fic, 2013/01/09, exo, ii of ii

  • Jan. 9th, 2013 at 2:50 PM
curledupkitten: (suho)

Dating Chanyeol is the rainbow after a heavy rainstorm. A trick of the light that has Joonmyun seeing colors he hasn't seen since he was a child, before life started to grind away at him slowly and steadily.

"It's like you've been possessed by aliens," Jongin says. "Stop smiling so creepily, hyung."

"Sorry," Joonmyun murmurs, and Chanyeol joins them, wrapping his arms around Joonmyun's waist and resting his head on his shoulder.

"I'm only kidding," Jongin says. "I like it when you're happy." He flickers his gaze to Chanyeol. "Even if your taste is, well…"

"What's wrong with me?" Chanyeol says, voice reverberating down Joonmyun's spine from the proximity.

"Everything," Jongin says with finality. "I'm still mad about you ruining my favorite shirt with those blueberries."

"That was months ago!" Joonmyun laughs and leans back into Chanyeol's chest as Chanyeol presses a hand flat to his stomach. The shop opens in about ten minutes. He should really pull out the chocolate from the refrigerator. "And you put them in my face!"

"Something already ruined," Jongin explains. "Not something amazing like my favorite shirt."

They continue to bicker, and Joonmyun watches with infinite patience, because he finds it impossible to muster up worry in the face of Chanyeol's hand tracing the outline of his belly button through his shirt.

In reality, not much has changed. Chanyeol still grabs at him and pulls him close and marvels at how small Joonmyun is. Joonmyun still worries about Chanyeol's health and makes him wear a jacket even though it is now spring in earnest. They both still talk about anything and everything, Chanyeol's feet playing with his underneath the table when they're alone, and sometimes when they're not.

Joonmyun buys plastic cups for his apartment even though Jongdae thinks they are tacky.

When they go out on 'surprise dates', Chanyeol kidnapping Joonmyun from his apartment and dragging him out into the afternoon away from the washing or whatever else Joonmyun is doing, they don't hold hands. They're too old to get away with that. But Chanyeol's knuckles brush across his own and on buses, Chanyeol rests his head on Joonmyun's, and Chanyeol smiles at him like he is the only person in the entire world.

They spend evenings in Jongdae and Joonmyun's apartment, Chanyeol lost in the novels he reads for classes as Joonmyun fits himself into the spaces that Chanyeol's long body leaves on the couch with a book of his own. "Is this boring for you?" Joonmyun asks, and Chanyeol, as always, shakes his head no.

"This is nice," Chanyeol says. "I don't have to impress you or entertain you. That's nice."

"You never have," Joonmyun says.

"I know," Chanyeol replies. "Do you know why I like literature?" He lifts Joonmyun's arm and kisses the inside of his wrist, lips right along the vein. "It's comforting to me, to immerse myself in other people's lives and see the world from hundreds of perspectives."

"That's why I study history," Joonmyun says. "The importance of it…"

"If I had told my father that, he would have scoffed. My sister too. But with you, I don't even have to explain. You just understand. And it's not only about this. It's about everything." Chanyeol slides his lips up the sensitive skin on the inside of Joonmyun's arm, and nuzzles his nose in the crook of his elbow. Joonmyun shivers as Chanyeol exhales. "With you, I can just be."

Joonmyun catches Chanyeol's neck, and pushes his fingers into the thick hair at the nape. Chanyeol is looking at him, bright eyed, still holding Joonmyun's wrist, but he he lowers it, so Joonmyun can pull him closer.

"This is more than I ever expected to have," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol hugs him, heavy and solid and warm.

"You need to raise your expectations," Chanyeol says, resting his head in the crook of Joonmyun's neck, as Joonmyun marvels at the emotions inside of him that seem bigger than his body can contain.

"You don't have to, if you don't want to," Joonmyun says.

"I want to," Chanyeol says. He speaks more quietly than usual, out of respect for the echo in the hallway, but he's sure. "I told you, I want to know more about you."

"Right," Joonmyun says, and then he opens the door. His mother is awake today. There is a green undertone to skin, but she looks better than last time. "Hey, Mom, I brought my friend Chanyeol."

"I have been wanting to meet you," she says. "Joonmyunnie talks about you all the time."

"Hopefully only half of it is about all the glasses I've broken at the shop."

"Only a third," she says, and Chanyeol laughs. The fist-sized lump of tension in Joonmyun's gut eases.

"I'm sure you get this a lot, but you and hyung have the same smile." Joonmyun's mother's eyes sparkle, and it's that Chanyeol magic.

Chanyeol tells his mother about all sorts of things, like the new flavors of parfait that Jongdae's been experimenting with or about Joonmyun's impulsive need to baby Zitao, and about the bet Jongin and Baekhyun have going that Jongin can't get ten girls' numbers by the end of April.

Joonmyun's mother is as smitten with Chanyeol as Joonmyun is, and she looks genuinely regretful when the nurse comes by and says it's time for treatment. "Won't you come again?" she says, wistfully, and Chanyeol nods assuredly, curls flopping onto his forehead and big ears sticking out. Joonmyun's chest hurts, but it is a good hurt.

As they're walking out of the hospital, Joonmyun tugs on Chanyeol's sleeve to get his attention. "Thank you," he says, and Chanyeol is surprised. "You're really like a happy virus, or something. You made her so..." Joonmyun laughs. "Well, happy."

"I didn't do anything?" Chanyeol's surprise becomes amusement. "She looks so much like you, hyung. She's kind like you, too."

"Do I deserve you?" Joonmyun asks. He tries to keep it light, but Chanyeol sees something in it.

"People don't deserve or not deserve each other, Joonmyun-hyung." He throws an arm around Joonmyun's shoulder and pulls him in. "That's not how it works."

"I know, I know," Joonmyun says, hesitating before putting his arm around Chanyeol's long waist. He knows it probably looks suspicious, but at the moment, he doesn't care.

"You do deserve to be happy, though," Chanyeol says. "I hope that I can be a part of your happiness."

Chanyeol had held his mother's hand just as carefully as he holds Joonmyun's, when they're alone. Like they're something precious.

It is a new feeling, to want to hold on to joy like this. Joonmyun worries that he could get used to it.

The cherry blossoms bloom in Seoul on the 12th of April. That weekend, Baekhyun drags a number of them out to Yeouido for the Spring Flower Festival, which has Jongin griping about how he doesn't want to look at the stupid flowers for the entirety of their ride up on the subway until Sehun steps on his insole and smiles sweetly until Jongin crosses his arms and sits back.

Chanyeol looms over Joonmyun on the train, shoulder to shoulder with Zitao, who looms over Baekhyun and silently studies everyone on their train car. Both of them had given up their seats to a pair of old men who'd gotten on at the last stop. Joonmyun tries to offer Chanyeol his seat, but Chanyeol shakes his head. "You have as little balance as I do," he says.

Jongin laughs into his hand, disguising it as a cough when Zitao slides eyes on him. Jongin, who is slightly clueless, doesn't seem to have figured out that Zitao is more likely to give him a giant hug than attack him, but it's only a matter of time before there's no one left to keep him in check. Zitao thinks of it like a game, and Baekhyun constantly encourages it.

"My limbs are shorter," Joonmyun counters. "Less collateral damage when the inevitable fall happens."

"Your logic is sound," Chanyeol says. "I'm still going to stand up. And if you stand up, we'll both be standing, and then there will be an empty seat. That would result in even more damage, wouldn't it?" Chanyeol's grin is unabashed and wide. His eyelashes flutter.

"Don't try aegyo, Chanyeol," Baekhyun advises, slapping his hands on his thighs. "Cute-hyung might not want to be seen with you if you pull that trick out of the hat."

"Hey!" Chanyeol says, and the train jerks, banging Chanyeol's shins into Joonmyun's knees. "Hyung will like me no matter what." Chanyeol leans further down, only one hand hanging from the bar instead of the handles. His other hand rests on Joonmyun's lower thigh, and it gives him jitters, like he's a high school boy on his first date. "Right?"

"R-right," Joonmyun confirms, and Baekhyun snorts as Jongin groans and rests his head on Sehun's shoulder.

"Jealous, Jongin?" Jongin bares his teeth in an adorable approximation of a scowl, and Joonmyun grins at him fondly, even as Chanyeol's hand slides a little higher with the lurch of the train station stop. "I'm tiny hyung's favorite now."

"You used nefarious means to earn that position!" Jongin says, and Chanyeol's laugh fills up the whole train car. "I'll settle for number two."

"Number three, I think you mean," Sehun says, as Jongin collapses onto him. "Jongdae is probably number two."

"Chanyeol has ruined everything," Jongin says, no heat in the words, and Zitao hides his laugh in the collar of his thin sweatshirt.

"Naw," Sehun says, eyeing Joonmyun with that smirk he always has that Lu Han describes as 'painfully insolent'. "I think Chanyeol has made things more interesting."

Chanyeol stands a head above most of the crowd, as they walk through the cherry blossoms. This makes him hard to lose, even as he walks ahead of Joonmyun, Baekhyun and Zitao in order to keep an eye on Sehun and Jongin, who are having a competition to see who can photo-bomb the most tourist snapshots. The red in his hair shines in the spring sunshine, almost as much as his teeth, and when he finally catches Jongin and Sehun in a headlock, lecturing lightly about destroying people's memories with their ugly mugs, he glances back over his shoulder to share a conspiratorial grin with Joonmyun.

"I'm glad Chanyeol met you," Baekhyun says. "You've anchored him. In a good way."

It is the opposite for Joonmyun. He still has all of his worries. School, the shop, his parents. He's still juggling those things. Yet, with Chanyeol, it seems less like restricting chains around his wrists and ankles. "He's sort of… set me free," Joonmyun says.

"Baekhyun?" He and Baekhyun turn, and they see Sooyoung weaving toward them through the crowd. Joonmyun's heart plummets when he sees her. She is radiant, as usual.

"Sooyoung!" Baekhyun says, delighted. "Long time no see!"

"For obvious reasons," Sooyoung says, but she doesn't seem heartbroken. Her smile is not strained.

Zitao grabs the back of Jongin's shirt, getting his attention, and Jongin grabs Sehun and Chanyeol to make them follow the others off to an emptier patch of the wide road.

Chanyeol comes to stand behind him, both hands on Joonmyun's shoulders. "Hey Sooyoung," Chanyeol says easily.

"I can't believe we ran into each other here," she says. "My friends had just broken off to go home and I was walking with Seonni to the train and I spotted that hair above the crowd and knew it was you." They both laugh. Joonmyun is in the twilight zone.

Sooyoung spends the rest of the afternoon with them. Joonmyun sticks with Jongin, Zitao, and Sehun while Baekhyun and Chanyeol talk animatedly with Sooyoung. "Are you jealous, leader?" Jongin asks, and Joonmyun still hates that word but he knows himself well enough to think it might be applicable.

The cherry blossoms are quite beautiful, but Joonmyun is distracted by how pretty Sooyoung looks with them as a backdrop. The soft pink of her spring sweater makes her look like one of the flowers.

When she waves goodbye, claiming she'd been on her way home when she'd run into them, Joonmyun doesn't watch her leave with any sort of relief, because Chanyeol hugs her goodbye. "I hope you're taking care of yourself," he says, and she smiles so warmly at him before she's gone, long legs and long hair disappearing back into the sea of people.

They get dinner at a gamjatang restaurant about five blocks from their destination. Joonmyun excuses himself to the restroom. He looks at himself in the mirror, before splashing water on his face to cleanse it of the cooling sweat. "You are being silly, Kim Joonmyun."

"Probably," Chanyeol says, making Joonmyun grip the counter. Chanyeol hugs him from behind, pulling Joonmyun's chest into his back. Joonmyun frantically tries to reassure himself that no one else is in the bathroom, but Chanyeol just hugs him tighter, more persistently. "What's wrong?"

"You're so close to her," Joonmyun says. "It was like…"

"I've known her since I was fifteen," Chanyeol says. "We've been friends for such a long time that it didn't make sense not to be friends anymore simply because we dated for two years in the middle of it."

"What if she—"

"She doesn't. We talked about it a month ago." He exhales, and it ruffles Joonmyun's hair. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you would be so uncomfortable."

"She's so pretty," Joonmyun says. So female, he doesn't say. "You only broke up with her three months ago, Chanyeol—"

"The one I like is you," Chanyeol says, kissing Joonmyun's cheek. Joonmyun reaches up and pulls his fingers through his hair to hide his anxiousness, but Chanyeol just laughs. "You're so cute."

"I'm older than you," Joonmyun says. "More mature." This feels like familiar ground. "A grown man."

"And very cute," Chanyeol says. "I like cute things the best."

"You just like me the best," Joonmyun says. It feels daring. Chanyeol's hands are hot on his stomach through his shirt. He looks so big behind Joonmyun, when Joonmyun looks again into the mirror. Chanyeol's cheeks are pink, the blush almost hidden by the strength of his smile.

"Now you're getting the picture," he says, and Joonmyun meets his eyes in the reflection and smiles back.

As they eat their soup, Chanyeol's hand locks with his discreetly under the table.

Chanyeol always hums off tune when he mops. Joonmyun watches him, and when Chanyeol catches him, he smiles, because Joonmyun is holding his heart out with both hands in front of him for Chanyeol to take. The look in Chanyeol's eyes always seems to say "I'll take care of it, hyung," and Joonmyun believes him.

At the end of May, Joonmyun is blindfolded and ushered into Chanyeol's car. "Have fun," Jongdae says lecherously, and Joonmyun clutches the overhead handle in the car for dear life because car rides are much scarier when you can't see. Chanyeol talks to him the whole trip, though, about his classes and about this woman Baekhyun's just started seeing who wears skirts shorter than Chanyeol approves of but is a 'very nice girl'. Joonmyun listens and tells Chanyeol that what other people wear isn't his business and that Baekhyun probably doesn't want a nice girl, which has Chanyeol doing his stomp clap routine in a moving car.

"Don't kill us," Joonmyun begs, and Chanyeol leaves one hand presumably on the steering wheel as the other comfortingly pats his thigh.

"We'll be there soon," Chanyeol says.

There turns out to be the lodge they'd stayed in last winter. It is a lot different in spring. The trees are flowering and everything is green. "Wow," Joonmyun says.

"It's just us," Chanyeol says. "Ryeowook is visiting his family in Seoul." He spreads his arms wide. "Happy birthday! Your present is me, for the entire weekend."

"What an excellent present," Joonmyun replies, throwing his arms around Chanyeol's waist and pushing his nose into the hollow of Chanyeol's shoulder.

Five hours later finds Joonmyun baking his own birthday cake in the kitchen. He's just put it into the oven. Chanyeol is sheepishly observing. "I'm really bad at baking," Chanyeol says. "But I'm still sad you're baking your own cake."

"You can make me fish stew for dinner," Joonmyun says, as he opens the container of plain frosting and dumps it into a bowl. He's already melted the chocolate and let it cool. It's barely warm to the touch now, which means he can mix it in.

Chanyeol watches Joonmyun cautiously mix the melted chocolate into the frosting base, hovering close enough that Joonmyun can smell his expensive perfume but far enough that he has room to move his arm. "You're being impatient," Joonmyun teases. Chanyeol will know he doesn't really mind.

Chanyeol makes a soft noise in the back of his throat that has Joonmyun shivering. "I want to taste it," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun is whimsical, dipping his hands into the frosting and smearing it across Chanyeol's mouth before he has a chance to react. He squeals, a much higher pitch than Joonmyun has ever heard from him, before he's clapping delightedly and licking without any finesse to catch some of it on his tongue. "Delicious," he says, and Joonmyun swallows around a sudden lump in his throat.

They're all alone out here. There's no danger of anyone walking in, so if he wants to reach out and pull Chanyeol in for a kiss, he can. No one will see him, and no one will interrupt. It's too tempting a situation for Joonmyun to pass up.

He uses his clean hand to take hold of Chanyeol's shirt. It's a soft, luxurious fabric, like all of Chanyeol's shirts, but that only distracts Joonmyun for a moment before he's dragging Chanyeol down to taste the frosting for himself. He brushes his lips over the corner of Chanyeol's lips first. The chocolate is smooth, and Chanyeol's skin is smoother, and the taste of them together is intoxicating when he darts his own tongue out to lick a stripe up Chanyeol's cheek. Chanyeol's resulting noise is choked. Joonmyun has never been this bold with Chanyeol before, but it doesn't mean he hasn't wanted to be. He continues to clean Chanyeol's mouth, tongue sliding along the dip just above the perfectly bowed upper lip, and down around the other side of his lips. Chanyeol's hands, which are never at a loss for what to do, are already sliding up under Joonmyun's shirt, warm palms against warm skin, and Joonmyun finally kisses Chanyeol on the lips.

Chanyeol's mouth is responsive. It always is. He kisses like Joonmyun is his favorite flavor of smoothie at the shop-- a sugary confection decorated liberally with caramel that he sips like he's been in the desert for days. The way he kisses Joonmyun is kind of like that. Joonmyun can't say he minds. He sighs as Chanyeol's tongue sneaks out to greet his own, skipping formalities and heading straight past handshakes. Chanyeol's hands, in the meantime, skate up his spine and seem to find every crevice and dip along the way to his neck.

"Isn't it good?" Chanyeol asks, rough and deep and burning.

"What?" Joonmyun pants, letting go of Chanyeol's shirt to pull down on his hair, bringing their mouths back together. "I'm..."

"The frosting," Chanyeol says, licking Joonmyun's thin upper lip and leaving a burning brand behind before he kisses Joonmyun again and again. Joonmyun loses track of the number of times Chanyeol's tiny gasps encourage him onward, testing new boundaries as he shoves Chanyeol into the counter. Chanyeol laughs. "Aggressive?"

"It's really good frosting," Joonmyun says, amazed at his own want, and Chanyeol's eyes go dark. Joonmyun takes the hand that still has chocolate on it and wipes it on Chanyeol's neck, careful to avoid the collar of his shirt, and Chanyeol hisses.

"Please," he says, and Joonmyun knows it's not an objection but instead a request. One that Joonmyun is happy to answer with an open slide of his mouth across the vein in Chanyeol's neck. Chanyeol whines, and Joonmyun loves the sound of it. He also loves that he is the cause of the sound. When he’s finished cleaning up his own handiwork, Chanyeol is flushed and breathing heavy. He's redder and more bewildered than Joonmyun has ever seen him. It’s a rush of power and excitement and happiness all sloshing together between his ribcage.

He steps back, creating space between them. Chanyeol's hands tickle as Joonmyun pulls free of them. He roams eyes over his boyfriend, taking in his heaving chest and mussed hair and plump chocolatey mouth, and wants. "I'm sorry," he says, and Chanyeol opens his mouth to protest but Joonmyun smiles and holds up his hand. "I got frosting on your shirt after all."

"Oh," Chanyeol says. "I thought you were going to apologize for something else."

"Should I?" Joonmyun asks. They've been dating for a while now. Over two months. Almost three. Joonmyun hasn't felt comfortable taking it beyond the soft kisses and gentle explorations of arms and shoulders and occasionally the skin at their waists. Chanyeol hasn't seemed in any hurry either, showing affection with pecks to Joonmyun's forehead and bone-breaking hugs. Even when they curl up in the same bed, it’s always to talk. Chanyeol will sometimes read aloud to him from his school assigned novels, and Joonmyun has taken to running his nails across Chanyeol's scalp as he enjoys the cadence of Chanyeol's orations.

"Absolutely not," Chanyeol says. "I'm going to go change my shirt."

"I'll just finish up the cake," Joonmyun says.

When he's frosted it, Chanyeol still hasn't returned from the bedroom, so Joonmyun gravitates toward it. Chanyeol is hanging up the phone when Joonmyun ends up in the doorway. "My sister," Chanyeol says without turning around. He's still wearing his shirt, but as he speaks, he's lifting it. The line of his back is as lovely as the rest of him is, and it is all Joonmyun considers as Chanyeol continues to speak, unprompted. "She wanted to know when I was available for a dinner with my mother."

"I see," Joonmyun says, and he's surprised at his own voice, husky. Chanyeol must also be surprised, for he spins around, shirt clutched in his hands in front of his stomach.


It is instinct that has Joonmyun pushing Chanyeol down to the bed, legs falling easily to either side of Chanyeol's slim hips. "I wasn't finished," is all Joonmyun says. Then he crushes their mouths together. It is, after all, just like being unbearably thirsty, because Joonmyun wants to drink Chanyeol in until he's so full of him he explodes.

Chanyeol rolls his hips up, and Joonmyun flickers surprised eyes up at Chanyeol when he feels an unmistakable hardness pressing into his hip. "You…"

"I am intensely making out with my incredibly attractive boyfriend, and now we are in a bed, and we are also alone in the woods where no one can disturb us." Chanyeol chuckles and lifts himself to place another sloppy kiss onto Joonmyun's swollen lips. "So yes, I'm hard." Chanyeol's eyes, when he pulls back, are wide and clear.

"Could I…" Hesitation in speech, but not in intent. "Could I help you with that?" His hand lingers at the waist of Chanyeol's jeans, waiting for Chanyeol to give him permission.

This is something new, and it is one thing to kiss a boy and another to let a boy—

"Yeah," Chanyeol says, eyebrows high on his forehead. His mouth is red and puffy and there are the remains of chocolate kisses on his pale skin and Joonmyun thinks he is beautiful. "Hyung, I—" His words trail off as Joonmyun undoes the button of Chanyeol's jeans. The zipper is loud in the quiet room. He licks his lips and Chanyeol lets out a shaky breath.

Joonmyun finally looks away from Chanyeol's face as his eyes close, lower lip getting sucked into his mouth so he can bite down on it. Instead he follows the thin, almost negligible line of hair down to where it disappears beneath the waistband of Chanyeol's underwear. He hooks the tips of his fingers under the elastic.

"You know I didn't bring you out here because I wanted…" Chanyeol seems very concerned about this, like Joonmyun hadn't jumped him in the kitchen and again in the bedroom.

"I am well aware," Joonmyun says, caught between nervousness and desire but thinking they both let him know how much he wants this. "This is not a situation I've ever been in before." He admits it carefully, although he is pretty sure that Chanyeol knows that.

"I've got you," Chanyeol says, as Joonmyun abandons Chanyeol's boxers to tug instead at his jeans. Chanyeol lifts his hips up until Joonmyun gets them down to his thighs. Then Chanyeol sits up, stomach muscles shifting beneath the skin, and takes Joonmyun's face in between his impossibly steady hands. "Let me take care of you."

It's so sincere, and Joonmyun recalls, vividly, how Chanyeol had looked at him in the parlor of Baekhyun's parents' house, wanting Joonmyun to lean on him.

He thinks the yes is implied in the kiss he leaves on Chanyeol's lips.

Joonmyun knows that he'll never be able to tell most of the world that Chanyeol is his. This, though—this quiet moment, Chanyeol's large hand rubbing circles into his hip, smile stretching across his face and breath slow and even as they drift off, could be enough to make Joonmyun happy for the rest of his life.

Chanyeol comes into work on a Friday in July with a busted lip and a glower. Joonmyun immediately drags him into the back as Jongin makes jokes about trying too hard to pick up girls with boyfriends in bars to cover his own worries.

"What happened?" Joonmyun asks, as Chanyeol immediately leans back against the wall and brings Joonmyun in close, nuzzling his nose into Joonmyun's hair. Chanyeol smells like missed sleep and somewhat like beer.

"I had a fight with my dad," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun hugs him tighter, because he can feel Chanyeol's slight quivering.

"And he did this?" Joonmyun stretches back just enough to take another look at Chanyeol's split lip, and Chanyeol shakes his head.

"No," Chanyeol says. "My father would never lay a hand on me. He has words to teach me lessons." Chanyeol laughs, but it is not a good sound. It is an empty sound. An out behind the store in an alley, cryptically explaining why one has broken up with one's girlfriend sound. "I did this when I got drunk afterward and tripped over my own front step."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"I didn't want you to worry," Chanyeol says. A stilted pause. "I needed to think, too. It would have been harder to collect my thoughts with your hands in my hair." Purposefully light. Joonmyun doesn't buy it.

Standing on the edge of a cliff or at the peak right at the top of a rollercoaster often gives you a lurch in your stomach. Joonmyun feels it now as a suspicion creeps like a specter up the column of his spine. "What did you fight about?"

"My right to make my own choices," Chanyeol says. Now his fingers are teasing the skin of Joonmyun's arms, right at the hem of his sleeves.

"Is this about school again? You'll be done in January. It's not like you can't go to business school, or—"

"I don't want to go to business school," Chanyeol says. "I'd rather, I don't know, teach high school. Or go into editing. Something like that." Joonmyun can imagine that all too easily. Chanyeol with a desk in the teacher's office, and pencils with cute animal erasers sticking out of his basket. "But it wasn't about that."

"What was it about, then?" Joonmyun asks. Chanyeol's fingers are shaking. Joonmyun kisses his throat to soothe him. They both need to go back out. Jongin running the front by himself, even after all this time, is still asking for trouble.

"He wants me to get married," Chanyeol says. "To an associate's daughter."

"I see," Joonmyun says. It makes sense, Joonmyun thinks, that Chanyeol's parents would want that. Joonmyun's parents want that, too.

"My ending things with Sooyoung was unfortunate," Chanyeol says, in a voice that is clearly the imitation of someone else, "but opened up a whole new realm of possible alliances."


"I said no, of course," Chanyeol replies. "My father called me ungrateful and restless." Chanyeol's chuckle is weak, but it still blows Joonmyun's hair about. He'll have to fix it. "He's kind of right."

"You didn't tell him…"

"About you?" Chanyeol shakes his head, chin brushing Joonmyun's forehead. "I'm still alive, so no."

"I haven't…"

"I know," Chanyeol says. "Isn't it a shame? That we live in a world where I can't take one of the smartest, kindest, and loveliest people I've ever met home to meet my family, and say 'This person has deigned to date me, for reasons I still can't ascertain-'"

"It's your looks," Joonmyun says. "I especially like your face in blueberry."

"Not chocolate?" Chanyeol asks. The whipcord-tight tension threaded through his arms is easing, and he has stopped trembling in Joonmyun's arms. "I wish…"

"We all wish, sometimes," Joonmyun says. "About so many different things."

Chanyeol squeezes him in. "Sometimes they come true, though?" Optimism, in Joonmyun's humble opinion, is one of Chanyeol's best traits.

Chanyeol is Joonmyun's boyfriend. Chanyeol has chosen Joonmyun, out of all the people in the world. "Sometimes they do," Joonmyun says. "But we should get back to work."

"We should, we should," Chanyeol says. "Thank you, hyung."

"Any time," Joonmyun says.

Jongin and Chanyeol wrestle over possession of the chips as Jongdae swears at the DVD player. "Why won't it work?"

"It's not plugged in," Sehun says from the armchair. He points at the plug next to his feet, about a quarter-meter from the surge bar, well within arm's reach for him, and smirks.

"Could you… plug it in, then?" Jongdae asks, and Sehun snorts.

"No," he answers, and Joonmyun covers his grin as Jongdae gets up and walks over to plug the device in. He 'accidentally' steps on Sehun's foot as he approaches, and Sehun yelps. Joonmyun turns a blind eye to all of it, instead returning his focus to where Jongin has trapped Chanyeol to the floor with his forearm.

"Give in," Jongin says, and Chanyeol's whole face is twitching as he laughs. "The chips are mine."

Joonmyun crosses his arms as Chanyeol yells "No!", hooking his leg around Jongin's and sending him crashing into the arm of the sofa. Joonmyun uses this time to grab the chips and sit down with them on the couch.

"How about I keep them, and you two can have some if you'd like," Joonmyun says calmly. Chanyeol scrambles up off the floor and claims the space next to Joonmyun, while Jongin playfully kicks at Joonmyun's feet. "Kids these days."

"Just because you insist, sometimes, on acting like a helicopter mom, doesn't mean you're old enough to call any of us kids." Joonmyun laughs and pushes a handful of chips into his mouth instead of a reply.

"You're so perfect." Chanyeol leaves a greasy lip print on his cheek, and Jongin shouts 'ew' and throws a pillow, but he's smiling. Joonmyun feels so lucky, to have friends who accept him for who he is.

They somehow settle in for the movie, Chanyeol finding ways to curl around Joonmyun like a boa constrictor. Joonmyun is fond of Chanyeol's warmth despite the sticky heat outside.

The movie isn't scary, not really, but Jongin keeps jumping at the mildest surprises. Jongdae ruffles his hair and Sehun just laughs at him, and if Sehun weren't Jongin's only hope of passing statistics this semester there might be hands around Sehun's neck.

Joonmyun holds Chanyeol's hand, and Chanyeol smiles without looking away from the screen.

The movie is almost over when Chanyeol's phone vibrates. He ignores the first call, but when it starts up again, he unfolds himself from the couch, extricating himself from Joonmyun, and pads into Joonmyun's bedroom to take the call.

Jongin pauses the movie and Sehun clicks his teeth with exasperation. "I hate stopping movies in the middle."

"It's probably an emergency," Joonmyun says. "The only people that call Chanyeol instead of texting him are his family."

"That's because he yells into the phone," Jongin says. "I value my hearing."

"Oh yes, you value it so much that you dance next to the speakers at nightclubs," Jongdae counters, and they bicker until Chanyeol comes out of Joonmyun's bedroom.

"I have to go."

"What's wrong?" Joonmyun asks. Chanyeol is as white as a sheet.

"My dad," Chanyeol says. "He…"

"Is he okay?" Jongdae leans around Joonmyun to look at Chanyeol's face.

"He had a heart attack," Chanyeol says. It's detached, like Chanyeol is somewhere else right now and Joonmyun is only talking to a corpse. "He's in the hospital."

"Do you want me to come?"

"It's best if you don't," Chanyeol says, after a long moment of thought, and Joonmyun knows it's because Chanyeol's parents don't know about him. He understands. "I'll call you."

He leaves, and the atmosphere in the room has turned solemn. Jongdae is looking between Joonmyun and the door curiously, and Joonmyun sighs. No one's parents want to hear their kid is a homo, especially when they're sick, is something that seems obvious to Joonmyun, but Jongdae has never had to worry about something like that.

"Start the movie again, Jongin," Joonmyun says, and Jongin hits play.

"Have you heard from Chanyeol?" Zitao asks, head resting on his hand.

Joonmyun shakes his head. "It's unusual, not to hear from him." He looks forward to Chanyeol's text messages, which are always things like it's sunny today! i hope your day is as bright as your smile! or hyung, i'm in class and the teacher mentioned the roman empire, so now all i can think about is you! ❤ !. The silence of his phone is ominous.

"He's probably busy," Zitao says, switching to his native tongue. "With familial obligations. People to call, and things like that."

"I'm a worrier," Joonmyun says. "I have been since I was a kid."

"Do you know the old Chinese saying 'when we get to the mountain, there will be a way through?'" Zitao sips at his coffee.

"'And when the boat gets to the pier-head, it will go straight with the current'," Joonmyun finishes. "Everything will turn out for the best, so let's worry about it as it comes."

"I think you need some zen," Zitao says. "And perhaps some decaf tea."

"I want to know if Chanyeol is all right," Joonmyun says, and Zitao pats his hand. "I'm sure he'll call when he can."

Chanyeol doesn't call for three days. "How's your father?" Joonmyun asks immediately, and Chanyeol sounds exhausted when he answers.

"He's going to make it," Chanyeol says. "He's not going to be able to get out of bed for a while, though." Chanyeol's laugh is dry and tired. "He's throwing a fit, and for once it isn't about my hair. It's about all the meetings he's going to miss with his executive board and all the leave he's going to have to take."

"I'm glad he's okay," Joonmyun says. "Now, how are you?"

"I need a hug," Chanyeol says pitifully, and Joonmyun laughs.

"I'm on my way home," he says, and he can hear Chanyeol's smile.

"I'll be there in an hour." Chanyeol pauses. "Do I still have that pair of sweatpants in your dresser?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says.

"Then I'll be there in thirty minutes," Chanyeol amends. "As long as I can use your shampoo."

"Of course you can."

The first thing Chanyeol does when Joonmyun answers the door is pick him up in his arms. "Hi."

"Hi," Joonmyun says back. Chanyeol sets him down, and he’s able to get a good look at Chanyeol’s face. He’s wan. There are dark circles under his eyes. His smile is weak. "Shower?"

They walk past Jongdae's door on the way to the bathroom. Jongdae is whispering on the phone, door closed. Joonmyun opens the hall closet to pull out an extra towel and hands it to Chanyeol. Chanyeol looks at him blankly for a moment, before grabbing Joonmyun's wrist and taking him along into the bathroom.

Chanyeol is quiet. It is unsettling. Joonmyun undresses him perfunctorily, and then, when Chanyeol doesn't move to get into the shower, himself as well.

He turns the water on and tests the heat, before guiding Chanyeol under the spray.

Chanyeol leans against the tile as Joonmyun soaps him up, leaning down when Joonmyun asks so he can wash his hair.

"As I was leaving, he said…" Chanyeol says, the only words he's said since the 'hi' at the door, "that he needed me to stop being a petulant child and help him now."

Joonmyun rinses the shampoo from Chanyeol's hair. Chanyeol's roots are growing out, black against the red-blond, and it's softer at his scalp.

"My mother agreed. She always agrees."

When the water runs clear, he turns it off. He guides Chanyeol out of the shower and hands him a towel. Chanyeol dries his hair quickly, and gracelessly dries his skin, too. Joonmyun takes his hand and leads him to the bedroom, closing and locking the door. He sits on the edge of the bed, and waits.

Chanyeol sits next to him, his arm sticking to Joonmyun's. Joonmyun shivers, and Chanyeol notices, pushing Joonmyun down onto the bed and crawling on top of him.

"Are you okay?"

"My dad almost died," Chanyeol says. "It's so scary. Is this how you feel all the time?"

"Only sometimes," Joonmyun says. "You help take my mind off of it more than anyone else ever has."

"Joonmyun-hyung," Chanyeol says, and he kisses him. It is desperate. There are needs in it Joonmyun doesn't know how to answer, but he'll do his best.

Chanyeol kisses hurriedly down Joonmyun's neck, not giving him a chance to catch his breath. Joonmyun can sense that Chanyeol wants to be distracted, so he drags his own hands down Chanyeol's back, enjoying the curl of his spine into Joonmyun's hand. "Chanyeol," Joonmyun whispers, and Chanyeol laps at the skin of his throat with the broad of his tongue. Joonmyun probably tastes a bit like soap, but Chanyeol tastes him eagerly, like it's been weeks instead of days since they touched each other last.

"I missed you," Chanyeol says. His voice is still cracked, like he's a dried out shell of a person instead of the Chanyeol that Joonmyun knows. "It's been hard to be away."

"It hasn't been very long," Joonmyun says. "But I missed you too."

Chanyeol sucks at Joonmyun's collarbones, leaving marks. Joonmyun whines, quietly, conscious of Jongdae in the next room. He seals his lips together, trying to stifle his moans as Chanyeol's mouth descends lower, lingering at every sensitive spot he's discovered over the past few months and remapping them with his tongue and teeth. "You're so handsome," Chanyeol says, licking up the prominent bone of Joonmyun's hip, letting his tongue linger at the seam there. His hands slide flat up Joonmyun's thighs. He's still a bit damp from the shower, but it's hard to tell now, if it is sweat or water that shines on his skin. "Can I..."

"Anything," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol looks up at him. His eyes are wild and feverish, and he looks lost, so Joonmyun pulls Chanyeol up, and then down on top of him for a kiss. It's nice to be skin to skin again, because the room is chilly from the air conditioning, and also because Chanyeol's skin is so soft. "Anything you want." Chanyeol's hands shake as he slides them up and down Joonmyun's ribs, and Joonmyun kisses him harder, soothingly, because Chanyeol loves to kiss him and Joonmyun loves to be kissed by him.

"You always say that," Chanyeol says into Joonmyun's cheek. His hair tickles at Joonmyun's nose, and his lips fasten themselves to Joonmyun's jaw as Joonmyun scratches lines into his back.

"I always mean it," Joonmyun answers, clutching Chanyeol's hair and jerking his head back so he can kiss him again, tangle their tongues together.

Usually, it's different, with Chanyeol patiently fucking Joonmyun with his fingers until Joonmyun forgets all the weights on his shoulders and can think of nothing but the way Chanyeol feels inside of him, but tonight, Chanyeol's fingers tremble as he tries to open the lube, and it seems easier to do it like this, Chanyeol blindly clinging to Joonmyun's arms as Joonmyun opens him up with three thin digits, Joonmyun with his back against the wall and Chanyeol half on his knees, half on Joonmyun's lap with his head buried in Joonmyun's shoulder. Joonmyun's wrist aches at this angle, but he can hold Chanyeol like this, and Chanyeol had said he needed a hug.

Chanyeol's thighs shake when he's finally slicked and stretched, sinking down onto Joonmyun and hissing at the intrusion. Joonmyun keeps him steady.

"I don't know what to do," Chanyeol says, when they're curled up in bed, Chanyeol's come slick between them. "I've never not known what to do."

About what? is what Joonmyun should ask, but Chanyeol is already asleep, breathing falling even. "I'm here," he whispers instead. Chanyeol is draped across him like a human quilt. They are sticky and sweaty, but Joonmyun doesn't want to rouse him. "Sleep well."

Joonmyun feels strange as he finds his own sleep, like they're both on a raft floating out to sea.

He wakes up in the morning with an arm that tingles when he tries to move it, and Chanyeol looking down on him with soft eyes. Chanyeol is clean again, "Can I make you breakfast?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "You'll burn down my kitchen."

"I promise I won't," Chanyeol says. He looks well rested, even if his smile isn't up to its usual wattage. "You took care of me last night. It's my turn."

Chanyeol inexpertly washes the rice, so the water is still a bit murky when he puts it into the rice cooker. Joonmyun watches from his seat at the kitchen counter, admiring Chanyeol's long limbs and the way his sweatpants sit too low on his hips.

"I hope you made enough for me," Jongdae says sleepily, as he wanders into the kitchen. "How's your dad?"

The smile that Chanyeol's kept up all morning slips away into nothingness and Joonmyun can taste dread on the backs of his teeth when all he should taste is mint.

"He'll live," Chanyeol says, turning so all either Joonmyun or Jongdae can see is his bare back. "He'll live."

Joonmyun is scooping tiny sugar-coated pieces of rice cake onto a parfait when Chanyeol gets the phone call.

"I have to leave early," he says quietly to Joonmyun. His breath tickles Joonmyun's ear. Joonmyun had thought the thrill would fade, but it hasn't. Chanyeol's every touch still sets him alight.

"Is everything okay?"

"My father needs to see me," Chanyeol says.

There are notes of another unfinished and avoided conversation in that. Chanyeol doesn't want to talk about his father. Joonmyun gets that. It does feel like Chanyeol is hiding something from him, though. It used to be a joke, between them, that they are both such secretive people, afraid of being a burden. Joonmyun has found it easier to whisper his secrets to Chanyeol in the dark, and Chanyeol had divulged many of his own.

Whatever Chanyeol isn't telling him now is big and scary between them.

"Don't make that face," Jongin says, as Chanyeol walks out of the shop to the chime of the bell. "No one is going to eat him out there. He's tall, but not enough meat on his bones."

"Explain to me why your first thought is cannibalism," Jongdae says, which starts an argument that draws in the three girls swiftly becoming regulars at table three, and Joonmyun lets the buzz of the shop soothe his frazzled nerves.

"It'll be okay, leader," Jongin says, spraying Joonmyun with the bottle of clean water in his hand that he uses to rinse the soap from the tables. "Chanyeol's dad will get better, and Chanyeol will be back in here destroying dishes with that dumb look on his face again before we know it."

"You're right," Joonmyun says. "When we get to the mountain, there will be a way through."

"I don't speak nerd," Jongin replies, and Joonmyun shoos him with a stern gaze, determined not to worry for the rest of the afternoon.

"How's work?" Joonmyun asks. His father is still wearing his dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbow.

"Not bad," his father answers. "For you?"

"Not bad." A bite of noodles.

"I really appreciate the way you help out, Joonmyun." A beat of silence. "When are you going back to school?"

"Next semester, maybe," Joonmyun replies.

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

"No." He has Chanyeol, with soft lips and big hands and bigger smiles. It's on the tip of his tongue, but his father rushes forward, eyes on the table instead of on Joonmyun.

"The doctors think your mom isn't going to get better," his dad says. He's holding his chopsticks tightly. His knuckles are white, and the weathered skin on the back of his hands looks like withered fruit that Joonmyun would throw away at the shop.

"Things with the company are really bad," Chanyeol says as he mops. He isn't humming, and he moves slowly, without energy. "A lot of investors are concerned about how things are going to happen without my father at the helm."

Joonmyun sets down the last clean glass and walks around to the other side of the counter. He hugs Chanyeol from behind, resting his face in the dip between Chanyeol's shoulder blades. "That's not your fault, Chanyeol."

"It is, though, isn't it?" Chanyeol says. "You gave up so much for your family, and I'm insisting on reading books for a living while my dad's life’s work is falling apart."

"You can only be you, Chanyeol. You can't be someone else."

"You're very strong," Chanyeol says. "I've always admired so much about you, but I never really realized that until now." His hands come down to rest on top of Joonmyun's, holding him in place. "I wish I could be like you. Then I could do anything."

"I wish I could be like you," Joonmyun replies. "Then I would think anything was possible." Chanyeol takes a deep breath, and Joonmyun's hands move with his stomach. "Sometimes even being near you makes me think that."

"I wish…" Chanyeol says, and then he lets the breath go. Joonmyun doesn't push him to finish the sentence, and instead relishes Chanyeol's hands completely covering his own.

"Kim Joonmyun, is that you?" Joonmyun sets down the tomato in his hand. It's too soft, and he'd have to use it today or it would be overripe. This particular stand usually has good tomatoes, but it is later in the day than he usually stops.

Looking up, he is confronted with Choi Minho. "Minho!" he says, and Minho grins at him lopsidedly. "How are you?"

"I'm working at a law firm," Minho says. "It's long hours but I like what I'm doing as much as I'd like anything that's not sports."

"That's great," Joonmyun says. "I'm happy for you."

"I can't believe I haven't seen you since high school," Minho says. "What's the student council president doing these days?"

"I'm on leave from graduate school," Joonmyun says. "History."

Minho nods. "That was always your favorite subject." He looks at his watch, and across the street to the bus stop. "Why the leave?"

"Personal reasons."

"You've always been good at keeping your life under wraps," Minho says. Joonmyun can only remember how grumpy he used to be unless he was playing soccer. Now he is all smiles. "I got married."

"That's great! I'm not really planning on that yet."

The traffic pattern changes, a different set of people crossing the street.

"It’s almost my turn. I have to get that bus, or I’ll be late. But we should catch up, soon. Bring your friend. What was his name? Kyungsoo?"

"I don't even have his phone number," Joonmyun laughs, and Minho laughs, pressing out imaginary wrinkles in his shirt.

"It was nice to see you, Joonmyun. Isn't it weird to see each other all grown up?"

Joonmyun has felt grown up since he was seventeen and suddenly found himself taking care of himself and his distraught father. "Is it supposed to be different?"

"You aren't all that different," Minho says. "You do look more comfortable in your skin."

"Do I?" Joonmyun asks, and Minho nods.

"Definitely," he says. "Everyone's always liked you, Joonmyun. You should keep in touch. My personal email hasn't changed."

"I'll do my best," Joonmyun says, and picks up another tomato, Minho sprinting across the street as the crosswalk enters the single digits for pedestrian crossing. This one is firmer. It will keep. He isn't sure if Chanyeol will stay for dinner.

It is in stark relief, how different Joonmyun’s life has turned out from his classmates. How different it will be, with no wife and no kids and no one he can talk about at faculty parties, if he ever manages to get there. The feeling fades, when he’s with Chanyeol, but now, it’s so relentless it chokes him.

Chanyeol's hands glide up Joonmyun's ribs as he stares down at him like he is the only person in the world that matters to him. As Chanyeol moves inside him, that strange emptiness that Joonmyun's been seeing lately bleeding inward from the corners of his eyes, Joonmyun thinks that in this moment, he is.

"What if we could stay like this?" Chanyeol says. "Never get out of bed again. Just stay here and forget about everything?"

"That's not how the world works," Joonmyun says. "You wouldn't really want it to work like that, either."

"I don't know," Chanyeol says. "I might."

Joonmyun brings Jongdae a cup of tea and sits down next to him on his bed. "How are you holding up, champ?"

"I never should have gone to med school I should have gone to school to do anything else I should have joined the circus I should have jumped into the ocean and become famous for swimming the Pacific I should have become an idol." It's all in one panicked breath.

"I'm pretty sure that should have been separate sentences," Joonmyun says, massaging Jongdae's shoulders. "Drink your tea."

"It's too hot," Jongdae whines. "Plus I don't have time for tea when I have Very Important Exams."

"You can get through it," Joonmyun says. "Besides, you never would have made it in the circus."

"I'm also a horrible swimmer," Jongdae says, and then blows on his tea. "I guess med school was really the only option."

"You've wanted to go to med school since you were a first year in undergrad pathetically moping at the back of our introductory writing course."

"If I make it through med school, I'm going to ask Min to marry me," Jongdae says.

"I never thought I'd see the day."

"Neither did I," Jongdae says. "I thought to myself, yesterday, when she dropped by lunch for me, that if given the choice, I wouldn't want to spend my life with anyone else."

Chocolate smeared across Chanyeol's cheek as he laughs and pulls Joonmyun closer. A hand on the small of his back as he steps onto the bus. Joonmyun can imagine it when he is old, if he lets himself. He won't.

"Focus on your exams first," Joonmyun says.

"I should," Jongdae says. "Take them for me?"

"Your grades would be abysmal," Joonmyun jokes as he stands. "Hwaiting."

"Yeah, yeah," Jongdae says, shooing Joonmyun out with a renewed smile. Joonmyun closes the door as Jongdae takes a sip of his tea.

"The way Chanyeol looks at you is sad lately," Jongin says, chewing obscenely on a piece of gum. "Why?"

"I don't know," Joonmyun replies. He has noticed it too, but Chanyeol still buries his face in Joonmyun's neck and he can ignore it. "He's just concerned about his dad."

"If you say so," Jongin says, and Joonmyun digs his nails into his palms. They leave tiny crescents behind.

Joonmyun's mother asks after Chanyeol. "He's been busy," Joonmyun tells her. "He's only working two shifts a week, now. His father had a heart attack."

"That's sad," Joonmyun's mother says. "I hope the boy is taking care of himself."

"I think he is," Joonmyun says. "He's just swamped, otherwise I'm sure he'd have come with me—"

"You just look like you miss him," his mother says, and she looks at him carefully. Joonmyun tries to read between the lines but there are too many words there. He thinks one of them is acceptance, but he's afraid he is imagining it so he closes his eyes until all the words disappear.

"I do," Joonmyun says. "It's strange to miss someone when they are right in front of you."

His mother nods, and coughs. Her body is so thin she might fade away if Joonmyun takes his eyes off her. It has been a long time. He remembers her slightly plump, leaning down to offer him food from the cooking chopsticks, the index finger of her other hand on her lips, as if to say 'don't tell your father, you know how he worries about germs'. She is a shadow of that woman but he can still find traces of that sparkle in certain pockets of her, those mannerisms that won't fade.

"You're such a strong boy, Joonmyun," his mother says. "I'm sorry you had to be."

"I love you," Joonmyun says, and gently kisses her forehead.

"Joonmyun-hyung," Chanyeol says, as they're washing up after dinner, the last of the plates stacked in the drying rack as Joonmyun scrubs a pan.

"Yes?" He turns to Chanyeol with a smile but Chanyeol is not smiling back. Chanyeol is looking at him with eyes stretched wide and a tight, uncomfortable mouth.

"I need to tell you something." When Joonmyun was younger, he used to help his mother keep the weeds out of the plants they grew on the roof of their apartment. Some of the weeds would grow so deep and stubborn that Joonmyun's fingers would burn as he pulled them up. Chanyeol is pulling these words out just like weeds.

"You can tell me anything," Joonmyun says. "I will always listen."

"I know," Chanyeol says. "I've always been good at talking, but this is hard to say."

"Why is it hard to say?" Chanyeol's arms hang limply at his side, one hand clutching the damp dishtowel for dear life.

"If I say it," Chanyeol whispers, "then it will be real. I don't want it to be real."

Joonmyun dries his hands. He reaches forward and lays his hand flat on Chanyeol's sternum. Chanyeol's heart is racing. He pushes Chanyeol into the living room like that.

Chanyeol sits down on the couch. He keeps his back straight. Usually he slouches and sprawls. Joonmyun keeps his eyes on Chanyeol's bouncing knee to keep himself from feeling ill.

"Chanyeol," he prompts. Chanyeol's breathing speeds up.

"With my dad in poor health, they want to know there's someone prepared to take over the business." It all comes out in a rush, roots clear of the dirt.

"And that has to be you."

"My sister is a successful scientist," Chanyeol says. "I'm a fourth year literature student with no clear future." He laughs. It is bitter. It makes Joonmyun ache. "So yes, it has to be me."

"What else," Joonmyun says. It isn't a question. He can see the resignation in Chanyeol's eyes. He's listless, lifeless.

"Our associate has a daughter."

"The one you fought with him about before?" Joonmyun asks.

"She's twenty-five and single. The best way to assure that our company won't stab theirs in the back during my dad's convalescence is a more permanent sort of alliance."

It's the first bite of frozen yogurt, like ice running through Joonmyun's veins. "You're going to marry her." Joonmyun is dizzy. Joonmyun is a lot of things right now, but reality is a mountain in front of him and the only path is the scariest path Joonmyun's seen since his mother had passed out in the kitchen, cracking her head open on the counter and crumpling to the floor. "You refused before, but now..."


"I thought…" Joonmyun bites down on the words.

"This is for my family," Chanyeol says. "It's not about me, or what I want—"

"You won't have to read Kim Manjung in business school," Joonmyun says. He can't imagine Chanyeol in an office. He's too exuberant, too wild. To Joonmyun, it is like putting a tiger into a cage that is far too small.

"Don't make jokes. Don't try to make this better."

"What else am I supposed to do?" Joonmyun says. Bile in the back of his throat. "Am I supposed to…" Cry? Break? These are not things Joonmyun does, even when he finds out his mother has probably already seen her last Christmas and Chanyeol is crawling inside himself right before Joonmyun's eyes.

"My dad's company will survive," Chanyeol says. "His legacy. Doesn't that matter more than 'Lady Sa's Trip to the South?'"

"I want you to be happy," Joonmyun says. "Will you be all right, if you give up everything that makes you Chanyeol?"

"You can't tell me that," Chanyeol says. "You can't tell me not to give up on what I want, because isn't that what you've done? For your mom?" Chanyeol's face disappears behind the curtain of his hands. "Isn't what I'm doing exactly what you would do?"

"You deserve better," he wants to say, but he only says Chanyeol's name again, because Chanyeol is right. This is exactly what Joonmyun would do. He would never have asked it of Chanyeol.

"Don't be a hypocrite," Chanyeol says. "I got to do what I wanted for long enough. Now it's time to be responsible." He looks up and he's smiling. Joonmyun can't find the sun in it anywhere. "I got to have you. I'll never be that lucky again."

This must have been how Kyungsoo felt, as Joonmyun pulled away. Joonmyun knows he can't keep Chanyeol. A part of him has always known that things between them couldn't last forever. Not when Chanyeol can't take Joonmyun home to his parents and Joonmyun can't tell the lovely girl who comes in once a week and sits at table five that he has a boyfriend. He has always known that life moves forward and that eventually, happiness would slip out from between his fingers like water and he would be left with the residue of it on his damp palms.

He’d never thought it would be this soon. He’d done his utmost to not think about when it would be at all. "I was the lucky one," Joonmyun says. "You have no idea."

"I do have an idea," Chanyeol says. "I am the best looking guy in the neighborhood." His eyes shine.

It doesn't feel like they're breaking up. It feels more like Chanyeol is going on a trip that he won't ever return from. Like the historic voyages of warriors to conquer new lands. A Gilgameshian quest.

There are quiet evenings with hands in hair and the calming cadence of Chanyeol's low voice that will linger in his heart long after tonight.

Chanyeol shakes his head, as if to clear it, and fixes his eyes on his wriggling toes. "I wish…" Joonmyun stares. "I wish I didn't have to do this. But I do."

"Then do it," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol looks up at him from the couch. His eyes are as dark as his face is pale. "You should go. Do what you need to do." The words are hard to say, and Joonmyun doesn't like any of them. "Don't worry about…" Me. "Anything."

Chanyeol stands up and pulls Joonmyun into a crushing hug, and Joonmyun can feel Chanyeol's heart, beating so fast that it might drum its way out of his chest. "I wanted to be the person who worried about you," Chanyeol says, lips brushing Joonmyun's temple. "I'm just letting you down."

"No," Joonmyun says. Joonmyun had gotten caught up in fantasies. Somewhere inside of him he has always known this kind of happiness couldn't continue indefinitely. That part of him makes it easy for him to hug Chanyeol back. "I can take care of myself."

"You need to let someone take care of you."

"Not you," Joonmyun says. He is not going to cry now. Not when Chanyeol is on the verge of tears. "Not right now."

"I'm sorry," Chanyeol says, and then he kisses Joonmyun, slow and careful, like it's the last time. It probably is. Joonmyun clings desperately to Chanyeol's shirt and tries to commit the smooth slide of Chanyeol's teeth under his tongue to memory. "I'm so sorry."

"If there's anyone who knows about responsibility, it's me," Joonmyun says against Chanyeol's lips, and Chanyeol shudders. This is how they say goodbye.

It is with trepidation that Joonmyun fixes the 'Now Hiring' sign in the window.

"It's crooked," Jongin says gruffly. "No one will come in if it's crooked."

Joonmyun laughs and pats Jongin's arm. "We've made it months before. We can make it a few weeks."

"It better be a hot girl this time," Jongin says, and Jongdae scoffs. "No more competition. Now that Jongdae is off the market, I expect to get more dates."

"I'm not sure Baekhyun is going to let you off that easily. Zitao either."

"They don't work here," Jongin says. "They can't be here all the time. Not like—" He shrugs. His sleeveless shirt bares too much skin for September. It's almost time for Chuseok, and the rain is heavy outside. Jongin will catch a cold. He is careless.

"Go do something productive," Jongdae says. "Like flirt with children." He waves Jongin off dismissively, and Jongin pulls a face at him before going to check on each table, his charming grin falling easily into place.

"It's okay to say his name," Joonmyun says. "It's not a big deal. He's our friend."

"He's not my friend," Jongdae grumbles.

"Yes he is," Joonmyun says. "He's having a hard time right now, and I can't…" He chokes on them, the unwieldy emotions he can't keep completely shoved down. "I can't help him. He needs all his friends. Even you."

"I'm your friend first," Jongdae says. "I know you said he had his reasons, but Joonmyun…"

"They're very good reasons," Joonmyun says. "It's not his fault." The bell chimes above the door, and Joonmyun looks to it with relief. Jongdae groans in frustration.

"Table for two, sir?" he asks.

"We'll talk later," Jongdae threatens, as Joonmyun leads the two women to table eight.

"It's both of our faults," Joonmyun says, when it is later. He's looking out the window of their apartment at the sea of umbrellas bobbing up and down on the street below. All the different colors make an odd rainbow, or the sort of pointillism project that Sehun would make fun of in a museum. "Chanyeol's optimism was a little too contagious."

"It's not wrong to be hopeful," Jongdae says. He's shuffling his feet because he doesn't know what to say. Joonmyun wouldn't, either. He is grateful that Jongdae is trying.

"It's not," Joonmyun says. "It's also not unexpected for that to hurt."

Things at the yogurt shop are, in essence, the same. A friend of Jongin's comes to work for them. He's a brat named Taemin who doesn't mind helping Jongin take Jongdae's life to new heights of misery, even as his med school workload becomes so intense he has to cut back a lot on his shifts.

And yet things are different, in ways that are subtle but mean everything to Joonmyun. He misses Chanyeol's laugh the most.

"It's so quiet around here," Jongin says, carefully. Everyone tries their best not to mention Chanyeol around Joonmyun, like they're afraid he'll shatter. He won't. Even Baekhyun hedges his words, mentioning Chanyeol only in vagaries. "He's doing fine with his business classes," or "he's no fun at all, spending all his time in meetings."

Joonmyun takes it all calmly. Things were fine before Chanyeol, and they'll be fine after.

It's easier because they aren't talking. It's not that they don't want to talk. Joonmyun knows the more they talk the more it will hurt, because it's harder to let something go when it's right at your fingertips. If Joonmyun hears Chanyeol's voice at the other end of the line, he might do something selfish.

Sometimes Joonmyun pulls up Chanyeol's name on his phone, and wants to send him a text. 'Button up your coat, Chanyeol, he'd write, and Chanyeol would write back: gotcha, tiny hyung! ❤. In the end, he never sends the messages, and he hopes that Chanyeol doesn't get a cold and he feels foolish for not being able to care just a little bit less.

Joonmyun has never been able to care less, so it’s no use starting to try now. Joonmyun had promised himself to be Chanyeol's friend. For now, Joonmyun is sure that neither of them can bear it.

Empty apartments are harder to deal with when you remember how they sound when they are full.

Jongdae is spending nights locked in the library or on shifts at a local clinic, and Chanyeol's ghost lurks between the pages of Joonmyun's favorite books and in the corners of his bedroom. He's washed his sheets a hundred times but they still smell like Chanyeol's expensive cologne. It's all in his head but that doesn't make it less insidious, and when he closes his eyes to go to sleep it is still on the right side of the bed, so he can wake up to a vacant expanse of white sheets when morning comes.

It is not supposed to be like this. Joonmyun has never been in love, and he has never felt so much like he is drowning. Every breath he sucks in fills his lungs with water.

It's a relief to lock the door in the morning, only there are ghosts at work, too, hiding in the storage closet and sitting at the tables with Korean novels and knees that don't quite fit beneath tables.

Monsoon season has lasted longer than usual this year, but that is a coincidence that has nothing to do with how Joonmyun feels.

Joonmyun doesn't cry until four months later, when he and Jongdae get an invitation to Chanyeol's wedding in the mail.

Jongdae is the one who collects the mail on the way in, and he stops halfway up the stairs with a strangled sound. Joonmyun turns around to look at him, and Jongdae holds it up and studies him with stern, questioning eyes. "He's getting married, Joonmyun? Did you know this?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. It is a wretched, crackling sound, and Jongdae sprints up the last three steps to punch in the door code, maneuvering Joonmyun inside just before he starts to crumple.

Jongdae sits down on the floor of the hallway and pulls Joonmyun close. Joonmyun rests his head in Jongdae's lap and cries until there isn't any liquid left in his body and all that is left behind is a desert behind his eyes that expands all the way down his chest.

"I'm sorry," he mumbles into Jongdae's shirt, and Jongdae strokes his hair comfortingly. "I don't mean to feel sorry for myself."

"Have you known the whole time?"

"It's the reason…" He doesn't need to finish the sentence.

"Fuck, Joonmyun. You don't have to deal with everything alone. Especially not the big stuff."

"This is the way I have always been."

"You've been holding that in a long time," Jongdae says. "It's okay to let it out."

"I don't think I can go." Joonmyun's heart is already pulverized.

"Jongin can go," Jongdae says. "He'll put on a suit and whine about it even though he knows he looks good, and put food in Baekhyun's hair. We'll stay home and watch Oscar-nominated films and command Min to bring us pizza."

"Min will punch you in the face if you command her to do anything."

"…And ask Min very nicely if she would bring us pizza, if it isn't too much trouble," Jongdae revises, and Joonmyun laughs. It hurts his throat, which has gone raw from crying.

"You're a great best friend," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae preens.

"I know," he says. "You are too."

Joonmyun still has this.

The steps to make a perfect strawberry smoothie are not difficult ones, but it takes a certain amount of finesse to get the texture just right.

Joonmyun teaches Taemin how much fruit to mix in with the yogurt, and watches as Taemin deftly handles the industrial blender and doesn't spill anything at all.

"We won't have to spend as much money on paper towels," Jongin says, and Joonmyun smiles and nods.

"No," he says. "We won't."

On the seventh of January, at 4:55am, Joonmyun's mother passes away. "I knew that doctor was wrong," Joonmyun's father says. "She saw another Christmas, after all."

"She did," Joonmyun says. He wants to take his father's hand. He settles for leaning against him. His father is not a demonstrative man, but Joonmyun can tell he appreciates the comfort.

Neither of them had slept last night, but it's wearing more on his father. There's a coffee stain on his white dress shirt. He had come straight from work to the hospital. He'd called Joonmyun on the way, and Joonmyun had dropped everything as Jongdae promised to take care of everything at the shop.

When her heart monitor flat-lines, and they're ushered out of the room, Joonmyun's father excuses himself to the restroom and doesn't come back for forty minutes.

Joonmyun sits on the floor, slamming his back against the white wall and sliding down it until his bottom hits the tile. He keeps his legs tucked in, trying to stay out of the way of the nurses and doctors rushing through the halls.

He doesn't know how long he sits there, but the sun comes up, light starting to filter through the windows in the waiting room, which he can see from where he sits. His father is perched on the edge of a chair, in there, his head hidden in his folded arms and his back curved with defeat.

The vibration of his phone is unexpected. It shakes him out of his stupor.

Chanyeol's name flashes on the screen, and Joonmyun hesitates before picking up. But the situation renders him unable to deny how much he'd like to hear Chanyeol's voice. "Hello?"

"Hyung," Chanyeol says. "I heard… from Baekhyun. About your mother." Joonmyun doesn't answer. "Hyung, are you there?"

"I'm listening," Joonmyun says. He's cold, like that night they'd been alone in the woods in the middle of December. He's cold, but Chanyeol isn't here with his chest to Joonmyun's back and a hundred whispered questions against the shell of his ear.

"Are you okay?" Multiple layers. A complicated question.

"I could use a hug," Joonmyun admits. "But I'll be okay." Joonmyun will always be okay. He's been taking care of himself since he was sixteen, and it's been years and years and he'll be okay.

"Hyung, I…" There are a hundred words Chanyeol could say, and Joonmyun knows that all of them will hurt. He should not have answered the phone.

"Thank you for calling, Chanyeol," he interrupts, and Chanyeol sighs heavily on the other end of the line, voice smooth as silk in Joonmyun's ear but rough as sandpaper on his heart.

"Anytime," Chanyeol says.

Anytime makes Joonmyun think of shared umbrellas and Chanyeol's face too close to his own across the counter. It makes him think of simpler times, before he knew that loneliness could feel like this, a constant, bleeding wound.

"Good night, Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, the way he used to when they'd talked on the phone for hours, not wanting to hang up even in the wee hours of the morning.

"I miss you." It slips out, Joonmyun can tell, but it is sincere. Joonmyun believes him, but he's scared to respond because he's afraid too much will escape from him if he lets even a single thought free.

"Me too," he says, before quickly ending the call. He leans forward, dropping his head onto his knees.

"Kim Joonmyun-ssi?" a doctor says, and he looks up to her sympathetic face. "Your father said you would handle the paperwork?" For the release of his mother's body. Because she is dead. She is dead and his father is a wreck and Joonmyun is another kind of wreck but a wreck all the same.

"Yes," Joonmyun says, and he takes all his worries and his fears and shoves them down as deep as they will go, "I'll handle it from here."

Chanyeol comes to the funeral. He comes with Baekhyun and Joonmyun meets his eyes across the room.

He looks different. His hair is short and dark and straight, and his eyes are shadowed. He is wearing a dark suit that emphasizes the tired slope of his mouth.

He is still Chanyeol. His eyes are drinking Joonmyun in same as Joonmyun's eyes are him. It would be nice to walk across the room and push his nose into Chanyeol's chest.

He smiles wanly in lieu of that, and he gets a glimpse of Chanyeol's teeth before he has to continue greeting guests.

When Chanyeol finally walks up, Baekhyun at his side, Joonmyun focuses on the piece of lint that sticks to the shoulder seam of Chanyeol's suit jacket. "Thank you for coming," he says, and Baekhyun rattles off condolences that seem more sincere than most he's heard today.

"She was an amazing woman," is all Chanyeol says, when Baekhyun takes a breath. "I was glad I got to meet her."

Joonmyun's gaze flickers up, and Chanyeol is looking straight ahead, staring at something beyond Joonmyun. "She was glad to meet you, too."

"We should let you talk to your other guests," Baekhyun says, and points toward Jongin and Jongdae, who are in the far corner of the room, talking solemnly with Zitao. He tugs on Chanyeol's sleeve, and Chanyeol swallows. His ears stick out more, with his hair like this, combed back from his forehead.

"I'll be there in a second," Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun looks between them before sighing and leaving them. They are not alone, exactly, but this is the first time they have been this close to each other since they'd shared a last kiss in Joonmyun's living room. Joonmyun catches the scent of Chanyeol's cologne. It's the same.

"Hi," Joonmyun says. He is dizzy.

"Pretend, for a moment," Chanyeol says, voice quiet so that he won't be overheard, "that we're at the lodge."


"Please," Chanyeol says. "Pretend. Just for a minute."

Joonmyun closes his eyes. It is not difficult to remember the smell of the trees and the warmth of the quilts on the beds and the rough wooden floors. "Okay," he says.

"Pretend that you're standing in the kitchen, holding a cup of cooling tea. And I'm walking up behind you. I reach out, and I wrap my arms around you and hug you so tight that tea sloshes over the edge of your mug. Pretend you're wearing one of those sweaters Jongin has given you as a joke and I'm wearing one of my comfortable T-shirts with something obscene written in English on the front that you think are ridiculous."

Joonmyun keeps his eyes closed and takes a quavering breath.

"Pretend I lean my head down, and say 'It'll be all right, hyung' into your ear, and that you lean your head back so it rests on my shoulder, and you feel better. Then I say 'I'm here for you, hyung,'."

"So I say 'Thank you, Chanyeol,'" Joonmyun whispers, and he opens his eyes. Chanyeol is chewing on his lower lip and his eyes glint as the light hit them. "Or maybe I say 'I can take care of myself.'"

"You probably would say that," Chanyeol replies, and smiles tentatively. "And it would be true. But I wouldn't want you to." Chanyeol's hands find a home in the pocket of his slacks. "If I could, Joonmyun, that's what I'd do right now. I'd hold you close and squeeze you until there wasn't any sadness left inside."

"Are we done pretending?" Joonmyun asks.

Chanyeol nods. "Yeah," he says. "It was only for a minute." He steps backward, increasing the space separating them. "I'm sorry for your loss, Joonmyun-hyung."

"I had prepared myself for it. It's not like I didn't have plenty of time."

"That doesn't make it easier," Chanyeol says, before he walks away, and the knowing lurking in Chanyeol's response wouldn't have been there, this time last year.

His aunt comes to stand beside him. "Who was that?" she asks.

"A friend," Joonmyun says, and he straightens his shoulders. "Just a friend."

The night before Chanyeol's wedding, Chanyeol shows up completely wasted on Joonmyun's doorstep. "Chanyeol, what—"

"Last time I was this drunk," Chanyeol slurs, "I busted my lip. I have to take a lot of photos tomorrow."

Joonmyun stares at him for a few moments, before he opens the door wider and pulls Chanyeol inside. He leads Chanyeol to the kitchen, gently pushing him down into one of the chairs. "What are you doing here?" Joonmyun asks, as he fills a plastic cup with cool water. He presses it into Chanyeol's hand, and sits across from him at the table.

"Last time I did this, you asked why I didn't call you," Chanyeol says. He is trying to focus on Joonmyun, but his eyes don't obey.

"It was different, then."

"I know," Chanyeol says. "It turns out that I can't get drunk enough to forget that."

"Let's get you to bed, Mr. 'I have to take a lot of pictures tomorrow'." Joonmyun fills the cup again and snags a few aluminum wrapped ibuprofen from the packet in the drawer to leave on his bedside. "Up."

Chanyeol stumbles to his feet. He catches himself on Joonmyun, his chin bumping into Joonmyun's forehead and his hands clasping Joonmyun's arms, and Joonmyun's hands automatically go to Chanyeol's hips to help him balance.

Chanyeol is so warm. "Why does it feel like yesterday that we touched each other like this?" Chanyeol says. Joonmyun's heart stutters.

"I don't know," he says. "It's been six months, so I don't know."

"You smell the same."

Joonmyun drops his hands. "Jongdae is asleep, so try not to trip."


Joonmyun puts Chanyeol to bed. He leaves all his clothes on, except his jacket, because Chanyeol keeps trying to wriggle out of it, and so Joonmyun peels it off his arms. "Sleep. I'll wake you in the morning early enough for you to find your way home, lost puppy."

"Not lost, tiny hyung," Chanyeol says. "Exactly where I should be."

Now this… This is dangerous.

Joonmyun pulls the covers up, and pats them. "Sleep, Chanyeol." He brushes Chanyeol's hair off his brow, an indulgence, and then steps away from the bed.

"Where are you going?"

"To sleep on the couch," Joonmyun says.

"Stay," Chanyeol says. "Please, stay."

"Chanyeol…" Joonmyun licks his lips. "That's… not a good idea."

"Stay," Chanyeol says. "Until I fall asleep. Please."

Joonmyun sits on the edge of the bed, but Chanyeol's long arms reach out and drag him down on top of his chest, Joonmyun's ear resting just above Chanyeol's heart. "Chanyeol, what—"

"I'm getting married tomorrow, hyung," Chanyeol says. It is so low and so unsteady that Joonmyun can barely hear him. "I'm getting married and I'm so sad."

"I'm sad too," Joonmyun says.

"I really, really love you," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun curls his hands into the blanket between them. His nails catch in it. "I'm getting married tomorrow and I really, really love you."

Joonmyun is suffocating. "Go to sleep, Chanyeol," he says. Trembling, he tries to pull away, but Chanyeol holds on tight. "Go to sleep."

"Yes, hyung," Chanyeol says. This close, there's no mistaking how much Chanyeol smells like soju and cigarette smoke from a bar.

"I'll stay until you fall asleep," Joonmyun says. "You don't have to hold on."

"I want to," Chanyeol says. It's gibberish, but Joonmyun understands him anyway. "One last time." His shirt is soft against Joonmyun's cheek. He is warm. Chanyeol is always warm.

Deciphering his own feelings is an impossible task. The heartsickness is knotted with the regret and the comfort of Chanyeol's familiar heartbeat beneath his ear.

When Chanyeol's arms go lax, his soft snores filling Joonmyun's bedroom, Joonmyun gets up and goes into the kitchen to find his phone. He texts Baekhyun, to let him know Chanyeol is here, in case he's looking, and then he sits down in the seat Chanyeol had sat in earlier, dropping his head to the cool tabletop.

He sleeps there, waking up with a crick in his neck to a cup of coffee being set on the table in front of him. "Jongdae?"

Jongdae is looking at him solemnly, his hair ruffled from sleep. "Baekhyun's here," Jongdae says. "I gave him a key to lock up behind him. Do you want to go get something to eat for breakfast?"

"Sounds good," Joonmyun says.

When they get back to the apartment, Joonmyun's bed is empty, and there's a note on Joonmyun's pillow, scrawled across the back of a receipt.


is all it says, and Joonmyun picks it up and tucks it into his bedside drawer, before stripping the sheets.

They watch two Sundance films with famous foreign actors and subtitles, and they do end up eating pizza. Joonmyun remembers neither the plot nor the cinematography of either of them, even though one is a historical piece that's exactly the kind of movie he likes.

"I feel useless," Jongdae says, halfway through the second one. "I don't know how you're feeling and I don't know what to say."

"I don't feel anything right now," Joonmyun says.

"That's not true," Jongdae says. "You're locking it all up again."

"You're not useless." The actress on the screen is crying and yelling at the male lead. Her mascara is running down her face. "Sitting here is enough."

"Joonmyun, there's—"

"I'll be better tomorrow," Joonmyun says. "Don't worry."

"You always say that," Jongdae says. "Stop trying so hard all the time. You make the rest of us look bad." He tilts his head so it rests against Joonmyun. "Tomorrow?"

"Maybe the day after tomorrow," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae laughs.

"It was the saddest wedding I've ever attended," is all Jongin will say when Jongdae prompts him the next day. Joonmyun has a feeling Jongin would tell Joonmyun more, if he asks, but he doesn't ask.

"The asshole from table seven was there," Jongin will add, later, when he thinks Joonmyun is out of earshot. "He looks even more smug and entitled in a suit."

"Yeah?" Jongdae replies.

"Chanyeol was… it was really depressing," Jongin says. "I'm glad hyung didn't go. It would have hurt him."

"Life goes on," Jongdae says. Joonmyun is counting on that.

It has been a long time since Joonmyun has been in a classroom. He had forgotten the seats are so hard.

Three weeks ago, he'd signed for the new semester. Jongdae had walked with him to the registrar's office, and waited outside as Joonmyun submitted his paperwork. Afterwards, they had gotten sandwiches at a café they'd both loved as second years, and Joonmyun had smiled and laughed earnestly at Jongdae's winding story about Kris, this guy from Canada in his course that Joonmyun hasn't thought about since he'd seen him at Baekhyun's Christmas party.

Now he is here, back in class. It feels nice, even if it's daunting. It is almost like he's pretending the past two years haven't happened. He isn't. He wouldn't be able to, even if he tried.

"Are you new around here?" says the man next to him, who leans over to catch Joonmyun's attention as Joonmyun packs up his materials. His dark hair hangs across a pale forehead, and his glasses are black and thick-framed. "I haven't seen you before but this isn't a first year grad class."

"That's because I'm not a first year grad," Joonmyun says, zipping his pen-case with a flourish. He then looks up to meet a pair of amused, inquisitive eyes.

"Oh?" He has nice hands. His shirt is buttoned all the way to his throat.

"I've been on leave for a while," Joonmyun answers. "Personal matters."

"Well, it's very nice to meet you. I'm Cho Kyuhyun." Joonmyun takes his hand. It's warm, and bigger than his own.

"I'm Kim Joonmyun," he says, and Kyuhyun smiles. It's small and understated. It doesn't take up his whole face, but it's still a very nice smile.

"This might be forward of me, Joonmyun-ssi," Kyuhyun says, "but would you like to get a cup of coffee?" There is no mistaking the delivery. The interest. It sinks its teeth into the base of his spine.

There is a part of Joonmyun that slams back into his high school mindset. How does he know? and panic at even the idea of someone knowing. There is another part of Joonmyun that reaches out and clings to the possibility of moving forward instead of looking behind.

"That sounds like it would be nice," Joonmyun says. "I have work in an hour."

"Then we should get going," Kyuhyun says.

Coffee turns into dinner three days later, and that dinner turns into a movie over the weekend. The movie turns into walks in the park after class and dates by the river.

Joonmyun likes Kyuhyun. He likes Kyuhyun's straightforwardness, and that Kyuhyun is interested in history just like he is. That Kyuhyun speaks enough Mandarin that he can understand Zitao's diatribes over a curry dinner, and interrupt carefully to add his own knowledge. He likes the way Kyuhyun sings to himself, perfectly in tune, when he should be silent in the library.

He's nothing like Chanyeol, and maybe that's a good thing.

"You've been going out a lot lately. Study projects?" Jongdae asks, and Jongin and Taemin look up from where they're bent over a lunch takeout menu to stare.

"Not exactly," Joonmyun says, carefully stacking the unused smoothie glasses next to the mixer. He makes sure to put the pink ones at the bottom, because the girls who come in around five prefer them and if he puts them near the top they'll all be dirty.

"Ooooh, secretive," Jongin says. "Have you discovered some new after-school club?"

Taemin grins. "I didn't know they had clubs where you remind people to fasten their coats in the winter and organize their shelves."

"Ha ha ha," Joonmyun says. "But no, I didn't join a club."

"It's strange to cook my own food," Jongdae says. "I’m not sure if I like it." He's teasing, but there is genuine curiosity.

"Well," Joonmyun says, picking up a dishcloth and wiping at an imaginary pool of water, "I'm seeing someone."

"What?" Jongin is gaping at him. "But what about—"

"That's great, Joonmyun," Jongdae interrupts. "When do we get to traumatize, oh, sorry, I mean meet him?"

"It's a guy?" Jongin asks. Taemin just looks confused.

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"Oh," Jongin says. "I thought that was a Chanyeol thing, not a…"

"It's a permanent thing," Joonmyun says. "Is that a problem?"

Jongin huffs. "Obviously not, I was just surprised. I hadn't thought you were really looking, either." Jongdae kicks at him, and Jongin shrugs his shoulders as if to say 'what'? and Joonmyun fusses with his hair, fingers combing through the sideburns.

"I wasn't," Joonmyun says. "I thought I should be."

"But…" Jongdae kicks at Jongin again, and Jongin bares his teeth at him as Taemin excuses himself to take care of 'the asshole', who Jongin still refuses to interact with despite Joonmyun's pleading.

"Chanyeol is married," Joonmyun says. "Don't you think it's time we stopped playing like this is all temporary?"

Jongin scratches his neck and Jongdae squints at him. "So when you going to bring him by?"

Bring him by. Oh sure, Joonmyun, bring your boyfriend by. We'd like to meet him. Joonmyun continues to be surprised at the acceptance. It makes him feel like he's melting, ribs fusing together from the heat of how much he never expected for anything to be so okay with anyone.

"I will soon," he says, with no trace of his inner turmoil. "I promise."

Months creep up on him. He doesn't realize just how fast until Baekhyun, who sits at the counter with Zitao, pouring uselessly over graduate school applications because he already hates his job, mentions not having seen Chanyeol for over a month due to Chanyeol's schedule. "I haven't seen him," Baekhyun says. "He goes to work and texts me about how much he hates meetings and then he goes home to his parents' house and has dinner with his them and his wife and then does his business school homework." Baekhyun shakes his head. "I know Chanyeol is in there somewhere, but I don't know where."

"We're getting older," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun looks at him sharply. "Growing up."

"You know that isn't it." His hands grip the papers tightly. "You more than anyone know that isn't it." Baekhyun sets the papers down. "Growing up doesn't mean growing sadder."

Joonmyun is not sure about that.

"He's doing what he feels he needs to do," Joonmyun says. "You should respect that." Stop talking to me about this.

"I'm sorry," Baekhyun says, as Zitao circles his back with a firm hand. "I know you're worried too."

"And much more powerless," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun's gaze reflects surprise. "I haven't talked to Chanyeol since…" Chanyeol's breath hot with soju against his cheek. Chanyeol's arms holding him down and Chanyeol's words pulling him apart. "It's been at least three months. I know he's hurting but I can't help him."

"You could call him?" Zitao's face is soft. He's such a kitten. Joonmyun wants to reassure him.

"No," Joonmyun says. "That's inappropriate." Baekhyun begins a protest, but lets it die on his lips. Joonmyun can feel the brittleness of the smile he's wearing. Baekhyun can probably see it. "Life goes on."

"Life goes on," Baekhyun repeats, and then he laughs. "I guess it does. For better or for worse."

Thinking about Chanyeol is reserved for those tucked away pockets of time between dinner and washing up, or for those minutes when Joonmyun has turned out the lights but his mind still runs behind closed eyes.

Fondly, then, he recalls the way Chanyeol couldn't help but spill soap suds on the floor.

Achingly, then, he recalls the butter of Chanyeol's voice along the words of Joonmyun's favorite texts and the silk of his hair between Joonmyun's fingers.

Joonmyun has missed school.

"It's nice seeing you around campus again," Lu Han says. "I was talking to Sehun the other day about it, and he was complaining about how much less he sees you."

"Too much homework," Joonmyun says. "Between school and the shop and… other things, there's much less time in my day."

"Other things, huh?" Lu Han says. Joonmyun grips the strap of his bag with a clammy hand.

Lu Han doesn't follow up on it. They get lunch and eat outside in one of the courtyards and talk about Minseok's inability to email regularly.

"How are you doing, really?" Lu Han asks, when their sandwich wrappers are balled up on the ground between them, and their bottled juices are three-quarters empty.

"I'm happy," Joonmyun says, confidently. "My grades are great, Taemin's a fantastic addition to the shop, and Jongdae has finally discovered the amazing power of dish detergent."

Lu Han blinks at him, doe-like. Lu Han has the face of a child but eyes that have always pierced like that of someone much older and wiser than he should be. "Are you?"

Joonmyun should be happy. "Yes," he says.

He becomes more like his father every day.

A first kiss under the moonlight should be romantic. They stand in front of the window at Kyuhyun's apartment, and the brightness of Seoul streams in, lending an ethereal glow to the man in front of him.

Kyuhyun is careful. He leans down and tilts Joonmyun's face up with his thumb and index finger, before letting their lips touch. He urges Joonmyun closer with gentle nibbles to his lower lip, and Joonmyun raises one hand to set it upon Kyuhyun's chest. The warmth beneath his palm is soothing.

As Kyuhyun finally dips his tongue between Joonmyun's lips, the only thing Joonmyun can think about is the sound of car horns warning the drunks out of the middle of the road on the street below and the constant hum of the air conditioner.

It is the remnants of his attention that go to the weave of Kyuhyun's thin summer sweater, and the softness of his lips. The waxy rub of his chapstick. The way he smells like a dried flower from a special occasion that you've pressed between the pages of a book.

"Wow," Kyuhyun says, when he pulls back. Joonmyun's skin is sticky with humidity and his breath comes short.

He looks up into Kyuhyun's eyes and he knows what he should feel. The lick of excitement like fire in his stomach and the rush of his heart swelling in his chest and pushing against his ribs. Something, anything. All that's there is a tingling in his lips from the pressure and a memory of the texture of Chanyeol's skin beneath the flat of his tongue, flavored chocolate.

"Wow," he replies, a hair's breadth above a whisper.

They part at the door. Joonmyun steps out into the summer heat. Kyuhyun smiles. "See you later, Joonmyun," he says. "I'll call you in the morning."

Joonmyun rises up slightly on the balls of his feet to kiss Kyuhyun on the cheek and agrees.

When the door closes, Joonmyun waits for the importance of the moment to hit him. It doesn't.

There is no glass digging into his back and no fear and no long pent-up apprehension and no relief at things long felt found actualized.

There is nothing, and Joonmyun cannot decide if that is better or worse than sadness.

Seoul is a big city, but it isn't big enough. He runs into Chanyeol on the first floor of Lotte Mart. Chanyeol is wearing his suit and carrying a bag from the women's department.

"I'm on my way home," he says. "My mother asked me to pick something up for her."

"I see," Joonmyun says. His hands are quivering, so he sets down the shirt in his hands so he can hide behind his back.

"I keep wanting to stop by the shop," Chanyeol says, "but I know that would be. A bad idea."

"Probably," Joonmyun says. Chanyeol is magnetic. He steps closer to him. "You still wear the same cologne."

"You like it," Chanyeol says. Teasing twist to his lips that's just as charming as it's always been. He still looks tired but there's a spark there.

"I do." A rough swallow. "Don't you need to get that home?"

"No," Chanyeol says. "But I do need to go home." Shuffle. "Baekhyun says you're seeing someone."

"I am," Joonmyun says. "Another history specialist."

"That's… good." Chanyeol can be transparent, but he isn't right now.

Joonmyun tries to take in the whole picture. The new lines at the corners of Chanyeol's eyes and how nice he looks in his suit. The outward bend of his legs that's only exaggerated by the tailored line of his pants. How Chanyeol still looks at him like he's the only person in the room. "I'm glad to have run into you," Joonmyun says.

Chanyeol comes in closer and takes hold of Joonmyun's wrist. "Are you okay?" he asks. It is one step from inaudible. Chanyeol's fingers burn where they wrap, his thumb sitting right atop the thick center vein that climbs from the heel of his hand upward. Joonmyun's pulse is there. Chanyeol must be able to measure the quickening of it.

They look strange. Chanyeol in his suit and Joonmyun in his jeans and pullover, Chanyeol holding on to Joonmyun with a possessiveness that doesn't make sense out of context, the both of them staring at each other.

Longing is a familiar sentiment, but the magnitude is paralyzing. "Yes," Joonmyun says.

"Let's pretend…"

"Let's not," Joonmyun says. "When we do, the not-pretending is even worse."

"You're right," Chanyeol says. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For being selfish," Chanyeol says. "It's always been one of my worst traits."

"I thought that was the narcissism," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol laughs. He's still holding on to Joonmyun's wrist.

"That's one of them, too," Chanyeol says. "Goodbye, Joonmyun-hyung." His hand falls away, but the pressure of his fingers lingers. He smiles, that same goofy, too-big grin that had won Joonmyun's affection the first he'd seen of it, and then he's walking away.

Joonmyun wants him to look back. He is relieved when he doesn't. "Goodbye," he says to no one. He turns back to the shirts, and tries to pack away all the complicated things that threaten to choke him.

The time for feeling this way has passed.

Joonmyun submits only four employment requests. He thinks it might be silly, with graduation in January and an uncertain future ahead of him, but it's a start.

He focuses on completing his exams and writing them for his students, and at the end of it all, hopefully there is a path through the mountain.

Kyuhyun leaves him at the door to his apartment on a cool autumn evening. Joonmyun smiles at him one last time and closes the door.

"You're still seeing him, huh?" Jongdae asks, and Joonmyun jumps, turning around to see his roommate studying him with an inscrutable face.

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Is there… a reason I shouldn't be?"

"He's really nice," Jongdae says. "That time you brought him to dinner, he was really nice."

Joonmyun had only brought him out with them once. It had been like Chanyeol was sitting at the table with them all.

"Baekhyun didn't like him," Joonmyun says. "But I suppose there are reasons for that."

"Joonmyun…" Jongdae sighs. "Ahhh, never mind."

"I thought we were best friends," Joonmyun prods. "You can say it."

"He's not…"

"So you don't like him?" Joonmyun asks, and Jongdae quickly puts his hands up.

"I like him just fine," Jongdae says. "But I don't think it's very fair to him when you're still in love with someone else."

"I'm not—"

"You're not over it," Jongdae says. "And you can lie to yourself, and you can lie to me and you can lie to Jongin and Sehun, and Baekhyun and Zitao. You can even lie to Chanyeol, but at the end of the day, it is a lie. And I want you to move on, Joonmyun. More than anyone. I really do."

"There's a 'but' in there."

"But you haven't, yet, and that poor man is falling for you and you're still giving him the same smiles you give to new customers at the shop, and tonight you're going to go into your room and the last thing you're going to think about before you close your eyes isn't going to be Cho Kyuhyun. It's going to be Park Chanyeol, and that's not fair to you or that guy out there."

Joonmyun takes the words hard. They cut into him mostly because he knows they are true. They are true because even if he doesn't, Joonmyun still wants to text Chanyeol to remind him about his coat or ask him about his day or quote the most infuriating parts of one of Kim Manjung's epics at him, and because he keeps the note Chanyeol had left on his pillow back in March, with one stupid word on it, in the bottom drawer of his dresser underneath his socks. They are also true because Joonmyun sometimes still waits for someone to lean into him on the bus and when no one does he feels so painfully lost. "I—"

"It would be easier, I know, if Chanyeol wasn't still stupid in love with you too, but he's married and I know you haven't spoken to him since you ran into him by accident that one time because you're afraid."

"I can't," Joonmyun says. "Talk to him. If I hear his voice it echoes in my head for days."

"So why are you dating Kyuhyun?" Jongdae says. "I don't care what anyone says. You don't get over someone by getting under someone else. Believe me, I have been there and done that."

"Is it so wrong to try?"

"No, of course not," Jongdae says, cupping Joonmyun's neck with his palm and resting their foreheads against each other. "But it takes time."

"How much time?" Joonmyun asks, His voice wobbles. "How much longer am I going to feel like this?" He is a balloon whose string has escaped the grip of a child. He is directionless.

"I don't know," Jongdae says. "But I'll be here for you the whole time."

Kyuhyun has a lovely smile, but it doesn't make him melt. There are smiles that have, in the past.

"I'm sorry."

"So am I," Kyuhyun says. "I can't say I didn't see it coming, but I am sorry."

"Am I so transparent?"

"Not at all," Kyuhyun says. "You're locked up tighter than a vault. Somehow, I knew your heart wasn't in it."


"I hope he knows how lucky he is," Kyuhyun says, dragging his hand down Joonmyun's arm. "The guy you're breaking up with me for."

"He's married," Joonmyun says. "I'm not breaking up with you because I have a chance."

"Then why are you breaking up with me?"

Joonmyun remembers sitting next to Chanyeol in the alley back behind the store. He remembers every word Chanyeol said. "Because I'm in love with someone else," Joonmyun says. "And you deserve to date someone who will fall in love with you, too, because you're wonderful."

"I'm wonderful, huh?" Kyuhyun muses, and Joonmyun nods.

"Yes," he says. "Definitely."

"If you ever change your mind," Kyuhyun says, "you should give me a call." He squints. "Not that I expect to be available, but just in case."

"I'll keep that in mind," Joonmyun says. Kyuhyun shakes his head, before leaning over and dropping a kiss to the corner of Joonmyun's mouth.

"Good luck," Kyuhyun says. This doesn't feel like a mistake.

He buys an empty notebook, much like the ones he uses for class, and inside it, he writes. He writes down all the things he never said and all the things he wishes he'd savored. He writes about how much he misses the way his mother's hair fell around her shoulders when she was a child and how much the indentation of Chanyeol's single dimple served as the perfect target to kiss. He apologizes to Kyungsoo for having been so afraid, and to himself, too.

When he runs out of pages he feels lighter. In the back of the notebook, he slides the note Chanyeol had left on the back of a receipt. He puts it in the drawer, and he finally feels like he's putting his feelings away for real.

It is time.

Joonmyun figures that fairy tale-esque happy endings are the kind of thing that happens for other people. People who don't fall in love with boys they know they can't have, and miss them whenever it rains and whenever it snows and whenever the sun is shining or maybe even whenever they exhale.

But that doesn't mean that Joonmyun can't still find other kinds of happiness.

He meets his father for dinner once a week at a family style restaurant that they'd frequented when Joonmyun was a child. Sometimes they talk about his mother, but other times they talk about his dad's coworkers and Joonmyun's classes and how much they'd both like to take a trip together to Tokyo some day.

He corrals Jongin, Sehun, and Zitao into more movie nights at his and Jongdae's place, Jongdae teasing Zitao about his S-line body as Jongin and Sehun pinch each other for sofa space.

There is also school. Joonmyun is rediscovering himself in the pages of his history texts and in the classes he teaches. There are pieces of himself he hasn't seen since he was in middle school, pieces of him that get lost in obscure battles from ancient Rome and in the sheer joy of uncovering connections between events that have never even been considered related.

There is no denying that in the evenings, when Jongdae is laughing with Min in the living room, their heads folding together like two floating swans, Joonmyun can feel the longing for Chanyeol's lips against his throat and Chanyeol laughing into his ear about everything and nothing. It is a bearable longing.

He has put himself back together, better. He has the future ahead of him, and it is wide open.

They are sitting at the counter of the shop, the closed side of the sign turned facing out over an hour ago. Jongdae cradles a cup of coffee between his hands.

"How do you think Jongin will do as manager of this place?" Jongdae asks. "Since we're both going to be leaving at the end of the year."

"He'll be fine," Joonmyun says. "As long as he's worked here, I think he could manage this place in his sleep."

"Jongin can't do anything in his sleep but be grumpy and run into things," Jongdae says. "Don't exaggerate." He taps his lips. "How long before he murders that Changmin guy, do you think?"

"Two weeks at best." Joonmyun looks around the shop with a fond eye. He has spent a lot of time here. It is weird to think he'll be saying goodbye to it in a few months. "Isn't it strange?" he asks. "It feels like the end of an era."

"I know," Jongdae says. "I also don't know how I'm going to survive next year at all without the break that is coming into the shop and making Jongin miserable in subtle ways."

"You can still do that," Joonmyun points out.

"But I won't get paid for it," Jongdae says. "That was at least half of the joy."

Joonmyun's phone vibrates, and he looks down with surprise at his pocket. It's late, and he isn't expecting any calls.

"Aren't you going to answer it?" Jongdae stands up and grabs Joonmyun's cup, and takes it along with his own to the other side of the counter to the sink.


"Is this Kim Joonmyun?"

"Speaking," he says, switching immediately to his most formal Korean. "May I ask who is calling?"

Joonmyun can see Jongdae's curiosity as he talks to the caller. He registers that, along with lightness of his head and the shine of the countertop and the sound of the faucet as it runs a thin stream into the sink where Jongdae is washing the mugs.

When he hangs up, Jongdae coughs. "Well?"

"I got the job," he says numbly. "The one at Ewha University."

"You applied for a job at Ewha? And you got it?"

"Assistant professorship," Joonmyun says. "In the history department."

"Oh wow," Jongdae says. "I didn't even know you applied."

"I didn't want to mention it, in case it didn't work out," Joonmyun says. He's still in shock.

"It did though?"

"I'll have to move, I'll have to do so much paperwork, what if I don't actually graduate—"

"Kim Joonmyun!" Jongdae is laughing. "Stop panicking and enjoy this moment."

"I got the job," he says again, and this time it sinks in. "I really did."

"We should throw you a party," Jongdae says. "A dinner or something. Invite all our good friends."

"That's not—"

"You know, it would be like 'I'm no longer going to be working at the yogurt shop but I still really like you guys and also I'm awesome.'" Jongdae chuckles. "What do you think?"

"It might be nice to hang out with everyone," Joonmyun says, hedging, and Jongdae claps.

"Then it's settled," he says. "I'll see when people are available next week."


"Joonmyun," Jongdae says, poking Joonmyun in the chest with his index finger. "Seriously. Congratulations."

"Thanks," Joonmyun says. "It is… pretty awesome, isn't it?"

"Yes," Jongdae says. "Very awesome."

Joonmyun is still holding his phone. It's heavy in his hand. He lifts it up and looks at the screen. As if possessed he finds himself scrolling until he gets to Chanyeol's name in his phone.

'Are you free next week?' he types. He hesitates, staring at the message on the screen with a combination of dread and hope.

"What are you doing?" Jongdae asks.

"I don't know," Joonmyun replies, and he hits send.

Chanyeol shows up an hour after everyone else, still wearing his business suit and carrying a briefcase. The table quiets, before it bursts into excited laughter, everyone shuffling to make room.

Joonmyun, who is flipping the meat, looks up slowly to smile at Chanyeol. "Glad you made it," he says, as Chanyeol sits down next to Baekhyun, across the table and two seats over. Close enough that Joonmyun can see the pores on his nose and the exhaustion in his spine.

In a perfect world, they would be sitting next to each other, holding hands beneath the table as their knees brushed.

"Sehun, you lazy-ass maknae, why is Joonmyun-hyung flipping the meat? Jongin, you too. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves."

"Oooh, shadow leader is back," Jongdae says. "Still sticking up for cute-hyung after all this time." It breaks the strange ice.

Sehun raises one eyebrow and crosses his arms, and Jongin sulks and reaches across the table to take the tongs from Joonmyun. "I changed my mind. I didn't miss you that much after all."

"Are you sure, Jonginnie?" Chanyeol says. He is uncurling bit by bit as moments pass. "I think you missed me a lot."

"I haven't stepped on glass in months," he says.

"The only reason you wouldn't miss me is all the girls who pay attention to you when I'm not there to distract them."

"The same type of girls aren't even attracted—"

Joonmyun leans over as they continue to argue. "I didn't know you'd invited the ostrich," Jongdae says to him.

"I think we can be friends," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae grins.

Baekhyun pesters Chanyeol with questions, and Chanyeol fends him off by shoving pieces of meat into his mouth whenever he opens it too wide. The thread of conversation is constantly interrupted with Chanyeol's loud whooping laughter.

It is two summers ago. It is also now.

"I need to get some air," Joonmyun says, standing up from the table. He is flush from the soju, and the pork belly is heavy in his stomach.

"All right there, cute-hyung?" Baekhyun asks, when Joonmyun wobbles, catching himself with a flat palm to the table, knocking metal chopsticks to the floor.

"Fine," Joonmyun says, smiling. "Just need to get a bit of the smoke out of my lungs."

"I'll go with you," Chanyeol says, standing too. He's lost his tie, and his shirt is unbuttoned to reveal a flash of his black undershirt. "I could use air too."

"Okay," Joonmyun says, and Jongdae grabs at Joonmyun's jeans, offering him a questioning look. Joonmyun is not drunk, but he does feel reckless. He nods.

They stand outside the restaurant, both of them leaning back against the wall. Joonmyun always forgets how tall Chanyeol is until they're standing next to each other.

"Thank you for inviting me," Chanyeol says. He leans closer, until their arms mash together. Chanyeol is a firm weight against him. He tilts his head, until his cheek is resting on Joonmyun's hair.

"It seemed wrong not to," Joonmyun says. "Like it would be incomplete without you."

"This is the happiest I've been since my father had his heart attack," Chanyeol says. "It's like I've been sleeping through the past year of my life and being here with you guys tonight is me waking up."

"Good morning," Joonmyun says. It's okay, to be friends like this. Chanyeol's head is still so comfortable resting on his own.

"I don't want to go back to sleep."

"Then don't," Joonmyun says.

Chanyeol stands up straight and looks down at him. Looks at him for a long time, and Joonmyun squirms under his gaze. "Don't?"

"Being awake is infinitely harder than being asleep, but at the end of the day," Joonmyun smiles at Chanyeol, then, because Chanyeol looks young and delightfully perplexed, "it's worth it."

"Is it?"

"I woke up when I met you," Joonmyun says. "I don't want to go back to sleep, either."

"Then don't," Chanyeol says, and there's a light in his eyes that makes Joonmyun want to kiss him forever, lips sliding together as Joonmyun's hands sneak up his shirt to touch smooth skin. It would be a simple matter, to throw his arms around Chanyeol's neck and pull him down.

Chanyeol's eyes glint in the headlights of a passing taxi.

I miss you, Joonmyun thinks, but Chanyeol is sitting right next to him. It will do.

"We should go back inside," Joonmyun says.

"Promise to have lunch with me next week," Chanyeol says. "I have an hour or two on Wednesday."

"I can do that," Joonmyun says, and he rests his hand flat on Chanyeol's stomach. He feels the muscles clenching beneath his palm, and Chanyeol takes a shuddering breath. He pushes his hand up, and stops right above Chanyeol's heart. "Can you?"

"Yeah," Chanyeol says, laying his on hand atop of Joonmyun's. It swallows his up. "I think I can. Can we try it?"

Chanyeol once called him selfless. The way he'll take Chanyeol any way he can have him isn't selfless at all. He is making it harder for them both. "Yes," he says, before they return inside, where their friends are waiting.

Seeing Chanyeol regularly again, with his dark tamed hair and still untamed smile, is like taking out stitches too early. The wounds remain unhealed, and Joonmyun knows it is melodramatic to think they never will.

The thing is, being around Chanyeol is being a sugar cube dropped into hot tea. He dissolves under Chanyeol's warmth and he doesn't work so hard to hold himself together. And in the end, everything is sweeter, but he's broken down.

Smiling across the table, for a lunch, and then another one. The resumption of text messages that say good luck with your final exams!!!!11111 and include pictures of cute puppies in a pet café window.

It is a special kind of masochism that has Joonmyun replying to them.

Park Chanyeol is still capable of making Joonmyun's insides turn to jelly. It is like a crush, all over again, except it is a thousand times worse because he knows so much about Chanyeol and he will never know enough. He could spend a lifetime delving into Chanyeol's idiosyncrasies, but he will never have the chance.

In a perfect world, it wouldn't be like this. This world, though, is far from perfect.

Joonmyun has learned a lot of things. He has learned that he is strong enough on his own, and that there is joy in his friends and in his father's slowly returning smiles. He has learned that what he studies is what he truly loves. He has learned that each new day can be a little brighter than the last.

He has also learned about loneliness. Loneliness, for Joonmyun, is waking up alone, day after day, with his heart on the other side of the city and his brain right here reminding him of all the reasons why.

Loneliness is keeping all his feelings packed away in a notebook in the bottom of his drawer with Chanyeol's distinctive handwriting on the back of a receipt that he can't throw away.

"This is the last one," Jongdae says, tapping the top of the box. "I can't believe you're moving. "

"I've still got two boxes in my room," Joonmyun says.

"We've lived together for seven years," Jongdae says. "This is the longest relationship I've ever had."

"We're not breaking up," Joonmyun says, laughing as he tosses Jongdae the tape. "I'll still probably see you twice a week because you can't feed yourself."

"I can so," Jongdae says. "I am excellent at preparing two 1000won bills to hand to the man behind the counter at FamilyMart."

"I'm in awe of your domestic skills," Joonmyun calls out as he enters the bedroom.

The last box is miscellaneous things. Knick-knacks and a few books. He looks around this room one last time, saying goodbye to the four walls that hold so many important memories. So much sadness and so much happiness in one place.

Another new start.

On his bed, he's left the notebook. He picks it up, and considers opening it, but there's a loud knock on the door.

"The kids are here to help us move!" Jongdae yells, and he can hear Jongin say "—not that much older than I am, stupid—" before there's the sound of toppling boxes. Joonmyun hopes they're clothes.

The notebook is hot in his hands. He hugs it to his chest, holding it close. Then he walks back out into the living room, waving to Jongin and to Sehun, who has planted himself on the couch to watch the moving with amusement. In the kitchen he pulls open one of the tied closed green-label trash bags, and shoves the notebook down one of the sides.

"What was that?" Jongdae asks, and Joonmyun looks up to see him standing in the doorway, hip cocked and eyes speculative.

"Something I don't need anymore, " Joonmyun says, retying the bag. "Is the moving car here?"

"Yeah," Jongdae says.

"Then let's get to work."

They both sit behind the counter, and Taemin brings Joonmyun his favorite without asking. Chanyeol orders a plain chocolate. Joonmyun's eyes shift askance. "No one makes my special shake like you, so I don't bother."

"At least I had one talent in life," Joonmyun jokes, and Chanyeol elbows him, sliding into Joonmyun's personal space like he'd never left.

He has though. Left. It's hard to imagine letting him back in. "More than one," Chanyeol says. "You know that." His lips fit around the straw and he takes a sip. "It's been a month since you've had time to meet me."

"How's life as a businessman?" Joonmyun asks.

"How's life as an assistant professor at I-dae?" Joonmyun hadn't expected to get the job at Ewha, but now, when he reports to work every day, it sinks in that he did.

"I can't complain," Joonmyun says. "Lots of pretty girls. You know how much I like those." He winks. "I'm swamped with work, and too tired to do much when I get home."

Chanyeol laughs, and Joonmyun can't believe how much he's missed that sound. "Do you like it?"

"I love it," Joonmyun says. "A lot."

"I'm glad you're doing so well." Chanyeol wriggles in his seat. He still looks trapped inside his suit, but he's grown into it some. He's watching Joonmyun out of the corner of his eye. Joonmyun is watching him, too. What a pair they make. They're sitting so close that the heat of Chanyeol's arm can be felt through both their sweaters.

"You're still so handsome, tiny hyung," Chanyeol says.

"Am I?" Joonmyun pulls at his sleeves. "I'm just me."

"This is where we met," Chanyeol says. "Right here at this counter."

"Regret walking through the door that day?" Joonmyun asks. He does not know what Chanyeol's answer will be.

"Never," Chanyeol says, and he drinks, hand wrapping around the whole glass. The bottom one is chapped because Chanyeol cannot help but chew on it. "Best decision I ever made." He peeks up at Joonmyun through his eyelashes, and he smiles. "Do you regret it?"

"No," Joonmyun says. The sun in the window shines on Chanyeol's wedding band. "Even with how everything turned out, I could never regret you."

"That time in the woods," Chanyeol says. "When I asked you if you'd ever thought you'd gotten everything wrong."

"I remember."

"I have a few decisions I regret more than anything, but one of them will never be meeting you."

'You're important to me.' A first real kiss right here, half a meter from where they sit. First eager touches flavored chocolate and half of his heart he has probably given away for good to the man sitting next to him, ears sticking out and eyes searching Joonmyun's face for answers he’s not sure he has.

"I wish…"

"I wish, too," Joonmyun says. "That isn't the way it is. We both know that." Chanyeol's phone rings. It's an obnoxious ring tone, chanting 'I am the best' over a synthesizer beat. He looks at the caller and doesn't answer. He does sigh.

"I have to go," Chanyeol says.

"Of course you do."

Chanyeol slips off his stool, knee bumping Joonmyun's thigh. "Let's pretend."


"This is the last time."

He won't say no. He can't say no. One last time. Joonmyun closes his eyes. "Okay."

"I'm leaning forward right now, and putting my hands on your cheeks. My thumbs are brushing at that hair you refuse to cut in front of your ears." Joonmyun doesn't need to look to know Chanyeol's thoughts, because Chanyeol's next breath is shaky. "Then I kiss you. Right here in front of everyone. And no one cares except Jongin, because he always thinks everything I do is gross. You kiss me back, and you tell me you like my cologne, and I laugh and I kiss you again."

"Enough," Joonmyun says, and he opens his eyes.

For a moment, stark and wondrous, it feels real. Joonmyun is stricken by how much he still wants it to be real. By how much he's afraid he will always want it to be real. It digs into him, buries into his heart as deep as it possibly can, and Joonmyun is left to search for air where there is none to be found.

The moment ends, and Chanyeol is stepping back.

"I'd better go," he says. Joonmyun doesn't watch him leave, because it takes too much to turn his head.

Chanyeol texts three times over the next two weeks, but Joonmyun ignores them.

He's caught off-guard when he calls. Chanyeol never calls.

"I'm coming over," Chanyeol says, when Joonmyun answers the phone. He hadn't thought to check the number, but he knows Chanyeol's voice better than almost anyone's. "Don't argue with me. I'm already almost there."

"You do remember that I've moved?" Joonmyun says. His phone is slippery in a palm turned slick with anxiousness. "You've never been here before."

"I know. I got the address from Baekhyun."

"He's the only person that talks more than you," Joonmyun says.

"I don't know why you'd tell him anything." All too familiar rhythms. A dance to the beat of the same drum that's guided him since he met Chanyeol, or the dragging pull of the fierce current in an early spring stream. "I'm coming over," he repeats, and Joonmyun would protest but all he can hear is the dial tone.

It's fifteen minutes of pacing. Joonmyun spends the last four minutes with his head in his hands, sitting on the arm of the sofa attempting to calm his raging pulse.

"Do you know what?" Chanyeol says, when Joonmyun opens the door. "I don't want to sleep anymore."

"It's very late," Joonmyun says. "You probably should. Especially if you have work tomorrow."

"I have tried to be this person I can't be, and life is too short." Chanyeol runs a hand through his hair, short and brown, and Joonmyun thinks he is beautiful. "I've done everything expected of me by my father, but I refuse to be miserable for the rest of my life." Chanyeol is wearing a suit that costs more than Joonmyun's apartment, but he drops down to his knees in the hallway.

"Chanyeol, you're married. You have a business to take care of—"

"I do have a business to take care of. Until my cousin graduates from university. Then he has a business to take care of."

"Your father—"

"I'm not cut out for this, hyung. I kept ranting about poetics during meetings and comparing everything to obscure historical events because your nighttime reading has brainwashed me. I drop my coffee on someone important at least once a day."

"I thought you might," Joonmyun says. Chanyeol's bewildered face makes him laugh, even as Chanyeol says things that make his stomach ache.

"I wanted to be strong, like you."

"You are strong," Joonmyun says. "You are."

Chanyeol grabs his hands, and looking down at Chanyeol is confusing. "Not strong enough to do this forever. I can't sit at that table for dinner in my parents' house and think about how much I'd rather be at yours. I can't wake up next to my wife and look at her back and wish it was your face, smiling at me with your eyes crinkled up like half-moons."

"Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, and something inside of him is swelling, like the rising tide at Haeundae. High waters are dangerous, and drag you under. But Joonmyun has been drowning for a while now. "It's still…"

"There's one more thing," Chanyeol says. "It's important."

Chanyeol is still on his knees. Joonmyun is still confused. "What is it, Chanyeol?"

"I'm getting a divorce." The world is slow. "We're keeping it quiet. Out of the public eye, you know."

"But how—" It doesn't make sense. Nothing makes sense, because these are all the things Joonmyun wants to hear but he can't be hearing them because perfect things are for other people, not for Joonmyun.

"The thing about arranged marriages," Chanyeol says, "is that they only work out if both parties aren't completely, consumingly in love with someone else."

He opens his mouth. He needs to say something. Anything.

"Please, hyung," Chanyeol says. "I know I don't have any right to ask this of you. I know that this has hurt." He shakes his head, and Joonmyun can't look away from his big, expressive eyes. "When I started to see you again, even if it was only snatches of time here and there, I felt… I felt like I used to feel. Like there are so many possibilities and there was a chance that you might still…"

Joonmyun's heart is trembling in his chest, fluttering like a baby bird, and it would be so easy to keep it safe, and push it back into the nest.

Chanyeol is asking him to let it fly. "Chanyeol," Joonmyun says, and he opens his mouth to tell him all the reasons why they can't work. But the truth is, there aren't any that they can't work out, and even if Joonmyun is afraid… Even if Joonmyun is afraid, Chanyeol's eyes are big and watery, and Joonmyun has wanted him for so long that he's not sure he knows how to want anyone else. "Your suit." It comes out breathless, and Chanyeol laughs at him and pulls on his hands, lacing their fingers together.

"Fuck my suit," Chanyeol says. "I'm rich. I literally own over a hundred suits." His ears flush red. "I have over a hundred suits, but there is only one Kim Joonmyun." Chanyeol smiles, and Joonmyun can remember when Chanyeol walked into the shop and smiled at him for the first time, just like this. "I love you, you know that, right?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says, and his neighbor opens her front door and looks out curiously. "Chanyeol, get up. We're disturbing people."

"I don't care," Chanyeol says. "I really don't care right now. You can care enough for the both of us. I'm going to hold your hand in public because pretending you aren't important to me is worse than people judging me because you are."

"I thought you liked pretending," Joonmyun says, even as he pulls Chanyeol up and inside, closing the door on his nosy neighbor. "My first couple of months and already causing a scene." He lets go of Chanyeol's hands and straightens the lapels of his suit.

"You're so cute," Chanyeol says, and Joonmyun steps back, flustered. Chanyeol's hands quickly shoot out to catch his waist and tug him close again, crushing them together. Chanyeol buries his nose in Joonmyun's hair and inhales, and Joonmyun presses his face to Chanyeol's chest. "I'm going to just keep hugging you right now."

"This seems too easy," Joonmyun says, and Chanyeol laughs.

"It's about time something was easy for you," Chanyeol says. "Don't you think?"

"Am I going to wake up tomorrow and all this—"

"I am never giving you up again," Chanyeol promises. Chanyeol's voice rolls over him and through him.

"That's okay with me," Joonmyun says, because that is the most obvious thing in the world, and joy is fleeting but it always lasts a little longer when he catches it between his and Chanyeol's palms.

"I don't deserve you," Chanyeol says. "I don't. But I don't really care."

"Someone once told me that people don't deserve each other," Joonmyun says. "That that isn't how it works."

Chanyeol laughs, big and loud, and it echoes around Joonmyun's apartment and finds a home in the corners. "You've got a good memory."

"I remember the things you tell me," Joonmyun says. "Because I really, really love you. I really, really, really—"

Chanyeol leans down to catch the rest of the words with his mouth, warm and sweet and fierce, and Joonmyun decides this happy ending is just for him.

Chanyeol accompanies him to Jongin's graduation. "Time really flies. He can't possibly be old enough to graduate."

"Aw, hyung," Chanyeol says, picking a piece of imaginary lint from Joonmyun's suit as Jongdae tries to find Jongin, and Sehun, in the mass of people leaving the auditorium. "You have to let the babies grow up eventually."

"Ah, there's Jongin!" Jongin isn't alone. He's got one of his sisters in tow, and Jongin waves excitedly before he remembers to be apathetic toward them.

"It's nice to see you again," Joonmyun says to Jongin's sister. "Congratulations, Jongin."

"No more math class!!" He seems more excited about that than anything else. "Oh right, noona, you remember Joonmyun-hyung and Jongdae. And I don't know if you remember him, but this is Chanyeol, Joonmyun-hyung's boyfriend."

Joonmyun doesn't register it at first, but when he does, it's like ice in his chest.

But Jongin's sister just smiles at Chanyeol, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "I've heard a lot about you and your tendency to break dishes."

"So many great qualities, and that's the one I'm known for?"

Jongdae laughs, and Jongin's sister makes a very Jongin-like expression of amusement.

"I'm going to go find mom," she says. "I'm sure you're going to track down Sehunnie."

She walks away, and Joonmyun doesn't know what to say. "You just—"

"What?" Jongin says.

"Chanyeol, you introduced him as…" Jongin's confused expression clears.

"Well, isn't he?"

"But you're not supposed to say…" He sneaks a look at Chanyeol, and Chanyeol is smiling, two full rows of white teeth.

"The world is changing," Jongin says, looking to the side, lips scrunched up. "Not fast, but it is."

"You sound so wise," Jongdae says, wiping away a fake tear. "Is this what graduating college does to immature little punks?"

"I'm still bigger than you," Jongin says, his graduation cap slipping sideways. "This is my special day, you have to be nice to me."

Joonmyun's stomach is still unraveling, but his heart is light. "All right, Jongin," Joonmyun says, smiling conspiratorially at Jongdae as Chanyeol leans a little closer. "But just for today. Don't get used to it."

"With you lot for friends?" Jongin shakes his head. "How could I?"

Chanyeol chuckles, low and soothing, and Joonmyun gathers his courage and grabs his hand. He looks out of the corner of his eye, and Chanyeol's smile has grown even larger.

This. This is more.

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