fic, 2013/10/25, exo iii of iv

  • Oct. 25th, 2013 at 4:17 PM
curledupkitten: (suho crying)












B-SIDE


track 1



He looks up as a shadow falls over him.

"Your phone," Yixing mouths, and Joonmyun pulls down his headphones so they hang around his neck. "Your phone," he repeats, and Joonmyun reaches for it. Sure enough, it's lit up with a kkt notification.

"Ah," Joonmyun says. youd better bring that shirt back, it says. its probably the only button down i own and your apartment is a clothing graveyard. "Thanks, I couldn't hear it over my music."

"What are you listening to?" Sweaty and obviously just out of the dance studio, Yixing slumps down in Joonmyun's extra chair.

"Jongin wrote a song," Joonmyun says. "I'm listening to it and trying to figure out how to make it work with DoubleK's sound."

I'll drop by ComicsPlease tomorrow, Joonmyun types. I'll even wash it first. He is already anticipating Baekhyun's sarcastic response.

"Is that Baekhyun?"

Joonmyun looks up from his phone, surprised. "I…" He sighs. "Yes."

"I talked to Kris this morning," Yixing says. "He looked like he wanted to ask me things."

"It isn't…"

"Yes, it is," Yixing says. "I know you better than you'd like me to." He cups Joonmyun's face in his hand, like he used to do when Joonmyun would stress himself into ulcers, back when he'd first started with SM. "I'm sorry about that."

"No, you aren't even sorry," Joonmyun says, closing his eyes. Yixing's hand is comforting, an old familiar touch that Joonmyun has never truly managed to forget.

"I wasn't sure that you liked him like that," says Yixing. He drops his hand. "When you started dating Sunyoung-ssi, I thought you'd realized…"

"It's not that simple," Joonmyun says. "I'm not that simple."

"You're a lot of things, Kim Joonmyun, but I have never suspected simple of being one of them." Yixing leans back in the chair. "So you like him."



Yixing, I think we should end this.

Okay.

Yixing, I don't know what I like. I don't know what I want.

Okay.

Yixing, I really do care about you.

Okay.



Joonmyun takes a deep, steadying breath. "I can't talk about this."

"I don't know if I've ever seen your eyes like this," Yixing says, curiously. "And I've known you an awful long time."

"My eyes?" Joonmyun pulls at the sleeves of Baekhyun's shirt.

"I thought you were in love with me, once." Yixing says. It feels out of the blue. Yixing is patting Joonmyun's knee. He has a soft and unassuming smile. Joonmyun has always liked it. "But that's how you are. Hard to read." His hand retracts, and Joonmyun can hear music still playing in his headphones hanging at his neck, a dull constant buzz. "I think if I'd ever seen your eyes like this, I'd have known you weren't."

"You're important to me." That has always been clear. Joonmyun had been lost and Yixing had found him. "You were, and are, still. More important than most people. I never meant to hurt you."

"I know," says Yixing. "Do you think I'd have stuck around, otherwise?"

"I'm still not…" There are so few people who know this, about Joonmyun. Who know about… "I'm so--"

Joonmyun remembers when they met, he and Yixing. Lu Han had dragged him out to that Independence Day party by the Han. Yixing had smiled so sweetly and Joonmyun had just decided he might quit school. He'd felt reckless and invincible. And they'd sat by the bank under an alcove with milk coffees from a nearby convenience store, and when Yixing had leaned over and kissed him, giving him plenty of time to back away if he wanted before closing the gap between their lips, Joonmyun had kissed back.

He remembers Yixing curling up next to him in his bed. And Yixing teaching him how to play the guitar. He remembers waking up some mornings to Yixing's face and wishing he wasn't constantly sick with worry that someone might find out how often he did that.

He remembers crying into Yixing's shirt, and that week before he moved into his new place, both of them crammed into Yixing's studio apartment meant for one, Joonmyun's whole life in six medium sized boxes.

He remembers thinking that he couldn't possibly have this and music, and music was far more likely to be forgiven than how nicely Yixing's hipbones fit in his palms.

"I know that, too," Yixing says. "But… You're an adult now, Joonmyun. There isn't anyone watching over your shoulder to make sure you do the ‘right thing'." He says it like he doesn't believe there is a right thing, or like what Joonmyun thinks is the right thing is all twisted up and backwards.

And there are, always will be, someone watching over his shoulder. There is a barracks full of reluctant soldiers. There's a room full of his parents' friends. There are his co-workers and his grandmother and his big brother. There are people he's never met, people he'll never meet. A whole world of people watching, studying, judging over his shoulder.

"You make it sound easy. Like wanting someone is enough." His stomach twists, a sour milk feeling. An ‘about to audition for the musical theater club's June play all over again' feeling.

"So you do want him." Yixing's lips tilt at the corners. "Don't worry, I won't tell. I never tell."

"Baekhyun is…" Funny. Loud. Smart in his own way. Mysterious. Sometimes wiser than his years. "He's Baekhyun," says Joonmyun, finally, gripping his phone in his hands and wanting to shrug. "He's Baekhyun, and I…"

"I just want you to be happy," Yixing says. "I want all my friends to be happy."

It reminds him of last night. "What happened with Taemin?" Joonmyun asks. "He enlisted a week ago, right? Is he sick? Everyone gets sick the first month. All those germs in a small space."

"Not sick," Yixing says, hugging himself. Joonmyun immediately focuses in on him. "He just needed to talk. I stayed on the phone with him until he ran out of minutes for the week. You know how they only get to make a certain number of calls."

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "It makes everyone homesick."

"Do you think you could come with me to visit him?" Yixing asks. "It won't be for a while. He still has four weeks of basic left." He frowns. "I'm not a citizen, so I need someone Korean to vouch for me to get on base."

"Does he know where he'll be assigned? Is he in the lottery for KATUSA?" Joonmyun licks his lips, suppressing a shudder. "And yes," he says. "Of course I'll take you."

"I appreciate that," Yixing says. "I think… I think you might be able to help him, too. I'm not asking you just for your ID card and your car."

"Help him with what?" Joonmyun asks.

"You've already made it through," replies Yixing. "I never had to, so I can't…."

Joonmyun's phone quacks. laundry and delivery? dont hurt yourself, gramps

He looks up and Yixing is smiling again. "What?"

"I think Baekhyun makes you happy," Yixing says. "It's nice to see."



It's raining ice the next evening as Joonmyun climbs out of his car. A wave of heat hits him as he opens the door to ComicsPlease, though, warming his hands immediately.

His eyes seek Baekhyun out on reflex, combing the aisles until they land on a familiar hat. In Baekhyun's hands are a few comic volumes. He frowns at one of them, and then looks up to where the ones that look like it are. It's out of his reach, Joonmyun thinks, and he laughs, quietly enough that Baekhyun doesn't hear him.

The green of Baekhyun's shirt, with ‘Wonder Twins' written in a neon yellow across the bottom, doesn't look good with the red of his hat and apron. Baekhyun looks good, though, despite sleepy eyes and purple lips and a pouting expression as he tries to put a comic on the top shelf.

"You look like you need some help," Joonmyun says.

"You won't do," Baekhyun says, as he pushes the comic onto the shelf carefully. "You know, Joonmyun-hyung, you would really be the perfect guy if you grew about ten centimeters."

"I'm past the growing age," replies Joonmyun. "I have been for quite a while."

"Oh well," says Baekhyun. He crouches down, to move a couple of volumes that must be out of order. His jeans stretch on his thighs. Joonmyun fixes his eyes on Baekhyun's face. "There is still hope for me, though." Baekhyun smirks. "I'm in the flower of my youth, after all."

"Sure, sure," Joonmyun says. "You wouldn't want me to be tall, anyway."

"You're right," Baekhyun says, "you're uncoordinated enough without super-long limbs." Baekhyun stands up and dusts his hands on his jeans. "You would probably do that thing your friend Kris Wu does if you were tall."

"What thing?"

"The lurking thing." Baekhyun chuckles. "The standing on the edge of the dance floor with his elbows tucked thing."

"Those elbows caused a lot of damage in college." Joonmyun follows Baekhyun back to the counter. Zitao is chatting with someone broad-shouldered, tall and slim.

"You've known him that long?" Baekhyun blows a fat bubble with his gum. "Hmm."

"About ten years," Joonmyun says. "Although we took a couple of years off."

Baekhyun looks on the verge of asking a question, but instead he opens the gate and walks behind the counter, bumping Zitao away from the register with his hip. "Don't pretend you're up here being useful."

"Sorry, Baekhyunnie-hyung, it's my fault," says the man Zitao is talking to. He laughs as Joonmyun leans onto the counter, and turns with a smile. Now Joonmyun recognizes Sehun. "It seems you were also chatting on the job. Kim Joonmyun-ssi, right?"

"You've met?" Zitao asks. "When did that happen?"

Across the bar while Sehun was wearing tiny gold shorts. It's totally not a big deal that Joonmyun went to TRANCE, because he had a valid reason to have been there, but it still makes him uncomfortable.

"Oh, here and there," Sehun answers, smiling secretively. "It's a small world."

"I was just asking Sehun if he minded watching Ting-ting next week," Zitao says.

"Got a hot date?" Baekhyun teases, and Zitao smirks.

"Maybe," he replies, and Sehun rolls his eyes.

"I'll watch Ting," Sehun says. "If you ask Baekhyun, she'll suddenly develop some new phobia."

"Oh really?" Joonmyun likes the way Baekhyun's eyes take on a devious glint. "Like what?"

"Last time," Zitao says, "Ting wouldn't eat the strawberry popsicles from the Family Mart by my place for weeks. I asked her why, and she told me she didn't want to be a murderer."

"She kept whining at me to buy her one," Baekhyun explains, looking over to the stairs as a group of teenagers still in uniform stomp down them. "So I bought her one, and as she ate it, I told her strawberry seeds were basically strawberry babies and asked her if she could hear them screaming every time she took a bite."

"Essentially," Sehun says, "Baekhyun is a horrible person and he should never be left with anyone's child."

"I agree," Baekhyun says. "I've been trying to convince Zitao of this for years."

"I'd better go." Sehun looks reluctant. He steals a glance at Zitao, who is now organizing a bundle of receipts. Sehun's eyes peruse his face, and linger too long on Zitao's mouth. Joonmyun stares at Baekhyun instead. "I have homework to do."

"University student?" asks Joonmyun as he watches Baekhyun pull a new bottle of water from behind the counter and twist the cap open. He takes a long sip, and some of the water spills onto his shirt and apron.

"Shit," Baekhyun says, frowning down at his shirt.

"Attractive, hyung," Zitao adds, and Sehun is laughing as he answers Joonmyun.

"Yeah," Sehun says. "And it's exams."

"Good luck," Baekhyun says. "Better you than me." He wipes the back of his hand across his lips. The purple is fainter, and there's a smear of wet across his cheek. Baekhyun's skin is so pretty when it's wet. When water runs down his arms and chest and neck in the shower, or when it rains and even an umbrella can't protect him from the moisture.

Joonmyun's mouth is dry. He swallows.

"You hate school." Sehun laughs. "I don't. So yeah, definitely better me than you."

"Of course I hate school. I hate authority and I hate sitting still," Baekhyun says. "That's all school is."

Reflex has Joonmyun considering coming to school's defense, but instead he just pulls the bag over his shoulder in front of him, unbuckling it to pull out a plastic bag.

"See ya, hyung," Sehun says, still chuckling. "And I think I can manage next week, Zitao."

"You're the best," Zitao says, smiling widely, and Sehun's neck goes red.

"Nice to see you again, Joonmyun," he says, and Baekhyun leans across the counter to smack his arm.

"Use polite language, you little—"

"Nice to see you again, Kim Joonmyun-ssi," Sehun corrects with little enthusiasm, and Joonmyun struggles to keep a straight face.

"Hyung will do," Joonmyun corrects, and Sehun gives Baekhyun a smug grin as he leaves.

"Don't encourage him," Baekhyun mutters. "He's the rudest little punk on the planet."

"He's bigger than you," Zitao says. "And I think you're just mad that he stole your title."

"So this brat was the rudest until Sehun showed up?" Joonmyun points his thumb at Baekhyun.

"Absolutely," Zitao replies. "What's in the bag, hyung?"

"Baekhyun's shirt," Joonmyun says. "He loaned it to me yesterday." He hands the bag over to Baekhyun, who opens the plastic bag suspiciously.

"I can't believe you washed it."

"It's not mine," Joonmyun explains. "I take care of other people's things."

Zitao laughs at them both, before he sees something behind them. Joonmyun looks over his shoulder. There's a girl in a middle school uniform struggling to reach a comic on the same shelf Baekhyun had just battled with. He pulls a face of annoyance and frustration. "Well, back to work for me." He sighs heavily.

"We're closing in fifteen minutes, Tao," Baekhyun says, shoving him through the counter gate. "Now go use those bulging biceps to save that damsel in distress."

Baekhyun takes his apron off and folds it up, setting it on the counter. The plastic bag gets jammed into his backpack.

"Sure you don't want to change shirts?" Joonmyun asks, his stomach digging into the counter as he reaches for the wet spot above the Wonder Twins' heads. His hand presses flat on Baekhyun's chest, and Baekhyun leans into it, blowing another bubble. It pops loudly, and Joonmyun drops his hand.

The loss of contact bothers him. "I'm just going home," Baekhyun says. "No one to impress."

"Don't you want to impress me?" It's habit, rolling off his tongue as easily as if he were across a table with a glass of expensive wine.

Baekhyun zips his backpack. It's loud. Then he drags his hand down his chest. "What, twins don't do it for you?" Another snap of his gum. "Would Wonder Woman be better?"

"What do you think?" Joonmyun replies quietly, and Baekhyun bends over the counter, putting his weight on his elbows and cradling his face in both palms.

"Hmmm," Baekhyun says. "I don't have any Beast Boy shirts."

"Who is Beast Boy?"

Baekhyun grins. "Do I need to teach you about comics?" The dark brown of Baekhyun's eyebrows peeks through the bleached hair that hangs across his forehead. "Because that would be my pleasure."

"I still get to be seonsaengnim, right?"

"That depends on whether being seonsaengnim means I have to pay for my own drinks." Baekhyun squishes his whole face up in consternation. "Are you busy tonight? Do you want to get drinks?"

"I'm too old for drinks every night, Baekhyunnie." He holds Baekhyun's gaze. Baekhyun makes a soft hum of understanding. He sticks out his tongue. It's coated with a thin layer of Xylitol, and it's ridiculous. "I get hangovers, now."

"But that only answers one of my questions." Baekhyun's eyes are bright. His lips curl up, and Joonmyun knows how that tiny little grin tastes now. "Are you busy tonight?"

Joonmyun likes Baekhyun. He likes him and he wants to kiss him and he hasn't felt like this for a long time, about anyone. "Depends."

"On what?" Baekhyun starts shutting down the register. Zitao walks behind the counter again, taking his own apron off and folding it up, setting it next to Baekhyun's. The Hangul of his nametag are fat in comparison to Baekhyun's tiny syllable blocks, stretching to fill the white space on the rectangle.

Joonmyun's coat is starting to make his clothes stick to his skin. It's so cold outside, though. He will miss the dry, static heat as soon as he takes his first step out the door. "Do you want to help me finish my song?"

"What?"

"That's what I'm doing tonight," says Joonmyun. "You'd be welcome to join me."

Zitao looks between the two of them and shakes his head. "I'm headed out. You okay to lock up, hyung?"

"Naturally," Baekhyun says. "Go pick up your monster." Zitao waves as he ascends the stairs, leaving Baekhyun and Joonmyun alone in the shop.

Baekhyun methodically shuts off all the lights, making sure to double-check that the heater has been turned off. "Damn, it's so cold," he says, when they step outside. He fumbles with the keys. "I can't even feel my fingers."

"At least it's not sleeting anymore," Joonmyun says. "So. Are you coming with me?"

"What's in it for me?"

"Tonight is a good night for black sauce noodles," Joonmyun says. "Takeout."

"Are you inviting me home with you?" The tips of Baekhyun's ears are turning pink in the cold. Baseball hats aren't appropriate winter wear. "How racy."

"It's not the first time," Joonmyun replies, smiling. His stomach clenches. Unclenches. Clenches again.

"It's kind of like it is," says Baekhyun, averting his eyes. A car drives past, illuminating the contours of Baekhyun's face. In that fraction of a moment of light, there is visible uncertainty.

"No, it isn't," Joonmyun says, on an unclench. "You're still you, and I'm still me." He reaches out and grabs the sleeve of Baekhyun's coat. "And I don't have anything special for you in the fridge."

"Good," Baekhyun says. "That makes me feel better."

The rain starts again as they drive across the Mapodaegyo, the Han rippling on either side of them. Baekhyun looks out, watching cars pass them. His breath creates circles of mist on the window.

"The river is nice at night," Joonmyun says. "I like driving across it."

"This is the first time I've seen this route without a fever." Baekhyun scoots down in the seat. "Why don't any of the buttons work?"

"It isn't the same route we took that night," says Joonmyun. "And I put the child safety locks on as soon as you closed your door, brat."

"Hahaha," Baekhyun says. "Very funny. And why are we going a different route?"

"I'm taking you somewhere they'll never think to look for the body." Joonmyun chuckles as Baekhyun leans over to slap his thigh. The chuckles dry up as Baekhyun leaves his hand there. A steady weight. "Just kidding. We're avoiding traffic."

"It's a Saturday night." Baekhyun's fingers drag higher. Joonmyun keeps his eyes fixed on the car in front of them, a silver Hyundai with those new moving smart-mirrors that Song Qian mentions wanting on her next car at least once a week. "It's not exactly rush-hour."

"Hmmm, you're thinking like a non-driver," says Joonmyun. "Where is everyone going on a Saturday night?"

"Out," Baekhyun says. "They probably don't hang out with old men like I do."

"Do you spend a lot of time with old men, Baekhyunnie?" Joonmyun smiles, even as Baekhyun's palm makes him extremely aware of his leg. Of how close they're sitting in this car. Of how Joonmyun is operating a motor vehicle and he isn't a teenager, so there isn't any excuse for his distraction.

"I used to," Baekhyun says. "Now there's just you."

"The quickest route between Gangnam and Hongdae is to take the 46 across the Han," says Joonmyun. "That takes fifteen minutes less, normally, than the way we're going."

"Normally," Baekhyun says. "How about tonight?"

"Probably thirty minutes more," Joonmyun says. "And the river doesn't look nearly as pretty, when you're going across on the 46."

"You've never struck me as the type to take the scenic route." He smiles. "That seems more like something Yixing-hyung would do."

"You're right," Joonmyun says. "But sometimes I deviate from the expected path."

"Do you just wake up some mornings and decide to drop out of a prestigious university to become a music producer relegated to liner notes?"

"While the most notable," says Joonmyun, "that's most certainly not my only deviation."

Baekhyun still has his gum. He chews it loudly. Joonmyun had never turned on the radio. Prodding at his seat warmer and frowning as the child safety locks prevent him from changing the temperature it's set at, Baekhyun sighs. He pulls his hand back to his own lap. Joonmyun misses it.

He increases the pace of the windshield wipers.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "But I might not answer it."

"How many men have you kissed?" Baekhyun asks.

Joonmyun frowns. "Three," he says. "Although I'm not sure the first one counts."

"What does that mean?"

"Hmmm, that sounds like a different question." Joonmyun steals a look at Baekhyun from the corner of his eye as he pulls off onto a side street. Taking the back ways, he'll be able to avoid almost all of the traffic. "I think I was too young for it to have counted. Beginning of high school. It didn't mean anything."

"I kissed a man for the first time when I was thirteen," Baekhyun says. "You weren't too young."

"Kissed a man, or kissed a boy?" Joonmyun asks, with a small laugh, and Baekhyun stops chewing his gum for a moment.

"No," he says. "I kissed a man." Baekhyun seems, sometimes, so much older than his years. "Then, when I was seventeen, I kissed more of them."

Joonmyun does not reply. Instead, he drives.

He shows Baekhyun houses he remembers from when he was younger.

"A friend of mine from high school lived there," he says, pointing. "His mother made the best seafood pajeon, so we always wanted to have study group there, even though my family's place was bigger."

Baekhyun is quiet, taking in the opulence of the houses with an unreadable expression on his face.

Joonmyun might have said something wrong. Or maybe Baekhyun is just out of words. It isn't a bad quiet. Definitely not bad, because Baekhyun smiles at him, small and sincere, and something flutters in Joonmyun's chest.

The rest of the drive is filled with the soundtrack of heavy rain pounding down on the car, Joonmyun driving slowly down familiar backstreets as Baekhyun continues to stare out of the window, even when the rain makes it impossible to see anything.

They pull into the parking garage, and Joonmyun sighs as he turns the car off. He waves at the doorman, who lets them in without hesitation, and both of them watch the rainy streets through the glass wall of the elevator.

They get to Joonmyun's, and he unlocks the door and walks in. Bending over to untie his boots, he's surprised when Baekhyun rests a hand on his back to steady him, the center of his palm pressing into the base of Joonmyun's spine.

Baekhyun closes the door, his own sneakers pushed off without getting untied. He easily finds the light, and the brightness burns Joonmyun's eyes.

Joonmyun stands up, free of his heavy winter boots, and Baekhyun is staring at him. His gaze is steady. Unflinching. His mouth is still purple, and Joonmyun's stomach clenches again as his tongue swipes nervously? - yes, nervously - along his bottom lip.

It's not a conscious decision to push Baekhyun against the wall and kiss him. It's instinct, and Baekhyun's heart pounds with the doong doong of a drum against his own as Joonmyun presses into him. The material of their coats squeaks as Joonmyun slides his lips along Baekhyun's. Hands in Joonmyun's hair, Baekhyun tilts left, opening his mouth and making everything hotter. Joonmyun's tongue slides forward, between Baekhyun's lips. He finds Baekhyun's warm tongue to greet him, along with a huge wad of Xylitol. It makes him laugh, and he sucks on Baekhyun's upper lip for a moment before pulling away, free of Baekhyun's hands.

"Forgot about the gum," Joonmyun says, still laughing, and Baekhyun, with his pink cheeks and messy hair, smiles at him widely. Sticky Byun Baekhyun, with his sticky lips and his sticky grin and his sticky voice.

His hat has fallen to the floor, revealing grown-out roots, and his shirt-neck is askew. "And our coats," Baekhyun says. "But that's okay, since I've been wanting to kiss you since you walked down the stairs into the shop earlier."

"Only since then?" Joonmyun drops his coat to the floor, and Baekhyun copies him. "I've been thinking about it a lot."

"Well," says Baekhyun, husky-voiced and suddenly dangerous, walking toward Joonmyun until he can spread both of his hands wide on his chest, "the truth is…" He pushes, and Joonmyun stumbles back, tripping on his coat but falling onto the sofa, wind knocked out of him.

"The truth is…?" Joonmyun asks, as Baekhyun slides easily into his lap, trapping Joonmyun beneath him.

"After you left for work yesterday, I jacked off thinking about it," Baekhyun whispers, and Joonmyun shivers. He hasn't turned on the ondol, but he's too warm with Baekhyun on top of him to care. "I was twenty minutes late for work, and it was all your fault."

Joonmyun desperately wants to know what Baekhyun sounds like when he comes. "Oh," Joonmyun says, and he hesitates. It seems so scary, to reach out and lay his hands on Baekhyun's thighs. But once he does, pushing them up until he has a hold on Baekhyun's hips is easy. "Sorry about that, really."

"You should be," Baekhyun says, and he bends down and kisses Joonmyun again, closed-mouthed and soft. "How many men have you kissed more than once?"

"Just two," Joonmyun says. He cups Baekhyun's cheek. Drags his thumb along his cheekbone. "I'm extremely selective."

"Or you've always wished you wanted something else," Baekhyun says, leaning into Joonmyun's touch.

"Yes," Joonmyun admits, "but I want…" He wants Baekhyun to sing. To curl closer and closer and to laugh, loudly and obnoxiously. He wants Baekhyun to sit next to him and ask him no questions, so Joonmyun can move around in his own skin and think he might someday be comfortable in it. He can taste Baekhyun on his lips when he licks them. "I want you more than I want that."

Joonmyun can feel Baekhyun's breath catch, and he can hear the gentle exhale that follows. He looks into Baekhyun's eyes, and watches the surprise get swallowed up in playful happiness. "I don't know, seonsaengnim," Baekhyun drawls. "Teacher-student relationships are usually frowned upon."

‘Relationships' make Joonmyun think about Sunyoung, and Yixing. About how everything that starts must end, fading out to that gap of nothing between track three and track four.

He doesn't want to think about Baekhyun and endings.

"Don't look so scared," Baekhyun says. Joonmyun is eye to eye with one of the Wonder Twins, but he's aware of Baekhyun peering down on him. "It's only me."

"Only you is really a lot," replies Joonmyun, and Baekhyun laughs, flashing his teeth and the purple of his tongue.

"Too much?" Baekhyun asks, lightly, and Joonmyun runs his thumb along the waistband of Baekhyun's jeans, tip brushing skin between shirt and pants.

"No," Joonmyun says. "No."

Baekhyun pulls a tissue from the box that sits on the edge of the table, leaning back and relying on Joonmyun to keep him from falling, and spits out his gum.

A few hours later, their plastic bowls of black sauce noodles stacked by the door, Joonmyun is stretched out on the floor on his back, looking at the music sheets he'd started the last time Baekhyun was here. Baekhyun is next to him, on his side. He has black sauce on his cheek.

"You were working on this while I was sick," he says.

"I won't sing it for you," Joonmyun says. "Don't even ask."

Baekhyun smirks at him, and then narrows his eyes at the music. He hums the first few bars. "It's still pretty."

"It's just a start," says Joonmyun. "I'm not sure what it's the start of, yet."

"What's this song for?" Joonmyun gives Baekhyun a curious glance. "A new D.O. single?" Baekhyun shifts, his hand dragging across the skin of Joonmyun's stomach. Baekhyun's nail scratches lightly just under his belly button through the cotton, and Joonmyun catches his hand. "Or is it for that new artist you're not allowed to talk about?" He does that eyelash thing.

"No," Joonmyun says. "Something else." He twists, rolling onto his side in order to pin Baekhyun down with his leg across the other man's hips. Baekhyun falls onto his back with a squeak. "It's my secret, so don't think I'll tell you just because you're acting cute."

"I'm very cute, though," says Baekhyun, "aren't I?" He lifts his head up and kisses Joonmyun at the corner of his mouth. "Hmm?" The eyelashes again.

"I'll cut off those eyelashes, brat," Joonmyun says. "Eventually."

"No, you won't," Baekhyun says, and he grabs the now-crumpled music sheets from Joonmyun's hand. "Because you like me." He hums the beginning of the song once more, and Joonmyun watches him, like it's the first time he's hearing Baekhyun sing, all over again. "You want me."

Joonmyun looks down at Baekhyun. There's something in his voice. Something that curls around Joonmyun's heart and chokes it. "What if I take it up a key?" Joonmyun asks.

"Tell me more," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun leans down to lick the black sauce from his cheek. "Even if you work for the machine, I'll offer an ear."

"The machine?" Joonmyun laughs. "Spoken like a true off-label singer."

"I prefer to think of myself as a musical comic book peddler," Baekhyun says. "Future occupation undetermined."

Joonmyun grins. "You've got a wide open future."

"So do you," says Baekhyun, and this time, he sings the song with Joonmyun's lyrics.

It suits him.



He's on his way back from Kris's office when he finds Jongdae out in the hallway by himself, curled up into a ball. His back is pressed to the wall and his arms are wrapped tightly around his legs, like he's expecting a kick to the stomach.

Otherwise, the hallway is empty, closed office doors around them.

"Shouldn't you be in dance class?" Joonmyun had lunch with Yixing. He knows Yixing has been spending a lot of time around the company, lately, since Jongdae's debut is really only a few days away.

"I told them I needed a bathroom break and escaped."

"Escaped?" Joonmyun walks over to stand next to Jongdae, leaning back against the wall. "Don't you need all the practice you can get?"

"It's real now," says Jongdae. "It's real. I'm debuting in a few days." He takes a hiccupping breath, and Joonmyun slides down the wall to sit next to him. "I'm going to pass out."

"Don't do that," Joonmyun says. "At least not in the PR hallways. That would be a bad start."

Jongdae laughs, rough and nervous. "Yeah, hyung, you've got a point."

"So tell me about why you're going to pass out," Joonmyun says.

"You'll probably think this is stupid."

"I won't," Joonmyun says. "I promise."

"I've wanted to be an idol for a long time, and suddenly, it was all happening so fast. I was only a trainee for a few months before I was working with you, with you, and eating lunch with Luna and DoubleK and D.O. Recording songs and learning from personal dance instructors, and—" He rubs at his cheeks. "And now it's here and I'm scared. There's a zit on my forehead and I'll probably forget the words and—"

"It's not stupid to be nervous," says Joonmyun. "Most people get nervous. That's what makes it exciting, right?"

"Do you get nervous?" Jongdae's hair is ridiculous. Soft curls that frame the sharp, angular planes of his face. It only changed a couple of days ago. Joonmyun hadn't blinked but Jongdae had looked like he wanted to cry about it.

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "That's why I became a writer and a producer. I love music, but I can't do what you guys do."

"If you can't do it, hyung…" Jongdae laughs. "You asked Sunyoung-noona on a date, and you're afraid of the stage? That means the stage must be pretty scary."

"But you'll be okay." Joonmyun leans against the wall. "You're made to be onstage. I can tell from your practices and from the way you love it when everyone's eyes are on you."

"I'll mess up the dance Yixing-hyung taught me for sure." Jongdae sighs.

"So? You're a solo artist. No one will know unless you tell them." Joonmyun grins at Jongdae. "I suggest you don't. At least not for a few years, at which point it'll be funny on a variety show."

"What if I walk onto the stage, see all those people, and just blank?"

"When Kyungsoo debuted, he messed up his whole intro. Everyone teased him for weeks." Joonmyun nudges Jongdae with his shoulder. Like Joonmyun's big brother had done, the night before Joonmyun had taken his high school entrance exams. You're the smart one. You'll do fine.

"I can handle a few weeks," Jongdae says. "It would be worse if I forgot the words to my own song though."

"You won't forget the words," Joonmyun says. "I've got this friend who claims to have a really horrible memory, and he never forgets the words. So you? You'll do fine." Chuckling, Joonmyun gives Jongdae a reassuring look. "Really. If Baekhyun can remember the words to his songs, even after too many drinks, you can."

"Baekhyun?" Jongdae's grip around his legs loosens. "Byun Baekhyun?"

Joonmyun's stomach lurches, like he's seasick. "Do you know him?"

"Well, yeah," Jongdae says. "We went to high school together. He was almost a trainee over at CUBE."

"A trainee?" Don't be too curious. Joonmyun licks his lips and tries to catch his breath.

"Mmmhmm," Jongdae says. "Not for long. He passed some audition, won third place or something. But then there was some kind of… I don't know. Rumor had it that he showed up for lessons and was told to go home. Like he was kicked out before he even really started, maybe. What I do know is that after that, he started getting into all kinds of fights and stuff. Always in trouble with the teachers." Jongdae's voice drops to a whisper, even though they're alone in the big hallway. "Plus, there's… His big brother, Baekbeom, you know? He's in jail, or something."

Joonmyun's hands clench into fists. He makes himself relax them. Tension makes it hard to play piano, and he plans on playing his keyboard all afternoon. "I didn't know he even wanted be a trainee," says Joonmyun, and Jongdae bites down on his lip. Worry is a new expression on Jongdae's face for Joonmyun, eyes distant and looking at nothing. It makes him look older. Joonmyun prefers the feral cat smile. "He never mentioned…"

"Kids from rough families don't make good idols, though."

"If it were me," Jongdae says quietly, "and I had my dream snatched away right when I'd thought I could grab for it, I wouldn't want to talk about it either." His eyes focus sharply on Joonmyun. "Baekhyun has a really nice voice, doesn't he?"

"He does," Joonmyun says. "He keeps getting better." Baekhyun soaks up everything Joonmyun teaches him. Baekhyun, who resents teachers and guards his privacy and loves to be on stage.

"Not everyone gets to go on a stage as big as the one I'll be on, huh?" Jongdae stretches his legs in front of them. They don't reach the opposite wall. Neither do Joonmyun's. "I should be thankful, right?"

"It's okay that you're scared," Joonmyun says. "It's scary." He pulls his legs in and rises up, sliding up the wall the same way he'd slid down. "But if you let it scare you into not doing it, you'll always be afraid of it. And that…" Joonmyun runs his fingers through the hair in front of his ears. "And that's something you'll always regret."

"I won't let it stop me," Jongdae says. "And I won't forget the words."

"You're a good kid," Joonmyun says. "You're going to be amazing."

Jongdae grins. "Thanks, hyung," he says, and stands up too. His glasses slide down his nose, and his hair is really atrocious. Joonmyun leans forward and casually messes it up. "Qian-noona is going to kill me for that."

"Tell her I did it," Joonmyun says with a wink. He smiles back at Jongdae, curtaining off his Baekhyun thoughts and relegating them to a different part of his mind for later examination. "That should get you off the hook."

"I really admire you," says Jongdae, when Joonmyun thinks he's about to walk away.

Joonmyun pulls at his sleeves, trapping the cuff between his thumb and index finger and pulling the fabric more out of shape. "You shouldn't," he says. "I speak about all the regret from experience."

"I think everyone regrets something," Jongdae says. "If we were perfect from the start, we wouldn't have anything to aim for." Joonmyun stares at him, and Jongdae blushes. "At least, that's what my vocal coach said."

Laughing, Joonmyun shakes his head. "Go back to dance rehearsal, Kim Jongdae."

"Yes sir, yes sir," Jongdae says, rushing off down the hall toward the stairs and leaving Joonmyun alone in the hall.



"Baekhyun didn't come with you?" Chanyeol cleans up nicely, professionally tailored slacks and an expertly knotted necktie making up for the bleached hair.

They are in the lobby of the Chungmu Art Hall. It's filled with well-dressed people much older than them. It'd been easy to spot Chanyeol, a head above the rest.

"He's working," Joonmyun says. "Should he have? I thought you were inviting me." Joonmyun had mentioned this, to Baekhyun, and Baekhyun had smirked. "Sounds like a perfect night for you."

"Baekhyun's possessive sometimes," Chanyeol says, loud voice drawing stares. It doesn't bother Joonmyun as much as it would have this time last year. "And he… He likes you." Chanyeol stares him down, and Joonmyun laughs.

"I know," says Joonmyun, and Chanyeol's big round eyes focus in with unexpected sharpness. Joonmyun's palms go hot. He winks at Chanyeol, hoping to get the message across without saying anything, and Chanyeol's mouth gapes unattractively for a moment before he snorts.

"So, tell me why you like pansori, Joonmyun-hyung." He sits down on one of the wooden benches against the walls. With his long torso, he and Joonmyun are almost eye to eye. "You said your grandfather was into it?"

"My grandfather loved it," says Joonmyun. "I can remember being little and sitting on his lap as we listened to old records." The ones in the back of his closet, that he can't pull out without an ache in his chest. "He used to tell me that the traditional arts were important. That pansori is not just music, it's a representation of Korean culture."

"Sounds like my sister," Chanyeol says. He picks up a discarded flier next to him. "As you can probably see."

"She looks just like you," Joonmyun says. Park Yura is scribbled on the bottom of the flier. Performing Sacheon-ga. "I read about this," he adds, with surprise, after a moment. "I didn't connect it, in my head. She wrote this, didn't she?"

Sacheon-ga isn't really a pansori so much as a play performed in the pansori style. He'd read the article about it from the Chosun to his grandmother in the hospital last month. "Pansori based on 20th century German plays," she'd said. "What will you kids think of next?"

"Yeah," Chanyeol says. "She did. We both take a lot of inspiration from old stuff." He shrugs. "In the genes."

"My grandfather and I are the only musical people in my family," Joonmyun says. There's a flash, in his mind's eye, of his mother correcting the position of his hands on the keyboard his grandfather had bought him. "My mother might play the piano."

"Might?"

"I'm not sure," he elaborates. "When I wanted to learn to play seriously, she sent me to hagwon."

"Sore spot?" Chanyeol slips his hands into his pockets. "Anyway, it's cool that you like pansori. Baekhyun only likes it because he's listened to it so much, and it's rare to find other people our age who really enjoy it."

"It reminds me of the person who was most important to me growing up," Joonmyun says. "It's like a hug when you most need it."

"I can tell you're a songwriter," Chanyeol says.

"Most people tell me I look like an investment banker."

Chanyeol chuckles, pushing his black glasses up his nose. "I thought that was the SM Entertainment behind-the-scenes uniform."

"Only for Kris," says Joonmyun. "But his job is more… PR-related than mine is." People around them start standing up and moving as one toward the theater entrance.

"We should go, too," Chanyeol says. "Front row." As they find their seats, Chanyeol tells him more about the show. "It's based on a Bertolt Brecht play," he says. "When noona was studying theater in Germany she thought about how the story could say so much about Korean culture."

"And so she rewrote it."

"She remade it," Chanyeol says. "The core story is the same, but the work is… it's a transformative work."

"You must be proud of her," Joonmyun says.

"She not only wrote it," he replies, "but the way she performs it. It's pure, right? The artist, realizing her own work."

"I can't wait to watch it," he says sincerely, and Chanyeol reveals at least twenty-five of the thirty-two teeth in the human mouth.

The performance… is unlike anything that Joonmyun has ever seen. There is no buk, but there is an electric guitar, and a xylophone, and a bunch of other percussion instruments Joonmyun has never seen anywhere near a pansori performance. But Park Yura… her voice soars through verses Joonmyun had never heard, with the same satire mixed with sorrow and melancholy that he knows by heart.

It's amazing, and Joonmyun watches, rapt, as the story unfolds before him, familiar and startlingly unfamiliar.

And when she finishes, flush with triumph and exertion and bowing before a rapt audience, Joonmyun longs for that kind of accomplishment. To feel that triumph for himself.

"Wow," he says to Chanyeol as they're leaving. "Just, wow."

"I knew you'd like it," Chanyeol says. "Let me introduce you."

When he's sitting alone in the car, after saying goodbye to Chanyeol and his sister, several of the verses repeating in his head, Joonmyun wishes…

His heart is heavy in his chest, and he remembers, so clearly, how close he used to be to music. Sometimes, when he thinks how it used to feel, in those dingy clubs with Changmin, both of them smelling like cheap tequila behind the mixer, Joonmyun wonders if he has traded one box for another.



"Lately, I feel very old," Joonmyun says, and Kris chokes on his wine.

"What? You're twenty-nine, Joonmyun. Twenty-nine is not old." Kris dabs at his tiny mouth with a napkin. "Twenty-nine is young."

"I didn't say I am old, just that I feel it."

"This wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that you spend most of your time with someone eight years younger than you are, would it?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "I think he feels as old as I do, some days."

"What do you mean?" Kris looks tired, today. He has dark shadows beneath his eyes, and the difference between the right and the left is more obvious when his eyelids droop.

"When I quit school, it wasn't because I wanted to be difficult." Joonmyun takes a sip of tonight's selection, a sweet red far more to Kris's taste than his own. "It was because I wanted to make music, and school wasn't helping me do that."

"And now you make music," Kris says. "Living the dream."

"If the me that dropped out of college could see the music I make now," says Joonmyun, "I think he'd be pretty disappointed." He laughs. "Sorry, never mind."

"No," Kris says. "Talk to me. That's what friends are for, right?"

"I thought friends were for getting drunk and talking about girls with," replies Joonmyun.

"You don't really want to talk about girls, though, do you?" Kris says, and Joonmyun's gut rolls. He feels himself go pale, and he makes fists of his fingers in his lap. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have…"

"It's fine," Joonmyun says. "It really is." He takes the bottle in the cooler and pours himself another half-glass.

"Still, I didn't mean to upset you."

"I'm not upset," says Joonmyun. The wine is too sweet, actually. It's saccharine on his tongue. "Soojung told me she set you up on a blind date with her sister."

"You are upset," Kris says. "But instead of talking about it, you're changing the subject."

"Do you want me to be upset?" Their table is a rich cherry wood. The leather of his chair slides against the nice material of his pants.

"I want you to talk to me," Kris says. "About something that matters."

"Why?" Joonmyun says. "So I can learn to depend on you, again? So I can count on you being around when I need you, and then have you disappear with no explanation and leave me alone?"

"Joonmyun—"

"I should go," he says. His hands are shaking. He bites his lip so hard it hurts. "I'll get the tab next week." His napkin falls on to the floor when he stands. He doesn't pick it up. He grabs his coat and leaves, avoiding looking at Kris's face as Kris calls his name again, quietly, sedately.

Once he's outside, the cold wind on his face reminds him that it's the middle of December. He shudders, zipping his coat all the way up until the zipper back presses to his mouth.

Baekhyun answers his phone on the fourth ring. "Hyung? Shouldn't you be out with Kris-ssi?"

"I am about to get very drunk," Joonmyun says. "On Garosu."

"Oooh, Sinsa, fancy," Baekhyun says. "Do you want company?"

"Only yours," replies Joonmyun, and Baekhyun laughs.

"Give me an address, and I'll be there in twenty minutes."

"It might take you thirty," Joonmyun says.

They meet at Mix Bar. It's full-up, but with a capacity of only about twenty-five people, it's not crowded. Joonmyun is on his third cocktail, and Baekhyun's legs look so long in black denim. When he takes off his coat, he's wearing a dark blue sweater, and his eyes are bright and lined.

He looks beautiful.

"I've never been here before," Baekhyun says.

"Mix Bar, or Garosu-gil?"

"Mix Bar," says Baekhyun. He orders a kiwi martini, and turns to Joonmyun. "Did you have a fight with your original date for tonight?"

"I don't have fights," Joonmyun says. "I have disagreements."

"That's the most prep-school thing I have ever heard you say." He laughs at Joonmyun. "Your eyebrow went up and everything."

"You like it," Joonmyun says. His tongue is being disobedient, and refuses to curl around the end of his verb. He takes a sip of his mango margarita.

"I do," Baekhyun says. "I like most things about you."

"Your mistake," says Joonmyun.

"Tell me one thing you don't like about me," Baekhyun says, resting some of his weight on his elbows. "I dare you."

"That you think I'm going to stop liking you," Joonmyun replies, and Baekhyun's glass, halfway to his mouth, stops moving.

"You don't know me well enough yet to say that you won't." Baekhyun takes his sip. "After all, maybe my favorite drink is a dealbreaker."

"You don't have to know everything about someone to know them, as a person," replies Joonmyun. He narrows his eyes. "I'm right and you know it."

"We'll see," says Baekhyun.

"Byun Baekhyun, I won't just stop liking you," Joonmyun snaps.

"Are we having a disagreement?" Baekhyun's lips quirk, and Joonmyun, surprised, laughs, covering his mouth to hold in the noise. When he's no longer in danger of drawing attention to himself, he lowers his hand.

"You always make me feel better," Joonmyun says. "How is it that you're the only person who has ever figured out how to do that?"

"Because despite our differences, there is something very alike about us, Kim Joonmyun. I knew it from the moment I saw you."

"The first moment?" Joonmyun teases. "Or the second first moment, when I had to remind you about my name."

"That time," Baekhyun says decisively, ordering another drink. "After the performance at Bbang, at the jazz club."

"And how are we alike, Baekhyunnie?"

"Sometimes," Baekhyun says, "you can see the sadness in people. It's like a vein beneath the skin, and in the right light, you can see it, coursing through their bodies, in the tips of fingers and on the insides of elbows."

Joonmyun knows what Baekhyun means. He sees it, sometimes, on the back of Sunyoung's hand when he drops a kiss there, or in the dark circles under Kyungsoo's eyes towards the end of a concert tour. "Yes," Joonmyun says. "You can."

"I knew you saw sadness, too, even that first night." Baekhyun pushes at the stem of his drink glass. The pale green liquid swishes in the bottom. "That's how we're alike."

"I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing." He can see the sadness in Kris, too, sometimes, when Kris thinks Joonmyun can't see him.

"Sadness is less frightening when you aren't the only person who can see it," Baekhyun says. "So being around you is… it's comfortable. Because I don't have to pretend there isn't this monster in the room. Because you know it's there, too."

Baekhyun laughs, at his own explanation maybe, or at himself, Joonmyun doesn't know. He does know that Baekhyun's laugh washes away the uneasiness that has been lurking between his shoulder blades far better than the alcohol had.

"I'm glad you could come out," Joonmyun says.

"Me too," replies Baekhyun. "You're adorable when you're hammered."



His grandmother is sitting in a chair by the window, an open book in her lap. "Halmeoni?"

"Joonmyunnie," she says, taking her glasses off with one hand and closing the book with the other, "how are you today?" Her eyes are alert, and her hair is neatly pulled back into a ponytail. She's wearing a flowered robe, one she used to wear when he was a kid, getting underfoot as she cooked in the kitchen.

"You look great," Joonmyun says. "I'm good, but you look great."

"You flatterer," she replies. "But I do, don't I?" She sets the book on the windowsill, her glasses glinting on top of it. "They're going to let me leave."

"What?" Joonmyun walks over to her, taking her hand in his. "When?"

"Before the lunar new year," she replies. "Within the next few weeks." She squeezes his hand. It's a firm grip. "They didn't think I would get better, but this old lady isn't done yet."

"So you're going to move in with…"

"There's still a room for me, there," she says. "Maybe I'll see my son more than twice a year if I live with him."

"I wouldn't count on it," says Joonmyun. "Unless things have drastically changed." He rubs his thumb in circles on the back of her hand. She smiles up at him.

"You'll still come and visit me, won't you?"

Walking into his childhood home, even if it's to see his grandmother, fills Joonmyun with a special kind of dread. "Of course I will," he says. "I wouldn't want you to get bored."

"That will make your mother happy," his grandmother says. "She always wants to see you, even if she can't bring herself to say it."

"I doubt that," Joonmyun says, laughing. "I'm the one she can't brag about at the annual university galas, right?"

She used to brag about him a lot. He'd overhear her in the grocery store, talking about his top grades and his entrance exam results. It must have been embarrassing, when Joonmyun quit school. When Joonmyun threw away all the investments his parents had made in his education.

"I can't stop you, Joonmyun. You're legally an adult, now. But it would significantly change the nature of our relationship."

"And you've decided that her being disappointed means she doesn't care about you?" She reaches up with her free hand and pats Joonmyun's cheek. "You're a smarter boy than that. Now help me up. Let's go for a walk."

"Yes, halmeoni," he says, pulling her up and guiding her arm around his waist.



"I hate to corner you like this," Minseok says, not looking sorry at all, "but you need to make up with Kris."

"I don't know what you mean," Joonmyun says. He smiles at Minseok, eyes checking how far away the door is. He'd come into the break room for a coffee, not a conversation. "We had a minor disagreement, and it doesn't need to be resolved."

"I would believe that if I'd only talked to you," Minseok says. "But Kris is not nearly as good at hiding his feelings as you are. He's the image of abject misery."

"It was only a minor disagreement," Joonmyun says. "I'm sure it will blow over."

"Look," Minseok says. "Usually I don't question your methods. Everyone likes you. Even your ex-girlfriend thinks you're the best, so you must be doing something right. But, I can tell you, whatever you said to Kris hit him hard. And it's not going to blow over."

"I didn't say anything to him that's untrue." Joonmyun crushes his paper coffee cup. "He crossed a line. I reminded him it was there." He stays calm. He isn't upset. There isn't any reason to be.

"Maybe you crossed a line, too," Minseok says. "You never know."

"I'll talk to him, okay?" He throws the paper cup in the trash and moves toward the door. "Before work is over today."

"Good man," Minseok says. "I hate pulling the big brother card, but this Jongin and Soojung scandal is getting out of hand, and we don't want it to overshadow Jongdae's debut. Which it will, unless Kris can get a handle on things."

"Right," Joonmyun says. "Business first."

"There's that, but also Kris looks pathetic and sad. And you're kind of out of it, too."

"I said I'd take care of it," Joonmyun replies, now past Minseok and lingering at the door. "I will."

"I know you will," Minseok says, and he doesn't protest when Joonmyun leaves.

Around eight, Joonmyun locks up his studio. He hadn't even really needed to come in, today, but he'd been curious to see how Kyungsoo's mini-album was shaping up.

He heads up to Kris's office instead of out. He knows Kris is still here, especially if the Jongin and Soojung scandal is as bad as Minseok has implied. Sure enough, the light is on, and Kris is slumped over his desk, work phone cradled between his ear and his shoulder.

"This is why we prefer our idols not to have Twitter," Kris says angrily. "I'll speak to Kai about it in the morning." He hangs up and drops the phone onto a nest of papers. Then he looks up. "I'm sorry, can I— Oh, Joonmyun."

"What's actually going on?" asks Joonmyun, sitting down across from Kris. "They usually have some buzz around them, I mean, that's the peril in a coed duo group, but…"

"Jongin uploaded a picture of Soojung kissing him on the cheek onto his Twitter," Kris says. "And then Soojung, the same day, said that ‘any guy she dated would have to get past Jongin.'" Kris's hand plows into his hair. "It's all so stupid. She sees him as a brother."

"And he sees her as a sister," Joonmyun adds. "He probably didn't think anything of the picture, because his sisters do that to him all the time."

"His sisters aren't idols," Kris says. "At this rate, we'll have to push Jongdae back a week, and we can't really afford to."

"I'm really glad I don't have your job right now," Joonmyun says. "I never wanted it, but I admit to being especially relieved right now."

"Shut up, Joonmyun," Kris says, rubbing his eyes. "Are you talking to me again?"

"I was never not talking to you," Joonmyun says. "I'm sorry for being rude last night."

Kris's phone rings again, but he just looks at it, then switches it to vibrate. He keeps staring at it, before he raises his head to stare at Joonmyun instead. "I always knew things had changed, when I came back. But I never really knew why."

"People change," Joonmyun says. "Relationships change with them, or they fall apart."

"I let you down," Kris says. "That's why you… I didn't know, Joonmyun. I really didn't." He starts straightening the papers on his desk.

"You left out of nowhere, Kris. Just an e-mail a few days later that said basically Off to Canada, talk to you later!" Joonmyun does not want to have this conversation, but he can't stop the words. "How was I supposed to feel?"

"I didn't know you could be let down," Kris says, spreading his hands out flat on the desk. "It's not like you'd ever needed me before."

"What are you talking about?"

"You were invincible, right?" Kris laughs. "Amazing family that was so proud of you. Friends with everyone. Calm, cool, collected Joonmyun."

"Acquaintances with everyone," Joonmyun says. "Friends with you." Just you.

Kris frowns. "You had the music thing, but you never let it get in the way of your top grades. Sure, I was your ‘closest friend', but you didn't really need one, did you? You had everything under control. I would talk to you about all the things I was afraid of, and all you'd talk to me about was how you needed to study for your stats test."

"You could have told me you were leaving," Joonmyun says. "I still don't even—"

"Honestly," Kris says, "it seemed impossible to talk about my problems to someone I thought could never possibly get them. What would you know about fucked up families and being as angry as I was?" Kris laughs. "You have to understand, Joonmyun, until maybe a few months ago, you always projected… This perfect, untouchable guy. No weaknesses. Just flirtatious and distant and unreadable." His phone vibrates on the table. He should pick it up. He doesn't. "When you broke up with Sunyoung, it was tiny chink in your armor, but not enough for me to really see anything."

"So back then, even though I told you that you were my best friend, you thought you could just leave, and it would be all right?" Joonmyun's chest is tight.

"I knew you'd be upset with me," Kris says. "But I thought if I sent the e-mail, and you knew I was okay, that it would all be fine. After all, you never dig. You never ask more than you're supposed to, to be polite." It sounds ugly, when Kris says it like that. But that's never how Joonmyun meant it.

"That's all I know how to be," Joonmyun says. "Polite." He pulls at the collar of his sweater. "It doesn't mean I don't care. It doesn't mean I won't worry if you disappear, or that I won't sit and wonder if—"

"I just figured that the parts of you that you'd hidden away were things you didn't consider me close enough to see. So I didn't want to dump my mess on you. I'd been doing that for three years already, and you never complained, but really, Joonmyun, you never complain about anything."

"I never minded," Joonmyun says. "I still don't."

Tell me, Joonmyun thinks. Tell me why you left.

"My mom was seventeen when I was born," Kris says. "She wasn't ready to be a mom. Especially not alone. But my dad just left her to deal with it. He sent me birthday cards, the first few years, but after that, it was a whole lot of silence. I saw him on my fifteenth birthday. I look like him, you know? Tall."

Kris takes a deep breath. Joonmyun holds perfectly still.

"So when I'm twenty-two, I'm surprised when I get a call from him one day." Kris chuckles. "I thought maybe he wanted to get to know me, or something. But it turns out I've got a little sister in Canada. Four years old. She's ill and she needs bone marrow, and he wants to know if I'm a match."

All of the air leaves Joonmyun's body. He has thought of so many reasons, over the years, but this isn't one of them. "Kris…"

"After all this time, he wants me to come and see if I can save his new family." He sighs. "I did it. I told him never to contact me again. But I write her letters sometimes. My sister, I mean. She's thirteen now. She has a boyfriend." He stacks two sheets of paper and staples them. "Don't you think thirteen is too young for a boyfriend?"

"I wish you'd told me," Joonmyun says. "I wouldn't have…" Felt discarded.

"You mean like how you told me about your problems?" Kris says. Ice water down Joonmyun's spine. Kris, with that long look as he got into the taxi.

"That's different." Curling his hands around the arms of the chair, Joonmyun tries not to shrink into himself.

"How is it different?" Kris pushes papers around on his desk. It's beginning to look like organized chaos.

"Because what happened with your dad… that's him being an asshole, and you getting put in a horrible situation." Joonmyun closes his eyes, Kris's firm stare making him want to crawl out of his own skin. "That's not something wrong with you, as a person."

"Something… wrong?" Kris's voice sounds odd enough that Joonmyun opens his eyes again. "You think there's something wrong with you?"

"My mother…" Joonmyun studies Kris hands, still spread out across his desk. The largeness of them. They look so capable compared to Joonmyun's own. "She always told her friends I was the perfect son. That I had great grades and a bright future and flawless manners when her friends came to visit." Joonmyun is cold. He pulls his coat tighter around him. "But see, it's not enough to be that at home. Because my mother's friends, their children were my classmates, you see? And some of them were in my music classes, or at my extra tutoring. So I had to be perfect all the time. I couldn't let her down, right? So I did everything right. Always."

"No one can be perfect all the time."

"But I was," Joonmyun says. "Until high school." The audition. The shape of Cho Kyuhyun's mouth when he sings. "It got harder, then."

"You know I don't care, right?" Kris leans forward. "Because I don't. Not about that."

"I was going to tell you," Joonmyun says. "About the offer from SM, and… and other things. But then you were gone." He shrugs. "I'd never wanted to depend on anyone, before. Because perfect sons don't need help, right?"

"I didn't think you really cared that—"

"But you were different," Joonmyun rambles. "You were... You were special, to me. More than…"

Kris had been so kind. He'd liked Joonmyun so much. He'd laughed at Joonmyun's jokes and hadn't wanted anything from him at all and it had felt— And Kris had been handsome, too, and Joonmyun had wanted to move away every time Kris had started getting closer, just in case. He hadn't been able to, though, not when Kris would rest his big warm hands on Joonmyun's neck and ask him if he'd slept enough the night before.

Kris's eyes search his. "Joonmyun, were you…" Kris gets it, because Kris is thick all the time, except when Joonmyun really needs him to be. "God, Joonmyun, I didn't even—"

"At first, I thought that's why you'd left without saying anything," Joonmyun says. It burns. "I thought it was because you'd realized I was…"

"I didn't… Joonmyun, I had no idea you…" Kris gapes, like a fish out of water. Meanwhile, Joonmyun is drowning. "It had nothing to do with you, I swear."

Kris, who thinks Joonmyun doesn't understand rejection, had accidentally taught Joonmyun all about it, when Joonmyun had already feared it from every other side.

Joonmyun waits. Waits for Kris to put it in the open. Ask if Joonmyun had ever looked at him the way he looks at Baekhyun now, and if it had meant the same thing.

He doesn't. He also doesn't look like he's about to write Joonmyun out of his life over it, either, which is confusing.

Joonmyun stands up and straightens his coat. "I need to go."

"I need to get back to work." Kris's phone vibrates loudly. "They'll kill me if I don't answer it," he says. "Really."

"Then you should take the call," Joonmyun says. "Save Jongin's hide." A pause. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. Yesterday."

"I'm sorry it took us five years to have this conversation," replies Kris. looking a lot better than he had when Joonmyun had walked in. Joonmyun feels a lot worse. "And I hope it won't be five years before we finish it."

"How does next Thursday sound?" Joonmyun asks. "Over drinks."

"Sounds like a plan," Kris says, and Joonmyun offers him a smile as he goes.

"Good luck," says Joonmyun.

People are very complicated, he sends to Baekhyun.

patch things up with kris OuO?

Almost. Joonmyun replies. Maybe.

Baekhyun's last chat message is: u can do it hyung! and Joonmyun laughs, imagining the silly face Baekhyun is making as he types.



"You look bored, DoubleK," Joonmyun jokes as he peeks into the dance rehearsal room. Joonmyun had passed Minseok in the hall, and he'd told Joonmyun the two could be found up here. "Stuck here until your baby-sitter can take you home?"

"Hyung!" Jongin crosses his arms. "Baby-sitter? Really? Do you have to rub it in?"

Soojung glares at him for a moment, before it softens into a smile.

"Well, I'm not going to name names, but there is a real dumbass in the room who uploaded a photo to the wrong Twitter."

"I said I was sorry," Jongin says, still stretching. "I don't even know why it's such a big deal."

"Regardless, we're on house arrest, basically," Soojung says, still smiling at Joonmyun and then scowling at Jongin. "Nowhere to go."

"It's just a picture," Jongin says, pouting.

"And we're idols," Soojung replies. "No time for personal attachments." She flicks her eyes over to Joonmyun, briefly. "Sunyoung-eonni was lucky she and Joonmyun-oppa never got caught."

She pulls a book out of her bag and goes to the other side of the rehearsal room to curl up with it, cracking it open and making a show of ignoring Jongin.

"She always smiles at you," Jongin says. "You must have magic powers."

"I just don't get her into trouble," Joonmyun says. "I don't think that counts as magic." He sits down next to Jongin on the floor.

"This is such a mess," Jongin says. "The only benefit is that I have an excuse to stay home and watch cartoons." He frowns. "But I was going to get my mom something for Christmas."

"Your family exchanges gifts?" Joonmyun relegates things like that to American movies. "It's so close to the Lunar New Year's celebrations, though."

"It's only my mother and I," Jongin says. "A tradition between the two of us. We've done it since I was a little kid." He scratches. "It's a nice way to say ‘I love you' that's just for us."

"You still are a little kid," Joonmyun says.

"I'm bigger than you, hyung." Laughing, Jongin stretches his legs out in front of him. "Anyway, it's just a small thing. But with the whole lock down on Soojung and I, and that out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach the company is taking, I won't be able to go and buy something."

"If you know what you want," says Joonmyun, "I could pick it up for you. I'm not on ‘house arrest'."

"That would be great!" Jongin looks excited again, for the first time since Joonmyun had come into the studio. Soojung looks up from her book to stare at them menacingly, and Joonmyun proffers an apologetic grin. She shakes her head and returns to reading after one last glare at Jongin. "I hadn't been looking forward to going out shopping, anyway. There have been more hecklers than usual, lately."

"It's no problem," says Joonmyun, "The truth is, Jonginnie, I'd never have made it as an idol."

"I don't believe that, hyung." Jongin laughs. "You've got one hell of a poker face."

"I'm serious," says Joonmyun. "I'm so amazed by how tough you guys are." He looks down at his fingernails, smoothing along the edges of them with the pad of his thumb. "I don't deal well with people not liking me. Or with people looking at me and finding something lacking."

Joonmyun also has too many secrets, and he wants to keep them.

Jongin makes a thoughtful noise, something soft but not sweet. "Sometimes I ask myself if it's worth it," he says. "Is performing on stage worth all of this?"

"What do you decide?" Joonmyun pushes Jongin's floppy hair out of his face. "When you ask yourself?"

Shy Jongin, who mumbled his way through their first meeting but had beautiful lyrics scrawled out in barely legible handwriting in that cartoon notebook of his. Jongin, who scowls or giggles his way through interviews, depending on how much sleep he's gotten. Jongin, who cringes when people scream his name outside the agency but is quick to eat those screams up on stage.

"I always realize it's worth it," Jongin says. "Sharing my music, and my dancing with the world is what I've always dreamed of. There's no gain without a cost. This…" he gestures to the doors of the studio, which Joonmyun is free to walk out of but Jongin must stay behind, "is my cost."

"Costs and benefits, huh?" Joonmyun laughs.

"Exactly," Jongin says. "I traded one type of freedom for another." He sighs, and lies back on the floor. His shirt rides up, and Joonmyun could easily tickle him. Baekhyun is so ticklish there. That makes Joonmyun smile. "All in all, the trade is fair enough."

"When did you grow up?" Joonmyun asks. "I feel like everyone is lapping me on the track."

"Honestly?" Jongin smiles at him deviously. "I totally stole that from an anime, hyung."

"Cheater, cheater," says Joonmyun. "So tell me what you want me to get for your mom's Christmas present."



The shopkeeper carefully wraps the tea, securing the tissue paper with tiny pieces of tape before she ties ribbon around it. "That looks great," Joonmyun tells her, and she gives him a friendly smile, the wrinkles around her mouth stretching.

"You have good taste in tea," she says. "I'm sure the person you're buying it for will love it."

"I'm afraid I didn't really choose it," says Joonmyun. "It's for my friend's mother. He told me I had to get this tea from this shop in Insadong."

"Then he has good taste," the shopkeeper says with a laugh, handing him the package. "Here you are."

"Thank you," Joonmyun says, tucking it into his bag. He leaves the shop, heading back outside into the cold. It snowed last night, and it stuck, so it crunches underfoot as he walks back toward the Art Plaza.

He could head home, now, if he wanted. Or he could call Lu Han and see if he's up for a movie. It's been a long time since Joonmyun has gone to one. Usually only Kyungsoo drags him out to those, and he's so busy right now he probably hasn't seen anything that came out after August.

Or he could call Baekhyun. Invite Baekhyun over to his condo, since if they meet at Baekhyun's officetel they can't really compose anything. Joonmyun loves composing with Baekhyun, because Baekhyun makes music fun again, playing with notes and not caring if his voice cracks when he goes too high.

It's a long way from Joonmyun's place to ComicsPlease, though, and maybe Baekhyun won't want to come over when he has first shift the next day.

Joonmyun shoves his hands into his pockets, and as he looks ahead of him, he's struck, out of nowhere, with an absurd idea. He picks up his pace as the winter seeps through his coat, walking past the Art Plaza and turning left at the Fraser Suites, off Insadong-gil and into Sambong-gil.

The old English sign showing the entrance is gone, and only the huge blue sign on the underpass marks the way. Joonmyun's grandfather had never spoken much English. He'd only learned Japanese, in school, since he'd lived through the occupation, but he had always sounded out the letters slowly and carefully. M-u-s-i-c A-r-c-a-d-e. Joonmyun can still remember the way that old English sign had looked, with its aged edges and thick black type.

The Nakweon Music Arcade is massive. Kind of like a labyrinth of musical instruments. There are a few shops that Joonmyun knows well. He'd bought his guitar here a few years ago, from a guy on the third floor with a lot of rarer imports.

First, he stops by a tiny shop close to the entrance that specializes in sheet music and high quality blank staff paper. The owner is an old man in his seventies, who whines about everything being electronic every time Joonmyun stops in. He doesn't remember him, so it's the same speech every time. Joonmyun partially agrees with him, because there's nothing quite like scribbling it out and annotating by hand.

When he weaves into the shop, past big racks of stickers, he's surprised to see someone else. She's wearing a cream coat that falls to her knees.

"I thought I was the only person who still bought this stuff," Joonmyun says, stopping in front of the rack that has his favorite kind of paper.

Park Yura is beautiful in street clothes, too. "Kim Joonmyun, right?" she asks, as they both reach as one for the same packet of blank staff paper.

"Yes," he says, smiling. "It's a pleasure to see you again, Park-ssi."

"I always run into someone I know here," she says, motioning around Nakweon market with her hand. "The perils of being a musician at a market for instruments."

"I usually don't run into people I know," Joonmyun replies. "So this is a novelty for me." Her hair is loose, hanging around her face in gentle waves. It's shorter than Joonmyun had expected, when he'd seen it pulled back with the traditional center part. It stops just above her shoulders. She looks so much like Chanyeol that Joonmyun keeps scanning her face to mark differences.

"A good novelty, I hope."

"Definitely," he says. "You can have this pack, I'll grab the one under it."

"This isn't out of the way just to buy composition paper?" Gentle inquiry. Joonmyun hands over a manwon bill and gestures that he's paying for both packs. Yura smiles in thanks.

"I'm actually here to buy a keyboard," says Joonmyun.

"A keyboard?" She laughs. "I'm surprised you don't already have one." She brushes hair from her forehead. "I was talking to Chanyeol about you, after my show. He says you're a musician, too?"

"I am," says Joonmyun. "Kind of. And I do have a keyboard already. It wouldn't be for me. It's for someone else. I was in Insadong to buy tea for a friend, and…" He pulls at the edge of his wool hat. "It was a whim, really."

"You're buying a keyboard on a whim?" She seems skeptical. Joonmyun doesn't blame her.

"I was thinking about someone," Joonmyun says. "And since I was in the area, I didn't think it would hurt to look."

"A birthday coming up?" She accepts both bags from the old man and hands one to each of them. Joonmyun slips his into his bag.

"It's a Christmas present," Joonmyun says. "It's not something I normally do, but…"

"Most of the keyboards are on the second floor," Yura says. "Would you mind some company on your impromptu shopping quest?"

"Not at all," Joonmyun says. "I can't promise not to ask you more about your pansori."

"That's a good thing," she says. "Since I love to talk about my pansori a lot."

Yura reminds Joonmyun so much of Chanyeol. She's just as easy to talk to, and her laugh shows all of her teeth, too. She loves music and telling jokes and there's that spark of intellect in her eyes that suggests she's up to more than she's telling him.

"So what kind of keyboard are we looking for?" asks Yura. "A digital piano, or a workstation keyboard?"

"Well," Joonmyun says, "mine is an 88 key arranger, but I think a digital piano would be a better fit." He bites his lip. "And in the officetel, it'll need to have a headphone jack for late nights. Preferably two."

"An officetel, huh?" She gives him a curious stare, but then shrugs. "I'm not going to be much help. Chanyeol plays, and most of his friends play, but I only play the four samulnori instruments."

"That's all right." Joonmyun grins at her. "Sometimes it's just nice to shop with a friendly face."

Yura's eyebrows rise. "Oh, you're a flirt, aren't you?"

"An unforgivable one, I'm afraid." He stops. "Wait, Park-ssi, I want to look at these."

They are Korg vintage style piano keyboards. They're rounded and sleek, with retro controls. The case is as red as Baekhyun's favorite baseball cap, and the keys are inverted colors.

It looks like Baekhyun.

"That's flashy," Park Yura says. "Does the person you're buying it for like that kind of thing?"

"He likes superheroes," Joonmyun says. "And being loud."

"Then that might be just the keyboard," she says, and Joonmyun runs his hand along the side of it and smiles. He can imagine Baekhyun's slim, perfect fingers on the keys. It's a good keyboard, and Baekhyun can take it with him to gigs if he wants. And Joonmyun can play it for him as he sings in Baekhyun's room, in that empty stretch in front of Baekhyun's television.

He buys it. He doesn't ask the cost as he hands over his card, and he keeps looking at it as he scrawls down his address for delivery. "I don't need it until next Saturday," he tells the woman, and she nods and adds that date to the side of his address card.

"Since you just bought an instrument," Yura says, "can I buy you a cup of coffee?"

"Hmmm," replies Joonmyun, "maybe I should be buying the coffee, since you accompanied me."

"Either way, there's a Café Bene just down the street."

Joonmyun pushes his wallet into jeans. "After you, my lady," he says, with an exaggerated bow.

Park Yura, in her cream coat with her shoulder-length fashionable bob, likes her coffee with two shots. She has a musician's hands: short, unpainted nails and a wood-callous from the stick used to bang the ggwaenggwari. She's full of insights about modern pansori and intellectual criticism about artistic isolationism, and one cup of coffee easily becomes two.

When she looks outside and realizes it's dark, she gasps. "I was expected back at home hours ago, probably."

"I'm sorry to have kept you," Joonmyun says, taking the tray with their empty cups and the two small plates that had, at some point, had slices of cake on them. "I can get wrapped up in music discussions."

"Me too," Yura says. "I was enjoying myself too much to pay attention to the time."

Joonmyun gets rid of the tray as Yura collects herself, winding her gray cashmere scarf around her neck. He goes back to their table to get his own coat and bag, pulling his wool hat back down over his ears.

"It was fun spending the afternoon with you," Joonmyun says as they exit the café. Yura smiles, and rests her hand on his arm.

"I agree," she says. "We should do it again sometime." Her hand lingers, and Joonmyun uses his free hand to zip his coat up higher. "A show maybe?"

Joonmyun considers his words carefully. "If you're inviting me as a friend, I think that would be great. But…" There's a flash, of the way Baekhyun grins at him deviously, with his purple lips and hot eyes, and Joonmyun licks his teeth, tasting coffee. "But if you were inviting me as more than friends, I think I'm seeing someone."

"Ah," she says, grinning wryly, "I should have known you were taken." She tilts her head, still smiling. "As friends, then, yes."

"Then yes," Joonmyun says. "Let me give you my number."

"What do you mean, you think you're seeing someone?" Yura asks, as she puts her own number into Joonmyun's phone. "Isn't that the sort of thing you know?"

"It means I'm not sure," Joonmyun says. "We haven't discussed it, but…"

"But you want to be?" Yura sighs and pushes her phone into her small handbag. "A bit of advice from a new friend: You should probably just say that to her directly. Games aren't much fun for either party."

"I'm not sure that's true, in this case," Joonmyun says. "But thank you for the advice, anyway."

"You're welcome," Yura says, laughing. "I hope the person you bought the keyboard for likes it."

"I hope so too," Joonmyun says. "Get home safely, Park Yura." He starts walking back to the train station, boots crunching on snow that is turning quickly into ice.



The thing about RUFXXX is that you never know what you'll see there. Joonmyun goes out tonight based on Yixing's loose description of "something with contemporary dance and glow sticks," and as usual, he isn't disappointed. It's grungy and strange, as a lot of performance art is, but Joonmyun thinks it's interesting to look at art that moves and breathes and connects with an audience. This particular work has men and women singing and dancing while covered in a slick, glow-in-the-dark liquid. It makes an impression here on the rooftop. And with so many bodies pressed in close around him, he isn't even that cold.

"So what did you think?" Yixing asks.

"Do you know someone in that group?" Joonmyun should have had another couple of drinks. As the crowd disperses, he's having trouble feeling his toes. If he'd let Jinho pour him more scotch, he could at least have pretended that was the cause.

"A couple of them go to my studio," Yixing says. "Although it's more Yunho's studio, these days." Yunho, who towers above both of them and ripples when he walks. He's a nice guy. At least when Yixing isn't there, the studio is in good hands.

"It's still yours," says Joonmyun. "You just dance for an obscene number of hours every day, with all the new students you're pulling in." Word has gotten out that Yixing choreographs for SM. Word usually gets out. There are so few real secrets in the idol world, if one knows where to look. "It was a cool show."

"I thought so, too. They've been practicing in studio-space, so I had a heads up."

"As always, thanks for the invitation."

"You're really the only person I know who enjoys this stuff." Yixing shivers visibly, and Joonmyun sighs, grabbing two handfuls of Yixing's coat and dragging him closer.

"You're going to freeze to death," he says, and Yixing laughs. Joonmyun pulls off one of his gloves, pushing it into his pocket, and zips up Yixing's coat. He lifts the collar, to cover Yixing's cheeks and ears. "It isn't that hard to fasten your coat."

"I just don't think about things like that." Yixing pulls down on his collar so he can speak. "Besides, you and Lu Han wouldn't have anything to nag me about. I'm just doing you both a favor."

"Sure, sure," Joonmyun says. "Do you want a ride home? I drove."

"It's out of your way," Yixing says.

"I knew that before I offered," replies Joonmyun. "So, do you need to stay here, or do you want a ride home?"

"Let me say goodbye to my students." Yixing smiles at him. "Just give me a couple of minutes."

"No problem," Joonmyun says. He walks over to the bar to wait.

"Finally caved on that drink, Kim-ssi?" Jinho asks.

"No." Joonmyun sighs. "I'm driving tonight."

"I haven't seen you here for a long time. A few months, actually." Jinho grins. "I think it was the night the boss had that pansori duo?"

"I've been busy," says Joonmyun. "Did you like the DoubleK album?"

"I did," Jinho says. "I sing it in the shower in the morning against my will. Is that what you were hinting about, last time?"

"Yes," he says. "We've got something new, too. In a couple of weeks. First teaser drops tomorrow."

Yixing drapes himself over Joonmyun's back. "All finished," he says. "Sorry, Jinho, I'm stealing Joonmyun."

"Go, go," Jinho says. "But don't be a stranger, Kim-ssi!"

"I won't," Joonmyun vows, as he follows Yixing down to the bottom floor.

Yixing talks about dancing the whole way home. About some show he's taking Lu Han to see next week, and about how he's recording all of Dancing with the Stars because Hyoyeon, his and Taemin's favorite, is doing well this season, and Taemin will want to watch it all during one of his breaks.

"He can have his first visitors in a couple of weeks," Yixing says. "Will you still take me?"

"Yes," confirms Joonmyun. "I said I would."

"Good," Yixing says. "I really do think you're more qualified to help him than I am. ‘The experience that all Korean men share', and all that."

"Okay," Joonmyun says. He turns onto Yixing's street. "I still remember the way."

"You don't forget much." Yixing unfastens his seatbelt.

"My blessing and my curse," jokes Joonmyun.

"Thank you for the ride," Yixing says, a hand on the door. "Oh, speaking of forgetting, I almost forgot to give you the tickets."

"The tickets?" Joonmyun parks the car, pulling off the road even though it's empty. "What tickets?"

"A different student of mine had extra tickets to see the new Yeo Gesuk show, since she's in it. Apparently it's a mixed media one, this time, with glowing fish and a lot of screaming or something. I knew you were a fan so I said I'd take them." Yixing grins as he opens his wallet and pulls out a folded envelope. "I'm busy that night, but I'm sure you can find someone to take."

"These sold out before I'd even heard they were on sale," Joonmyun says, taking the envelope. "Thank you."

"Doesn't Sunyoung like performance art, too? You can take her with you, maybe."

"Maybe," Joonmyun says. "It was good of you to think of me."

"I'm always thinking of you," Yixing says. "It's a hard habit to break." He gives Joonmyun a tiny smile. It isn't sad, like Sunyoung's smiles. It is nostalgic, though, and Joonmyun can only reply in kind with the same sort of smile.



"The teaser for your new artist is weird."

"Oh?" Joonmyun holds open the door, and then follows Baekhyun into the Seoul Arts Center.

"It's super… vague," Baekhyun says. "I watched it on my phone when it dropped and there was just this beat followed by a few flashing lights."

"Did you like the beat?"

"It was all right," Baekhyun says, smirking. The dark green of his sweater looks pretty against the paleness of his skin. He takes his coat off, draping it over his arm. Joonmyun does the same. "Still, weird teaser. What kind of teaser doesn't show what a new artist's voice sounds like?"

"An SM teaser," Joonmyun replies. "He's extremely talented, though."

"He just can't dance," Baekhyun says. "I saw Yixing yesterday and he was whining about it." Baekhyun is wearing eyeliner tonight. It's subtle, but Joonmyun notices it at the corners of his eyes. "He seemed surprised I was coming with you tonight."

"If you thought that teaser was weird, so am I," says Joonmyun, laughing, and Baekhyun bumps him with his hip. "This might not be your cup of tea."

"I like performance art," Baekhyun says. "If it's good, anyway. Interactive and moving art has always been way more interesting to me than stuff hanging in galleries."

"You were that kid who always tried to touch the paintings in museums, weren't you?"

"What do you mean, tried?" Baekhyun winks at him, but both of his eyes blink, and Joonmyun laughs as Baekhyun flutters his eyelids to get his eyelashes free. "Not just the paintings, if I'm honest."

"I learned how to compliment and discuss gallery art when I was ten," Joonmyun says.

"You don't have to be jealous that I had all the fun when I was little," Baekhyun says. "I'll take you to the modern art gallery. It's never too late to learn how to lean past the ropes and touch some priceless art." Baekhyun gives Joonmyun a cheeky grin. "Too bad your arms aren't long like Chanyeol's, or we could really get up to some rule-breaking."

"I'm not sure whether I want to chastise you or not," Joonmyun says, as they walk through the well lit lobby. There isn't really a queue by the theater doors, just a loosely clustered group of people waiting. They have assigned seats. There's no benefit to pushing.

"Tell me about Yeo Gesuk, instead," Baekhyun says. He sticks close to Joonmyun. "You seemed excited."

"She's really talented," Joonmyun says, grabbing Baekhyun's arm loosely and holding on. "She makes video, and does sculptures, and paints, and she combines all of it with a physical and audial performance, with singing and dancing… It's very unique."

"Have you seen her before?"

"In Germany, once," Joonmyun says.

"Germany, wow," Baekhyun says. He slips free of Joonmyun's hold, and then reaches down to grab his hand, instead. He laces their fingers together, briefly, and before he releases, Joonmyun fixates on the roughness of Baekhyun's palm as it slides across his. "Was it a romantic vacation?"

Baekhyun is so warm, and his laugh makes Joonmyun want to write songs about hot air balloons and flying.

"This is a date, right?" Joonmyun asks, low, and Baekhyun flinches, a hundred different things on his face, and then nothing.

"Do you want it to be?"

"Park Yura asked me on a date the other day," Joonmyun says, leaning into Baekhyun. Baekhyun's sweater rubs against his own. The two cables aren't a good match. He or Baekhyun will end up with static in their hair by the end of the day from the rubbing wool. "I ran into her while I was shopping."

"Chanyeol's sister?" Baekhyun's mouth curves down. "She's about your age, isn't she? And into the same kind of music you like. She's pretty, too."

"She is," Joonmyun says. "And she has a sweet personality." He leans harder, so Baekhyun has to lean back to keep from getting pushed. "But I told her I thought I might already be seeing someone."

"Ah," says Baekhyun.

"After I'd gotten home, though, I realized that I didn't… I didn't know. If I was seeing someone. Or if it was…"

"I thought you said you wanted me," Baekhyun murmurs. More people move in, as they wait for the doors to open. The words tickle at the shell of Joonmyun's ear.

"I do," Joonmyun says. "Isn't it obvious that I do?" He swallows. "It's just that wanting isn't the same as having, and I don't know if—"

"This is a date, then," Baekhyun says, pushing in closer to Joonmyun as the crowd swells. "And you're definitely seeing someone."

"Okay," Joonmyun says.

The doors open. In the darkness of the theater, Baekhyun grabs Joonmyun's hand again. He doesn't let go until they get to their row.

Joonmyun tries to pay attention to the show. After the first ten minutes, when the music grows louder than the constant inhale and exhale of Baekhyun beside him, he falls into Sonolight.

He's all too aware of Baekhyun's heat as they watch, but Yeo Gesuk is as enthralling as always, and he can tell Baekhyun likes it as much as he does, leaning forward during a particularly strange number involving white glowing fish.

After the show, they go back to Joonmyun's condo. Joonmyun had been planning to drive Baekhyun home, but Baekhyun had just looked at him, and said "your place?" so Joonmyun had driven straight back to Gangnam, Baekhyun feeling close but not close enough from the passenger seat.

"Where are your seasonal decorations?" Baekhyun teases when they walk in, and Joonmyun laughs.

"I can't even put my clothes away," Joonmyun replies. "You think I'm going to decorate for a season?"

"True," Baekhyun says. "You would have lights still up in June."

"I did do one holiday thing," Joonmyun says, smiling at his boyfriend. His boyfriend. It feels weird, and wrong, but at the same time, definitely right. He can take that apart, later, when Baekhyun isn't making curious eyes at him. "Want to see?"

"Why are we going to your bedroom?" Baekhyun grins at him. "Kim Joonmyun, what are you up to?"

"Nothing sketchy, you pervert." The package from Nakweon had come earlier today, and Joonmyun had spent most of his afternoon trying to wrap it. He'd pushed it into his closet, wondering how he was even going to give it to Baekhyun. Maybe he wouldn't. Maybe it would sit there until Baekhyun's birthday. Joonmyun doesn't know when that is, though. He should ask Zitao.

But here's an opportunity.

"It's never something sketchy," Baekhyun says. "Someday, though."

"Someday," Joonmyun agrees, curling into it.

Baekhyun flops down on Joonmyun's bed like it's his own, curling his long legs criss-cross as Joonmyun walks over to his closet.

It takes Joonmyun both arms to pull the large package out of the closet, from behind his grandfather's box of forty-fives.

"I tried to wrap it," he says, "but I'm not very good at that."

"What is this?"

"Well, the point of wrapping it was so you could unwrap it," Joonmyun says. "Otherwise I would have just given it to you."

"What's this for?" He takes the box from Joonmyun, setting it quickly on the bed next to him.

"Christmas." Joonmyun laughs. It's something between the two of us, Jongin had said, of the gifts he exchanges with his mother. Baekhyun looks so surprised, and Joonmyun likes the way his mouth looks, slightly parted in a pout.

"I don't celebrate Christmas," Baekhyun says.

"Neither do I," Joonmyun replies, and Baekhyun tears into the paper.

The KORG in thick black print appears from the swath of ripped wrapping paper, and Baekhyun's mouth falls completely open. "You didn't—"

"I didn't plan on it, initially," Joonmyun says. "But it wouldn't leave me alone, so…"

He sits on the edge of the bed, and Baekhyun rips off the rest of the wrapping paper with shaking hands.

"Hyung," he says, "I…"

"Do you like it?" Joonmyun asks. He's nervous, or something, his heart beating quickly as Baekhyun gives the keyboard box a disbelieving once over before looking back at Joonmyun. "I thought you might—"

Then Baekhyun is digging his hands into Joonmyun's sweater, pulling him in, and pressing their mouths together. Joonmyun laughs and opens for Baekhyun, letting him in, and Baekhyun moans as Joonmyun sucks on his tongue.

Baekhyun's hands are cold as they slide up under Joonmyun's sweater, and their mouths break apart so Baekhyun can pull Joonmyun's sweater up and over his head. Then he's leaving kisses and bites down Joonmyun's neck, marking up the skin and making Joonmyun's breath catch in his chest.

He licks at Joonmyun's nipples, before nipping lightly. Joonmyun gasps, and pulls Baekhyun back up so he can kiss him again. Baekhyun splays his hands across Joonmyun's abs, fingers dipping into the contours there and making Joonmyun want to feel more skin.

Another break, this time for Baekhyun's sweater, and then it's bare chest to chest. Joonmyun drags his hands down Baekhyun's back. He loves the way the skin feels under his fingertips, and even more, he loves the way Baekhyun groans as Joonmyun stops at the waist of his black dress slacks, scraping his nails along the waistband as Baekhyun pushes closer.

It's Baekhyun's hands at the fastening of Joonmyun's dress pants that brings him to his senses. "Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, pulling his mouth away from Baekhyun's. Baekhyun sucks at the base of Joonmyun's jaw, where it meets his neck, and Joonmyun pushes lightly at Baekhyun's shoulders. "Maybe…"

"Shh," Baekhyun says, "don't think so much. Let me thank you." The words crush in on Joonmyun, and he pushes at Baekhyun's shoulders harder.

"Baekhyun, stop," Joonmyun says. "I didn't buy you the keyboard so you would…" He squirms free of Baekhyun's arms, sitting up in bed. He pushes down the arousal, and ignores how hard he is, dick pressing against the front of his pants. He points at the keyboard, still in the box at the foot of the bed. "Don't you want to try it out?"

"You… don't want to have sex with me?" Baekhyun is looking at him. His expression is unreadable, and Joonmyun grabs handfuls of the sheets to keep himself from kissing him. Baekhyun's lips are shiny and swollen, and it is a dangerous temptation.

"I…" Joonmyun sighs. "Believe me, I do, but not right now." He organizes his thoughts, putting the soft whimpers Baekhyun makes when Joonmyun pulls at his hair away for later, and the way Baekhyun is looking at him now, frowning and confused, in the forefront. "Not right now."

"What's wrong with now?" Baekhyun's eyebrows pull together, and his tongue, his small tongue, licks at the saliva Joonmyun has left on his lip.

"I don't want you to think I'm trying to buy you," Joonmyun says, finally, after a long, painful silence. "I didn't get you the keyboard because I wanted to have sex with you. I do want to have sex with you, but I don't want the first time we have sex to be linked, in your head, with the keyboard, because…" Joonmyun rubs at his arms, missing his shirt even in the comfortable heat of his apartment. "Well, I might be wrong, since you've never said it, really, but I think you've dealt with enough older men trying to buy you."

Baekhyun tackles him, slamming him down into the pillows and covering Joonmyun's mouth with his own. Joonmyun puts his hands on Baekhyun's hips to steady both of them as he kisses Baekhyun back. Baekhyun is rough with him, biting too hard on Joonmyun's lips and whining when he does it back, and Joonmyun collects every tiny sound because each and every one of them is his favorite.

Baekhyun pulls away, and Joonmyun takes in the red flush of Baekhyun's chest and the brightness in his eyes. "Why did you buy me a keyboard, Joonmyun?" The sound of his name, by itself, in Baekhyun's voice when it's so dark like this, sends that throb of want down his spine again.

"So we can make music together on it," Joonmyun says. "Even when we're at your place." He lifts one hand and cups Baekhyun's cheek. "And because it's Christmas, even if neither of us celebrate it."

"We should make sure it works, then, huh?" asks Baekhyun. "Even if I never told you I wanted a piano."

"You never had to," Joonmyun says. "You play on invisible keys, sometimes." He laughs.

Baekhyun laughs with him. "My mom had a piano," he says. "A real one." His thighs are warm on the outside of Joonmyun's, and when he climbs off, crawling down to the end of the bed to pull at the box, pretty nails easily picking at the tape, Joonmyun still feels them. "Help me?"

"Okay," Joonmyun says, and he gets up too, holding the box still as Baekhyun peels the packing tape off. "Do you miss her? Or the rest of your family?"

"Sometimes."

"Only sometimes?"

"When I was seventeen, my dad lost his job," Baekhyun says. "My brother fell into the gang scene to make quick cash and my mother picked up a few more shifts at work. I was still in high school. And I had other…" he pauses. "Well, I was working after school on something, so I wasn't home much."

He pulls the foam casing out, slowly and carefully. The cardboard box slides to the floor. Joonmyun doesn't mind, because they can pick it up later.

"But then my extra-curricular stuff ended," Baekhyun says. "Because, well, I'm not sure, because they never said, but probably because of the sort of stuff my brother was going in and out of jail for. Minor sentences, but still…" Baekhyun pulls the foam apart. His eyes widen as the shiny red of the keyboard is revealed. "I was really… well, everything was fucked, anyway, so what did it matter if I snuck into bars and played around?"

"What does playing around mean?" Joonmyun treads carefully. He doesn't want to push, and Baekhyun doesn't have to tell him, if he doesn't want to.

"Sometimes it meant singing. Playing gigs with older guys who knew my brother. Other times, it meant…" Baekhyun frees the keyboard from its protection, and he sets it down reverently between them. His fingers look as lovely on the keys as Joonmyun had thought they would. "The first time a business-looking guy asked me if I was free to come back with him to the bathroom, I didn't get it until he… I didn't want to make a scene, since I was under-aged and didn't want to get anyone in trouble, so I… He gave me 100,000 won and wiped my mouth with his thumb before he left. He told me I had a pretty mouth, and I told my mom, when I gave her the cash, that I'd gotten a job."

Baekhyun laughs. It's awful, so Joonmyun grabs his wrist. "You do not have to tell me anything you don't want to tell me." It's mostly what Joonmyun has suspected, and he doesn't want to make Baekhyun talk about it if it hurts him.

Baekhyun smiles at him reassuringly. "I knew I preferred men, already. I'd figured that out in middle school. So I convinced myself it wasn't a big deal. It wasn't a big deal, until Baekbeom found out. He…said a lot of things, but the worst things he said were to our parents." He presses down on the keys, but they remain silent.

"You have to plug it in," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun bites his lip. "It won't play if it doesn't have any power."

"Now I work at a comic book store and play music," says Baekhyun. "That's it."

"And date me," Joonmyun says. The word ‘date' comes easier than he'd have thought. It's safe to use, though, here in his room, where there's only the two of them and their secrets.

"And that," Baekhyun says, reaching down for the plastic bag of cords that came along with the keyboard. "That seems to take a lot of my time." He sticks the power cord in, and hands Joonmyun the other end.

Joonmyun plugs it into the surge bar he keeps on the floor by his nightstand. "Time well spent?"

"Maybe," Baekhyun says, this time laughing more genuinely. When he presses down on the keys, this time, they sing out, sounding every bit like an acoustic piano. "Wow."

"Play something for me," says Joonmyun.

"Only if you sing." Baekhyun looks at him, into him, and Joonmyun lets him.

"I don't sing for other people," says Joonmyun. "It makes me uncomfortable."

"I'm not other people," Baekhyun says. "I'm Baekhyun."

"Sticky Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun mumbles, to himself, and then he rubs at his forehead. An eye for an eye. "What should I sing?"

"Three Bears," Baekhyun says, decisively, and Joonmyun laughs, because that… that he can sing, if he closes his eyes.

"All right," he says, and Baekhyun starts to play.



Pastel Screen Golf is Joonmyun's father's favorite simulated golf café. It's smaller, with only four rooms, but his dad knows the owner, so it's never hard for him to get a reservation, even at a peak time like a Sunday afternoon.

Joonmyun hasn't been in a few years, but the owner, at the front desk, still recognizes him. "Kim-ssi, it's been awhile."

"It has," Joonmyun agrees. "Is anyone here?"

"Your brother and father are already in Room 3," he answers, and Joonmyun nods his thanks, walking down the wooden hallway. Pastel Screen looks like a noraebang, not a golfing establishment. As a kid, this place would have amazed him. Maybe if he brought Baekhyun here, he would think golf was less of a snooze fest.

His brother looks up at him and smiles as he walks in. "Joonmyunnie, you made it!"

"And I thought I would be early," Joonmyun says. "I should have known better."

"You know the only thing dad gets excited about is golf." His father is examining the clubs the café offers, thoughtfully running his hand over the 3-wood as he decides between that and the driver for his tee-off. "I tried to call you last night at home."

"I didn't get home until late," Joonmyun says. "I was at a show."

"Oh," his brother says. "Sometimes I forget you do other things besides hole up in that studio of yours."

"You don't know anything about my life," Joonmyun says lightly. "So that's no surprise."

"My job is very time-consuming," his brother says. "I'm jealous of your leisure."

"It's not so bad," Joonmyun says, as his dad finally decides on the 3-wood. "I don't think you'd like the cost, though."

His brother regards him with searching eyes. "Perhaps not."

"So what's this all about?" Joonmyun asks, sitting down next to his brother as his father prepares to swing.

"Your brother's wedding," his father says shortly.

"I'd like you to take part," his brother says. "If you're willing."

"Of course I am," Joonmyun says. "What, did you think I wouldn't come?"

"Never a sure bet with you," his brother says. "Better to extract a promise out of you early." He leans forward to grab a beer off the table. It's just out of the fridge up front, condensation rolling on the sides. "Simu-golf is way better than regular golf."

"Lies," his father mutters, adjusting his grip on his club. "Nothing like the real thing."

"You'll be seeing more of me anyway," Joonmyun says. "At least dad will."

"Have you suddenly remembered you have a family, or something?" His brother smiles at him, and Joonmyun smiles back.

"It's because your grandmother is coming to live with us," Joonmyun's father says, to his brother. "Joonmyun goes to visit her once every couple of weeks, apparently."

"Really?" His brother's smile falls. "Then why can I only get you for dinner once every couple of months?"

"I have more to talk about with halmeoni," Joonmyun says. "No offense, but she's interested in music, too."

"Right, right," his brother says. "Music."

His father hits the ball, and on the screen, the ball careens down the St. Andrews golf course's first green. "Not a bad shot," he mumbles, before Joonmyun's name comes up as next to drive. "3-wood?" his dad asks, and Joonmyun shakes his head.

"I'm going with the driver," Joonmyun says. He picks it up, and though it has been over a year since he held a club, he finds posture immediately, muscle memory working in his favor.

"You should bring a date to the wedding," his brother says, right as Joonmyun pulls back on his swing. His ball goes wide. It makes sense. Joonmyun has less control with the driver, and his brother's statement burns between his shoulders. "Preferably not an idol, because that brings unwanted attention."

"Right," Joonmyun says, frowning as his ball lands in a sand trap.

"Unless it's Sunyoung," his father says, opening his own beer. "I like her."

"I'll… I'll bring someone," Joonmyun says. What would happen, Joonmyun thinks, with a small miserable internal laugh, if he brought Baekhyun?

"Your mother wants to see you," his father says, looking at Joonmyun directly for the first time today. "Before New Year's. Come by after we get your grandmother settled in."

Joonmyun feels like the child that had said yes to everything his father told him elementary school. In middle school. In high school.

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Next week on Saturday?"

"That's fine," his father says, standing up and walking over to the clubs on the rack.

Joonmyun opens the last beer on the table, and takes a long sip.



On Tuesday, he and Sunyoung meet for dinner.

"I can't believe it took us a month to cash that rain-check," Sunyoung says, "but better late than never?"

"How was Paris?" Joonmyun takes a sip of his white wine. It cuts the taste of his rose sauce. "I'm sure it was more fun than dinner with me."

"I was shooting all day," Sunyoung says, "so I didn't have a lot of time to play tourist. The video is going to be gorgeous, though."

"Well, you're in it, aren't you?"

Sunyoung tucks her hair behind her ear and glares at him. "Don't try to be charming, Joonmyun," she says. "It always works, and I'm really tired of finding you charming."

"Which song are you doing an MV for?" He's heard her whole album. She'd sent it to him as soon as she finalized it.

"Our song," Sunyoung says. "The one you helped me write."

"Really?" Joonmyun spins his fork in his pasta, taking as large a bite as manners allow.

"I didn't pick it," Sunyoung says. "But I can't say I mind the choice."

Joonmyun laughs. "How's your food?"

"As good as the first time we came here," she says. "On our one year anniversary."

"We both had beef, that night," Joonmyun says. "Red wine."

Sunyoung sighs. "It really is terrible that you remember stuff like that," she says. "It makes me think that sort of thing is still important to you."

"It is," Joonmyun says. "Just because I'm not…" He clears his throat. "Just because we're not dating anymore, doesn't mean I don't value you." He reaches across the table to grab her hand. "I do. You're one of my best friends."

"I know," Sunyoung says. She pulls her hand free. Lemon yellow nail polish seems incongruous with winter. Maybe it's a remnant of the music video shoot. "Anyway, did you hear? Yeo Gesuk is doing shows in Seoul. Remember when we saw her that last night, when we were in Berlin?"

"I saw the show," Joonmyun says. "My friend—ah, Zhang Yixing, you've met him, right?"

"I have," Sunyoung says. "He's always with Jonginnie, these days. Did you go with him?" She closes her eyes.

"Yixing gave me tickets," Joonmyun says. "One of the people at his studio was a member of the Seoul cast." He pushes his last bite of chicken into the well of sauce on the right side of the plate. "I took Baekhyun."

"The kid?" Sunyoung sets her fork down. "Does he like performance art?"

"He's not a kid," Joonmyun says. There is nothing childlike about Baekhyun, no matter how loudly he chews his gum, or how cute he looks when he wants something. "And I met him when he was doing performance art."

"Oh," Sunyoung says. "I'm sorry. It's just I'd never even heard of him, and now he's sleeping on your bed and you spend all this time with him." She stabs at her chicken. "I should be used to you being so… compartmental, but it still catches me by surprise."

"I don't…" Joonmyun takes another sip of his wine. "I'm not trying to lock you out, exactly," he says. It's more that he's trying to lock himself in, really. But it's hard to explain. It's easier if he doesn't.

"It's the way you are," Sunyoung says. She smiles. "I know it isn't me." She's so elegant, and the light from the candle on the table between them casts shadows across her face. "So how is your family?"

"My brother's getting married," Joonmyun says, happy for the change of subject. "And my grandmother is moving home tomorrow."

They pass the rest of dinner talking about Joonmyun's grandmother and the Yeo Gesuk show in Berlin, three summers ago, and it's fine, the conversation is fine, but Joonmyun doesn't relax again until he's in the car on the way home.

When he gets to his apartment, he puts on Park Sohee's version of Sugungga until he's tired enough to go to bed, and when he curls up under his blankets, he hears Baekhyun's version in his head, and it is Baekhyun's voice, teasing and sweet and raspy on the long notes, that helps him fall asleep.



Jongdae's music video drops on Wednesday.

Joonmyun is in the midst of telling Baekhyun about his grandmother's appraisal of the book she's reading (because it's the same one Chanyeol had been carrying, when Joonmyun had stopped by the comic book shop to pick Baekhyun up for dinner). "She says it's really over the top and unrealistic," he explains. "She called it ‘amateur romance for idealists'."

Baekhyun's face is so cute when he screws it up like this. "That sounds exactly like Chanyeol's style," Baekhyun says. "He'll probably love it, then loan it to Tao. They can both sit and swoon over it together while pretending not to be alike at all."

"Are you not into romance novels, Baekhyun?"

"You didn't even think I liked to read." Baekhyun grins. "Now you want to know if I read romance stories?"

"I'm just curious," Joonmyun says. "I know you like to read comics, but I don't know what else you like."

"I'm probably not the right audience for something written for idealists," he replies. "So your grandmother and I would probably share an opinion on it." Baekhyun's phone beeps a message from kakao, and he looks down at his phone. "Oh look," he says, "a new alert from SM Entertainment."

They're in a restaurant Baekhyun's familiar with. The ahjumma knows him, anyway, standing with her hand on her hip as she interrogates him on what he's been eating lately as she brings him his tea, along with Joonmyun's coffee.

"That will be Chen's new video," Joonmyun says mildly. "He'll have his first music show tomorrow."

"Chen?" Baekhyun frowns. "Why?"

"I think SM has plans for him in China," Joonmyun says. "His manager is Chinese, and they already have him taking classes with Zhou Mi, who is the language instructor that works with Sunyoung."

The video starts playing, and even from Baekhyun's phone's tinny speakers, Jongdae's voice soars.

"I know his voice," Baekhyun says sharply, as their food arrives. "I know I do." He narrows his eyes at the phone. "That's…"

"Kim Jongdae," says Joonmyun. "Or now, Chen. SM's newest artist."

Baekhyun stops the video. He takes a sip of his tea and hisses as it burns his tongue. He'll never learn. "I went to high school with him." He sets his tea down. "But… you knew that, didn't you." Not a question.

"Jongdae may have mentioned that a couple of weeks ago, when your name came up," Joonmyun says, and since Baekhyun is waiting, he adds: "He mentioned you were temporarily associated with CUBE."

"So you know I used to be…?" Baekhyun doesn't look angry. Joonmyun had expected him to be, maybe, since their relationship is built on choosing to let each other in, and Baekhyun hadn't chosen to tell him this. "A couple of weeks ago?"

Their sandwiches arrive. Baekhyun's oozes out bacon and cheese. Joonmyun's looks like it has too much mayo.

Baekhyun watches Joonmyun methodically scrape some of the mayonnaise off his sandwich.

"Less than that, actually," Joonmyun says. "Jongdae mentioned that you went to high school with him, and that you'd been on the idol track. I haven't known a long time, or anything."

He waits.

Baekhyun considers. "The way I see it," he says, "you owe me a secret."

"That seems fair," says Joonmyun, smushing his sandwich back together. "What do you want to know?"

"I want to meet your grandmother," Baekhyun says. He grins, but he's holding on to his glass of lemonade too tightly. "She seems like a cool lady."

"She is a cool lady," Joonmyun says. "And that doesn't seem like a fair trade."

"I don't have any family that I talk to," Baekhyun says, "except for Tao, if he counts?"

"No, no," Joonmyun says, "I meant that I don't think we should count something I was going to do anyway as my end of the bargain." He takes a bite of his sandwich. He'll always prefer rice, probably. "So pick a different secret."

"I'll hold onto it, then," Baekhyun says, "for when I really want to know something."

"That's fine with me," says Joonmyun. "And as for my grandmother…" he takes a bite. Too sweet, still, but it will do. "What are you doing on Saturday?"



Joonmyun chooses the place. K-Bar is a popular place off Rodeo, and even on a Thursday, it'll be crowded.

The receptionist greets them as they step in and seats them at a table, since Joonmyun had called and made reservations earlier in the day.

"It's busy," Kris says. "Is that why you chose it?"

"I thought it might make you more comfortable." Joonmyun surveys the cocktail list. "This place is known for custom cocktails, not wine."

"Make me more comfortable?" Kris carefully hangs his coat on the back of his chair, checking for wrinkles. "Are you under the impression that I would be uncomfortable around you in a quieter, more intimate setting?"

Joonmyun hasn't thrown up in years, but he can taste the acid in his mouth. The drive here had been quiet. He'd avoided exchanging more than fifteen words total with Kris this week, and even those had made him nauseated. "Wouldn't you?"

"No," Kris says. "I wouldn't." He orders a martini, as a server glides by their table, and Joonmyun orders a red-eye since it's a specialty. "I know that you don't want to talk about this, but…"

"I said we could," Joonmyun says. "So ask whatever you want to ask."

"I don't want to ask anything," Kris says. "I want to tell you something."

The glasses of water that had been left on their table after they'd sat down are covered in condensation, which is perfect for drawing pictures into with the tip of his finger. Joonmyun sketches a flower, but it comes out crooked. "I'm listening," he says.

"I had no idea, ever, that you had a thing for me." Joonmyun can't help but smile, at Kris's unique combination of flustered and determined. "So, that said, the fact that I know now, um, doesn't change anything."

Giving up on his drawing, Joonmyun straightens in his seat. "It doesn't?"

"No. Well, yes, it does," Kris says. He frowns. His lips curl down at the corners, drooping like Joonmyun's misty sketch, and he heaves a sigh. "Now, at least, I understand a lot of the things that made no sense to me in college. After college." He takes a sip of his own water, buying himself time. "I understand you better, now, than I did before."

"That makes one of us," Joonmyun says, as his drink is set down in front of him, thick and red like blood. Kris is still looking at him earnestly. "It really doesn't… You're not…"

Kris reaches across the table and covers Joonmyun's small hand with his big one. "Clearly," he says, "I'm here to stay, Joonmyun."

Joonmyun pulls his hand free and uses it to pick up his drink and take a sip. The taste is strange, but good. Maybe it's not the drink he likes, but the relief that comes along with it. He wishes it could be this easy, with everyone else. He knows it can't be. Because Kris is the kind of guy who picks out the ugliest, sickest, most broken puppy at the animal shelter and takes it home. Joonmyun's wrongness isn't so different from that.

"Much to my dismay," Joonmyun teases, but his voice cracks, and Kris grins at him with his tiny mouth full of tiny teeth and laughs.

"This might be the best martini I've ever had," he replies, and they clink their glasses together.



"Hello?"

"Mother, it's Joonmyun."

"Ah," she says. "Is this about dinner tonight?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "I'm bringing a friend to meet halmeoni. I wanted to notify you in advance."

"Oh," she says. "I thought you were calling to cancel."

"No," Joonmyun says. "I'm not."

"An extra for dinner is not a problem," his mother says. "I'll prepare an extra portion of meat."

"It's not a girlfriend," Joonmyun says. "I'm just… clarifying. I'm bringing a friend. Not…" It will not be like the time he'd brought Sunyoung home. "This is the girl I've been dating for almost a year, Mother. Isn't she beautiful?" "Not a girl for you to meet."

"Fine, Joonmyun. I'll see you later."

He ends the call as Baekhyun raps knuckles on his windows. Jabbing his finger at the auto-unlock, he lets him in.

"Hi there, stranger, do you have any candy?" Baekhyun bats his eyelashes and pouts at him, trying not to smirk.

"Get in, Baekhyun," Joonmyun says with a laugh. "We have about two hours before we have to be at my parents'."

"So why did you show up so early?" Baekhyun clicks his seatbelt as Joonmyun drives. "Let me guess, you wanted to have your way with me in the backseat—"

"I thought," says Joonmyun, "that you might want to spend time with me before I took you into the dragon's den."

"I'm a dragon, though," says Baekhyun. "Dragon dens don't scare me."

"You know, at my parents' home, all the furniture is white." Joonmyun smiles. "You can't put your feet on the furniture or make too much noise or everyone in the neighborhood will hear you."

"Wow, was that a shiver of fear down my back?"

"So I thought we might go to a DVD-bang and watch something with a lot of explosions and get it out of your system."

Baekhyun laughs. "That does sound fun," he says.

They end up watching some American blockbuster that Baekhyun picks out, with talking robots that Joonmyun hasn't seen any of the other parts of. Baekhyun curls up into his side, one arm around Joonmyun's waist, and whenever anyone on screen curses in English he repeats it, loudly, and Joonmyun laughs loudly and doesn't care who hears.

When things in the movie get tense, Baekhyun chews on his lower lip until it's swollen. "Is that why you chew gum? To spare your lips?" Joonmyun asks.

"Well," Baekhyun says, "I thought it might be pretty embarrassing to go to a house filled with white furniture and have purple lips."

Joonmyun notices that Baekhyun is wearing his nicer jeans, the ones without holes in the thighs and at the knees, and a thin pullover sweater he's never worn around Joonmyun. "You look good," Joonmyun says, and something explodes on screen but Baekhyun is staring at him. "Even if your poor lips are collateral in the battle to look pretty."

"You think I'm pretty?" Baekhyun's eyes sparkle in the dark room

It will be suspicious, if both of their mouths are swollen, so Joonmyun just turns back to the screen.

"So this whole dinner thing," says Baekhyun, as Joonmyun parks in the garage. "Your family knows I'm coming, right?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "I actually told my grandmother on Thursday."

"Does your grandmother know…" Baekhyun frowns. "Ah, forget it."

"No," Joonmyun says. "She doesn't. Until a month ago, no one in my life really knew anything." He taps aimlessly at the steering wheel. "Yixing and Lu Han knew, but that was it."

"And now?"

"Kris," Joonmyun says. "Chanyeol, maybe? And you? And whomever you've told." He looks down. "More people than I thought I could handle."

"I haven't told anyone," says Baekhyun. "Although I would not be surprised if Tao has figured it out." He pokes Joonmyun. "We'll be late, if we don't get out of the car."

"Right," says Joonmyun. "Let's go."

"You'll have to let me out, remember?" He pulls at the door. "Child safety locks."

"I could leave you in here…" Joonmyun says.

"I'll hotwire your car and go for a joyride," Baekhyun informs him.

"You know how to hotwire a car?"

"I am a man of many talents," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun unlocks both of their doors as Baekhyun's laugh, sharp and high, fills the car.

Joonmyun's mother answers the door. "I thought you'd be late," she says, darting from Joonmyun's face to the clock. He's two minutes early.

"I'm never late," Joonmyun replies. "You taught me it was disrespectful of other people's time."

"It's nice to meet you," Baekhyun says, bowing. "I'm Byun Baekhyun."

Joonmyun's mother looks Baekhyun up and down as she lets them in. She approves of his clothes, but she lingers at his face, maybe taking in the lingering softness of his cheeks that reveals his age. "It's nice to meet you, Baekhyun. Please have a seat in the living room with Joonmyun while I prepare tea."

Joonmyun's grandmother is reading in the living room. The sunlight from outside pours into the room.

"I thought you were kidding, about the white furniture." Baekhyun looks around. "This explains so much about you."

Joonmyun's grandmother looks up from her book. "Joonmyunnie, you're here."

He walks over to her and kisses her cheek. "You look like you're settling in," he says, and she laughs.

"Oh, well, you know, I'm old and even-tempered. As long as I have a book and some tea I can keep out of the way."

"If you get too bored, you can come live with me," Joonmyun says. "I have an extra room and everything."

"If you're anything like you used to be, Joonmyunnie, I'd probably trip on something the moment I walked into your front door."

"Has Joonmyun always been a big mess, then?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun's grandmother looks over at him curiously. "His condo is a disaster zone."

"And just who are you?" his grandmother asks, grinning at Baekhyun.

Joonmyun laughs and pulls Baekhyun down next to him on the couch after he bows. "Halmeoni, this is Byun Baekhyun. He's a singer slash comic enthusiast."

"The other way around, really," Baekhyun says.

"So this is your uncut diamond?" Joonmyun's grandmother asks. "I'd wondered when you were going to bring him around."

Joonmyun nods, and Baekhyun leans to whisper in his ear. "I'm not uncut," he murmurs. "Just for future reference."

"Yes," Joonmyun says loudly, willing himself not to react. Baekhyun's words hang around, though, and Joonmyun needs to focus on his grandmother. "He's polishing up nicely."

"Am I?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun's grandmother laughs as Joonmyun tries not to laugh for a completely different reason.

"Joonmyunnie loves your voice," his grandmother says. "The first time he heard it, he told me all about it."

"Oh?" Baekhyun's smile is wide and bright. "Did he?"

"He likes singers," his grandmother says. "I used to think he would be one, but he stopped singing in high school."

"I prefer to make music behind the scenes," Joonmyun says. "For all types of voices, not just my own mediocre one."

"There's nothing mediocre about your voice," Baekhyun says. "It's not loud, but it's steady. Soothing." There's a good half-meter between them on the couch, but Baekhyun looks like he wants to slide in closer. "Excuse me," he says instead. "I have to go to the restroom."

"Third door on your right down the left hallway," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun nods, rising from the couch.

"I like him a lot," his grandmother says. "He's quick." She raises both of her eyebrows.

"I like him too." Joonmyun nervously runs his hand up and down the arm of the sofa. It doesn't seem adequate, to describe how he feels about Baekhyun. For the first time in years, Joonmyun takes deep breaths, and his lungs don't fill with water. "He reminds me of my grandfather, sometimes. The way he loves things."

His mother chooses then to walk in, carrying three cups of tea.

"You're smiling so brightly," his grandmother says. "I like anyone who makes you smile like that."

Joonmyun's mother sets the tray down. "Does your friend like sugar?" she asks Joonmyun quietly. "I know you and your grandmother don't, but…"

"He does," Joonmyun says. "He puts sugar in everything." Maybe it's good that he chews so much Xylitol. "Thank you."

"I'm…" His mother takes the three cups off the tray, putting each one on a separate coaster. "I'm glad you brought a friend home," she says. "You never did that, even when you were still in school. And we only met Sunyoung twice, even though you were dating her for a couple of years, so…"

"Mom?"

"It's just…"

Baekhyun walks back into the living room, and Joonmyun's mother looks up from the tea and smiles. "I'll be back with sugar in a minute, Baekhyun-ssi."

"Thank you, ma'am," Baekhyun says. Joonmyun wants to laugh at the way Baekhyun's back is so rigid. He's scraping the bottom of the barrel on his manners, and Joonmyun thinks it's adorable. "I put sugar in everything."

"So Joonmyun says," she replies, and looks at Joonmyun briefly before she picks up the tray. "Joonmyun has never been partial to sweet things."

"He seems to like chocolate cake well enough," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun's mother nods stiffly.

When his mother leaves the room again, he slumps down next to Joonmyun, closer this time. "We can't stay for dinner," Baekhyun whispers as his grandmother sips at her tea. "I've changed my mind. I need to go outside and scream to get all the noise out of my system."

"You're being plenty noisy," Joonmyun says, not bothering to whisper. "My mother doesn't know what to do with you."

"I grew up in the country," Joonmyun's grandmother says. "But Joonmyun's mother is the daughter of the upper class. I had to learn my manners, but she was born into hers. She has trouble." She laughs. "Joonmyunnie never did, though."

"That's because I had you and harabeoji," Joonmyun says. "To teach me about pansori and having fun."

"I don't know how well we did with the ‘having fun'," she says, and Baekhyun laughs.

"Did you know Joonmyun and I met through pansori?"

Baekhyun tells Joonmyun's grandmother about RUFXXX, and about his and Chanyeol's performance. He sings a bit of it for her, to her delight, and tells her how Joonmyun had tracked him down at another gig, and Joonmyun laughs and interrupts to say that he just wanted to hear more of Baekhyun's singing.

He hasn't seen her laugh so much in years, her eyes all lit up as Baekhyun and Joonmyun bicker, informing her of Chanyeol's adoration of the same book she's finishing up now, and she laughs even harder at that. When Joonmyun leans down to pick up his probably cool tea, he notices that there are two packets of sugar next to Baekhyun's tea, and that his mother is standing in the doorway between the dining room and the living room. When she sees Joonmyun looking, she moves backwards, disappearing in the direction of the kitchen.

His brother shows up forty-five minutes later, in between parts of Baekhyun's retelling of going to see Chanyeol perform at the palace. Baekhyun's story trails off, and he and Joonmyun move toward the door to greet Joonmyun's brother.

"Sorry I'm late," his brother says. "I was held up at work."

"On a Saturday?" his mother says. "You work so hard."

"Joonmyun?"

"Hi," he says. "This is Byun Baekhyun."

"Nice to meet you, Byun-ssi," his brother says, as their mother pulls at his scarf. "Mom, I'm sorry, Sujin couldn't make it, tonight, she had one of her father's business parties and he wanted her to play host."

"That's fine, dear, she's welcome whenever she wants to come."

"Where's dad?"

"He's in his office," Joonmyun's mother says. "He's been in there all day. I'll go get him for dinner."

Baekhyun stares at Joonmyun in askance, and Joonmyun shrugs. He'd seen his father's favorite weekend shoes on the shoe rack, so he'd assumed he was home. He isn't surprised he hasn't come out, especially since they've been so loud, laughing and telling stories.

"So, Byun-ssi, are you a music-type like Joonmyun?"

"You could say that," Baekhyun says, "although Joonmyun is more…" Baekhyun chuckles, "my teacher."

"Not really," Joonmyun demurs.

"You have extra time to teach people?" His brother laughs. "What do you actually do all day?"

"This and that," Joonmyun says. "Shall we go into the dining room?"

Once they're all around the table, Joonmyun's mother serves rice to all of them. Baekhyun behaves, for the most part, only squeezing Joonmyun's knee once under the table as Joonmyun's brother and father exchange greetings.

Joonmyun's grandmother looks pleased to be seated next to Baekhyun, and they whisper at each other as his brother and mother discuss wedding plans and his job.

"So you're taking on another important client?" His mother smiles.

"Yes," he replies. "I'm working double-time to make up for my brother's life of leisure."

"I don't think my life is exactly what you think it is," Joonmyun says. "But I'm happy for your success at work."

"You could have been working at my father's company, too, Joonmyun," says his mother, and Joonmyun had hoped… He looks over at Baekhyun, who's talking cheerfully with his grandmother. He isn't paying attention, and that's good.

"I didn't want that," Joonmyun says quietly. Patiently. "That's not a life I could have been happy with."

"So instead you do heaven knows what with idols all day—"

"Have I asked you for anything?" Joonmyun does not raise his voice.

"No, you just live off our grandfather's money," his brother says, loud enough to get the attention of everyone else at the table. His phone rings, and Joonmyun is torn between laughing and crying because it's a D.O. song, from Kyungsoo's debut album, and Joonmyun remembers working on it the night before deadline, at five in the morning, Ryeowook bringing them both cup after cup of coffee. "We don't all have that luxury."

"I haven't touched that, actually," says Joonmyun. "It's in the bank, in a separate investment account. I make more than enough money to support myself with my job." He picks up a piece of kimchi. His mother makes wonderful kimchi. She makes wonderful everything, and it's Joonmyun's fault it tastes like nothing. "We have a guest." He means it as a reminder.

"I wouldn't worry so much," his mother said, "if you'd finished college and gotten a respectable job—"

"Joonmyun-hyung is amazing," Baekhyun says, interrupting Joonmyun's mother, and setting down his chopsticks. "He writes some of the most famous songs in South Korea. The music you hear in the train station, on commercials, when you're shopping at HomePlus or wherever it is you rich people go to buy toilet paper in bulk. That music? Joonmyun wrote it, a lot of it." He turns to Joonmyun's brother. "He wrote the song you use as your fucking ringtone and you're looking down at him like he does nothing all day."

Joonmyun puts a hand on Baekhyun's arm. "Baekhyunnie," he says, and Baekhyun shrugs him off, even as everyone else looks shocked, at Baekhyun's tone, or his words, or maybe at Joonmyun's own use of an endearment. "It's fine."

"It's not fine," he hisses at Joonmyun. He turns back to Joonmyun's mother. "Joonmyun-hyung must not have told you about all the awards his songs have won, or about how—"

"Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, grabbing Baekhyun's arm again. Baekhyun stops this time, still glaring angrily at Joonmyun's mother and brother. Joonmyun's brother is looking down at his phone, and his father has his face set in staunch disapproval. His mother… His grandmother's face is unreadable, but Joonmyun knows it isn't her he'll have to fix this with.

He stands up, leaving his rice barely touched, still holding on to Baekhyun's arm. Baekhyun is pulled out of the seat next to him, and Joonmyun bows low for the both of them. "It's time for us to leave. Thank you for the tea. For dinner," he says to his mother. He doesn't say anything to his brother or father. "I'll talk to you soon," he says to his grandmother, and then he drags Baekhyun toward the door.

He stuffs his right arm into his coat as Baekhyun furiously jams his feet into his shoes, and they're out the door. Joonmyun sighs when it closes.

"Are you going to let go of my arm?" Baekhyun asks. "So I can put my coat on? It's cold out here. I don't want to catch that flu that's going around."

"You don't get the flu from cold weather," Joonmyun says, releasing Baekhyun's arm. He starts walking toward the car, and Baekhyun hurries up to keep pace with him. "I'm sorry. I just meant for you to meet my grandmother. Not to see… I thought they'd be more circumspect."

"I screamed at them and you're apologizing to me?"

"It was an unexpected situation," explains Joonmyun. "Not what I'd invited you for."

Baekhyun makes a pained noise.

"Are you ashamed of what you do?" Baekhyun says, after they're in the car and Joonmyun has started the engine. It's so quiet, but it feels like a yell the way it sinks in Joonmyun's chest. "Is that why you don't say anything?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "I just… I know I disappointed them, so I try not to rub it in their faces, that I'm doing something else. It's easier to just… let them."

"You're successful," says Baekhyun. "You're fucking great at what you do, and you shouldn't let anyone talk about your work like that. Like it's nothing. They should be proud of you. I don't know what the deal is with your brother."

"He used to be different," Joonmyun says. "Kinder. More supportive. But I guess that's when I was still following directions."

"That's bullshit," Baekhyun says. "You're not a criminal. You haven't done anything bad, Joonmyun."

"That they know of," he replies, and Baekhyun punches at the dash. "Don't beat up my car. It hasn't done anything to you."

"I can't believe they talked to you like that over dinner." He grabs Joonmyun's hand and squeezes it. "At least my parents never pretended to want me around after I let them down."

"It doesn't matter," Joonmyun says. "I have the respect of the people that matter."

"They matter to you," Baekhyun says. "Your family. You can pretend they don't, if it makes you feel better, but they do. You looked…" Baekhyun leans back. "I've never seen you look that small. I couldn't stand it."

"I don't always do the right thing," Joonmyun says. "It's easier not to fight."

"Obviously," Baekhyun says, slumping. "That's okay. Nobody's perfect. Not even you."

Joonmyun sighs, and drives.

For a few minutes, there's nothing but the radio. A DoubleK song comes on, an old one from a couple of years ago, and Baekhyun turns it up. When it ends, Joonmyun expels all the air from his chest in an incredulous laugh.

"I can't believe you yelled at my mom." Joonmyun shakes his head. "You rude brat."

"I'm rude?" Baekhyun scoffs. "She's rude. Insulting you in front of someone she doesn't know."

"I think it's safe to say you'll never be invited back to dinner, even if my grandmother adored you," Joonmyun says. It's funny. It really is, even if Joonmyun should probably be angry. "You really made a rough impression."

"You like me anyway," Baekhyun says, and that word definitely isn't big enough, but it will do for now.

"I do," Joonmyun says. "You don't understand how much I do."

"I understand a lot of things," Baekhyun says, in a new tone, rich and full of all kinds of untold secrets.

Joonmyun turns onto Baekhyun's street. He pulls off the road, parking along an empty stretch of curb. He doesn't know how he should say goodbye. He doesn't really want to. He hasn't had enough of Baekhyun's laughter today to drown out his brother's condescension.

"Do you have any plans for the evening?" Baekhyun's coat looks likely to swallow him as he leans back into the seat.

"No," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun leans over to Joonmyun's side of the car and unfastens his seatbelt.

"Then come upstairs with me?" Baekhyun's eyes flicker down to Joonmyun's mouth, and then toward the keys still in the ignition.

"All right," Joonmyun says, turning the car off and following Baekhyun into his building.

As soon as the door of Baekhyun's officetel closes, Baekhyun kisses him. Joonmyun grabs at Baekhyun's coat to steady himself. Baekhyun deepens the kiss when Joonmyun catches up, turning it into something wetter and sloppier than Joonmyun has ever done before taking off his shoes at the entrance to someone's home

"Wanted to do that all day," Baekhyun says, unrepentant, as Joonmyun laughs at him. "Especially in the DVD-bang."

Baekhyun takes off his coat and hangs it up, then yanks his shoes off as Joonmyun unties his own.

"Are you going to be difficult about this?" He seems to be asking himself more than Joonmyun, but it's Joonmyun he's looking at.

"Baekhyun?" He hangs his coat on top of Baekhyun's. "Difficult about what?" He walks past the sink. The keyboard is set up right where Joonmyun had thought it should go. It's as flashy as Yura had said it would be, but it's perfect for Baekhyun.

"I love the keyboard," says Baekhyun. "I really do." He lightly pushes at Joonmyun's shoulders to get his attention.

Smiling, Joonmyun looks at him. "I'm glad."

A harder push, hard enough to press Joonmyun against the wall. "However," Baekhyun says, "I don't think you buying me a keyboard means I should sleep with you."

Joonmyun laughs, bringing one hand up to cup Baekhyun's face. "I know that," he says. "I just wanted you to know that I-"

"So if I say I want you to fuck me," Baekhyun says, low, oh so low, like he's been singing for hours and this graveled roughness is all he has left, "it's not because I think I should. That I'm supposed to. It's because I really want you to fuck me."

The light switch digs into his back. "Okay." December's cold is forgotten as Baekhyun cages him against the wall. Baekhyun's gaze is intent, and Joonmyun's skin crawls with the feel of those eyes on him. Baekhyun's mouth is so very pink. The skin on his cheekbones is dry.

"You aren't going to stop me, hyung?" Baekhyun asks, as he pulls at the button of Joonmyun's jeans. Joonmyun braces himself, holding on to Baekhyun's shoulders.

"No," Joonmyun says, a hand curling around the back of Baekhyun's neck. "Not a chance." The zipper is loud. Joonmyun keeps his eyes on Baekhyun's, and Baekhyun pushes down at the waist of his jeans, thumbnails scraping skin.

Joonmyun kisses the corner of Baekhyun's mouth, and Baekhyun greedily demands more, sealing his mouth over Joonmyun's. Baekhyun moans as Joonmyun tilts his head to push closer.

Baekhyun yanks Joonmyun from the wall, moving backwards until they both tumble onto the bed. He quickly scrambles out from underneath Joonmyun to climb on top of him.

He pitches forward and kisses Joonmyun again, pulling him apart and putting him back together in the space of a single breath. There's the coarseness of Baekhyun's sheets, and the softness of Baekhyun's mouth, and the way Baekhyun is so warm and solid above him. There's the needy noise Baekhyun makes as Joonmyun slides his hands down the back of Baekhyun's jeans to cup his ass. There's the grind of Baekhyun's hips pushing into his own, denim and metal making sharp sounds as they rub.

"Too many clothes," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun agrees, pulling at Baekhyun's thin sweater impatiently. Baekhyun sits up and tugs it up and off, and then leans down to remove Joonmyun's shirt, his fingers tickling the skin as he unfastens the buttons one by one. Joonmyun distracts him, running his hands up Baekhyun's arms and then down his chest, tickling his stomach. Baekhyun laughs, slapping at Joonmyun's hands. "Tickling isn't sexy." He finishes with the buttons, pulling Joonmyun's shirt open.

"Sure it is," Joonmyun says. "Touching you is sexy."

Still laughing, Baekhyun kisses Joonmyun's nose. "Are nose kisses sexy, then?"

"Most of the things you do are sexy, to me," Joonmyun says. "Not the way you chew gum, though."

"Too much teeth?" Baekhyun slides his hands down the fronts of Joonmyun's thighs, dragging his pants and underwear along. It burns, like his fingertips are made of fire. He moves downward, to pull Joonmyun's clothes off from his ankles. Joonmyun is naked, now, sprawled out on Baekhyun's bed. Baekhyun is just looking at him, and Joonmyun is not a teenager. He won't blush like one.

Licking his lips, Baekhyun shimmies out of his own jeans. He's half-hard already, when Joonmyun's gaze darts down to look.

Joonmyun struggles to breathe.

With hands that seem less steady, Baekhyun's hands trace the curve of Joonmyun's calves, pushing back up until he gets to Joonmyun's knees. Stopping there, he pulls Joonmyun's legs apart, making space for himself between them, bending them both until Joonmyun's feet are flat on the blanket.

He rests his cheek against the inside of Joonmyun's right knee, hair tickling sensitive skin, and watches him carefully. "It has never taken me this long to get someone naked, Kim Joonmyun." His voice wavers, and he's nervous, Joonmyun realizes, and it makes his own nervousness so much less to know that Baekhyun is…

"Oh, you know," Joonmyun says, "us old geezers get used to taking our time." Baekhyun's left hand trails down the outside of his thigh. "But I'm here now."

"You're here now," Baekhyun says quietly. Whatever he's looking for in Joonmyun's face, he finds it, and he smirks. He leans down, to kiss the skin just below Joonmyun's navel, and his chin bumps Joonmyun's cock. Joonmyun hisses, his hips moving before he can think to stop them.

"Sorry," he says, impulsively running his fingers through Baekhyun's hair. Baekhyun chuckles, nuzzling at the inside of his thigh.

"Sorry for wanting me?" Baekhyun's words are hot air on Joonmyun's cock. "You don't need to be sorry about that." His lips brush skin. Joonmyun is completely hard, and the mischief in Baekhyun's eyes has frustration and arousal knotted together in his lower stomach.

"Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, clenching his fingers around a handful of Baekhyun's hair, urging him to do something. Baekhyun moves so that Joonmyun's erection is right in front of his mouth, his back arched and both of his hands splayed flat across Joonmyun's pelvis. "Baekhyunnie, please."

"I like it when you say my name like that," Baekhyun says, letting the tip of Joonmyun's cock drag across his lower lip. "Like I'm special." He licks in a slow circle around the head. It's so warm, so wet, so… Joonmyun loves the pleased little noise Baekhyun makes when Joonmyun's hips lift again. "How many people have you had suck you, Joonmyun?"

"Two," Joonmyun says. "Including you." He tightens his hand in Baekhyun's hair. "Don't you want to use… something?"

"I'm clean," Baekhyun says, quickly. "I have the results, if you want to see them. They're from six months ago, but I haven't… It's been more than a year since… I'm still into sex, but only when I want it for me, now. Not just because someone else wants it from me." He smiles, anxiously, and Joonmyun flicks at his forehead. "Am I saying too much? I--"

"Your safety is important too, Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says. "I meant because of me. I didn't want you to think you had to—"

"Joonmyun, you would tell me if you had something, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs, scratching his nail along Joonmyun's inner thigh.

"Exactly. Because that's how you are." Baekhyun kisses Joonmyun's thigh, and then his hip. "As a warning," he says, "I'm really good at this." He pushes Joonmyun's cock against his stomach and licks at the base, sucking one of Joonmyun's balls into his mouth.

"You don't have to," Joonmyun says, getting up on his elbow so he can see better. "You could just… come up here and kiss me."

"I am kissing you," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun groans as Baekhyun takes him all the way in, lips stretching pink and pretty around Joonmyun's cock. His cheeks hollow as he pulls off, and his tongue strokes steadily back and forth across the tip.

"You're being purposefully obtuse," Joonmyun gasps, and Baekhyun wraps his long thin index finger and thumb around Joonmyun in a ring, bringing them to meet his lips as he takes Joonmyun deeper. The feeling of Baekhyun laughing around Joonmyun throat-deep makes his toes curl. "But yes, you are good at this. So good."

He frees his fingers from Baekhyun's hair so he can wipe the thin line of saliva that trails from Baekhyun's mouth. He catches it with his thumb, and Baekhyun watches him, his eyes so dark as he works his mouth.

"So good," Joonmyun says again. Baekhyun hums in pleasure, his eyelids falling to half-mast as he looks up at Joonmyun through his eyelashes. He shifts, getting up onto his knees, one hand on the outside of Joonmyun's hips as the other jacks him off where his mouth can't reach.

It's getting harder to control his hips as everything coils tighter and burns hotter. Joonmyun's muscles are tightening as Baekhyun sucks harder, tongue circling aggressively without breaking the seal of lips on shaft. It's getting more difficult to think about anything but how warm and soft it feels inside Baekhyun's mouth.

He falls back, refusing to let his eyes close as Baekhyun brings him closer to the edge, teasing and tasting and making all these noises that Joonmyun wants to commit to note so he can't forget them. "Baekhyun, I'm…" His abs burn and his thighs shake.

Instead of pulling away, Baekhyun takes him deeper, spit sliding down Joonmyun's cock as everything gets messier and more frantic. When he comes, all the knots loosing at once, Baekhyun swallows, keeping Joonmyun in his mouth until he softens some, then letting him slip out, eyes locked on Joonmyun's face.

Baekhyun licks Joonmyun's come from the corners of his lips. "Now maybe you know my favorite drink."

"That's disgusting, brat," Joonmyun says, winded, as Baekhyun crawls up his body, his hard dick leaving sticky precome on Joonmyun's leg. Baekhyun kisses him, rutting against him as he slides their tongues together.

Joonmyun wraps his arms around Baekhyun, touching cool skin and running his hands down the bumps of Baekhyun's spine until he gets to the small of his back, and then running them back up again. "It's my turn," he murmurs into Baekhyun's mouth, and Baekhyun grunts in surprise as Joonmyun flips them, sending him hard into the mattress.

"You're stronger than I am?" Baekhyun asks, bewildered, and Joonmyun winks at him, his hands pinning Baekhyun's wrists to the bed.

"Must be my secret abs," Joonmyun says, before he licks along the big vein in Baekhyun's neck, the one that sticks out when he sings, and when he laughs too hard. "Maybe I'm one of your superheroes."

"Where's the spandex suit?" Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun dips his mouth into Baekhyun's collarbones, before going lower to suck a nipple into his mouth and catch it between his teeth. "You'd look hot in a spandex suit."

"Hotter than I look naked?" Joonmyun drags his tongue up Baekhyun's sternum, then returns to his neck, because he likes the way Baekhyun arches when he bites too hard.

"No," Baekhyun says, "but that doesn't mean I don't have fantasies." Joonmyun lets go of Baekhyun's left wrist so he can reach between them and grab Baekhyun's cock. "Don't you have fantasies, hyung?"

Joonmyun wants to wring every noise he can out of Baekhyun, and it's easy, because Baekhyun is so very loud. "I want to know what you sound like when you come," he whispers, and Baekhyun moans as he tightens his hand and strokes him harder, focusing on the head because Baekhyun moans loudest when Joonmyun rubs his palm over the tip, catching precome to make the slip of his hand smoother and faster.

"Then you might want to listen," Baekhyun says, shivering.

"Already?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun laughs.

"You don't know what you look like spread out on my bed," Baekhyun says. "Or how much I like it that you stay exactly where I put you." He pushes his hips up insistently.

He whines high in the back of his throat as he spills all over Joonmyun's fingers, thick fluid lubricating the last movements of Joonmyun's hand as he milks Baekhyun dry.

Joonmyun captures the last of Baekhyun's noises with his mouth, swallowing the sounds as they push against his teeth along with Baekhyun's lips and tongue. Baekhyun's nails, from his free hand, scratch at Joonmyun's shoulders and he pulls him closer, trapping Joonmyun's hand between them as he rides out his orgasm.

Joonmyun peels himself off Baekhyun reluctantly, falling to the bed beside him. Sweat and come cool on his skin. He reaches across Baekhyun to grab a tissue from the table. He knocks over the television remote, and Baekhyun laughs at him breathlessly.

He wipes his hand, and drags the tissue across Baekhyun's belly to catch the last of his release, then tosses it into the empty trashcan.

Baekhyun's eyes travel across his face, like an artist preparing to sketch. Joonmyun is conscious of how messy his hair must look.

"What are you staring at?" Joonmyun asks. He is sticky and sweaty and gross. Baekhyun feels so nice curled up into him, though, and they can always shower in the morning.

"Someone who still didn't fuck me," Baekhyun jokes, and Joonmyun kisses his forehead.

"There's no hurry," he says, kissing Baekhyun's cheeks and then his nose and then, gently, his mouth. "I'm not going anywhere."

Baekhyun shivers, and Joonmyun pulls him closer. "Yeah, yeah," Baekhyun says. "I know." He glances away.

"Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says, more firmly, waiting for Baekhyun to look at him again. "I'm really not going anywhere. You're stuck with me." He grimaces at the sweat. "Or stuck to me."

"Who's sticky now?" Baekhyun asks, but he smiles, and his voice is clear and unclouded. Joonmyun wants to rest his head on Baekhyun's chest and listen to him sing.

"Both of us," Joonmyun says, pushing his face into Baekhyun's neck. He can see each and every freckle there, and the ones that lead down to his back. The blanket at the end of the bed is too far, so he just snuggles closer for warmth. "Go to sleep."

"Okay," Baekhyun says, a hand coming up to rest on Joonmyun's waist, as if to keep him close. "Okay."



Joonmyun's phone quacks loudly at him, startling him out of his zone. The screen flashes a kkt alert, and he smiles and picks it up. The alert says: call me when u r free

He looks at his laptop screen, and then back at his phone. He only hesitates a moment before he scrolls through his contacts and selects Baekhyun's name.

"That was fast," Baekhyun says, in lieu of a greeting.

"You caught me at a good time."

"I bet you say that to all your cute boyfriends," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun's heart squeezes.

"Who told you that you were cute?" Joonmyun replies, reclining in his chair. The wheels squeak as he slides backward.

"No one had to," Baekhyun says. Joonmyun can tell he's fluttering his eyelashes. He doesn't have to see Baekhyun for that. "I've always known."

"So what do you want, brat?"

"Dinner," Baekhyun says. "And possibly a second opinion on a song I'm writing. Any chance on either of those?"

"I think you could have them both if you were up for a late night."

"Are you working late on a Monday, Kim Joonmyun-ssi?"

"Somehow," Joonmyun says, "I don't get as much work done as I used to. I wonder why that is?"

"Because having fun is time-consuming," answers Baekhyun. "I'm okay with late dinner. How late are we talking about?"

"Possibly around eight? I know a place nearby here that serves amazing dakgalbi."

"That sounds good," says Baekhyun. "Eight isn't that late. I get off at seven today, anyway."

"I could come pick you up," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs. "Say, eight-thirty?"

"Or I could come pick you up," Baekhyun replies. "The place we're going is so much closer to where you work, right?"

"You could," Joonmyun says. "You might have to wait around here if I'm not finished, though, so…" He licks his lips. "I'll give your name to the guard."

"Oooh, I feel like I'm being given access to a very secret vault." Baekhyun has a mocking laugh that Joonmyun thinks is saved just for him. Joonmyun likes it a lot, even though Zitao says it sounds kind of like hungry baby birds. That's what Kyungsoo would say, anyway.

"You are." Joonmyun laughs. "He'll tell you how to find my studio. I'd tell you, but you'll forget."

"I'll wear all black for my break-in."

Joonmyun laughs again. "I'll see you later, Baekhyunnie."

As soon as Baekhyun hangs up, Joonmyun calls down to the guard at the front desk to notify him Baekhyun is coming, and then he dives back into his project. It's for DoubleK again, and Joonmyun is tweaking Jongin's lyrics to make them fit a much faster beat. Soojung's voice had sounded much better when they'd doubled the tempo, since she's never been great at holding the long notes. It's too fast for Jongin, though, making his voice go higher.

He startled out of his trance by a soft kiss on the back of his neck. "Hi."

Joonmyun pulls his headphones off, spinning in his chair to smile at his visitor. "You didn't get lost?"

"Not really," Baekhyun says. "I hope it's okay that I closed the door?"

"Sure," Joonmyun says. "Have a seat." He gestures to the extra chair, where Baekhyun's coat is draped, but Baekhyun ignores it, sitting down on Joonmyun's lap, instead. Instinctively, Joonmyun wraps his arm around Baekhyun's waist, pulling him closer so he won't fall. "Not what I meant."

"It's not so bad, right?" He plucks at Joonmyun's headphones. "Can I listen, or is it top secret?"

"It's top secret," Joonmyun replies. "But you can listen. This isn't the final arrangement, though."

Baekhyun grins at him, pulling the headphones off Joonmyun's neck and putting them on. Joonmyun spins his chair around, wrapping his other arm around Baekhyun to free his right one, so he can control the laptop. He starts the track, with the rough vocals on, and Baekhyun furrows his brows even as he taps his foot.

"You should slow it down a little," Baekhyun yells, and then realizes he doesn't have to, because Joonmyun isn't wearing headphones. "I like the tempo, but just a tiny bit slower? So that Kai doesn't sound so rushed."

"That's what I was just considering," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun tilts his head and takes off the headphones. Joonmyun repeats himself, and Baekhyun nods.

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "It seems a shame that Kai's voice is going up like that because he's trying to keep up with the music."

"Well, Jongin originally wrote some of these lyrics for music at half this speed," Joonmyun starts to explain. "Soojung-- that's Krystal, I mean-- sounded strained, so—"

"Is everything okay in here?" The door opens, and Minseok peers around it. "I heard yelling."

Joonmyun's arm stiffens around Baekhyun, and he feels this creeping dread, spiders crawling up his back. Baekhyun sits up, putting space between his back and Joonmyun's chest.

"That was me," Baekhyun says. "Sorry. I forgot I was wearing headphones."

Minseok looks at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun smiles, not moving his arm. Joonmyun has always liked touch. It isn't that strange, that Baekhyun is sitting on his lap to listen to music.

"This is Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun says. There is a flash of recognition in Minseok's eyes.

"Ahhh, Kris mentioned you. You're the singer, right?" Minseok steps all the way into the studio. "I'm Kim Minseok. I'm DoubleK's manager."

"Are you here to listen to the track?" Joonmyun frowns. "We still have to decide on tempo and re-record the vocals."

"I'm here because Song Qian, Kris and I are going to dinner, and we wanted to invite you." Minseok grins.

Baekhyun taps Joonmyun's arm, absently, and Joonmyun leans to the side so he can see Baekhyun's face.

"Baekhyun and I already had dinner plans," Joonmyun says, searching Baekhyun's expression. "So maybe some other night?"

"Byun-ssi is welcome to join us, of course," Minseok says. "It would be nice to get to know him, since he's stolen you away."

"Have I?" Baekhyun now has a question in his eyes, and Joonmyun sighs. Introducing Baekhyun to his friends. He can do that. After all, he's met Baekhyun's friends. It's only fair. An eye for an eye.

"If it's all right with Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, "I don't mind."

Baekhyun relaxes, and it will be okay. "It's fine with me," says Baekhyun. "On one condition."

"What might that be?" Minseok asks.

"You call me Baekhyun." He grins. "Are my terms acceptable?"

Minseok laughs. "That seems do-able." He looks at Joonmyun again, staring only briefly at the arm Joonmyun still has around Baekhyun's middle. "Meet by Kris's car in an hour?"

"No problem," Joonmyun says, and Minseok leaves them alone in the studio again.

"I can feel you freaking out," Baekhyun says. "I'm not planning to suck your dick at the table, hyung."

"Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun whines, dropping his head forward to rest against Baekhyun's shoulder.

"You'd probably like that, though," Baekhyun says. "It's always the quiet ones. Well, if you ask nicely—"

"I'm not used to my social groups mixing," says Joonmyun. "That's all."

"Are you sure?" Baekhyun says. "Because if that wasn't all, it would be okay." Baekhyun rests his hand on top of Joonmyun's, linking their fingers together on his stomach. "I know you're not… comfortable. I know you can't even say it to yourself yet." His voice is soothing. It's soft and sweet, like he's coaxing Ting into some kind of mischief. "I promise not to start any fights this time."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Joonmyun says, pulling Baekhyun back into his chest. "I need to work more on this song."

"Do you have another set of headphones?" asks Baekhyun. "I mean, since I'm here and all…"

Joonmyun laughs. "This is a studio. Of course I do."



Kris leaning against his car is a familiar sight for Joonmyun, but Baekhyun laughs, hands shoved in his pockets.

"What's so funny?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun shakes his head.

"The first time I saw him," Baekhyun says, "or the second time, I guess, I knew he'd drive a car like that." He shrugs. "You dress like you're a member of the Winter Sonata cast, but Kris Wu probably wears 100,000 won sweat suits."

"You're missing a zero on the end of that," Joonmyun tells him. "But he grew up without a lot, so…" He lowers his voice. "I don't know for sure, but I think the clothes, and the car, too, are a reminder that he's not in that position anymore."

"I see," Baekhyun says. "That's…"

Kris waves. "Hey Joonmyun. Baekhyun-ssi, good to see you again."

"Hey," Baekhyun says. "Likewise."

"I hope Minseok and Song Qian get here soon," Kris says. "I'm so hungry."

"Same," Baekhyun says. "I ate toast when I stumbled out of bed this morning, but that was hours ago."

"At noon, bright and early," Joonmyun adds, and Baekhyun kicks him in the shin without his smile faltering once. "Ow!"

"Watch it, old man," Baekhyun teases. "Those old bones are probably getting brittle."

"Just so you know," says Song Qian, Minseok at her side, "Joonmyun is the youngest of us."

Baekhyun's head whips around to stare at Song Qian. She has her hair out today, spilling down her shoulders in soft curls. Baekhyun bows, quickly and perfunctorily, and grins up at her. "Ah, but Joonmyun-hyung is far older than his years," he says, and Song Qian laughs. "The rest of you seem far younger than yours."

"Brat," Joonmyun says, punching Baekhyun in the arm, and then he blushes as all his friends stare at him. "Sorry, I…" He fixes his posture, and puts space between himself and Baekhyun. Baekhyun watches him with interest.

"This will be an entertaining dinner," Song Qian says, and Minseok laughs. "I can tell already."

"I thought it might be," Minseok says, and Joonmyun wonders what he's gotten himself into.

They get dinner at the same dakgalbi place Joonmyun had been considering. "We would've run into them anyway, hyung," Baekhyun says to him as they step out of their shoes and onto the smooth wooden floor.

Joonmyun and Baekhyun are seated across from Kris, Minseok, and Song Qian.

"So," Song Qian says, after their server has come and gone, leaving a table filled with side dishes and slowly cooking chicken and cabbage, "you're the kid Sunyoung found in Joonmyun's bed."

"What?" Minseok asks, as Joonmyun grips his chopsticks tightly and picks at the bean sprouts.

Baekhyun laughs. "I was sick," he explains. "Joonmyun-hyung insisted on taking care of me."

"Why didn't you just say that?" Minseok asks.

Kris chuckles. "Well, that wouldn't be as much fun for Song Qian, would it?"

"I never miss a chance to goad Prince Charming," Song Qian says. "Especially since Jongdae is even more in love with him than he was last week."

"He is not," Joonmyun says. "He just…"

"Has a bad case of hero worship." Song Qian ties her hair back with a clip, and then picks up the meal spatula to move the cooking food around on the grill.

"He'll get over it," says Joonmyun. "I'm not really a good role model for him."

"Like Jongin got over it? And Soojung?" Minseok asks. "Admit it. You flirt them into submission."

"Whatever you said to him a couple of weeks ago got him out on stage," Song Qian says. "The kid looked like he was ready to bolt."

"Only people who have been on stage can truly understand the feelings that go along with it," says Joonmyun.

"Have you ever been on stage?" Kris asks. "I thought you did tech in high school."

"I did," says Joonmyun. Underneath the table, Baekhyun's hand rests comfortably on his leg. Their knees bump.

Baekhyun takes his chopsticks and reaches for a piece of rice cake. He blows on it, and then sticks it in his mouth. "Hot, hot," he says around it, and Joonmyun automatically hands Baekhyun his own water and reaches for the plastic bottle by Kris to refill Baekhyun's empty cup.

"If you had just a smidgen of patience," Joonmyun mutters as Baekhyun gulps the water, setting Joonmyun's cup down and picking up his own now full one.

Baekhyun grins at him, unrepentant, and as Song Qian and Minseok both set some chicken and sweet potato on their tiny plates, Joonmyun realizes Baekhyun has successfully saved Joonmyun from an uncomfortable situation. He rests his shoulder against Baekhyun's briefly in thanks, and when he looks back at the grill, he notices Kris's little smile.

"So tell us about the song you're working on," Kris says.

"It's for Minseok's children, right?" Song Qian teases, and Baekhyun fights a laugh.

"They're not my children," Minseok says.

"I hear they need babysitters, though," Song Qian says. "Rumor has it they can't go anywhere alone."

"Oh, is that because of that Twitter scandal?" Baekhyun's laugh escapes, bubbling up and out, and Joonmyun laughs too, because Baekhyun, when he can't control it, has the silliest laugh.

"Don't laugh, Baekhyun-ssi, they're probably right around your age," Minseok says.

"Kai-ssi has a few years on me, actually," Baekhyun says. "Although I think he might be a child trapped in an adult's body, what with his ‘ten and under' comic book hoarding."

"Now, Baekhyun, you know he only bought four."

"And how many have you bought for him, hyung?" Baekhyun stuffs a piece of cabbage into his mouth. The white cheese that had been added clings to his lips and chin.

"You've met Jongin?" Minseok frowns. "When?"

"It's my fault," Joonmyun says. "I took Jongin out for lunch and he conned me into the comic book store."

"Ah, I guess that was in September?" Baekhyun taps his mouth. His finger catches cheese, and he grimaces. Joonmyun thinks about wiping it off. If it were just the two of them, maybe, but Minseok and Song Qian are watching and Joonmyun doesn't want to push things with Kris. "You're the one with the memory, Joonmyun-hyung."

"Yes," Joonmyun says, "it was in September." Four months ago. Joonmyun met Baekhyun four months ago, and he has already taken all the sounds Baekhyun makes and gathered them into the song that sings him to sleep at night. "Two weeks after I met you?"

"You say two weeks, I say one," Baekhyun says with a smirk.

"You knew I played golf for two weeks though," Joonmyun says.

"Rich kid hobby, that golf," Baekhyun says. "How did you meet Joonmyun-hyung?" he asks Song Qian, and Song Qian smiles.

"All the interns on the first floor had a crush on him and his manners," Song Qian says. "I had to see what all the fuss was about."

"What is all the fuss about?" Baekhyun asks, and Minseok and Song Qian laugh.

Baekhyun's phone rings, and he frowns. "I have to take this," he says, slipping away from the table.

"He's cute," Song Qian says. "I would like you to keep him around."

"I'm planning on it," Joonmyun says, and he doesn't look anyone in the eyes, focusing on eating a piece of chicken.

Baekhyun comes rushing to the table. "I need to go," he says, grabbing his coat. He fumbles for his wallet, and Joonmyun stops him.

"I'll take care of it," he says. "What's wrong?"

"That was Tao," Baekhyun says. He's white and his hands are shaking. "Ting is sick, really sick, and Tao is… I need to go and calm him down. I don't know why he took so long to call me."

"I'll go with you," Joonmyun says immediately, making to stand up. "We can take a cab back to the agency, and then I'll drive us."

"No," Baekhyun says. "I'll just take a cab, and I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun scrambles out of the restaurant, not bothering to tie up his shoes at the door or zip up his coat. "Stupid brat, he's going to get sick again," he mumbles to himself as he turns back to the table.

"Who's Tao?" Kris asks, and Joonmyun sighs.

"Zitao is Baekhyun's best… well, Baekhyun's family, really," Joonmyun says. "Ting is Zitao's four year old daughter."

"That flu that's going around is really dangerous for children," Song Qian says. "I hope she'll be all right."

"Me too," says Joonmyun.

The rest of dinner is quieter. Joonmyun's thoughts had left with Baekhyun, who had looked so worried.

When they get back to the agency, Kris keeps Joonmyun in the car when Minseok and Song Qian get out.

"It might not be my place to say this," Kris winces, "but if you aren't planning on telling anyone, you might want to look a little less besotted."

Joonmyun tries to clear his head, and think of anything but Baekhyun's shaking hands. "What?"

"Every time you look at Baekhyun, your face…" Kris runs a hand through his hair. "It's okay. We can talk about this later. You've got somewhere to be, don't you?"

"I do," Joonmyun says, and he waves bye to Song Qian and Minseok as he climbs into his car and dials Baekhyun.



The fifth floor hallway where Ting's room is has only one person slouched against the wall, puffy coat eating him up as he kicks the toe of his sneakers at the tiled floor.

"Hey," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun looks up.

"What are you doing here?"

"I called and got the location from you," Joonmyun says. "Where else would I be going?"

"I don't know why, but I didn't think you were actually coming," Baekhyun says, as he rubs at his face. When he lets his hands fall and lifts his head, his face is pink and his eyes look anywhere but at Joonmyun.

"How is Ting?" Joonmyun asks gently, reaching out to pluck at Baekhyun's sleeve. "Baekhyunnie~"

"She's doing well," Baekhyun says, voice crackling. "She's… we thought she was gonna…" He shudders. "She never gets sick. I always get sick, and she laughs at me. Four years old, and already laughing at me for sneezing." His laugh is sharp, a note gone awry.

Joonmyun swallows, and he gently reaches out and pulls Baekhyun into his arms.

Baekhyun's not loud when he cries. He presses his wet face into Joonmyun's neck, and Joonmyun hugs him hard. It doesn't matter that they aren't truly alone, and that anyone could walk around the corner, because Baekhyun is sad, and Baekhyun's face is not made for tears. It's made for obnoxious smirks and chewing gum too loudly and singing with his eyes all crinkled up.

"Hey," Joonmyun says. "It'll be okay."

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "I know. Her fever is dropping. It is going to be okay." He jerks out of Joonmyun's arms, wiping his face with the back of his hand. "Look at me crying like a baby because I'm so relieved."

His eyes are puffy and his cheeks are wet, and Joonmyun's chest goes so tight he finds it impossible to draw a single breath. "It's okay to cry, Baekhyun. Especially over family." Joonmyun fluffs his hair, and guides him to the empty row of chairs at the end of the hall. A nurse peeks up from the floor desk, and smiles when she sees Joonmyun dragging Baekhyun to a seat.

Baekhyun curls up in the chair, hugging his knees, and Joonmyun throws an arm around his shoulders to pull him in closer. Baekhyun melts into him, his coat squeaking as he burrows into Joonmyun's embrace.

"Did you cry when your grandfather died?" Baekhyun asks. His lips still tremble, and his eyes are glassy, with waiting tears.

"Not for weeks and weeks," Joonmyun says. "I walked around all day with the tears stopped up inside me until one afternoon when I was all alone in my brand new apartment. I was unpacking my boxes, and I came across the things he left me." Joonmyun squeezes. "I felt better, once I cried, actually."

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Baekhyun says. "She's fine. Just the flu."

"I think," Joonmyun says, quietly, carefully, "you've put a lot of effort into protecting yourself, and you've just realized there are still people who can affect you. Tao, little Ting, Sehun, Chanyeol…"

"And you," Baekhyun says, curling his fingers into Joonmyun's coat. "Somehow." He hiccups. "Fuck, that's so scary."

"You aren't afraid of anything, though," Joonmyun reminds him, and Baekhyun's lips quirk.

The elevator dings, and Joonmyun jerks back instinctively. Baekhyun lets him, but doesn't completely relinquish his hold on Joonmyun's coat. Out steps Sehun, smelling faintly of cigarettes and wearing thick glasses. He has clearly been studying, his hair a mess of waves and his mouth set in a tired frown. His eyes alight on Baekhyun immediately. "Hyung, Zitao called. He said Ting was really ill?"

"She's okay now," Baekhyun says. "It's room 507." He grabs tighter at Joonmyun's coat, and Sehun looks relieved to only have to deal with Zitao, leaving Baekhyun with Joonmyun. "She's okay."

"Zitao is probably beating himself up, though," Sehun says, sharing a knowing glance with Baekhyun. "I'll go knock some sense into him."

Sehun shuffles down the hallway, black and white striped sandals and socks passing for winter footwear, and Baekhyun chuckles, dry and small, but sincere. "He fell right out of bed to come here," Baekhyun says.

"That little girl has two fiercely protective uncles," Joonmyun says.

"I think Sehun has his eye on the other ‘dad' position, personally, but don't tell Zitao that."

"I won't," Joonmyun says. "It can be a secret between all of us that have eyes and basic observational skills."

Baekhyun laughs. It echoes in the empty hallway, high-pitched and slightly hysterical, but the tears are dried up. Joonmyun feels accomplished despite the disdainful look from the nurse at the front desk.

"Joonmyun-hyung," Baekhyun says, "thank you for coming."

"You're welcome," says Joonmyun, resting his cheek on Baekhyun's hair.



Joonmyun spends Christmas afternoon with Baekhyun at ComicsPlease. Like most of the shops during Christmas, it's crowded with couples: high school girls eagerly perusing the romance manhwa while dragging reluctant boyfriends, or couples Joonmyun's age laughing together over Western import comics.

"Comics are a great equalizer," Baekhyun says, between ringing up two separate customers. "You can be old, young, rich, poor, anything, but you still have to wait until January 4th to find out what happened to the Human Torch."

"Who is the Human Torch?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun sighs.

"I should give you superhero homework," he says, and then he's gone again, helping some other customer.

ComicsPlease closes early, at six. Baekhyun flips the sign on the front door to ‘closed' before stomping back down the stairs. "Aren't we leaving, too?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun leans against the counter and smirks.

"No," Baekhyun says, "we aren't."

He pulls out a box from storage, getting dust smeared across his face as he drags it out to the center of the floor. He sneezes, and Joonmyun walks over to him and cleans his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

Baekhyun pinches some of the first ‘S' from ‘Seoul National University' on Joonmyun's sweatshirt. "You don't have to graduate to keep the sweatshirt?"

"I don't think so," Joonmyun says. It's ten years old, but he's worn it in just right. It's perfect for a chilly day like today, spent happily in a bookstore. "Do you have to be Batman to wear his name?" He slides his hand down the front of Baekhyun's shirt, the soft cotton comforting.

"Maybe I am Batman," Baekhyun says. "You never know."

"Okay, Batman, what's in the box?" He hooks his fingers in Baekhyun's belt and tugs him closer, dropping a short kiss on his pouting mouth. Dust gets in Joonmyun's nose.

"My educational materials," says Baekhyun. "Today, Kim Joonmyun, I'll teach you about all my favorite superheroes." He steps back and squats down in front of the plastic box, unfastening the side clips. That sends more dust up into the air.

"I never really had time, when I was a kid." Joonmyun laughs. "I was too busy with all of my more respectable pursuits."

"We still have to work on your definition of respectable." Baekhyun hums as he roots through the box.

"Sing something?" Joonmyun asks. Baekhyun looks up and grins. "Anything you want."

Baekhyun doesn't know all the words to ‘White Christmas', but neither does Joonmyun. They have a lot of fun making them up as Baekhyun prepares his introductory comics lesson.



On December 31st, Sunyoung sends him a text at midnight: Happy New Year's Day, Joonmyun.

Thirty minutes later, he gets a kkt from Baekhyun. i wanted to get u a christmas present hyung

Laughing, Joonmyun thinks about how to reply. His phone quacks again before he gets the chance. it took a while to finish but its done now

The third yellow bubble in the chat window just says sgg.mp3

He selects it, and it pops open the media player. There's a fuzzy silence, like someone breathing into the mic, and then the sound of a buk. "Slower," Baekhyun's voice says, and the tempo slows. "Better?" asks Chanyeol's low voice in reply, and Baekhyun says "yeah," as he takes an audible breath. He starts to sing, and Joonmyun, who has been sitting on his bed contemplating which Park Songhee album to play, is given something better.

You recorded you and Chanyeol's Sugungga?

just the first 3 parts. you can have the rest for your birthday

What if my birthday is tomorrow?

then you can have the rest for christmas next year

Next year. Joonmyun lies back into his pillows and holds his phone against his stomach. He's careful not to block the speakers. Baekhyun's voice fills his bedroom, and Joonmyun likes the sound of next Christmas. He likes it a lot.

A tiny part of him thinks knowing that Baekhyun plans on Joonmyun being around next year is even better than the pansori, but that's--

The mp3 file isn't super high quality, but it is long, and Joonmyun listens the whole way through before he messages Baekhyun back.

Thank you, Baekhyunnie.

youre welcome Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun listens to Baekhyun singing about the gullible dragon king until he sleeps.



"How was your New Year's Day?" Yixing asks, after he gets into the car. He's freshly showered. He must have just finished at the studio.

"I just dropped by and visited my grandmother," Joonmyun says. "It could've been worse."

Joonmyun's mother had been there, in the kitchen, when his grandmother had answered the door. He'd considered apologizing to her, to smooth things over, but instead he'd just followed his grandmother back to her bedroom. "I'm sorry I can't visit as often," he'd said, and she'd patted his hand, and said "I understand" and Joonmyun had felt that strange drowning feeling again.

"For you to say that, it must've been pretty bad." Yixing is not like Baekhyun. He never turns on Joonmyun's radio.

"Baekhyun yelled at my whole family when I took him home to meet my grandmother."

"You took him to meet your grandmother?" Yixing's dimple appears. "My, my, this is serious."

"She wanted to meet him," Joonmyun says. "I didn't see the harm."

"Song Qian likes him a lot," Yixing says. "She told me he had to leave halfway through dinner, but she'd enjoyed his company."

"Would she still like him if she knew…" Joonmyun laughs grimly, and turns on the radio himself.

"You really don't give your friends much credit, do you?"

"It's not about giving them credit," says Joonmyun. "It's about the rules."

"You care more about the rules than most people do," Yixing says softly, the radio almost drowning him out.

"I'm more keenly aware of them than most people are," replies Joonmyun.

"Thank you for taking me to see Taemin," Yixing says.

"It's not a big deal." Joonmyun merges onto the highway. "Taemin's a good kid. I'm glad he has you looking out for him. Besides, you said you wanted me talk to him?"

"Like you said," Yixing replies, "you're more keenly aware of the rules than most." He fixes his ponytail. "I've always been bad at noticing they exist."

"That's something I like about you," says Joonmyun. "It's what makes you so comfortable."

"That's good," Yixing says. "Lu Han always says I'm not very comfortable at all."

"He's probably talking about how bony your butt is when you sit on his lap." Joonmyun taps the steering wheel. "Not your personality."

"Maybe," Yixing says, and he closes his eyes.

When they get to the base, Yixing has to root around in his bag for five minutes to find his passport, and he turns over that and his alien ID card to the irritated looking soldier behind the desk. Joonmyun hands over his own ID with an easy smile, and the soldier smiles back at him, frustration melting.

"I used to get jealous," Yixing whispers as they walk down a short hallway to a cafeteria, "of the way you can't stop yourself from flirting."

"I'm just being friendly," Joonmyun whispers back, and the soldier escorting them to the main room pretends like he's not trying to listen.

It's a visiting day, so many of the tables are claimed by visiting families. Taemin meets them at the entrance. His hair is cut short, cropped so close to his skull that his mouth seems larger. He's thinner, too, face with that hollow look that often finds new enlistees in the wake of boot camp.

"Taemin, you're so thin," Yixing frets. He's seconds from reaching up to touch Taemin's hair when Joonmyun stops him.

"Not here," Joonmyun says, and Taemin nods, stepping back slightly. Yixing looks at Joonmyun curiously, and Joonmyun shrugs. "One of those rules you don't know."

Taemin leads them to an empty table, and Yixing volunteers to go get them sandwiches while Taemin fidgets, looking awfully young in his uniform. "Are you okay?" asks Joonmyun, quietly. It's too noisy in the cafeteria for anyone to hear them. At the table next to theirs, a mother fusses with her son's hair, nagging him in the way that means she misses him.

"It's not so bad, right now. We play a lot of soccer with our free time." Taemin looks down at the table like it's a fascinating novel. "I'm good at soccer, so it's not as hard."

"You had a rough time in boot camp?"

"I'm a professional dancer," Taemin says. "And I like to look pretty. What do you think, hyung?"

"When I was in boot camp," says Joonmyun, "no one paid any attention to me at all. I was painfully average at everything, and I'm not…" He laughs. "I don't look any sort of way, you know? Tough or weak or smart or anything."

"I took out all my piercings before I came in, but I can't get rid of the holes." Taemin fingers his ears. "Does that make me look some way?"

"There was another guy in my enlistment group, though. Older than I was. He looked… different." Joonmyun looks for Yixing. He's checking out with the food, laughing with the cashier as he hands her money. "He fought back when people started things."

"What are you trying to say?" The sleeves of Taemin's uniform are too short. He's still growing. He's so young.

"Keep your head down," says Joonmyun. "Let it roll off you, like water off a duck's back. Don't pick fights."

"I'm not like most of the other guys, hyung. I like to read fashion magazines for the clothes and I'm more interested in talking about the newest girl idols' dance routines than their breasts. Not that I'm not interested in girls, because I am, I just don't…" Taemin sighs. "I just don't fit here."

"Pretend you do," says Joonmyun. "It will be so much easier for you, if you pretend you do."

"I don't want to," Taemin says. "I'm no good at pretending to be ‘normal', whatever the heck that means." Yixing sets the tray down in the middle of the table with three hamburgers on it, and slides into the empty chair. "I don't think I should have to fake being something I'm not for other people?"

"There's nothing wrong with you," Yixing says sternly. "Eat your hamburger."

"People… can be very cruel when you go against expectations," says Joonmyun. He remembers that guy, from his enlistment group. He remembers the hazing, the wet uniforms, the black eye that reappeared every time it was starting to fade. He hadn't said anything, then, but he doesn't want that for Taemin, who is wild, creative, headstrong, and eccentric in all sorts of interesting ways. "That's more true in the army than anywhere else."

"If you let other people decide what you should like or how you should think," Taemin says, picking up his burger, "how can you possibly make yourself happy?"

Joonmyun pulls his own burger closer to him. "I don't know," he says. "I haven't figured that part out yet."

"I thought I couldn't handle it," says Taemin. He looks much more himself with a hamburger in one hand, mustard smeared on his mouth. But he still looks strange with no hair in a uniform that doesn't fit quite right. "But I think I'll be okay. Thanks for the advice, hyung."

"What advice?" Joonmyun laughs. "I didn't have anything useful to offer you, really."

"You did," Taemin says. "You reminded me that I can't let this be like high school all over again."

Joonmyun isn't all that hungry, after all.

"You take care of yourself, Taeminnie," Yixing says. "That's the most important thing."

"I will, Yixing-hyung~" and he smiles, and Joonmyun feels painfully walled up inside this cafeteria, and inside this moment.



"How did your visit go today?"

"Okay," says Joonmyun. "Taemin is doing better, I think."

"That's a relief," says Baekhyun.

"It is," Joonmyun says. His stomach is still slightly uncomfortable from their conversation. "Yixing was really happy to see he was okay."

"Are you going to visit me, when I enlist?" Baekhyun asks. He's dewy from the shower, hair wet and messy as he lies on his belly on Joonmyun's bed. He's wearing thin underwear and his Wonder Woman shirt, and the shirt has patches of damp where he'd neglected to dry off.

Joonmyun had showered before Baekhyun had come over. Baekhyun had brought clean clothes with him in his backpack, and had teasingly asked if Joonmyun wanted to shower one more time, before he'd spit out his Xylitol and slipped into Joonmyun's shower to wash off the scent of cigarette smoke that clung to him from the gig rehearsal he'd had tonight at the Gangnam club he's performing in this weekend.

"Would you want me to?" Imagining Baekhyun in a military uniform is impossible.

"Why wouldn't I?" Baekhyun sets the notes from his rehearsal that he'd been looking through on the bedside table. He moves so he can look right at Joonmyun.

"I don't know," Joonmyun says. "We seem to have trouble not touching each other too much. It's fine now, but what about when we haven't seen each other for a month?"

"It will be very hard for me to resist touching those abs," Baekhyun says, "but I can probably manage it." He laughs. "It'll be a struggle, though."

"Aren't you afraid people might get suspicious about our relationship?" Joonmyun scratches his scalp, sighing. "In the army, you can't…" He sighs again. "Sorry, I…"

"I'm not afraid of anything," Baekhyun says, when Joonmyun starts to find the silence stifling. "I used to be afraid of everything. Like, even my own shadow, basically." He rolls onto his side. "But then, when everything kind of… fell apart, I decided I wasn't going to be trapped by fear like that anymore."

"Trapped?" Joonmyun runs a hand along Baekhyun's side. He's so soft. So warm. "Fear is something our minds create to protect us."

"Fear is also something that pins us down," Baekhyun replies. "Locks us up. Fear is like a cage." He squirms in closer to Joonmyun, so that they touch. Joonmyun can feel Baekhyun's breath on his lips. "I don't do so well with cages."

"I can believe that," Joonmyun says, "without an iota of doubt."

"So to answer your question, no. No, I am not worried someone is going to get the wrong idea about us. Or the right one. I don't really care what idea anyone has. I only care about whether or not I'll have to go months without seeing you because you think it's for my own good."

"I'll mail you my favorite golf magazines," Joonmyun says. "It'll be like I'm there."

"Joonmyun-hyung, honestly, golf is the most boring thing on the planet to me."

"Who knows, anyway," Joonmyun says, kissing just to the right of Baekhyun's nose. He'd been wearing makeup, but now his face is clean, skin soft and soap-tinged. His mouth smells of blueberry and mint. "Maybe by the time you enlist, you won't even want me to come visit you."

Baekhyun arches back, so he can search Joonmyun's face. His purple lips curl down. "Planning on breaking up with me before I join the army or something?"

"No," Joonmyun says, still running his hand up and down Baekhyun's side. "But you're only twenty-two, Baekhyunnie. Maybe you'll decide you want to date someone your own age, and I'll have to let you go."

He thinks about it, sometimes. He knows that Baekhyun isn't a kid, but he's young. Joonmyun remembers how young when Baekhyun curls up on Joonmyun's sofa and whimpers in his sleep, or when he wears that red baseball cap sideways when he meets Joonmyun for dinner after work.

"Joonmyun," Baekhyun says, "tell your brain to shut up." He lunges forward to smash their mouths together, teeth clacking as Joonmyun presses back. It's messy, Baekhyun's tongue insisting on access before Joonmyun has even managed to close his eyes, but Joonmyun doesn't mind. He likes the way Baekhyun kisses. It's how Baekhyun does most things. Without hesitation. Without second-guessing. With all the passion he can muster.

He only pulls away so he can start systematically divesting Joonmyun of his clothes, yanking at his undershirt and underwear. Joonmyun finally catches up, and he grabs Baekhyun, pulling him into a hug. The foiled letters on Baekhyun's Wonder Woman shirt rub at Joonmyun's bare nipples. "I'm not saying I want you to go. I'm just being realistic."

"You didn't read enough comics as a child," Baekhyun says into Joonmyun's cheek. "If you did, you'd have a little more optimism. Don't you know the hero gets the girl?"

"There is no girl," Joonmyun says, and he rocks his hips forward, making Baekhyun gasp. "So how are the comics supposed to help?"

Baekhyun sucks Joonmyun's earlobe between his lips and nibbles at it, before beginning a slow trail down Joonmyun's neck. "If you don't want me to go," Baekhyun says, "don't say things like that." He sucks hard enough to bruise the base of Joonmyun's throat, and Joonmyun groans. "I haven't been a kid for a long time. I know what I'm doing. I know what I want."

"Knowing what you want doesn't have anything to do with being an adult," Joonmyun replies. "Trust me, I would know."

"I'm not promising you forever or anything dumb like that," Baekhyun says, mouthing his way back up Joonmyun's neck. Joonmyun can barely make out the words. "But if you don't want me to go, I don't really plan on giving you up."

"I don't want you to go," Joonmyun says, blindly searching for Baekhyun's mouth. He finds it, and Baekhyun sucks urgently on Joonmyun's upper lip, catching it between his teeth and nipping at it until it's almost sore before switching to the lower.

Clothes find their way onto the floor, and Joonmyun gasps as Baekhyun ruts into him, skin on skin. He pulls away just long enough to send Wonder Woman to the floor, and then he's kissing Joonmyun again.

Baekhyun reaches between them, grabbing both of their cocks in his hand, and Joonmyun bucks into the touch.

"Do you have lube?" Baekhyun asks, and it takes a minute for Joonmyun to understand, but when he does, he gulps, disguising it with a long lick along the angle of Baekhyun's jaw.

"Yes," he says. "Give me a second."

He gets up out of bed, suddenly conscious of his nakedness, and walks to the bathroom. He can feel Baekhyun's eyes on his back as he walks out the door and into the hallway.

He keeps stuff like lube and condoms in the cabinet above his sink. He grabs a brand new package of condoms and the tube of lube, and walks back into the bedroom.

He isn't expecting Baekhyun to be up on his hands and knees for him, locking gazes with him when he walks in the door.

"Fuck," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs, low and dark.

"I don't think I've ever heard you use that word before," says Baekhyun. "Where are your manners?"

"On the floor with your clothes, probably," Joonmyun replies, crawling onto the bed and immediately dragging his hands along exposed skin. "Are you sure this is what you want?" Baekhyun gives him this look that has Joonmyun laughing around the nervous tightness in his throat. "Okay, okay," Joonmyun says, and he opens the lube, squirting a generous amount into his hands.

When the lube is warmed through, he teases with his thumb, around the rim, and Baekhyun growls at him. "Before I die of old age, please," he says, and Joonmyun steels his resolve.

Joonmyun pushes in one finger, to the second knuckle, and Baekhyun whines, wriggling his hips and canting back. "C'mon, Joonmyun," he says, and Joonmyun flexes his finger before pushing it deeper, all the way in. "C'mon."

"Patience," Joonmyun says, and he slowly begins to thrust, driving that one finger in and out of Baekhyun as Baekhyun bites hard on his lower lip and holds on to clumps of sheet. "I'm not going to hurt you by hurrying." Baekhyun is so hot, and he's sucking Joonmyun's finger back in every time Joonmyun pulls most of the way out.

"Give me another," Baekhyun rasps, and Joonmyun takes the lube and squirts more of it, letting the thick, clear substance dribble down Baekhyun's crack. He draws his finger out and catches some of the lube, dragging a slow circle with his first two fingers around Baekhyun's rim until Baekhyun is steadily moving his hips back into the touch. Then he slowly pushes in with two fingers, and Baekhyun hisses and stills.

Two fingers is tighter, and Joonmyun's cock is heavy between his thighs as he watches Baekhyun's ass take both digits. It's a stretch, and Joonmyun has to move more slowly, more carefully, to make sure Baekhyun is loose enough for him to start thrusting. When Baekhyun's noises get more demanding, Joonmyun crooks both fingers down in quest. He gets close to what he's looking for, Baekhyun producing the tiniest, cutest hiccup as Joonmyun brushes his prostate.

"There?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun nods, his shoulders dropping and his back arching, sending his hips higher. He looks so long in front of Joonmyun, and the faint trail of freckles down his back begs for attention as much as the frustrated backward rock of Baekhyun's hips.

He puts a hand on Baekhyun's waist to calm him, and pauses with a third finger poised to enter. "Joonmyun," Baekhyun says. "I'm not going to break."

He's faster with three fingers, and Baekhyun is greedy about it, mumbling nonsense into the pillow and making all these noises that Joonmyun has never heard him make. There's enough yield now that Joonmyun can twist his fingers, search with more force for Baekhyun's prostate, and when he finds it, Baekhyun gives a long, low moan that sounds both nothing and everything like a note Joonmyun has heard him hold before on stage.

The noises get higher, and louder, but Joonmyun is methodical, stretching and thrusting and putting pressure, watching Baekhyun's muscle yield around his fingers as he prepares him. Baekhyun's thighs quiver, and his face is buried in Joonmyun's pillows. His back is drawn tight. "Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says, "are you okay? Am I hurting you?"

"No," Baekhyun says, "but I'm going to…" He groans, shivering full body, and Joonmyun palms Baekhyun's ass, caressing soothingly up to mid-back before reversing and coming back down to rest on Baekhyun's hip. "I could come like this."

"Really?" Joonmyun asks. "Have you done that before?" His heart is beating so fast. He's so hard, and it feels like he's been this hard forever, and Baekhyun struggles up to his elbows so he can look at Joonmyun over his shoulder.

"Once," he gasps. "On my own fingers. I was imagining you, though, and you were using that teacher-voice of yours. You kept telling me how good I was."

"You are good," Joonmyun says. He curves his fingers down again, hard, and presses relentlessly, thrusting harder and moving faster. "You underestimate your potential as a student."

"I think you're lax with me," Baekhyun says, his words slurring together. "Not much of a disciplinarian." His head falls between his arms again, back to the pillows, his forehead pushing into them and helping to support his weight. "Joonmyun, Joonmyun, I'm…"

"It's okay," Joonmyun says, soothing. "Just come for me."

Baekhyun whimpers, thighs flexing, and he does, with a shout Joonmyun can hear through a mouthful of pillow. Joonmyun works him through his orgasm, keeping constant stimulation on Baekhyun's prostate until Baekhyun starts to babble nonsense and pull away from his fingers. The he takes both hands and guides Baekhyun down onto his back, just out of the wet spot, and slides up so he's lying next to him.

Collapsing next to Baekhyun, Joonmyun starts to quickly jack himself off, thinking about Baekhyun's noises and how well he'd taken Joonmyun's fingers. His hand is slick and glides easy on his cock.

"Aren't you going to fuck me?" Baekhyun asks. His chest is red, and the redness goes all the way up to his cheeks. Exertion, not embarrassment. His lips are dyed purple and his eyes are dark and his voice is rough, like he's been running.

"Do you want me to?" Joonmyun asks, letting go of his cock in favor of kissing Baekhyun. Baekhyun is pliant at first, still lethargic from his release, but he quickly takes control of the kiss, both hands in Joonmyun's hair and one leg hooking around Joonmyun's to pull them together. Baekhyun's soft cock rubs against Joonmyun's hard one, but Joonmyun can feel it waking up again as Baekhyun grinds up into him.

"Well, yeah," Baekhyun says, laughing against Joonmyun's chin. "Have I not been clear about that?"

"Oh, you know," Joonmyun says, as he stretches his arm out toward where he left the lube and condoms on the edge of the bed. "My hearing is going…"

He finally finds both items, grabbing them with his slippery hands, kissing Baekhyun again as he struggles with the box of condoms. Baekhyun breaks the kiss and lightly pushes Joonmyun off him, to the bed next to him, and takes the box. "Let me do it." His fingers aren't slippery, and he easily opens the airtight plastic wrap with the edge of his nail, pulling out the two smaller boxes of five in the pack. He finally separates one condom from the chain and grins. "Get on your back, hyung."

He spreads his palm out on Joonmyun's chest, pushing him down to the mattress as he sits astride Joonmyun's thighs. He takes Joonmyun's cock in hand and strokes it a few times, and Joonmyun moans. Baekhyun's grin widens. He's almost hard again, and Joonmyun's mouth is parched with pleasure and anticipation.

Baekhyun rolls the condom down on Joonmyun, making sure it's on snugly, and then takes the lubricant and squirts it into his cupped palm. He quickly wraps his lubed hand around the condom to wet it thoroughly, before scooting up so that he can balance himself over Joonmyun, Joonmyun's cock brushing back and forth along his stretched entrance. He shivers, using his sticky hand to fit the head against the opening as his other hand grips too hard at Joonmyun's shoulder, nails into the skin.

Joonmyun reaches out to squeeze Baekhyun's hips as Baekhyun sinks down on him, his sharp teeth digging into his lip as Joonmyun's cock pushes into him. "Don't move," Baekhyun says. "I'll move."

He expects Baekhyun to start slowly, but Baekhyun leans forward, putting more of his weight on Joonmyun, and lifts his hips up before rapidly slamming them back down. "Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, tries to say, but then it's too hot, sweaty skin sliding and friction around him, for him to say anything at all.

Baekhyun rides him hard, leaving bruises with his fingers as his cock slaps into his own stomach. His mouth is open, panting, and his skin shines with sweat. He's beautiful, the veins in his neck standing out as he moans. "Touch me," he says, and Joonmyun peels one hand from Baekhyun's waist to wrap around his cock, thumbing the slit.

Coming for the second time, Baekhyun clenches down, spasming around Joonmyun and sending him over the edge before he even realizes it's happening, all the tension in his body heightening and releasing as Baekhyun slumps down on top of him, still shivering with aftershocks.

As the high fades, Joonmyun nudges at Baekhyun's cheek until Baekhyun meets him for a sloppy kiss, his hands coming up to curl around Joonmyun's cheeks. "Hi," he says breathlessly, and Joonmyun laughs.

Baekhyun lifts himself off slowly, sighing as Joonmyun slides out of him. Joonmyun sits up to tie the condom off and toss it into the trash, along with the condom wrapper, and he puts the rest of the box and the lube on the side table, on top of Baekhyun's rehearsal notes. Then he lies back down on the bed. The sheets are damp, and so is Baekhyun, but Joonmyun finds himself smushed between the two.

It's quiet, just their hearts beating, the steady constant rhythm of the buk drum.

Baekhyun starts to hum, then lightly sing into the silence. It's a song Joonmyun wrote seven years ago, for Sunyoung. He tries to remember what it sounds like when she sings it, but all he hears is Baekhyun. When Baekhyun begins the chorus, Joonmyun joins him, doing the high harmonies.

Baekhyun trails off, and Joonmyun follows, licking his lips and staring at the ceiling.

"Sorry," Joonmyun says. "I didn't mean to ruin it."

"You didn't," Baekhyun says. "Our voices sound nice together."

"Did they?" Joonmyun asks. He stretches out, flexing his toes. "It's harder to hear it when I'm singing too."

"I want to collect on my secret," Baekhyun says suddenly, and Joonmyun closes his eyes. Baekhyun's leg shifts, hairy calf against Joonmyun's smooth one.

"What do you want to know?"

"Why does singing make you so uncomfortable?"

Joonmyun combs a hand through Baekhyun's hair. "I told Kris it was because I'd been informed I didn't really have what it takes to be a singer in high school."

"But…?"

"That's true, but it's only part of it," says Joonmyun. "The other part is that singing takes too much honesty." He runs his tongue along the palate of his mouth. "When other people sing my love songs, the audience doesn't know who they're about, or why I wrote them. The artists are singing about their experiences, not mine. And it sounds real, because it is, but it's not real for me."

"Too much honesty, huh? Did some music teacher tell you that?"

"Kyuhyun-hyung had to fill in for the female lead during the audition," Joonmyun says. "He was so funny and smart, and handsome. I admired him a lot." Baekhyun wiggles into a new position, so he can look at Joonmyun's face. "I had to sing a love song to him. The first time was okay, but then my teacher made me sing it again. With real emotion, she said. They're just words if there's nothing behind them."

"Hyung…"

"And I looked at Kyuhyun-hyung, who was handsome, and funny, and smart… It wasn't hard to imagine being in love with him." Baekhyun's eyes narrow. "It wasn't the first time I'd imagined it, either." Joonmyun frowns. Baekhyun hadn't asked about crushes. "But when I was done, the teacher clapped really loudly and told me I had the makings of a good stage actor, but my voice wasn't strong enough for a musical role. You looked like you really meant it, she said." Joonmyun's eyes are so dry. "But I couldn't wait to get off stage, because I was horrified. No one could know, you see, that I was…"

"Joonmyun-hyung, high school students always gossip about everything, and no one believes them."

"All it would take was a few whispers at Daewon to get back to my parents' friends," says Joonmyun, "and it would be over."

It was easier to break his mother's heart with music. At least she could just be disappointed in him, instead of ashamed.

"What about now?" says Baekhyun. "Why can't you sing now?"

"Because I still can't be honest," Joonmyun says. "I still have too much to lose." Baekhyun's fingers dance down Joonmyun's chest. "I know it's silly, to associate that with singing. But I do."

He wonders, if his family were to know about all this, right now, Joonmyun woven in a tangle of limbs with Baekhyun and not wanting to be anywhere else, if they would even still say his name around the table at dinner. Maybe they would be like Baekhyun's family, and Joonmyun would never even be able to even think about them without wanting to disappear.

"If you'd lose it because of something like this," and he spreads his hand out just at the ends of Joonmyun's ribs, palm to stretched skin, "is it really worth having?"

"If you could go back in time and keep your parents from finding out you liked men," Joonmyun asks, "would you do it?"

Baekhyun laughs. "There was a time I would have said yes." He moves his hand again. "That first year, maybe. It was…" He's looking past Joonmyun, at the wall or maybe at something only he can see. "But, hyung, I'm always going to be like this. It's not something I can change about myself. One day or another, they were going to find out. It's like what I said earlier. I don't do so well with cages."

"I think I grew up in a cage," says Joonmyun. "I don't think I know how to live outside of one."

"It helps if you step out of it," says Baekhyun. "Live on the wild side."

"Do I look like someone who takes a lot of chances?" asks Joonmyun, offering Baekhyun a tiny smile.

"No," Baekhyun says, and then he moves his hand up to rest just right of the center of Joonmyun's chest, above his heart. "Maybe that's why I like it so much that you're here right now, with me."



It's decidedly odd, Joonmyun thinks, that there are two pairs of glasses folded on his nightstand every day. That there are two sets of worn in house slippers by his front foyer, and shampoo for color treated hair in the basket beside his shower.

Even more odd is the feeling in Joonmyun's chest whenever he sees that second set of slippers, with bumble bees on them that match Baekhyun's favorite winter sweater, or when he carefully picks up the large black glasses with no lenses that don't belong to him and puts them onto his face, just to see if it's like Baekhyun is around if he does.

The oddest thing of all is the way he can't say he's had a good day if he doesn't wish Baekhyun ‘good night', because Joonmyun is many things, but greedy has never been one of them. But he craves Baekhyun's attention like a teenager falling into puppy- love for the first time, and it twists him up inside, with hope and with happiness and with the first verse of ‘Sugungga' in Baekhyun's voice, raspy and sharp through his Galaxy speakers.

"What are you smiling at me like that for?" Baekhyun asks, sprawled out in the middle of Joonmyun's living room with his hands tangled together on his stomach. His mouth is set in a pout of concentration as he reads his comic. Joonmyun has an article about the Lao She Teahouse in his lap. He's never seen it before. He wonders if Baekhyun would enjoy Beijing. "You look creepy, hyung." Baekhyun narrows his eyes with exaggerated suspicion.

"You're very cute today, Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun bites his lip before sitting up, setting his comic aside. He scoots forward, until he's between Joonmyun's knees, and rests his cheek on Joonmyun's leg.

"How cute?" He looks up through his lashes and pushes a flat hand up the front of Joonmyun's thigh. "Cute enough to get into your overpriced khakis?"

"Would you like to go to China?"

"What?"

"I've never seen any Peking opera," he says, scratching at Baekhyun's hair. It's matted from his cap, which has taken up residence for the evening under Joonmyun's living room table. Baekhyun moves into the touch. "It seemed like something you would like?"

"Hyung…"

"We could go in the fall," Joonmyun says. "China, if I remember correctly, is beautiful in the fall."

"You want to take me to China?" Baekhyun's face is strangely unreadable, the playful expression gone and replaced with blankness. "Why?"

"Because you'd like it," Joonmyun says, and then he twirls a piece of Baekhyun's hair around his finger. Then he adds, more quietly: "Because I'd like it if you were there."

"Sometimes I think you can't possibly be real," Baekhyun says. "Good things don't happen to me."

"I'm not that good," Joonmyun says.

"You are," Baekhyun says. "You don't understand, but you are." He nuzzles into Joonmyun's thigh. "You are."



"China?" Minseok rests his chin on Joonmyun's shoulder. "Are you thinking about taking a vacation?" He scans Joonmyun's smartphone screen.

"Not until the fall," Joonmyun says. "That's what I'm considering."

"You know what?" Minseok steps back, and Joonmyun turns to watch him make himself a cup of instant coffee, tearing the tip off the golden Maxim packet and dumping the powder into his tiny paper cup. "You look younger lately."

"Younger?" Joonmyun laughs. "The years are getting heavy."

Minseok stirs his coffee with the packet before tossing it into the trash. "Maybe you just look happier, then."

Joonmyun looks down at his phone again, at travel agent listings and hotel prices and dates. His happiness feels like a bubble Baekhyun is blowing out of his massive wad of Xylitol. Bubbles always pop. "I think you need to get back to work," says Joonmyun, and Minseok frowns at him.

"You try managing Jongin and Soojung," Minseok says, and Joonmyun laughs again.

"No thanks," he says, and Minseok grins at him as he leaves the lounge.



Lu Han strums absently on his guitar as Joonmyun takes the folder with his song out of his backpack. "What's this for, anyway?"

"It's not for anything. It's just a song I'm working on. I wanted your opinion on the bridge."

"Oh yeah?" Lu Han takes the music from Joonmyun. "I like this melody." He spreads it out on the floor, taking a sip of his beer before he settles back into the wall, guitar now held more carefully. He plays the beginning of it. "The lyrics are pretty."

"I wrote them awhile ago," Joonmyun says. "I haven't been able to put this song away."

"That just means you haven't finished it yet," says Lu Han. "Let's take a look at the bridge."



"Your phone is quacking," Kyungsoo says, pulling off Joonmyun's headphones. "Please check it before I strangle you."

"If you strangle him," Ryeowook says, "his phone will quack forever and we'll have no way of stopping it."

"He is pretty popular," Kyungsoo says with displeasure, as Joonmyun turns his phone on silent. "Why does your phone quack like that, anyway? I've always meant to ask."

"My grandfather picked that alert," Joonmyun says. "When I was in high school, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandparents' house, since they lived so much closer to my music hagwon. I would take naps after school before my extra classes on their sofa. I'd always sleep through my alarm, and through all of my phone calls. So he changed my alarm to a duck."

"You look so small and helpless when you sleep," Kyungsoo says. "I wouldn't change your ringtone. I'd draw pictures on your face or something."

"Mature, Kyungsoo," Ryeowook says, but charmed as he always is. "But why a duck?"

"Well, my grandfather told me it was because ducks are a symbol of happiness for children," Joonmyun says, then he laughs. "But later, my grandmother told me it's because the duck had made me twitch frantically in my sleep, and my grandfather had laughed so much he couldn't help but choose it."

Kyungsoo grins. "That can't be the same phone you had in high school, Joonmyun-hyung."

"Well," says Joonmyun, pulling up his notifications to see Baekhyun's cheerful lets have a hot choco date tonight message jump out at him, "I like to remember the way my grandfather looked when he laughed." He dismisses the chat. There's another missed notification, from earlier. It's from his brother. "I have to return this message with a call, so I'll step out of the studio."

"Sure," Ryeowook says. "I'm going to have Kyungsoo re-record the chorus at the end. It's flat, to me."

"It's not flat," Kyungsoo says. "Your ears are wrong."

Joonmyun leaves them to playfully bicker it out, walking into the hall and closing the studio door.

"Hello?" his brother says, and Joonmyun leans against the wall. It's cold, even through his sweatshirt. "Joonmyun?"

"Is someone ill?" Joonmyun asks. "Is halmeoni okay?"

"Yes," his brother says. "She's fine. Everyone's fine." He clears his throat. "I'm calling to ask when you'll be home for the Lunar New Year. I'm bringing my fiancée."

"What?"

"I'm going home the night before and staying three days. Mom wants to know when you'll be arriving, so she can prepare your room."

"I'm… going?" Joonmyun pulls his fingers through his hair. "I don't know. I have to figure out my schedule. I hadn't planned…"

"You always come home for Seollal," his brother says gruffly. "Always."

"I'll… let you know," Joonmyun says. "I'll text you, or something."

"Good," his brother says. Joonmyun is about to hang up, but his brother continues: "Did you really write the song that's my ringtone?"

"I did," Joonmyun says. "I write under the name Suho. That's one of my more famous songs."

"I have to get back to work," says his brother. "But I'll see you next week."

"Okay," Joonmyun says, and hangs up.

Back in the studio, Ryeowook is laughing as Kyungsoo scowls at him. "It was even flatter that time," he says, holding down his mic button so Kyungsoo can hear him in the recording booth. He looks up at Joonmyun. "Everything all right there?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Everything is fine."



"This arrangement is better for me, oppa," Soojung says. "Much nicer than last week."

"I think we should stick with this," agrees Jongin. "Should've known you'd fix it."

"That's good," Joonmyun says. "I think we're going to stick with this one." He looks at his phone. "It's getting late."

"Do you have somewhere to be?" Soojung asks. "Got a hot date?"

"No," Joonmyun says, smoothing his shirt anxiously. "Kris and I are meeting up with a few friends tonight." They're supposed to meet Chanyeol, Jinri and Amber at ten, and it's nearing nine now.

"On a Thursday?" Jongin's fluffy hair falls into his eyes. He has new hair, shot through with red dye. Soojung's hair is a matching red, but it suits her better. "This late?"

"Another friend has a gig at Club FF tonight," he elaborates, making sure all his files are saved. "I can finish this up by myself in the morning."

"I haven't been to a live in a long time," Soojung says. "I'm jealous."

"Maybe we should sneak out," Jongin says. "Take us with you, hyung."

"That's a terrible idea," Joonmyun says. "You know it's not all settled yet from the last mess you guys made."

"I think you mean mess Jongin made," Soojung says. "Still, I want to go out. I'm getting kind of… antsy, stuck at the studio and at the dorm."

"I'm not taking you out to a huge Hongdae night spot toward the end of a scandal." Joonmyun shuts down his laptop, and begins the process of shutting down all of his equipment. They've recorded a lot today. "There are posters of your faces in the store windows around there."

"Wouldn't you rather take us out than have us sneak out on our own?" asks Soojung. "Who knows what Jongin and I will get up to without you."

"What trouble are you talking Joonmyun into now?" Kris asks from the studio door, and Joonmyun grins.

"They're trying to talk me into letting them tag along to Baekhyunnie's gig tonight."

"Baekhyun?" Jongin finishes zipping up his bag. "Baekhyun from the comic shop who sends you kkts all the time?"

"Not all the time," Joonmyun mumbles.

"One and the same," Kris says. "He's singing tonight, and we're meeting friends to watch in about fifty minutes, in Hongdae."

"Then we should get going," Soojung says.

"There is no ‘we'," says Joonmyun. "You two are going home."

"I think we're going out recklessly clubbing at Answer," says Soojung. "Right, Jongin?"

"Unless someone responsible takes us with them…" Jongin is grinning, looking all of ten years old with his sleepy eyes.

"I can't believe you guys are putting me in this position."

"You just can't believe it's working," says Kris. He's stealing reluctant glances at Soojung. "I think we could do it."

Taking Jongin and Soojung to one of Baekhyun's shows sounds... Joonmyun pulls on the sleeves of his shirt, stretching them into his grip. There are a thousand ways this could go wrong, but Jongin is making puppy eyes at him and Joonmyun has never been able to say no.

They take a taxi from the parking lot, Kris sitting in the front seat with the driver and Joonmyun with Jongin and Soojung in the back.

"You have to stay out of sight," he says. "I reserved a table, but you really can't be photographed by a fan tonight, okay?"

"We know," Soojung says. "I've been an idol for five years now. We're not rookies."

"Yeah," Kris says, "and that's why you're on house arrest." He looks over his shoulder into the backseat to smile at them all, taking the sting out of his words.

"Is your friend good?" Soojung asks. "The one whose gig we're watching."

"Yes," Joonmyun says. The music always clings to him, as sticky as Baekhyun's wad of Xylitol on the bottom of his boot, outside that jazz club in September. "He's good."

Club FF is on the basement level, right under Gogos bar. The big neon-lit guitar on the front of the building reminds Joonmyun of being barely twenty and following Changmin to half the live clubs in Seoul. Club FF looks like ten years ago just as much as it looks like now. The live scene in Hongdae has progressed in so many ways but the old venues are a hallmark of their time.

Chanyeol is waiting outside with his hands in his pockets. His hair is curled, in fat frizzy ringlets that make his face look even younger. He gives his wide smile to Joonmyun and Kris, and then his face twists with confusion when he catches sight of Soojung and Jongin.

"I was about to apologize," he says, "because Amber called and said she and Jinri couldn't make it tonight, but it seems you've brought enough company along."

"This is Jongin and Soojung," Joonmyun says. "They're here incognito, so…"

"I thought you looked a little familiar," Chanyeol says easily, shrugging and grinning again. "It's all the same to me. I'm here to see Baekhyun."

They have a private table in the back. It's a circle booth, one side of the booth half blocked by the free standing armchairs that Joonmyun hates because you can only get in and out of them from the one end. Soojung and Jongin slide in the furthest, where they're blocked from the view of most people in the club, the lights dimmer.

Chanyeol plops himself next to Jongin. "I'm too fidgety for the armchairs," he admits. "My elbows always hit different parts of the chair as I talk."

Kris takes the armchair next to Chanyeol, and Joonmyun takes the one across from Jongin. There's one seat left, for Baekhyun. They order drinks, Joonmyun offering his Nonghyup card to start a tab out of habit, and Soojung examines her nails as they wait for the drinks to come. Chanyeol starts immediately asking Jongin about dancing ("I'm hopeless at it," he says, "so I think you're awesome!") and Kris, Joonmyun, and Soojung discuss Kyungsoo's new album, careful not to be too specific in case anyone can hear them over the noisy laughter and chatter in the club.

The crowd quiets as the lights go down. Joonmyun leans back in his chair. The stage is elevated, so he can see that there's a single stool on stage. A guy Joonmyun recognizes, Jonghyun, Baekhyun's friend from the rock festival, is already on stage, checking each string on his acoustic guitar and making sure the mic is placed correctly to pick up his playing.

When Baekhyun gets on stage, he immediately finds Joonmyun in the crowd, looking past the standing audience in front of the stage to beam at him. He has the glittery stuff on his eyelids again, and his teeth are so white as he smiles.

The first song he sings is one Joonmyun hasn't heard before. Not that Joonmyun has heard all of Baekhyun's music, but he's been to almost all of his gigs in the past few months and he's familiar with Baekhyun's different sets. The song he's singing right now is a happy love song. Baekhyun doesn't sing so very many of those.

As he watches, Joonmyun clutches the arms of his chair, his palms scraping against the scratchy fabric. Baekhyun's voice, when he performs, always feels like summer. Like tacky heat that clings to Joonmyun's skin and trickles like a bead of sweat down his spine. It's rough and smooth all at once, and Joonmyun can never get the echo of it out of his head.

And Baekhyun's eyes, when he sings, say far too much. He looks at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun's skin is peeled back, and the summer sun that is Baekhyun's gaze burns his insides to nothing but ash.

After his set, when another singer has stolen the stool and the spotlight, Baekhyun worms his way through the crowd and to their table, a drink in each hand.

"What makes you think I need a drink?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun smirks.

"These are both for me," he says. "Get your own drink."

Jongin, who has amassed four empty glasses in front of himself, claps at Joonmyun's surprised face. "Hyung, he got you."

Baekhyun winks, and Soojung leans across the table. "I've never had the pleasure of meeting you," she says. "I'm Soojung."

"Byun Baekhyun," he replies, grinning sweetly at Soojung. "What's a lovely lady like you doing here?"

"Just a little jail-breaking," Soojung says, and Baekhyun's eyes dart over to Joonmyun, amusement sparkling in the corners of them, visible even in the dark club. He smells like sweat as he presses closer into Joonmyun's space, standing next to Joonmyun's chair, an arm around the back of it. "I enjoyed your set."

"Thank you," Baekhyun says. "I had a couple of new songs in it."

"The first one," says Joonmyun. "That one was new."

"Yeah." Baekhyun looks at Joonmyun carefully. "That one was definitely new."

Kris coughs, and Baekhyun seems to come back to himself, sitting down in the empty chair next to Joonmyun and giving Joonmyun the chance to take a breath. His hair sticks to him, hairspray losing the battle against stagelight sweating, and his eyeliner is smoky and smeared. He's dazzling, even when Joonmyun can barely make out his pale features in the dark.

"You always put on a good show," Kris says, and Chanyeol nods.

"Top notch, as usual." He slides his beer across the table to clink with both of Baekhyun's glasses. "Amber and Jinri apologize for not being here. Where's Jonghyun-hyung?"

"It's okay," Baekhyun says, taking a sip from each of his glasses. They look like the same drink, at least. "Lu Han and Yixing couldn't make it, either. Jonghyun's got a new girl he's trying to chat up. You know how he is."

"Why would you need them when you have me?" Chanyeol asks, curls bouncing. Baekhyun gives him a slow, withering look, but Chanyeol is impervious.

"I wish Tao could come to these things," Baekhyun says. "But he and Sehun are playing house with Ting in Hapjeong."

"Ting is probably asleep," Joonmyun says. "It's rounding midnight."

"Ting is never asleep at midnight." Baekhyun laughs. "She sits on Tao's lap and makes him teach her hanja."

Jongin giggles loudly, catching Joonmyun and Baekhyun's attention, as he's falling into Soojung who looks at him with patented disdain. Kris looks over at them and frowns, before turning his attention back to Chanyeol, who's laughing and animatedly waving his hands in the air, almost hitting Kris in the face every time he gets too excited.

"Chanyeol adores him," Baekhyun says. "That's really cute, that they're becoming friends."

"It is," says Joonmyun. "Are you less jealous of Chanyeol now?"

"When have I ever been jealous?" Baekhyun says, wrapping an arm around Joonmyun's neck, leaning over the arm of his own chair. "Should I have been?" He's close, and his lips brush Joonmyun's cheek. His lips look shiny and kissable. "Were you planning on making a move on Chanyeol?" He's tipsy already, a combination of two strong drinks in quick succession and adrenaline.

"Now why would I do that when already have one brat underfoot?"

"But I'm a brat you want underfoot," Baekhyun whispers. Joonmyun tingles everywhere Baekhyun touches. "And under clothes…" He sneaks a hand up Joonmyun's shirt. His mouth is close, and his breath smells like alcohol, and…

Soojung laughs and Joonmyun jolts back, breaking eye contact. Jongin is waking up, eating the potatoes the server had brought a few minutes ago without opening his eyes, and Soojung looks up from watching him to find Kris. Then she smiles over at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun wonders what she sees.

He slowly extricates himself from Baekhyun's touch, putting distance between them.

"What's wrong?" Baekhyun asks. "Did I… do something?"

"Jongin and Soojung are here," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun gives him a long look.

"Right," he says, retracting his arm from around Joonmyun's chair. "Sorry." Baekhyun's eyes had been so bright, but they've dulled, and his voice is even.

The music is so loud. He can barely hear himself speak. "Baekhyun?"

"I think I just…" Joonmyun can barely hear him. The singer on stage soars into an impressive high note, but Joonmyun is watching Baekhyun's mouth.

"Just?"

"I just realized that it's always going to be like this with us," Baekhyun says. "That's… I don't know why, but it just hit me."

"I'm--" He wants to apologize, but he can't, for some reason.

"No, it's…" Baekhyun gulps. "I know you're not out. I… know that. I'm being dramatic." He laughs. "I'm going to get another drink." He pats Joonmyun's arm. It's a distant, mildly affectionate touch that leaves Joonmyun feeling cold in a hot, hot club. "Don't worry."

"Okay."

Baekhyun slips away, and Joonmyun sighs, collapsing forward onto the table.

Kris leans over. "What did you do?"

"I flinched away when he…" Joonmyun shakes his head. "It's nothing."

"Is it because Jongin and Soojung are here?" Kris asks. His voice is low and insistent. Joonmyun can hear him perfectly.

"I don't want…" Joonmyun pulls at the sleeves of his shirt. "I don't know."

When Baekhyun comes back, with another drink in hand, flopping back into the chair next to Joonmyun's, he's smiling again. It doesn't quite reach his eyes. Joonmyun tries to get Baekhyun's attention, but Baekhyun draws Jongin into a conversation instead, laughing at the sleepy drunk man's cryptic responses and prompting him to say more and more ridiculous things.

Something aches in Joonmyun's chest, like a bruise. Pulling Baekhyun close enough that Baekhyun can feel his heartbeat in time with the club's bass is all he can think about doing, his own way of silently apologizing, but touching Baekhyun is different when Soojung might look over and figure out exactly what it means.

It reminds him of his third year of university, when he'd been so scared Kris would look up at him at just the wrong moment and realize Joonmyun was hopelessly…

"Woah there," Chanyeol says suddenly, breaking away from his conversation with Kris to grab Jongin around the shoulders. "We don't throw up on club tables, dancer boy."

Joonmyun, Baekhyun and Kris all scramble out of their seats to let Chanyeol guide Jongin out. "I'll take him," Joonmyun says. Kris looks queasy but relieved that Joonmyun has volunteered. He's swaying on his own feet, anyway.

Jongin clutches at Chanyeol's shirt, and Chanyeol laughs, bemused. "I've got him," Chanyeol says. "I remember when Baekhyun couldn't hold his liquor."

"Shut up, Chanyeol," Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol laughs, guiding Jongin toward the bathroom. "No one even likes you."

Kris pushes Joonmyun and Baekhyun into the booth. He's creating a barrier between himself and Soojung. Joonmyun gives him a questioning look, and Kris just frowns.

Kris draws Baekhyun into conversation, and he has Baekhyun laughing within a few seconds. Joonmyun presses his hand to his stomach, and looks at Soojung. She's watching them too.

Soojung takes a sip of her drink. "I think Kris-oppa is avoiding me," she says.

"I think so too," Joonmyun replies.

"Do you think it's because I told him I didn't want him dating my sister, after all?" Her hair spills across the table as she leans her head to the side. Her eyes are glassy, and her mouth is set softer than usual. "I don't want to date him, but I don't want him to date anyone else."

"Why don't you want to date him?"

"I'm a celebrity," says Soojung. "You saw what happened at the mere idea of me dating Jongin. Chaos." She laughs. "It's easier to stay single than to cause any trouble."

"I understand," Joonmyun says. "I really do." He reaches past Kris to take a handful of the beer snacks. "You have to protect yourself, especially when the world has so many expectations of you."

"Is that why you broke up with Sunyoung-eonni?" At Sunyoung's name, Baekhyun and Kris turn to them. Joonmyun continues to look at Soojung, ignoring their gazes. "Because you wanted to protect her?"

"What?"

"It must have been hard, dating an idol. Never being able to tell anyone but a select few people that you were in a relationship."

Joonmyun can feel Baekhyun's eyes on him. "I have a lot of practice with that," he says. "No, it's not easy, but there are times when that's what you have to do."

"You and Sunyoung will laugh about it someday with your kids," Soojung says.

Kris chokes, loudly, and Baekhyun pounds on his back. Baekhyun's face is closed.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" Joonmyun mumbles, and Soojung laughs, drinking again.

"Almost everyone thinks you and Sunyoung will get back together eventually." She swirls her glass. "After all, it's not like you don't still go on dates, and she still looks at you the same way."

"That's not ever going to happen," Joonmyun says. He feels sick. His phone vibrates against his thigh. It's Minseok. "I'm sorry, I should take this."

"Joonmyun," Minseok says sharply. "Have you seen Jongin and Soojung?"

"Why?" he hedges, and Soojung looks alarmed as he mouths ‘Minseok' at her.

"I can't find either of them," he says. "The security guard at their apartment building told me neither of them have gone to their apartments, and with the dating rumors, they really can't be seen alone together right now."

"They're with me and Kris," Joonmyun says, resignedly, and Soojung kicks him under the table. "We're at a live club in Hongdae."

"Give me the address," Minseok says, voice like ice. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."

Joonmyun hangs up and looks at Kris. "Looks like we're in trouble," he says, and Kris frowns.

"I guess I should go warn Chanyeol that we've got to get Jongin off the bathroom floor," he says.

Joonmyun goes to the bar and pays their tab, and Baekhyun escorts an only slightly wobbly Soojung outside. "Now you know," she's saying to Baekhyun when he and Kris join them outside, "that if anyone ever asks, I definitely drink Jongin under the table."

"Even Kris could drink Jongin under the table," Joonmyun says. "Fasten your coat before Minseok gets here."

"Yeah, yeah, thanks, Dad," she says, and Baekhyun grins.

The wind blows and Baekhyun shivers. His smeared eyeliner makes him look ghostly in the neon red glow of Club FF's guitar sign.

Joonmyun could press into Baekhyun for warmth and kiss him. Leave a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth and feel Baekhyun smile beneath his lips. He wants it so much, and he can't do it.

But Minseok has just arrived, looking irritated to be out of bed at three in the morning and shooting Kris and Joonmyun disapproving stares. "I'll deal with you two tomorrow," he says menacingly. Chanyeol finally stumbles out of the club with a drunk Jongin, who has his hand over his mouth as though moments from throwing up again.

"You might not want to put him in that nice car of yours yet," Chanyeol says, smiling winningly at Minseok as Soojung stifles a laugh behind her hand.

"Fine," Minseok says. "We'll just have to wait a few minutes. Are you sure no one has recognized them?"

"Pretty sure," Kris says. "We stayed in the back, and had a private table."

"So not completely thoughtless," Minseok says. Jongin gags. "This is a mess. What are you even doing out this late tonight?"

"We came to see Baekhyun's gig," Kris says. "Jongin and Soojung have been getting cabin fever so we brought them along. Better they were with us than out by themselves."

"That would have fed the dating rumors," Minseok says. "This is why there are no other coed groups on the market." He keeps muttering to himself, fixing the turn on his woolen hat, then crossing his arms to lean against the car. Soojung looks bored but amused at her manager's antics.

Joonmyun looks over at Baekhyun, ready to share a grin about Minseok, but Baekhyun isn't looking at him. His eyes are on the ground. His shoulders are hunched, and Joonmyun knows he's still upset about earlier. And maybe upset about now, too, because Joonmyun is standing as far away as he can while still being in the same cluster by the door.

"Baekhyunnie…" Joonmyun says, and it's loud enough to catch everyone's attention. Joonmyun blushes, but Baekhyun looks up at him.

"You should go home," Baekhyun says to Joonmyun. "You and Kris. Chanyeol and I are headed in the same direction."

"I can get in the car now," Jongin says, and Soojung pumps her fist in victory.

"Great," Minseok says. "Let's all get going."

Joonmyun has no choice, really. He nods, following Kris, who easily hails a taxi. He climbs in and gives Joonmyun's address, and the taxi starts to move before Joonmyun finishes closing the door. He watches Baekhyun and Chanyeol start walking out the window, Baekhyun's hands deep in his pockets, and it's easy to see the thrill of a great performance is gone.

"So you can tell me to mind my own business," Kris says, "but I think you need to make a decision."

"About what?" They turn the corner, and Baekhyun is gone.

"A decision about Baekhyun." He looks up at the driver and lowers his voice. "About your… relationship, or whatever."

"I thought… I already had?" Joonmyun grips his knees to fight off a sudden wave of nausea. Maybe he'd had more to drink than he'd thought. He doesn't think so, though.

"Have you really?" Kris looks out the window for a second, then back to Joonmyun.

"What are you trying to say?"

"Don't you think Baekhyun deserves someone who isn't trying to keep him a secret?" Kris whisper-asks, and Joonmyun's heart stops in his chest. "He might say it's fine, that you can't even admit that you're gay to yourself, but do you think it really is?"

The driver can't hear them over the sound of his navigation device, and he isn't paying them any attention anyway, but Joonmyun still feels that familiar fear.

And maybe Kris is right. "I just want Baekhyun to be happy," Joonmyun says, and Kris sighs.

"Then what are you doing in this taxi with me, this time?" His blond hair is mussed, and his profile is striking in the dark. "How do you think he feels, knowing that you're too afraid to even touch him around your friends? No one in that club was paying any mind except people you know, Joonmyun."

"I'm a coward, Kris," Joonmyun says. "I don't know what I'm doing, and I don't know who to tell, or even if I want to tell. I don't know if I can."

Kris throws an arm around Joonmyun's shoulders, and Joonmyun curls his hands into fists and wills himself to breathe.

"I've got your back no matter what," Kris says, "but I think it's really selfish to keep Baekhyun around if you don't think you're ever going to admit it, at least to your family and friends."

There it is, looming in front of him just like it had two years ago, in that hotel room in New York. Sunyoung, with her long wavy hair, the perfect image of everything Joonmyun was, is, supposed to want. An answer Joonmyun doesn't want to see. Selfish.

"I know it is," he says. "I know."



"About last night," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun flips through Joonmyun's CDs, looking for something to play.

Baekhyun freezes, his whole body going still in a way it very rarely does. "I'm sorry," he says. "I wasn't trying to out you."

"I know," Joonmyun says, "you don't have to apologize." He frowns. "I should be the one…"

Baekhyun pulls out an older album, from the ‘90s, that Joonmyun hasn't listened to in years and years. "I loved this album back in the day."

‘You're not old enough to say ‘back in the day'."

Baekhyun puts on the album, and then walks over to stand in front of Joonmyun as it starts to play. "My brother had this CD. Played it twenty-four seven until our mom told him it was outlawed." He grins and winks. "Listening to it still makes me feel naughty, for some reason."

He straddles Joonmyun on the couch, hands going up Joonmyun's shirt to skate along his abs as he kisses the skin just behind Joonmyun's ear. "I knew when we started this that you didn't want everyone to know about it," Baekhyun says. He rolls his hips, and Joonmyun gasps, reaching out to grab Baekhyun's ass. "That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to have you."

"You shouldn't have to—" he starts, but Baekhyun shakes his head.

"I'm the one who decides what I should do," he says, and he kisses Joonmyun quiet. "Just like I always have."



Joonmyun met Baekhyun exactly five months ago, when it was barely autumn. Now it is the dead of winter, and Baekhyun has embedded himself into every part of Joonmyun's life. Joonmyun knows every comic book incarnation of the Flash, and before he sleeps he listens to a version of ‘Sugungga' that sinks down into him, because Baekhyun's voice had captured his attention from the very first. Sticky, sticky Byun Baekhyun, who makes Joonmyun's condo feel like it has never been empty, and makes Joonmyun's heart feel like it has never been so full.

Joonmyun wishes he could give Baekhyun the world, but all he has to offer are expensive keyboards and his heart. It isn't enough, because Joonmyun has never had enough to give to anyone.

"Is everything all right?" Sunyoung asks, and Joonmyun looks up, startled, from his soundboard. She's standing in the doorway in her pretty purple coat, makeup freshly applied. She must be headed to a radio show.

"I…" Joonmyun tries to breathe, but chains are wrapped around his ribs, getting tighter and tighter. Fear has always been like that. "I'm fine."

Sunyoung smiles at him. It's a small one, like she knows he's lying. "Sometimes I really want to know what goes through your mind."

"You don't," replies Joonmyun seriously. "There's nothing good there." His eyes burn. "That's why I hurt so many people."

Sunyoung exhales slowly, stepping into the studio. She puts her hand on Joonmyun's shoulder. Her nail polish is a soft pearl. He puts his hand on top of hers to cover it.

"There's so much good about you, Joonmyun," says Sunyoung. "I think…" She sighs. "I think for some reason, you keep measuring yourself against some impossible standard."

"I always disappoint someone," Joonmyun says. "I can't…"

"You can't make everyone happy," Sunyoung says. "Who do you want to make happy the most?"

"I don't know," says Joonmyun. "I'm almost thirty and I don't know anything about myself."

Sunyoung hugs him, suddenly, from behind, her cheek pressing against his as she drapes her arms around his shoulders, her arms crossing in front of him. "That doesn't mean you'll never know," she says. "It's okay, Joonmyun."

He soaks in her warmth. "No, it isn't," he says, and he thinks about Baekhyun, who seems so sure that Joonmyun will leave.

Because Baekhyun expects people to leave him, and because Joonmyun is the type of person who leaves.

"Do you know why I'm still your friend, Joonmyun?" Sunyoung asks, standing up and releasing him. Her phone is vibrating in her pocket. It's probably her manager. Time for her radio show, or whatever appointment she has tonight. "It's because I know you care about me. You can fake a lot of things, but you've never faked that."

He looks at the song he's putting together, with still unfinished lyrics and a bridge that doesn't fit quite right. "I'm the biggest fraud I know," Joonmyun says, and closes his eyes.

Yixing stops by later to find him sitting in the dark. "You never turned the lights on?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "I guess I didn't."

"Whatever you're worried about," Yixing says, "I'm here if you need me, okay?"

"You always are," Joonmyun says. "And I don't know why."

"Didn't we already decide you don't understand people?" Yixing asks. "I wish you liked yourself more, Joonmyun."

"Me too," Joonmyun says. "Me too."

"I'm not that good."

"You are."


Yixing rubs slow circles on his back, and Joonmyun dreads.



Joonmyun calls his brother.

"I'll be home two nights before Seollal," Joonmyun tells him. "I'm not bringing anyone."

"I'll tell mom, then," his brother says. "Joonmyun, I'm…"

"I have to go," he interrupts, and he ends the call. His finger accidentally selects his web browser. Hotel comparisons in Beijing pop up, and Joonmyun imagines a world different from this one, where he links hands with Baekhyun as they walk through a night market in Beijing.

He minimizes the browser, because this isn't a different world. This is the world Joonmyun's lived in his whole life, and expectations drag him so deep into the ocean that he can no longer see the sun.





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