Hyukjae takes the luxury of sleeping in the next day after his dinner with Donghae (which for normal people is sleeping until around eleven or twelve, but for Hyukjae and his terrible sleeping habits means waking up past three in the afternoon). When he does finally wake up, he trudges out of his room, his hair a complete mess and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
When he gets to the living room, he screeches to a halt. And blinks.
And blinks again.
Donghae is sitting on the couch next to Yesung, with Mario Maker 2 on the TV screen. Hyukjae stares blankly at the pair of them, his brain not quite awake enough for coherent thoughts to make sense of the scene in front of him.
“Wow, you really are terrible at this,” Yesung says as the telltale music of Mario dying plays on the screen.
“I told you,” Donghae says, groaning.
"What is happening here?" Hyukjae asks. Donghae whirls around, his gaze first flying to Hyukjae's hair and then grinning at him.
"Did you just wake up?" he asks, tilting his head in a way that causes his unstyled hair to flop into his eyes. He looks up at his hair, causing him to go a little cross-eyed as he pouts and flips the hair out of his eyes.
Hyukjae has to physically suppress the coo that threatens to make its way out of his throat at the sight before him.
"Yes," Hyukjae says through grit teeth, a little embarrassed to admit it.
"Are you going to join us here or what?" Yesung says. Hyukjae rolls his head in circles, his neck cracking as he does so.
"Let me shower first," he says. He ducks into the bathroom and makes quick work of taking a (cold) shower, emerging several minutes later feeling much more awake and centred.
Yesung is trying to coach Donghae through another Mario level (and failing, considering how many times Hyukjae has heard the Mario death sound in the past minute). Hyukjae takes a second to watch Donghae, the man looking more and more frustrated with every passing second.
Hyukjae makes his way to Donghae and takes a seat next to him. When he does, he's greeted with a controller in his lap.
"You teach him, he might just be hopeless," Yesung says.
"I told you I was bad," Donghae says, pouting. Hyukjae shakes his head.
"We'll figure it out, yeah?" he says. Donghae blinks and then looks back at the screen.
"Fine," he says. Hyukjae chuckles as Donghae presses the try again button on the screen. Hyukjae watches as Donghae plays, the tip of his tongue pointing out the corner of his mouth in concentration. The man looks remarkably soft, with his oversized sweater and unstyled hair. It hasn't escaped Hyukjae's notice that ever since Donghae has been living with his brother, he has ditched the expensive and tight button-ups, blazers, and slacks in favour of more casual clothing, like cozy-looking sweaters and loose fitted jeans.
Hyukjae doesn’t think the timing of his style change is a coincidence.
"Donghae, you know you can relax a little as you're playing, right?" Hyukjae says after observing the man for a bit longer.
Donghae gives him an unamused look.
"I'm trying," he says.
Hyukjae sighs and shakes his head, but he smiles.
"It doesn't seem like this is your cup of tea," he teases. Donghae throws the controller down.
"You burn water," he says in retaliation. He can hear Yesung cackle from the kitchen as Hyukjae sputters.
"I—An honest mistake," he says. "And I'm going to learn to cook this year."
"Oh?" Yesung says as he reappears in the doorway. "Really?"
"Yes really," Hyukjae says. Yesung purses his lips.
"Well," he says. "If you're so adamant, why don't you start now? There's nothing really in the fridge right now though, so you'll have to go grocery shopping."
Hyukjae's eyes widen—he hadn’t expected to do it today. He glances at Donghae, hoping for the man to bail him out, but he just gets a wide smile.
"I can go to the store with you," he says.
He looks back at Yesung who looks positively gleeful.
"And you could probably teach him too, right?"
He's surrounded by a bunch of traitors.
He groans, standing. "Fine, let me change first," he says. He goes back to his room, throws on a hoodie and sweatpants. He grabs a jacket on his way out and breezes past an annoyingly smug Yesung on his way to the door. Donghae is already standing at the door, his puffy jacket zipped so far up that only his eyes are visible.
"Is it that cold outside?" Hyukjae says. Donghae shrugs.
"I get cold easily," he says, his voice muffled by his coat. Hyukjae shakes his head fondly as he pulls his shoes on.
"Let's go," he says, holding the door open for Donghae. The grocery store is a short bus ride away, so they head to the bus stop and luckily the bus is already there when they arrive. They board the bus and Donghae takes a seat next to the window, spending the ride silent and pensive.
Hyukjae doesn't think much of it; his friend isn't the most talkative most of the time, so he trails behind him as Donghae begins strolling through the grocery store. It isn't until he realizes that Donghae has been staring at a potato for a good minute that he finally decides that something might be wrong.
"Are you okay?"
Donghae startles and puts the potato down.
"Uh, yeah," he says and then pauses. "Well, I was planning on going to reapply to university tomorrow.”
Hyukjae nods. “I see. Nervous?”
Donghae ducks his head. “A little,” he admits. “Do you… do you think you could come with me?”
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Hyukjae says without even thinking about it. Then he runs it back, thinking about whether or not he actually has any commitments tomorrow. But it’s a Sunday and he only had the expectation for the day to go similarly as today (well with the exception of Donghae showing up, but that’s always a welcome surprise).
Donghae’s smile lights up his whole face. “Great,” he says and suddenly his speed in the store picks up ten fold, leaving Hyukjae scrambling to keep up.
“What are we making?” he asks, watching as Donghae loads carrots, onions, potatoes, and a package of chicken into the cart.
“Japanese curry,” Donghae says.
“You sure that isn’t too hard?”
“It’s pretty beginner level,” Donghae says as he finishes up by grabbing curry flavouring off the shelf.
“Sure, for you maybe,” Hyukjae mutters.
“It will be okay,” Donghae says.
And it is kind of okay.
When they get back to the apartment, Donghae begins pulling out their groceries, putting all their produce into neat little piles on the counter. Hyukjae watches as Donghae examines the knife in his kitchen before turning to Yesung.
“Do you have a knife sharpener?”
“A knife sharpener?” Hyukjae repeats.
“Yeah,” Yesung says. He slides out of his chair and opens a drawer to Hyukjae’s right. “We never use it, though.”
Donghae hums, running the blade through the plastic contraption a few times.
“The blade being sharp is better for beginners,” Donghae says.
“Well, there’s less of a chance of the blade slipping off the onion and slicing your finger,” he says. “As long as you’re careful you’ll be fine.”
“Ah,” Hyukjae says. He’s not really the most careful person, but he can try.
“The blade also has to be sharp when you’re cutting an onion,” he continues. “That way it won’t make you cry.”
“Really?” Hyukjae asks, his eyebrow raising. Donghae hands him the knife.
Hyukjae takes the knife and gets to work slicing the onion. But he must be doing something wrong because halfway through he looks up to see Donghae looking at him cutting with an intense frown on his face.
“You’re going to cut off your finger like that,” he comments. Hyukjae looks down at his half-cut onion and then back at Donghae.
“Then how am I supposed to do it then?”
Donghae steps over and Hyukjae’s about to hand the knife over to the other man, but Donghae surprises him by taking his hand instead. He guides Hyukjae through cutting properly and Hyukjae is ashamed to say he doesn’t remember anything more than the warmth of Donghae’s hands on his, and the other man’s body just centimetres from his own.
It feels strangely domestic, especially given that Yesung had abandoned the kitchen some time ago.
Hyukjae doesn’t really learn much of how to cook, spending most of it distracted by how much he loves seeing Donghae in such a domestic setting, but he’s certain he can search it up and learn it himself later.
It’ll be fine.
Hyukjae meets Donghae at the bus stop just outside Seoul National University. The man is already standing at the intersection, looking nervous, fiddling with the hem of his sleeves.
“Donghae!” Hyukjae calls, watching as Donghae searches for the source of his voice and brightens when he sees Hyukjae. “Where are we going?”
“The academic advisor for the law department,” Donghae says. He starts heading into campus and Hyukjae is glad Donghae seems to know where they’re going because Hyukjae only really knows where the buildings for his own lectures are and not much else.
They walk onto campus and a couple of meters in, they’re stopped by someone calling Donghae’s name.
"Donghae?" comes a deep voice from behind them. Donghae flinches, but he hides it well—Hyukjae wouldn't have seen it if he hadn't been hypervigilant to Donghae's every movement since they've stepped on campus.
A myriad of emotions flit across Donghae's face before it finally settles on what Hyukjae would call 'don't let anyone know you're uncomfortable.' He turns around, and the slight edge of the smile softens when Donghae actually lays eyes on who had called out to him.
It's clearly another student, who had recognized Donghae. Hyukjae takes in the new man, noting the tall and broad stature and expensive clothes.
"Siwon," Donghae says. The man, Siwon, reacts immediately, his eyes lighting up.
"Oh my god, it is you," he says. He closes the distance between in three long strides. When he's standing in front of Donghae, he gives Donghae a quick once over. "I… I thought something might have happened to you when you just stopped coming to school one day, and you wouldn't answer your phone anymore…"
Donghae is silent for a second before he takes a step forward, bumping right into Simon's chest. His arms wrap around Siwon and Siwon looks momentarily confused, but it melts into something fonder, softer. His arms wrap around Donghae as well.
"You still want to talk to me? Even after..." Donghae says, and his voice is muffled, but Hyukjae can hear the tremble of uncertainty in it.
Siwon smiles, leaning down and pressing a featherlight kiss on Donghae's fo