Pairing: Jongdae/Zitao, side Yifan/Yixing
Summary: college!AU. Jongdae’s new tutor might save him from Mandarin, but that doesn’t help save Jongdae from him.
Author’s Note: ~12k. for chiharu for runandgun 2013. this was rather a challenge as i’m not used to writing either jongdae or tao but I liked this prompt a lot and in the end had fun writing this despite the difficulties. MUCH MUCH THANKS to sammy for looking this over and jj for all your help omg <3333 and to my tlist for listening to me whine about this for so long weeps. <333
Jongdae is failing. Jongdae is 100% failing.
He stares at his most recent Mandarin test in dismay. The red scribbling all over the page is like foreshadowing to the the blood that will be spilled when his father kills him for failing.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Minseok says, patting Jongdae on the back. “It’s just one bad grade.”
“I’ve failed every one of my tests in this class,” Jongdae exclaims, and he crumples up the abysmal piece of paper and throws it out onto his lunch tray.
Minseok winces, looks at Jongdae a little pitifully. “Okay, nevermind, maybe you do have to worry,” he says.
“You could just get a tutor,” Yixing says from across the table. He’s idly working his way through a small bowl of ice cream and looks more amused by Jongdae’s predicament than sympathetic. He’s also, in the time that Jongdae’s spent wallowing, moved from his own seat into his boyfriend’s (and Jongdae’s roommate’s) lap. Yifan looks slightly annoyed by Yixing’s seating choice, and yet also comfortable, smiling fondly at Yixing as he eats.
Jongdae stares at them for a long few moments and then leans across the table, hands stretched out in offering, “You guys could help me!!”
Yixing laughs, sucking around his spoon. “Sorry,” he says. “Between all my classes and dance practices every night I don’t have time.” This time he actually does look at Jongdae sadly. “If you’d asked earlier I could’ve helped, but with our dance show coming up--”
Jongdae waves his hand at him. “It’s fine, I get it,” he says. He turns to Yifan and looks at him pleadingly.
“No,” Yifan says and Jongdae deflates, slumping forward against the table before slowly pulling himself back into his seat.
“Why not? You’re my roommate, you have to help me!” he says.
“I don’t have to do anything,” Yifan says, rolling his eyes. “Besides I’m busy, too, with basketball practice and student council meetings. I can help you out when I’m around, but I can’t properly tutor you the way you, uh, clearly need to be tutored.” He glances down at Jongdae’s crumpled up test paper, the bright red F in the corner still visible.
Minseok snickers beside Jongdae, but reaches out to pat his shoulder consolingly. “You should really find an actual tutor, or someone in your class to help you out.”
“That’s so much work,” Jongdae complains. “Besides Chanyeol’s the only person in my class that I know, and he’s doing just about as well as I am.”
“Then you’re on your own, man,” Minseok says.
Jongdae groans. “You guys are all useless,” he grumbles, and stares unhappily at his test paper which has started to shrivel up in the bowl of soup it had landed in.
“I hear you’re failing Mandarin,” Lu Han says in the form of a greeting as he slides into his seat beside Jongdae in their World Literature class.
“Can you help me??” Jongdae hisses excitedly, looking at Lu Han with big, hopeful eyes.
Lu Han laughs and shoves Jongdae’s face away with a hand pressed up against his cheek. “Please, I have better things to do than to tutor you,” he says and Jongdae glares at him.
“You’d let your friend fail a class because you’re too lazy to help?” he demands.
“You’re too lazy to properly study so maybe that’s what you need to work on, not getting a tutor,” Lu Han replies easily and Jongdae opens his mouth to retort, but realizes that maybe Lu Han has a point.
“I do study,” he says weakly. Maybe not as much as he should, sure, because Jongdae would much rather spend his evening playing video games or joining Baekhyun at the nearest house party.
“It’s your lucky day, though,” Lu Han says, ignoring Jongdae’s pathetic statement. “I know someone who can help you.”
Jongdae looks at Lu Han skeptically. The last time Lu Han had said he could help Jongdae out, Jongdae had woken up naked in the dorm commons with no recollection of how he’d gotten there. Lu Han is a good friend, but Jongdae has become wary.
“Don’t look at me like that!” Lu Han whispers, quieting down as their professor walks into the room and greets the class. “He’s a friend of mine. A freshman, but he’s Chinese and he’s already helping Sehun and Jongin out in their first year Mandarin classes. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind taking you on as another student.”
“Do you enjoy collecting freshmen or something?” Jongdae says, shuffling open his notebook to a clean page and jotting down the date in the corner. He taps his pen against the table until the girl sitting in front of him turns around to give him a look.
“Yes,” Lu Han says unabashedly and Jongdae rolls his eyes. “They’re cute!”
“You just like telling them what to do,” Jongdae says and Lu Han smirks.
“So should I let Zitao know you’re interested in letting him tutor you?” he says.
Jongdae sighs, weighs his options, but it’s clear after a few seconds that his only option is to say yes. He can’t afford to fail his class and if this Zitao kid can’t help him out then maybe Jongdae will suck it up and visit the student center and find an actual tutor.
“All right, fine,” he says and Lu Han cheers a little louder than necessary, and their professor shoots them both a stern glare from the front of the room.
Thursday evening Jongdae very reluctantly drags himself out to meet Zitao in the library for his first tutoring session. He’d much rather stay here, sprawled out on the floor of Baekhyun’s room playing Call of Duty or something, but he knows he has to at least give this tutoring thing a try.
“You’ll be fine,” Baekhyun tells him, tossing Jongdae’s controller to his roommate Chanyeol so they can keep playing. “Zitao is really nice. I’m sure you’ll like him.”
“That’s not particularly what I’m worried about,” Jongdae says but bids his goodbye and makes his way across campus.
Jongdae has no idea who he’s looking for; Lu Han had only told him that Zitao was “tall” which was really the least helpful piece of information he could’ve given Jongdae. He finds an armchair to flop into close enough to the doors so he can keep an eye out for anyone who walks in and seems to be searching for someone. Unfortunately, that’s about 80% of the people walking into the library and as the seconds tick by Jongdae is starting to regret this whole thing.
That’s when an unfamiliar voice says, “Are you Kim Jongdae?” from somewhere behind him and Jongdae almost has a heart attack as he spins around and comes face to face with whom he can only assume is Huang Zitao.
At least Lu Han was right; Zitao is tall. Even when Jongdae hastily gets to his feet, Zitao stands inches above him. He’s got ash blonde hair that falls into his eyes, dark eyes that stare curiously at Jongdae, and a slight smile tugging at the corner of full lips.
Jongdae swallows. Whatever he was expecting, well, this definitely wasn’t it.
“You’re Zitao?” he says, finally managing to find his voice and Zitao nods, his smile widening.
“So you are Jongdae,” Zitao says excitedly. He pushes his hair away from his face, trying to tuck behind his ears. They only just fall back into place, but Jongdae’s a little intrigued by the number of piercings he has, gold studs catching the ceiling lights. “Lu Han-ge says you need help with Mandarin?”
“Not just help, I need to be saved,” Jongdae insists. He scratches the side of his face, feeling a little embarrassed. He doesn’t want to explain just how bad he’s failing to some kid he’s never met before.
But Zitao looks nonplussed. He shifts his backpack on his shoulders and smiles down at Jongdae, and the bit of intimidation Jongdae had felt initially starts to made away. He’s got a nice smile, he thinks, before quickly pushing the thought away.
“Don’t worry, I’ll save you,” Zitao says, in his accented Korean, and the confidence that pours from his words is almost enough to make Jongdae feel like this whole stupid tutoring thing might be worth it.
Jongdae learns three things after his first session with Zitao: 1. He's not failing Mandarin as terribly as he thought. 2. Zitao is cute. 3. Zitao is really cute.
Jongdae maybe expected some kid who would look at Jongdae like he's an idiot for forgetting how to introduce himself in Mandarin. Maybe someone incredibly nerdy with glasses who would give Jongdae a bunch of extra things to study, even someone who would take a look at his abilities and deem him hopeless
Zitao is none of these things. Zitao is surprisingly patient, and fun. He laughs at Jongdae's terrible pronunciation, but tells him, as clearly as he can with careful Korean, what he's doing wrong and how to do it better. And it doesn't help at all that he gives Jongdae these small, kind smiles when he gets something right. His eyes curve up and he's really fucking cute and Jongdae, just after that first two hour meeting, feels a little doomed.
"Why didn't you warn me about Zitao? You're the worst friend ever," Jongdae grumbles, inviting himself into Lu Han's room. Lu Han looks up from where he's lying on his stomach on his bed, a book spread open in front of him, and raises a brow.
"Nice to see you too, Jongdae," he says. "What can I help you with."
“You don’t happen to have some other Chinese friend who could tutor me?” Jongdae asks carefully, flopping himself down on Minseok’s bed.
Now Lu Han actually looks curious, tucking a pen between the pages of his book so he won’t lose his spot and turning over to look at Jongdae properly. “Why? What’s wrong with Zitao?” he asks.
"Nothing's wrong with him, I just don't know that it will work out..." The excuse sounds pathetic to his own ears. He really doesn't want to have to explain that with Zitao as his tutor, Jongdae might have more trouble than just passing his Mandarin class. Zitao is cutely childish, as evidenced by their meeting the night before when he'd not-so-discreetly spent ten minutes trying to take one selca on his phone while he'd given Jongdae a few lines to memorize. It was enough to distract Jongdae for the longest time, and when Zitao turned back to him after letting out a pleased noise at his successful photo, a smile pulling at kittenish lips, Jongdae forgot everything he’d tried to learn.
Lu Han looks at Jongdae with an eyebrow raised, like he’s waiting for a better explanation and all Jongdae can grumble out is, “He’s...distracting.”
Instantly he knows he should’ve just kept his mouth shut because Lu Han’s expression goes from confused to gleeful in .02 seconds flat, and he’s pointing an accusatory finger at Jongdae from across the room. “You think he’s hot, don’t you?” he exclaims and Jongdae throws one of Minseok’s pillows at him. It hits Lu Han square in the face and his tiny splutter is almost enough to make Jongdae feel better, but then Lu Han looks even more thrilled when the pillow falls down to the floor. “You totally do!”
“So what if he’s hot, that’s not the point,” Jongdae says, and he sounds terribly unconvincing even to himself. “The point is I can’t concentrate when he’s--”
“Hot?” Lu Han smirks.
“No, when he’s taking stupid selcas of himself instead of teaching me--”
“Chanyeol does that all the time and it’s never bothered you before.”
“Can’t you just tutor me instead?” Jongdae sighs.
Laughing, Lu Han rolls back over onto his stomach and picks up his pen in his book again. “Do you really want me to teach you Mandarin? Just think about that for a moment.”
Jongdae does. Lu Han would, in some ways, be better than Zitao, if only for the fact that Jongdae doesn’t find Lu Han any more attractive than a potted plant. Of course, Lu Han would also probably teach him how to say I fucked your mom instead of Good morning and Jongdae will end up making a fool of himself even more than he already does in his Mandarin class.
“Okay, fine, you make a good point,” he concedes. “But what am I supposed to do about...this.”
"You like him! Make the most of your studying sessions if you know what I mean." Lu Han waggles his eyebrows.
"You’re the most useless friend ever."
"You know, he likes you too," Lu Han says, like that fucking makes things better. (It does, but Jongdae will never admit it). "Well, he said you were nice and that you were easier to teach than Sehun, though I don’t know if that means much in the grand scheme of things..."
Jongdae sighs, picks himself up off Minseok's bed. "I’m leaving now," he says, heading for the door, and Lu Han barely manages to shout, "Study hard! Maybe he'll reward you!" before the door slams shut behind him.
Zitao is wearing an obnoxious leopard print sweater that Jongdae would normally find hideous on just about anyone. Of course, Zitao somehow looks infuriatingly good, like he's some kind of fashion model. Even his fucking shoes match. And Jongdae still finds him impossibly attractive.
"So how is class going?" Zitao asks him when they meet up for their fifth lesson. They're in the cafeteria because Zitao said he hadn't had a chance to eat yet and Jongdae won't pass up a chance for an extra snack, so he's munching on a bag of chips as Zitao works through his dinner.
"It wasn't so bad today. I mean, I guess I understood more than usual since it was stuff we went over during our last tutoring session," Jongdae says around a mouthful of chips.
Zitao looks at him amusedly and Jongdae quickly swallows. Zitao probably thinks he's disgusting, fuck, what is he doing. He pushes his chips aside.
"That's good," Zitao says.
"I still feel lost though," Jongdae admits. He's been trying harder (than before at any rate) because while the disapproving look on his professor's face doesn't bother him at all, Zitao pulls this sort of kicked puppy expression that makes Jongdae feel incredibly guilty, and that's not an easy thing to do.
He definitely likes it better when Zitao grins widely at him when he gets something right, the brightness in his eyes and the cute way he says "good work!" makes Jongdae try to put more effort in. Somewhere in the back if his mind Lu Han's unhelpful words of maybe he'll reward you linger, but he tries not to think about it. At least not too much. (He's not very successful).
Zitao chews on a piece of fried chicken and pulls Jongdae's Mandarin textbook open to where they left off from before. "Okay, try saying these practice sentences aloud again, I want to see if you’ve been working on your pronunciation."
Jongdae recites them, carefully and slowly, and he’s studied them so much he doesn’t really need to look at the book. The proud look in Zitao’s eyes when he meets his gaze afterward makes Jongdae’s chest warm and he tries to push it away. This is becoming too troublesome, too soon. He needs to focus, and not on the way Zitao licks sauce off his upper lip. Goddammit.
“You catch on better than anyone else I’ve tried to help learn Mandarin,” Zitao says, sounding pleased. “My friend is really bad, but I think he messes up on purpose to annoy me.” He laughs; it’s a nice sound, Jongdae thinks, not for the first time. “I’m glad you don’t do that.”
“I haven’t yet,” Jongdae warns, a sneaky grin working its way across his lips. He grabs a few chips from his forgotten bag and stuffs them into his mouth. “Just wait until I get more comfortable. I can be a pain when I want to be.”
Amusement fills Zitao’s eyes. He sucks on the end of his straw, stuck into the bottle of his iced tea. “So I’ve heard,” he replies after a moment, and, before Jongdae can wonder exactly what he’s heard about him, Zitao turns his textbook around and points halfway down a page. “Let’s start here,” he says, smiling, and Jongdae tries not to melt at that look. (Again, he’s not very successful).
It’s a Saturday morning and Jongdae’s still partially hungover from the night before, but he arms himself with his textbook and notes from his last Mandarin class and takes residence on his bed, prepared to study for the afternoon until he meets with Zitao for their next tutoring session later in the day.
Yifan is in the room for once, having said something about basketball practice being cancelled, and he’s sitting at his desk working on an essay. Yixing stopped by an hour ago, and has taken over Yifan’s bed, flipping through pages on a book he has to read for his literature class, occasionally sliding over to Yifan to blow in his ear or do something stupid to annoy him. He giggles and flops back into bed and Jongdae always finds the two of them amusing since Yixing likes to push Yifan’s buttons and, unlike with everyone else, Yifan just lets him.
“How’s the studying going?” Yixing asks, coming over to sit on the floor by Jongdae’s bed since Yifan is ignoring him. “Do you need any help?”
“Oh, now, you offer to help me. Where were you when I begged for a tutor a week ago?” Jongdae says, narrowing his eyes.
“I hear you’re doing fine with Zitao anyway,” Yixing says and there’s something in his eyes that is frightfully knowing. Jongdae hopes he hasn’t talked to Lu Han.
“Well, I’m understanding better than before, so I guess he’s working,” Jongdae grumbles out, not eager to divulge more information than necessary. Yixing doesn’t need to know that when Zitao speaks it’s hard not to pay complete attention. There’s just something in the brightness of his eyes and the way his lips move, although distracting, that keep Jongdae surprisingly focused. Yeah, he definitely doesn’t need to know about that.
“He’s cool, right?” Yixing says, grinning. “At first he looks kind of scary, like he could beat you up, but he’s so cute.”
“He could beat you up,” Yifan adds in. He’s still typing furiously on his laptop, and only spares them a tiny smirk. “All those years of wushu training he has.”
Jongdae purses his lips in thought and looks back down at his notes. Now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t really know that much about Zitao at all. They haven’t really had a chance to talk much, in between all of the studying they do. He knows that Zitao has a strange affinity toward leopard print, and he seems to like cutesy panda stickers, if the way his iPhone case is covered in them is any indication, even if he insisted Sehun put them on when Jongdae asked about it with an amused grin. He’s here to study Korean and he’s originally from Qingdao, but that’s about it. Jongdae doesn’t know what classes he’s taking, not even which dorm he lives in.
Suddenly glum, he tosses his pencil off his bed and drops his face into his book.
“Giving up already?” Yixing laughs and all Jongdae manages back is a groan.
Thankfully he’s spared from having to say much more because there’s a knock at the bedroom door. Yifan gets up to answer it, so Jongdae continues to sulk, just turning his head in his arms to look over Yifan’s shoulder. It’s probably Baekhyun or someone, asking if they want to play a game, but the voice that greets Yifan cheerfully, while familiar, is definitely not anyone Jongdae was expecting.
Jongdae scrambles up into a sitting position as Yifan steps back to let Zitao into the room. Zitao glances around, waves at Yixing, and then his eyes find Jongdae’s and they widen in recognition.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were Yifan’s roommate,” Zitao says excitedly. Only it’s in Mandarin, and Jongdae catches about two words. His confusion must be obvious because Zitao laughs, rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry,” he says, switching to (his totally not adorable) Korean, “I’m used to talking to them in Chinese.”
Jongdae waves a hand at him dismissively. He doesn’t feel like he can speak. He wasn’t expecting to see Zitao for another five hours, at least, and yet here he is, in his room of all places, and Jongdae is wearing a pair of tattered old sweatpants and a hoodie with ketchup stains down the front. He tries to cover it up by crossing his arms over his chest.
Maybe Yifan senses the change in Jongdae’s behavior, or maybe he’s just a fucking asshole, (Jongdae’s inclined to believe the latter), but he smiles at Zitao and says conversationally, “Jongdae was just saying how he thinks you’re a good teacher.”
Zitao grins, wide, and his back straightens a bit, cockiness in his eyes, like he knows he’s good. Jongdae can’t help but find that sort of reaction really hot. “Well, I think he’s a good student,” he replies, walking over to where Jongdae sits on his bed to pat him on the head. Jongdae wants to die. He considers strangling himself with his hoodie because Zitao is still staring down at him with soft eyes, and then he’s asking, “Yifan-ge and I were gonna go have lunch. Do you want to come along?”
Jongdae croaks out a, “No,” and tries to fight back the flush in his cheeks. “I-I just really need to study,” he says as a lame excuse, and hopes Zitao won’t push it.
He doesn’t; Jongdae’s not sure if that’s worse, but he tries not to think about it. Instead he watches as Zitao walks back over to Yifan, stopping by the mirror in the room to check his appearance. He smiles at Jongdae through the reflection. “Study hard, then. I’ll see you in a few hours, right?”
Jongdae nods weakly; in the mirror he can see Yixing looking at him curiously.
“Aren’t you coming, Yixing?” Yifan asks. He’s shut the top of his laptop and grabbing his ID card and dorm keys, looking at Yixing expectantly as Zitao walks over and rests his cheek against Yifan’s shoulder. Jongdae’s stomach lurches unpleasantly. Maybe he should go with them, if he’s so hungry.
Yixing tilts his head at Yifan, considering, and then, to Jongdae’s surprise says, “No, I think I’ll keep Jongdae company. We can catch lunch together later.”
Yifan shrugs and pushes Zitao towards the door with hands on his waist. Zitao laughs at him and waves over his shoulder at Jongdae and Yixing, and then they’re gone, and Jongdae finally feels like he can breathe again. He flops back against his bed with all his weight and sends his notebook flying to the floor but that’s the least of his worries. The bed dips a bit as Yixing climbs up onto it too and peers down at Jongdae’s face.
“You like him, don’t you?” Yixing says, matter-of-fact. He never beats around the bush. Jongdae hates Yixing. “Before you try to deny it, it’s written all over your face.” He pokes Jongdae in the nose.
Jongdae scrubs at his face with his hands and grumbles, “You’re wrong, he’s just my tutor.”
Yixing snorts. “Sure, but you want to suck his dick.”
Jongdae actually tries strangling himself with his hoodie now, yanking at the strings around his neck until Yixing’s loud laugh fills the room and stops him.
“You know, I could help,” Yixing says then. “If you wanted to get closer to him, I mean. Declining lunch invitations is not really the way to go.”
“I didn’t want to impose. I’d just be the third wheel. Zitao and I aren’t even really friends.”
“So becomefriends, idiot. Ask him out for lunch, or for coffee after one of your tutoring sessions.” Yixing pats Jongdae’s knee and slowly smirks. “Maybe if you try, he’ll let you suck his dick.”
Jongdae curses under his breath and kicks Yixing off his bed.
Begrudgingly, Jongdae has to admit that Yixing’s got a point. If he wants to get to know Zitao better (which he does), then he actually has to try. And Jongdae’s always considered himself a pretty friendly guy; he has a lot of friends and he’s funny and definitely cooler than Yifan thinks he is, so it’s not like he can’t make friends. There’s just something about Zitao that gets him a little tongue-tied, and he refuses, point blank, to accept that it’s because he wants to get into Zitao’s pants.
(He won’t deny that it’d be an added bonus to all his tutoring sessions though.)
“Take him out for bubble tea afterward,” Lu Han suggests to Jongdae during class, when Jongdae mentions he can’t hang out after dinner because he’s meeting Zitao. “There’s that place a block from campus. He loves it.”
“I didn’t ask for your help,” Jongdae says, wrinkling his nose unhappily because he doesn’t need help, really. He kicks Lu Han under the desk and smirks when Lu Han jumps and hits his knee on the underside, sending his textbook and pencil case to the floor and disrupting class.
Jongdae unsuccessfully hides a laugh behind a hand while Lu Han glares at him and picks everything up. He punches Jongdae in the arm, but it doesn’t even hurt. Lu Han’s never been very good at that.
“Just because you didn’t ask for help doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it,” he says, dropping his voice to more of a whisper. Some of their classmates keep glancing at him irritably. He smiles wickedly. “I think your crush is cute.”
“It’s not a crush,” Jongdae hisses, but it falls on deaf ears and not for the first time, Jongdae wonders why Lu Han is even his friend.
But he takes Lu Han's advice later that day, when his session with Zitao comes to an end. Zitao is tapping on his phone as Jongdae shoves his things into his bag and he doesn't know why he's fucking nervous, but his stomach feels uneasy.
Before Jongdae can get the words out of his mouth, though, Zitao is looking up from his phone and asking, "Want to get bubble tea with me? I was gonna get some before returning back to the dorm."
Jongdae blinks, processing slowly. When Zitao’s words finally click, he only manages out a strangled, “What?”
Zitao tilts his head slightly and his lower lip juts out in a tiny pout. He’s fucking pouting and Jongdae has to force himself to stare at his eyes and not his mouth. “Do you not want to?” he asks and Jongdae mentally smacks himself out of his funk.
“Yes, I do, that would be fun,” Jongdae says in a rush, hoping he doesn’t sound too enthusiastic. He’s a little bummed out that he didn’t manage to ask Zitao himself, but this works just as well, too. As they pack up their things and head out of the library doors, Jongdae even entertains the thought that since Zitao asked him, clearly that means he wants to spend more time with Jongdae, too, right?
It’s a quiet walk down to the bubble tea shop. Zitao spends most of the time staring at this phone and typing up quick messages, and Jongdae wonders curiously who he’s talking to. He realizes, then, with an upsetting jolt, that he doesn’t even have Zitao’s number. They’ve mostly been emailing each other to confirm times for studying sessions. Jongdae makes it a point to try to exchange numbers before they part ways tonight.
Jongdae's friend Junmyeon is working behind the counter when they arrive and he's surprised to find that Zitao knows him, too, greeting him excitedly with a big smile and wave.
“I didn’t know you knew Junmyeon,” Jongdae says after they’ve ordered their drinks and settled into a table by the window. Zitao got a small piece of cake and is slicing it with a fork. “He was my roommate my first year.”
Zitao looks at him curiously. “But not anymore,” he says and Jongdae nods as he takes a sip of his peach green tea, chews thoughtfully on a the few pearls that slide into his mouth.
“He’s kind of a slob,” Jongdae says, and there’s a bit of confusion in Zitao’s eyes. Jongdae forgets, sometimes, that Zitao’s Korean isn’t fluent, because they manage to communicate well enough through their studying sessions. Zitao doesn’t usually have much trouble then, but maybe it’s because he’s used to helping people learn Mandarin. “He’s messy,” Jongdae explains, more clearly, “he left piles of clothes in the corner of our room all the time.”
Amusement floods Zitao’s eyes as he understands, and he laughs softly. He takes another bite out of his cake, sucks on the prongs of his plastic fork. “He helps me very much in my finance class,” Zitao says, setting the fork onto the small plate and reaching for his lychee iced tea.
And that’s just the opening Jongdae has been looking for. He takes the opportunity then to ask Zitao what other classes he’s in, and Zitao lights up, answering Jongdae’s questions animatedly. And this, this is easy, this is something Jongdae can do, even if the way Zitao sucks on his straw is incredibly distracting and he sometimes forgets what he’s saying halfway through. Zitao doesn’t seem to mind though. He looks at Jongdae with clear interest in his eyes, like he actually finds Jongdae’s enthusiastic story about his Music History class fascinating. He’ll reach out and tap Jongdae’s wrist when he doesn’t understand something, and Jongdae will repeat it more clearly, as Zitao mouths the word back at him and then nods, satisfied, when he understands.
“I’m sorry if I’m talking too much,” Jongdae says, when he realizes he’s been speaking most of the time they’ve been at the shop. His drink has watered down considerably, a few slivers of ice left at the bottom with the remnants of the tapioca pearls. Jongdae swirls his straw around, sheepish.
“I don’t mind,” Zitao says, and he’s smiling. “It’s cute.”
Jongdae feels heat in his cheeks. If anyone is cute here, it’s Zitao, with his attentiveness and the way he laughs at all of Jongdae’s stupid stories, the corners of his eyes crinkling and lips stretched prettily into a smile. The way he would have to stop to think of a word he wanted to say in Korean but couldn’t recall, muttering the Mandarin equivalent under his breath until he remembered or Jongdae helped him out.
Time goes by incredibly fast, and before Jongdae realizes it, they’ve been at the shop for over an hour. When it starts to get a little busier, the evening crowds coming in for a quick drink before heading back to their dorms, Zitao suggests heading out and Jongdae agrees. They walk back together up to campus, Zitao still working through his drink while Jongdae tossed his out before they left. He kind of wishes he still had it though, the heat unpleasant against his skin. It doesn’t help that Zitao walks close to him, and his arm brushes against Jongdae’s more often than not.
But Jongdae tries not to think about that. Instead he pulls out his phone from his pocket and stares at it, passing it between his hands as he considers. They’re almost at Zitao’s dorm now (Jongdae was pleased to learn he lived just a short walk from his own and may or may not have mentally created new routes in his head to walk by there more often to get to his classes), and Jongdae should really ask right now before he chickens out.
Jongdae is not the chickening out type.
“Hey,” he says easily, gently bumps Zitao’s arm with his to get his attention. “You should give me your number. This was fun, you know? We can plan to meet up again some other time, and not just for studying.”
Zitao blinks, eyes widening a bit in surprise. Then he smiles, but Jongdae can tell right away that it’s a little different; it’s the kind of smile Lu Han makes when he’s got something up his sleeve. Jongdae doesn’t like that at all (nevermind the fact that it makes Zitao look strangely hot).
“Okay,” Zitao says, “but ask first in Mandarin.”
Jongdae groans, his shoulders slumping and he pouts at Zitao like he’s asked him to do something incredibly embarrassing. Well, it is sort of embarrassing, because Jongdae still feels completely inept at Mandarin, even more so whenever Zitao makes him speak to him in it out of the blue like this. Jongdae needs the preparation time, needs to look over all of the vocabulary and the tones before he can even think about stringing a sentence together and--
“You’re thinking too much,” Zitao says. He pokes Jongdae in the forehead playfully and his smile now is the one that makes Jongdae’s stomach turn to knots. “Don’t think,” he says, “just do.”
“That’s easier said than done,” Jongdae grumbles, but he understands that Zitao is just trying to help. They went over this today. He still remembers repeating the words aloud again and again, fixing the intonations until Zitao was satisfied. He heaves a deep breath and asks Zitao again in very slow, but precise Mandarin and the big, proud grin that Zitao gives him just about makes it worth it.
“Good,” he says happily, and he pats Jongdae on the head, the way he did the other day, and Jongdae wants to pout because Jongdae’s older than Zitao. But then Zitao is plucking his phone out of his hands and tapping away at the screen. He calls his own phone and then hands Jongdae’s back, grinning in accomplishment.
“Thanks,” Jongdae murmurs, ignoring the soft brush of Zitao’s fingers against his when he handed his phone back. He slips it into the back pocket of his jeans just as they reach Zitao’s dorm and Jongdae tries to think of something to say that isn’t just goodbye.
Zitao pulls out his keys from the front pocket of his backpack and asks, “We’re still meeting tomorrow, yes?” When Jongdae nods, he smiles at him warmly and adds, “I’ll see you later then. Have a good night, hyung.”
“You too,” Jongdae manages to say before Zitao is waving at him and disappearing into his dorm. Jongdae sighs and heads off to his own, all the while thinking that maybe, just maybe, he’s going to need more help with this.