wide, round teeth displayed as he disbelievingly laughed. "I can't believe how well that went over!"

"That's bullies for you," Taeyong replied, chin slightly lifted, feeling every right to be as pleased with himself as he was. "They like to act big and tough, but honestly, the only reason they get away with it is that people let them. You would be surprised the number of so-called intimidating people that are quick to back down when they're actually confronted."

Favorable murmurs ran across the rest of the Nu Chi Tau brothers.

Next to Taeyong, Johnny reached up to clasp his shoulder, and even through the thick layers of his coat and Johnny's glove, he felt tiny under it.

The outside air nipped at Taeyong's nose, and he could see his breath flutter upwards with every exhale, and yet… he suddenly felt warm then.

At least until his eyes drifted over to the Alpha Iota Phi house, and he noticed all the nosey heads peeking past the curtains.

Taeyong quickly looked the opposite way, the grin disappearing behind his scarf.

"Alright." Taeyong stood at the head of the table in the Chapter Room, looking out at the other council members.

Their last meeting in this room wasn't exactly inspiring confidence in him, but his awareness that this was really the last chance he had to try to fix this mess definitely lit the fire under his ass.

"Fall Rush wasn't too bad." He resisted the urge to wince, all too aware that he wasn't kidding anyone with that. Still, he took a deep breath. "But we really do need to step it up this time, if we want to attract more members."

"Here we go," Doyoung huffed under his breath, his attention devoted to his own laptop.

Annoyance pulsed through Taeyong, his nostrils flaring. However, he and Johnny's conversation from right before Winter Break came back to him, and he kept that irritation at bay.

His eyes lowered to his laptop screen, where he had a document regarding this meeting pulled up. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Johnny. He glanced his direction to be met by a soft grin from the chapter president that stirred a gentle warmth in his chest.

Closing out of the document, Taeyong cleared his throat and looked out to the rest of the council, holding his hands in front of him. "I was thinking maybe this time you guys could share some of your ideas? And maybe we could work together to come up with things that work for everybody?"

The rest of the council members looked from Taeyong to each other uncertainly.

"What about you, Doyoung?" Taeyong asked, turning his attention to him. "Is there anything specific you would like to do for Spring Rush?"

Doyoung tossed a couple glances around, as though suspicious this might be some kind of trap. However, he cleared his throat, fingers dancing over the touchpad of his laptop before he looked up at Taeyong. "I was thinking we could have a study night. It would be helpful for the overwhelmed underclassmen and demonstrate brotherhood."

"Absolutely!" Taeyong replied, keeping his tone amicable. "Very budget-friendly too! Great thought! Thank you for always being so organized, Doyoung."

Doyoung stared up at him like he had lost his mind, but he didn't have that stick up his ass expression he so frequently wore, so Taeyong considered it a small victory.

Jungwoo's hand shot up.

Taeyong looked over at him. "Yes, Jungwoo?"

Jungwoo lowered his hand and smiled. He had a really funny grin that emphasized his front two teeth. "I want to host a campaign to save the red-crowned crane!"

Taeyong stared back a moment. Be open-minded.

"Red-crowned crane?" he asked.

"It's an endangered bird native to the country!" Jungwoo enthusiastically explained. "You told me to think more locally!"

Taeyong nodded slowly. "Yes… Yes, I did." He found it in him to smile then. "Great idea! Okay. Study night, save the red-crowned crane. What else we got?" He clasped his hands together in front of his chest.

The rest of the council remained silent.

Then Mark took out his die and started rolling it in that idle way he did.

Taeyong's eyes fell to the die as it danced across the table. They narrowed in consideration, his head tilting slightly.

"What if we held a giant D and D campaign?"

All eyes flitted up to Taeyong. Mark paused mid-roll.

"Mark," Taeyong said. "You're a great Dungeon Master. Maybe you could come up with some side quests, and we could put together some simplified character sheets so that way people could just come sit down and play?"

"We could deck out the house all medieval fantasy-like!" Donghyuck chimed in.

Jungwoo piped up next. "And wear costumes!"

"And put together an epic fantasy adventure soundtrack!" Taeil added.

Johnny stood up then. "And call the booze mead!"

There was only one council member who remained silent, and all eyes turned toward him.

Doyoung looked around, as though he could physically find some excuse to reject the notion. In the end, he apparently could not, and he lightly bowed his head. "I think it's a good idea."

The room swelled with excitement, all council members alert and expanding on their various ideas.

Then Taeyong felt a particularly large grasp on his shoulder that was becoming a little familiar, and if his stomach fluttered then… well, Taeyong was running out of excuses.

"See," Johnny said next to him, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "I knew you had it in you."

Taeyong smiled, inclining his head.

Taeyong had grown accustomed to that occasional herbal waft greeting him around the Nu Chi Tau house. However, as he opened the front door that afternoon and a thick puff of smoke hit him right in the face, it caught him by surprise.

Nose scrunching, Taeyong leaned back, waving a hand in front of his face. He liked to kick back and get high every once in a while as much as the next college student, but this was a little much.

And from Doyoung's shouting voice coming from inside, he apparently wasn't the only one that felt that way.

"In the house?" Doyoung's voice cut through the herbal fog taking over the front room. "In the living room, no less? How dare all of you?!"

Taeyong pulled the door more open, trying to usher some of the smoke outside.

A trample of feet could be heard making its way down the stairs.

"Oooookay." It was Johnny's voice. "Let's all calm down a moment."

"We're all cool." Yuta's voice. "He's the one that needs to chill."

"Johnny," Doyoung said, and as the smoke thinned out, Taeyong could see his outline addressing the chapter president at the base of the staircase. "They are completely smoking up the living room! They're gonna stain the walls and stink up the place! Right before Rush Week too!"

"Alright, you guys." Johnny addressed the rest of the Nu Chi Tau brothers, who were all blazed and scattered about the front room. "He's got a point. Let's take this outside."

"You can't hotbox outside?" Jaehyun scoffed.

"It's cold!" Donghyuck huffed.

Johnny gestured toward the back of the house. "Grab some spare furniture and a heater and head to the shed! You guys are welcome to smoke that place up to your heart's content!"

Annoyed murmurs ran along the small crowd, but they all pushed themselves up and did as they were told.

With a huff, Doyoung stormed up the stairs.

"Doie!" Johnny called out. He started to chase up the stairs after him, pausing midway to look back at Taeyong as he let himself in. "Could you open the windows?"

Taeyong nodded, making his way through the living room to unlatch all the windows and slide them open while Johnny headed upstairs. The outside January air brought a draft into the front room, but on the upside, it also sucked out the warmer smoke rather easily.

Breathing a sigh, he held onto the base of the window, staring outside at the rest of Greek Row.

This fraternity…

Distantly, he could hear the murmurs of Johnny's voice coming from the upstairs hall. His attention turned to the staircase, and he decidedly made his way up them, stopping just at the top and peeking around the corner to see Johnny standing outside Doyoung's room.

"I try so hard to do right by this place," he could hear Doyoung say. "But no one appreciates it."

"That's not true!" Johnny insisted. "Look, sometimes being the more mature adult means spoiling the party, but everyone knows how much you care about them and the chapter."

"Easy for you to say," Doyoung muttered.

"You're the glue holding this place together, man," Johnny said. "Everyone knows it."

Silence.

"Doyoung, why don't you come downstairs, and we'll all go chill in the shed?" Johnny really had a certain patience about him that Taeyong admired. "Take the night off. Unwind. You deserve it."

"I have essays to work on," Doyoung's muttering voice came from the room.

"When are they due?" Johnny asked.

A pause. "Soon."

"Let me see your syllabus."

"Johnny, it'll be awkward," Doyoung said. "They're all mad at me."

"They're all stoned," Johnny laughed. "I promise you they've forgotten about it and are laughing at something stupid right now."

Another pause.

And then, "Fine."

"Alright!" Johnny cheered. He looked back down the hall, eyes finding Taeyong's, and he smiled.

Something warm stirred in Taeyong, and he returned the smile. Johnny really did have a way with his brothers like Taeyong had never seen. He understood why they voted him president.

"We're totally gonna call this place the High Hut!" Mark declared.

An old couch and folding chairs filled the shed. They made a place for Johnny to sit on the couch, who looked up at Taeyong and scooted over enough so that he could fit too. Taeyong gladly accepted.

"No way!" Jaehyun half-scoffed. "It's the Stoner Shed!"

The rest of the group laughed.

Although the shed was now filled with as much smoke as the living room had been, the bong was passed to Taeyong.

He took it, holding the base of the rainbow glass against his knees, while Johnny so generously lit the bowl for him, the water at the bottom bubbling as that warm herbal essence filled his lungs. Johnny pulled out the stem for him, and Taeyong tilted his head back, holding the smoke in as long as he could before exhaling what remained, curling tendrils issuing from his lips.

His body melted into the couch beneath him, but his mind rose up into the smoke drifting lazily along the ceiling, which Taeyong was pretty sure contained the expanding cosmos, all the galaxies, as well as the answer to life.

A nudge from Johnny brought Taeyong back to his body, and he then traded the bong for the lighter, returning the favor for the chapter president.

Johnny passed it back to Taeyong so he could hand it over to Doyoung, though the long glass neck slipped in Taeyong's grasp.

"Careful!" Johnny croaked out, the word strained on account of the smoke he was still holding in his lungs.

He was quick to grab the end of the bong before Taeyong could drop it and commit the most atrocious of party fouls.

"Don't need to add that to your broken item collection," Donghyuck teased.

Laughter of the lazy, high variety ran along the rest of the group.

Even Taeyong laughed. It had been his greatest source of shame for the better part of the last year, but something about sitting on this worn couch, Johnny warm against his side, muscles unwound and his mind ascended somewhere away from physical reality, it suddenly seemed so hilarious.

"How did you break that statue anyway?" Jungwoo asked, his blond hair fanning out as he leaned way over on the opposite end of the couch so he could look at Taeyong.

A high giggle slipped from Taeyong's lips, and he lifted a hand to the back of his neck. "It was so stupid…"

"It's impressive!" Yuta said. He sat on one of the folding chairs all sprawled out with his arm draped across the back like it was a throne. "You're talking a quarter ton of bronze embedded into a brick and concrete mount. It's no easy feat!"

Everyone in the shed's eyes turned toward him, and the flash of all the judgemental eyes from Alpha Iota Phi replayed in his mind.

Taeyong's lips flickered into a frown.

Johnny looked from him to the group. "Let's talk about something else."

"It's okay," Taeyong sighed. He cleared his throat, doing his best to focus on the subject when his baked brain kept wanting to wander to various tangents. "I was out in the city, trying to schmooze up these big corporate guys to sponsor our charity run… I knew I had a final the next day, but I was so sure I could pull this off." He shook his head. "And I drank too much that night. I ended up staying at a hotel because there was no way I was getting home."

The rest of the shed was quiet, and through the haze of smoke lazily drifting all around them, Taeyong could see he had everyone’s full attention.

He swallowed. "Except… I was so hungover that I overslept. I had to rush to get to campus, and I may have…" Taeyong gesticulated with his hands, a grimace twisting over his features. "…accidentally crashed my car into the statue."

"Were you hurt?" Johnny asked quickly, concerned despite the fact it was months and months ago.

"The airbag went off," Taeyong explained. "And I got some burns on my arms from it, but to be honest, I was so stressed about making it to class on time, I didn't even realize it until well after the fact. I… also hadn't realized the force of it broke the statue until after."

"Wait a minute." Mark laughed. It turned into a fit of giggles that overcame him—which for him sounded pretty normal—and he held up a finger in the air as though to hold everyone's attention on him while he pushed through it.

Clearing his throat, he then sat back up, red-tinged eyes locked on Taeyong. "So, like. You got into a car accident and you were more stressed out about your final?"

"Yes?" Taeyong replied, laughing as the absurdity of it registered with him.

"I would've done the same," Doyoung said with a shrug.

"It was so stupid, I know…" Taeyong sighed.

"It's hilarious!" Mark laughed, clapping, but then he cleared his throat and added. “Since, like, you know. No one got hurt.”

"Taeyong Lee,” Jungwoo said. “You can break the university’s oldest statue and somehow not get expelled.”

Taeyong’s expression fell between amusement and a grimace as he idly scratched the back of his head. “It’s lucky I didn’t go to jail.”

"What an icon!” Yuta called out with a flourish of his hand Taeyong’s direction.

"Legendary!" Donghyuck added in that exaggerated tone.

"Legendary!" the rest of the members cheered.

Taeyong laughed, his brows twisting upward in disbelief. This was… literally the exact opposite of how Alpha Iota Phi reacted, but as the Nu Chi Tau brothers let their cheer turn into a chant for him, Taeyong couldn't help but think that living in this alternate dimension maybe wasn't such a bad thing.

Next to him, Johnny cheered as well, loosely tossing an arm around the back of Taeyong's neck, and it was as though the temperature of the chilly Stoner Shed then rose several degrees.

He ducked his head and laughed.

Perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing either.

Spring Rush week kicked off with their study night. No, it wasn't a party or something more exciting, but there was something to be said about the simple practicality.

Turns out, quite a few overwhelmed freshmen appreciated the help, and as Taeyong sat down with two younger students struggling with their Marketing class—Sungchan and Shotaro, they had introduced themselves—he found the whole experience rewarding in a way he hadn't anticipated.

As the two of underclassmen silently went back to typing away on their laptops, Taeyong looked down the table to see how the others were doing. Doyoung stood over a rather flustered-looking freshman, who appeared to want to throw in the towel on whatever he was working on, but Doyoung was patient, pulling up resources for him and pointing out key items, all while asking the right questions so the younger student had to think and work it out for himself rather than have it done for him.

The freshman's panic subsided as understanding set in, and Taeyong had to admit, when he didn't have a stick up his ass, Doyoung really had a patient, nurturing side about him.

His gaze continued roaming until he found Johnny, who looked up from the small group he had surrounding him that were all laughing as much as they were working hard. A big grin drew across his face, and he held a thumb up to Taeyong, who returned it, the grin appearing on his face more modestly as he averted his gaze a moment later.

Sungchan and Shotaro pledged that night, as did all the other students that attended the event.

Taeyong reached out to the local zoo regarding Jungwoo's 'Save the Red-Crowned Crane' event, and after a bit of back and forth, the zoo agreed to donate a decent handful of free admission tickets to the fraternity.

He had to pat himself on the back for that one. He still had it.

Because who didn't want to go to the zoo? Especially when a good cause was involved?

Johnny, of course, had his camera hanging from his neck, almost in his own little world as he captured the scenery around them as well as candid shots of the fraternity and potential pledges working together and enjoying themselves.

"Taeyong?"

Taeyong blinked, shaking his head, a flush of heat rising momentarily on his face as he realized he had been staring at the chapter president. His attention turned to Jungwoo, who was trying to juggle an oversized cardboard poster.

"Could you help me with this poster stand?" he asked.

"Yeah, of course!" Taeyong quickly moved to the other side, pulling the stand legs out and angling it so Jungwoo could fit the poster on the ledge securely.

"Thank you!" Jungwoo chimed before turning back to the table.

Taeyong stepped around the table to have a look at the booth and then looked over at Jungwoo, who had really taken initiative in running the whole event.

"You've really put this together nicely," Taeyong said as he moved to stand next to him.

Jungwoo looked over at Taeyong, brows lifted as though caught off guard, but he smiled a moment later, bowing his head. "Thank you, Taeyong!"

Taeyong smiled back. He meant it. Jungwoo could be a little… odd, but it was kind of funny, and when it came down to it, he really was a hard worker. He stood strong behind his passions, and Taeyong respected that.

Plus, as he smiled and animatedly spoke to whoever would listen, his blond bowl cut bouncing as he tilted his head, Taeyong had to admit he had a certain innocent charm about him that he could understand why Doyoung got protective of him.

Mark and Donghyuck took to a group of high-energy young students that Taeyong registered as vaguely familiar.

"This is Jeno!" Mark introduced them to Taeyong. "And Jaemin and Renjun and Chenle and Jisung!"

"Hello!" Taeyong waved, smiling.

At the end of the day, the little group all pledged, as did all the young students in attendance.

They wrapped up Spring Rush with their Dungeons and Dragons night.

The typical furniture was removed from the living room, all their tables brought out, decorated with candles, plastic goblets, multiple terrain boards, and even more figurines. Character sheets were spread out, awaiting potential pledges.

Fake torches lined the walls. Some of the more artistic members put together castle banners bearing the "νχτ" emblem. The Game of Thrones soundtrack played in the background, and the brothers of Nu Chi Tau wore various costumes.

Some, like Jaehyun, tossed on a cape and called it a day, whereas Doyoung came out in full fantasy garb complete with latex elf ears, and Jungwoo certainly was the fairest warrior maiden Taeyong ever saw in his long brunette wig.

For his part, Taeyong wore blue velvety robes and carried a tall staff. He thought he didn't look half-bad.

What he hadn't prepared for was to run into Johnny in the living room while everyone was getting situated, who wore only a loincloth and some faux furs draped over his shoulders, his torso completely exposed, a plastic battle-axe in his grasp. Streaks of paint traversed his face, and those brown locks that he usually kept tucked under a beanie fell free around his cheeks.

He was the definition of a maiden's fantasy. However, when he spotted Taeyong and smiled, all round cheeks, it kind of ruined that hardened barbarian effect.

But Taeyong wasn't complaining.

"Very nice!" Johnny said, giving the sleeve of Taeyong's robes a light pinch to feel the fabric's velvety texture. "You look awesome!"

Taeyong's laugh left him a little more strained than he meant. He cleared his throat. "You look—" He hadn't quite consciously registered the way his eyes were trailing down Johnny's cut chest and defined abs until he was all but gawking at the leather belt supporting the loincloth that hung low on his hips.

Shaking his head, he forced himself to meet Johnny's eyes as he idly picked at the collar of his robes, which suddenly felt far too stifling. "—very in character."

"Knock, knock!"

Taeyong swiveled around to see a group entering, eyes taking in their surroundings in amazement.

"Wow!" one of them declared. "So atmospheric!"

Their advertisement for the event did state costumes were encouraged, and this group certainly understood the assignment. From the details of their clothing, the matching accessories, to the makeup and colored contacts, one might think they were headed to a convention.

"Hello, there!" Taeyong greeted, stepping up to the one heading the group, who wore elf ears and violet contacts. "I'm Taeyong, Nu Chi Tau vice president. This is Johnny, the chapter president."

Johnny waved, and the pretty violet elf looked over at him with a raise of his brow that had Taeyong's smile faltering slightly. However, his attention turned back to Taeyong quickly, and he smiled, all perfect, gleaming teeth.

"I'm Ten!" he introduced himself, extending a hand to Taeyong, who took it. "This is Kun, Sicheng, Dejun, Yangyang, and Kunhang—but you can call him Hendery."

"Well, welcome!" Johnny came over. He stood next to Taeyong, a hand automatically falling to his shoulder the way it so often did lately—which Taeyong didn't mind, and if he stepped a little closer to Johnny then, it was to make way so the group could enter.

"Grab some mead, pull up a seat!" he continued, gesturing to the table with his axe. "We can help you with character sheets."

"Oh, don't worry, we brought our own," Ten hummed as he led the way to the table, and the one he'd introduced as Kun, who was wearing a full wizard suit, held up a binder, while behind him, Hendery shook a box that rattled full of dice.

By the time they sat down and got started, all the tables were full. In fact, some people had to stand. It was entirely too many people to run a smooth, single campaign, so they made due by breaking it down into several smaller ones, having fun with it.

Johnny and Taeyong sat next to each other, and as their fictional squad reached an inn after their last perilous battle, Johnny turned toward Taeyong.

"What do you say I buy you a drink and we share a room tonight?" Johnny asked with an exaggerated flourish of his brow.

Having indulged in some of the 'mead' tonight, Taeyong found himself giggling, but he kept his composure. "Oh? I think you're gonna have to roll for charisma."

Taking a die, Johnny rolled, only for it to land on a one.

"Ah," he said.

"Hm, too bad," Taeyong hummed, though they both ended up laughing.

By the end of the evening, all the attendees pledged, bringing Nu Chi Tau to over double their size by the end of Spring Rush.

Which was great for Taeyong, even if it didn't necessarily feel like it as he made his way down the stairs the morning after all the new pledges had moved in, and the chaotic warzone that was the Nu Chi Tau house was that much more amplified.

He intended to just slip past and go grab a protein bar or something for breakfast, as he generally tended to do, but as Doyoung's stressed voice strained to be heard over the kitchen clamor, it really didn't feel right as chapter vice president to leave him to it at his lonesome.

Taeyong was not surprised to see Doyoung standing in the middle of the kitchen, completely overwhelmed by the number of members trying to make their way inside, all disregarding his attempts at order and making a further mess of the kitchen.

A pair of laughing brothers nearly crashed into Taeyong, which had his eyes widening and a hand flying to his chest, but he quickly weaved through the others and made his way to Doyoung.

"Please stay out of my way!" Doyoung snapped upon noticing his presence.

"Doyoung," Taeyong said, reeling in all those impulses to maintain his patience. "The frat has doubled in size. There's no way you can do this all by yourself."

The chapter secretary's brow creased, and he regarded Taeyong like he wanted to argue, but as his attention returned to the kitchen chaos—specifically to the newer pledge Yangyang, who had crawled onto the table while the others goaded him—any potential rebuttal he may have had for Taeyong quickly died.

"Hey!" he shouted, stepping toward the table. "Get down from there!"

"Come on!" Taeyong added at his side. "We eat off there!"

Yangyang got down, though it did nothing to settle the energy still overwhelming the kitchen.

Taeyong turned back to Doyoung. "Unless you want to invest in a chef…"

"We still don't have the budget for that!" Doyoung snapped.

"Then let me help you," Taeyong insisted.

Kun, one of the other newer pledges, had been standing within earshot and approached them then. "I'd also like to volunteer my services."

Doyoung regarded them both in consideration a moment before looking back out to the table and shaking his head. "Okay, Taeyong, please chop those potatoes. Kun, help me with the meat. And you!" Doyoung pointed to the nearest younger recruits that were messing around, snagging their attention. "Get the table cleaned up and ready."

Between everyone pitching in, they got breakfast prepared in a relatively timely fashion. It helped when Johnny finally arrived and used his dad voice to command order.

Doyoung and Taeyong sat down at the table last. While they were in the middle of their meal, Doyoung looked over at him, dabbing the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "That really did go more smoothly and easily with everyone pitching in."

Taeyong nodded, a small grin appearing on his lips.

Wow. That was almost a thank you.

Taeyong knew he was in no place to invest in a relationship. Although the Spring Rush had gone over exceptionally well, until the dean specifically told him he could consider his debt repaid, the whole situation still felt unstable and in need of his entire attention.

Still… if Johnny wanted to be around him and help him out, Taeyong didn't see what was so wrong with that.

And if he decided to carry his textbooks to campus rather than use a backpack and Johnny offered to hold them, that was his business.

And sure, Taeyong could grab a chair if he really wanted to reach things on higher shelves, but why bother when Johnny could just as easily reach them for him?

And perhaps waking up a little earlier to get a morning shower in wasn't too inconvenient. Taeyong certainly didn't think so the morning he patted himself dry and slung the towel around his waist, only to open the bathroom door and nearly bump into Johnny.

"My bad!" Johnny stepped back, his eyes falling to Taeyong's exposed torso before going wide.

"Pardon me," Taeyong simply replied as he slipped past him. "Don't worry. There's still plenty of hot water."

"Yeah," Johnny managed to get out, his voice a pitch higher than normal. "Thank you."

And if Taeyong didn't know better, he would almost think that casual confidence Johnny so effortlessly maintained had fumbled a bit.

As Taeyong reached the door of his room, he looked back to see Johnny still standing in the doorway of the bathroom, eyes having followed him. Taeyong grinned and waved with a flutter of his fingers, and Johnny shook his head, laughing sheepishly before hastily disappearing into the bathroom.

Taeyong's teeth sunk into his lower lip as though that would contain his smile as he shut his bedroom door behind him.

He had a skip in his step as he made his way around campus in between classes that day, a little melody that matched it humming from his lips. This time of year still required long sleeves and sometimes jackets, but the skies became increasingly more blue and bright, and Taeyong found himself appreciating them as he took the sight in.

"Wow, you got it bad."

Taeyong blinked, turning his attention to Seulgi, who walked next to him, hugging her notebooks to her chest.

He arched a brow. "Hm?"

Seulgi's eyes narrowed playfully. "Did you get laid?"

A startled laugh slipped out of Taeyong, and he lightly nudged Seulgi's shoulder. "No!" His shoulders dramatically slumped as he exhaled a sigh, looking up to the clouds again. "Going through a bit of a dry spell, actually."

"What's got you in such a good mood lately then, huh?" she asked.

The smile returned to Taeyong's face as he looked over at her. "Things have been going well lately. Spring Rush was a success, and…" He shrugged. "I don't know, I just feel like things are finally looking up."

"Yongie, that's so great!" She bumped her shoulder against his affectionately. "Congratulations! I knew things would finally come your way."

"Thank you," Taeyong laughed. They turned a corner that brought them back to the front of campus, the brick mount where the statue once stood catching his attention, and somehow, it didn't look as daunting as it once did. "At this rate, the dean's gotta forgive me, and I can finally go back to Alpha Iota Phi by Fall Semester."

The two of them continued down the walkway, and Taeyong had assumed that the conversation was over.

But then Seulgi spoke again, her voice a little quieter, "You really want to go back to Alpha Iota Phi?"

Taeyong blinked over at her. "Yes?"

She was frowning. "Even with things looking so promising with Nu Chi Tau?"

Taeyong stared at her a moment while they walked, genuinely caught off guard by the almost disappointed expression she wore. "I'm here to help them, Seulgi," he said pointedly, like this shouldn't have been in question. "That's it."

Seulgi came to a stop then, turning to face him. "But what about Johnny?"

Taeyong stopped too. "What about Johnny?" His eyes flitted over his shoulder, suddenly worried about who might potentially be within earshot, but there was no one within their immediate vicinity.

"You're really going to tell me after everything, and the way the two of you are always around each other on campus that there's nothing more going on between you?" she asked.

"No!" The word flew from him defensively, but it was accompanied by a flush of heat over his face, his stomach twisting in a manner that was perhaps not the most confident in the declaration. He swallowed. "It's not like that."

Seulgi hummed, turning to continue down the path again. "That's too bad."

Taeyong's mouth opened, only for that feeling in his stomach to twist even harder, so he promptly shut it and resumed walking as well.

When career day arrived on campus, Taeyong anticipated the nerves that would come with making sure he put his best foot forward.

What Taeyong did not anticipate was to run into Johnny, dressed all professional in a suit and tie, his hair swept from his forehead, save for a couple of stray locks that fell flatteringly.

Taeyong admired him from afar while he stood in the living room with that effortless posture about him as he chatted up some of the newer pledges, who took to him as easily as the rest of the members did.

He shook his head as though he could shrug off some of the warmth that appeared on his face.

He'd seen Johnny half-naked on more than one occasion now, this should be nothing by comparison, but the way that suit emphasized the broadness of his shoulders, the length of his legs, and those thighs.

Johnny looked back over his shoulder then, smiling as he met Taeyong's gaze, and it gave Taeyong just enough time to take a breath and compose himself as the Nu Chi Tau president made his way over to him.

"Good morning!" Johnny greeted him.

"Good morning." Taeyong let his eyes run up and down him quickly. "You clean up nicely."

Johnny laughed. "Thank you." He looked down at his suit, lightly tugging on the hem of one of his sleeves. "Career day. Gotta make a good impression if I wanna score some good summer gigs."

"That's right!" Taeyong nodded.

"You look nice too," Johnny added. "But of course, for you, that's just another day."

Taeyong lightly laughed, lowering his gaze.

"I mean, honestly, you could just hop outta bed and show up to career day, giving them all the boba eyes, and they'd be fighting to give you the internships."

That had Taeyong laughing harder, the warmth rising upon his face again. "Stop!"

One of the newer pledges, Ten, walked past them, glancing up at Johnny then back to Taeyong with a raise of his brow and a suggestive smirk.

Taeyong cleared his throat and composed himself. "I should go."

"You wanna go down together?" Johnny asked. "I mean, we are going to the same place."

Taeyong grinned and shrugged. "Sure."

Career day took place in the campus event center, all the seating and sports displays concealed to turn it into an open space sectioned into rows from all the booths lined out, advertising their respective businesses.

"Why are you all dressed up anyway?" Johnny asked as they entered the event center. "You have to have an internship in the bag with your father already, right?"

"Yeah…" Taeyong answered, eyes roving around all the tables set up, unsure of where to start. He turned his attention to Johnny instead. "But I don't want the whole thing handed to me, you know? I want to show him I can stand on my own two feet. Besides, it's not a bad networking opportunity."

Johnny's brows rose into a casually impressed expression as he nodded. "I respect that about you. You refuse to have it completely made for you, and that opens up so many more opportunities. I don't think most students in your position would do that."

A grin found its way to the corners of Taeyong's lips. He had received no shortage of compliments in his lifetime, particularly during his college career. However, something about Johnny expressing respect for Taeyong's work ethic really struck a unique cord with him.

He inclined his head. "I just try my best."

"Enough with the modesty." Johnny had a hand in his pocket, but he leaned over and nudged Taeyong with his elbow. "You do more than try, and you know it."

He wore that grin that scrunched his eyes and displayed that left dimple. It had Taeyong grinning back just as broadly, a sheepish laugh tumbling from his lips. His chest felt as warm as his face.

At least until he looked out ahead and saw Chunso and Louis staring back at him with skeptical eyes, whispering among each other.

The smile immediately dropped, his attention turning the other way.

Having breakfast with Nu Chi Tau had become part of Taeyong's Fall Semester routine.

He didn't cook every morning, but he didn't necessarily have to because Doyoung, acknowledging that he needed the assistance, took to making a chart, assigning various brothers responsibilities on different days. He had the kitchen operating so smoothly that Taeyong had to admit to himself that the whole idea of needing a chef seemed a little ridiculous in hindsight.

Another happy byproduct of the system was that it calmed some of the chaos of the morning too. With everyone having their own responsibilities, it helped create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation.

Taeyong's finger glided across the chart, figuring out his duties for the day. Then he headed over to the kitchen counter to gather what he needed. Next to him, Doyoung minced garlic on a chopping board.

"This is really great, Doyoung," he said, nodding his head over to the chart.

Doyoung glanced over at him, mild surprise taking his features, but then he grinned and resumed his mincing. "Thank you. I feel like I can enjoy cooking again."

"You should've been Nu Chi Tau vice president," Taeyong said, moving a colander of vegetables over to the nearby sink so he could wash them.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Doyoung looking at him again. "Are you trying to butter me up for something?"

"No!" Taeyong looked over at him quickly. "I'm being serious. You really do have a talent for organization and running things efficiently."

Doyoung gave him a considering look a moment, but then he went back to his business, wearing a pleased expression. "You're right. But I prefer working behind the scenes. You have the charisma a leader needs."

That had Taeyong pausing, replaying the words in his mind a few times to make sure he understood them correctly.

Doyoung? Thanking him and complimenting him within the same conversation?

A small grin appeared on his lips. "Thank you, Doyoung."

Doyoung turned toward him, looking at the sink, knife still in hand. "Now get out of my way."

Taeyong hastily stepped back with his hands up. "Yes, of course."

When Taeyong could finally sit down for his own breakfast, Johnny had a seat saved for him. He always did, and Taeyong would just chalk it up to their joined presidential status, and if their knees or wrists happened to bump, it was just a coincidence of seating so many boys at one table.

Speaking of seating so many boys at one table, Hendery and Jeno—both newer pledges—had taken to flinging bits of breakfast across the table at each other.

Okay, maybe the chaos of the morning couldn't ever truly be quelled. However, before Taeyong, Johnny, or even Doyoung could intervene, Donghyuck, head of security, who now carried a can of silly string, stood up and demanded order, stringing both offenders respectively, which had the rest of the table laughing—Taeyong included.

The lingering chill of February led into a more promisingly sunny March, and Taeyong stopped dead in his tracks as he stepped out into the front yard one Saturday morning, blinking in surprise to see some of the Nu Chi Tau brothers as well as some of the Epsilon Xi Omicron members giving the outside of the house a long-overdue coat of paint.

"What's all this?" Taeyong asked because this certainly hadn't come up in any council meetings.

"EXO came over with paint and supplies and a whole crew." Johnny shrugged. Two smears of paint streaked the top of his cheeks, and Taeyong had a suspicion that he put them there deliberately. "I think it's their way of apologizing."

Taeyong blinked at the sight in amazement. "And you all decided to help?"

"Well, yeah!" Johnny chimed. "Teamwork makes the dream work! Some of the guys even took to painting the Stoner Shed out back."

Taeyong nodded, impressed, and with that, he headed inside to change into some clothes he didn't mind parting with so he could come out and help.

As he devoted his attention to some of the finer edge details, he looked over to watch Johnny work the giant roller. The chapter president whistled as he coated the boards with a fresh stroke of paint.

His eyes fell to Johnny's arms. His t-shirt sleeves were rolled up, and his biceps bulged from the exertion.

As though aware of the eyes on him, Johnny paused, looking over at Taeyong and grinning.

Heat bloomed over his face, and Taeyong quickly looked away, resuming his detail work.

However, a little while later, Taeyong decided that Johnny took this entirely too seriously, so he walked right over to him with his paintbrush and painted a streak across the rib of his shirt.

Johnny blinked down at the paint streak, gaping in surprise.

"Oops!" Taeyong cooed, shrugging exaggeratedly and backing away. "Accident!"

Something wild ignited in Johnny's eyes, and he turned toward Taeyong, holding the paint roller like a weapon. "So that's how it's going to be, huh?"

Taeyong started backing away faster, the grin on his face growing, but Johnny just pursued after him, cheeks steadily rounding, until he picked up into a jog.

With a squeak, Taeyong spun around and took off running, laughter bubbling out of him. He knew Johnny was right on his heels as he made his way around the house and into the backyard.

He nearly crashed into Yuta and Jaehyun, who were sharing a blunt with EXO members, Sehun and Jongin, while they all painted whimsical things on the side of the Stoner Shed. His heels scrambled against the ground as he regained his footing, then he looped his way around the shed, until finally, he reached a corner of the wooden fence and had no place to go.

Taeyong spun around, still overcome with laughter as his shoulders pressed back into the wooden planks. Johnny slowed as he closed in, eyes alight, victory all but certain.

"You have no place to run now," Johnny taunted with an exaggeratedly low voice, pointing the roller to Taeyong's face threateningly.

"Wait!" Taeyong laughed, eyes darting around in search of someplace to escape, but honestly, with as large as Johnny was, there was no getting past him.

So Taeyong didn't try. Instead, he stood up straight, holding the paintbrush he'd been using in both hands in front of him, and batted his eyelashes. He gazed up at Johnny in that way that he knew made his eyes go big, lips pouting ever so slightly. "Mercy. Please?"

That had Johnny falling still, momentarily stunned. Then he breathed a laugh, eyes lowering. Drawing the paint roller back, he planted the end against the ground like a staff, his other hand slinging against his hip.

"Well, that's just unfair."

Taeyong laughed, twisting the toes of his shoes into the grass and hunching his shoulders.

Johnny took a step toward him, lowering his voice. "What am I going to do with you, hm?"

Words failed Taeyong. He was too distracted by Johnny's close proximity, how his large body easily cast a shadow over him against the afternoon sun.

Mostly, he was acutely aware of the way his heartbeat picked up when it should've been settling.

"I don't know," Taeyong ended up saying, quiet enough to only pass between them. "What are you going to do?"

Johnny's lips quirked into a smirk, his eyes narrowing slightly.

Johnny had said Taeyong's boba eyes were dangerous, but as he intently locked his gaze on Taeyong now, he really thought those eyes were something to be reckoned with.

He was so close. The wood of the fence pressed into Taeyong’s shoulder blades, and he felt a little like prey that had been cornered by a predator, his stomach fluttering.

A part of him knew he should put a stop to this, but with the Stoner Shed standing behind the chapter president, the rest of the members were cut off from view. It felt like it was only the two of them, making it far too easy for Taeyong to disregard his better senses and just give in to the moment.

"Johnny! There you are!"

And then Johnny was turning away, caught up by some of the other Nu Chi Tau brothers, who insisted they needed his help then. They swarmed around the chapter president and stole him away, leaving Taeyong standing there by himself in a daze, heart pounding, face flushed.

Taeyong blinked and shook his head, his next draw of breath filling his lungs much cooler as his better senses returned to him. Ducking his head, he made his way back around the house as covertly as possible, surrounding himself with some of the other Nu Chi Tau members to resume the paint project until they finally decided to call it a day.

As everyone sat around inside the house, Taeyong's text notification went off in his pocket. He pulled it out to see a new message from Seulgi.

Seul 🐻 4:39 p.m.: trivia at the blue crown tonight. you in?

"Hey."

Taeyong blinked up from where he was seated, Johnny standing right in front of him. He still wore bits of paint from earlier, but so did Taeyong.

"The crew's headed to the EXO house for drinks," Johnny explained, and as he did so, Taeyong noticed the way everyone was getting up and heading out. "You worked hard today. You should come too."

"Oh. Um." Taeyong looked down at his open text message then back up at Johnny.

Johnny wore an easy grin, his eyes soft, his whole expression the exact opposite of what he had been wearing when Taeyong had been backed up against the corner of the fence earlier. He offered a hand as though to help Taeyong from his seat.

"Yeah," Taeyong decided. "Yeah, I'll go."

Johnny's smile broadened, cheeks rising into his eyes, that singular dimple displayed, and honestly, it was just as dangerous as that look from earlier. Maybe more so.

Taeyong thumbed out a quick text before taking Johnny's offered hand.

Yongie 🌹 4:44 p.m.: sorry! plans tonight!

Taeyong sat at the head of the table near Johnny in the Chapter Room. The council gathering had been rather uneventful this evening, just going over routine things like the review of the current budget, scholarship opportunities, and the like. Also, there was some incident involving some of the newer pledges and hoarding toilet paper.

To be honest, Taeyong only paid half attention, scrolling through upcoming university events on the social feed displayed on his laptop. His eyes glazed over the screen, and he about decided to move on from this mindless activity when one particular event had him pausing, lifting his cheek from where it had been resting against his fist as he scrolled back up to get a look at it.

An advertisement for the university's annual Greek Olympics glowed on the screen. The Greek Olympics happened to be the name of an obstacle course competition among all the fraternities and sororities that took place during peak springtime and raised money for the local children's hospital.

Alpha Iota Phi played a major role in the organization of the event, and last year, it had been a rather significant source of stress in Taeyong's life, one he wasn't entirely upset to have removed from his shoulders.

However, as he looked at it now, he saw a whole new opportunity.

The entire university would be in attendance, including the staff as well as the dean.

What better way to show off how much Nu Chi Tau had grown, how much they could stand on their own?

"I do not care if the size of the toilet paper pyramid had been record-breaking!" Doyoung groaned. "Toilet paper does not leave the bathrooms, period!"

Taeyong looked up from the laptop. "Hey."

The chatter continued, and Taeyong frowned. However, all he had to do was look over at Johnny, who sat up taller and called out, “Hey!” in his dad voice.

All eyes shifted to the head of the table.

Johnny used the toy hammer to point Taeyong’s direction. “Taeyong has something to say.”

With a nod of thanks toward Johnny, Taeyong then looked out to the rest of the council and flipped around his laptop to face them. "The annual Greek Olympics are coming up!"

The other council members just stared at him dumbfounded.

"Come on," Taeyong said with an incredulous drop of his shoulders. "Don't tell me you haven't heard about the Greek Olympics?"

"Oh, we've heard about it," Doyoung said.

Taeil lightly laughed. "It's just not exactly our forte."

"Well, why not?" Taeyong asked, his brow creasing.

"We still raise money for the event," Jungwoo chimed in then. "But we really don't stand a chance against Epsilon Xi Omicron or Sigma Nu Sigma Delta."

The rest of the council murmured agreeably, and to be fair, the two chapters infamously alternated taking the gold every year.

Still.

"Nu Chi Tau is double in size now!" Taeyong stood up, hands flourishing upwards as he spoke as though that would encourage them.

"He's right." Johnny lowered his foot from the table so that his chair fell back to all four legs and then stood up next to him. "It's high time we join in the games too. It'll be fun!"

"Except, um, for the part where we get completely stomped," Mark said.

"Hey, you don't know that," Johnny insisted. "Besides, it's not about winning. It's about having a good time and raising money for the children’s hospital!"

"The university has plenty of gym resources we can use to prepare," Taeyong added. "It really is for all students, not just EXO."

"And look, we could stand to get out a little more," Johnny said. "Especially now that it's warming up."

The rest of the council deliberated among each other, and a little while later, they were all gathered in the living room with the rest of the Nu Chi Tau brothers.

"Nu Chi Tau is going to the Greek Olympics!" Johnny declared, pumping a fist into the air.

"I am so in!" Jaehyun proclaimed.

The rest of the chapter all cheered, excitement buzzing through the whole house.

Taeyong looked up at Johnny, who beamed so brightly as he basked in the energy of the rest of the fraternity, like the sun shining over a thriving field of flowers.

It tugged right at Taeyong's heart.

Then Johnny turned his head, eyes meeting Taeyong's, his smile softening but still warm, as though this particular smile was reserved just for him.

And Taeyong may as well have been a dandelion in the field with as light as he felt right then.

Sometimes, Taeyong thought he understood just how much work a particular goal would demand of him. However, as he watched the members of Nu Chi Tau awkwardly mosey about the field, more interested in messing with each other than focusing on what they were supposed to be doing, he couldn't help but feel that perhaps he had bit off a little more than he could chew.

Doyoung took the corner post of a training sled, looking down at it skeptically. "How are you even supposed to use this?" He nudged the platform with his toe then proceed to walk around it as though he might figure it out on his own by looking at it intently enough.

Which, to be fair, if Alpha Iota Phi hadn't been such prominent participants the previous years, Taeyong probably wouldn't know either.

His mouth opened as though to explain, but unexpected voices behind him cut him off.

"Hello, there!"

Taeyong spun around to see what appeared to be the whole of the Epsilon Xi Omicron fraternity headed their way.

Standing up a little taller, Taeyong squared his shoulders. He had mentally braced himself for this.

The tallest of the group, Chanyeol, approached him. "What are you guys up to?"

"We're training," Taeyong answered firmly. "The field is open to all students, and we were here first!"

Chanyeol leaned back, blinking. "Whoa!" A chuckle slipped from his lips. "Hey, we can share, right?"

A puppy-like grin appeared on his face, and if there was even a hint of an intention to intimidate in his expression, Taeyong couldn't see it.

He cleared his throat, shoulders relaxing. "I suppose."

Chanyeol's attention turned to Doyoung, who was now sitting on the sled and holding onto the posts, looking around confused. "Hey! I can show you how to use that."

He walked over, and Doyoung stood up, stepping aside as Chanyeol gripped the poles. "You grip it like this, but you gotta keep your back straight! Keep your upper body lifted so that way all the work goes to your leg muscles. Like this!"

Leaning in, Chanyeol pushed the sled down the field a few yards, though from Doyoung's expression, Taeyong got the distinct impression that he was more interested in watching Chanyeol use it than learning how to himself.

With the way Chanyeol's shoulder muscles bulged beneath his tank top and he put those leg muscles to work, Taeyong couldn't really blame him.

Chanyeol then dragged it back over to them, turning to Doyoung and gesturing toward the sled. "Now you try!"

Tentatively, Doyoung took the poles and leaned in, but it barely budged.

"Grip it lower," Chanyeol instructed.

Doyoung lowered his grip.

"Lean in."

Doyoung did, and as his feet pushed into the grass, the sled started to slide forward. A surprised but pleased smile appeared on his face as he looked back at them.

"There you go!" Chanyeol cheered, clapping.

Taeyong stared stunned over at the university quarterback. EXO really did respect them now.

Chanyeol turned to Taeyong, all bright smiles, arms crossed over his chest in a way that emphasized the definition of his biceps.

"Hey, Chanyeol."

Taeyong blinked over to see Johnny close in, practically pressing into Taeyong's side and curling a hand over his opposite shoulder in a way that had the heat prickling in surprise beneath Taeyong's collar.

As he lifted his gaze to Johnny next to him, he couldn't help but notice how unnatural and forced the smile on his face appeared.

"Oh, hey, man," Chanyeol replied, unfolding his arms and taking a step back. "I'm gonna go check in with the other guys."

Johnny nodded, and Chanyeol disappeared into the crowd of Epsilon members mingling in with the Nu Chi Tau brothers.

Taeyong blinked.

What the hell just happened?

Field training found its way into the routine of Taeyong's university life. When he wasn't studying, taking care of council business, catching up with Seulgi, finding some menial task to insist that he needed Johnny's help to accomplish, or avoiding his father's calls, he found himself on the field with the other Nu Chi Tau brothers as they prepared for the upcoming event.

It started out about as dismally as one would expect. Taeyong watched with a rather pained expression as they would flail about the field before getting distracted or otherwise deciding it was too much effort and giving up.

For a short period, he reconsidered this whole idea. He really did not need to drag Nu Chi Tau to this event and have them humiliate him in front of Alpha Iota Phi and the whole university.

However, it wasn't just Alpha Iota Phi that was going to be there. It was the whole school, and Taeyong was so close to finally getting out of this whole mess he had gotten himself into that he could taste it.

It was the inspiration he needed to push Nu Chi Tau to the field and keep them focused.

As the weeks continued on into a sunnier April, Taeyong found that he was having to redirect their focus less and less, that energy instead shifting to cheering them on as they took their own initiative.

Jaehyun especially seemed to thrive. He had a competitive drive like no one's business, and Taeyong started to think that he might single-handedly carry the whole fraternity.

It was one of the first mornings that Taeyong didn't need to wear a jacket. He took a seat on the bleachers, looking out to the other Nu Chi Tau members training on the field while Johnny cheered them on and took an abundance of photos.

It must've really been a warm morning because Johnny had foregone wearing a beanie. Taeyong tilted his head slightly as he watched him from afar.

Now that he thought about it… Johnny hadn't been wearing one for some time now. He currently wore athletic gear, which was understandable considering the setting. However, it really did seem as though lately Johnny was picking out his clothes more considerately, like he was putting in more effort than just rolling out of bed.

What was that about?

Johnny picked up a Bose speaker, which blasted a bass-heavy EDM beat, skipping alongside a handful of the boys that were all racing down the field.

When they reached their goal, they all dog-piled on top of each other, and Johnny, like a ridiculous oversized puppy, just tossed himself over them, eliciting a concoction of groans and laughter.

Taeyong ducked his head, lightly laughing.

Reaching into his pocket, he took out his phone and opened the camera app. Holding it up, he zoomed in to get Johnny into focus as he stood up from the dogpile, helping the rest of the brothers up before laughing with them and running his fingers through his hair.

Johnny took so many pictures of everyone else but definitely deserved to have just as many taken of him.

Taeyong snapped shot after shot of the chapter president as the other Nu Chi Tau brothers surrounded him.

They really loved Johnny. How could they not with how patient and empathetic he was with them? Not to mention, he had the kind of charisma that inspired the people around him to share his confidence.

Pocketing his phone, Taeyong propped an elbow against his knee, resting his chin on his palm and curling his fingers over his lips to conceal the grin etched on his face the longer he observed the chapter president from his vantage point.

Seulgi was right. It really was shallow of Taeyong to have not seen how hot he was from the beginning.

Johnny wasn't just hot. He was beautiful. Not even just physically but his whole entire being, and he inspired this kind of attraction that only seemed to grow the more you got to know him.

Taeyong wondered if it would ever peak?

He doubted it.

Johnny turned around then, eyes finding Taeyong's, and that softer smile found its way to his face.

Taeyong sat up taller and lowered his arm, glancing away as though he had not been totally staring.

Then Johnny made his way up the bleachers with those long legs, and a few moments later, he plopped himself down right next to Taeyong with a content sigh, staring out at the field.

"You know. Last year if someone had told me we would all be out here, and the Nu Chi Tau brothers would be killing it on the field, I would think that they were high as fuck."

Taeyong laughed, watching the other members with him. "They really do come together well."

Johnny smiled over at him. "Thanks to you."

Taeyong glanced up at Johnny and shook his head. "They're the ones doing it."

"Because you hyped them up to realize they could!" Johnny said, knocking his knee playfully against Taeyong's.

"Well, it's not like I did it alone." Taeyong nudged Johnny's knee back, smiling up at him.

When Johnny met Taeyong's gaze then, he held it. "Guess we make one hell of a duo."

"Yeah."

The morning sun lit up Johnny's face, his eyes glinting with an amber sheen. Taeyong could feel his heart pick up in his chest the longer they maintained the contact, knowing somewhere in the back of his mind he should break it.

But with Johnny sitting this close, looking at him like that, he found himself getting lost.

Johnny really was Taeyong's dream man that he didn't even know he was looking for. He was gorgeous, responsible, intelligent, fun, empathetic… the list went on.

And here he was, just a few inches away from him, and Taeyong found himself captivated.

Johnny shifted to lean in, one hand lifting, and whatever was about to happen, Taeyong was about to let it, the distant voices of the other Nu Chi Tau members cheering on the field drown out by the increasing heavy pulse of his own heartbeat thrumming in his ears.

The smallest brush of warmth grazed his cheek from Johnny’s fingertips, and it was then that Taeyong’s better senses were triggered. He remembered that there were only a few weeks left until Spring Semester ended. He and Johnny would go their own way with their respective internships, and by the time Fall Semester came around the next academic year, Taeyong would finally be back with Alpha Iota Phi.

He liked Johnny, but everything about his life was stacked against this.

Taeyong tensed, inclining his head a fraction as his gaze dropped to his lap.

The pad of Johnny's fingers swept across before he withdrew his hand and sat back.

"Eyelash," he said as way of explanation, flickering his fingers before lowering his hand.

Taeyong nodded, looking back out to the field.

It was for the best, he knew, even if that sinking feeling that just appeared in his chest insisted otherwise.

About a week later, Taeyong found himself surrounded by a handful of the Nu Chi Tau brothers as he made his way to class on campus.

Johnny walked alongside him, arms wrapped around Taeyong's textbooks—one of which Taeyong had long been done with before this semester had even started, but Johnny didn't need to know that.

"Man," Mark said, caught up in the high of their last successful training session with the rest of the group. "Did you see the way Jaehyun just pulled himself over the wall like it was nothing?"

"Yeah," Johnny nodded. "He's the Nu Chi Tau ringer for sure."

The group laughed.

Taeyong shook his head. "You would never know it from how chill he is most of the time, but you put him in a competition, and it brings out a whole other side of him. He does not like to lose."

"He sure doesn't," Doyoung added in a low, knowing way.

More laughter ran across the group.

"Hey, um," Mark then said, moving to the front of the group, walking backwards at the head. "I was thinking of pushing D and D night to, like, Saturday this week, so I can work more on my essay?"

"That's fine," Johnny replied, and the rest of the group murmured agreeably. He turned his attention to Taeyong. "You'll be there, right?"

Taeyong nodded. "Of course!"

Johnny smiled, and Taeyong could feel his own lips spread to mirror it.

They reached a pathway intersection, and Taeyong knew he needed to break off from the group.

"Well, this is where I'm headed," he said, stopping and turning toward Johnny, arms extended for the books. "So I can take those."

"I can walk with you," Johnny offered.

The grin reappeared on Taeyong's face. "You're going the opposite way. I can handle holding my books for a bit. Don't worry."

Behind Johnny, the other Nu Chi Tau members snickered.

"Alright," Johnny replied in playful defeat, passing the books off. "I'll see you later."

Taeyong waved around the books, hoisting them against his chest to get a good grip, then turned to head down the pathway.

The building that housed his next class sat just up ahead, and Taeyong picked up his pace, all but jogging. However, right as he reached the bottom of the steps, a small group turned around the corner, and Taeyong had to hop back to avoid a collision.

"Whoa!" He blinked, taking in the group to realize it was the familiar faces of his former Alpha Iota Phi brothers.

Taeyong forced up the corners of his lips. "Hi!"

However, they regarded him with expressions as though he were a pest then turned to head up the steps.

"Oh, come on." Taeyong hastily followed after them. "You guys act like we weren't brothers that lived together for two years!"

"Lived." Ashton glanced over his shoulder. "Past tense."

They continued up the steps, and Taeyong kept after them. "You guys, I've been doing my best."

"You certainly have," Kyungmin hummed.

"And that's a good thing!" Taeyong persisted. His heartbeat was picking up, and he wasn't sure if it was because of the stairs or his desperation to be heard. "I accomplished exactly what the dean wanted! He's got to let me come back now!"

Chunso stopped, turning around so quickly that Taeyong nearly lost his balance on the steps. "Are you sure you want to? With as close as you are to Nu Chi Tau now?"

"Of course, I want to!" Taeyong quickly replied, hugging his books tightly to his chest, his pulse beating against the hard surface of the cover. "Alpha Iota Phi is my home! I'm an Alpha brother always!"

"Really?" Louis faced him now as well, the group all finally having stopped near the top of the steps. "Because the sight of you around campus and Greek Row certainly says otherwise…"

"Especially with as cozy as you've gotten with their president," Kyungmin added with a low tone as though it were the most scandalous of subjects.

The rest of the group laughed behind him.

Heat flared up Taeyong's face, his shoulders hunched.

"It's not like that!" he snapped. "He follows me everywhere! I don't like him!"

His pounding heart twisted in his chest as those words flew out, and his throat clenched like he didn't want to say anymore, but he had to. He had to get through to them. He was so close.

Taeyong swallowed, forcing himself past all those internal reservations. "I had to help Nu Chi Tau, you know that. But I'm not one of them! I never was! I don't want to be! They're a bunch of losers! Everything I've done this past year has been to please the dean, so he'll forgive the statue incident and let me return to Alpha Iota Phi. You guys are my brothers. Not them!"

Their judgemental expressions eased up, and for a moment, Taeyong thought he may have actually gotten through to them. However, as all the eyes on him then rose above Taeyong's shoulders to gaze out at something behind him, a cold wave of dread drained the blood from his face and sank into the pit of his stomach.

For a few seconds, Taeyong just stared at the steps ahead of him, fiercely hugging the books to his chest, like if he didn't turn around, he wouldn't see him there.

But he knew he was there. He could feel it. Even without looking.

Slowly, Taeyong turned around to see Johnny standing at the foot of the steps.

As soon as their eyes met, Johnny walked up to him, holding out a folder. "You dropped this. I just thought you might need it."

Reaching forward, Taeyong silently took the folder, watching as Johnny then turned around to head back down the steps and to the path.

"As you were saying?" Minjae asked behind him.

Taeyong half-turned, looking up at the Alpha Iota Phi members, who stood there regarding him expectantly. His eyes then shifted back down the steps, watching as Johnny made his way back down the path.

His heart beat wildly, like two clamps had gripped the opposing sides and were straining to pull them opposite directions, all too aware of Alpha Iota Phi on one side of him while Johnny walked away on the other.

Taeyong turned and hastily descended the steps.

"Johnny!" he called after him, jogging to catch up to him. "Johnny, wait!"

Johnny kept walking, not even bothering to spare a glance over his shoulder.

"Johnny, please!" Taeyong all but pleaded, panting as he caught up to him. "I can explain!"

Johnny glanced over at him. "Don't worry about it. You made yourself very clear."

"Listen," Taeyong breathed out, walking hastily to keep up with Johnny's broad strides. "It's complicated."

"What is?" Johnny finally stopped and turned to face him, forcing Taeyong to halt in his tracks. "The part where you don't like me? The part where you think we're a bunch of losers, or the part where you only planned to help us long enough so you could leave?"

The words hit him like several slaps to the face. Taeyong's mouth opened, but everything he might possibly say was caught in his throat, tinged by the bile that churned in his stomach.

Johnny shook his head, a laugh slipping from his lips that was anything but amused. "Look, I realize this wasn't exactly your ideal situation to walk into at the start of the school year. I'm not stupid. But I really thought there was more to you beneath the surface than the pretentious Alpha Iota Phi exterior."

That kind face that Taeyong had become so accustomed to was gone. Those circular cheeks that pressed into his eyes were nowhere to be seen, replaced by a solid, still expression, eyes hard, red, and glassy.

It was like a spike lined up against Taeyong's chest.

"I thought I was starting to see it," Johnny continued. "But clearly I was wrong because it never existed."

And that was the hit, dead center with a heavy mallet, cracking his sternum and making it cave in.

Johnny turned to head back down the path.

Taeyong tried to follow. "Johnny—"

"Don't bother."

He shot a glare over his shoulder that Taeyong would’ve never imagined the chapter president could wear, much less direct his way, and it stopped him dead in his tracks. His feet rooted to the spot as he watched Johnny disappear around the corner, left alone with all the jagged pieces of the mess he'd created.

Johnny's absence was palpable.

It was like he still had some kind of tracking device on Taeyong, except now he used it to pointedly avoid him. Their bedrooms were right next to each other, yet Johnny inexplicably never seemed to be around whenever Taeyong came or left.

He didn't see him during breakfast or during dinner. He didn't see him around campus. And anytime Taeyong decided he would hang out with the other Nu Chi Tau members, suddenly Johnny had somewhere else to be.

Once upon a time, Taeyong had been so annoyed and flustered about Johnny always being on his heel like a lost puppy, he would've never imagined that he could miss it like this.

But now, there was a Johnny-shaped cavity cut out of his chest, and Taeyong came to realize just how heavy his books actually were.

A couple weeks passed, and during one D and D night, Taeyong approached the table, unsurprised that Johnny was not making an effort to clear the spot next to him on the opposite end.

Taeyong pulled out a chair anyway. However, he found himself freezing before he even sat down.

Johnny laughed, all his attention devoted to the person sitting next to him. It was one of the spring pledges, Dejun, who smiled up at Johnny, all gleaming teeth and batting eyelashes. Johnny leaned in, his arm slung around the back of Dejun's chair like they were the only two in the room.

The fire that flared through Taeyong's veins could've incinerated the whole room in a single pulse, knuckles whitening as his grip clamped around the back of the chair.

Dejun was small and gorgeous. Of course, Johnny would like him.

Taeyong tossed the chair toward the table and spun on his heel, hastily marching for the front door, ignoring all the confused murmurs around him.

He didn't have a set destination as he burst out the door, his pulse beating into his eardrums. However, as he rushed across the yellowing grass and out onto the asphalt, his feet automatically took him to the Rho Beta Lambda house.

Running up to the house's great double doors, Taeyong burst in, only to be met by the startled voices of the ladies mingling inside the white and gold entryway.

"Hey!"

"Whoa!"

"You can't just barge in here!"

"Have you ever heard of knocking?"

"No boys!"

Taeyong ignored the protests, hastily sweeping past the sorority sisters to the ornate spiral staircase that took him up to the bedroom floor. He was met with more surprised protests and a few screams, but he brushed past them as well, making his way over to a specific door and barging in just as ungracefully as he had the entryway.

The room contained three beds, a girl sitting on each. All eyes lifted to him in surprise.

Taeyong's attention, however, was directed at Seulgi.

The door opened behind him, and a harsh hand gripped his bicep. "Alright. Out you go!"

Taeyong tensed, but Seulgi spoke up, "It's okay, Sooyoung! I'll handle this."

A skeptical silence passed between the girls for a couple seconds, but in the end, Sooyoung let go and backed out of the room. With a sigh, Seulgi stood up from her bed, looking over at her two sisters, who seemed to understand even without being asked. They got up, quickly leaving the room so she and Taeyong could have their privacy.

Once the door closed behind them, Seulgi stood in front of Taeyong with her hands planted firmly on her hips.

"What is going on with you?" she demanded. "Not replying to my texts? Won't answer my calls? You're basically a ghost on campus, and now you're just gonna make a scene like this? What the fuck, Taeyong?"

Head bowed, Taeyong spoke barely above a whisper, "I ruined things with Johnny."

The initial anger that fueled him had burned out, leaving him hollow. His muscles trembled beneath the surface of his skin like the warning of an impending storm.

The tension in Seulgi's shoulders eased as she lowered her hands. "What?"

"I ran into Alpha Iota Phi, and I very loudly told them just what I thought about him and Nu Chi Tau, and Johnny overheard everything."

The explanation hung in the air.

Taeyong lifted his head, eyes stinging as he looked up at her, his next draw of breath shaking. "And it was only after I saw his face that I realized I didn't mean any of it."

Seulgi's brow twitched like she wanted to cling to her initial indignation, but in the end, she couldn't. "Taeyong…"

"So go ahead," Taeyong rasped, his throat was dry, the prickle in his eyes growing as he rapidly blinked them. "Go ahead and tell me, 'I told you so.' Go ahead and tell me how you were right and I was wrong. That I have no right to be upset about this. That I have no right to cry. That I'm the biggest selfish fucking asshole this university has ever seen."

The tears burned down Taeyong's cheeks, obscuring the image of his best friend standing in front of him.

However, Seulgi didn't say any of those things. Nor did she continue to reprimand him for bursting in here after avoiding her. Instead, she took a step forward, gently wrapping her arms around him and pulling his head to her shoulder.

"I don't deserve him, Seulgi," he wept, the fabric of her shirt absorbing his voice and his tears. "I never did."

Seulgi shushed him and gently pet the back of his head, letting him stay there as long as he needed.

Taeyong did not particularly want to get out of bed on that Sunday morning. School motivated him most days, but today, he did not have class and pushing past the stiffness in his muscles felt like far too much work.

He knew the Nu Chi Tau members were gathering on the field that morning, and for several minutes, he debated whether they really needed him there or not.

However, as he stared at the ceiling, he soon found his mind drifting to the room neighboring his, and he knew that if he ditched training, his thoughts would just spiral into a hole of the fraternity president, which would only make him feel worse. So in the end, Taeyong grudgingly tossed off his blankets, deciding that training would be a good distraction if nothing else.

When he arrived on the field, most of Nu Chi Tau had already gathered. A glance over their heads told him that Johnny wasn't present.

Doyoung immediately accosted him. "Good morning, Taeyong." He practically shoved an iPad in his face. "I've been doing some research these past couple of weeks, and I came up with a training plan that will be ideal for everyone individually."

Taeyong stood there stunned while Doyoung swiped through the pages, going on to explain the details. He blinked from the iPad back up to Doyoung, one part of him impressed by the work he put into this but also amazed that Doyoung was amicably including him.

Lowering his gaze back to the screen, Taeyong lifted a hand to swipe through the individual plans, getting a good look for himself. "This is really quite amazing, Doyoung."

"I know." Doyoung smiled, and when he really smiled, it would get all big and show his gums, which Taeyong had to admit was actually pretty endearing. "But thank you."

Taking the iPad back, Doyoung headed over to where the other frat members were stretching or laying around, and Doyoung yelled at them to get up and start running warm-up laps.

Taeyong stayed back and simply observed a few moments. Doyoung sure seemed to like to bark orders at Jaehyun especially, and Taeyong really got the distinct impression that Jaehyun hammed it up for him.

"Hi, Taeyong!" one of the members said as they jogged by.

"Good morning, Taeyong!" said another.

"Taeyong! Hello!" And another.

Taeyong blinked, lifting a hand to idly wave as the Nu Chi Tau members ran by one by one, all smiling at him, seemingly happy to see him there.

It stirred an unexpected warm feeling in his chest, and he found himself smiling and waving more enthusiastically the more members passed by.

Jungwoo jogged off the path, coming over and gently taking Taeyong's arm. "Come on! You gotta warm up!"

He was all smiles, and Taeyong found it surprisingly infectious, a breathless laugh slipping from him as he let Jungwoo drag him into the line of members, picking up into a jog himself.

Mark led a military cadence that carried the pace of the warm-up.

"Wake up, wake up, NCT!" he loudly sang at the head.

"Wake up, wake up, NCT!" the other members sang back in unison around Taeyong.

Mark: "We've been up since half-past three!"

Nu Chi Tau: "We've been up since half-past three!"

Mark: "Running swimming all day long!"

Nu Chi Tau: "Running swimming all day long!"

Mark: "That's what makes a tadpole strong!"

"That's what makes a tadpole strong!" Taeyong sang back with the rest of the members, a smile plastered on his face.

The energy buzzed in his veins by the time the warm-up was done, and as the other members continued to greet him or come up to tell him about their latest personal wins with their training, it really sunk in with Taeyong that somewhere along the way, the members of Nu Chi Tau had become fond of him.

Taeyong participated in the training courses with the rest of the fraternity, running through various activities. Toward the end, he sprinted over a row of speed hurdles, and when he reached the finish line, he flopped back on the grass dramatically, limbs sprawled out as he panted for breath.

"Dogpile!" Donghyuck called out.

Taeyong's eyes widened, and he tried to sit up. "Wait a sec—"

But it was too late. Donghyuck was on top of him, and Yuta over him, followed by Jungwoo, and it just kept going, and all Taeyong could do was just lay back and laugh as the late morning sun warmed his face, realizing then that somewhere along the way… he had grown fond of them too.

They may not have had a lot of glam, but they had a lot of heart, and perhaps that wasn't a bad thing.

In fact, Taeyong started to think that actually was a good thing, a more important thing than super-polished appearances and network connections.

Later, Taeyong sat next to Doyoung on the bleachers while he sipped his water. "They've really pulled together. We might actually win this thing."

"Yes,” Doyoung said, voice soft but honest. “Whether we do or not, you should still be proud."

Taeyong tossed him a glance, still unused to this Doyoung complimenting him thing. "I didn't do anything."

"You encouraged us to join," Doyoung said, gazing out at the others on the field with a wistful expression. "You believed in us first." His eyes shifted over to him. "You also stood up for us first."

A small grin graced Taeyong's lips, and he lowered his gaze.

"Look," he said after a moment, turning his attention back to Doyoung. "I know it wasn't easy accepting an outsider as a leader at the beginning of the year, and I know my behavior wasn't exactly the most inviting back then either…"

"You were pretty pretentious and judgmental," Doyoung replied without missing a beat.

Taeyong could only lift his brow. "Yeah…"

"But so was I," Doyoung then added. Gripping the edge of the bleachers, his shoulders hunched slightly as he sighed up into the air. "And I suppose mutually brilliant minds are bound to butt heads before they recognize each other."

Taeyong laughed. His hands curled around the bleachers as well, mirroring Doyoung's posture. "Anyway, thank you for giving me a chance. Honestly, your organization and care about the fraternity has been invaluable. Any fraternity would've been so lucky to have you."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Doyoung glance in his direction before he quietly replied, "Thank you, Taeyong."

Taeyong nodded. Exhaling a breath, he gazed out to the field. "You know." His shoulders relaxed. "I felt pretty out of it this morning, but something about being surrounded by all of you really picked me up."

"Well, I would hope so." Doyoung blinked over at him. "You are our brother, and that's what brothers do for each other."

Warmth pulsed through Taeyong's chest, and a slow smile spread across his face.

"Alright. They've done well this morning," Doyoung said, standing up from the bleachers. "Let's round them all up."

Taeyong nodded and followed, that warm feeling humming in his chest expanding as the other Nu Chi Tau members surrounded him, buzzing from the high of the successful training session.

Then he turned and found himself face-to-face with Dejun, who smiled up at him.

Taeyong's smile dropped, and he glared.

Dejun ducked his head and skittered away like a kicked puppy.

The sun shone brightly in the blue May sky when the morning of the Greek Olympics arrived. Blocks were closed off all around campus for the event, and the whole of the student body as well as the university staff was in attendance.

Everyone in the fraternities and sororities wore athletic gear, and all participants had a bib pinned to their shirt with a number on it—all color-coded based on chapter.

Alpha Iota Phi stood at the podium, hosting the event, and Minjae spoke in the microphone about the tradition and the money the event rose for charity as well as wishing good sportsmanship among all the chapters, which had Taeyong raising an eyebrow on account of how hypocritical he sounded.

It was funny… When Taeyong woke up this morning, he thought he might have a hard time watching Alpha Iota Phi onstage without him, like it might stir up some harsh nostalgia and shame.

However, as he watched Minjae wear the world's fakest smile as he addressed the crowd, Taeyong found that he actually didn't feel much of anything.

Instead, he turned toward the Nu Chi Tau brothers. Johnny stood on the other side of the group, and half were turned toward him, listening intently as he hyped them all up.

That, on the other hand, definitely stirred something less than pleasant in his chest.

However, as the other half of the Nu Chi Tau members turned toward him expectantly, Taeyong pushed that feeling aside for their sake.

"Okay!" he said, clasping his hands together. "You have all worked so hard these last several weeks, even working around essays and preparing for finals, I really cannot express enough how amazed I am by each and every one of you!"

All the brothers smiled at him, and Taeyong continued, "So let's go out there and show everyone what we're made of! Because no matter what happens, one thing is for sure: everyone leaving here today is going to know to never again underestimate Nu Chi Tau!"

Cheers erupted among the group and fists punched the air, and the energy all around them uplifted Taeyong as much as everyone else.

"Hey!"

Taeyong turned to see Seulgi smiling at him with the rest of Rho Beta Lambda behind her.

"Hey!" Taeyong greeted back, touching her arm and then turning back to Nu Chi Tau. "You guys, this is my best friend, Seulgi. She's part of the Rho Beta Lambda sorority!"

He proceeded to introduce the group, and the sorority sisters mingled their way in with Nu Chi Tau, all speaking animatedly, excited for the event, and cheering each other on.

That had a specific excitement flutter in Taeyong's stomach, and he really thought the hype of the moment couldn't get any better, but then Epsilon Xi Omicron made their way over to greet them as well.

"Everyone's gonna kick ass today, right?" Chanyeol proclaimed with a fist in the air, and all the Nu Chi Tau and Rho Beta Lambda members cheered along with him.

"Mine will definitely be ready for you after," Baekhyun cooed at Chanyeol when the cheering died down, and Taeyong turned away with wide eyes, kind of wishing he hadn't overheard that.

But good for them.

An announcement from the speakers informed them that the event was about to begin, and everyone moved to line up where they needed to be for the course.

As Nu Chi Tau gathered in their designated area, Taeyong spotted Johnny trailing at the end. Everyone else was focused on the course ahead of them, and it felt like an opportunity had presented itself.

"Johnny!" he called out.

Johnny kept walking.

"Johnny, please," Taeyong persisted, catching up to him. "I want to apologize."

Coming to a stop, Johnny turned toward him. "You don't have anything to apologize for."

Taeyong frowned. Johnny didn't even seem upset so much as apathetic, and somehow, that stung worse. "Yes, I do."

But Johnny just shook his head. "No, you don't. You did exactly what the dean asked of you, and I can't hold that against you."

"I hurt you, and I'm sorry," Taeyong said quickly. "The things I said—" He shook his head. "I didn't mean—"

Johnny held up a hand. "Really, it's okay. Sometimes harsh truths are necessary."

"But they weren't tr—"

"You helped grow Nu Chi Tau," Johnny continued. "You served as vice president, and I appreciate everything you've done for the chapter."

And with that, he turned to make his way into the group, becoming all smiles and laughs as he approached Yuta and Jaehyun.

Taeyong's heart sunk, and he lowered his gaze. Johnny really was lost to him then.

Feeling eyes on him, Taeyong looked over to see Doyoung staring right at him, who upon being caught immediately looked away.

Taeyong also looked away, heat rising along his face. Great.

Thankfully, he had the course to distract him.

A race gun fired a shot into the air, and all the participants took off, first running through a row of tires laid out in front of them that led to a wall containing little bumps for their feet and several thick ropes to pull themselves up.

Taeyong pushed himself through, taking in all the energy around him, pride swelling in his chest at the sight of all the Nu Chi Tau members carrying themselves strong. He really was feeling good about them and all of this.

Up until he reached the monkey bars and witnessed up ahead as Ashton deliberately swung his body to collide with one of the younger Nu Chi Tau pledges—Jisung—knocking the kid from the bars into the safety pool below.

Taeyong gaped, coming to a stop, even though the strain in his arms and pressure against his palms from gripping the bar really wanted him to keep moving. He couldn't though, too concerned with Jisung, who really was the sweetest kid.

"Jisung!" Taeyong called out, debating on if he should just drop down and check on him.

Pushing himself to his feet as water ran down his long body, Jisung wiped his eyes to look up at Taeyong, and as though he could read his mind, he smiled and held a thumb in the air.

"I'm okay!" he called up. "Keep going!"

Taeyong nodded, looking out ahead as Ashton reached the end of the bars and crawled down to move on to the next obstacle. Indignation flared through Taeyong's veins, eyes narrowing on the back of his head, and he swung himself to continue on, the injustice of it a whole new fuel to keep going.

Mud splashed around him as he ran through the pit that led to a giant rope net wall. Up ahead, he could see other Nu Chi Tau brothers as well as Alpha Iota Phi members climbing it, and before Taeyong reached the bottom, he watched as Kyungmin dug his heel into Jungwoo's shoulder and knocked him from the net into the mud pit below.

Taeyong gasped, once again stopping dead in his tracks and glaring up at Kyungmin, appalled by what he had witnessed. His anger flared once again, but Taeyong looked at the body flailing in the mud, and his concern took over.

Rushing over to Jungwoo, Taeyong slipped his hands under his arms and helped hoist him back to his feet.

Jungwoo sputtered and gasped, making a mess of both of them, and Taeyong helped wipe the mud from his face.

"Are you alright?" he asked. "Are you hurt?"

It took Jungwoo a moment, but he got his bearings and then smiled at Taeyong. "This is fun!"

Taeyong laughed, and together, the two of them launched onto the rope net and climbed their way up.

Later in the course, balance beams ran over another safety pool. Taeyong hopped onto one, nimble on his feet, racing across when he approached Kyungmin and "accidentally" elbowed him off the beam.

Taeyong looked back to see Kyungmin thrashing around in the water, staring up at him in shock. Taeyong just shrugged. Silly him.

The course continued. They pushed giant semi tires across a stretch, crawled on their stomachs through thick mud under a low barbwire spread (except it wasn't really barbwire), pulled themselves across ropes suspended over another mud pit, and so on.

Toward the end, Taeyong's body was a whirlwind of protests, his lungs burning with each breath, and he was ready to throw in the towel.

However, he pulled himself up to a platform to find Doyoung keeled over, panting as he gripped his knees.

He lifted his head. "I don't think I'm cut out for this."

"Me either," Taeyong rasped. "But we're almost there."

Doyoung groaned and swallowed. "I don't think I can finish."

Taeyong looked out to the last obstacle that awaited them. Giant rubber balls suspended by thick ropes on either side of them were all lined up, resembling those steel Newton's cradle things you see on CEO's desks over another pool.

Doyoung looked how Taeyong felt, but something about the Nu Chi Tau secretary needing the push inspired Taeyong as well.

"Come on," he said, taking Doyoung by the bicep and coaxing him up. "We made it this far. This is nothing!"

Doyoung stood up, looking out to the last course and whimpering.

Taeyong patted his shoulder. "We started it, we gotta finish it!" Then his brow lowered slightly, his tone a touch playful as he asked, "You're not a quitter, are you?"

That had Doyoung lifting his chin. "Of course, not!"

The two of them observed how others took on the obstacle. The rubber balls were so large and dense that when the momentum of someone jumping off of them pushed it back, it hit back down with enough force to knock them off even if they were further along the course.

A lot of people fell, while others glided across it with no problem.

"You have to face it head-on," Taeyong said, pointing as one of the Sigma Nu Sigma Delta sisters ran straight across and the giant rubber balls bounced in her wake once she landed on the other side. "If you get scared and try to balance on the balls and hop on them one at a time, you're gonna get knocked off."

As he explained it, one of the boys from another fraternity struggled to regain their footing on one of the middle balls, right as the one on the end smacked into the row, sending him tumbling into the pool.

Doyoung nodded. "Okay," he said, taking a breath before adjusting his footing.

He took off, launching from the platform to the first ball, and although Taeyong could see the way he instinctively threw his hands out for balance and he moved a little awkwardly, he still dashed across.

"That's it!" Taeyong cheered behind him, watching as he leaped off the last ball and landed on the other side. "Woo, Doie, yeah!"

Taeyong waited for the row of balls to settle before he bent his knees and braced himself. Then he took off. However, as he neared the edge of the platform, his eyes automatically flitted down last second, taking in the distance between the edge and the first ball. Panic seized him, heels digging into the surface of the platform as he skidded to a stop, just barely regaining his balance before he could topple over the edge.

He was bent way over, arms outstretched to keep his balance. Heart hammering in his chest, he stared straight down to the pool below with wide eyes, taking in just how deep the drop to it was.

"Taeyong!" Doyoung called out from the other side. "You got this! You said it yourself! You gotta face it head-on!"

More voices joined him, and as Taeyong took a breath to compose himself, he looked up to see Yuta, Taeil, Ten, Sungchan, and Jaemin joining Doyoung to cheer him on.

"You can do this!" Taeil called out. "You confronted EXO, you can do anything!"

Their cheers brought a grin to Taeyong's face, inspiring a new wind to pulse through his veins. Taking a few steps back, Taeyong heaved a shoulder-raising breath and got back into position.

This time, when he took off he didn't hesitate, launching from the platform to the first ball, and once his feet were moving, there was no stopping them. The rubber shot out from underneath the soles of his shoes upon contact, and all his instincts wanted to just stop and try to regain his balance, which felt way knocked off course, but he didn't.

His eyes remained locked on the Nu Chi Tau brothers cheering him on right ahead, and when he jumped from the last ball to the platform, his feet planted right along the edge. His arms flailed windmills and his weight lurched back, but then several hands grabbed him and pulled him the rest of the way onto the surface.

They all crossed the finish line laughing.

Epsilon Xi Omicron was declared the winner, to the surprise of no one. However, as they were called to the stage, they grabbed the arms of Nu Chi Tau and encouraged them to come up with them.

"Let's hear it for Nu Chi Tau!" Junmyeon called through the podium microphone as he accepted the trophy. "They definitely were the triumphant underdogs no one saw coming! This is as much theirs as ours!"

The crowd cheered, and Taeyong beamed. Epsilon Xi Omicron may have technically won, but it really did feel more like they did.

However, as Taeyong's attention turned back to Junmyeon, who pulled up Johnny next to him so they could both hold onto the trophy and lift it in the air, a pang of sadness grabbed him by the chest, and his grin faltered.

This was a great victory for Nu Chi Tau, and he knew he shouldn't let his personal feelings ruin that, but it just made it all feel very bittersweet.

As Taeyong exited the stage with everyone else, a familiar voice called for him.

"Taeyong Lee."

Taeyong blinked over to see the dean standing aside, beckoning him over.

He approached him, bowing his head respectfully as though he weren't completely covered in mud. "Sir."

"I don't believe my eyes," the dean said. "I feel like I'm looking at a completely different fraternity."

The corners of Taeyong's mouth tugged upward. "They really are something."

"Indeed," the dean said. "You've more than exceeded my expectations with building them up."

The grin faded, and Taeyong glanced back to where the Nu Chi Tau members were gathering with the rest of the crowd, who were all cheers and animated smiles.

"I can't really take all the credit…" Taeyong said, returning his attention to the dean. "They're all so hardworking. Really, it's them that did it."

The dean smiled, really smiled, and it looked so foreign on his face that it left Taeyong a little stunned.

"Consider your debt for the statue forgiven," he said.

Taeyong blinked. He wasn't about to argue that. Holding his hands in front of him, Taeyong bowed fully. "Thank you, sir!"

The dean cleared his throat. "I know how much Alpha Iota Phi means to you and your family, and I have no doubt that Nu Chi Tau is more than capable of standing on their own now, so you are welcome to return to Alpha Iota Phi next year."

Rising back up, Taeyong nodded vaguely. His eyes drifted over to see Alpha Iota Phi stomping off in the distance, leaving the scene, apparently not feeling the camaraderie that all the other fraternities and sororities still present celebrated.

This whole school year, Taeyong had been desperately wishing, aching for this exact moment to happen.

And now that it had… Taeyong suddenly didn't feel so sure.

He and the dean exchanged a few more pleasantries before Taeyong excused himself, returning to join Nu Chi Tau, who was currently intermingled with Epsilon Xi Omicron as well as Rho Beta Lambda.

Seulgi, who was as much a muddy mess as he was, came over to hug him, which Taeyong happily returned.

Chanyeol wormed through the crowd to come pat Taeyong on the shoulder. "Man, you guys killed it!" He turned, grabbing Jaehyun by the arm and pulling him in. "And this guy! What a beast! I better see you at football tryouts next year!"

Jaehyun laughed, looking almost sheepish with his round cheeks and deep dimples, which was kind of endearing in how it contrasted with the fierce competitiveness he displayed on the field and through the course.

Taeyong found himself laughing as well, the energy of the crowd electrifying, uplifting everyone with no sign of deflating any time soon.

"What a day!" Mark called out with a blissful sigh.

Taeil looked around. "This calls for a celebration, wouldn't you say?"

Everyone cheered their agreement.

"Party tonight!" Doyoung declared. "At our house!"

All the Nu Chi Tau members in the immediate vicinity fell silent and regarded Doyoung in surprise.

But he just smiled, all gums as well as crinkles in the corners of his eyes. "What? You all just agreed this called for a celebration?" Clearing his throat, his expression took on more of that familiar cool tone he wore. "Besides. We have more than enough pledges now that we can easily clean whatever mess we make later."

It still took everyone a moment to react, as though not believing their ears—Taeyong included.

Then Donghyuck clapped his hands in front of him. "Alright, let's do it!"

Everyone cheered.

They returned to the house to get cleaned up and changed, which involved a lot of naked Nu Chi Tau brothers running through the halls as well as towel snapping. But amidst the chaos, they managed to all get fresh clothes on and section off into groups, each in charge of a specific party task.

Decorations had been assigned to Taeyong, so he set off to the store with Donghyuck, Mark, and a handful of the younger pledges—Jisung, Renjun, Chenle, Jaemin, and Jeno.

Taeyong felt a lot like an exasperated mother as he pushed the cart through the store and the group of young men swarmed around him. Still, the energy remained so good and high that he couldn't fault them for it.

Taeil had told him with the number of members Nu Chi Tau now had that Taeyong didn't have to worry about the budget (plus, EXO happily donated from their “Party Committee Fund”), so when the boys came back with black lights, glow paint, as well as various neon inflatable accessories and looked up at Taeyong with puppy eyes, he couldn't deny them.

Donghyuck dropped an armful of Super Soakers into the cart.

Taeyong blinked down at them then back up at him. "What are these for?"

Donghyuck just grinned. "Security!"

He skipped off and then headed back with several packages of smaller handheld squirt guns. "And these ones are for liquor!"

Taeyong lifted his brow and nodded. "An incredibly important detail."

Donghyuck lifted his chin and grinned. "Don't I know it~"

They returned to the Nu Chi Tau house, set all the acquired decorations on the dining room table, and sorted through them.

Voices from the backyard outside could be heard, and Taeyong walked over to the window to see Kun and Ten as well as their little entourage setting up a bouncy castle, while Jaehyun, Yuta, Jungwoo, and Taeil rolled over kegs to stack next to a table containing a variety of all kinds of booze.

He was about to turn away from the window when the sight of two individuals had him doing a double-take. Doyoung and Johnny stood facing each other. Doyoung had his hands on his hips and had a rather stern tone from what muted murmurs Taeyong could pick up, while Johnny had his head hanging, staring down at his feet like a scolded puppy.

Taeyong lifted a brow. What was that about?

As much as he wanted to ask, he figured he should probably stay out of it on account of the state of things between him and Johnny, an acknowledgment that had the heaviness in his chest sinking.

The sun set, and the black lights turned on. Everyone turned into a shadow wearing white clothes, neon paint, and various glowing accessories. Bass rattled the windows in the living room as well as blasted through the whole backyard area. The bouncy castle bounced, and the stand-up pool overflowed as bodies splashed around in it and smacked each other with the various neon inflatables.

Rho Beta Lambda showed up, as did Epsilon Xi Omicron, and basically the entirety of Greek Row until the whole house was packed, standing out in the cul de sac like a fluorescent, booming dot on an otherwise black map.

When Nu Chi Tau decided to celebrate, they were going to celebrate, alright.

Taeyong bounced back from inside the house to the backyard, more intent on making sure everyone else was having a good time and staying as safe as can be. People would stop him now and again, congratulating him about Nu Chi Tau's epic performance in the Greek Olympics, complimenting the fraternity's growth, or otherwise just catching up with him briefly until something caught their eye and Taeyong had a chance to slip away.

He was making another round when Seulgi, Jungwoo, and Doyoung decided he needed to come celebrate too, and with their infectious energy, who was Taeyong to say no?

They threw back shots then made their way to the living room, dancing in the center of the makeshift dance floor, jumping to the beat with little regard for how they looked, too excited, though with the room mostly only lit with black lights, they really only added to the collective bounce of neon streaks.

Taeyong spun and accidentally bumped into a body, lifting a hand and offering his apologies. This up-close, he realized it was Yuta, who just grinned and waved it off before turning back to his dance partner.

He ground up on said partner rather shamelessly, and Taeyong about turned away, but then he did a double-take, realizing it was Dejun, who rolled up against Yuta just as enthusiastically.

Oh. Perhaps he had jumped to conclusions…

Seulgi pulled him back to their little group, and as Taeyong resumed dancing with them, he found himself squinting to make out what details illuminated under the black lights he could of one particular party-goer that was raging next to the disc jockey setup.

Grabbing Seulgi and Doyoung's biceps, he pulled them in to lean toward their ears, shouting to be heard over the music. "Is that… Jackson Wang?"

Both stared in consideration a moment before Seulgi finally shouted back, "Oh my God, it is!"

"What is he doing here?" Doyoung yelled.

Taeyong shrugged, and they all laughed, letting themselves once again get caught up in the boom of the bass and the high of the crowd.

For a moment, Taeyong let himself get lost in it, forgetting about all his ills with his former fraternity, even with Johnny, just getting caught up in the moment and sharing the excitement around him.

His hips led the rotation of his body until he was facing one of the windows that looked out to the front yard. However, the sight of familiar faces lingering outside had him suddenly falling still, the smile on his face dropping.

Jungwoo noticed, leaning in against Taeyong's side and shouting into his ear, "What's wrong?"

Taeyong lifted a finger. "Just one second!"

Worming his way through the crowd, he made his way to the front door, not giving any regard to the attention his march may have stirred.

Even during the peak of spring with summer awaiting them, the outside evening air felt cool and inviting after leaving the congested living room. However, Taeyong hardly regarded that as he stomped down from the entryway to confront the row of Alpha Iota Phi members standing in front of the house.

"Hi, there," he said in a tone that could rival an incredibly practiced customer service representative. "Can I help you?"

Arms folded across his chest, Chunso looked from Taeyong to the Nu Chi Tau house behind him. "Quite the party you have going on here."

Taeyong's heart pounded in his chest on a trajectory much more concentrated than one built from dancing and alcohol consumption. Still, he stood his ground. "That's right."

"What are you even celebrating?" Ashton asked with a skeptical lift of his brow. "You guys didn't win."

"We didn't," Taeyong acknowledged. "But we did our best, and we had a great time! It was a fun day. Why not continue the celebration?"

It was then that Taeyong registered how the beat of the bass quieted significantly. Glancing back, he realized that people were gathering on the porch and popping their heads out of the windows.

Minjae's sharp laugh brought Taeyong's attention back to the group standing in the yard. "Listen to you. There's nothing Alpha Iota Phi about you! You really are Nu Chi Tau through and through."

It was funny. Such an accusation would've once that Taeyong squirming and panicking to plead his case, but right now? Taeyong felt something completely different warm in his chest.

"Yes?" he replied. "I'm part of Nu Chi Tau. They're my brothers!"

Pride, Taeyong realized. That warmth he felt in his chest was pride.

The low beat of bass from the turned-down speakers inside filled the awkward silence that befell the front yard.

Interestingly, the members of Alpha Iota Phi didn't look as haughty and snobbish about such an acknowledgment as Taeyong would've thought. They actually appeared more along the lines of offended.

Kyungmin scoffed a derisive laugh before shaking his head. "What a downgrade…"

The rest of Alpha Iota Phi laughed with him.

"Downgrade?" Taeyong's brow shot up to his hairline, and it was his turn to laugh. "Each and every one of these men is worth ten of you! I've watched them work so hard this last school year, and even when they were struggling themselves, they still went out of their way to lift up their brothers. Way more than I can say for any of you!"

Taeyong was met with harsh frowns and narrowed eyes.

Huffing another laugh, Taeyong continued, "You guys are so concerned with your image, so concerned with staying on top that you have no problem stepping all over each other!" Taeyong heaved a breath, the heat in his veins concentrated and personal. "You won't hesitate to leave someone behind if it means you get to stay on top. How is that brotherhood?"

"Daaaaaaaaaaamn," Chanyeol chanted behind him, followed by low murmurs of agreement accompanying the drawn-out note.

The members of Alpha Iota Phi shifted on their feet. Louis scoffed and waved a dismissive hand. "Whatever, Taeyong. As if you were any different."

Taeyong frowned, lowering his gaze, shame smothering that pride in his chest like a weighted blanket.

"You're right," Taeyong replied, his voice quiet. "I wasn't." He made himself look up at them again, speaking a little louder. "I was as much a pretentious asshole as any of you. But then I met the best group of people this university has seen, and I'm so grateful for that! I'm proud to call them my brothers. And I will be next year too…"

Taking a step back, Taeyong looked over his shoulder to where the other Nu Chi Tau members had gathered on the porch, letting the question hang in the air unspoken.

Doyoung, Jungwoo, and Taeil climbed over the porch railing, hopping down to the grass and practically tackling Taeyong as they all threw their arms around him. Taeyong laughed, reaching out to get all three men in his embrace as much as he physically could.

The other Nu Chi Tau members spilled off the porch, all moving in to join him. Taeyong closed his eyes, that warmth of pride returning, affection flooding his veins.

"Gag me," Minjae muttered. "You clearly did us a favor crashing into that statue."

Taeyong's eyes opened, and as cruel and judgemental as the Alpha Iota Phi president's eyes may have been as they bored holes into him, Taeyong just didn't feel all that affected by it. In fact, not even getting in the last word felt very important to him.

Then Donghyuck jumped out in between the gathered fraternities. He wore a pair of oversized neon pink sunglasses and faced Alpha Iota Phi with his Super Soaker held up like a shotgun ready to be cocked. "You have to the count of three to evacuate the premises before we open fire." He spun around on his heel and called out, "DREAM TEAM! BATTLE STATIONS!"

Chunso blinked. "What?"

Donghyuck spun to face them again. "Three!"

"Seriously?" Kyungmin arched a brow. "You're kicking us out?"

"Two!" Donghyuck pumped the air pressure of his Super Soaker.

"Whatever." Minjae rolled his eyes and waved a hand. "Like we'd really wanna hang out at your lame ass party."

"One!" Donghyuck aimed the Super Soaker at Alpha Iota Phi. "Fire! Fire! Fire!"

The war cries of a small group of boys overtook the front yard, and Taeyong blinked, surprised himself to see Mark, Jeno, Jaemin, Renjun, Chenle, and Jisung rushing onto the grass with their own Super Soakers, aiming the plastic toys and blasting multiple streams of pressurized water at the members of Alpha Iota Phi.

"What the fuck? Are you serious?" Scandalized Alpha Iota Phi voices shouted, squirming and holding up their hands in futile attempts to shield themselves from the watery onslaught, but in the end, they all twisted away, scrambling from the scene and back down the cul de sac, shouting a slew of colorful words, all while the Dream Team chased after them and cackled menacingly.

Taeyong grimaced exaggeratedly, but then he ended up laughing as he and the other Nu Chi Tau members eased their embrace.

"Come on!" he shouted, turning around and gesturing broadly back to the house. "It's time to rage!"

Everyone around them crowed their enthusiasm before they filed back inside, the bass kicking back up and vibrating the whole house while everyone bounced in their excitement.

Taeyong beamed, basking in the energy of it all, celebrating multiple victories now on this fine evening.

Except… he hadn't been entirely victorious. As much as he appreciated Nu Chi Tau's acceptance and wanted to be a part of them, there was still one person whose absence could be palpably felt.

Taeyong's dancing tapered down, and as he looked around at the silhouetted, neon-decorated crowd surrounding him, he felt a little like he was watching them in slow motion, like he was all by himself despite being surrounded by a house full of people.

The heat of the crowd suddenly felt like too much, and Taeyong slipped between the bodies, trying to make his way through as stealthily as possible, not wanting to draw attention to himself.

They had closed off the back halls that led to the Chapter Room, so Taeyong decided to retreat there so he could have a moment to breathe. Letting himself inside the room, Taeyong found himself idly wandering to the opposite door, entering the president's office.

He turned on the light, drawing in a deep breath, which felt cool and pleasant after leaving behind the heat of the party.

Bass still rumbled through the whole house, but in here it was muted, more felt than heard.

Taeyong's eyes drifted to the desk. Photos scattered all across the surface, no doubt taken by Johnny and in the process of being sorted through for the Nu Chi Tau annual magazine.

Although the office had been open to him, it always felt more like Johnny's space, so Taeyong never really used it.

As he looked through the photos taken throughout this past school year, a grin touched his lips, a certain fondness settling in his chest as he revisited the memories.

It was funny. Taeyong hadn't appreciated many of these events while they were happening, but as he looked at the captured memories of the other Nu Chi Tau members' smiling faces now, he felt something much more fond, grateful to have been able to share those moments with them.

Walking slowly around the desk, Taeyong paused, eyes widening slightly as he took in the spread of photos over one corner in particular: all candid shots of himself.

Curiously, Taeyong picked up a couple photos, looking through them. A photo of him in the backyard overseeing the Fall Rush barbecue; one of him sitting on the couch reading a book; a shot of him at the table looking over his D and D character sheet with Mark; a photo of him smiling at one of the exhibits at the zoo; a photo of him laughing with the other Nu Chi Tau members out on the field; one of him on campus standing on a concrete stairway leading to one of the school halls, leaning against the banister and simply gazing off wistfully.

Taeyong hadn't posed for a single one of the pictures, yet somehow, Johnny had managed to capture the simplicity of certain moments he experienced this past school year and made them look romantic.

He didn't know how long he stood there, eyes wide, feeling each and every last pulse of his heart.

Was this what he looked like through Johnny's eyes?

Taeyong lowered the photos back to the desk, his heart sinking.

"Nu Chi Tau…"

Freezing, Taeyong’s eyes snapped open.

"They used to be quite prestigious back in the day… Kind of dwindled over the years."

It felt as though his heart caught in his throat. For several moments, Taeyong just stood there, like if he didn't see him then he wouldn't be able to see Taeyong either.

However, it was an incredibly childish line of thinking, and he knew the longer he refused to face it, the worse he would make the situation.

Slowly, he turned around. "Dad." Taeyong swallowed in an attempt to push his heart back down into his chest. "What are you doing here?"

His father stood in the doorway, eyes roving around curiously. "I thought I should make a stop at the old Alpha Iota Phi house. I thought I'd surprise you!" His gaze met Taeyong's. "You can imagine my surprise when they told me you were no longer a member. That you hadn't been this last year."

Taeyong's eyes lowered to his toes, and he lightly nodded.

"Son." His father entered the room. "What is going on?"

Taeyong swallowed again. He supposed this was a conversation he was going to have to have anyway. He just wished the circumstances had been different.

But here he was, and as much as all his instincts wanted to shrink and keep staring at his feet, Taeyong heaved a breath and made himself look up at his dad.

He told him everything. He told him about the statue, the bargain he made with the dean, as well as being a member of Nu Chi Tau this past year and growing their ranks—his ranks.

However, his father was not a raging wind of fury when Taeyong was finished. He frowned, but his eyes contained a certain empathy Taeyong hadn't expected. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Taeyong heaved another breath. "Because I wanted to show you that I could take accountability. I made a mistake, but I wanted you to see that I could handle myself. And I did!"

"That's very mature and responsible of you, Taeyong. No less than I would expect of you." He sighed, shaking his head. "Still, something like this… you should've come to me. I could've taken care of it easily." He frowned, standing more firmly. "The dean had no right to remove you from Alpha Iota Phi. I will be having words—"

"No!" Taeyong took a step forward, impulsively reaching for him. "Dad, I appreciate it, but it's resolved now."

His father regarded him in consideration. "And you'll be returning to Alpha Iota Phi."

It wasn't a question.

Taeyong swallowed. "I won't, actually."

"But you're my son!"

"And Nu Chi Tau is my fraternity." Taeyong's heart pounded. He felt again like he was on those giant Newton's cradle-esque rubber balls. If he let fear get the better of him while he struggled to precariously balance on one, he was going to get knocked off. He had to face it head-on if he wanted to win.

"I learned more here in this last year with them than I ever did in Alpha Iota Phi."

"Taeyong…" His father closed in on him. "Be sensible."

Taeyong stood his ground. "I am! Now more than ever. I'm not going back to them. I'm part of Nu Chi Tau now!"

"Taeyong!"

"Hi, there!" A knock sounded on the open door, and both men turned to see Johnny smiling in the doorway.

He was dressed in all white with neon paint splattered over his clothing and streaked on his cheeks, hair pulled up in a top knot that just kind of added to his silliness, neon glasses lifted to the top of his head, and of course, his trademark camera hanging from his neck.

He walked right up to Taeyong's father with a hand extended. "Johnny Seo. Longtime Nu Chi Tau member and chapter president. You might have known my father? Jungnam Seo."

Taeyong's dad blinked. "Oh, yes." He looked down at the offered hand then back up at Johnny, still caught in a state of shock. "Of course. A pleasure."

Clearing his throat, he took his hand and shook.

"The pleasure's mine!" Johnny shook back before letting go, still smiling brightly. "I really can't express enough how grateful I am for everything your son has done for the fraternity. Our numbers have more than doubled thanks to his help! Nu Chi Tau's future looks promising in a way it hasn't in years."

His father still looked as stunned as Taeyong currently felt. Taeyong rubbed his eyes, blinking rapidly as though to check if this was really happening.

Johnny's brow rose as though struck with a sudden thought. "If you don't mind, while I have you here…" One hand disappeared into his pocket, digging around until he pulled out his phone. "I really would appreciate some constructive criticism for my startup idea. And, well, you seem more than qualified."

That smile returned to Johnny's face as he swiped through his phone. He then moved to Taeyong's father's side, showing him what he had no doubt shown Taeyong last December, going over the details of what it was and how it worked.

Taeyong's dad turned to face him more fully, one hand lifting to touch the side of Johnny's phone as though to get a better look at the screen, blinking in amazement and wearing a look that Taeyong could only describe as impressed. It made him look almost unfamiliar on account of what a rare expression it was for him to wear.

He then looked up at Johnny. "You put this together?"

"Yeah!" Johnny still wore that smile, and although he carried himself confidently, it was a humble sort of confidence. "I mean, there's still a lot of details to iron out. Some technical issues I need to link better, and a few other things."

"Johnny's a computer science major," Taeyong spoke up then. "He's really smart."

Johnny looked at Taeyong, a light laugh slipping from him. "Well, now you're flattering me."

Taeyong's father's attention moved from his son to Johnny then back to the phone, his brow creasing in contemplation. He then looked at Johnny again, reaching into his own back pocket. "I would really like to hear more about this and discuss it more in-depth, but it looks like you guys have a celebration going on right now." A business card rested between two of his fingers, and he handed it to Johnny. "Call me sometime."

This time, Johnny looked surprised, taking the card and bowing. "Thank you, sir."

Taeyong’s father then turned toward him, lifting a hand to his shoulder. "Taeyong. My son… You've really surprised me tonight… You've grown beyond anything I could've ever set you up for, and I'm very proud of you."

There was so much Taeyong wanted to say. The warmth that spread in his heart then was like nothing he had ever felt. In the end, he simply grinned and bowed his head. "Thank you, Dad."

Patting his shoulder, his father let go and then turned. "Alright. You guys can get back to your party." His eyes roved over the room, the muted bass continuing to pulse in the background. "Ahhh, does this take me back. The good old days." He sniffed and straightened his shirt. "Music's a little different though…"

Johnny and Taeyong both laughed.

"Enjoy it while you can!" His dad lifted a wise finger, but then he waved. "I look forward to speaking with both of you soon."

"It's a pleasure, Mr. Lee!" Johnny said with another bow.

"The pleasure's all mine." He then left, closing the door behind him.

Leaving Johnny and Taeyong all alone in the room together.

Taeyong slowly turned toward Johnny, who also turned toward him.

He swallowed. "Johnny…" His shoulders lifted and fell as he took a deep breath. His heart really was a whirlwind tonight. "I said some really terrible things, and I wish I could take them back," he confessed. "I can't though, but please know that they aren't true, and I'm really, really sorry—"

"No, Taeyong." Johnny lowered his gaze, breathing a sigh and shaking his head. When he looked up at Taeyong again, his eyes were open and honest. "I was hurt, but… I was too harsh too, I realize that now." One side of his lips twitched upward. "Now that Doyoung smacked some sense into me."

Taeyong's brow curiously rose, remembering how he had seen Doyoung seemingly scolding Johnny in the backyard.

"I let my personal feelings get too in the way," Johnny continued. "I put expectations on you based on what I wanted, and I realize now that I wasn't being quite as empathetic about your side of things as I thought I was."

His eyes lowered again, and a touch of color dusted across the top of Johnny's cheeks, almost shy in a way that Taeyong would've never expected to see with his default of casual confidence.

Cute.

"I have the biggest crush on you, Taeyong," Johnny confessed. "I've had it awhile. Ever since I first saw you at that capital campaign. Back then, you were so untouchable, but then next thing I knew… the dean was calling me, and here you were."

Taeyong bit the inside of his lips as though to keep himself from squealing, though certainly, nothing could dampen the way his heart was racing.

Johnny exhaled a long breath then met Taeyong's gaze, his features relaxing. "I had put you on a pedestal, and I'm realizing now that's an unfair thing to do to somebody, especially someone you care about, so I'm sorry."

Taeyong's own expression relaxed. Johnny. He really brought out a side of humility that Taeyong didn't even know he had.

"I forgive you," he said softly.

"And I forgive you," Johnny replied.

This time, Taeyong let the smile that wanted to overtake his face do just that.

"You really want to stay next year?" Johnny asked.

Taeyong nodded. "If you'll have me?"

"You helped me build this place," Johnny said, taking a step toward Taeyong. "There's no way I could run it without you."

"We do make a hell of a duo," Taeyong replied, stepping forward to meet him. His hands lifted to slide atop Johnny's shoulders, eyelids starting to droop. "And I think we could also make a hell of one even outside fraternity life."

Johnny's hands found Taeyong's waist, sliding around to gently press into his back. "You know…" His voice was low, words ghosting warmly over Taeyong's lips. "I think you're right."

Johnny ducked his head, and at the same time, Taeyong's eyes closed, lips parting.

Then the door burst open.

"There you are!" Mark shouted, laughing and clapping his delight, the rest of the Nu Chi Tau council at his back.

Johnny and Taeyong blinked over at them, still caught up in each other's arms.

However, their current position didn't seem to register with the rest of the Nu Chi Tau council, no doubt because of whatever substances they had consumed over the course of this evening.

"You guys are missing the party!" Jungwoo pouted. He and the rest of the council rushed in to surround them, urging them back into the Chapter Room. "Come on!"

"You guys—" Taeyong frowned as he and Johnny were shoved apart and ushered from the room, their moment spoiled.

Nevertheless, as the Nu Chi Tau council excitedly surrounded them with their enthusiastic energy and Johnny took Taeyong's hand, lacing their fingers together, he couldn't find it in himself to argue with them.

He looked up at Johnny, who laughed and shrugged, and Taeyong found himself laughing too as they were dragged back out to the party and onto the dance floor.

The bass overwhelmed the whole room, cast in a deep purple and filled with the silhouettes of party-goers and their glowing light clothing and neon accessories.

Johnny and Taeyong found themselves in the middle of the room, hands still linked. The beat of the music had Taeyong's body moving automatically, the energy growing with each pulse through his veins.

He turned toward Johnny, who moved with him, and the two laughed and danced. Johnny let go of Taeyong's hand to slide his arms around his waist again, and Taeyong's hands returned to their place over his shoulders.

Even with the room so dark, this up close Taeyong could make out all the details of Johnny's face. The quirk of his lips, the little dents across his cheeks, his long eyelashes.

The majority of the whole Greek Row surrounded them, but Taeyong didn't care. He hardly noticed with Johnny's large, firm body pressing into him, those strong hands fitting into the small of his back, and the flutter of his breath over his lips as he closed in.

It was like Johnny had hooked him right in the middle of the chest and was reeling him in, and Taeyong surrendered, letting that tug in his heart pull him right in as his eyes closed and he lifted to his toes so he could finally feel those plush lips for himself with his own.

And they felt incredible.

The whole crowded, bass-filled room was hot, but Johnny's lips were hotter. Taeyong's parted just enough to catch a taste of them, eager to learn and memorize them, his body melting into Johnny's.

And with each shift of Johnny's mouth against his, claiming him, appreciating him, a new wave of exhilaration flooded Taeyong's veins, far more potent than the energy of the bass. His arms curled around the back of Johnny's neck, as desperate to keep the Nu Chi Tau president here as he was to keep himself on the ground, because—oh God—it felt like he could very well drift off into a cosmos even deeper than the one in the Stoner Shed.

It crept up so seamlessly that Taeyong didn't immediately notice the way the rumble in the main room had grown in intensity. It wasn't the music. No, it was the sounds of clapping and cheers.

Their lips closed against each other to gently break off their kiss, both men drawing back only enough to look out to the rest of the room.

Everyone was turned toward them, cheering and hooting with the enthusiasm that he and Johnny finally giving way to this connection between them had been the main event they had been waiting for all evening.

Taeyong laughed, burying his now burning face into Johnny's collar, who just hugged him tighter and shared in the laughter.

He breathed Johnny in, and it was like tossing kerosene over an already burning fire. Drawing his head back, Taeyong smiled up at Johnny, who returned it, and the two closed in for yet another kiss.

A new wave of cheers overwhelmed the house, and if anything, that just encouraged them to kiss even harder.

The arms wrapped around Taeyong curled tight, and Johnny—as though it were the easiest thing in the world—hoisted Taeyong up so his feet completely left the ground.

Taeyong squealed in surprise against the kiss, elation fluttering in his stomach, and it just added to the excitement in his veins, igniting like fireworks. His arms curled tighter around the back of Johnny's neck, knees locking onto the taller man's hips. He wanted to deepen the kiss, but he also had to fight against the corners of his lips' insistence at pulling upward, so he settled for exploring Johnny's lips again and again with his own until they were both swollen and panting.

The two of them then took to the rest of the party. Taeyong had attended his fair share of ragers during his college career, but Nu Chi Tau really amped it up several levels. Thank goodness he had giant Johnny who could easily make his way through crowds. The outside was as overstuffed as the inside because apparently, word about the party had made it far past even Greek Row.

They got a hold of the neon paint, and Johnny finally was able to get his revenge from those months ago. Not that Taeyong put up much of a fight when Johnny had one arm around him, smearing a bright smudge of lime green on Taeyong's cheek that he just got Johnny back with by crushing their lips together.

They played beer pong against Jaehyun and Yuta and lost spectacularly; made a stop at the Stoner Shed that was overflowing with so much smoke that tendrils of curls oozed from all the crevices; cheered as Jeno and Yangyang faced off against each other doing keg stands; climbed their way into the bouncy castle, which Taeyong thought was a good time until Johnny jumped on a spot right next to him that sent Taeyong flying into the air and flailing for his life. Johnny caught him with his body mostly, and they ended up flopping to their backs and laughing.

At one point, Taeyong spotted Seulgi in the corner of the kitchen and was about to say something until he realized she was batting her lashes up at Sunmi, who was tucking a lock of Seulgi's hair behind her ear, and decided to let nature take its course. During one of their outside rounds, Taeyong spotted Dejun and Yuta holding hands, so Taeyong approached them, putting a glowing fake flower he found in Dejun's hair as an act of apology, which from the way Dejun smiled at him, he assumed was accepted.

Later, some of the other Nu Chi Tau members made crowns out of glowsticks and crowned Johnny and Taeyong respectively, proceeding to carry them around. Outside, Johnny swept Taeyong off his feet bridal style and threatened to drop him in the pool, but Taeyong gave him the boba eyes, and Johnny had a last-minute change of heart.

They made their rounds mingling a few times, and at some point, Taeyong ended up on Johnny's back, holding the Chapter Room toy hammer that he occasionally smacked people with but mostly enjoyed barking orders at Johnny to take him places, which he happily obliged, the last of which being the booze station.

What drinks they had earlier had long since burned through Taeyong's system, and the night was still young.

A long table sat in front of them littered with empty bottles and red SOLO cups. Johnny carried Taeyong over to it, stretching his arm out to swipe it all onto the ground—tomorrow them's problem—then turned to gently lower Taeyong, who sat along the edge.

Johnny swirled around to another table, rifling through the offerings until he found what he wanted. Turning back around to face Taeyong, he held up a bottle of Tequila as well as some salt.

"Body shots?"

Taeyong's grip on the edge of the table tightened, his already heavily beating heart accelerating.

"Yes, please."

Moving to stand in front of Taeyong, Johnny set down everything he gathered next to him. He first held up a lime wedge to Taeyong's mouth, which he gently took with the edge of his teeth. Johnny then poured himself a shot and held out the glass. "If you wouldn't mind holding this for me?"

Taeyong nodded, fingertips carefully wrapping around the rim.

Johnny grinned, one hand nestling against Taeyong's waist as he ducked way down and curled his face toward his collar. Taeyong accommodated, tilting his head to the side and lifting his chin. He was rewarded by the generous, hot swipe of Johnny's tongue right over his pulse that had a spark of heat igniting in Taeyong's tummy.

Humming pleasantly, Johnny rose back up, taking a pinch of salt and sticking it to the skin he had wet. Taeyong kept his head tilted as Johnny moved back in again, taking his sweet time lapping it up from Taeyong's neck, making a point to close it off with a teasing drag of teeth. A hum slipped from Taeyong's throat, his toes curling in his shoes.

When Johnny came back up, he took the shot from Taeyong and tossed it back, a shiver running through his whole body as he cheered out, "Woo!" which had Taeyong grinning around the lime wedge, his nerves still reeling.

He then leaned in more sensually, carefully taking the wedge with his teeth but not before his lips glided over Taeyong's, sending yet another exhilarating pulse tingling through his veins.

Johnny sucked the juice from the wedge and then spit it somewhere aside. Swiping the bottle from the table, he appeared as though he were going to pour a shot for Taeyong, but the chapter vice president hopped down from the table, touching Johnny's wrist and shaking his head. "Nuh-uh."

Nudging the back of his shoulder, Taeyong then pointed to the table. "You lay down."

Johnny cocked a curious brow, but then he grinned, passing off the bottle and glass to Taeyong. "Alright."

The table lurched under Johnny's weight, but it ultimately held up as he lay down along the surface he cleared. Taeyong rearranged everything near his head, first taking a lime wedge and offering it to Johnny, who neatly took it between his teeth.

Taeyong then pinched the hem of Johnny's t-shirt, peeling it back enough to expose those perfectly cut abs of his, which elicited an interested noise from Johnny around the wedge. Dipping down, Taeyong dragged his tongue around Johnny's navel, which earned him an even lower sound as well as a flex of his stomach muscles.

"You have to stay still," Taeyong told him as he reached for the Tequila and salt. "Otherwise, this is going to make a big mess."

Johnny hummed his acquiescence, and Taeyong carefully poured a shot right into his belly button—which was so perfectly sculpted for this, it almost felt like a conspiracy—lining the edge with the salt.

He reached for the side of Johnny's torso as he leaned back in, but Johnny quickly noted around the lime wedge. "No 'ands!"

Taeyong inclined his head in acknowledgment, making a slight show of reaching behind his back and lacing his fingers together, ensuring that Johnny saw.

With his hands behind him, he bowed at the hip, his face hovering over Johnny's abs. Taeyong took his time dragging his tongue around his navel, as though determined to collect each and every last grain of salt.

Beneath him, Johnny inhaled a slow breath that made it apparent all his effort was directed into trying to remain as still as possible. A smirk flitted on Taeyong's lips, but he made his expression relax as he closed in to seal his lips against Johnny's abdomen, sucking the shot up into his mouth with a slurp, though the low groan Johnny made did not go unnoticed.

His mouth and throat burned, but it was a pleasant intensity against that tingling heat growing within him. Hands still locked behind him, Taeyong then moved up to gently take the lime wedge from Johnny's mouth with his.

As he bit down and lime juice splashed over his taste buds, the fire that had taken over Johnny's eyes as their gazes met had Taeyong shivering even more than the shot had.

"Keep that up, and we're gonna have to dip this party early," Johnny said lowly.

Taeyong made a show of removing the lime wedge from his mouth with a pop of his lips, licking the remnants of citrus from the swell of them. "I've only been waiting for you to say that all night."

Johnny's pupils blew out right in front of him, and he heaved a steadying breath. With a grunt, he rolled from the table and landed on his feet, knees bent way down and leaning slightly forward. "Alright, hop back on."

Laughing, Taeyong moved to crawl onto his back again, hugging the front of Johnny's shoulders while Johnny's arms hooked under his knees, rising back up with him like Taeyong weighed nothing.

"Make way!" Johnny called out in a theatrical display as he pushed his way into the crowd. "Make way, make way! Chapter presidents coming through! Step aside, step aside!"

Taeyong laughed even harder, squeezing Johnny's shoulders and nuzzling the top of them with his cheek. The shot warmed his veins into a pleasant buzz without completely drowning his mind, simply enhancing all the good energy humming through him both physically and mentally.

They made it back inside the glowing, bass-booming house, Johnny pushing their way through the crowd until they reached the staircase. He carried Taeyong all the way up, and although this area was supposed to be closed off, the party had grown to a point that people littered the hall anyway.

Not that Taeyong could be bothered by any of them. His hold relaxed, and he slipped from Johnny's back, moving to walk backward in front of him, arms sliding around the back of his neck to pull him into another kiss.

Johnny eagerly met it, but he ended up ducking down, curling his arms under Taeyong's butt and hoisting him back up, this time against his chest. Their lips locked, tongues eager to glide against each other and lick their way inside the other's mouth, the taste of Johnny with that lingering hint of lime sending pleasant shivers down Taeyong’s spine.

Taeyong lightly scraped his teeth over Johnny's plush lower lip, which earned him a low growl, more fuel to the heat growing inside him.

The alcohol may have enhanced it to a certain degree, but Taeyong knew that even if it were completely removed from the equation, this fire growing between them would still burn just as fierce.

It was a testament to how practiced Johnny was at navigating the hall to his room that he made it to the door, even with all his attention occupied by Taeyong. Taeyong's legs hugged tighter around Johnny's torso so that he could get the door to his bedroom open.

However, the kiss finally broke when they looked over to see a couple making out on Johnny's bed.

"Out. Now," Johnny barked.

The couple didn't need to be told twice, hastily scrambling to their feet and out of the room. Johnny made a point to lock it after he closed it behind them.

Taeyong looked around the room curiously, cast in navy shadows as it was only lit up from the outside lights spilling through the windows. He had never seen the inside of the chapter president's room besides what glimpses he could catch from the hall, and it intrigued him.

An elaborate computer setup stood in the corner with what looked like a soundboard attached to it among other things. A few skateboards decorated the wall, along with a number of movie posters and even more photos that Taeyong would hazard Johnny took himself.

However, as Johnny nuzzled against him and their lips once again found each other, Taeyong quickly forgot the rest of the room and all else besides the man holding him.

Johnny stepped out of his shoes, and Taeyong kicked his own off around him as Johnny carried him over to his bed. Sitting down along the edge of it, Johnny effectively seated Taeyong in his lap. They kissed again and again, searing drags of lips, teeth, and tongues, drawing out low guttural sounds from each other that muffled against the fervor of their impassioned mouths.

Taeyong's legs lowered to the bed, knees pressed into the mattress so he was better straddled over Johnny's hips. Johnny took the back of his shirt, and Taeyong raised his arms so that it could be removed. Taeyong then took the strap of Johnny’s camera and leaned over to carefully set it on the nightstand, then moved back in to take the bottom of his shirt. Johnny mimicked the arm lift so it could be tossed aside as well.

It gave them a few seconds to catch their breaths. Johnny reached up to run his fingers through Taeyong's hair then gently cupped the back of his head. Closing in, he pressed a patient, tender kiss to the top of Taeyong's cheek, right next to the corner of his eye. Taeyong happened to know that was the spot where he wore a little rose-shaped scar.

A sweet smile graced Johnny's lips as he drew back, meeting Taeyong's eyes.

"I've wanted to do that for forever now," he quietly confessed.

And Taeyong just fucking melted.

Then their hands and mouths were on each other again. Between the heat of the kiss as well as Johnny's sculpted body and strong arms around him, Taeyong’s already growing arousal pulsed all the more potently. Johnny broke the kiss, and Taeyong chased after his lips, but then Johnny was kissing down his cheek to his jaw, tracing the line with the edge of his teeth, and Taeyong gave in, tilting his head back to allow him the access to nip and suck on his pulse.

Taeyong's hands rose to the nape of his neck, and his fingertips found the little tie that had Johnny's hair pulled up (though several strands had escaped and flew out in every which direction), gently removing it and tossing it aside so he could delve his fingers into those long locks freely.

As Johnny's hot and eager mouth found its way to the curve of Taeyong's neck—his skin tingling in the wake of the attention—Taeyong's head dropped back, a moan slipping from his lips. His spine arched, and between that hot mouth working over the sensitive spots of skin, Johnny's hard body pressing into his, and that giant embrace encircling him and making Taeyong feel positively tiny, his veins were on fire, the white pants he wore for the party starting to strain.

From the outside pressure of the bulge growing against his arousal, Taeyong had the distinct impression he wasn't the only one.

However, Johnny eased up then, resting his forehead atop Taeyong's shoulder as he panted for breath.

The fingers in Johnny's hair relaxed, and Taeyong glanced down, his own voice breathless as he asked, "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," Johnny breathed, nodding against his shoulder. "More than okay. I just kind of can't believe that this is actually happening."

A grin appeared on Taeyong's face, touched by Johnny's honesty. The chapter president lifted his head then, their eyes locking.

Taeyong was no stranger to being met by gazes of lust, but the desire that burned in Johnny's eyes was deeper than that, mixed with a heavy adoration that Taeyong wasn't used to, that tugged at him in a way that felt both exhilarating but also dangerous.

It invoked something possessive in Taeyong, intent on keeping that expression for only himself.

A small smile twitched on Johnny's lips then. "When I would let myself hope for such a thing, I guess I always imagined that I would take you on dates first." He swallowed and then quickly added, "Nice ones!"

A laugh tumbled from Taeyong's lips, not only flattered that Johnny wanted to take him out on dates all romantic-like but completely endeared that he thought about it. Seriously, Johnny was proving to be the cutest fucking person in the world.

Johnny's hands and mouth stirred the heat in Taeyong's abdomen, but his words spread a warmth through his chest that made him feel light as air, and the collision of sensations intoxicated Taeyong in a way no alcohol or other illicit substance could ever hope to match.

Johnny stirred a whole slew of dangerous feelings in Taeyong, but when he said things like that, he also inspired a level of trust that made him want to revel in his vulnerability rather than shy away from it.

"Who says you can't after?" Taeyong replied quietly. "The order isn't that important, is it?"

Johnny laughed, closing it off into a kiss, a sweet one. He then drew back just enough to answer, "See, that's why you're vice president."

Taeyong giggled but then moved in to catch another kiss. They shared a few more sweet ones, but it didn't take long for them to grow back to that hot and heavy level, lips parting and catching on teeth.

Johnny was so good to him. He had been this whole past year, and Taeyong really did not doubt how fucking good of a boyfriend he would be. He really had no idea what he did to deserve him.

What he did know though is that he wanted to return all that goodness. He wanted to be good to Johnny because Johnny definitely deserved all the good things, and while Taeyong meant that in a widely encompassing sense, he also meant it in a more immediate, relevant to the context of their current position sort of sense.

Closing off the kiss, Taeyong ducked his head to kiss Johnny's chin, then under his jaw, then the curve of his shoulder, stopping at his collar to give special attention to the tattoo decorating it. At the same time, those legs straddling his hips shifted so that Taeyong could slide back, lowering his feet to the floor.

At first, Johnny hummed appreciatively under the attention, but as Taeyong slid further down, he spoke up, tone laced with intrigue. "What's this?"

Settling his knees on the ground, Taeyong pushed Johnny's legs apart and looked up at him. "What's a chapter vice president's first duty if not to serve his chapter president, hmm?"

The understanding blew out Johnny's irises.

Taeyong just smiled up at him, hands moving to the hems of Johnny's basketball shorts and boxers, stretching the bands to slide both garments down from his hips. Leaning back slightly, Johnny rose up just enough for Taeyong to pull them down his—delicious and incredibly thick—legs, tossing them aside with their shirts.

It left Taeyong settled between Johnny's knees, face-to-face with his cock, hard and curled up against his abdomen, which like everything else about Johnny, was unequivocally huge.

The sight alone had Taeyong's pulse quickening and mouth watering. He would've gawked even if he hadn't been drinking; all the alcohol did was dull his sense of embarrassment over doing so.

His fingers and palm encircled the shaft, gentle at first, the pads of his fingers gliding over exploratory, intent on admiring the length and girth as well as the texture of veins running all along it. It twitched in Taeyong's palm, hot and heavy.

"Taeyong…" Johnny breathed lowly, reaching down to gently run his fingers through Taeyong's hair.

"Just relax," Taeyong said.

Leaning in, he pressed a kiss to the underside of the head of Johnny's cock. He followed by gliding his tongue up the vein along the back, closing off by wrapping his lips around the head, all while continuing to stare up at Johnny, purposely opening his eyes in that way he knew made them go big and round.

He knew he succeeded when Johnny's thighs tensed, a drizzle of precome meeting his tongue, and the hand in his hair closed into a fist.

"Fuck," Johnny hissed.

Taeyong hummed his amusement, swiveling his tongue around the heavy flesh before curling his head in to swallow as much of the length as he could.

Johnny groaned, his breathing growing heavier. "You really are going to be the end of me."

Rising up, Taeyong came off with a lewd pop, licking his lips. "Better enjoy the ride then."

"Like I could do anything else," Johnny rasped, gazing down at him through heavy lids, the fingers in his hair easing up to massage his scalp.

Taeyong smiled then closed back in, pressing a wet kiss to the base of Johnny's cock, working his way back up. He took his time, breathing in his musk, tasting him, savoring him, the hand wrapped around him circling and spreading the saliva around to aid the movement.

"You're cock is fucking gorgeous," Taeyong murmured, leaving a trail of kisses against it that was obscenely affectionate, intent on demonstrating just how much he had meant it. He was set on worshiping every last inch, appreciating the size and weight and each individual ridge.

His other hand curled up under Johnny's balls because he wasn't about to forget and neglect them. They sat in his palms just as heavy, and Taeyong kneaded them gently.

It hit him with a spark of pride when Johnny only responded with a groan, and nothing more coherent than, "Fuck, Taeyong."

Licking his way back up to the top, Taeyong lapped the beaded precome from the tip—pausing to look up at Johnny and make a bit of an obscene display with his tongue, tasting it from his lips as well—then closed in to take him into his mouth again.

Taeyong started slow, exploring the ridges with his tongue before moving his head down to take in as much length as he could, which admittedly left quite a bit outside his reach, but he compensated with the hand wrapped around him, generously spreading around the accumulating spit.

He began to bob his head, mouth gliding down as much of his length as he could take, cheeks hollowing out every time he drew back, occasionally stopping to lap up more precome or otherwise tease the head but not lingering too long before he swallowed his length back in again, moans of his reverence for Johnny's cock vibrating from his throat and around the shaft.

Johnny's hand came to a rest against the back of Taeyong's head, not forceful. Taeyong could feel how his thighs spasmed and his hips twitched, but he otherwise kept them pressed back to the mattress, letting Taeyong set the pace.

However, his breathing grew increasingly ragged, underscored by low groans and hushed curses, which only spurred Taeyong on.

It didn't take long for Taeyong's jaw to start to ache, having to stay open quite significantly. Every shift of his knees against the carpet rubbed them raw, but he pushed through any discomfort, the palpable headiness of Johnny's pleasure fueling his own arousal, and that hand massaging Johnny's balls had to regrettably let go and reach down between his own legs, palming himself through the fabric of his pants and boxers to give his own pulsing, aching cock some friction of relief.

His eyes flitted up to meet Johnny's face. Johnny lay back some, upper body propped up by his free hand pressed to the mattress behind him, leaving his abs folded and tensed.

It was like he was straining to look down at Taeyong, wanting to watch this, but then his eyelids fluttered, so overtaken by pleasure that he had no choice but to let his head drop back as a low moan slipped out of him.

"So fucking good," he whispered. "That feels so fucking good. Taeyong, you really are incredible."

Taeyong's cheeks tensed, overcome with the urge to smile but unable to do so on account of the cock stuffed in his mouth.

However, a faint pang of regret met Taeyong every time Johnny's cock hit the back of his throat, aware of just how much his lips still couldn't reach. He wanted to take in all of him, imagining the pressure of that dick stretching his throat, of choking on it. The thought alone sent a pleasant shiver through his body and he fondled himself harder.

Still… as much as Taeyong wanted to try, the plain and simple fact was that he had never been with anyone quite as well endowed as Johnny before.

He slid off Johnny's dick with a slurp, licking the saliva from his swollen lips, gazing up at Johnny while he panted for breath. The hand around his cock continued to stroke him.

"I want to try something," Taeyong confessed. "But I'll need your help."

Johnny's chest rose and fell as he gazed down at him, the fingers in his hair gliding through affectionately. "Yeah?"

Taeyong's eyes fell to the head of Johnny's cock as his palm rolled over it. "You're really big."

A huff of a laugh stuttered from Johnny's lips, and he replied with a slight shrug, "I'm a big guy."

Taeyong bit on his lower lip. He had that right. Licking his lips, he continued, "I want you to fuck my throat."

With the way Johnny's cock twitched in his grasp and his abs and thighs visibly tensed, Taeyong could tell just how he felt about that.

Still, he asked, "Are you sure?"

Taeyong hummed and nodded, bringing his fist down to the base of Johnny's cock before leaning in and pressing a kiss to the head, batting his lashes up at him.

That had Johnny biting his lower lip and heaving a deep breath. "I don't want to accidentally hurt you… We have to use the color system if we're gonna try that, okay?"

Taeyong nodded.

"Tap out if you're even entering the yellow," Johnny continued.

"Deal," Taeyong replied.

Johnny cocked a brow. "Promise?"

Taeyong grinned. "Promise."

With a grunt, Johnny rolled up and onto his feet while Taeyong shifted back to make room. The hand in his hair moved to trace his jawline, fingers curling under his chin to make him look up at him. He traced the corner of Taeyong's lips with the end of his thumb.

"Taeyong, you really are something," Johnny sighed.

Pressing a kiss to the pad of his thumb, Taeyong wrapped his lips around the digit in an intentionally vulgar display, lightly scraping his teeth across before he came back off with a pop, gazing up at Johnny, making his eyes go big.

"And now I'm all yours."

That had Johnny's eyes darkening, the fingers on his chin curling possessively.

A smirk curled on Taeyong's lips, but he didn't wait for a response. One hand moved to take hold of Johnny's hip for purchase while the other still wrapped around his length guided the head of his cock back to his lips so that he could slide it back into his mouth, eyes drifting shut.

Taeyong then exhaled a breath through his nostrils to force all his muscles to unwind, in his shoulders, neck, and most importantly, his throat.

His head and mouth moved to work up to that rhythm again, except this time, as the tip of Johnny's cock hit the back of his throat, Taeyong made himself relax, allowing the girth to stretch it open.

Johnny stood a little straighter, adjusting his hips to meet Taeyong's angle, rocking slightly. The hand on Taeyong's chin relaxed while the other moved to the back of his head, keeping him steady.

Taeyong eagerly surrendered, allowing his throat to fall open as much as possible, the thick head of Johnny's cock stretching the flesh a little more with each movement until his hips picked up so much, his fist once again tangled into the back of his hair, that Taeyong just let his whole body go limp, allowing Johnny to fuck his mouth properly.

Tears sprouted in the corner of Taeyong's eyes, saliva dribbling down his jaw, yet Johnny rubbed Taeyong's chin so affectionately, whispering encouragements about how beautiful Taeyong was and how good he was for him in between the harsh pants, a sweet contrast to the obscene mess he was making of Taeyong's face.

Resisting that reflex to gag took a concentrated effort, and for a while, Taeyong managed, but it was only a matter of time before it was too much and he choked, saliva bubbling thick from his lips and all along Johnny's length. Johnny instinctively pulled out, heavy strings dipping from the head of his cock to Taeyong's swollen lips while Taeyong gasped for breath.

"Color?" Johnny panted out.

"Green," Taeyong rasped, voice strained and raw. His hand moved to wipe the mess of dense fluids from his face so that he can look up at him and smile. "All green, baby."

A small grin appeared on Johnny's face, and he nodded. Taeyong kissed the end of his cock then slid it back into his mouth, and they quickly picked back up to that point they'd left off.

It was intense and messy and obscene, and Taeyong's jaw complained. His knees and legs complained. His throat complained most of all even though he still hadn't taken all of his length, but it was so fucking hot. The way Johnny growled over him, how large and strong and solid his body was, how sturdily he held him in place, took control of him, yet still only had sweet things to rasp out between his ragged breaths about his pretty, beautiful, and so good Taeyong.

Taeyong loved it. Johnny's pleasure—and specifically, being the one to give it to him—turned him on immensely. The heat coursing through his veins made his cock strain in the confines of his pants, arousal branching through his inner thighs even without direct stimulation.

More than that, he loved the feeling of giving himself over like this because he trusted Johnny in a way he never trusted anyone, and it was that which made the endorphins course through Taeyong's veins, casting him back up to those cosmos where he was completely weightless, naturally high, even in the face of the intensity of the action overtaking him.

Johnny's body then stiffened and twitched against Taeyong in a way that gave him the distinct impression that this was all about to hit its peak.

"Taeyong…?" Johnny managed out in a harsh, shuddering breath, and Taeyong just hummed his approval, fingers digging into Johnny's hips to keep him there and tell him yes without having to leave his cock.

And not even a moment later Johnny's body went rigged, Taeyong's name tumbling strained from his lips as he filled his mouth.

It was so much, and a little spurted from Taeyong's lips despite his effort to swallow it all down. As Johnny's body went lax and he fell back to the edge of his bed panting for breath, Taeyong gently came off of him, licking his lips.

Falling back to sit on his heels, Taeyong swiped a spot of come off the corner of his mouth with the pad of his thumb then sucked it off, plush lips making a show of it as he gazed up at Johnny through drenched lashes.

And with the pained look Johnny gave him as his teeth sunk into his lower lip, Taeyong knew it looked as deliciously filthy as he intended.

Still, as much as Taeyong was sure Johnny didn't have it in him to move right then, he watched as the chapter president forced himself to do so anyway, sliding off the bed to kneel down next to Taeyong on the ground.

Johnny felt around until he found his t-shirt. Taeyong could only imagine what he must look like, lips swollen, saliva dripping down his chin, tears running down his face, no doubt creating vibrant neon streaks from the body paint.

Still, Johnny just gently took his chin and carefully cleaned him up by dabbing his face with the soft fabric, pressing sweet kisses to the corners of his eyes, then his lips, then the front of his throat.

"You're beautiful," Johnny said, voice raw and hushed. "And so good, fuck."

Taeyong smiled under the praise as well as the attention, endeared by Johnny's sweetness.

Even after all that, he still hadn't been able to take all of Johnny’s length, but that was okay. It just meant Taeyong had a goal to work toward now.

Once his face was cleaned, Johnny then took him into his arms and lifted him to the bed, laying him down across the mattress. For several minutes, Taeyong just lay there, catching his breath, body and mind still reeling from the previous intense exertion. Johnny remained at his side, all affectionate touches and praises while Taeyong came down, proving if not exceeding Taeyong's reasoning for giving him that trust to begin with.

When Taeyong felt more settled, his eyes met Johnny's. "You think you can go again?" His voice was raspy and had a bit of a crack to it, strained from the previous abuse.

Johnny's breathing was still on the heavier side himself. A short, breathless laugh cracked from him. "Definitely, but I'll need a minute."

Taeyong tried to clear his throat and swallowed. "Is the time it'll take to prep me long enough?"

That had Johnny's eyes darkening again. "Fuck, Taeyong…"

"If you want?" Taeyong added.

"Oh, I want it," Johnny said quickly. He rolled onto his hands and knees to hover over Taeyong, one hand smoothing down the side of Taeyong's body in a display of admiration as he gazed down at him. "I've wanted you a long time."

A lazy smile found its way to Taeyong's face as his hands lifted up, fingers lightly drawing Johnny's hair back from his forehead. "Here I am."

"Here you are," Johnny murmured, ducking down to bring their lips together again.

Taeyong opened his legs so that Johnny could situate himself between them. Johnny's hands moved down to undo Taeyong's pants, removing them with his undergarments so they were both lying naked together.

However, Johnny didn't immediately move to search for lube. Instead, he kissed Taeyong deeply but then closed it off so his lips could trail down, hot and open-mouth all along his jaw, claiming bits of skin between his teeth along his collar and suckling little marks into them, finally settling over one of his nipples that he lightly nipped at before enveloping with his lips.

Taeyong keened under the attention, pressing his chest into that hot mouth while he clawed at the back of Johnny's head. Johnny sucked the sensitive pink flesh into hardness before tugging lightly with his teeth, making Taeyong's own cock twitch against his stomach, that heat in his belly pulsing.

Releasing the nipple, Johnny then moved across to the other and delivered it the same attention. At the same time, his hands roved all over Taeyong's body, taking in every last dip and curve, an act of admiration no doubt, but it was also like he was intent on learning him, on memorizing him.

Johnny hovered over him like a giant, his hands so large and touches so broad that Taeyong felt so very, very small.

Taeyong basked in the attention, all those touches and teases encouraging that heat tingling through his veins. However, it had been going for some time now with minimal relief, so when Johnny took him by the hips and rutted against him, Taeyong whimpered, oversensitive and aching with want.

"Johnny, please," he whined.

And Johnny just laughed after he came up from Taeyong's chest with a light pop. Taeyong's eyes remained closed as he panted for breath, hearing the sound of a drawer opening, followed by shuffling then the unmistakable click of a bottle opening.

His eyes peeked back open as Johnny settled back over him. Taeyong lifted his legs, curling his heels around the back of Johnny's hips while his hands slid over the top of his shoulders, fingertips tracing the grooves, obliged for another opportunity to admire just how large and defined they were.

Large, slick fingers fit into the groove of Taeyong's ass, gliding along teasingly, nudging against his opening to the point that Taeyong nearly complained, but then the thick digit breached that ring of muscle.

A gasp broke from Taeyong's lips, and his nails curled into the back of Johnny's shoulders, but the sound was quickly cut off by another kiss.

Johnny demonstrated a patience greater than what Taeyong felt, stretching him one finger at a time, massaging his inner walls, and scissoring him open until he could easily work three fingers inside—which had Taeyong feeling quite full already with as big and thick as Johnny's fingers were.

Taeyong lowered one hand to reach between their bodies, fingers brushing over Johnny's cock, which was already half-hard again, and wrapping around the length to stroke more blood into it.

Taeyong wanted this, he wanted him, though admittedly, the weight of Johnny's cock in his grasp as well as that dull throb still lingering in his jaw had him glancing down between their bodies, that flutter of anticipation coiling in his tummy also traced with bits of nerves.

It must have shown on his face because the fingers twisting inside him slowed down as Johnny's eyebrows lifted attentively.

"You okay?"

"Yeah…" Taeyong's eyes rose to meet Johnny's, and he nibbled on his lower lip a moment before following with, "Look, I don't want to go into my past encounters, but… you're a lot bigger than I've ever had."

A smirk flickered onto the corner of Johnny's lips, and Taeyong couldn't even fault him for it. It faded a moment later though, the concern still evident in his eyes. "Well, we don't have to do anything—"

"I do want to!" Taeyong cut in quickly, but then he sighed softly. "I'm just a little nervous in a way I'm not used to."

Johnny considered that a few moments, then said, "How about you start on top? Set your own pace? We have all night, and I can take as much time as you need."

Taeyong nodded, and Johnny slid his fingers out of him, moving to roll onto his back and pull Taeyong over him

He straddled his hips—God, even the way he had to stretch his thighs over Johnny made him feel small—and Johnny reached over to take the lube bottle again, but then he paused, looking up at Taeyong. "Should we use a condom?"

Taeyong snorted back a laugh. He couldn't help it, considering he just had Johnny's cock in his throat and swallowed all his come. Nevertheless, he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"I mean, you're the only person I'm going to be with from now on, so."

Johnny smiled up at him. "I'm glad we're on the same page with that." He opened the lube to pour into his hand then stroked himself. "But I thought I should check."

He really was as considerate and sweet as he was sexy, and Taeyong kind of loved it.

Pressing his knees into the mattress, Taeyong rose up, taking hold of the headboard behind Johnny to brace himself while he reached down with his other hand to line him with his prepped opening, slowly sinking his way down.

Despite Johnny's generous prep work, the head of his cock stretched him open even more, and it felt like so much. Taeyong's grip on the headboard tightened, and he exhaled a shaky breath, willing the muscles in his thighs to relax.

He could do this. He'd just taken him in his throat, after all.

Johnny's hands came to a rest on Taeyong's hips, massaging circles into them while he whispered praises and encouragements.

"That's it, baby.”

“Nice and easy.”

“So tight. So good.”

Fuck.

He really did exercise impressive self-restraint while Taeyong took his time adjusting.

Taeyong's eyes locked onto Johnny's, mesmerized by the dark burn lingering behind them as well as the affection gleaming in front of them, tugging at his chest as much as it stirred the heat within him.

He was grateful for Johnny's patience. It's what helped him maintain his own as that swirl of heat in his abdomen and the pulse in his own cock just wanted to seat himself fully already. A more sensible part of him knew he shouldn't though.

Besides that, it really gave him a chance to savor this, the stretch, the burn, the feeling of every last inch of Johnny as he sunk down little by little until it bordered on too much again. All the while, he kept his eyes locked on him, wanting to memorize all the details of his face, the intensity of Johnny's gaze enough to make him shiver in itself.

The further he sunk down and the longer this drew on, he could see the way Johnny's composure started to falter. His eyelids fluttered, the back of his head burying into the pillows, those hands on his hips clawing possessively.

Pride flickered on Taeyong's lips, but as he sat back down and the concentration of that fullness overwhelmed him, his breathing stuttered and his own hold on composure slipped from him. The more he took of Johnny, the more he felt like he might break, but it only added to that pleasant tremble in his thighs, his own cock leaking.

Letting go of the headboard, Taeyong gripped the sides of Johnny's chest to brace himself, rolling his hips slowly until finally, he sheathed Johnny inside him fully, his ass planted right against the front of his hips. A shuddering breath exhaled from his lips, the heat pulsing through his lower abdomen and stretched thighs.

"Fuck, Taeyong," Johnny breathed, his hands sliding up to feel his torso then back down to encircle his thighs. "Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful."

Taeyong was literally seated on his cock, yet the praise had him inclining his head as the heat blossomed over his cheeks like some giddy school girl.

He could feel the way Johnny's muscles tensed under him, could see the way he was fighting to hold himself back, biting onto his lower lip, while he waited for Taeyong to adjust. A smirk flitted across Taeyong's lips, and he wriggled his hips for good measure, which had Johnny's soft touches once again curling into claiming grips.

A light laugh slipped from Taeyong's lips, but then he leaned into those hands on Johnny's chest, rolling his hips, slowly at first, still acclimating to his size.

Any teasing amusement lingering on his face soon disappeared as Taeyong's eyelids fluttered, his head dropping back as he moaned into the air at the intensity of the pleasure, even moving at this languid pace. His thighs trembled, and Johnny's hands on him aided the movement, which Taeyong appreciated because he did not think he could keep this up on his own.

Everything about Johnny was big. His cock inside him, his hands around him, the broadness of the sturdy body beneath Taeyong's splayed thighs. Taeyong relished in it, enjoying how pretty and petite it made him feel, appreciating how large and strong Johnny was yet he handled him with such reverence. It made him feel safe.

The rock of Taeyong's hips picked up, bouncing off the bed, finding a steady momentum as he sat himself on Johnny's cock again and again, each smack of his ass into Johnny's hips punctuating the stream of moans that flowed from his lips with a sharper sound.

Beneath him, Johnny rocked his own body, meeting in time with Taeyong's. Each thrust grew harder than the last, making Johnny's breath grow ragged, accentuated with guttural grunts, features twisting harder and harder.

Taeyong's nails buried into Johnny's chest, the coherency fizzling from his mind as that stream of moans turned into chants of, "Johnny! Johnny! Johnny! Yes! Fuck!"

And Johnny just chanted right back in hoarse whispers, "So good. Feel so fucking good. My good Taeyongie. So fucking pretty."

Finally, Johnny reached such a pace that Taeyong couldn't keep up. His thighs were crying, but Johnny easily took charge, holding Taeyong's hips up and slamming into him again and again. The bed rocked, creaking and smacking the headboard posts into the wall. They would've made quite the cacophony in the dorm hall if not for the consistent rumble of bass still pulsing through all the house walls.

Not that Taeyong would've cared at this point anyway.

One of Johnny's hands released his hip, and Taeyong felt a bit like a rag doll with how effortlessly Johnny bounced him on his dick. Taeyong was in no state to question just what he was doing, all his senses flooded by Johnny and that crackle of heat swirling through him, volatile and threatening to give way at a moment's notice.

Then Johnny's large hand encircled his sensitive and previously neglected cock, stroking him with the fervency that he pounded into him, and it was as though Taeyong really had been split in half. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and a sob spilled from his lips, tears of sheer ecstasy glittering down his cheeks as his nails ran down Johnny's torso.

His mind once again cast off into the cosmos as the peak of his pleasure raked through his whole body, a shuddering shivering mess while Johnny milked every last drop of come from his aching cock.

Johnny sat up, catching Taeyong against his chest before he completely toppled over. Taeyong slumped bonelessly against him, face buried atop Johnny's shoulder as he panted heavily for breath, throat and lungs raw and burning.

Stars flickered in front of his eyes, but Johnny's hands ran over him soothingly. A trail of kisses ran all along Taeyong's neck and behind his ear as Johnny whispered into it, "So beautiful. Absolutely gorgeous. My beautiful, incredible Taeyongie."

A hand cupped Taeyong's jaw, the pad of Johnny's thumb brushing the tears from his face, and between his soothing touch, the sweet whispers, as well as the warmth of the body supporting him and encircling him, Taeyong drifted back down to reality.

As he did, he became more aware of the sticky mess between them, but with his face already drenched and a generous coat of sweat covering them both, he couldn't really be bothered about it.

What he did notice the more he came down though was the hard cock still inside him. While a part of him reveled in the feeling, he also didn't want to leave Johnny hanging.

Lifting his head, Taeyong placed a lazy kiss on Johnny's lips before murmuring against it, "Fuck me."

"Hm?"

"Fuck me," Taeyong repeated a little louder, his voice crackling as he swallowed. "I want you to fuck me. Use me. Come in me. I wanna feel it."

Johnny's breath hitched, and Taeyong could feel his cock twitch inside of him as well as the way his muscles tensed against him.

Taeyong just nuzzled into his neck, lips and teeth dragging over his pulse before he followed up with, "Take me. Make me yours."

Those large arms wrapped around him, and while remaining inside Taeyong, Johnny rolled them over, laying Taeyong atop the mattress and pillows.

His hands moved to Taeyong's thighs to fold them against his body while he leaned in to kiss him, and Taeyong was as smothered as he was stuffed by him, and he fucking loved it.

Johnny's tongue lapped its way past Taeyong's lips as his body rolled against him, nearly withdrawing before sheathing himself back inside. Taeyong eagerly met the kiss, moans muffled against it, until finally, Johnny drew back, lightly tugging on Taeyong's bottom lip with his teeth.

Taeyong clawed at the back of Johnny's neck, while Johnny held his thighs, the roll of his body picking back up quickly, which had Taeyong whimpering and shivering beneath him. His body was spent, oversensitive, but he wanted Johnny to come, each groan of Johnny's pleasure inciting Taeyong's own arousal, stirring back up before it had the chance to fully recover.

They were a mess of sweaty limbs as Johnny's pace picked up, fucking Taeyong's crumpled body into the mattress and pillows. Taeyong's nails dug further and further into Johnny's skin until the heavy smack of his body pounding into him became so much that he had to let go, reaching overhead to grab the underside of the headboard to better brace himself.

Johnny sat up. His hands moved from Taeyong's thighs to take his hips, gripping him firmly as he rose up to his knees, holding Taeyong's lower body in the air like it was nothing, leaving Taeyong arched back into the bed while he mercilessly fucked into him.

And Taeyong's eyes rolled back again, his mouth falling open, clawing into the headboard. His legs loosely hugged around Johnny's torso, but Johnny had all the control, manhandling him with ease, using Taeyong's body for his pleasure. It had a new stream of tears tumbling from the corner of Taeyong's eyes as he chanted out, "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny," in a series of whimpering moans.

The angle had the fat head of Johnny's cock pounding right into his prostate, and Taeyong could feel the bulge swell again and again in his lower abdomen every time Johnny buried himself into him, all steadiness gone, assaulting thrusts wanton as the obscene slapping of skin met the racket of the headboard slamming into the wall.

"Look at you," Johnny growled out between harsh grunts. "So pretty. Such a gorgeous mess just for me. My pretty Taeyongie. You're mine."

And all Taeyong could do was cry and nod vehemently because it was like that final push to the intensity of everything overwhelming him for a second time that evening, white overtaking his line of vision as his climax shuddered through him, adding to the mess already splattered on his torso.

At the same time, he felt Johnny plunge into him with a finality, tremors running throughout his body as well as he stiffened and grunted, filling Taeyong with his own release, which was the icing to the euphoria that Taeyong had drifted off to.

Taeyong's grip eased from the headboard, and he exhaled a sigh, muscles melting into the mattress beneath him as Johnny gently lowered him back down to the bed. Tomorrow, Taeyong surely would feel sore and cramped in several places, his body unhappy with the positions and exertions, but right now, Taeyong couldn't feel that with the warmth of endorphins still pumping through his veins, leaving his body limp and tingling.

Johnny kept himself propped over Taeyong, kissing him gently along the jaw and neck, hands moving over him with the same affection, one part reverence, one part apology, though Taeyong certainly savored all of it.

Johnny softened inside him, though Taeyong's legs remained hugged around his hips, not wanting him to pull out just yet. As he slowly came to, his hands rose to Johnny's shoulders, sliding atop them and to the nape of his neck, returning the affection.

It was soft and sweet and warm and a complete contradiction to the filthiness of their fucking. It was perfect.

"Johnny," Taeyong whispered.

"Taeyong," Johnny whispered back.

His fingers slid up into Johnny's now sweat-dampened locks, and he pulled his head down so they could slot their lips together yet again. Their mouths opened, tongues lightly swiping to meet each other, but just like everything about the current moment in contrast to the one from minutes ago, this kiss was tender, indulgent, and reverent.

Perfect.

However, a sharp whistle resounded from outside, startling both men out of the moment, eyes moving to the window just in time to catch a stream of sparks pass by before the firework exploded over the house, lighting the whole room momentarily before a flicker of sparks gently crackled down and dissipated into nothing.

It was followed by another, then another. Streams of all colors whizzed by before bursting into the air, the light reflecting off their faces before fizzling away, leaving the outside air clouded by wisps of smoke.

It had a sobering effect on Taeyong.

His attention returned to Johnny. "Is this maybe getting out of hand?" he asked. "Should we… maybe put a stop to this?"

Johnny stared outside in consideration a moment then looked down at Taeyong, and he could see in his eyes that they were sharing the same dilemma.

In the end, the side of Johnny's lips curled into a wry grin and his shoulders hunched. "Doyoung will probably put an end to it if it gets too much, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Taeyong decided. "Yeah, you're right. He can take care of that."

And with that, their lips returned to each other, their glistening bodies loosely tangled as they swallowed each other's soft moans, the fireworks continuing to sing into the sky and burst with celebration.

The clear blue sky and fluffy white clouds set the mood for the beginning of summer.

Classes would come to an end soon, and Taeyong acknowledged that with a faint touch of melancholy he would've never expected to have when he had first started this school year.

However, the gentle squeeze of Johnny's fingers wrapped around his knuckles brought him back to reality. Taeyong turned his head to look at his boyfriend, who smiled down at him as they walked together through one of the campus's concrete paths.

Johnny's other arm was occupied by Taeyong's textbooks, of course.

Taeyong returned the smile.

Yes, the school year would end, and they would have a summer of internships and work to occupy them, but for everything else in between, he would spend with Johnny, and how could he feel anything other than ecstatic in light of that?

They turned a corner, where a group of girls spotted them, giggling amongst each other. Their murmurs were indistinct, but the awwws and coos were unmistakable.

That had the smile on his face spreading, and he lifted up on his toes to sneak a quick kiss from Johnny's jawline before leaning into him, because any opportunity that allowed Taeyong to display their relationship, he proudly took.

Johnny laughed, letting go of Taeyong's hand so he could wrap his arm around him instead, which had Taeyong sighing happily as his hand curled up against Johnny's arm.

"Look at you!"

Taeyong looked over to see Seulgi catch up with them.

"Hey, Seulgi," Johnny said next to him.

"Hi, Johnny!" she replied, beaming. "You guys are adorable. No wonder everyone calls you the cutest couple on Greek Row."

Warmth flushed across Taeyong's face, but he just hugged onto Johnny's side that much tighter.

"It's a hard title to keep," Johnny said with an air of false bravado. "What, with you and Sunmi giving us our fair share of competition."

This time the color appeared on Seulgi's face, but the smile she wore was shameless.

"But yes," Johnny dramatically sighed then lifted his chin. "We definitely are number one."

Taeyong ducked his head and snorted.

Seulgi gaped and blinked exaggeratedly. "Oh! I'm going to remember that."

"I'm just teasing," Johnny quickly amended. "The four of us are the cutest representing fraternities and sororities respectively."

The grin returned to Seulgi's face, her cheeks round, and she playfully narrowed her eyes. "Nice save."

Johnny winked.

With a laugh, Taeyong nudged Seulgi with his elbow playfully, and she returned it.

The three of them approached the end of the walkway that turned into a different path that would take them to their current collective destination. However, a voice calling for Taeyong had all three stopping.

They turned around, and Taeyong blinked, realizing it was Minjae trying to get his attention, the rest of Alpha Iota Phi following him.

Taeyong impulsively tensed, standing tall, and Johnny kept a protective arm wrapped around the back of his shoulders.

However, the sneering, judgemental expressions he was used to them wearing were nowhere to be seen. In fact, as Minjae stopped in front of him, he kept his head inclined, appearing almost contrite.

Minjae swallowed. "We owe you an apology. Nu Chi Tau… and you personally, Taeyong."

Taeyong blinked, disbelieving of his ears, though still not quite ready to let down his guard.

"We did not demonstrate brotherhood in your lowest hour when you needed us most," Minjae continued. "And we haven't exactly been the most responsible role models for the chapter or the university."

Taeyong nodded, unsure of what to say. He would've never expected this from Minjae, but the honesty in his eyes was undeniable.

Kyungmin stepped forward then. "We know we can't change anything from this past year… but as an act of good faith, we pooled our funds together and made you these. We hope you see it as a step in the right direction."

The rest of the Alpha Iota Phi members parted, revealing a brand new set of large, metallic Greek letters reading, "νχτ" that he could tell was not cheap.

That wasn't it either. All of the members, he realized, were either holding flowers ready for planting or a rectangle of fresh green sod.

Taeyong's mouth fell open. He looked up at Johnny, who wore just as stunned an expression.

Shaking his head, he returned his large eyes to the letters. "Minjae, this is…" Taeyong felt so many things at that moment he couldn't pick any one to properly express.

He finally settled on, "Thank you."

"Thank you, Taeyong," Minjae said. "I hope we can grow as a fraternity from here." He then turned his attention to Johnny. "And I hope next year Alpha Iota Phi and Nu Chi Tau can work together for the better of our school and community."

Johnny unfolded his arm from Taeyong's shoulder so that he could extend a hand to Minjae. "We'd be honored."

Minjae took Johnny's hand and shook it.

All of Alpha Iota Phi bowed to them. Taeyong and Johnny bowed in return.

No, it didn't erase the past school year. It didn't immediately fix the hurt that Taeyong still carried, but if they genuinely wanted to move forward and do better, Taeyong would support it.

Taeyong, Johnny, and Seulgi arrived at their destination, where the whole student body was gathered around the front of the university. The dean was stationed in the middle on a podium set up for the unveiling of the new statue, which stood next to him, currently draped in a giant white tarp.

Seulgi spotted Sunmi and waved them off before jogging off to meet her with a kiss. The other members of Nu Chi Tau spotted them, hastily beckoning them over.

"What took you guys so long?" Jungwoo huffed, taking Taeyong's arm and pulling them into the middle of the group so they had a good view.

"Sorry," Johnny said. "Had to get in a quickie."

Taeyong lightly smacked Johnny's side, scandalized, but then they grinned at each other.

The dean's voice boomed through the microphone system, echoing through the campus.

"The vote for the alumni the statue is dedicated to was unanimous," the dean announced. "And since they were a founding member of the current Fraternity of the Year, it felt especially fitting."

The crowd around them clapped, and Johnny let go of Taeyong and passed his textbooks off to someone else so he could take hold of his camera in both hands. He held it up as people gathered around the base of the statue and took the end of the tarp.

They whisked it away in a generous swipe, and the dean announced the name of the statue: Siwoo Seo—otherwise known as Johnny's great grandfather.

The crowd roared with cheers and applause, and Taeyong joined them, smiling bright and swelling with pride at the sight of the statue while Johnny snapped photos of it next to him.

Then a flash of light blinded him, and Taeyong blinked, shaking his head and turning his head to see Johnny facing him, lowering his camera.

Johnny's shoulders hunched, his circular cheeks pressing into his eyes. "Can't resist a naturally beautiful shot when the opportunity presents itself."

Taeyong shook his head, breathing a light laugh. "What am I going to do with you?"

Closing in, he wrapped his arms around the back of his neck to pull Johnny down into a kiss, who met it enthusiastically. He tossed his arms around Taeyong's waist and hugged him just tight enough to lift his toes off the ground, which had Taeyong squeaking and giggling into the kiss, butterflies dancing in his stomach.

As his feet touched back down, and Taeyong's eyes opened to be met by that soft gaze Johnny only ever had for him, he decided he could forgive Alpha Iota Phi.

He could forgive them, the dean, his father, and even himself—for a number of things, but most notably for the statue incident.

Because really, it was thanks to all of those things that Taeyong had the best school year of his college career.