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In Your League

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“I’m going to fail this assignment,” Bin wailed. He slumped over his desk and buried his face in his arms. 

“I fail to see how this is my problem.” Minhyuk, on Bin’s laptop screen, was doing some really impressive stretches on his own bed. 

If Bin hadn’t known Minhyuk since they were practically in diapers, Minhyuk’s display of flexibility might have made him thirsty, but they knew each other a little too well for romance. Not too well for the occasional spot of blackmail, though. 

Bin lifted his head. “You remember that time at that dance competition, when you got that substance on your shirt and our teacher would have killed you but -”

Minhyuk’s head snapped up. “Hey! You promised never to mention that.”

Bin tugged his laptop closer and leaned in to the camera. “If you don’t help me with this assignment, I’ll tell Teacher Kang that it wasn’t chili sauce some stranger spilled on you, it was lip tint because you made out with that boy on that other team. What was his name? Oh yes. Myungjun.”

Minhyuk’s mouth fell open. “Hyung!” He scrambled off his bed and over to his desk, slapped at his laptop, probably turning the volume down. “What help would I even be? I’m a grade below you. What would I know about junior year literature?”

Bin smirked. “Isn’t Myungjun a senior?”

Minhyuk’s ears turned pink. “We don’t exactly talk about school when we meet up at dance competitions.”

“Well, I don’t need your literary assistance.”

“What do you need?”

“Haven’t you listened to anything I’ve said all semester? Lee Dongmin is in my literature class.”

Minhyuk sank back in his desk chair. “Lee Dongmin, the boy who came straight out of a comic, the best student in the entire school who also happens to be great at soccer and basketball and is also crazy handsome. You talk about him endlessly, but you’ve failed to actually talk to him.”

“I said hello to him on my first day of school.”

“You tried to sit at his lunch table but he told you very forcibly to step off because you are totally oblivious to pop culture.”

“I’m not into sci-fi!” Bin felt his face grow hot at the memory. 

Minhyuk shook his head condescendingly. “Star Wars transcends genres. It’s an epic legend of good and evil, light and dark, and princesses in metal bikinis.”

Bin narrowed his eyes. “Does Myungjun know you like princesses in metal bikinis?”

“We’re both bi. We admire princesses together. But my point still stands.”

Bin remembered his first day at his new school, far away from Minhyuk and Sanha and Jinwoo and everyone he knew. He’d spotted Dongmin as soon as he entered his new homeroom behind his teacher, because of course Dongmin was the class president.

Bin had been assigned a seat beside a nice girl named Eunbi, and he’d stared at Dongmin all through his morning classes. At lunch he’d spotted Dongmin sitting alone and decided to approach him, because why not?

“Hi, my name is Moon Bin. I just transferred to your class. Can I sit with you for lunch -?”

“Unless you think Han shot first you can step right back, Moon Bin.”

“Han who?”

“Come back when you’ve seen Star Wars.”

Bin cringed and shook himself out of the memory. To Minhyuk, he said, “I did watch Star Wars eventually.”

Minhyuk snorted. “Yeah, the wrong one. In the original one -”

Bin winced. “I know, all right? I know.”

In the original Star Wars, Han shot first. Dongmin had informed Bin of that fact. Loudly. And cuttingly. The second time Bin tried to talk to him outside of class. 

Minhyuk rested his chin on his hand. “How can I possibly help you with your literature assignment? You’re not going to fail it just because Lee Dongmin is in that class too, or you’d have failed every assignment up to this point.”

Bin sighed and slumped over again. “For this assignment, Dongmin is my partner.”

“Oh. In that case, you’re hosed.”

Bin lifted his head and glared. “I’ll tell Teacher Kang.”

Minhyuk rolled his eyes. “Hyung, you’re an ulzzang. Literally every time you even glance at a camera, half of the internet thirsts over your picture. If you can’t get someone to like you, what hope is there for anyone else?”

“Say that again, but slower.”

Minhyuk frowned and actually went quiet, thinking back over what he’d just said. 

“You have a boyfriend,” Bin said. “I’m the ulzzang. You’re the weird ex-ballet dancer who has resting serial killer face. And yet you have a boyfriend and I do not.”

Minhyuk said, looking a little sad, “Myungjun’s not my boyfriend. We just make out at dance competitions.”

“And have an endless text message conversation where you, among other things, thirst over princesses in metal bikinis.”

Minhyuk rolled his eyes again. “Fine, I will do my best to help you win Lee Dongmin’s heart. Even though he’s beautiful and intelligent and athletic and is completely unimpressed by your beautiful face and your killer dance moves and your singing voice.”

“He’s never seen me dance or heard me sing,” Bin said. 

Minhyuk perked up. 

Bin said, “We’re working on a literature assignment. I can’t just burst into song and dance. This isn’t a musical.”

“It could be. High School Musical. But gayer.” Minhyuk waggled his eyebrows. 

“Dongmin’s the jock and the smart one all by himself.” Bin sighed again. 

Minhyuk said, “I’ll help you, but I need backup.”

The next night, Bin stared at the faces on his screen for the Zoom meeting Minhyuk had set up. “This is your backup?”

“Hello, I’m Kim Myungjun, Minhyuk’s boyfriend!” Myungjun beamed and waved and even framed his face with his hands and winked.

When he wasn’t in a sleek black-and-white hip-hop dance costume, he was adorable. Bin couldn’t imagine making out with anyone that cute, though. Sanha was still in middle school and not even he was that cute, and he was the undisputed king of aegyo.

Jinwoo raised his eyebrows. “You’re his boyfriend?”

Myungjun nodded vigorously. “Of course! We’ve been dating since that first dance competition we met at. We send each other selcas all day, and he calls me in the morning to wake me up, and I call him on my lunch break, and he calls me after school, and I call him after hagwon, and he calls me after supper, and I call him to tell him good night before bed.”

“I thought you just made out at dance competitions,” Sanha said.

“Why are you even here?” Bin asked. “You’re still in middle school and you think girls have cooties.”

“I don’t have to be in high school to know that Lee Dongmin is so far out of your league you’d have to join NASA to have even half a chance with him,” Sanha shot back.

Right. Sanha was Young Savage. He was here to give Bin a much-needed reality check.

“Hang on,” Myungjun said, peering closer at his screen. “Why do your friends think we’re not dating? Have you been telling them all we do is make out at dance competitions?”

Minhyuk’s expression turned guilty. His shoulders tightened. “I thought you just wanted me for my body.”

“Well, your body is phenomenal, but - do you just want me for my body?” Myungjun demanded, eyes wide.

“There are children present,” Jinwoo said, a little helplessly.

But Sanha was resting his chin in his hand. “No, please, don’t stop on my account.”

“No,” Minhyuk said in a small voice. “Your smile is like sunshine and my heart flutters every time I hear your voice and when you sing for me it feels like I’m flying.”

“I take it back,” Sanha said. “Please stop. I think I’m going to throw up.”

“How could you think I only want you for your body?” Myungjun’s expression turned tender and concerned.

“Because Minhyuk, despite being a talented dancer and martial artist, singer, and rapper, is hideously insecure, but fine, you’ve figured it out, you’re dating, it’s cute and adorable, now can we get back to my romantic crisis here?” Bin threw his hands up in exasperation.

Jinwoo said, “I thought we were supposed to help you with your literature assignment. Minhyuk?”

Only Minhyuk was gazing dopily at his phone and typing rapidly.

Myungjun was also typing rapidly on his phone.

“Minhyuk!” Jinwoo snapped. “Focus!”

Minhyuk looked up quickly. “Sorry, hyung.”

“You’re the reason we’re having this Zoom circus, so help me out,” Bin said.

Minhyuk cleared his throat and squared his shoulders. He was the best dancer at his and Bin’s dance hagwon, and there was a reason he was allowed to lead dance practices and choreograph, because he had a better sense of the big picture than most other kids their age. Bin would be the first to admit he’d agreed to dance classes once he realized how a good body roll could make heads turn. Minhyuk had been born to dance.

And sometimes, to lead.

“Right! We’ve already established that, for whatever reason, Lee Dongmin is completely immune to your ulzzang charm, and there’s no way for you to show off your singing and dancing skills while working on a literature assignment,” Minhyuk said. “Also, your previous attempts at speaking to him have failed, because you tend to be culturally oblivious. Myungjun is here to help you with the actual literature portion of your assignment.”

“Myungjun?” Bin echoed.

Myungjun beamed and waved.

“He’s an honor student,” Minhyuk said, and he looked inordinately pleased on his newly-realized boyfriend’s behalf.

Bin wouldn’t have thought that Myungjun was an honor student, but Minhyuk wouldn’t lie about that sort of thing, so he nodded.

“Sanha is here because he is wise in all the ways of popular culture - memes, movies, dramas, music. You name it, he knows it.”

Sanha said, “I did some preliminary recon on Lee Dongmin’s SNS - that’s how I know he’s way out of your league, by the way; you’re lucky he’s not an ulzzang; he’d crush you - and his taste tends to run toward the nerdy and weird. He likes Minions and posts Minion memes all the time. When he’s not posting devastating selcas. So if you have something cute and Minion-y in your room during the Zoom chats for your assignment, that’s a good idea.”

“A Minion t-shirt is too obvious, though,” Myungjun said, and Sanha nodded his agreement, then continued.

“Also, Dongmin likes really smart books - Kazuo Ishiguro, Salman Rushdie, Haruki Murakami - so you might want to read something of theirs. Ishiguro and Murakami have short story collections you could try just for starters.”

Bin blinked. “Wow. That’s - wow.”

He was a little overwhelmed. And touched. Minhyuk and his friends had gone to a lot of trouble to help him out. Initial insane romantic drama aside, Bin was feeling pretty good about his decision to ask Minhyuk for help.

“Jinwoo is here as your fashion consultant,” Minhyuk said. “You look great in a school uniform, and when your mom or your sister pick your clothes for your official ulzzang pictures, you do fine, but on your own, unattended, you’re a fashion terrorist.”

Bin winced but didn’t deny it.

“Dongmin has pretty good personal fashion, so you’ll want to be conscientious about your clothing choices,” Sanha chimed in.

“If you want to look good but not like you’re trying too hard, you have to wear something you like, that’s casual and comfortable, but that shows off your best charms,” Jinwoo said.

Bin nodded. “Okay. I am here to listen and learn.”

“Also,” Minhyuk said, “you should try to make some small talk with Dongmin outside of class, so working with him isn’t totally awkward.”

“What about?”

“You could offer some witty commentary about how the decision to edit the scene in the cantina so Han Solo shot second was a poor choice and really diluted the redemption effect of his character arc,” Sanha said.

Bin stared at him. “Are you sure you’re still in middle school?”

Jinwoo said, “Or you could check in with him and let him know you’re working on things and confirm your Zoom date. I mean, meeting.”

“What is our timetable, anyway?” Myungjun asked. “Minhyuk sounded pretty frantic when he called me last night.”

“Because Bin called me weeping and wailing,” Minhyuk protested.

Bin could distinctly remember how unimpressed Minhyuk had been with his predicament last night and suspected some flirty theatrics on Minhyuk’s part, but he didn’t call him on it, because it was one more piece of potential blackmail down the road. “We’re having a preliminary meeting in two days, and we’ll set out our division of labor and work schedule from there.”

Sanha nodded. “Good. Before then, you need to acquire some kind of Minion paraphernalia that you can display clearly but inconspicuously.”

“I’ll help you pick an outfit,” Jinwoo said. “You’ll need several planned if you’re going to have multiple meetings, to make sure they’re clean and wearable on the right days.”

Myungjun nodded. “It’ll look suspicious if you wear the same outfit for every meeting. Also, send me a copy of the instructions for the assignment so I can figure out how best to help you academically.”

Bin nodded. “What’s your email address?”

“I’ll send it to you,” Minhyuk said. seemed a bit presumptuous - sunshine and good luck - but when Bin glanced back up at his screen and saw Myungjun’s smile, he figured it wasn’t exactly wrong either.

“Consider your first meeting a dry run,” Minhyuk said. 

“Also, clean your desktop,” Myungjun said.

Bin looked down at his desk. “I keep it pretty neat.”

Myungjun made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “I mean on your computer. Organize the files. Straighten up the icons. Make sure your wallpaper isn’t an eyesore and is appropriate. In case you have to share screens.”

“Oh! Right.” Bin made the Zoom window smaller for a moment, considered his laptop’s desktop. He did have some random files - with weird names, come to think of it - cluttering his desktop, so he’d put those in better places. His wallpaper was a really pretty picture of Santorini, because he’d always dreamed of traveling to Greece one day, when he was older and had a real job and real money.

“Our time is about to run out,” Minhyuk said. “But we’ll be checking back in with you individually. Good luck, Bin-hyung.”

“Fighting!” Myungjun cheered.

“Send me pictures of all your favorite clothes,” Jinwoo said.

Bin nodded. “Thank you for helping me.”

Sanha said, “I did some research just now and there’s a convenience store near your house that sells Minion banana milk. Go buy some, drink them, rinse the bottles out, display them in your room. We’ll do a Zoom check later to see how it looks.”

“Got it.”

“It was nice meeting you,” Myungjun added.

“You too,” Bin said, and because he couldn’t help himself, added, “I’m glad you’re dating for real now.”

Minhyuk glared at him, but Myungjun just giggled, bright and sweet.

The meeting ended.

 Bin sat back and exhaled with a whoosh. “Well,” He said to himself, “if I’d always worked this hard on school assignments, I’d probably have better grades.” He wasn’t a bad student. He was just - average. 

It wasn’t too late to try to be better.

Bin had selected all his favorite clothes from his closet and arranged them on his bed so he could best display them for Jinwoo, who did have really good fashion sense. He had his shirts and tops on one half of the bed, and his favorite jeans and pants on the other half, in case he had to stand up in the middle of the meeting for whatever reason. He was using his phone for the Zoom chat with Jinwoo for better mobility.

“I want to look casual but not messy,” Bin said. “Like I always look that good when I’m just lounging around the house being comfortable.”

“You do manage to pull that off for a lot of your ulzzang shots.” Jinwoo was leaning in close to his laptop screen, considering. “Why don’t you ask your mother or sister for help?”

“And let them know I have a crush on someone, let alone a boy?” Bin shook his head.

“Ah,” Jinwoo said. Since he wasn’t a firstborn son like Bin and Minhyuk were, things were different for him.

Bin wondered how Minhyuk had managed to (unknowingly) date Myungjun for this long without getting caught. Maybe his own ignorance had saved him.

“That black tank top looks good, and it will show off your arms,” Jinwoo said, as Bin panned over his tops.

Bin reached out. “This one?”

“Yeah. I don’t think you’ve worn it often for your ulzzang shots, so I think it can pass as casual. Try it on.”

Bin obeyed, squirming out of his old and faded dance crew shirt and into the tank top. While he was adjusting his phone so Jinwoo could have a preview of what the shirt would look like to Dongmin, Jinwoo said,

“So, Sanha showed me Dongmin’s Instagram account, and he is incredibly handsome.”

Bin sighed a little dreamily. “He is.”

“Not that he holds a candle to me or anything,” Jinwoo continued, “’re not a shallow person. Not really. So why go to all this trouble to impress him? By all accounts he’s not very nice to you.”

“That was one time,” Bin said.

Jinwoo raised his eyebrows.

“Okay, maybe twice. But - given how handsome he is, I can’t really blame him for being cautious.”

Jinwoo said, “You’re incredibly handsome, and you will love anyone who gives you food.”

Bin opened his mouth to make a denial, then remembered how he and Jinwoo had met - at a dance competition, where Jinwoo had taken pity on him and given him half a sandwich - and closed his mouth.

“Also, Dogmin’s not mean. He’s - kind of socially awkward. He focuses so much on school and sports that outside of those contexts he’s not great with people,” Bin said.

Jinwoo considered. “Fair enough,” he said finally.

“One time I was going to try to talk to him, to explain about the whole Star Wars mix-up, and I came across him in the hallway, and he was talking to this boy at our school. You know, there’s one in every school, who’s smaller and weaker and slower than all the other boys, so he’s sort of an automatic target for jokes and pranks. I’ve never been deliberately mean to him, but we’re not friends either.”

Jinwoo nodded knowingly.

“And Dongmin was comforting him. I could tell it was awkward for him, too, but he was also sincere, and - I guess that’s when I fell for him.” Bin shrugged helplessly.

He could still remember how his heart had been pounding as he’d rounded the corner, the words he’d carefully rehearsed all the night before swirling in his head, and there was Dongmin sitting on the floor beside Serim, knees drawn up to his chest, mirroring Serim’s posture.

“You don’t deserve to be treated like that,” Dongmin was saying quietly.

Serim sniffled. “You won’t always be there to protect me.”

“You don’t need me to protect you. You can protect yourself.”


“Like you did today. Look them in the eye and tell them to stop.”

“But you were there.” Serim’s voice was soft, plaintive.

Dongmin patted his shoulder a little awkwardly. “I’ll be there whenever I can, but I promise, you don’t need me there. And if you’re too afraid sometimes, that’s okay too. Come find me, and we can practice a bit more. All right?”

Serim nodded. “Thank you, sunbae.”

Dongmin patted him again. “No need to thank me. Just do your best, all right?”

“All right.”

“Wow,” Jinwoo said, jolting Bin out of his reverie. “You really are whipped. Minhyuk wasn’t kidding.”

“Minhyuk didn’t even know he was dating Myungjun.” Bin rolled his eyes, but he knew he was blushing.

“Still,” Jinwoo said, “that makes more sense. If this Lee Dongmin is as good a person as you say, well, you deserve to date a good person. So, that tank top is definitely a winner for tomorrow night. How about those black track pants? They look comfortable.”

“They don’t show off my legs very well.” But Bin held them up obediently.

“No, but if you just so happened to stretch while wearing both those track pants and that tank top, you can show off your abs,” Jinwoo said.

Bin stared at him. “You’re devious.”

Jinwoo smiled sweetly.

“But - okay. Track pants it is.”

Jinwoo said, “You’re welcome. Go get him, Tiger.”

Three minutes till Bin’s first Zoom meeting with Dongmin. Bin had changed into the outfit Jinwoo had helped him pick, and he’d styled his hair and sent a selca to Jinwoo for approval. Bin had also done as Sanha suggested, and he had a few empty Minion banana milk bottles stacked in a cute pyramid on his bookshelf, plus another bottle he could casually drink out of during the meeting. Myungjun had looked over the assignment and suggested that the two of them divvy up the work in even halves as much as possible. Their teacher had prescribed an essay format very specifically, and it would be easy for them to split up the writing.

Bin had bought but hadn’t had a chance to read a couple of short story collections by those authors Sanha said Dongmin liked; he would save that for a subsequent meeting. 

Minhyuk sent him a text that said, Fighting!  

Bin glanced at his watch.

Two minutes till the meeting.

He made sure his laptop was angled just so, so his room would be displayed optimally behind him, Minion pyramid and his neatly-made bed and all. He made sure his drink was not visible on camera but in reach so he didn’t look like an actor doing awkward product placement in a drama when it came time to drink it. He made sure he had his literature binder open to the right place, pens and pencils at the ready.

Then he logged onto the meeting and waited. As Dongmin was the organizer, he’d have to be the one to let Bin in.

Bin fired up the video and tested out a few smiles and poses. When he was leaning over his books, his tank top showed off his collarbones. Perfect. He’d tested a stretch in front of the bathroom mirror, then done a few crunches so his abs would look really good if he managed to work a stretch in sometime during the meeting.

But he made sure his phone was on silent and out of reach and he was sitting up straight, looking alert and attentive, when Dongmin let him into the meeting.

Sanha was right - Dongmin’s personal sense of fashion He was wearing a button-down shirt that showed off his collarbones and made his skin glow, and his hair looked perfect.

“Good evening,” Bin said, and winced when his voice cracked. It always cracked when he was nervous.

Dongmin bobbed his head politely. “Good evening. Shall we get started?”

Bin had lined up a few acceptable topics for small talk, like how their respective families were doing, what else Dongmin was doing to fill his time now that he couldn’t play basketball or soccer with his friends, but that had effectively been scuttled, so Bin swallowed down his questions and nodded, smiled.

Dongmin’s bedroom was scrupulously neat and tastefully decorated - a large bed with a pale, soft-looking comforter; several bookcases full of books but also displaying Minion figurines and some (possibly) Star Wars paraphernalia; basketball and soccer posters on the wall; awards and trophies on display on the tops of the bookcases. Bin resisted the urge to look back at his own room and make sure it was neat. 

Bin burst out with, “If we settle on a thesis, we can divide the burden of writing the essay evenly.”

Dongmin blinked at him. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve brainstormed a few thesis options. Hopefully we can settle on one quickly. Would you like me to start with my ideas, or would you rather to go first?”

Bin always listened when Dongmin spoke up in class, because his voice was lovely. It was deceptively light and airy, because it was also quite deep. Even if Bin was keeping his head down so Dongmin couldn’t see him blushing, he listened.

He didn’t always hear what Dongmin was saying, though.

“Moon Bin?”

Bin blinked. “I’m sorry. What was that?”

Dongmin pressed his lips into a thin line. “Do you have any suggestions for our thesis?”

It took Bin a moment to really register what he was saying, and he was a beat or two too late when he said, “Yes. Let me find them.” He rifled through his binder till he found the page where he’d written the thesis statements he and Myungjun had brainstormed together. “Ready?”

Dongmin nodded.

Bin cleared his throat, hoped his voice wouldn’t crack, and read the first one out. 

He looked at Dongmin.

Dongmin gestured for him to continue.

Bin read the next, paused for feedback.

Still no response.

So Bin read the rest of them, then waited for Dongmin to speak.

“Not bad,” Dongmin said, looking surprised, and Bin wasn’t sure if he should be flattered or insulted. “One of mine is similar, so it might make the most sense to use that one.”

“Let me hear yours, though,” Bin said quickly.

Dongmin read his thesis suggestions. They sounded much more complicated and technical than Bin’s, but there was one that sounded similar enough, so Bin suggested they use that one. 

“Do we want to combine them or meld them or something? Or just use yours or just use mine?” Bin bit his lip. They should just use Dongmin’s. They’d get a better grade.

“I think I can synthesize them. Just give me a moment.” Dongmin ducked his head, scratching away at his notebook with his pen. He had really pretty handwriting, Bin knew from class.

Bin’s own handwriting was legendarily bad. Sometimes he couldn’t even read it himself. 

While Dongmin wrote, Bin did his best not to stare, instead peering around at Dongmin’s room some more. He had several black instrument cases propped up in one corner. Bin knew Dongmin played piano. What else did he play?

Dongmin had his head down, still writing industriously. Bin’s hands were starting to sweat. He resisted the urge to fidget. His mouth was dry. Bin wiped his palms on his thighs as discreetly as possible. Dongmin seemed very busy. Could Bin duck away for a moment and just - stick his head out the window for some fresh air?

No, Dongmin would be able to see the window and Bin being weird.

But Bin was getting uncomfortably warm, and - 

Right. Drink. 

Bin lunged, grabbed the bottle of banana milk, twisted off the cap, and drained half of it in one go. It was still cold, thank goodness.

Someone cleared his throat.

Bin paused mid-swallow. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dongmin staring at him.

Bin lowered the bottle, capped it, set it aside. “Sorry.” His voice cracked again, and he winced internally. 

Dongmin probably thought he was ill-mannered and an idiot.

“I was just thirsty - I mean, my mouth was dry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Bin tried to smile, failed. 

“I’m finished, if you’d like to listen,” Dongmin said, and Bin nodded hurriedly.

Only Dongmin was still staring at him.

Bin blinked at him, puzzled.

Dongmin gestured at him vaguely.

Bin said, “I’m listening.”

Dongmin cleared his throat. “You have - on your lip -”

Bin peered at his own image on his laptop screen. “Oh!” He had a milk mustache. He reached up to wipe it off, then paused. Dongmin probably thought he was such a slob. “Sorry. I have some tissues around here somewhere.” He scanned his room, but his tissue boxes were gone. Then he saw, high on the shelf over his desk, a precious tissue box. “Just give me a moment.”

He stretched up on his toes and prayed he’d be able to reach the box. And that it wouldn’t fall on his head.

“Got it!” He plopped back down in his chair, tore the box open, and grabbed a tissue.

When he looked up, Dongmin was staring at him with very wide eyes, but he looked away as soon as Bin looked at him. 

“Sorry.” Bin turned away, wiped his face, tossed the tissue in the wastebasket, set the box aside, and turned back to his laptop. “I’m ready.”

Dongmin cleared his throat. “Excellent.”

He read their new thesis statement, and Bin nodded. 

“Sounds good to me. Could you type it up and email it to me? So I can refer to it while I do my research.”

“All right. Before the next meeting, let’s come prepared with three research sources each, and we’ll sort out the topic sentences for each paragraph, and divide the writing burden from there.” Dongmin rifled through his own notes, pawed aside his notebook, found his phone. “How much time do you need?”

Bin considered the timetable their teacher had put in the assignment instructions. “Is a week all right?”

Dongmin nodded, tapping away at his phone. “What time?”

“Same time, if that works for you.” Bin added the appointment to his calendar on his laptop; it’d sync to his phone automatically.

Dongmin nodded again, tapped at his phone some more.

Bin cleared his throat. “So -”

Dongmin glanced up at him briefly, then back down at his phone. “Thank you for working with me, Moon Bin. I’ll see you next week. Work hard.” And he ended the meeting.

Bin stared at his laptop, offended and a little hurt. Then he groaned and flung himself onto his bed.

Of course Dongmin had ended the meeting as soon as possible. All of Bin’s attempts to be helpful and attractive had only ended up in him looking disorganized and like a slob. He grabbed a pillow and buried his face in it.

On the bed beside him, his phone buzzed. He groped for it with one hand, sighed, and pushed the pillow aside. Zoom invitation to a meeting. Did Dongmin need to speak to him again? Bin clicked on the link and the app opened up.

“How did it go?” Minhyuk asked.

Bin stared at him. “How did you know the meeting was done?”

“I’ve been texting you for the last five minutes but you ignored all of my messages so I inferred that you were still meeting with Dongmin, because unless he’s around you pounce on incoming messages like they’re free MyChews,” Minhyuk said.

“MyChews are delicious,” Bin protested. He sighed. “It was kind of a disaster.”

“Did you drink the banana milk in front of him?” Sanha asked, his image displacing Minhyuk’s.

Bin sat up. “Are all of you here?”

“We’re in this together,” Myungjun said. “So did you drink the milk?”

“I did, but I ended up getting a milk mustache and he thought I was a total mess.” Bin pouted.

“Well, did you at least manage to stretch in front of the camera?” Jinwoo asked. “So you could flash your abs.”

“Hyung!” Sanha cried, scandalized.

“Sound tactic,” Myungjun said. He added, quickly, “I’m sure your abs are much nicer than Bin’s, babe.”

Sanha made a gagging sound. 

Minhyuk said, “But you made it through the meeting. It was your first one. There’s at least two more. And if you do really well on the assignment, that will go a long way to impressing Dongmin.”

“I don’t know,” Bin said. “By the end of the meeting he wouldn’t even look at me.”

Myungjun made a thoughtful noise. “You said he wouldn’t even look at you?”

Bin nodded. 

“What if he was shy?” Myungjun asked. “If he was really disappointed in you or disgusted by you or whatever, he’d glare at you. But if he was avoiding looking at you, maybe he thought you were cute too.”

“I wasn’t cute. I was a mess. I got banana milk all over my face and then I couldn’t find any tissues and - ugh.” Bin flopped back on his bed again. 

“Wait a moment,” Jinwoo said. “Describe in detail what happened with the banana milk.”

Bin did, as best as he could. 

“Hyung!” Sanha cried. “Don’t you ever watch dramas? You had a milk mustache! He was staring at your mouth! If you’d been together in person he totally would have wiped the milk off for you.”

Bin frowned, pressing a hand to his mouth. “You think?”

Minhyuk chimed in. “Sanha’s right.”

“I’m always right,” Sanha said. 

“After that he couldn’t look at you because he’d been looking at your mouth and it made him want to kiss you,” Minhyuk said. 

Bin’s heart skipped a beat. “You really think so?”

“Yes,” Myungjun said. 

Bin sat up again, clutched his phone close. “You really think he might like me?”

“Come on - the great Moon Bin, beautiful ulzzang extraordinaire, looking totally kissable?” Minhyuk said. “Unless he’s dead or ace he couldn’t resist that.”

“He could be in a really committed relationship,” Myungjun protested. 

Sanha shook his head. “No. That would never stay a secret. I’ve searched SNS extensively. I would know.”

Jinwoo said, “Focus, please.”

Minhyuk cleared his throat. “Sorry.”

Bin hugged his pillow to his chest, heart soaring. “Say he does like me. What do I do?”

“You have to step up your game,” Jinwoo said. “You have one week. Are you ready?”

Bin thought of Dongmin sitting beside Serim in the hallway and said, “I’m ready.”

Bin couldn’t remember the last time he was so determined to win at something. He worked hard for dance competitions and to look good for his ulzzang posts. He worked decently hard for school. He was working the hardest he’d ever worked to win the love of his life. 

His parents and even his sister were impressed by his discipline. He woke up early every morning to do strength training. He ate a quick but nutritious breakfast. He did his research and studying for the literature assignment. He went for a half hour run as a study break and as a cardio workout. He did his research on Dongmin, reading the books Sanha had suggested and making notes about the short stories he liked. He had a healthy lunch, and then he worked on his other subjects. He did dance practice for half an hour as another study break and cardio workout. He did the rest of his homework. He helped his mother and sister cook dinner, because Sanha said Dongmin was posting on SNS about learning how to cook while at home. He studied and took workout or dance or webtoon breaks till it was time for bed. Then he washed up and checked in with the rest of Team MoonLee, as Myungjun had taken to calling them. And finally, exhausted but satisfied, he went to sleep. 

For six days, everything went perfect. Bin was a model student and son. His parents talked about how if he continued to show such responsibility with his time he might be allowed to get a part time job when normalcy resumed. 

And then, on the morning of the day Bin and Dongmin were supposed to have their next meeting, Bin woke feeling terrible. His head felt like it was filled with lead and his throat was on fire and every breath was laborious. His nose was running like a broken faucet. He managed to drag himself out of bed long enough to grab the tissue box off his bed, then retreated back under the covers, his entire body wracked with coughs. Sua ended up poking her head into his room when he didn’t present himself for breakfast. 

“Oppa, aren’t you hungry?”

All Bin managed was a weak groan, and he burrowed down further into his nest of blankets. 

Sua prowled across his room and tugged the blankets aside.

Bin whimpered, because the light made his head throb.

Sua slapped a freezing hand on his forehead, then snatched it back. “Eomma! Oppa’s really sick!”

His mother appeared a few moments later. She checked his temperature as well, asked how he was feeling. He mumbled out his symptoms. She sighed and patted his head.

“I think it’s just a cold, but it’s a pretty nasty one. If you get any new symptoms let me know and we can see about getting you tested.”

Bin nodded. 

His mother sighed again. “Rest today, all right? You can catch up on your homework later. I’m taking your phone so your friends don’t disturb you.”

Bin was so miserable that he didn’t even protest.

Sua was the one who plucked his phone off the charger and pocketed it. “You probably overworked yourself. I knew you couldn’t keep that up forever.”

Bin glared at her half-heartedly from beneath his bangs and nestled down in his pillows.

“Come help me,” Eomma said to Sua, beckoning her out of Bin’s room.

He drowsed for who knew how long till his mother and sister reappeared with a tray of yuzu tea, chicken ginseng soup, and apple pears with honey. Under their insistence, he heaved himself upright and ate as much as he could. His entire body ached and his head and limbs still felt heavy, so once he was full, he went back to sleep.

His mother and sister woke him for lunch, which was rice porridge with more honey pears and tea. His mother interrogated him about his symptoms, but apart from feeling miserable nothing had changed. After he ate, he felt a little better, so he read webtoons and watched dramas on his laptop till he was tired again, and had another nap.

Supper was spicy beef soup, plus more tea and honey pears and another interrogation about his health. By then Bin was feeling restless and a little groggy from having slept all day, and also a bit better, so he puttered around his room, tidying idly but moving slowly, because his entire body ached. As the evening wore on, he grew more and more restless, and he didn’t know why. He could hear his family watching television downstairs in the den, but he didn’t have the energy to deal with whatever boring news program his parents were probably glued to. He considered turning on some music to do a bit of dancing, or maybe even a light workout, but - no.

That was no good. There was something he was supposed to be doing. What was it?

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. The door flew open.

“Oppa! Someone keeps calling your phone. Someone whose number you have saved as NASA?” Sua stood in the doorway, waggling his phone.

NASA. Outer space. Out of his league. 


Bin swore and lunged for his phone, checked the time. He was supposed to have been on a Zoom meeting with Dongmin ten minutes ago.

“I’m telling Eomma.” Sua smirked and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I was supposed to meet with a classmate about an assignment.” Bin hurried over to his laptop, but the sudden rush left his lungs empty and his limbs feeling heavy. He coughed into his sleeve, sighed. “Can you make me some tea? I’ll have to talk a lot, and my throat hurts.”

“Make it yourself,” Sua said.

Bin cast her a look. “Please? This assignment is a big part of my grade.”

“Fine.” Sua rolled her eyes and headed back downstairs.

Bin’s entire body ached, but he scrambled to grab his binder and notes and the printouts of the research articles he’d found. Then he opened his laptop and woke it up with a desperate swipe of his hand. He signed on to Zoom a moment later. When he glimpsed himself on his laptop screen, he realized he looked awful - hair a mess, face swollen. 

His heart sank. He’d worked so hard to prepare for today, and it was all for nothing. He didn’t have time to put on his cute outfit or fix his hair, so he flipped up the hood of his hoodie and put on his glasses and hoped Dongmin would see as little of him as possible. He saw that he’d missed a dozen Zoom invites and text messages from Minhyuk and the others asking if he was ready - did he need to review his notes one more time? Did his room need an inspection? Did his outfit and hair need one final pass? And then there were all the missed messages and even calls from Dongmin.

Bin wanted to cry, but he was also so tired and miserable that he didn’t have the energy, so he just rested his chin on his binder and blinked blearily at his screen.

Dongmin appeared moments later, pristine in a button-down shirt, hair perfect, skin flawless.

“Moon Bin-ssi,” he snapped. “Why didn’t you - oh. What happened to you?”

“I’m so sorry,” Bin said, and felt tears pricking at his eyes. He sniffled, but he’d been sniffling all day and couldn’t bring himself to really care. “I’ve been sick all day. My mother took my phone so I could sleep undisturbed, and she forgot to give it back.”

“O-oh.” Dongmin blinked rapidly at him. “Are you - should we reschedule?

Bin managed to lift his head enough to flip open his notebook. “I’m here. We need all the time we can get to work on this paper. Might as well just do this.” All his hard work had gone down the drain, but his limbs felt leaden again, and his head throbbed. 

Dongmin cleared his throat. “Well, I received the sources you found, and they look excellent. I previously emailed you mine, but I understand if you haven’t looked them over yet. I’ve drawn up a preliminary outline for the essay. It’s in your email, if you’d like to take a look.”

Bin nodded and reached up, dragged his hand across the laptop trackpad, opened his email inbox. He found the message from Dongmin and opened the attachment.

“I’ll give you a moment to read it over,” Dongmin said.

Bin nodded again and blinked blearily at the screen. He managed to focus enough to wrap his head around the proposed structure of the research paper. He was coming around, the fog in his mind clearing a bit, and then -


Roa landed on Bin’s desk and marched across his keyboard, her tail high in the air.

Immediately Bin sneezed. “Roa, no, not right now, I’m busy.” 

“Sorry, oppa, she followed me.” Sua’s voice was unexpectedly soft as she set a mug of tea down beside him. 

He managed a brief smile up at her. “Thank you.”

“Shall I take Roa and go?” Sua asked.

Then she glanced at his laptop, and her eyes went wide.

Oh no. She’d seen Dongmin. She was reacting the way everyone did when they saw Dongmin for the first time. 

Bin hurried and picked Roa up to put her aside, but she curled obligingly over his arm and purred happily.

“You have a cat.” Dongmin sounded disbelieving.

Bin sneezed again. “Yeah. We adopted her. But I’m allergic.” 

Another sneeze.

“Oppa?” Sua asked. 

Roa wriggled free of Bin’s grasp and leaped up on his shoulders, settled across the back of his neck. Bin groaned. He’d be sneezing endlessly on top of sniffling now.

But she was also soft and warm.

“It’s fine. She can stay with me,” Bin said. “Thank you for the tea.”

Sua nodded and started to back toward the door. She called out, “I understand why this is an important assignment, but don’t work too hard!”

And then she closed the door loudly. 

Bin frowned vaguely in her direction and then sipped some more tea.

“If you’re allergic, why did you adopt her?” Dongmin sounded thoroughly unimpressed.

Bin avoided looking at him in favor of petting Roa. “She was a little kitten who’d been abandoned in the street. I couldn’t just leave her.” He sneezed again. “Um. Where were we?”

Dongmin cleared his throat. He looked uncomfortable and annoyed. Bin sighed. Whatever vague hope he’d had of winning Dongmin over had been thoroughly snuffed out. 

“You were supposed to be reading over the proposed outline,” Dongmin said.

“Right.” Bin hunkered down, partially to accommodate Roa, partially to make himself smaller and slightly less of an embarrassing sight for Dongmin to look at, and squinted at his laptop screen. The best he could hope for now was to get a really good grade on this assignment and in the class and please his parents.

Dongmin was praised as a brilliant student for a reason, and Bin was lucky to have him as a partner. 

“It’s a solid outline,” Bin said. He glanced up at Dongmin briefly, but Dongmin was studying his own notes. “How do you want to split it up?”

“Down the middle should be fine. Do you want the beginning or the end?” Dongmin flicked his gaze up briefly as well.

Bin petted Roa, sneezed. “Whichever.”

“I have no preference either,” Dongmin said.

On a good day, Bin would have had a witty comment about grand entrances and ending fairies, but he was tired and sore and sick. “Rock paper scissors. Loser writes the beginning.” He held out one hand.

Dongmin was startled. “O-oh. All right. That’s one way to do it.”

Bin sniffled, pushed his glasses higher up his nose. “I’m sorry, Dongmin-ssi. I don’t have a lot of energy right now. But really. Either way is fine. So let’s decide with this method.”

Dongmin held out a hand as well. “I’ll count us in.”

It took them six tries to get an actual result, because they kept picking the same thing.

Bin scowled. “You read the article about the best way to win this game, didn’t you?”

Dongmin blinked at him. “You read it too?”

“I’m sick and tired, not stupid.”

“I didn’t mean - I’m - I’ll count us in again,” Dongmin said.

Bin just sighed and nodded.

Dongmin counted, threw scissors. Bin threw rock.

“I guess I’ll go first,” Dongmin said.

“All right. When should we check in?”

“How about a week?” Dongmin said. “That’ll give us another week to make the edits.”

Bin nodded. “All right. Same time?”

“Sure,” Dongmin said.

Roa said, “Ya-ong.”

Bin reached up and scratched her head absently. “Thank you, Dongmin-ssi. See you next week.” He clicked the button to leave the meeting, and then he closed his laptop, slumped onto it with a groan.

“Why, Roa? Why did this happen to me? I worked so hard.”

His phone buzzed.

Incoming Zoom invitation from Minhyuk.

He groaned again and answered it. “What?”

“How did the meeting with Dongmin go?” Myungjun demanded. “Was he totally thirsting over you and super impressed by how hard you work?”

“Hyung,” Minhyuk said gently. “Are you all right? You didn’t answer any of our calls.”

“I’m sick,” Bin said. He sniffled.

“You look awful,” Sanha said. 

“Not helping,” Jinwoo said.

“Ah,” Myungjun said wisely. “Your mother took your phone so you could sleep, hm? So did you not meet with Dongmin, then?”

Bin sighed. “No. I met with him. I need as much time as possible to work on my half of the paper.”

“How did it go?” Jinwoo asked.

Bin sniffled. “Terrible. I feel terrible. I look terrible. Roa came and jumped on me and made me sneeze a lot.”

“Roa?” Myungjun asked.

As if on cue, she popped her head up. “Ya-ong!”

Myungjun cooed. “I’m a dog person, but she’s adorable.”

“I’m allergic to cats.” Bin sniffled more. “I’m pretty sure I behaved terribly toward Dongmin too, but he was mad at me anyway, and I don’t even care anymore.”

“You’re just saying that because you feel bad. Tomorrow things will be better,” Jinwoo said.

Bin shook his head. “I really don’t care. I just -”

“We’ll let you rest, hyung. Sleep a lot tomorrow, and we’ll check in after that, all right?” Minhyuk’s tone was uncharacteristically meek. “Good night, Bin.”

“Get well soon,” Myungjun added. “Sending good vibes and love!” He even made heart signs with his hands and winked, and Bin couldn’t help but smile.

“Get lots of sleep, drink lots of tea,” Jinwoo said.

“Bye,” Sanha said in a small voice.

The meeting ended.

Bin went and crawled on his bed with another heavy sigh. Roa curled up beside him, and he didn’t even protest.

“Let’s just sleep,” he murmured.

She snuggled closer and purred obligingly.

Bin closed his eyes and tumbled into fever dreams.

The next day Bin felt even worse, and he really did sleep for most of it, only emerging from his nest of blankets to eat a bit or drink a bit or drag himself to the bathroom. Roa stayed with him and possibly made him worse, but he didn’t even care. Whether or not his mother took his phone, he didn’t know. If it had rung or buzzed, he wouldn’t have noticed. He wasn’t sure if Sua and his father came to check on him or if that was just a dream.

When Bin finally woke, actually had the energy to sit up and look around, had a clear head, his room was bright with daylight, his clothes were gross, and Roa was nowhere to be seen. He cast about and saw his phone plugged in to the charger on his nightstand. It was half past nine in the morning. He had literally slept all day yesterday. But he was feeling much better, so he got out of bed and tested his limbs. His nose was only running a little, and his throat wasn’t burning anymore. He was still a bit achy and sore, but he was miles better than he had been two days ago.

With a spring in his step, he made his bed, found some clean clothes, and went to wash up.

“Bin-ah,” Eomma said. “How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thank you.” Bin smiled at her and plopped down at the kitchen table. 

Eomma brought him some more honey pears and spicy bean sprout stew, and he dug in happily.

“Hey, you finally look human again,” Sua said. 

“Thanks for all the tea,” Bin said.

Sua sat beside him, and Eomma brought her breakfast as well.

“Speaking of tea,” Sua said, “who was that you were talking to the other night?”

“Hm? You know Minhyuk, Sanha, and Jinwoo,” Bin said.

“No, the one you have saved in your phone as NASA,” Sua said. “The one you met with on Zoom even though you were feeling super sick.”

She was talking about Dongmin.

Wow. Bin hadn’t thought about him for an entire day. It had to be a record. He managed a casual shrug. “He’s in my class. We’re partners on a literature assignment. It’s a huge part of our grade.”

“What’s his name?”

“Why?” Bin asked. “He’s out of your league.”

“Yours too,” Sua said. “Is he another ulzzang? Because you’ll never defeat him.”

“He’s not an ulzzang.”

“Luckily for you.” Sua smirked at him.

Bin shrugged again, as casually as he could muster. “I’m lucky to be partnered with him, since he’s a very good student. But this assignment is important, and we need as much time as possible to work on it.”

“I’m sure,” Sua said.

She stopped needling him when their father arrived for breakfast. He could work from home, but their mother, a social worker, could not, so she kissed her husband goodbye, and then she dashed out the door.

The rest of them ate and chatted casually, and after breakfast Bin helped Sua clean up while the kettle heated for some tea. He finished helping her while the tea steeped, and then he carried a massive mug of it up to his bedroom to get to work. As he’d missed an entire day, he’d have to work hard, but where he still didn’t feel up for anything more than some light stretching, he could probably get mostly caught up today, especially if he took it easy on workouts tomorrow too.

He’d just settled in with some math homework, mug of tea in reach, when his phone buzzed.

Good morning, hyung. It was a message from Minhyuk. Hope you’re feeling better.

Much, Bin typed back.

Don’t give up on Dongmin, Minhyuk wrote.

Bin sighed. He saw three dots blinking. Minhyuk was still typing. 

Even if he’s awkward, he’s not cruel. I’m sure he understood you weren’t at your best because you weren’t feeling well.

Bin bit his lip. Even if he understands that, he’s seen me at my worst. He’ll never be able to unsee that.

But if he really likes you, he won’t care that it was your worst, Minhyuk said.

Bin resisted the urge to point out that Minhyuk was only being so optimistic because he was happy with his perky cute boyfriend.

You’ve seen him at less than his best and still like him, right? So it’s possible for him to look at you the same way, Minhyuk typed.

He was never this chatty in person. Maybe that was why he and Myungjun got along so well. Myungjun was a cheery little chatterbox.

But then Bin thought of Dongmin, sitting on the floor beside a red-faced, crying Serim. It’s possible, he offered finally.

So keep trying, was Minhyuk’s immediate reply.

The tower of Minion banana milk bottles, which was atop the short story collections Bin had bought, looked bright and cheery as well. Bin had poured so much energy into trying to be handsome and likeable to Dongmin. He’d watched all the Star Wars movies - more than once. He’d read strange books and worked so hard on his studies. Could he let that all go to waste?

No. He had to keep trying. 

All right, Bin texted back. I will.

Minhyuk’s response was an actual gif of him pumping his fists and mouthing, Fighting!

By the time Bin was all caught up on his homework, he was feeling much better, so he could resume his previous schedule of working out as well as studying. His mother cautioned him against overdoing it, but his father was glad to see him better. Sua kept making snide comments about Dongmin, though Bin still hadn’t told her his name, so she kept referring to him as NASA. 

Both Jinwoo and Myungjun helped him with the actual writing portion of his assignment. He did the work, and they checked it and made suggestions. Myungjun definitely was an honor student. He understood both the source material and research material quickly and easily, and Bin felt bad for being surprised he was an honor student, because he was helpful and good at explaining things. Bin wondered if Myungjun helped Minhyuk with his homework - and then realized that Minhyuk was probably sacrificing his study time with Myungjun for Bin.

Sanha continued to update Bin with the goings on of Dongmin’s SNS. He never complained that Bin, in a desperate bid not to turn into a total stalker, had carefully avoided Dongmin’s SNS. There was some way for him to web stalk Dongmin without him finding out, but where Bin constantly saw ads for things like Want to know who’s looked you up on Instagram? he’d avoided finding Dongmin on SNS altogether, even though the alternative was looking like he was SNS friends with just about everyone in their class but Dongmin. (Bin had made a point to befriend Serim on SNS and tried to send encouraging comments his way once in a while.) By all accounts, Dongmin was working hard on his studies, recommending books, dramas, music, and showing off the things he was learning to bake from his mother.

Even if Bin was avoiding Dongmin’s SNS, he was maintaining his own online presence, posting to his regular ulzzang spaces as well as blessing his followers with artful study and post-workout and cuddling with Roa selcas. Sua, bless her wicked heart, had posted for him on the days he was sick using some of his extra selcas he kept for emergencies, so no one noticed that he’d gone inactive for a couple of days, although catching up with comments had been a bit of a chore.

When the day of Bin’s next Zoom meeting with Dongmin finally arrived, he felt ready. His workouts went well. His other studies went well. He ate well. He looked good when he checked his reflection in the mirror. Minhyuk organized another Team MoonLee meeting half an hour before Bin’s meeting with Dongmin was supposed to start.

“How are you feeling, Tiger?” Myungjun asked.

“Good,” Bin said.

“How’s your outfit?” Jinwoo asked.

Bin stood up and did a little catwalk, posed and turned, and the others cheered and applauded.

“Your ulzzang fans would kill to see you like this,” Myungjun said. “In fact, I think I hear some of them dying right now.”

Jinwoo laughed.

“According to Dongmin’s SNS today, he’s having a really good day so far, and he posted pictures of himself drinking tea and holding a book. I can’t quite read the title, though,” Sanha reported.

“That means he’ll be in a good mood for your meeting,” Minhyuk said.

“Your half of the paper is really good,” Myungjun said. “Of course you’ll have to make some changes so your half flows with his, but he’ll be impressed with how hard you worked.”

Bin nodded and sat back down at his desk. He tilted his laptop just so, so the others could inspect his room. He had a couple of bottles of Minion banana milk to hand, and also the box of tissues in case Roa came to visit again. “I just wanted to say, however this turns out, thank you all so much for helping me with this.”

“We want you to be happy,” Minhyuk said.

“Don’t worry, Jinwoo,” Myungjun said. “When you find someone you like, we’ll help you too.”

Jinwoo looked alarmed for a moment, but Sanha laughed.

“You laugh now, but one day you’ll be wanting us to help you too,” Bin said.

Sanha just laughed some more and shook his head.

“Hyung,” Minhyuk said. “Whatever happens today, you know you worked hard and did everything you could. If you’re not his type, it’s not your fault.”

Bin nodded. “I’ll remember that. Thank you, everyone. Really.”

It was Jinwoo who led them in the team cheer, MoonLee Fighting!

And then it was just Bin, alone in his room, watching the time tick down.

When it was time, Bin signed on to Zoom, and he waited patiently, sitting tall in his chair, till Dongmin let him into the meeting.

For one moment, Bin couldn’t breathe, because Dongmin looked amazing, casual in a white t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up a bit at the cuffs even though they were short. 

“Moon Bin-ssi, you’re looking much better,” Dongmin said, his tone stiff and awkward already.

No matter. Bin wouldn’t let it get to him. He’d worked hard, not just on looking good and being attractive, but on this assignment, and he was proud of that.

“Thank you,” Bin said, smiling. “I am feeling much better. I apologize if I was rude the other day.”

“You did seem quite unwell,” Dongmin conceded.

“How are you doing? How’s the baking going?”

“I am well, thank you,” Dongmin said. “Baking is going well.”

Too late, Bin realized that he shouldn’t know about Dongmin’s baking, and he cleared his throat. “Glad to hear it. Ready to work on this paper?”

“Yes,” Dongmin said. “How about we share screens with each other? So you can see my half and I can see yours, and we can make the changes ourselves.”

Bin nodded. “Of course.” He’d shared his screen with Myungjun previously, and his desktop passed inspection, so he got ready to share his screen.

“Can you see my screen?” Dongmin asked.

Bin glanced up. “Yes, thank you.”

Dongmin’s laptop desktop was as scrupulously neat as his bedroom, a few files organized into neat rows so his wallpaper was clearly visible.

His wallpaper was a picture of Bin posing in his old school uniform, from long before he’d transferred schools. It wasn’t a great picture, was one he’d posted to his SNS but not competitions, since his ulzzang followers liked to see ‘B’ cuts from his photo shoots.

Bin stared at his own image, shocked.

All he could say was, “There are better pictures of me out there.”

“Pardon?” Dongmin asked, and then his eyes went wide and his cheeks turned pink. “Ah - Moon Bin-ssi - I can explain -”

“I thought you hated me,” Bin said.

Dongmin scratched the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable. “I - no. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate anyone.”

“But - that first day of school you wouldn’t let me sit with you at lunch. And then when I tried to talk to you about Han Solo you just brushed me off.” Bin stared at Dongmin, confused, feeling his heartbeat start to speed up. “Do you like me?”

Dongmin stared down at his desk, said nothing. 

“Or - or are you just into me for the aesthetic?” Bin swallowed hard. 

Dongmin said, in a small voice, “I like you.”

Bin’s heart raced. “You? But - why?”

Dongmin scratched at his neck again. “Serim told me you’re nice to him on SNS even though no one is nice to him at school.”

“You’re nice to him at school,” Bin said. 

“Also you didn’t yell at me when I was rude to you because I was so nervous. And - and you rescued a cat even though you’re allergic and at dance competitions you’re so nice to other teams and the way you smile when you sing is -”

“You’ve seen me sing and dance?”

“You always mention where your performances are, on SNS,” Dongmin said. His words started to spill out faster. “At first I just thought you were really hot, but you read the research paper about the optimal rock-paper-scissors strategy and you’re always so gentle with the girls who confess to you even though you don’t like them back, and - and I’m sorry I was rude to you.” He ducked his head and hunched his shoulders. “You can ask the teacher for a different partner if you want.”

Bin had never seen Dongmin so unsure before. “No, it’s fine. We can still work together.”

Dongmin peered up at Bin from beneath his lashes. “See? You’re so nice.”

Bin said, “I like you too.”

Dongmin lifted his head sharply. “What?”

“I like you too,” Bin said again. 


Bin nodded. His heart felt like it was going to beat right out of his chest. “I do. At first it was because you’re so unbelievably beautiful -”

“I’m not as good-looking as you.”

“If you became an ulzzang I’d be forgotten in a heartbeat,” Bin said. “But you defended Serim and you work so hard in school and you really listen to us as class president, and how could I not like you?”

“Oh. Oh. I never thought - all your close friends are people who dance really well and I’m not a very good dancer.” Dongmin pressed a hand to his mouth, but his eyes crinkled up in a smile, and Bin couldn’t breathe. 

“Well, I like you and you like me. What should we do about that?” Bin leaned in. He knew he was grinning like a fool, but he didn’t care because Dongmin was beaming at him, that smile he only smiled when he was so happy, and he was smiling that smile just for Bin.

“Should -” Dongmin cleared his throat. “Should we date? I mean, we like each other. What’s stopping us?”

Bin could name a dozen things off the top of his head, starting with his parents, but those paled in comparison to the brilliance of Dongmin’s smile. “Nothing,” he said. “Not if we don’t let it.”

“Then today is day one,” Dongmin said, and for a moment Bin really was flying.

Then he nodded, still grinning helplessly. “Day One. For us.”

“Us,” Dongmin echoed, and giggled, and Bin fell in love with him just a little bit.

Then Dongmin cleared his throat. “Um. Our research paper. We should - we should actually work on that.”

Bin nodded. “Right. Of course. You should also send me a picture of you.”

“Me? Why?”

“So I can change my wallpaper,” Bin said, and Dongmin smiled again, and Bin fell in love with him a little bit more.

“Let me guess,” Sua said, as Bin finished drying the last plate and raised his dish towel in triumph, “another Zoom meeting with your still nameless beautiful friend? All those Zoom meetings have been paying off for your grades, at least.”

“No, I’m having a Netflix party with Minhyuk and Jinwoo and some friends,” Bin said.

“Oh. What are you watching?”

“I dunno. Something Minhyuk’s boyfriend picked.” Bin pulled open the fridge and considered some movie snacks. Did he want to make popcorn? Popcorn was no fun if he couldn’t share it with Dongmin and then reach in at the same time as him and end up holding hands.

“Boyfriend?” Sua echoed.

Minhyuk and Myungjun had come out to their parents, so Bin shrugged, scooped up some bottles of banana milk, grabbed a bag of MyChews, and hurried up the stairs.

He settled on his bed with his laptop, made sure his snacks were within easy reach. They’d all agreed to be on Zoom while one person shared their screen and played the drama.

“I’m here!”

“Took you long enough,” Sanha said.

“Hi, Binnie.” Dongmin waved.

Myungjun giggled. “You two are still so cute together.”

“What are we watching?” Jinwoo asked.

“Myungjunnie picked a drama,” Minhyuk said.

“I think everyone will like it. It has singing, dancing, and - of course - drama,” Myungjun said.

“Sounds perfect to me,” Bin said.

“Me too.” Dongmin smiled.

Sanha made a face. “Ugh. We’re stuck with two couples being super cute, Jinwoo-hyung. What should we do?”

“I’m not dating you,” Jinwoo said.

Sanha stuck his tongue out. “I have a girlfriend anyway.”

“Wait, what?” Bin demanded. “Since when?”

“Since yesterday.” Sanha lifted his chin proudly.

“So Jinwoo is still sad and single.” Myungjun shook his head.

“I’m not sad!” Jinwoo protested. “What’s this drama about?”

“It’s about time travel. And idols,” Myungjun said. “Are we ready?”

Bin fluffed his pillows, then settled back against them. “Ready!”

Dongmin sent him a text. Wish I could be there with you.

Bin smiled, then sent a reply. Me too. I’m just grateful I can see you at all.

Dongmin’s reply was a heart emoji.

Bin sent back a kiss emoji.

“Stop flirting over the phone and pay attention,” Minhyuk said.

“Like you two never flirt,” Jinwoo said.

“After we all worked so hard to get me and Dongmin together, you should be more pleased with the results,” Bin said.

“Worked hard?” Dongmin echoed.

Bin cleared his throat. “Never mind. Are we ready?”

The others chimed in with their readiness, and Myungjun counted down, and then he pressed play.

“Here we go!” Myungjun cheered.

Bin smiled at the screen and at Dongmin’s smile and was glad he’d worked so hard. His phone buzzed with an incoming message.

He glanced down at it - and at Dongmin’s smiling face as his wallpaper.

With you in spirit, Dongmin wrote.

Bin typed back, With you too.

And the show started. Music swelled, and a girl was narrating.

We cannot go back to the past. In that moment, we have grown up.

Bin looked at Dongmin again and thought, I want to grow up with you.

The title of the drama flashed on the screen.

To Be Continued.