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

  • Oct. 25th, 2013 at 4:04 PM
curledupkitten: (suho crying)

track 2

"Can I get you something to drink?" the waitress asks, and Joonmyun's stomach rolls.

"Just water," he says, and the waitress gives him a tiny smile as Kyungsoo and Jongin laugh at him. Her nametag is blurry but he manages to decipher the English letters. "Thank you, Tessa." He smiles back at her and she blushes.

"Oh," Kyungsoo says. "It speaks. I was beginning to think the Joonmyun sitting across from me was actually a dead body."

"Kyungsoo, to be honest," Joonmyun says, "I wish I were a dead body, at this point."

"How are you a half-corpse and still flirting with waitresses?" Jongin asks. They're at a reserved table in the back, so Jongin and Kyungsoo and Sunyoung have all abandoned their hats and sunglasses. It's dangerous at COEX, because it's such a big mall, but most of the clientele at On the Border are foreigners missing a taste of home. That's why the waiters, Joonmyun supposes, have names like Tessa.

"It's called being polite, Jonginnie," Joonmyun says, and Kris sighs. "Smiling back instead of glaring."

"Jongin's radio interviews would go more smoothly if Jongin didn't creep interviewers out with that steady unreadable stare of his." Kris takes a sip of his bottled beer.

"I can't watch you drink," Joonmyun says. "It makes me want to crawl back into bed." He might mean his own bed. He also might mean Baekhyun's bed, where he woke up this morning with an arm around Baekhyun's stomach and Baekhyun's lips against his forehead as he whimpered in sleep. Baekhyun had been so cuddly and soft, and if Joonmyun hadn't felt so sick he would have enjoyed how… sweet… Baekhyun looked lost in dreams like that.

"Must have been some night," Kris says, eyes on the menu. Joonmyun doesn't know why, when Kris always orders the same thing when they come here. "I haven't seen you look like this since college."

"That's because you're supposed to get smarter as you get older," Joonmyun mutters, rubbing at his head.

"Are you?" Sunyoung asks. She leans into Joonmyun, and Joonmyun leans back. "Can someone please explain what happened to everyone at this table then?" A chorus of “hey"s rises up around the table, save for Kyungsoo who seems far more interested in taunting Kris by poking him in the hand with a fork every time he looks for the waitress.

"I take offense," says Kris. "I'll have you know I haven't done anything really stupid since I was about twenty-two."

"So, hyung," Kyungsoo asks, leaning across the table to tap his shoulder, "do you want the Big Bordurito or the Classic Chimichanga?" He chuckles evilly when Joonmyun groans. "Or I guess you could try one of the enchilada dishes…"

"You can just go back to Japan, then," Joonmyun says, and Kyungsoo smirks at him as Jongin leans across the table for a high five.

They place their orders with Tessa, who keeps stealing glances at Jongin as if she's on the precipice of recognizing him.

Their food comes in the middle of Joonmyun discussing Jongdae's finer points as a vocalist. Kyungsoo may pretend he doesn't care, but he obviously wants to size him up.

Joonmyun has ordered a quesadilla because he isn't hungry enough for his favorite. Plus, if he'd ordered nothing, Jongin wouldn't have anything to steal off his plate.

His phone quacks in his hands.

"You really need to change that ringtone," Kris says, and Joonmyun smiles at him as Sunyoung's arm rubs against his.

"Who is it?" she asks.

Baekhyunnie♫. KKT alert, not a text.

Joonmyun had accidentally stepped on Baekhyun's red hat on his way to the bathroom, and Baekhyun had lazily hissed at him before hiding his face in the single pillow.

"Oh, it's nothing important," Joonmyun says, tilting the screen rightward so she can't see.

For some reason, he wants to keep Baekhyun to himself.

He slides his fingers across the circles to unlock the phone.

u alive, old man?

Joonmyun smushes his lips together so he won't laugh. Kyungsoo is talking about his last Japanese concert. About some fan who came to every show and carried a sign that said 'marry me' on it in bright green letters and wore a different official fan club shirt each time. It's a funny story, but Joonmyun would be laughing far before the punchline.

i was drinking before you were born, you brat.

He hits send, and peeks up to watch Jongin leaning closer and closer to Kyungsoo as he tells his tale. He has a way with stories, despite how hard he finds it to speak with real emotion. Maybe it's the way he makes the listener anticipate his next words. Kyungsoo's small hands draw pictures in the air, and Kris has his hand resting on his cheek. Sunyoung is picking at her dinner, caught up as well.

It's safe for Joonmyun to look back down at his phone.

waow OuO 8 yrs old and alrdy drinking? hardcore, hyung

This time he can't contain the snort, but it luckily falls right into an upbeat of Kyungsoo's story. An appropriate place to laugh. He guiltily pays attention for a while, asking questions about Kyungsoo's fansigns and music show appearances.

And you? Any hangover effects? Drink water! Quickly he skates fingers across the keyboard.

im young & beautiful Joonmyun likes the way he can imagine Baekhyun saying it. He can imagine Baekhyun's voice edging up just so, curling around the words in a soft purr. hangovers r 4 old ppl like u

You aren't cute at all, Joonmyun types back. Such a brat.

He puts his phone down when Kyungsoo wraps up his story, smiling and holding up his water glass as Sunyoung proposes a toast to Kyungsoo's return. The glasses clink together and Joonmyun takes a sip of his water as a formality as everyone else takes a long gulp. He smiles exactly as much as he's supposed to and it's enough.

They resume eating, Kris telling the table about some mess that's come up with AVEX and Sunyoung discussing the concept for her next MV. Her hair falls forward, and Joonmyun absently brushes it back over her shoulder to keep it from getting into her salad. She smiles at him when his hand lingers out of habit. Kris had said that she still… He believes it, when he looks into her eyes, so he doesn't look for long, dropping his eyes back down to his screen.

"So. Who's the new girlfriend?" Kyungsoo asks, and Kris drops his fork as Joonmyun looks up from his phone.


"You've been glued to your text messages all evening, giggling—"

“I don't giggle," Joonmyun says defensively. “I'm twenty-nine."

“--and you were out with some undisclosed party last night and you show up hungover and glazed out to one of your favorite people's welcome back party…" Kyungsoo takes a casual sip of his margarita and then levels Joonmyun with his best soulless glare. “And you're always bitching at us to put our phones away at the dinner table. So. Who's the girl you were out with last night?"

Jongin is looking back and forth between Joonmyun and Kyungsoo as Joonmyun's stomach tenses up. “Wait, really?" asks Jongin. “Hyung, weren't you going…" He shakes his hair out of his eyes. “Never mind."

Sunyoung is studying her food, pushing the lettuce around on her plate, and Joonmyun sighs.

“There is no girl," Joonmyun says, and his phone vibrates and quacks in his hands. He's thankful he has the screen facing down, so Jongin won't see the glowing Baekhyunnie♫. “I was out with a few friends last night." Joonmyun laughs. “I don't have the energy to date anyone."

“Hmmm," Kyungsoo hums, thick with his trademark mixture of feigned disinterest and amusement. “If you say so."

“I say so," Joonmyun assures him. He doesn't look at anyone but Kyungsoo, feeling eyes on him. His phone quacks again. He ignores it, taking a large bite of his quesadilla. The cheese sticks to his teeth and tongue.

“Joonmyun's been secretive ever since he came back from the army," Kris says. “We should be used to it, right?"

With his free hand, Joonmyun switches his phone to silent in his lap. It's heavier than usual on his thigh. He itches to see what stupid thing Baekhyun has sent him, but Kyungsoo is watching him impassively, like he's waiting for Joonmyun to check his messages, so Joonmyun focuses on chewing instead.

The rest of dinner passes quickly in catching up and teasing Jongin and Kris, and after the check's been split between Joonmyun and Kris, they sneak out separately, Kyungsoo leaving first, and Sunyoung and Kris leaving second. Joonmyun and Jongin leave together, saying their goodbyes in front of the restaurant. No one is paying any attention to them, because Jongin hunches in on himself when they're in public like this and Joonmyun is no one important.

“I guess I'll see you later, hyung," he says. “Are you going to drop by the DoubleK MV shooting?"

“I might."

“Then I'll see you Tuesday," says Jongin, and he turns to walk out to his car.

“Hey, Jongin," Joonmyun says, catching his arm in a loose grip, "hold on."

“What is it, hyung?"

“I picked up your comics yesterday." He holds the sky blue bag out to Jongin, who takes it. “They had all four on your list."

“So you were out with Baekhyun-ssi last night, then." Baekhyun's heartbeat under Joonmyun's drumming hands, Sugungga filling the room.

“I was out with a group of people last night," answers Joonmyun. “With Baekhyun, yes, but also my friends Lu Han and Yixing and two of their friends."

“But it's Baekhyun-ssi who keeps messaging you, right?" He scratches at his head, pulling a face. “I'm not really good at this."

Joonmyun drops his hand back to his side and smiles. “You don't have to be good at anything, Jongin. There's nothing to talk about."

“You don't understand," Jongin says, frustratedly pulling a beanie down over his hair and pulling out his sunglasses. “You have this way of smiling, sometimes, that's more… I don't know. I don't know!"

Joonmyun's phone is on silent but it still vibrates. There are three unanswered messages now. “Calm down, Jongin. I just like his voice. I went to a gig last night. That's why I met up with him and picked up your comics."

“You look so… I guess you looked happy when you looked down at your phone. Even though you're miserable and hungover, you sparkled at it." Jongin bites his lip and averts his eyes. “You don't usually look that happy."

Maybe Baekhyun does make Joonmyun happy. Or maybe it's more that with Baekhyun, Joonmyun can care less about how he's being seen and more about what he's seeing. Either way, it isn't something Joonmyun wants to share right now. Or ever.

“So cute," Joonmyun says, grinning at Jongin, and Jongin flushes and puts on his sunglasses.

“Shut up, shut up," Jongin says. Clutching his comics to his chest. “I'm old enough to not be cute anymore."

“You sleep with a Pororo plushie, Jongin. Trust me, you're still cute."

“Didn't you ever sleep with toys, hyung?" Jongin is pouting at him.

“I put away childish things long before I stopped being a child," replies Joonmyun, winking, and Jongin gives him that big bright grin that charms schoolgirls across Korea every single day. “But that doesn't mean you should. I like you the way you are."

“You like everyone," Jongin says. “That's not anything special."

“Is there something wrong with that?"

“It's not possible," answers Jongin. “No one can actually like everyone and everything. So when are you lying?" He rubs at his eyes. “When do you really like things? When do you really want things?"

“If this is what you think about in your free time, Minseok needs to keep you busier." He pats Jongin's shoulder. “Go home, Jongin," Joonmyun says, and Jongin laughs and slips into the moving crowd of people exiting the mall, remaining unrecognized.

Joonmyun is the only one left standing in front of On the Border. His stomach is full and his head aches. He can't wait to go home and sleep.

He checks his phone.

u like me anyway

you should teach me abt transitioning to high notes, seonsaengnim

r u busy 2nite?

His heart clenches in his chest. Tex-Mex always gives him heartburn, that's all.

Joonmyun licks his lips, and unbidden, there is the heat of Baekhyun's hands on his hips and the soft, unguarded way he'd smiled as Joonmyun had left his officetel this morning.

No, Joonmyun responds. I could pick you up?

u could Baekhyun replies. Joonmyun chuckles. but will u? or r u old and sleepy

He should pick up some coffee for himself on the way.

Baekhyun falls asleep on the floor of Joonmyun's living room, one hand on his stomach, pushing up his shirt, and the other clutching a bottle of Calpis.

Joonmyun laughs at him, quietly, because Baekhyun is a puppy even if his teeth are sharp.

There is a melody bouncing around in his head, something new, and Joonmyun hears the bridge in Baekhyun's husky humming.

When he sings it quietly to himself, to help get it down on paper, his own voice doesn't live up to the Baekhyun in his head. He doesn't need it to, though, because Baekhyun's voice has sunk into him deep and taken root, so he can imagine how it would sound, if Baekhyun were to sing it.

It isn't raining today. Joonmyun carries an umbrella anyway. The sun is obscured by heavy gray clouds.

Yixing's studio is tucked in the basement of a five-floor building about eight minutes from the station, past a Mini-Stop and a Paris Baguette. Joonmyun hasn't been here in a couple of years, but he used to come often enough that he doesn't look at the signs. He just lets muscle memory carry him to the studio doors.

“Hey, Joonmyun-hyung," says Taemin, standing behind the front counter with a towel around his neck. “Long time no see." His face is sweaty, but he doesn't seem tired. “It's been a while."

“You're still here?" Joonmyun asks. Taemin shakes his head full of hair. “I would have thought you'd moved on already."

“I'm a teacher, not a student, now," Taemin replies. “I teach intermediate hip hop these days." He smiles. “I joined a b-boy group, too."

“Do you compete?"

“Sometimes," Taemin says. “But mostly I just help choreograph. I can't be part of most of the formations."

“Why not?" Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Yixing dismissing his class, most of his students scrambling over each other to talk with him instead of escaping immediately out into the afternoon. It makes Joonmyun smile. It's impossible not to like Yixing, with his gentle voice and the careful way he pays attention. He's just as popular with his students as he used to be in the clubs by Itaewon exit three.

“I'm enlisting into the military in December."


“How old were you, when you came back from your military service?"

“Twenty-five," Joonmyun says. “But I… I needed the structure."

“Hyung, you really don't strike me as the type to need structure."

“I'm a free-spirited musician," Joonmyun says, leaning on the counter as Yixing follows the last of his students out of the classroom.

“You're a musician, no doubt," Taemin says. “Free-spirited? I'm not too sure about that, hyung."

“Taeminnie has a point," Yixing says. He's out of breath. He has a hat pulled down over his hair. He's dimpling at Joonmyun again.

“Are you saying I'm no fun?"

“No," Yixing says. “I'm saying you're careful, socially acceptable fun." Joonmyun winces as Taemin laughs.

“I've got to go," Taemin says. “Lay-hyung, don't forget you've got that extra class at four pm."

“Thanks, Taeminnie," Yixing says, fluffing his hair.

“Hey," Joonmyun says, as Taemin's walking out the door, “take care of yourself, okay?"

“What could happen to me, anyway?" Taemin asks. “Everyone has to do it eventually. Well, not Lay-hyung or Lu Hannie-hyung, because they're Chinese, but you know, all the rest of us."

“You'd be surprised." Joonmyun rubs his wrists and sighs as Taemin whisks himself out the door, long limbs gone graceful with age. “He's too young for the army," he says, when Taemin has left the two of them alone in the lobby.

Yixing laughs. “No he isn't," he says. “Come back into my classroom to talk. I need to stretch before my muscles get tight."

“Sure." He follows Yixing into the classroom. The air is hot and sticky and tastes like sweat when Joonmyun breathes in. “It's like your living room used to be, before you got this place."

“It was only a problem when you were staying with me for those three weeks between your old place and the new. It's not like I had a lot of guests besides Lu Han." Joonmyun hadn't minded the stuffiness. Yixing had looked so happy, practicing in the early morning as Joonmyun carefully washed rice for breakfast.

“It wasn't a problem then, either," Joonmyun says.

Yixing's smile is tinted with nostalgia, and his laughter is like the windchimes Joonmyun's grandmother kept on her balcony when he was a child. “So why did you need to make a date with me, Joonmyun?"

“Because I need to ask you a favor." Joonmyun frowns. “Or maybe offer you a job."

“Which is it?" Yixing asks, sitting down with his back toward the mirror, extending his legs out in front of him to stretch them. “Favor or job offer?"

“A mixture of both," Joonmyun decides. Yixing grins up at him, and Joonmyun leans down to push Yixing's sweaty hair out of his eyes, using his hat to trap it on one side. “I want you to work with SM's newest sign."

“What?" Yixing pauses in his stretching to stare incredulously at Joonmyun. “What?"

“Normally I wouldn't get personally involved in this sort of thing," continues Joonmyun, “but since I'm doing pretty much his entire debut album and he has to dance to my music…. When Song Qian said she was looking for someone new, I thought of you."

“You want me to teach dance to an SM artist," Yixing says. “Seriously?"

“Ah, see, not just that," says Joonmyun. “I want you to choreograph his new single, too." The classroom is silent. Joonmyun watches Yixing's still back in the mirror, admiring the strength of his shoulders and his casual grace. “So, I'd like you to work with Jongdae as a favor, and I'd like to offer you a choreography job."

“This is a big opportunity for me and my studio," says Yixing. “I'd be a fool not to take it." He rests his back against the mirror. “Why me?"

“You'll like Jongdae," Joonmyun says. “He's a horrible dancer, but you're used to teaching those."

“I taught you, didn't I?"

“Exactly." Joonmyun sits down next to Yixing. “So will you do it?"

“I'd have to cut back the classes I teach personally by half. Find a replacement teacher to bring on as a full time employee…"

“Is that a yes?"

“It's a yes," says Yixing. “Have I ever said no to you?"

“Not that I can remember," Joonmyun says. “Why is that?"

Yixing, can you teach me how to dance?


Yixing, can I kiss you?


Yixing, will you forgive me?


“Your natural charm," replies Yixing. He pats Joonmyun's thigh. “Or my natural easy-going nature."

Yixing's hand lingers. Joonmyun doesn't mind. Yixing has always liked to touch. “Which one?"

“A mixture of both, I think."

Joonmyun laughs, and asks if Yixing might be free for dinner tomorrow with Song Qian to work out the details.

“That sounds amazing," Kyungsoo says, and Joonmyun looks up, startled, accidentally smashing his fingers down on the keys of the keyboard. “What is it?"

“Nothing yet," Joonmyun says. “Just an idea I had a couple of nights ago when my inspiration came home."

“Came home?" Kyungsoo laughs. “It's not like a lost pet."

“That's what I thought," Joonmyun says, “but it turns out it is kinda like that." Baekhyun curled up on his floor with his tiny noises and his soda and soft cheeks.

Joonmyun chuckles to himself as Kyungsoo lets himself into the recording booth, where Joonmyun has set up the studio keyboard. “Are you sure you're not dating anyone?" Kyungsoo says.

“Do I act differently when I am dating someone?" Joonmyun's phone is heavy in his pocket. They're just texts from Baekhyun, who isn't his secret girlfriend. Joonmyun isn't even sure Baekhyun is his friend.

“When you first started dating Sunyoung, I had to sing so many love songs," Kyungsoo replies.

“I like love songs," Joonmyun says. “They make people happy."

“You write them when you are happy." Kyungsoo says, tapping the microphone. It isn't on, though, so there's no echo. “That song you were playing… sounds like a love song. Is it for Jongdae?"

“It's not for anyone," Joonmyun says. “Yet. It's not finished, and I don't know what it's going to be."

“It already sounds really catchy." Kyungsoo grins. “Can I steal it from the new guy?"

“Kyungsoo, I missed you."

“Only because I'm being nice," Kyungsoo says. “Last weekend you wanted me to go back to Japan." Joonmyun laughs, and pushes Kyungsoo lightly. “I'll let you get back to work. I have a choreography session coming up." He walks back out into the main part of the studio and raps his knuckles on the glass. Pressing down on the sound button, he speaks into the outer mic: “Try not to think about that person you're not dating too much, now."

“You're wrong," Joonmyun yells, knowing Kyungsoo can hear him. Joonmyun runs his tongue along the seam of his lips. He tries to find the melody again, but it's slipped away and followed Kyungsoo out the door. In his head now is only the sound of Baekhyun's evil laugh, hehehehehehehe, as he pops a Xylitol bubble with his teeth right in Joonmyun's face.

He sighs.

In some ways, love songs are the scariest ones to write. There is something very individual about falling in love, varying from person to person and from relationship to relationship, and from moment to moment. Joonmyun has been in love twice, and both times had been very different experiences.

Joonmyun used to think, when he was fifteen, that someday he would get on stage and sing a love song he'd written to a huge audience, and it would be perfect. Everyone in the audience would connect and it would be like that time he'd attended a Hero Jaejoong concert in junior high, everyone part of this one universal experience.

That had been, of course, been before Joonmyun had fallen in love. Before he'd realized how frightening it could be to stand on stage and sing about your own love to people who might not, probably wouldn't, understand it.

Before he'd realized how frightening it could be to stand on stage at all, when he's so afraid of people looking at him too carefully, because he has so much about himself he'd rather hide.

Baekhyun texts him almost every day. Stupid things, like how it's too cold in ComicsPlease or how his samgak kimbap doesn't have enough tuna. Joonmyun replies with bits of song lyrics or sympathetic condolences (you should just get regular kimbap next time).

And somewhere between music lessons in Joonmyun's living room and gigs in Itaewon and Hongdae, Joonmyun gets used to Baekhyun's late evening calls and blatant disrespect of Joonmyun's age. He gets used to Superman shirts and the face Baekhyun makes whenever Joonmyun drinks coffee in front of him. He gets used to the strange bubble in his chest whenever Baekhyun looks at him, eyes glimmering with adrenaline and vodka, and gives him that smirk that means Joonmyun can try to guess what he's thinking, but he'll never really know.

Joonmyun tries to put Baekhyun aside at work, but it turns out his personality is as sticky as his voice and Joonmyun thinks about him as he writes songs and when he's laughing with Kim Jongdae, and when he's out to drinks with Kris and sometimes Minseok.

Baekhyun invites him to a rock festival the last weekend of November. “It'll be a new experience for you," he says, and Joonmyun says something like “I've been going to rock festivals since before you were born," and Baekhyun tells him he's used that joke before and hangs up the phone.

Joonmyun goes to Baekhyun's apartment to meet him, and Baekhyun takes one look at him and rolls his eyes as he smacks away at his gum.

“Way to dress like someone's unmarried uncle," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun sputters a protest that goes unheard as Baekhyun pulls him into the apartment, barely giving Joonmyun a chance to unzip his boots.

Joonmyun is wearing thick socks, and the force of Baekhyun's pulling makes him slide across the floor. “What are you doing?"

“Just come here," he says. He grabs the hem of Joonmyun's sweater and pulls it up and off, tossing it to the floor. Joonmyun would protest but it's the same thing he does, earning him the ire of the lady at the dry-cleaners he frequents. Then Baekhyun's hands are slipping under his shirt and pushing up, skating along Joonmyun's bare sides and making him shiver. Baekhyun's fingers aren't cold, but they create goosebumps in their wake anyway. “I thought you would have secret tattoos or something." He flicks one of Joonmyun's nipples, grinning playfully, and Joonmyun wrinkles his nose. “I'm not sure my jeans would fit you. They'd probably slide right off."

“Sorry to let you down about the tattoos," Joonmyun says, crossing his arms across his chest as Baekhyun roots through his closet, pulling out a big plaid flannel shirt and the black Batman shirt Joonmyun recognizes from their first meeting. “You want me to wear that? I'm going to be wearing a coat over it anyway."

“We might go out for dinner afterwards," Baekhyun says. “If you take off your coat in a samgyeopsal restaurant and you're wearing a shirt that my dad wouldn't have been caught dead wearing in the ‘80s, I'll be ashamed to be seen with you, even if I do trick you into paying."

Joonmyun laughs. “Fine, fine," he says, taking both shirts from Baekhyun. He puts the flannel one between his thighs to hold it, and starts to pull the Batman one over his head. He freezes as Baekhyun slides a hand across his stomach. “What are you doing?"

“The abs are a surprise, though," Baekhyun says. His voice is lower than Joonmyun's ever heard it, and he files it away to think about later. “Secret abs are better than secret tattoos."

Joonmyun's breath leaves him in a rush, and the warmth of Baekhyun's hand causes an explosion of butterflies in his stomach. It's strange, but Joonmyun feels frozen as Baekhyun drags his fingers along the muscles there. His heartbeat is as audible as a buk drum in his own ears. It's possibly loud enough that Baekhyun can hear it.

“They aren't secret," Joonmyun says, pulling the shirt down and forcing Baekhyun's hand away from his skin. “I exercise before bed. It helps me sleep after I've been sitting all day."

“That shirt looks good on you," Baekhyun says. He smiles, showing all his teeth, the sharp ones turning the grin evil. Joonmyun catches a glimpse of the gum in his mouth, and wonders if the corners of his mouth taste like mint. The thought is gone as quickly as it came, and Joonmyun hurriedly puts on the flannel shirt, hiding his confusion by fussing with the collar of it.

“It's all too big on me," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs.

“Because you're small," he says. “Don't worry, you look fine. You always look fine."

“You always say that," Joonmyun says, flattening his hair. He has a piece in the back that always sticks up with static. He needs to get a haircut.

“I always mean it," replies Baekhyun. “I'm not you. I don't say things I don't mean."

“What's that supposed to mean?"

“It means you're too nice." Baekhyun stares at him for a moment, before grabbing a baseball cap out of his closet and pushing it down over Joonmyun's hair. “Perfect."

“Now I just look like you."

“Like I said, perfect."

“You're a total—"

“Brat, I know," Baekhyun says. “Let's go."

Joonmyun does end up paying for dinner, for Baekhyun and Zitao and two other guys he's never met before, but he doesn't mind, because Baekhyun lights up the whole table with dirty jokes and his stupid fake aegyo and Joonmyun thinks it was worth every penny.

“Is that Baekhyun's shirt?" Zitao asks him, as they're leaving the restaurant. Baekhyun is laughing with Jonghyun, one of the two guys Joonmyun doesn't know, an arm slung around his shoulders, and his eyes have disappeared the way they always do when he laughs. Joonmyun smiles, and then looks up at Zitao, who peers down at him searchingly.

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “He made me change this morning. Something about the 1980s?"

“Oh," Zitao says. “Is that all? I thought…" He smiles. “Ah, don't worry about it."

“Worry about what?"

“Nothing," Zitao says, and when Joonmyun shivers, Zitao pulls him close. “Nothing at all."

Baekhyun looks back, then, and his eyes go dark as he looks at Joonmyun and Zitao, but then he's telling another joke and elbowing Henry, and Joonmyun can tell himself he imagined that look.

Joonmyun's brother guilts him into dinners at various Indian food restaurants around Myeongdong at least once a month.

“Mom wants to know if you'll be coming home for New Years' this year." The Windsor knot of his tie is crooked. Same girlfriend then. She'd tied his brother's tie crooked for their cousin's wedding a few years back.

“Don't you mean next year?" Joonmyun asks, tearing a piece of naan delicately in his hands. His brother's suit jacket hangs on the chair behind him, and his eyes look tired. “Probably."

“I don't know why she won't just call you herself," his brother says. “I'm too old to be a messenger boy."

“Does she even know my phone number?" He dips the bread in the masala in front of him. “You look exhausted."

“We have a client that's giving us a lot of trouble." He smiles. “You know, I have a real job."

Joonmyun chuckles, pasting a smile on his face. His brother means well. Respects Joonmyun, most of the time, in a way that he doesn't get outside his carefully selected circle of friends and his coworkers. “My fake job makes me a lot of money, anyway," Joonmyun says.

“Helps that grandfather left everything to you, though," his brother says. Joonmyun swallows down the truth. That Joonmyun had always had time for their grandfather and that it had been Joonmyun who had sat on his lap and listened to him talk about Park Songhee while Joonmyun's brother had wanted to be anywhere else.

“It did. Does," agrees Joonmyun. He's uncomfortable. “How's your girlfriend?"

“Asked her to marry me." He grins proudly. “She said yes. Mom and dad are ecstatic."

“At least one of us is doing what we're supposed to," Joonmyun says.

“I'll try to keep the heat off you with grandkids." He takes a sip of his water. Joonmyun looks back at his food. “What ever happened with Sunyoung-ssi, anyway? I always meant to ask."

“She can do better than me," says Joonmyun. His cheeks hurt from smiling. “Don't you think?"

“Hmmm," his brother says. “Sorry bro, it sucks to get dumped."

Joonmyun doesn't bother to correct him. “So tell me about the proposal," he says. “Were you suave?"

After dinner, the jasmine rice is like lead in the bottom of his stomach. Joonmyun walks for a while, hands in his pockets, before he finds himself pulling out his phone. He doesn't think as he scrolls through his contacts, finding Baekhyunnie♫ and hitting dial before he can think anything of it.


“What are you doing right now?" Joonmyun asks, and there's a lot of noise in the background. Joonmyun can hear laughter and someone shouting one shot, one shot!. “You sound busy. Sorry. I'll let you go."

“No, no," Baekhyun says. “Hold on. Give me a second." Joonmyun stands at the crosswalk with the phone held up to his ear as Baekhyun excuses himself from the table, and the noise fades. Now Joonmyun can hear the faint sound of traffic. “What's up?"

“I shouldn't have called," Joonmyun says. “I'm sorry. Go back to your party."

“It's not a party," Baekhyun says, snorting. “It's me babysitting a bunch of college kids."

“Because you're so mature," Joonmyun counters, and Baekhyun laughs. It's the clear, high one that Joonmyun likes best. The one that sounds like Baekhyun is holding a guitar and playing just for Joonmyun.

“I am," Baekhyun says. “But I can bail if I want. Leave these kids to their own devices."

“That's all right," Joonmyun says. “I'll just—"

“I'll stop by the Family Mart and pick up a few bottles of soju," Baekhyun says. “I can meet you at Palseokdam?"

“Isn't it too cold to be outside?" Joonmyun teases. He doesn't question the way he feels a hundred times lighter just talking to Baekhyun.

“That's what the soju is for," Baekhyun says. “Obviously."

“Silly me," Joonmyun says.

Baekhyun is easy to spot, as he usually is, with his red baseball cap and red nose, hands shoved into his parka and eyes scanning the thinning crowd of couples for Joonmyun. Joonmyun waves, and Baekhyun waves back quickly.

“That took you a while."

“I was in Myeongdong," Joonmyun says. “I had a dinner appointment."

Baekhyun stares at him, and then launches into the story of how he got conned into looking after a few of Zitao's old high school friends after Zitao had needed to go home to his daughter.

Joonmyun listens to Baekhyun's voice. Lets it wash over him like a song as they walk down the Cheongyecheon. They drink straight from the bottle of soju as they walk, and when they finish it, Baekhyun doesn't wait to open another.

Baekhyun is right. After the second bottle, neither of them are cold, and Baekhyun's words start to slur. Joonmyun keeps looking over at him as he speaks, taking in the shape of Baekhyun's mouth and the freckles on the part of his neck he hasn't covered up.

Finally, Baekhyun's words seem to dry up. They sit on a bench in a small park up a set of stone steps, just enjoying the evening. Up here, it's only the two of them. It reminds Joonmyun of that sunset, the first time he'd followed Baekhyun out and just trusted the younger man not to get them lost.

“Thank you for not asking why I called."

“I don't like to pry," Baekhyun says. “I don't like it when people do it to me."

“I know," Joonmyun says. “You're the only person in my life who feels that way."

“That's because you're hard to read," Baekhyun says. “It's why I think you're interesting."

“Oh really?" He leans back against the bench. Baekhyun rests his head on his shoulder. Joonmyun watches their breath go white in the air as Baekhyun starts to hum. Joonmyun doesn't know the song this time. “What makes me hard to read?"

“When you talk to people," Baekhyun says, “you have this way of focusing on them. You use it to turn the conversation away from yourself and at the same time, make that person feel like they're special." He laughs. “When I saw you do it the first time, I didn't realize you did it on purpose." His hat rubs against Joonmyun's cheek. Joonmyun wraps his arm around Baekhyun's shoulder so he can pull him nearer and fit his head into the crook of his neck. Baekhyun lets him. “I was impressed."

“You make it sound so calculated," Joonmyun says. “That's not how I mean it."

“Isn't it though? Calculated?" Baekhyun sits up, so he can look Joonmyun in the eyes. Joonmyun licks lips gone numb with cold and alcohol, and stares back.

“I care about people," Joonmyun says. “Yixing and Lu Han. Kris. Jongin. I care about them a lot."

“I know," Baekhyun says. “Otherwise you wouldn't still keep the wine coolers your ex-girlfriend likes in your fridge, and you wouldn't worry so much about Yixing when he's drunk even though you're drunker than he is." Baekhyun remembers a lot, for someone with a shitty memory.

“You think you know me, brat?"

“No," Baekhyun says. “I don't think anyone does." His eyelashes are dark on his cheeks when he closes his eyes. “You only show small pieces of yourself when you forget you aren't supposed to."

“I don't think anyone knows you, either," Joonmyun says. “Maybe that's why I find you so interesting."

“Everyone thinks I'm interesting at first," Baekhyun says. He bends down to fish their nearly empty third bottle of soju out of the Family Mart bag, and finishes it off. “Then they realize…"

“Realize what?" Joonmyun asks. Baekhyun's lips are red, and his voice trembles, a spoken vibrato.

“Don't pry," Baekhyun says, then pouts, and he's so cute that Joonmyun laughs. “I'm not drunk enough to tell you all my secrets."

“You haven't told me any of your secrets," Joonmyun says, lifting both hands to pinch Baekhyun's cheeks. Baekhyun hisses at him, and he laughs again, grinning as Baekhyun slaps both his hands away.

“I did," Baekhyun says, and he keeps ahold of one of Joonmyun's hands, trapping it between his own. Baekhyun's hands are always so warm. He plays with each of Joonmyun's fingers, and Joonmyun takes the opportunity to touch back, because he loves Baekhyun's hands. “I told you that I thought you were interesting."

Joonmyun hopes it's the alcohol that's making him feel so dizzy and hot, because he's twenty-nine and too old to drown in his feelings like this. “I won't tell anyone," Joonmyun whispers, even though they're alone, and Baekhyun winks at him, slow and deliberate.

“I know," he says, and the way he says it is something Joonmyun wishes were on an old forty-five, so he could listen again and again, whenever he wanted.

“You're never here at night anymore," Sunyoung says, sometime past ten, when Joonmyun is in his studio, putting the finishing touches on a song he'd recorded with Jongdae. “The door is usually closed these days. I was surprised to see the light on."

Sunyoung's hair is wet from the shower, and she's free of makeup. “You look beautiful," Joonmyun says, and her cheeks go pink. She licks at her lower lip, and Joonmyun remembers a night in New York City, her small hand in his.

“Stop," she says, slapping his shoulder. He smiles at her, unrepentant, and she smiles back. “You're incorrigible."

“Did you have a late rehearsal?"

“My comeback is next week," Sunyoung says. “It's not perfect yet."

“You'll be amazing on stage, as you always are." He skates his fingers across her arm, and she shivers.

“What are you working on?"

“You want to listen?" Joonmyun queues up the song. “I recorded it with Jongdae today."

It had taken a long time, because Jongdae's mood had been playful. What they'd ended up with, at the end, though, was a lighthearted track that would surely be a hit in the spring.

“I always want to hear what you're working on," Sunyoung says. She sits down next to Joonmyun, and leans into him, her chest pressing against his arm. He turns to her and catches her eye. She's staring at him, and Joonmyun swallows and looks away.

He presses play. The bubbly song starts to play, Jongdae's sweet croon filling the studio. When it finishes, he turns to look at her again. “Well?"

“You haven't written anything like this in years," Sunyoung says.

“I know," Joonmyun says. “But do you like it?"

“I love it," she says. “I'm just… surprised."

“I can't write songs for Jongdae about heartbreak," Joonmyun says. “He doesn't know what it feels like."

“Do you?" Sunyoung asks, leaning back in her chair. Hair slips out of her ponytail, navy strands escaping to frame her face.

“Do I what?" Joonmyun's phone vibrates in his pocket. He knows without looking that it's Baekhyun, replying to his message about the gig tomorrow night.

“Know what heartbreak feels like?" She sounds wistful. Joonmyun wants to push her hair behind her ear. Drag his fingers along the skin of her cheek. “Sometimes I wonder."

“Of course I do," Joonmyun answers, after a moment of silence that feels like forever. Joonmyun has penned a hundred, a thousand songs about it. His military issued sleeping clothes had made it hard to sleep, and Joonmyun had had plenty of time to muse on his failings.

Sunyoung pushes her own hair behind her ear. “Okay," she says. “Do you ever think about—"

“Hey," Kris says, knocking on the open door to get their attention. “Oh, am I interrupting something?" His shirt is unbuttoned part of the way, and his tie is loose. “I was just seeing if Joonmyun was ready to go out for our Thursday drinks. I can come back in a few minutes…?"

“No," Sunyoung says. “I was just listening to Joonmyun's new song. I should head home, since I have to be back at seven tomorrow morning." She leans forward and kisses Joonmyun's cheek before standing up. “Thank you for sharing."

“Anytime," Joonmyun says. “It's always my pleasure when you drop by." Sunyoung gives him a slow grin that doesn't quite reach her eyes.

“I really didn't mean to interrupt," Kris says, when it's just the two of them.

“You didn't," Joonmyun says. He shuts down his computer, looking around the studio and gathering all the empty soft drink cans that litter every surface, dropping them into the trash. “She was just…" He frowns. “Can I ask you something?"

“You just did," Kris says, then laughs at his own joke. Joonmyun humors him by laughing along. Kris's jokes are always lame. “No, go ahead, ask away."

“Am I cold?" Joonmyun zips up his bag as he asks.

“That would explain the never turning on the air conditioner thing."

“I mean…" Joonmyun sighs. “Never mind."

Kris clears his throat, and Joonmyun looks up at him. “You're distant," Kris says. “You let everyone close, but not too close."

“What do you mean?"

“You're there for anyone who asks you to be," Kris says. “You listen to everyone's problems and offer a shoulder. You pay attention to what everyone likes and dislikes and you remember the tiniest things and you never hesitate to offer a helping hand. But…"


“But you never let anyone do the same for you. I used to think I was your closest friend, whatever that means, but I don't even know what you do five nights out of seven. I met Yixing, who I'd never even heard of, and who you've apparently known for years and years, for the first time in September, and I don't know why you're writing cheerful love songs all of a sudden or why you broke up with Sunyoung or why you listen to pansori whenever you have to go home."

Kris's small mouth curves down, and the way his voice gets louder toward the end of his rant makes Joonmyun think he's been wanting to say all of this for a while.

“The thing is," Kris continues, “is that even if you were never open, you weren't… like this. Before."

“Before what?"

“Before I…. Before I had to go home, to Canada." Kris swallows. “Before you quit college and started working here out of nowhere. No. Before you went off to the army without telling anyone."

Joonmyun does not want to discuss the army. He grasps another thread of the conversation. “It wasn't out of nowhere," he says. “You knew how much I loved making music."

“Yeah," Kris says. “But before I left, you were all set to get your business degree. What happened when I left, Joonmyun?"

Too many things to count. Joonmyun hadn't known Kris would leave. Kris hadn't told him that he was going anywhere. He just bailed, sending an e-mail from Canada that said I have some stuff to take care of over here, sorry for leaving unexpectedly, and Joonmyun had suddenly been sans a best friend and lonely enough that when he'd met Yixing, he'd wanted to change his whole life.

Quitting school and following his dreams had seemed a great idea walking along the Han after seven beers with Yixing hugging him from behind, both hands full of sparklers and the night sky full of stars.

He doesn't regret it, now. He loves his job, and he's never bored, and his grandmother still smiles when he goes to visit her, even though he never visits often enough.

“People change," Joonmyun says. “We can't stay the same forever."

You didn't tell me you were leaving. Why should I tell you? He suffocates the thought. Pushes it deep and buries it beneath the crosshatched stitching on the leather edges of Kris's watchband and the split ends of his hair.

“You're not cold," Kris says, finally, as Joonmyun grabs his coat and shuts off the lights. “You're just so careful that I sometimes feel like I can't find you underneath all the manners. And that's something about you that hasn't changed."

“Isn't it better that way?" Joonmyun asks. “After all, maybe you wouldn't like me if I were less polite. I might tell you I don't like your hair when it's that color." He tries to make it a joke, but Kris doesn't laugh.

“It's not better," Kris says. “At all."

Joonmyun disagrees. It's easy for people to come into each other's lives and leave, two ships passing in the night. It's easier if Joonmyun can know it isn't his fault, or if he doesn't get attached enough to miss them when they go.

Things never get better when Joonmyun expresses himself, anyway. They only get worse. More people get hurt.

Joonmyun gets hurt.

There are faint dark circles under Kris's eyes, and Joonmyun nudges him. “Let's go get your coat," he says, and Kris looks down at him, eyes still troubled. “It's getting late."


“I'm sorry," Joonmyun says. “This is who I am now. You were gone for over a year, and circumstances changed. I changed with them."

Joonmyun had thought he had nothing to lose, but it turns out he'd had a lot.

“I'll tell you about life in the army over a bottle of that excruciatingly expensive wine you like," he adds, and Kris smiles at him. Joonmyun understands Kris. He doesn't want to feel like he's failing.

“Are you going to make me feel guilty over not having to do mandatory service?"

“Not at all," Joonmyun says. “I'm going to make you feel thankful."

Kris slips into his office and Joonmyun pulls out his phone. His stomach is all knotted up, but it loosens when he reads Baekhyun's text.

He never has to worry with Baekhyun. It's so easy, because Baekhyun never asks Joonmyun for more than he wants to give.

gig 2mrw is in itaewon the message says. meet u @ the stn?

Sounds good.

“You ready to head out?" Kris asks, and Joonmyun grins.

“I'll drive," he says, and Kris looks at him, surprised. “I prefer driving, actually. I just know you like that fancy car of yours so I usually don't say anything."

Kris's smile grows. “I didn't know that," he says, and Joonmyun shrugs.

“Now you do." He zips up his coat and pulls up the hood. Kris is wearing a fashionable wool peacoat that won't keep him warm enough, but he cuts a dashing figure.

“Now I do," Kris says. “While I'm pressing you for answers, how is your grandmother doing?

Joonmyun laughs. “Well," he says, and the tension is gone. “Really well."

Joonmyun takes a bus to Itaewon. It's faster than the train, from where he is, and he loves to drive but not when he doesn't know how much he's going to drink.

He gets a text from Baekhyun when he gets off the bus. meet @ exit 3

Joonmyun narrows his eyes.

Exit 3 is…

Baekhyun is waiting for him looking markedly different than he does for most gigs. His eyeliner is thick, and his complexion looks perfectly smooth, like there's a thick layer of BB cream on top of his skin. He looks like one of the idols Joonmyun works with on a daily basis, and Joonmyun doesn't know if he likes it or not.

“The place we're going tonight is not like the usual places," Baekhyun says, when Joonmyun gives him a curious look at all the make-up. “I dress… like this, when I perform here."

He's… nervous. Joonmyun doesn't know why. He's been to plenty of Baekhyun's gigs by now. Not all of them, sure, but enough of them that he has Jinri and Amber's phone numbers in his cell and he's memorized most of Baekhyun's songs. The first time he'd played one back on the piano to Baekhyun without any sheet music Baekhyun had grinned at him and demanded he do it again before settling down to listen to what Joonmyun wanted to tell him about the way he sang the bridge.

“Fine with me," Joonmyun says. “You don't have to ever explain what you're wearing to me." He smiles at Baekhyun. “Unless, of course, you want to borrow one of my expensive and high fashion sweaters. I'd be happy to lend you one—"

“In your dreams, gramps," Baekhyun says, and the tension leaves his neck. He starts pulling Joonmyun up a hill, and the walk is not familiar anymore, but Joonmyun suddenly knows where they're going. “This is the place."

TRANCE. Joonmyun ignores the sick feeling in his gut as they stop. It's just a show. Joonmyun can handle a show.

Baekhyun grabs his wrist to keep up when he walks up to the entrance and pulls out the exact cover for both of them without asking. “You know this place?" Baekhyun asks. “Huh."

Of course Joonmyun knows the place. Nostagia hits him like a tidal wave as they walk in. He used to come here with Yixing, a long time ago. He remembers when the walls were blue instead of the bright green they are now, and he definitely remembers the lights hot on his face and Yixing's hands in his back pockets and lips on his neck. “I know it."

He remembers Heechul, too, who sits at the bar like he doesn't have a club to run and whose eyes widen when he sees Joonmyun.

Kim Heechul never forgets a face.

Joonmyun knows he still looks the same, but he doesn't want the attention. Not when he's shared a bed with Baekhyun and it hadn't meant anything to either of them. He doesn't want it to mean anything to either of them now, and he has to fight the urge to run right back out the door and into the street.

“What's wrong?" Baekhyun asks. “Your pulse just got really fast."

“Joonmyun?" Heechul leans forward, as if to double-check that he's got the right guy. Joonmyun has to fight the urge to lean back. “Joonmyun, it's been years since I've seen you here."

“It's been years since I've been here," Joonmyun replies. He doesn't have to look at Baekhyun to know Baekhyun is staring at him. The grip the other man has around his wrist is tightening. “I've been busy."

“Too busy to have fun?" Heechul laughs. “On what planet is that an excuse?"

“I went into the army," Joonmyun says. “Then I almost got married."

Married?" Heechul gives him a more intense once over. “What happened to Yixing?"

“Yixing?" Baekhyun asks. “You used to come here with Yixing?"

“Don't pry," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun frowns and drops his wrist. “That was a long time ago." Maybe he should say they're old fishing buddies. Yixing would laugh.

“I didn't know you…" Baekhyun swallows, and he's wearing sparkly eye-shadow tonight. The lights hit it, and it makes him look more angelic than he'd ever pass for in the daytime. “With the ex-girlfriend and all, I never thought you were…"

“I don't want to talk about it," Joonmyun says, sharper than he means to. “It's not what you think." He doesn't know what Baekhyun thinks. But he feels trapped and put on the spot and he hates it.

Heechul holds both hands up, smirking. “I didn't mean to start anything," he says. “What are you doing here tonight? With our Baekhyunnie?"

Our Baekhyunnie. It could mean any number of things. Heechul is like that, tongue like a knife and playing games with words to confuse people.

“I'm just here to watch Baekhyun's set," Joonmyun says. He smiles, as though to say ‘no hard feelings'. “That's it. No other motives."

“Well, have a drink on the house," Heechul says, gesturing to a bartender wearing obscenely short shorts with pink hair. “You and Baekhyun."

“Thank you," Joonmyun says, and he grabs Baekhyun's hand and pulls him toward the bar.

The bartender is clearly familiar with Baekhyun, smiling at him widely. “Hey," he says, and Baekhyun grins back. There's a tightness in his jaw. Joonmyun wants to soothe it away with his thumb, but Baekhyun is upset with him.

“Hey, Sehunnie," Baekhyun says. “Can you get drinks for Joonmyun-hyung and I?"

“What'll it be?" Sehun asks, and Joonmyun gets a tequila sunrise while Baekhyun orders a screwdriver.

“Orange juice before a performance," Joonmyun says. “Shame on you, student." Baekhyun smiles despite himself. “I'm sorry for getting upset with you."

Baekhyun's eyes flick over at him, briefly. Joonmyun thinks it's surprise, but in the dark club he can't be sure. “You don't owe me any explanations." He shrugs. “We don't have that kind of friendship."

“I'm not gay," Joonmyun says. He focuses on Baekhyun's mouth, stained pink with gloss.

“Oh?" Sehun comes back with their drinks, and Baekhyun and Joonmyun both thank him as he glides away in his tiny gold shorts.

“I'm not sure what I am," continues Joonmyun. “Only what I had with Yixing was more than just friends, and I didn't know what I wanted, and… I went into the army to get over it. And I did. We did. I think."

The singer on stage likes to scream. Joonmyun winces and hopes she doesn't destroy her vocal chords like that.

“Do you like women?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun takes a sip of his drink.

“I liked Sunyoung," Joonmyun says. “I liked her enough that I thought I could marry her and be happy."

“But you didn't," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun studies his drink, and listens to the wail of the guitar from the band on stage.

“Sunyoung is perfect," Joonmyun says, and then he looks up at Baekhyun, who is staring at him so intensely it's like he's being turned inside out. “So I thought to myself, doesn't she deserve to be loved?"

Baekhyun's frown softens, and he takes a healthy swig from his glass. It's almost empty. He drinks so fast. “Kim Joonmyun," Baekhyun says. “Just when I think I'm starting to figure you out."

“I don't even have delusions of figuring you out," Joonmyun replies, and Baekhyun smirks at him.

“You're smart, old man," he says. “I'll be back after my set. Talk to Sehunnie. He's very cute."

“Is he the Oh Sehun you wanted to introduce me to?"

“Your memory is ridiculous," Baekhyun says. “But yes."

“Okay," Joonmyun says. “Good luck."

“I don't need luck," Baekhyun says. “Right, seonsaengnim?"

Sehun is a sweetheart who keeps him company while they wait for Baekhyun's set. Baekhyun has yet another band playing for him tonight. It turns out they're the house band, and Sehun tells Joonmyun all their names and life stories in exchange for stories about Zitao.

“Have you met his daughter yet?" Sehun asks. “Most adorable child."

“I haven't," Joonmyun says.

“I remember when he first got her. Looking at me with big eyes and asking what to do with a baby, like I had any idea." Sehun laughs. “Baekhyun-hyung and I practically lived with Zitao while he figured it out."

It makes Joonmyun smile, thinking about Baekhyun's face as he was forced to interact with a real life baby. Baekhyun makes sour faces at kids on the side of the road.

“Baekhyun-hyung really likes you, you know?"

“What makes you say that?"

“He brought you here," Sehun says, and it makes Joonmyun think. “He doesn't…" Sehun's tongue licks at his thin pink lips. “He doesn't let people get close to him."

“Neither do I," says Joonmyun, and Sehun gives him one last sweet smile as he sidles down to the other end of the bar.

Baekhyun sings the entire set with his eyes closed, but his voice sounds amazing. He's catching up to Jongdae, in a lot of ways, and pretty soon, Joonmyun won't have anything left to teach him.

Joonmyun had convinced himself that his desire to see so many of Baekhyun's gigs was fueled by his need to fix. It made sense, to want to hear more of Baekhyun, to watch the rough edges get filed down and see something smooth and polished rise in their stead.

At night, though, when Joonmyun sits down at his keyboard to compose, it's still Baekhyun's ‘Sugungga' that fills Joonmyun's empty apartment, his vast CD collection untouched as he tries and fails to think of something other than the haunting, hollow beat of the buk.

Then Baekhyun opens his eyes, a note in falsetto silkily reaching out and soaring across the dark, shadowy room. Baekhyun's voice caresses Joonmyun, reaching out to touch him with the same lack of hesitance in Baekhyun's every physical move, sliding down his back and wrapping around his ribs tight enough to crush them.

All the air is pushed out of his body.

It's that feeling of drowning, all over again.

They don't linger in the club, when Baekhyun is finished. Heechul leers at them both and Baekhyun can tell Joonmyun is uncomfortable. He doesn't make a show out of acknowledging it, but he casually asks Joonmyun if he's ready to go and Joonmyun says he is.

“You were really on tonight," Joonmyun says. “You didn't go flat even once."

“Your highest compliment," Baekhyun says. “I'm learning."

“Will wonders never cease?" Baekhyun shoves at him, and Joonmyun moves back and dodges.

Now, out on the street, Joonmyun has the chance to study Baekhyun, who has left his cap at home and has styled his hair. He looks nice like this, with his pretty eyeliner and his tight jeans. He looks all grown up. Joonmyun's heart is pounding.

“You didn't have to answer me, in there," Baekhyun says suddenly, and Joonmyun is startled out of his own thoughts.

“I know," says Joonmyun. “It's okay."

“An eye for an eye, then," Baekhyun says, squaring his shoulders.

“What do you mean?"

“I have an older brother," Baekhyun says. “He's the same age as you."

“I know," Joonmyun says. “And he carried you up the last of the stairs at the World Cup Stadium."

“That brother… he has a temper," Baekhyun says. “That's how he wound up in jail a couple of years ago."

“I see."

“When I was just out of high school, he caught me sucking this guy's cock in the bathroom at a bar. He called me a faggot. I punched him in the mouth." Baekhyun says it with that casual ease he has for everything. Nonchalance that seems unfeigned, even though Joonmyun knows better.

Joonmyun doesn't know what to say. He has all the right words, except when it really counts. Baekhyun's eyeshadow is silvery. Joonmyun could never say something like what Baekhyun just said without shaking hands. “I hope you knocked out his teeth."

Baekhyun's mouth opens, in shock maybe, and then he laughs, loud and reckless. It grabs the attention of several people walking down the street. Joonmyun used to hate that, but Baekhyun's trained him out of caring, too loud to be constrained no matter where he is. “Only one of them," Baekhyun says, when the laughs have calmed to chuckles. “But it was one in the front." Gulps. “I wasn't expecting you to say that."

“I'd say ‘I'm sorry', but that doesn't really mean anything, does it?" He reaches out and takes Baekhyun's hand. “I'm hungry."

“Now you know two of my secrets," Baekhyun says. “I should probably kill you."

“Actually, I know three," he says, as he pulls Baekhyun forward, toward the food truck he knows sells pizza at the bottom of the hill. TRANCE is behind them, now. It's easier to breathe. Memories take up so much space in Joonmyun's lungs that there is no room for air, sometimes.

“What's the third one?" Baekhyun asks. Joonmyun looks over his shoulder, and the streetlight illuminates Baekhyun from behind. He glows, and for a moment, Joonmyun can't think of anything but how lovely he is.

“You only order vodka," Joonmyun says. “I'm one step closer to figuring out your favorite drink."

“I'll take that with me to the grave," Baekhyun says, taking two big steps so he can walk side by side with Joonmyun. He squeezes Joonmyun's hand, and laces their fingers together. “You're still interesting."

“So are you," Joonmyun replies, squeezing back.

November is often very cruel to Joonmyun, in both work and weather, and this November is shaping up to be not much different.

The easy approach the company had taken at the start of Jongdae's debut preparations lurches into hurried anticipation. “We want to release a mini album before the end of the year," Song Qian informs him. “We'll need three to four songs completed."

“What's the hurry?" Jongdae has not spent long as a trainee. Joonmyun watches, sometimes, as Yixing spends long hours with Jongdae in the upstairs practice rooms, forcing his stiff limbs into some semblance of grace.

“We want to get him out there before the Lunar New Year," Song Qian says. “The exposure from Lunar New Year programming is important, and he won't be invited unless we can build up hype around him. He's not debuting in a group. There's no gimmick to sell him." Song Qian sighs. There are lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth that speak of bone deep exhaustion. “Just his voice."

“I won't let him down," Joonmyun says. “Don't worry."

Song Qian offers him a speculative look. “I know you won't. Not disappointing people is very important to you."

Joonmyun fusses with his hair. Song Qian has a pensive crush to her brows. It usually means she wants to ask Joonmyun a personal question.

“You won't let him down either," he says, and Song Qian looks so caught off-guard that whatever she'd been about to say is lost.

“Of course I won't," she says, but there is a pleased tilt to her lips. “There was never any doubt about that."

“I can have four songs done by the end of the month," Joonmyun says, shuffling the papers in front of him. “One is completely finished, and we're recording a second one tomorrow." He had a few more possible, lingering half-finished on his laptop and in his head and on scattered music sheets across every flat surface of his apartment. Is your brain as cluttered as your condo? Baekhyun had asked, and Joonmyun had chuckled and said yes.

“Good," Song Qian says, and she slips on her sunglasses. “Jongdae and I have things to do today. We'll see you in the morning."

“That's fine," Joonmyun says. “I'll be here at seven."

“That's barbaric," Song Qian replies. “I'll see you at nine."

“If you insist," Joonmyun agrees. “Your new earrings suit you, by the way."

Song Qian reaches up to finger them. “They were a gift," she says. “I like them too."

She leaves Joonmyun to work, and Joonmyun tries his best. But his thoughts wander, to hot cheese burning the roof of his mouth and the taste of vodka behind his teeth. Baekhyun's laugh is distracting and loud, even when Baekhyun isn't here.

In the between times, (when he's not at the studio or out at some weird club for one of Baekhyun's performances, or eating lunch with Jongin and Yixing, who have unexpectedly bonded over their dismay at Jongdae's prowess on the dance floor), Joonmyun tries to compose.

When the notes get trapped, Joonmyun calls Baekhyun. All Baekhyun does is con Joonmyun into buying him food and alcohol, making fun of the circles under his eyes and calling him ‘old man' when Joonmyun rests his head on the bar and yawns.

“Being sleepy doesn't have much to do with being old," Joonmyun says. “Jongin can sleep standing up."

“I don't know," Baekhyun says, sliding a hand up Joonmyun's thigh. “I hear you're pushing thirty."

“Are you old enough to drink beer?" Joonmyun returns, and Baekhyun laughs as Joonmyun sits up, much more awake than he'd been minutes before.

When he gets home, on those nights, and on other nights when all he does is text Baekhyun as he whiles away that last half an hour at ComicsPlease, waiting to lock up behind the late night fanatics, Joonmyun finds that notes that had been caught are now pulsing at the tips of his fingers or dancing in the forefront of his mind.

(Baekhyun brings Joonmyun's music closer to the surface? Maybe, even if all he does is smirk and make noise and slowly leech food and drink costs from Joonmyun's bank account.)

It's just easier, to spend time with Baekhyun. Baekhyun doesn't ask Joonmyun uncomfortable questions or try to dig deeper for information Joonmyun doesn't want to share. He just sits and laughs and sings and gets drunk, and Joonmyun has become fast addicted to memorizing every single sound, trying to put together the song that might be Baekhyun. He never quite succeeds. There are always more sounds, and Joonmyun likes them all.

Sticky Byun Baekhyun, with his sticky voice and his sticky laugh and his sticky personality.

Joonmyun is thoroughly stuck.

Lu Han calls him on a Sunday, asking him over to his place for beer and music. It's easy enough to agree. Joonmyun has spent many weekends in Lu Han's basement apartment, the two of them sprawled on Lu Han's futon watching soccer matches or figuring out harmonies on one Joonmyun's songs.

He heads over after a visit to his grandmother. Lu Han answers the door in a shirt that's seen better days and a pair of gym shorts with ‘ADD OIL' written in Chinese characters down the right thigh. “Yo," Lu Han says, “right on time. Some things never change."

Joonmyun holds up a bottle of wine. “I know you said beer, but just in case."

“I'm not one of your girlfriends," Lu Han says. “You can't charm me with your expensive wines and shit."

“It's Kris that likes the wine," Joonmyun says. “You should at least remember that from college."

“Ah, Kris," Lu Han says. “I haven't seen him in a long time."

Joonmyun sets the wine on Lu Han's counter. There's a load of laundry going, and Joonmyun watches the spin cycle run for a few seconds before Lu Han waves a hand in front of his face. “Hello? Anyone home?"

“Sorry," Joonmyun says. “I was up late last night." There are the dredges of a headache behind his right eye. Slow throb.

“With Baekhyun?" Lu Han is horrible at subterfuge. “He had a gig last night in Apgujeong somewhere."

“Yes," Joonmyun says. The floor heating seeps through his thin socks. He searches for something to look at that isn't Lu Han, eyes landing on the keyboard. Lu Han doesn't always have it set up. He doesn't play much anymore. It's usually only when Joonmyun or Yixing come over, these days. Yixing sits on the floor curled around his guitar and Joonmyun fiddles around on the keyboard. Lu Han rests his head on Yixing's shoulder and sings along. “I like Baekhyun."

He hasn't forgotten Lu Han's drunken warning in the bathroom.

“The same way you liked Yixing?"

“No," Joonmyun says. “Not the same way I liked Yixing."

Yixing had been a compass for a Joonmyun that had been lost in the woods. Yixing had been a quiet reassurance, listening and listening until Joonmyun had had to spill out his troubles to fill the silence around them. Yixing is as strong as he is gentle, and Joonmyun admires the way he can give and give, and still have so much left of himself to shine.

Baekhyun is not a guide for anyone. He's not an exceptionally good listener, because he'd always rather be talking, about silly things or smart things or this guy that had spilled coffee on the bus this morning or the business woman who comes in every Tuesday for her sports manhwa fix. He fills the air around them with so many words that Joonmyun doesn't have the chance to worry if he's doing enough. Saying the right things. Smiling at the exact right moment.

“Okay," Lu Han says, snapping Joonmyun out of his contemplation. He opens two beers, handing one to Joonmyun. “I'm just making sure."

“I don't need to be looked after." Too sharp. “He's a fellow musician, that's all. You know how I get."

“I'm not just taking care of you," Lu Han says. Joonmyun doesn't follow up on it. “What's it like, working with Yixing?"

“I don't work with him." Joonmyun takes a sip of his beer and sits in front of the keyboard as Lu Han spreads himself out to take up as much of his futon as he can. “We both work with Jongdae. I try to stay out of the dance studios."

“Play me something you're working on," Lu Han says, and Joonmyun nods, setting his beer on the very edge of Lu Han's small living room table.

“I have a few things," says Joonmyun. “Should I play them all?"

“You haven't shown anything to me in a long time," Lu Han says. “Let's hear it all."

Joonmyun plays a little for him. Then makes Lu Han sing some of the songs he's come up with lately, and a couple Joonmyun had written for him, years ago.

The last thing Joonmyun plays, at the end of their musical show-and-tell, has only one verse, and Joonmyun almost doesn't play it at all, but it's a melody that he can't quite get rid of, and he can't quite finish, either. Lu Han might have insight.

“That last one," Lu Han says. “That one is special."

“It isn't much, right now," Joonmyun says. “I thought you might have ideas."

“You wrote it too low for you to sing comfortably," Lu Han says. “Is it for D.O.?"

“No," Joonmyun says. “It's for no one. Just something I've been messing around with."

Lu Han curls over to reach for his beer, licking his lips and thinking. Joonmyun plays the first song again, adjusting the tempo to make it faster. He gets lost in the music, like he always does, until Lu Han recaptures his attention with a heavy sigh.

“Do you remember how we met?" Joonmyun looks up from the keyboard to see Lu Han staring at him, smiling. “You were such a diligent little student, then."

“You just loved it when I still called you seonbae."

“You're right," Lu Han says. “Now you never take my advice."

“Is this about Baekhyun again?"

“No. I guess it's about how you came back all weird from the army."

His beer is still mostly full on the table. He taps his foot instead, until his stomach unclenches.

“I thought I was weird before the army," says Joonmyun. Purposefully light. “You used to tell your roommate every day how weird your first year student was."

“Well, you were weird in a normal way then," Lu Han replies. “Like, you had your head in the clouds about other people's feelings, and you said a lot of super fucking nerdy things, and you cried whenever you really liked a song, but… Yeah, it was a normal kind of weird."

Joonmyun flexes his fingers above the keys. “I care a lot about music."

“Your crying face is not a good look," Lu Han says. “Just so you know."

“I don't cry very often," Joonmyun reassures him. “Not anymore."

“That's because you're a cyborg, now. It walks! It talks! It compliments your hair!" Lu Han makes robot motions with his arms and forces his eyes wide.

“Han," Joonmyun says, “you're exaggerating."

“Not really." Lu Han lies back on his futon and scratches his stomach. “You came back from the military as polite as you'd been before you left, but something happened to you. I don't know what, but something."

Joonmyun presses down on the keys, and the sound of the keyboard is jarring. A clap of thunder on a cloudless sunshiny day. For the briefest of moments, Joonmyun is wearing his uniform, scratchy fabric against soft skin. Then he blinks, and it's just one of his comfortable sweaters, cashmere and expensive. He runs a hand along his arm to check. “I'm not twenty-three anymore."

Lu Han studies him with careful eyes. Debating, maybe, whether to push or pull. Joonmyun looks back. Smiles. Maybe Joonmyun can reassure Lu Han that everything is fine. Everything is fine, after all, and Joonmyun isn't sure why everyone is so interested in him confiding in them, all of a sudden.

“These songs," Lu Han says, finally, “are better than anything you've written since… Well, I guess since those first couple of years at SM." He takes a swig of his beer. “Don't look at me like that."

“Like what?" Joonmyun stares at the keyboard instead. It holds few mysteries, and the keys are black and white and expect nothing from him.

“You can get mad at me. You know that, right? You can tell me to mind my own business."

“Is something bothering you, Lu Han?" Joonmyun rubs his hands on his knees. “Why has our relaxing Sunday turned into an inquisition?"

“Yixing mentioned…"

“Mentioned what?"

Lu Han sits up, wiry arms stretched out to rest on his bent knees. “How alike you and Baekhyun are," he says, finally.

Joonmyun laughs. “Me and the brat?" He shakes his head. “I'll never be that rude." Lu Han doesn't laugh with him.

“I don't mean your personalities," Lu Han replies. “Not like that. I mean that you both… do that… make people feel like they know you thing." He frowns.

“Lu Han…"

“It needs violins." Lu Han is looking at Joonmyun's beer. It's probably getting warm.

Joonmyun breathes out. “The first song?" He hadn't realized how tightly he'd been holding himself until he relaxes. “I thought maybe an instrumental would give it some life, too."

“Yeah," Lu Han says. “Violins."

Joonmyun grins, only marginally stiff, and makes a mental note.

It's late at night. Most people have gone home. He's surprised to see Kris waiting for him. It's not their day, Thursday. Most days like this, Kris worms his way into Minseok's evening plans, or drives out to visit his mom. She gets lonely, since her Korean still isn't good.

Kris frowns at Joonmyun as he leans against the door of Kris's expensive car. “You look grim, Kris," Joonmyeon says. Kris's mouth is pinched, and his hair in disarray, like he's pulled on it all evening.

“Soojung turned me down." Ouch. Joonmyun hadn't known he was planning on acting on it. “I mean, I was prepared for that. It's not like she has to like me."

They're alone in the parking lot. Joonmyun rubs tired eyes. “Do you want to go get drinks? Talk about it?"

“I don't know if I want to be consoled by the guy who has never been rejected," Kris says, with shadowed eyes, and Joonmyun laughs.

“Oh, I've been rejected," Joonmyun says, thinking back on e-mails and wounds that won't heal. “I've definitely been rejected."

“Sorry," Kris says, after a moment. “I don't know why I said that."

“Because you're sad?" Joonmyun leans forward to pat Kris's arm. “It's okay."

“It's not that she told me she wasn't interested," Kris says. “It's that she hadn't even thought about it before." He shakes his head. “It hadn't even occurred to her."

“Well," Joonmyun says, “it could be worse? She could have thought about it and been grossed out. That definitely would have been worse."

“It hurts when you care about someone more than they care about you," Kris says. “It's a hopeless feeling. It's definitely worse that she never thought about it."

“Sure you don't want drinks?" Joonmyun asks. He doesn't know what else to say.

“Yeah," Kris says. “Actually, that sounds pretty good."

Sometime later, when Kris has discussed all the reasons why, even though Soojung is totally not interested in him, he's determined to get to know her better and at least be her friend, and they've finished off their first bottle of wine… Sometime then, Joonmyun tells Kris about his first rejection.

“I thought I might want to sing for the musical theater club," Joonmyun says. “But the director told me my voice wasn't strong enough. Loud enough. That it couldn't really compete." He swirls the cabernet in the bottom of his glass. Hours of vocal lessons he'd squeezed in between piano and composition. Audition pieces rehearsed in the shower when he was sure his mother had already gone to sleep. “They said I might be better working behind the scenes."

“You like to sing?" Kris drains his glass. “I don't think I've ever really heard you sing."

“I write things for other people to sing," Joonmyun says. “Better behind the scenes."

That's how he met Kyuhyun and Changmin. Playing piano and moving props.

“Do you know," Kris says, “that I met you our first year of university and that's the first time you've ever told me about something unhappy?"

“The things that make me happy are more special," Joonmyun replies. “There are far fewer of them, after all."

“It's beautiful," Jongdae says. “You wrote this for me?" They're sitting in the cafeteria on the top floor. Jongdae's lips move around in the shape of Joonmyun's lyrics as he reads. Baekhyun does that too.

“For your album," Joonmyun corrects. “For your voice." He watches as Jongdae starts to sing softly. It sounds wonderful already.

“How do you write music?" Jongdae asks, setting the papers aside. “Is that a personal question?"

“It depends on if you're asking how do I write music, specifically, or if you're asking how people write music in general."

“Something in the middle of that, hyung." Jongdae laughs, then takes a fat slice of kimbap between his teeth.

“Then it's almost a personal question," replies Joonmyun. “But I don't mind answering."

Jongdae makes a thoughtful noise around his rice. “Well?"

“Everything, anything, can be music," Joonmyun says. Jongdae's chopsticks clattering on the table. The chime of Joonmyun's spoon against the side of his metal bowl. “Sounds we take for granted can add an unexpected brightness to a song that had before seemed dull."

That makes him think about the way Baekhyun laughs, for some reason. Baekhyun had laughed at him this morning, when Joonmyun had called him at ten to make sure he was up for his shift at eleven.

“Is that why your phone quacks?" Jongdae asks. “To add ‘unexpected brightness' to your day, hyung?" There's an amused twist to the corner of his mouth. Joonmyun has heard from Minseok and Kris both that Jongdae is something of a terror, full of smart comebacks and teasing, but Jongdae's been nothing but sweet to him.

Sunyoung sets her lunch tray next to Joonmyun. Her shirt is damp with sweat. Her nails are periwinkle. “Joonmyun's phone has always quacked," Sunyoung says. “The first time he asked me out, halfway through his confession someone sent him a flurry of text messages. I couldn't stop laughing."

“You said yes anyway," Joonmyun reminds her. She'd been wearing a green dress and her hair had been blonde.

“You're dating?" Jongdae leans forward, his hands gripping the edge of the table.

“Used to," Sunyoung says. “We're just friends, so you can close your mouth, Jongdae-yah." She takes a bite of her jjigae, periwinkle nails almost distracting Joonmyun from the tightness around her eyes.

He reaches up and rubs his thumb across her cheek until her face relaxes, and she smiles at him. He smiles back, and turns to Jongdae. He watches Joonmyun carefully, as though Joonmyun were his favorite afterschool drama.

“I should change it, but I can't." Joonmyun presses his hand to his phone. “When I got a new phone, I even transferred it over."

Jongdae nods. “There has to be something uncool about you," he says. “Otherwise you'd be too perfect."

Joonmyun's eyes are so dry. The heaters, maybe, are taking the moisture from the air. “Perfect? Is there another Joonmyun?"

“Hyung," Jongdae says. “You're handsome, rich, smart, and respected at your job. You date really awesome ladies," he winks at Sunyoung, “and you do what you love." He pushes his kimbap around on his plate until they make a smiley. “So yes, I'm talking about you."

Sunyoung hides her smile behind a bite of jjigae, and Joonmyun's phone quacks at him before he can answer.

“If that was all there was to me," Joonmyun says, at he smiles down at his own lunch, “then I wouldn't have very much to write about."

“That makes sense," Jongdae says. “So you need inspiration?"

“Yes," Joonmyun says, and Sunyoung pulls the sheets of music to their side of the table.

“This song is very happy," Jongdae says. “Are you happy?"

“Happy enough," Joonmyun says, and Sunyoung pushes the song back toward Jongdae.

“We must be getting old," Sunyoung says. “Remember that first night in New York City?" She shakes her head, and strands of hair fall around her cheeks, wavy from the press of the elastic they've escaped. “I said I'd only settle for reaching the stars."

“I remember," Joonmyun says. He looks in her eyes, but there is too much emotion there, so he looks back at Jongdae instead. He has his lower lip between his teeth, and then he's singing again, louder than before, trying out the higher notes Joonmyun had included just because he knew Jongdae would be able to sing them.

“Now I'm satisfied just looking at them." She drops her spoon into her half empty bowl. She leans closer to Joonmyun. “I miss being a kid like Jongdae."

“Hey!" Jongdae says, and Joonmyun chuckles.

Jongdae spends the rest of lunch telling Sunyoung and Joonmyun about his string of ex-girlfriends, and he has them both laughing until they've forgotten their food. He's charming, too. He'll play well on variety. Song Qian probably loves that.

After Sunyoung leaves, Jongdae sighs. “She's so beautiful."

“She is," Joonmyun agrees. “She gets more beautiful every day."

“Do you naturally just say stuff like that?" Jongdae's mouth is twisted in mirth and disbelief mixed together.

“Like what?" Joonmyun puts the cover back over his half-finished rice.

“That's why everyone is in love with you right? Sunyoung and Soojung and all the secretaries on the fifth floor."

“Soojung?" Joonmyun pulls at the sleeves of his sweater. “Don't be silly."

“I wish I could make girls look at me like that." Jongdae balls up his napkin. “Like Sunyoung looks at you."

“No you don't," Joonmyun says. “Trust me."

“Why wouldn't I want girls to fall in love with me?" Jongdae asks. “Are you kidding, hyung?"

And Jongdae is so painfully young that Joonmyun is painfully envious. He wishes he was still that eager to be loved.

“Because," Joonmyun says, picking up his tray with steady hands, “it feels horrible if you don't love them back."

He smiles at Jongdae to lessen the sting as Jongdae gives him a searching look. “Oh," he says, softly. “Yeah, I get it."

Joonmyun remembers the third night in New York City, when he'd turned his back to Sunyoung and slept facing the wall, even though it was cold and her skin was warm.

“Let's go record, Jongdae." He makes his smile larger, breaking the tension. Maybe he'd said too much. Backtracking is easy enough. “Besides, what would you do with twelve girlfriends?"

Jongdae takes the bait, wriggling his eyebrows. “Oh, I could make you a list." He rubs his palms together and then stands up, palms rubbing together. “A very sexy list."

“You're going to be an idol soon," says Joonmyun. “Thousands and thousands of girls will want you and you won't get to date any of them."

Jongdae groans and Joonmyun fishes his phone out of his pocket.

The kkt message blinking on his screen says: keep saturday free, old man

Joonmyun laughs.

“What's so funny?"

“My favorite kind of noise," Joonmyun replies, and laughs harder at Jongdae's puzzled look.

Zitao's apartment is up at the top of a hill about six minutes' walk from Hapjeong station. When Joonmyun rings the buzzer at the main doors to his building, Zitao takes a few moments to answer.

“Come on up," he says, breathless. “I'm not used to people who are on time. I'm still wrestling with socks."

When Joonmyun gets up to Zitao's apartment, on the third floor, the door is cracked open. He perfunctorily knocks twice before pushing the door open.

Wrestling with socks apparently means pinning a four year old girl to the sofa.

“I hate socks!" she yells, and Joonmyun laughs as Zitao makes an exasperated sound somewhere between a sigh and a whimper of defeat.

Joonmyun slips out of his shoes and sits down onto the sofa next to the little girl as Zitao sits back on his haunches. “Hello," he says, and the little girl looks up at him with big eyes.

“Hello," she says solemnly. “What's your name?"

“Kim Joonmyun," he says, just as serious, and she nods.

“I'm Ting," she replies. “I hate socks."

“What did the socks do to you?" Joonmyun holds out his hand to Zitao, who gives him the socks. “They look pretty harmless to me."

“They're hot," she says. “Hot hot hot." Zitao sighs again and disappears into the kitchen, leaving him alone with Ting.

“It's cold outside today." Joonmyun smoothes out the socks between his fingers. They're so small. Small socks for small feet. Joonmyun doesn't know what to do with kids, really, but he's always been pretty good with girls. “What if your toes freeze off?"

Her tiny mouth drops open. “Off?" She stares down at her feet and wiggles the toes. “Oppa, can they?"

Joonmyun nods. “I saw it happen once," he lies. “It's hard to run without toes."

She pulls thoughtfully on a pigtail, and Joonmyun offers her the socks. She looks up at him through her lashes. “Can you put them on?"

“Sure," he says, and she turns so her legs are in his lap. She doesn't put up a fight as Joonmyun pulls a pink sock onto each foot, making sure there's no gap of skin between the cotton sock and her white leggings. “How's that?"

Ting tugs on the other pigtail. “Hot."

Joonmyun laughs and winks at her, and she giggles, happily swinging her legs back over the edge of the couch.

“Are you magic?" Zitao asks, from the doorway of the kitchen. “I think you just did magic."

“I'm pretty sure I just lied," Joonmyun replies. “But sure, I'll take magic."

Zitao laughs and runs fingers through his hair. He's cut it again. Shaved off the sides. Joonmyun can see his earrings better now, and the red tips suit him. “Baekhyunnie-hyung is going to be late."

“Did he call?"

“No," Zitao scratches the back of his neck and snorts, lips curling up like a kitty cat. “It's a Saturday morning."

“Ah, of course." Joonmyun clears his throat. “Who's working at the shop this morning?"

“Shindong-hyung always takes one Saturday morning a month," Zitao says. “We try to go see Chanyeol when we can. This is his version of a gig, I guess, but Ting can come, so…"

Ting has now taken possession of Joonmyun's hand with both of hers. Joonmyun doesn't think his hands are very nice. Not like Baekhyun's, anyway.

“You mean you don't want to bring her to a bar in the middle of the night?" Baekhyun is in the doorway. “What an overprotective dad."

“How did you get in?" Zitao asks. “You never remember the code."

Baekhyun waves his phone. “I wrote it down," he says. “The blessings of modern technology."

“Is there an alarm clock on there, too?" Zitao gives Baekhyun a hug, almost lifting him off the floor, and Baekhyun laughs and pats his back. “You're on time."

“Well," Baekhyun says. “There's a first time for everything." When Zitao lets him go, he looks down at Ting. “No hug for me?"

“Maybe later," Ting says, curling into Joonmyun's side as Baekhyun stares. Then he eyes Joonmyun with amusement.

“Even little girls can't resist you, hmm?" Baekhyun walks over to the couch and picks Ting up, resettling her on his lap and himself into her spot, resting against Joonmyun. “Can't take you anywhere, old man."

Zitao shakes his head and walks into his room, leaving the three of them in the living room.

“Then why did you call me out?" Joonmyun replies, and Baekhyun laughs and closes his eyes. His red cap digs into Joonmyun's shoulder. Baekhyun looks tired, though, so Joonmyun doesn't shift. “Don't fall asleep, Baekhyun. Zitao will be ready to go soon."

“No he won't," Baekhyun mumbles. “He's probably taking pictures of himself with his phone right now. That's why I'm always late."

“But not today," says Joonmyun.

“Naw," Baekhyun says. “Today you were waiting."

They don't leave for another fifteen minutes, Baekhyun drowsing on Joonmyun's shoulder as Ting, still in his lap, asks Joonmyun about his job.

“I write songs," Joonmyun tells her, and she gives him an excited smile. “Lots of them."

Finally, they leave Zitao's apartment, the cold wind twice as chilly now that he's been pressed against Baekhyun. Baekhyun looks cold, as well, and Joonmyun walks closer to him as Zitao, with Ting beside him, walks ahead.

“I haven't been to Gyeongbokgung in years," Joonmyun says. “Not since my friend Kyuhyun and I took Kris here back when I was a first year in university."

“Wow, that's like a quarter-century ago," Baekhyun says, lips twitching.

“Look, brat, it was more like a decade." Joonmyun pulls his wool hat down over his ears. “Twenty-five years. I oughta hit you."

“Maybe I'm into that," Baekhyun says, leering, and Joonmyun stifles a laugh with a hand slapped over his mouth. It's early enough in the morning that people might be sleeping in Zitao's neighborhood. “So what do you do with your free time?"

“I get coffee with Sunyoung. Or sit around and play music with Yixing and Lu Han. Or work in my studio." Or you. “Nothing special. Touristy stuff doesn't hold any appeal."

“And you wonder why you can't think of anything to write?" Baekhyun sighs. “Your inspiration-puppy ran away years ago. It's too late to put up posters."

“You can't have pets in the military," Joonmyun says, looking up. It's a clear day. Cold, but plenty of sun and not a lot of breeze. A good day to be outside. As good as they'll get in mid-November in Seoul.

“You know what your problem is, hyung?" Baekhyun kicks at a rock on the street, and it goes rolling down the hill. Zitao looks back up at them, Ting's tiny hand enfolded in his big one, and grins at Baekhyun, before turning back around.

“Enlighten me, Byun Baekhyun."

Baekhyun elbows him. “You." He pokes his arm. “Are boring."

“I thought I was interesting, brat." Joonmyun isn't sure whether to be offended or not. Baekhyun is probably winding him up. “Have you changed your mind?"

“I think the boring is your secret agent cover," Baekhyun says. “And that you pretend to be boring so much that you've started to believe it yourself."

“So am I boring or not?"

“Most of the time, you're boring." Baekhyun digs into his pocket to retrieve his gum. “But deep inside, you're not." He hums thoughtfully. “I'm not sure boring people quit university at the drop of a hat to become well-known music producers and songwriters for extremely famous people."

He pops a handful of Xylitol into his mouth, blueberry-mint, and Joonmyun shoves his hands into the pockets of his coat. “How do you know that?"

“Know what?" Baekhyun asks. “You told me the music part yourself."

“And the university part?"

“I don't know," Baekhyun says. “I forget. Me and my memory, you know how it is." He has a mischievous smile on his lips, though, like he's baiting Joonmyun.

“Oh?" Joonmyun wraps an arm around Baekhyun's waist, slipping his hand under Baekhyun's coat to rest on the thin material of his shirt. Warmth from Baekhyun's skin bleeds into his cold hands and Baekhyun squirms. “Can I maybe jog your memory?" He digs his fingers in, right where Baekhyun is ticklish, and Baekhyun screeches, trying to pull away. Joonmyun holds fast, bringing his other hand to the front of Baekhyun's stomach to slip under his coat and tickle him more. The old ladies selling fruit at the street vendors, the few already awake at this time on Saturday, chastise them with stern morning eyes. Joonmyun bows his head in apology, embarrassed.

“Now that you've woken the neighborhood," Zitao says, when a flushed and wide-eyed Baekhyun takes advantage of Joonmyun's distraction to break free and bolt down to join Zitao and Ting ahead of Joonmyun, who laughs and picks up the pace to catch up, “can you two stop flirting until we get to the palace?"

“I'm not flirting," Joonmyun says, tongue thicker than it had been a few minutes ago. His face is warm, as well. From laughing. “I'm just being boring."

“Hey, Zitao," Baekhyun says, grabbing Ting's other hand so she can swing between them, her pink dress with printed cats blowing in the wind where it sticks out under her coat, “did you know Joonmyun-hyung hasn't been to Gyeongbokgung in a quarter-century?"

Zitao laughs, a full shoulder-shaking one, and Joonmyun punches Baekhyun in the arm with an exclamation of brat! as they come to the stairs to descend into the subway station.

Baekhyun grabs onto Joonmyun's coat at the waist with both hands when they change trains at Euljiro Samga thanks to a push of people switching to Line 3, and Ting squeaks as Zitao picks her up and carries her.

“Am I your chaperone?" Joonmyun asks, resting his hands on top of Baekhyun's to hold them there. Baekhyun laughs and pulls Joonmyun's back into his chest as they wait for the train.

“I haven't needed a chaperone in years," Baekhyun says. “I was sneaking into clubs at sixteen. Causing fights and getting drunk."

“Sounds more like you did need a chaperone and just didn't have one, then."

“I'm still alive," Baekhyun says. “And not yet in prison, which is more than I can say for most of the people I used to run with."

Like his brother. “Were you ever in danger of going to prison?" He looks over his shoulder at Baekhyun, whose hair is static-y today, fuzzed up from the wool of Joonmyun's coat thanks to the nap he'd taken between Hapjeong and here.

“Only once or twice," Baekhyun says. “But I've changed my ways." He blinks his eyes innocently, and Joonmyun doesn't know whether to smile or not. “I'm just kidding, you know. My brother was the more delinquent one of us. I was the one who wanted to watch bands and dance."

“Maybe you should have been an idol, then," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun blows a big bubble with his gum.

“Maybe," Baekhyun says. “Kids from rough families don't make good idols, though." Joonmyun knows what Baekhyun means. Background checks and netizens who dig up everything. “Besides, music is good the way it is. It's fun, like this. Not work."

“Not work," Joonmyun agrees. That might be, possibly, where some of the joy in Joonmyun's writing has gone. Into deadlines and criticisms and people asking him to work faster or come up with something new. The times he'd spent with Changmin in that studio in Beotigogae had been some of the best, mixing things for a hundred people to hear on one Saturday night in Itaewon.

The palace is less crowded than Joonmyun had feared it would be. Ting is so excited that she grabs Joonmyun's hand and pulls him ahead toward the main gate, where the changing of the guard ceremony has just started. He holds on tight to her coat so she doesn't get separated from him, and hopes Zitao and Baekhyun manage to keep up.

“Pretty," Ting says, and Joonmyun is glad they're at the front of the crowd because he's not as tall or as strong as Zitao.

“You lady killer," Baekhyun says, appearing behind them shortly after they stop to watch. “She picked you over her own dad."

“That's because she sees him all the time."

“I'm sure." Baekhyun fusses with the collar of his coat, and Joonmyun frowns.

“Where is your scarf?"

“Good luck," Zitao says. “I've been trying for years to get him to do stuff like that."

“Real grown ups take care of themselves," Joonmyun says pointedly, and Baekhyun snorts.

“How many cups of coffee have you had to drink in last three days to avoid the inevitability of sleep while living in your studio, Mister Grown Up?"

Zitao leans over and whispers: “Why do you think Ting doesn't like socks?" He nods toward Baekhyun. “She learns all her worst habits from him."

Joonmyun contemplates asking if Ting makes sounds like a newborn pup in her sleep, but instead he's caught by the sudden appearance of a large troupe of musicians. The crowd follows them in through the gates as they play their instruments enthusiastically. Joonmyun spots Chanyeol.

“This is ‘Samdo Nongak Garak'."

Baekhyun grins at Joonmyun. “It is." A surprise gust of wind blows past them, and it ruffles Baekhyun's hair as well as the white billowing shirts of the musicians. “Chanyeol's whole family is into old music."

“I didn't know they played folk music at the palace," Joonmyun says. “It's always just been the changing of the guard."

“It's an event," Baekhyun says. “It happens once every six weeks or so."

“So that's why it had to be today." Joonmyun squints at Baekhyun. “You could have just said so, brat."

“But then you wouldn't have gotten to discover it," Baekhyun replies. “Control freak."

“I'm not a control freak." Ting, who still has his hand, is pulling him forward again, effectively ending the discussion.

“Chanyeol," she says. Chanyeol has the buk draped across his chest, the black tunic caught under the bottom lip of the drum. A white headband catches sweat from his forehead. He stands out not only because of his height, but because of the dyed color of his hair. “Chanyeol-oppa plays the big drum."

“The buk," Joonmyun corrects absently, and Baekhyun chuckles.

“Yes, seonsaengnim," he says.

“I don't know their names either," Zitao says. “You can teach me." He moves closer to Joonmyun so he can hear him over the loud clang of the ching gong.

Baekhyun frowns at him, wrapping an arm around Joonmyun's waist. “You would know if you hadn't been ignoring Chanyeol as he tried to explain just to piss him off."

“He should learn to say it, not spray it." Zitao smirks, something glinting in his eyes as he looks at Baekhyun. “Plus, he did the same thing to me when I tried to explain mixed martial arts." He tilts his head, and his piercings glint. “So let me borrow your teacher." Baekhyun flushes. It isn't often that Zitao teases Baekhyun. He is teasing him, though, even if none of his words seem to imply anything about Baekhyun from Joonmyun's point of view.

Joonmyun carefully explains all four samulnori instruments to Zitao and Ting in between songs, making sure to use words that Ting will understand. Zitao drapes an arm around Joonmyun's shoulders so he can hear him better, and Joonmyun takes advantage of his warmth.

The band plays for a good thirty minutes. It's been a long time since Joonmyun has listened to music like this live: maybe since he'd taken Yixing to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin-si. That had been a good seven years ago. Yixing had danced along with the music next to him.

“They're really good," Joonmyun says, gesturing to the troupe. “I mean, this is Gyeongbokgung, so of course they are, but…"

“Chanyeol is a really talented musician." Baekhyun pulls on Joonmyun's sleeve. “Let's go catch him."

The troupe disperses, some members taking the time to talk to children or converse with older gentlemen who've clearly made the trek out just to listen. Chanyeol catches sight of Zitao first, waving obnoxiously until they reach him.

“It's the famous Kim Joonmyun," Chanyeol says. “I've been hearing about you forever." He laughs, too loudly, drawing the attention of several tourists. “How did Baekhyunnie con you into this, of all things?"

“I'm a huge fan of folk music, actually," Joonmyun says. “And I saw you and Baekhyun perform at RUFXXX. My friend Yixing invited me."

“Yeah, Baekhyunnie said that's where he'd met you. I got caught up with a few old friends that night, and didn't end up meeting a lot of the audience."

“I was really excited to listen to you guys," Joonmyun says, warming up readily to how easy Chanyeol is to talk to. “Yixing invited me because he knows I'm so into pansori."

“What do you like about pansori?" Chanyeol asks. “Did you know my mom is a professional? My sister trains in it, too. I should have followed in her footsteps, but I didn't know my voice would sound like this until it was too late, yeah?" Smug laugh. “I play all four samulnori instruments though. My dad teaches it."

“My grandfather loved most folk music," Joonmyun says. “He passed that love on to me. I was really impressed by you and Baekhyun's modern take on the pansori."

“Really? That's great!" Chanyeol leans forward, bending so he's looking at Joonmyun face to face. He's so tall, and Joonmyun is tilting his head back to make it easier to meet Chanyeol's eyes. “You're welcome to go to one of my mom's shows with me," Chanyeol says. “My whole family is into samulnori, obviously, so it's something we all bond over. It's always awesome to find someone under sixty who likes it as much as I do."

“That sounds nice," Joonmyun says. He's about to continue, but Baekhyun's slim fingers are wrapping around his wrist. Joonmyun swallows because if he didn't know better, he'd think it was possessive.

Only Baekhyun wouldn't be possessive. Not about Joonmyun.

“I want to play the big drum, too," Ting says, and Chanyeol's attention is immediately stolen by the little girl. “Chanyeol-hyung, can I?"

“Chanyeol loves babies," Baekhyun says to Joonmyun. “Any kind of baby. Baby dogs, baby humans, baby poisonous snakes…" Baekhyun taps his chin. “He's afraid of bugs, though, even the baby ones." Baekhyun shudders. “Gross."

“I thought you weren't afraid of anything," teases Joonmyun, and Baekhyun squeezes his wrist in punishment, smooth nails digging into his wrist. “Now you're telling me you cower at the thought of cockroaches?"

“Cockroaches aren't scary in the grand scheme of things," Baekhyun says. “I was afraid of cockroaches when I was a kid—“ He frowns at Joonmyun. “Don't say I'm still a kid."

“I've never once thought you were," Joonmyun says. “Not even when your shirt says Spiderman."

“It's Fantastic Four today," Baekhyun says. “So there."

They walk through the palace grounds, Chanyeol occasionally looking around to see if anyone is going to yell at him. “No one should," Chanyeol says. “I mentioned to our organizer that my friends were coming today, but the man's memory is worse than Baekhyunnie's."

Joonmyun asks Chanyeol a lot of questions. About his music, and about his family. About what he loves and how he and Baekhyun came up with the pansori fusion concept.

Chanyeol replies with growing excitement, overzealous hand gestures and big goofy grins helping him keep the conversation going even though it's just the two of them talking.

Ting, in Zitao's arms, seems to have fallen asleep again, and Baekhyun is uncharacteristically quiet.

They stop in the front courtyard, near the folk museum entrance. Chanyeol's heavy drum sits against his chest and he looks regretful. “I should probably get back to the others." His cheeks are pink. “We have another performance in about thirty minutes."

“It was really lovely to meet you, Chanyeol-ssi," replies Joonmyun, bowing. Chanyeol reaches out and grabs Joonmyun's hand, dwarfing it in his own. He has big, thick fingers. He shakes Joonmyun's hand and then drops it.

“We have so much in common, Joonmyun-ssi," Chanyeol says. “I wonder why Baekhyunnie hasn't introduced us before."

Baekhyun's purple stained lips, when Joonmyun sneaks a glance, curl down slightly as he stares at his shoes.

“What's wrong?" Joonmyun asks in a whisper, when Chanyeol turns his attention to Zitao and a once again wide-awake Ting. Baekhyun looks up, mouth immediately breaking into a smile. He laughs, rough, like a crashing cymbal. A tinny sound that rings dishonestly in Joonmyun's ears. Ting starts and Zitao looks over with concern that Baekhyun waves off.

“Nothing," Baekhyun answers. “Why?"

Joonmyun shrugs and looks over to where Chanyeol is doing his best to take Ting from Zitao as she laughs and holds out her arms. The white and yellow of his sleeves clash with her pink.

Then Chanyeol has Ting on his hip, curled around the buk, and she's pulling at his big ears like they were made for her personal entertainment. He's laughing, and Joonmyun laughs too, because Chanyeol's face is like a cartoon, comical and exaggerated. He turns to see if Baekhyun is laughing, too. He's not.

“I thought only I got that expression on your face," says Baekhyun, and Joonmyun pulls his coat tighter around himself. It's too cold to be outside for this long.

“What expression?" Baekhyun's nose is red. His voice is scratchy, too. Maybe the beginnings of a cold. He would give Baekhyun his scarf if he thought Baekhyun would take it. “Am I doing something with my face?"

Baekhyun's eyes search his own. There are the faint remains of yesterday's eyeliner under his eyes. He has two bumps along his jaw smoothed and dulled with BB Cream, possibly also yesterday's.

“Don't like Chanyeol more than you like me," he says, eventually, and Joonmyun's heart spasms, pushing out against his ribs until he gives it the mental command to stop.

As if he regrets saying it, Baekhyun's eyes fall once again to his sneakers. His shoes are too big, Joonmyun thinks. They're always too big.

“Why not?" Joonmyun says. There is a glimpse of skin, between Baekhyun's coat and his hair. He's ticklish there. Joonmyun had figured it out by accident but never used the information. “What if I want to?" He leans in to Baekhyun, their arms pushing into each other, the thick material of their coats rubbing together and making a scratching noise. “What if I like my friends tall and looming?"

Chanyeol is easy for Joonmyun to like. He laughs too loudly, like Baekhyun does, and he can't control his limbs. He smiles wide and displays all his emotions in his overly expressive eyes. He's polite and good-natured despite being slightly overzealous and his voice is low and deep, like the announcer from when Joonmyun was a small child and he stayed up past bedtime to listen to his grandfather's favorite radio program.

But he is not Baekhyun. Joonmyun breathes in lingering club smoke from Baekhyun's coat and links their pinkies together for less than a second, squeezing before he lets go.

Baekhyun huffs. “No accounting for inferior taste, I guess," he says, but he relaxes, all smirks and confidence as Joonmyun leans his cheek against Baekhyun's shoulder. It strikes him that it might look strange, to other people, but Baekhyun's shoulder is the perfect height to rest his head.

And there had been something indecipherable in Baekhyun's eyes. “Don't worry," Joonmyun says, tilting his head so he can whisper closer to Baekhyun's ear. “You're still the most interesting to me." His lips brush Baekhyun's neck, and Baekhyun shivers. It probably isn't from the cold.

“Okay," Baekhyun whispers back. Then he's moving away from Joonmyun, toward Zitao. Zitao automatically wraps an arm around Baekhyun's shoulders, and Joonmyun pulls his scarf tighter around his own neck, his lips tingling and his heart still thudding at an irregularly fast pace. “Hey, Chanyeol, give Joonmyun-hyung your phone number before you forget."

“Do I look like you?" Chanyeol asks. “As if I'd forget." He laughs. “Especially after it took me like ten years to convince you to even bring him around."

Baekhyun squints at Chanyeol dangerously, as though speculating on the best way to take him apart. That bare stripe of neck is pink. Flushed. As though Baekhyun is embarrassed. Joonmyun hadn't known he was capable of it. “Joonmyun-hyung is a busy guy," Baekhyun says. “Plus, you never come to my gigs."

“I work early on weekends," Chanyeol says. “You should have gigs on Tuesdays."

Joonmyun takes down Chanyeol's number, promising to get in touch with him about pansori performances in the near future, and with a grin, Chanyeol is gone.

They split at the gate, Zitao wanting to take Ting to the folk museum. Baekhyun has work, and Joonmyun has promised Ryeowook that he'll stop by and listen to Kyungsoo's new single later that afternoon.

Baekhyun is shivering as they walk toward the subway station. “Would you like to get something warm to drink?" He bumps Baekhyun with his shoulder. “I don't want you to get sick."

“Good idea," Baekhyun says.

They settle for a coffee shop about a block from the station, Baekhyun grouching about how Starbucks hot chocolate is always too bitter as Joonmyun chuckles. Baekhyun is still too quiet. Joonmyun teases him, but Baekhyun won't tease him back, lost in his own thoughts.

It isn't until they're ensconced in a booth with hot drinks in front of them that Baekhyun speaks. “About what Chanyeol said." His coat is unzipped, revealing for the first time today that his shirt really is the Fantastic Four, red graphics on a bright blue background. The collar is large, revealing a swath of Baekhyun's smooth collarbones.

“About what?" Joonmyun takes the cap off his coffee, so it will cool faster. They had both gotten it to-go, out of habit, and then laughed at each other as they sat down.

“About having to convince me to introduce you to him." Baekhyun spits his gum into a napkin and rolls it between his fingers. The nails on his right hand are longer than the nails on his left. It's fascinating, the things Baekhyun pays attention to and the things he doesn't. That he can easily apply his eyeliner perfectly but buys his shirts two sizes too big. “It's not…" He takes a sip of his drink and yelps, sticking out his tongue to cool it off. Joonmyun holds in a laugh, tempted to reach across the table and pull on it, but he settles for nudging Baekhyun's foot under the table with his own.

He waits for Baekhyun to take a second, more cautious sip, before he replies.

“I don't want to introduce you to my friends, either," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun blows steam from the top of his hot chocolate, cheeks filled with air and eyes closed. He has his hands wrapped around the cardboard, letting the hot liquid indirectly warm his hands.

Baekhyun's teeth look sharper today when he smiles, and his voice crackles. They've been inside for a while, but his nose is still red. “Yeah?"

“I want to keep you to myself," Joonmyun says, more quietly. Baekhyun licks his lips, and sighs.

“Do you…" Baekhyun shakes his head. He looks tired and somehow small across from Joonmyun today. That's all wrong, because Baekhyun is larger than life even when he's asleep on Joonmyun's floor.

“Do I…?" His phone quacks. Joonmyun makes no move to answer it. “What?"

“You should get that," Baekhyun says, and he takes a sip of his hot chocolate. “I've got to get to work."

“I'll walk you to the station," Joonmyun says, already replacing the cap on his coffee. He'll catch a cab from there to the agency.

“No," Baekhyun says. “That's okay." He zips up his coat. “I can go by myself. After all, I don't want your joints to start acting up, old man." Grinning like nothing's wrong, he picks up his chocolate.

“I'm not old," Joonmyun says. “You're just young," and he waits for Baekhyun to poke his arm or pinch him or something, and say I'm not a kid, but Baekhyun leaves with a short wave. Joonmyun watches him go, following him with confused eyes as he crosses the street with the rest of the Saturday afternoon crowd.

His text message is from Sunyoung: How about dinner on Tuesday? At that French place we both like?

That sounds nice, he replies, as Baekhyun disappears around the corner.

A few hours later, sharing a single chair with Ryeowook as Kyungsoo leans against the soundboard in Ryeowook's studio, Joonmyun listens to Kyungsoo's new Korean single with only three-quarters of his mind.

The other quarter tries to puzzle out why Baekhyun had withdrawn so completely at Joonmyun's reply earlier.

Don't get sick, you brat he texts, and Baekhyun doesn't reply.

On Monday, Joonmyun finds himself watching Yixing and Jongin practice. Yixing stops to drink water as Jongin restarts the song. It's DoubleK's B-side track, a Kai solo that he's performing for Yu Heeyeol's Sketchbook next week.

“You look somber," Yixing says, setting his water down and rubbing his hand in slow circles on Joonmyun's back. “What better way to cheer up than to spend time with a couple of friends?"

“I'm not somber," Joonmyun says. “I'm tired."

Baekhyun hasn't texted him in two days. Joonmyun is confused. They hadn't fought, and he hadn't asked Baekhyun for anything. Baekhyun would have rebuffed him if he had pried into his business. Joonmyun hadn't, though.

“You look sad." Yixing cards a hand through Joonmyun's shaggy hair. “And you need a haircut."

“You're one to talk," Joonmyun replies, eyeing Yixing's ponytail.

“I'm not the clean-cut cardigan wearer in this conversation." Exhaling, Yixing scratches one more time at Joonmyun's scalp before withdrawing his hand. “You were always very finicky about it when we were younger."

“About what?" Jongin asks.

“His hair," Yixing says. “Once a month, always on Thursdays."

“How do you remember that?" Joonmyun asks. “That's something I'd remember."

“It was a habit you had, before you went off to the military."

“It was every two weeks in the army," Joonmyun says. “Regulation."

“Ah," Yixing says.

Jongin towels his hair dry as he watches them. “I can't believe we only met a couple of months ago when we've both known Joonmyun so long," he says to Yixing.

“Apparently Joonmyun is the master of compartmentalizing." Yixing grins. “I met Kris for the first time in September."

Joonmyun laughs weakly. “It never really overlapped."

“Is everything okay, by the way?" Jongin asks. “You seem kind of… I don't know, like, sad?" He wraps his towel around his neck.

“You two are really two of a kind," Joonmyun says, shifting his gaze between the two of them, and Yixing laughs. Jongin just frowns.

“You're changing the subject. Did something happen with that Baekhyun guy?"

Yixing makes a surprised sound in the back of his throat. “You know Baekhyun?" he asks Jongin.

“I met him accidentally," Jongin replies. “I'm really into comics and I dragged Joonmyun-hyung to ComicsPlease. Baekhyun-ssi works there."

“I didn't know that," Yixing says. “Though all of the comic book shirts…."

“I guess you know him, too?" Jongin picks through his gym bag, looking for his sports bottle.

“I introduced them to each other, actually," Yixing says. “I hadn't realized Joonmyun was going to find a new muse."

“Hmm," Joonmyun says. “I just like his voice. It's unique. I've never heard another voice like it. It's so…"

“Sticky," Yixing says. “That's what you said, that first time. He's been sounding better, lately. Have you been working with him?"

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “Not a lot. It's not…"

Jongin wrinkles his nose up like a displeased toddler. “You spend an awful lot of time with him, though, hyung."

“How do you know?"

“Your phone quacks more lately." Jongin sighs. “But not today. Which is why I was wondering if something was wrong."

“It's nothing," Joonmyun says. “I think." He slides his hand into his pocket. His phone is cold and silent. “I don't understand people." Frustration.

Jongin stares at him, and Yixing is smiling at him. It's a sad smile. It makes Joonmyun uncomfortable. “You never really have," Yixing says.

“Why don't we get dinner?" Jongin says, and Joonmyun shakes his head.

“I'm not hungry," he says. “I think I'm going to go back to the studio and wrap up this track for Jongdae."

“He's doing well," Yixing says. “He'll be ready."

“That's good," Joonmyun says. His stomach is in knots.

Pansori?" Minseok asks the next morning. “It's only Tuesday. Your week can't be that bad already."

“I do actually like pansori," Joonmyun replies. It's Park Dongjin today, one of his grandfather's favorites. “Sometimes I listen to it because I want to."

“Not at work," Minseok says. “This will cheer you up, I think." He hands Joonmyun a folded up sheet of paper.

Joonmyun lowers the volume of his music and takes it. It's a printed out e-mail with CONGRATULATIONS printed in neat Hangeul in the subject line. “300,000 copies?"

“DoubleK's two-week sales," Minseok says. “Really, your song sales."

“I've been hearing it everywhere," Joonmyun says. “Jonginnie's lyrics came out very nicely…"

“It's that weird thing you did with the drums," Minseok says. “The fans love it."

It does cheer Joonmyun up. Only the idea for the drums came from Baekhyun and Chanyeol's performance at RUFXXX, and Baekhyun hasn't replied to any of the six texts Joonmyun has sent him since Saturday afternoon. “That's good," Joonmyun says. “Our top act can't stop raking it in."

“There's another dating scandal," Minseok says. “People are just so sure that Jongin and Soojung are secretly dating."

“I think neither of them would be very happy with that arrangement." Joonmyun tries to swallow down his anxiousness. “Soojung would deck Jongin in a week for caring more about his Digital Monsters than he cares about her."

“Besides, Soojung has her eye on someone else." Minseok gives him a curious glance, and Joonmyun looks down at the paper in his hands to avoid meeting it.

“I know someone interested in her, too," Joonmyun says. “I try to keep out of that kind of thing these days. I've already had my office romance."

“You two still look pretty cozy to me."

“It isn't like that," Joonmyun says. “Sunyoung is one of my best friends."

“I know, I know." Minseok sighs. “Well, I'll let you get back to your maudlin dance party. I just wanted to let you know about the album sales because you never check your work e-mail."

“If only business alerts came as kkt chats," Joonmyun laughs, and Minseok laughs with him.

“Sorry if I'm interrupting, hyung," Jongin says, and both of them turn to the door, where Jongin is stretched out along the doorframe with a casual grace that Joonmyun envies. “But I wanted to ask Joonmyun-hyung for a favor?"

“I'll leave you to it," Minseok says. “Jonginnie, I'll see you at three-thirty?"

“Should I meet you in the lobby?"

“That sounds fine," Minseok says. “See you then." He leaves and Jongin pouts.

“He's always so relaxed with you," Jongin says. “It's all business with me."

“We should all go out drinking together some time," Joonmyun says. “One time Minseok-hyung did a fantastic striptease to Madonna. I think it was at Kris's twenty-seventh birthday?"

“Really?" Jongin grins. “Our Minseok-hyung?"

“The very same," Joonmyun says. “The favor?"

“Well," Jongin says, and now he's biting his lip and jamming his hands in the pockets of his slouchy pants. He fishes out a crumpled up sticky-note and hands it to Joonmyun. “I just remembered that I needed these new comics that just came out this week. I have a lot of interviews coming up, and nothing to read, hyung." Jongin keeps chewing on his lower lip slowly. “And I won't have a chance to head out to ComicsPlease for at least the next few weeks."

“So you want me to go pick them up for you?" Joonmyun takes the sticky-note. Jongin is so cute like that, looking up at Joonmyun through his hair like it's the first time they've met and Joonmyun is going to refuse to help him with composition.

“Yeah," Jongin says. “I… That's what I want."

“I could do that," Joonmyun says, after he stares at Jongin for a long moment. “Did Yixing put you up to this?"

“No," Jongin says, laughing now that it's obvious Joonmyun isn't mad. “But he did think it was a good idea."

Joonmyun pulls on the sleeves of his sweater. “Thank you," he says. “For, well, worrying about me."

“You always worry about me," Jongin says. “I can return the favor every once in a while." He glances down at Joonmyun's laptop, where the now discarded e-mail print-out rests. “And hey, we've got a hit single, hyung!"

“I'll pick up your comics when I go get lunch," Joonmyun says. “Is that okay?"

“Sure," Jongin says. “I don't need them until Thursday, really." Giving Joonmyun an out. Jongin is so cute.

“I'll go do it today," Joonmyun says.

“Good," Jongin replies. “We can hear your sad music upstairs, hyung."

Pansori isn't sad, Jonginnie."

“It is for you," Jongin replies, leaving Joonmyun alone in his studio to stretch the time until he goes out for lunch.

Halfway through Joonmyun's drive to ComicsPlease, it starts to snow. It's early for snow. Usually they don't get any until the end of December, but the white flakes fall persistently until he parks on a side street.

He walks the rest of the way to ComicsPlease, pulling his wool hat down over his ears and then keeping his hands in his pockets. When he walks in, he scrapes his leather boots on the mat before shuffling slowly down the stairs. He has Jongin's list in the pocket of his jeans, a thin pink excuse to visit Baekhyun at work that he's never needed before.

“Oh," Zitao says, when he looks up and sees Joonmyun. His red apron is untied, like he's just come in, but everything else is perfectly put-together. “You're here. Maybe you can help get him out of here."


“Baekhyunnie-hyung is definitely sick," Zitao says, thumb pointing over his shoulder. “But he won't go home. He's being stubborn." Zitao's lips are in an exasperated turn-down.

“Who is more stubborn, Ting or Baekhyun?" Joonmyun asks, and Zitao laughs.

“Baekhyun," Zitao says. “But ask me again in two years and she might have caught up." He tucks his chin down and looks down at Joonmyun cheerfully. “But you're good at dealing with both of them, aren't you, hyung?"

“Secretly, I'm the most stubborn," he replies, winking, and Zitao laughs loud enough to catch Baekhyun's attention.

The store is mostly empty, so Baekhyun is drooped over the counter, cheeks red and mouth swollen. He has a sallow look to his face despite the flush, and his hair is sweaty and damp where it sticks out of his red baseball cap.

Joonmyun walks over to him and grabs his arm before he can dodge back. Baekhyun's skin is hot to the touch, and Joonmyun frowns and reaches up to press the back of his hand to Baekhyun's neck. “You've got a fever, you silly brat."

“It'll pass," Baekhyun says. “I've been sick before." His voice crackles, static from the radio during a storm, and Joonmyun considers the snow outside.

Baekhyun also has his shoulders pulled in and down, like he's curling into himself. And he has not, aside from a brief flicker of surprise, met Joonmyun's eyes.

“It will pass if you go home and take care of yourself," Joonmyun says.
“Where are your things?"

“Everywhere," Baekhyun says. “I'll get them when I'm off shift."

“Here," Zitao says. He hold up Baekhyun's backpack, faded blue with a missing zipper tab on the front pocket. “Take him home please?"

“He's not responsible for me," Baekhyun snaps at Zitao, but Joonmyun can tell he feels awful by the lack of power to his shove, and the wobble as he grips the table to steady himself.

“I'm not," Joonmyun agrees. “But this is my lunch break and I can choose what to do with it. I choose to take you home."

“There's nothing there," Baekhyun says. “Just my bed. I might as well finish my shift."

Joonmyun takes Baekhyun's backpack and puts it over his own shoulders. Then he pulls off his hat. “Let's go, brat."

“Go?" He startles when Joonmyun snatches his red cap off his head. “That's…"

“You'll have to come around the counter to get it," Joonmyun says calmly, and Zitao watches, amused, as Baekhyun gapes, lost, for a few moments. “You'll have to stop avoiding looking at me, too, otherwise you won't be able to see where I'm holding it."

“What, are you thirty going on five, hyung?" Baekhyun breaks into coughs. “Those are elementary school tactics."

“If you'd stop acting like you're in elementary school…"

“Give me my hat." He opens the gate and comes out from behind the counter, and Joonmyun immediately grabs a handful of his shirt. The Green Lantern.

Zitao comes up from behind with Baekhyun's coat, and Baekhyun doesn't put up much protest beyond a few epithets as Zitao slides his left arm and then his right into his puffy coat.

Joonmyun takes his own wool hat and carefully puts it on Baekhyun's head. His skin is so hot, and Joonmyun can't help but smooth his brow before he pulls away. Beneath the high red on his cheekbones, he is so pale. “All ready to go," Joonmyun says.

“I don't need your hat." Joonmyun still has the red cap, and Baekhyun takes it from him.

“It's snowing," Joonmyun says gently. “You're already sick."

“I hate snow," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun laughs, taking Baekhyun's arm and leading him up the stairs.

He's parked in the opposite direction they‘d need to walk to get to Baekhyun's officetel.

The snow is a light coating on the ground. Enough to see the traction of Joonmyun's boots and probably send dampness into Baekhyun's canvas sneakers. “Are you wearing socks today, Baekhyunnie?"

“Since when have you called me Baekhyunnie?"

“Since you acted like a baby about going home," Joonmyun says. “Plus it's cute."

“Where are we going?" Baekhyun's skin is still flushed, and his face is damp with sweat despite the cold air. His coat is zipped all the way up, and Joonmyun's hat covers his ears. He shivers and shivers. “We could have just walked to my place."

“My apartment," Joonmyun says, making a split decision. He digs in his pocket for his keys as they walk away from the shop, keeping one hand firmly around Baekhyun's bicep.

“But I should go home," Baekhyun says. He sniffles, and squints his eyes. “My bed is at home."

“My home is equipped with medicine and more blankets," replies Joonmyun. There's no draft, either. “And if you stay with me I can look after you."

“Why?" Baekhyun pulls on his coat. “You don't have to. I'll just--" He coughs, a horrible rattling sound, and Joonmyun winces. Cough syrup too, then.

“I want to." Joonmyun grabs Baekhyun's hand. “I'll worry about you if I send you home now with no one to take care of you."

“I don't need anyone to take care of me."

“I know." Joonmyun pushes Baekhyun into the car, and reaches across Baekhyun's body to fasten his seatbelt. Baekhyun is so hot, feverish heat rolling off him in waves. “I know you don't, but I want to anyway."

“I don't understand you," Baekhyun mumbles, after Joonmyun has walked around and gotten into the car. “I don't understand what you want from me."

“I don't have to want something," Joonmyun says, shifting the car into drive. “Right now, I'm more worried about breaking your fever. You can't afford to lose any more brain cells."

“I don't get into the car with strange men that insult me," Baekhyun says.

“It's a good thing I'm not strange, then, isn't it?" Joonmyun laughs to himself and turns the heat up to high as he pulls out on the empty road.

“That's what you think," Baekhyun mumbles, sinking down into Joonmyun's seat and enjoying his seat warmer. “Maybe this has all been an elaborate lead up to you asking if I want a sugar daddy."

“Haven't we already had this conversation? Only with more liquor and less influenza?" Joonmyun reaches over and pats Baekhyun's thigh. “You act like that's happened to you before."

“What?" Baekhyun pulls at his seatbelt, slouching even lower. He looks so young with his eyes closed. It makes Joonmyun keenly aware of how much is hiding in his eyes. Eyes back on the road. It's not a long drive. Maybe twenty minutes.

“Someone getting to know you because they want to pick you up."

“It has," Baekhyun says. Joonmyun looks over at him again, sharply. “I'm sick, that's why I'm telling you these things."

“I haven't even given you medicine yet." Joonmyun keeps it light. He won't pry. He won't dig. He won't make Baekhyun squirm away any more than he already is.

“I hope it's not the cherry flavor," Baekhyun says. “I hate the cherry flavor."

“I don't think it comes in blueberry-mint," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs weakly.

“Nothing in life is perfect," Baekhyun says. “I'll settle for not-cherry."

When he's gotten Baekhyun into his apartment, Baekhyun's shoes and baseball cap ending up in the foyer while his backpack finds itself on the kitchen floor, he immediately ushers him to bed.

“This is your bed," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun smiles.

“I've slept in yours." He unzips Baekhyun's coat. “Take off your jeans and your shirt."

As Baekhyun follows his instructions, Joonmyun pulls his electric blanket out of the closet and spreads it out on the bed. He pulls down his extra comforter, too.

Baekhyun flops into the bed without a lot of protest, and Joonmyun laughs. “You're still wearing my hat."

“You didn't tell me to take it off." Baekhyun nuzzles into Joonmyun's pillow, a total puppy, and Joonmyun reaches down to take the hat. “Sheets smell like you." He's still shivering. Joonmyun turns the blanket on to a medium temperature and then pulls up the sheets, spreading the extra comforter.

“Are you warm enough?"

“No," Baekhyun says, rolling over onto his back. He looks up at Joonmyun with hazy eyes. “But it's all right. It's never warm enough in the winter."

“I need to break your fever. And call out of work." He also needs to cancel dinner with Sunyoung, but Baekhyun already has a stubborn jut to his jaw. Like if he had the strength, he'd be pushing his way out of the blankets and heading home, no matter what Joonmyun insists. But then Joonmyun cups Baekhyun's cheek. “You're doing me a favor, really. I have a book I've been wanting to read."

“Okay," Baekhyun says. He frowns. “Okay." Convincing himself to relax. Joonmyun doesn't push. “I'm just going to sleep, then."

Joonmyun trips on Baekhyun's bag as he goes toward the counter, putting on water for tea. Then takes a big bowl down from the cabinet and fills it with ice cubes. He'll fill it with water after he makes his calls.

First he calls Kris, asking him to put out a memo that he won't be around for the rest of the afternoon. Kris asks repeatedly if Joonmyun is okay. Joonmyun reassures him that he just has some personal business to attend to, and no, it can't wait.

Then he sends a text to Jongin: Sorry, Jonginnie, I can't bring you your comics today.

The water for the tea is hot, and Joonmyun pours some into a mug and adds honey and a bag of some decaffeinated thing that Yixing has always liked.

He calls Sunyoung. “Hey, Joonmyun," she says. She sounds tired but cheerful.

“How are you today?" He leans against the counter, eyes on the tea. Still steaming. He should wait before he takes it to Baekhyun. He's impatient and he'll burn his tongue.

“Working hard," she says. “Special performance coming up next week."

“You'll do amazing, as always."

“Joonmyun," she says, and Joonmyun laughs. “You have to stop complimenting me all the time."

“I'm not," he says. “I'm just telling you the truth." He turns on the sink, and starts filling the bowl of ice. “I'm calling because I have to cancel our dinner plans tonight."

“Oh?" She sounds disappointed. “Something came up?"

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “I'll be staying home, after all. I'll probably order take-out."

“Too bad," Sunyoung says. “We'll have to reschedule, but I don't have a free day until next month."

“I'm sorry," Joonmyun says. “I'll make it up to you."

“It's fine," she says, and then there's a pause. “I have to go."

“Be careful driving home," Joonmyun tells her. “It's snowing."

He takes a clean washcloth from the linen cabinet and drops it into the bowl, and then, with the tea in one hand and the bowl in the other, heads back into his bedroom.

Baekhyun's bare foot has snuck out from under the covers, but otherwise he's swathed in Joonmyun's blankets.

Taking the washcloth and soaking it in ice-cold water, he puts it on Baekhyun's forehead. “Fuck," Baekhyun hisses.

“You're awake, then," Joonmyun says. “Would you like some tea?"

“I'm awake now," he says. “No, I don't want any tea."

“It has honey in it," Joonmyun says. “Honey is good for your throat."

“I'm not thirsty," Baekhyun says.

After he makes Baekhyun take the medicine, though, he manages a few sips to clear his mouth. “Orange is almost as bad as cherry," Baekhyun rasps. “Now I know."

Joonmyun sits on the edge of the bed. Baekhyun is like a space heater, bleeding heat out into the air. His temperature is so high.

The washcloth is still cold. Joonmyun pulls on the edges of it.

“My mom used to do this," he says. His voice might lull Baekhyun to sleep. And maybe he owes Baekhyun a secret, too, in exchange for what he'd let slip in the car. “When I was sick."

“My mom did when I was a little kid," Baekhyun croaks. “Really little."

“Did she feed you juk?" Rice porridge was a staple of Joonmyun's sick days as a child. He'd gotten sick a lot. No sleep and running himself into the ground to earn his mother's cool hand on his hot forehead. “My mother makes amazing juk."

“My mother is horrible cook," Baekhyun replies. “But she works a lot. My dad works a lot too. My brother doesn't work. He was an okay cook. I guess he still is." Baekhyun laughs, but it sounds like he's dying. Joonmyun finds his hand and squeezes it. “No one's family is perfect."

“Mine was," Joonmyun says. “I always thought it was." He laughs. “Everyone said so." Joonmyun takes the cloth off Baekhyun's forehead. It has gone warm. He dips it into the bowl of cold water on the floor, wrings it out, and puts it back on Baekhyun's forehead. “You're not going to remember this, right?"

“I'm sure my memory is even more shit when I feel like death," Baekhyun says. The curve of his upper lip catches a bead of sweat, and Joonmyun takes his thumb and wipes it away. “But even if I do remember, I can pretend like I don't."

“You pretend a lot," Joonmyun whispers.

“Not as much as you," Baekhyun says. “That's the most interesting thing about you. How much you pretend not to notice the inconvenient things." He coughs. “Maybe you start to believe yourself. I don't know."

“Your fever hasn't broken yet," Joonmyun says. “Keep this up and I'll strip you and put you in an ice bath."

“You just want to take off all my clothes, old man." Baekhyun's eyes are closed. His eyelashes are sharp and angled, no curl in them at all. They're a light brown against Baekhyun's skin and they flutter as he teases. “I know I'm hot but ice?"

“Even this sick, you're still being a brat?"

“Tell me about your perfect childhood golf dates, hyung."

“My dad loves golf. It's the only thing that can tear him away from his research and his students. I loved golf for the same reason my brother did. Because our dad paid attention."

Baekhyun is listening. Joonmyun can tell by the stillness of his hands. When Baekhyun is waiting for his turn to talk, he twists fabric or shakes soda bottles or plays beats on the edge of the table. His hands now are still, long fingers pretty and pale on Joonmyun's dark green sheets.

“My family was perfect until I wasn't perfect too," Joonmyun says. “Until I thought about spending the rest of my life the way I'd spent the beginning of it, and it made me really… terrified."

He sighs. “And I told my parents, the same way I used to tell my mom when I was going to run away because my brother was getting on my last nerve. Or like when I phoned my dad from the teachers' office that I wanted to stay out late with my hagwon friends after piano class to work on compositions, but not to tell mom because she'd told me not to stay out late on weeknights."

Baekhyun's finger hooks into Joonmyun's sweater sleeve, pulling Joonmyun closer. His nails snag the expensive knit, but Joonmyun doesn't care. “My mother looked at me from across the kitchen table, and she told me that she couldn't stop me from dropping out, but that it would…" Joonmyun licks his lips. His mouth tastes like chalk. “It would significantly change the nature of our relationship."

Take the cloth. Rinse in cold water. Reapply.

“She didn't yell. She didn't raise her voice. My dad didn't say anything at all. He probably didn't even realize I'd been speaking."

These are things Joonmyun has never said to anyone. That he has never wanted to say to anyone. But Baekhyun is listening, and Joonmyun, for some reason, even though Baekhyun is seven years younger than him and so very different, thinks that Baekhyun will understand.

“There's nothing wrong with being different, hyung. With wanting something different than what everyone else wants you to have." Baekhyun's thin rasp hurts Joonmyun to listen to. It reminds him of the crack of splintering wood. Of the way his grandmother sounds when she sings to herself, when she hasn't realized yet that Joonmyun has come to visit.

“Don't talk," Joonmyun says. “You'll hurt your voice. Then how will I teach you to use it properly?"

“You should make me juk," Baekhyun says. “I've never had it."

“Maybe," Joonmyun says. “If you're a good boy and let me break your fever."

“I'll take all the ice baths you want," he says. The dark roots of his hair are sweaty and matted to his head. Joonmyun runs a hand through them anyway, and Baekhyun curls into the touch. “That feels nice."

“I'll do it a little longer then," Joonmyun says. At Baekhyun's pleased sound, a small hum that makes his stomach twist, Joonmyun smiles. “But I won't spoil you."

“Yeah, you will," Baekhyun whispers, and Joonmyun's insides are as hot as Baekhyun's outsides.

His fever breaks a little after five in the evening, and it's with relief that Joonmyun leaves his slumbering patient in the middle of the bed, his book abandoned at the edge of it as he takes the bowl of lukewarm water into the kitchen to dump.

He's not expecting anyone, which is why it's so odd when his doorbell rings. The doorman only lets up people he knows without buzzing, so Joonmyun isn't worried. Only, he has a sick Baekhyun and he's long since stripped down to just his jeans and an undershirt.

He cracks the door, and steps back in surprise when Sunyoung is there, dressed in her favorite sleek purple coat with freshly manicured nails and a plastic bag of takeout. “You said you were staying home so I thought you might…"

Joonmyun opens the door further, and Sunyoung looks him up and down. “You look so tired."

She drops her eyes down, to Joonmyun's socked feet, to the foyer, to Baekhyun's oversized bright red sneakers and carelessly discarded red baseball cap.

“Didn't I call and cancel dinner?" Joonmyun is frazzled, by the soft and warm and sick man in his bed and by the book he was reading and by how much he has said to Baekhyun today.

“I didn't think you'd canceled it for…" Sunyoung's brows are pulled together, in her rare face of disapproval, and Joonmyun realizes what this must look like, to her, him half undressed and sweaty, skin flushed from the heat of the electric blanket he'd put on the bed for warmth.

“My…" Joonmyun pushes Baekhyun's shoes aside with his foot to make room for Sunyoung's. “Baekhyun is sick. Really sick, and he lives alone. He would refuse to go to the clinic, so I brought him home."

The consternation in her visage melts away. She's relieved. Maybe that she hasn't misjudged Joonmyun after all, or maybe… “Who is Baekhyun?" she asks. “Your new text message buddy?"

“He's Baekhyun," Joonmyun says. “He's…"

“Sick," Sunyoung says. “And you?"

“I've been reading. But the electric blanket…"

“I brought takeout," Sunyoung says. “Caretakers have to eat, too."

“You look so nice," Joonmyun says. “Can I take your coat?" There is a faint dusting of snow on the shoulders.

She laughs. “It'll be fine here on the back of the couch, oppa." She undoes the big silver buttons. “And I don't look nice. I'm wearing sweatpants."

“You look nice in anything," Joonmyun says, running a hand through his hair. It's too long. “I'm sorry for the mess, I wasn't expecting—“

“It still looks the same," she interrupts. “More clothes on the floor. But I don't know, I expected it to look different."

“There are those wine coolers you like in the fridge," Joonmyun says. “I'm going to go back to check on Baekhyun."

Baekhyun is curled up on his side when Joonmyun walks into the room. He's definitely asleep, his arms wrapped around himself and his mouth in a pouting frown. He's making those cute noises. Joonmyun pets his hair and then straightens his blankets around him. “Sleep well, Baekhyunnie."

Baekhyun moves into his touch, and Joonmyun would like to stay. Baekhyun would like it, if he stayed, maybe.

But Sunyoung and her takeout are in his living room. He steps back from the bed and presses the light switch, plunging the room into darkness. Sunyoung is watching him from the doorway, a wine cooler in her hand.

“He looks like a sweet kid," she says.

“He's not a kid," Joonmyun replies, out of habit, and then he sighs. “He's not… He's not like Jongdae-yah. He hasn't…" Chopsticks. Bowls. A couple of serving spoons. “Never mind."

“How do you know him?" Sunyoung helps him quietly, and Joonmyun shrugs.

“Music stuff."

“So he's a musician," she prods, and Joonmyun smiles.

“Do I know people who aren't?"

“Kris-oppa," Sunyoung replies, and Joonmyun laughs.

“I'll give you that one." He opens the foil-wrapped package. “Omurice?"

“I wanted stuff without dishes," Sunyoung says. “I know you feel guilty when the delivery guys have to come back to pick up the bowls."

“I never had take-out until I went to college," Joonmyun says. “And I mostly eat out, nowadays." He chuckles. He's cold, now that he's away from Baekhyun and the bed. “My biggest flaw as a bachelor."

“Your mother taught me how to make some of your favorites," Sunyoung says. “Back when we were still…"

“You don't like cooking," Joonmyun says. “I don't blame you."

“I would have cooked for you, though." Sunyoung laughs. “Not all the time, of course. I'm a star, and I've got other things to be doing, but for you, I would have."

“I never wanted you to change for me," Joonmyun says. He splits the omelet between the two of them, rice spilling out into the foil as he divvies it into the bowls. He unwraps the kimbap. “I like you the way you are."

“When you're in love with someone, though, sometimes you think you ought to be better," Sunyoung says. “Try harder. Do more for them?"

Joonmyun frowns and takes a piece of kimbap. “But if they love you…" He stops, playing with the uneven edge of the seaweed.

“You never really loved me, though," Sunyoung says. “I kept hoping you would." Joonmyun's mouth is so so dry. The kimbap is nothing but cardboard in it.

“You're wonderful," Joonmyun says, finally, setting his bowl on the table and grabbing Sunyoung's free hand. He almost knocks over her wine cooler. “Don't ever think you aren't."

“How could I?" Sunyoung asks, pulling her hand free and tossing her hair over her shoulder. It's soft and shiny and beautiful. She's beautiful. “When I have you to tell me every day?"

“I have to put rice on," Joonmyun says. “For Baekhyun's juk." His mother had always used the extra, but Joonmyun never bothers to turn his rice cooker on.

Sunyoung smiles. “I didn't know you could make juk," she says, and if her eyes are glassy, neither of them comment on it.

When Sunyoung leaves, Joonmyun checks on Baekhyun again. He's still on his side. He's so childlike in Joonmyun's bed. Staring at the empty space next to him, Joonmyun feels the day sitting heavy on his shoulders.

He stretches out next to Baekhyun and wonders if he has time for a nap before he has to go finish the juk.

“Your ex-girlfriend," Baekhyun mumbles, and Joonmyun's whole body tightens up, before he relaxes.

“Yes," Joonmyun says.

“I didn't know Sunyoung was Luna." He's soft and sleepy. His voice is a gentle growl, unfinished silk. “Gangnam man with a beautiful idol girlfriend."

“Ex," Joonmyun says. “Idol ex-girlfriend."

“Are you sure about that?" He rolls over, slowly, until he's facing Joonmyun. “I'm still cold."

“I thought you were listening?" Joonmyun rolls onto his side and opens his arms. It surprises him, how close his mouth is to Baekhyun's forehead, but he doesn't move back. Baekhyun smells like sweat and dye. Joonmyun doesn't mind.

“Only a little," Baekhyun murmurs, crawling into Joonmyun's space, one arm falling over Joonmyun's waist and his leg sneaking to tangle with Joonmyun's own. Joonmyun's jeans probably rub the skin, but Baekhyun doesn't seem to mind, either.

Whatever had kept him from answering Joonmyun's texts and looking him in the eyes has passed with the fever, maybe, because Baekhyun is close and hot and his other hand clutches at Joonmyun's undershirt. “Did you get some sleep?"

“I feel better," Baekhyun says. “Less like dying. More like killing someone else."

“Back to your regular scheming, I say." Joonmyun lifts one hand to cup the back of Baekhyun's neck. This is the most relaxed he has felt all day. “I was worried about you."

“Worried enough to make me juk?"

“You're a brat."

“I'm sick," Baekhyun says. “I'm allowed to be a brat."

“You're always a brat, Baekhyun." Joonmyun runs one hand again through the wild disaster of Baekhyun's hair, and thinks about haircuts for the both of them.

“Then you should be used to it," Baekhyun mumbles, pulling Joonmyun closer. He rests his nose against Joonmyun's neck, and Joonmyun, without hesitation, wraps his arms tighter around Baekhyun. Baekhyun is bigger than he is, but he feels smaller right now. He fits into Joonmyun's arms, and it's the first time Joonmyun has felt like Baekhyun needs him. It's heady. He knows better than to get used to anything about Baekhyun, though. “Aren't you afraid you'll get sick?"

“Will you look after me if I do?" Joonmyun teases.

Baekhyun manages to sound sarcastic and disdainful even in sickness. “I can't look after anyone but myself," he says. Joonmyun thinks he says, anyway, his words muffled by the dip at the junction of Joonmyun's shoulder and neck. He presses his lips there, just at the pulse. Joonmyun clenches his jaw, much as he'd done when Baekhyun had run hands over his stomach, testing touches that stretch the boundaries of even their friendship, but Baekhyun is sleepy and distracted and doesn't seem to notice. “No one should count on me to."

“You take care of Zitao," Joonmyun says. He rubs his hand in a slow circle at the small of Baekhyun's back. It isn't easy to ignore how hot Baekhyun is in his grip as they lie twined together on the bed. Baekhyun's breath on his skin gives him goosebumps. “You take care of me, sometimes." Three empty bottles of soju on a bench by the edge of the Cheongyecheon, and no questions. Exactly the kind of comfort Joonmyun has always wanted but never, ever, gotten.

“Because I don't have to," Baekhyun says. “Because neither of you ask me to." His lips keep brushing the skin, and Joonmyun feels so hot.

The covers are in tangles around their legs. Joonmyun does not miss them in the wake of Baekhyun's body-heat. “Baekhyun," Joonmyun says.

“I liked Baekhyunnie," replies Baekhyun.

“Why didn't you answer my texts?"

“Don't pry," Baekhyun says, and while he's probably aiming for the same carelessness he'd had as he'd flipped through Joonmyun's CDs, instead it's pleading, and Joonmyun is holding Baekhyun against his chest. It's nothing like careless. “You don't want to know."

“I do." Joonmyun's hand runs up and down Baekhyun's back.

“No, you don't," Baekhyun whispers. “You don't want to know anything. That's why you pay attention to whether Yixing's sweatshirt is zipped up when it's cold but not the way he looks at you."

Joonmyun's heart is beating so fast. Baekhyun says he isn't afraid of anything, but Joonmyun is afraid of all too much.

Baekhyun's getting warmer again. Joonmyun should get up and get him more medicine, but he can't move. He's trapped, in a spiderweb spell woven of Baekhyun's nose burrowing into the crook of his jaw and Baekhyun's husky voice telling him all kinds of secrets.

“You're not Yixing," Joonmyun says. “And you're not Sunyoung. You're not Kris, or Lu Han or Jongin." He takes a deep breath. “You're sticky Byun Baekhyun, with the voice that hasn't left me alone since the first time I heard it."

Baekhyun's mouth is suddenly damp and open against Joonmyun's throat. Joonmyun's breath catches where Baekhyun's lips seal. He thinks about saying stop, as Baekhyun's tongue draws a hesitant circle, but the tingle that makes its way down to settle in his stomach is one he hasn't felt in a long time. And Baekhyun's lips are so soft.

The second swipe of tongue, when Joonmyun doesn't push him away, is more sure. The hand at Joonmyun's chest, holding him close with Joonmyun's own shirt, tightens as Baekhyun crowds in, licking and nipping at skin. He sucks at the underside of Joonmyun's jaw, and along the side of his neck.

Joonmyun chokes back a moan when Baekhyun sucks his earlobe into his mouth. His tongue laps behind Joonmyun's ear, and he jerks in surprise. Baekhyun travels downward, marking down Joonmyun's throat, and Joonmyun lets him, digging his fingers into Baekhyun's back and winding fingers into Baekhyun's hair.

Baekhyun parts from Joonmyun's neck with a soft whine, not so different from the noises he makes when he's sleeping, and Joonmyun's heart clenches, hurts, as Baekhyun looks up at him with smug, glassy eyes and slick lips. Joonmyun's hand falls from Baekhyun's hair to the bed, but the other hand keeps Baekhyun in his embrace. “I…"

“I never thought…" Baekhyun starts, then he laughs. It turns into a cough, and instead of pulling away, Joonmyun rubs his back, trying to soothe him. “You were supposed to be safe." He says it to himself, but Joonmyun hears him. Wonders what it means.

“When Lu Han said you'd chew me up, I didn't think he meant literally," Joonmyun says. Or gasps, because he is out of breath. Like he's been running a race. He needs space that he can't have. Baekhyun is clutching him too tightly for escape. He's half-hard and Baekhyun's heavy breathing, even, is a sound he wants to keep. Arousal thrums through him with the same cadence as the second verse of ‘Sugungga', quick and steady and rising with every shift of Baekhyun's thigh closer to Joonmyun's cock.

“Then you should feed me," Baekhyun says. The bruises on Joonmyun's neck ache as Baekhyun pushes his nose into them again. Maybe he smells the mild spices from the juk on Joonmyun's skin, or maybe now he smells himself. “Preferably juk."

“Spoiled brat," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun finally lets him go. He slowly crawls out of bed, away from Baekhyun. He ignores the heaviness between his thighs and the stickiness of saliva on his neck.

“You like me," Baekhyun murmurs, burying his face into Joonmyun's pillow, seconds from sleeping again.

“Is that why you stopped texting me?" Joonmyun ventures, a hand coming up to press briefly at his neck.

“No," Baekhyun says. “Juk.. Juuuuuuuuk."

“Okay, okay," Joonmyun says, letting the moment slip away as Baekhyun, who is still sick and still rosy cheeked with a returning fever, looks up at him with more gentleness than Joonmyun has seen before. “Juk."

Baekhyun eats his medicine without complaint, and Joonmyun helps feed him the porridge when it's clear that Baekhyun's hands shake too much. He wipes the corners of Baekhyun's lips with his thumb when it misses his mouth. He does not think about how soft they are and how pink they look whenever Baekhyun hasn't been chewing Xylitol by the handful.

He envies Baekhyun his sleep, when Baekhyun's eyes grow heavy and he curls into a ball again. Sleep will be elusive for Joonmyun, whose mind is composing a torturous song out of the way Baekhyun's tiny gasps sound as he licks at the sensitive skin behind Joonmyun's ear.

quack quack goes Joonmyun's phone alert, and he scrambles for it to silence it.

A text from Jongin: it's okay about the comics, hyung. i don't actually need them. more importantly, did you make up with baekhyun-ssi?

Yes, Joonmyun replies. I think so.

He gets back into bed, dishes done and jeans exchanged for sleep pants, and Baekhyun immediately moves toward him. Joonmyun pulls up the covers around them both, and wonders what has changed. If anything has changed, anywhere but inside of his head. Baekhyun's sleepy puppy face invites something, so Joonmyun cups his jaw and sighs. “I'm going to get sick, brat," he whispers.

He tucks Baekhyun's head under his chin, wishing he could stop worrying about tomorrow so much, or what any of this means.

He does wake up, after a restless sleep that was more furious thinking than relaxing, with a song burning on the back of his tongue. It's five in the morning and he has a meeting at nine with Song Qian and the board. He's going to play Jongdae's finished tracks.

Getting free of Baekhyun's clutches is a challenge. He's on top of Joonmyun, his chest trapping Joonmyun against the mattress, and his arm pressing down across Joonmyun's hips. It isn't the first time he's woken up like this, under Baekhyun, but it's the first time he's felt weird about it.

When he's out of bed, he immediately goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth and then shower, shedding his clothes and turning the water on hot, letting it pound into his back. There is nothing in his head but this simple new melody, soft and pretty. A love song, maybe, if Joonmyun can get it down before it escapes into the waking world, the noises of cars and people drowning out the music in his head.

He pulls his sleep pants back on and grabs a shirt from his closet. He doesn't bother to dry his hair, letting water drip down his neck and catch in the towel around his shoulders. He glances at Baekhyun, who has coiled up like a kitten in the cold, and he sighs. He shifts and pulls the covers up over his shivering friend. Baekhyun's temperature is up again, when he checks, but Joonmyun thinks it's not a fever.

He coils a strand of Baekhyun's frizzy hair around his finger. “What am I going to do about you?"

Baekhyun sniffles, sweetly even. Sweeter than he ever is when he's awake.

Joonmyun closes the bedroom door and shuffles over to his keyboard. He leaves wet footprints on the floor.

The melody is still there. He catches it and pulls, like it's an end of yarn in a loose-knitted sweater, and it comes unraveled as he tugs it free.

The rising sun is gorgeous from the window, even if the light hurts Joonmyun's tired eyes. He'd chosen this apartment for the view.

It'll brighten up your day, Yixing had said. I think you need a little light in your life.

There are words, too. Not many, but enough to get him started. He takes some of the blank staff sheets he leaves on the table next to his keyboard and pulls them over to the bench. He uses a mechanical pencil to fill in the notes he already has. He sings to himself, loud enough that it fills the living room.

His voice isn't quite right for this song. If he takes it up half a step, it will be perfect for Sunyoung. Still, he can sing it for now. There's no one to hear him. It's just Joonmyun and his music, like back when he was in high school, and he could lock the door and somehow it meant he was locking out the world.

“I thought you didn't sing," says Baekhyun from behind him. Joonmyun straightens, his back protesting. He glimpses the clock on the wall. Has it really been two hours?

“I don't," Joonmyun says. “Unless I'm alone." It's like he's naked, and Baekhyun is studying him with sleepy eyes that shouldn't be so sharp or so observant.

“That's a shame," Baekhyun says. “I liked waking up to your voice. It's…" He licks at his chapped lips. They're white and chalky. As chalky as his tongue. “It's so soft and pretty."

“It's nothing special," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun shrugs.

“It's yours," he says, and he grabs the doorframe for balance. “That's special enough, right?" He blinks carefully. “I'm dizzier than I expected."

“You're probably dehydrated."

“I'm hungry, too." He scratches at his stomach and whines. “Really hungry."

“I'll make you some tea," Joonmyun says. “Do you think you can eat regular food?"

“Yeah," Baekhyun says. “What are you working on?"

“A song," Joonmyun replies. “It's… nothing."

“Can I hear it again?" Baekhyun walks over to him slowly, sitting next to him on the bench. His thigh is warm along Joonmyun's. He rests his head on Joonmyun's shoulder. “Pretty please?"

“It's not finished."

“I don't care." His nose is clogged. It makes him sound younger and more demanding. “I write music, too. I know there's a difference between something new and something set in stone."

“Okay," Joonmyun says, and he plays what he has, singing where he knows the words and humming where he doesn't.

“Not bad," Baekhyun says. “Obviously I'm helpful. “ He makes another one of those noises, a thoughtful one that reminds Joonmyun of a thin stream running over pebbles. “Looks like you've found some inspiration after all."

Yes, he has. It's sitting next to him, in the form of a man who smells like sweat and feels warmer than the electric blanket that had burned Joonmyun's back all night. “Can you get a good view of the sunrise at World Cup Park?" Joonmyun asks. “I get a great one from here."

“How the hell would I know?" Baekhyun sits up to look Joonmyun in the eyes. “The only times I've seen a sunrise were when night turned to day on me unexpectedly in the middle of a party."

“I love sunrises," Joonmyun says. “It's like watching the world wake up."

“Hardly anyone is up at that time of day." Baekhyun wraps his arms around himself. “It's quiet. Lonely." He coughs, pulling his hand from Joonmyun's knee to cover his mouth.

“When you're alone," Joonmyun says, “no one is expecting anything from you." Baekhyun's eyes dart away from the window to fix on Joonmyun's face. “It's nice."

“You can have your mornings, then," Baekhyun says. “I'll take sleep."

“It's only seven now," Joonmyun informs him. “What are you doing up?"

“I got cold," Baekhyun says. “Your bed is too big for one person." He licks at his lips again.

That makes sense. Joonmyun had bought it for two people, kind of. When Joonmyun had picked it out, he'd thought about how Yixing liked to bring his guitar to bed and play it, but there was never enough space for his arms to bend when Joonmyun lay next to him.

Joonmyun, when he'd picked it out, had not been thinking about the realities, only the fantasies.

He'd been younger, then.

But here, in the present, Baekhyun is sitting next to him, no socks on his feet and nose red, dehydrated and hungry. The sun washes him out. He's got a new zit on his cheek.

“Besides," Baekhyun continues, “you were out here." He sniffles. “Will you sing it again? Your song."

“I should make breakfast now," Joonmyun says. “Or I won't have time."

He stands up from the bench, walking quickly into the kitchen. He hurriedly washes rice so he can start the rice cooker, and pulls the last of his eggs from the refrigerator.

Baekhyun, still in the living room, starts to play a song on the keyboard. He can play, Joonmyun notes. Joonmyun has always suspected he could. The way his eyes trace the movement of Joonmyun's hands across the keys is knowledgeable, like he's memorizing.

The song Baekhyun is playing is ‘Three Bears'. Joonmyun's apartment feels so full. He hadn't realized it was empty.

With nothing to do while he waits for the rice to cook, he stands in the entrance to the living room and watches as Baekhyun hunches over the keyboard and transitions into another song.

This one, Joonmyun knows because he wrote it, a couple of years ago for D.O.'s second full-length album. It hadn't been a single, because it was a touch too melancholy on the heels of his smash hit ballad from that same release.

“I like this one," Baekhyun says. Joonmyun hadn't realized Baekhyun knew he was watching. “One of my favorite Suho songs."

“I wrote it when I broke up with Sunyoung," Joonmyun says. “I broke her heart." He takes the towel from around his neck and puts it over the back of one of his kitchen chairs. “So I guess this song is about guilt."

“I've never broken anyone's heart," Baekhyun says.

“That seems impossible," Joonmyun says. “You've got heartbreaker written all over you." Baekhyun, who flirts with his every action, leaning into personal space and touching when he wants to touch.

“Does my mother count?" Baekhyun's hands fall from the keys. “I've broken her heart more than once."

“You've never been the one to end things?" Joonmyun scratches at his neck, and almost hisses as he encounters bruises, catching the sound at the last minute. Somehow, in the haze of early morning music, Baekhyun's lips against his throat had settled in the back of his mind instead of the forefront. Now that he's thinking about it, though, he can feel each and every mark burning on his skin.

“I didn't say that," Baekhyun says. “I just said I've never broken anyone's heart." With his back to Joonmyun, whatever emotion is on his face is hidden. “No one has ever been in love with me."

“That's even harder for me to believe." Only maybe it isn't, because Baekhyun is only twenty-two. Joonmyun forgets, sometimes.

He shouldn't.

The rice cooker plays a short melody, and Joonmyun tears his eyes away from the slope of Baekhyun's shoulders under his rumpled shirt to go warm up a skillet. He turns the stove burner to medium and drizzles oil into it, watching it spread out as it heats.

He really shouldn't forget. Joonmyun has always had an excellent memory.

He jumps at the sound of the refrigerator opening. Baekhyun pulls out the water pitcher and pours some into one of the stacked cups Joonmyun leaves on the counter. He drinks it all in one gulp.

He looks at Joonmyun then, with a wet mouth. His eyes immediately fall to Joonmyun's neck. There had been a towel covering it, earlier, but now it's on display. Joonmyun had refused to look at it in the mirror this morning after his shower, his stomach already too knotted up. It must look stark, though, because Baekhyun can't seem to tear his eyes away from it.

Joonmyun swallows and cracks two eggs into the now hot pan. They bloom outward until they touch, two bright yolk circles in a sea of clear.

Baekhyun's thin fingers come up to touch the bruises. Joonmyun flinches, but doesn't back away. “I hadn't realized." A soothing motion with his thumb along the most sore spot under his ear. “Does it hurt?" There isn't an apology in Baekhyun's voice. There is also still no explanation. Joonmyun is afraid to ask. Joonmyun is afraid of everything, anyway, so what difference is one more thing on the list?

“I could have stopped you." He had chances. He had not taken them. “But I didn't."

Baekhyun's eyes gleam when Joonmyun snatches a glance. “But you didn't." Joonmyun shrugs, turning back to the two eggs in the skillet. The sea of clear is changing to a sea of white. “Eggs and rice reminds me of elementary school."

Joonmyun grasps the change of subject.

“And how does your stomach feel about eggs?"

“Not as good as my brain does, probably." Baekhyun sneaks closer without Joonmyun noticing, and wraps his arms around Joonmyun's waist. Their cheeks are pressed together, and Baekhyun's heart beats steadily against Joonmyun's spine.

“You're still warm," Joonmyun says. “After we eat, you should take a shower."

“That's the second time in two days you've told me to take my clothes off, old man."

“You smell like sweat and sickness," Joonmyun replies. “I would never take advantage of you." His neck itches, now that he is paying attention to it. He'll have to wear something that covers it well at work today. Maybe if no one can see it, he'll stop thinking about it again.

“I know you wouldn't," Baekhyun says. His hands slip up Joonmyun's undershirt, skating across his abs. “I can't say the same."

“Cut it out, brat," Joonmyun says, trying to find the ease of their former conversation, before Baekhyun had touched his neck.

“Will you spank me if I don't, seonsaengnim?" He pulls away, then, and Joonmyun lets out the breath he hadn't noticed he'd been holding. “The eggs are done, hyung."

Baekhyun sits on the table instead of at it. Joonmyun gives him a look, but Baekhyun ignores it, staring at his own toes as Joonmyun serves up two portions of hot rice and slides the eggs onto them. He hasn't made breakfast in a long time. There usually aren't people here in the morning, though, and Joonmyun would never bother for himself.

“I have to go to work today," he says, turning off the stove. “I have a meeting."

"I should go home," Baekhyun says. "I can shower there." He's already scanning around for his things. Like he's overstayed his welcome. "Maybe I can be on time for my shift today. Shindong-hyung is going to kill me."

"You should relax," Joonmyun says. "And eat your breakfast. And then you should go take a shower. And then, you should get back into bed. I'm going to change the sheets while you're showering. After that, you should sleep, and maybe play with my keyboard, and watch TV, so you can get better." He sets a bowl of rice and egg on the table next to Baekhyun, and pulls a container of kimchi and soy sauce out of the fridge. "That's what you should do."

"You've planned my whole day for me, huh?" Baekhyun has dark circles under his eyes, and Joonmyun sees his freckles more easily when his skin is so pale. His voice teeters on the edge of sure, so Joonmyun chokes down a hundred things and smiles.

In his most authoritative voice, the one he saves for Jongin when he's at his surliest, he says: "Are you going to follow my schedule, or do I have to put you in time-out?" Then he picks up his own bowl and takes a bite of rice before setting it down on the counter.

Baekhyun opens his mouth to respond, but then doesn't. Instead he hops down off the table and walks up to Joonmyun. Joonmyun's brain short-circuits. He doesn't know what Baekhyun is going to do, because Baekhyun is unpredictable and everything is off, a tangible tension in the air.

Baekhyun reaches next to Joonmyun, to the drying rack, and takes a pair of chopsticks. The same pair Sunyoung had used last night. Baekhyun's hands are bigger than hers, but his fingers are so thin and pretty holding the metal. "You forgot to give me these," he says. His throat must ache. Joonmyun makes a mental note to pick up something to soothe his throat on the way home. "How am I supposed to be a good boy for teacher and eat my breakfast without them?"

Joonmyun laughs and pushes Baekhyun's hair back out of his eyes. It leaves a thin film on his palm. "Wash your hair twice," he says.

"Am I gross?" Baekhyun's eyes crinkle with a smile, and glimmer. He's so... He's so beautiful, and Joonmyun keeps trying to put the feelings away but all the corners and drawers in his mind where he puts inconvenient thoughts are full.

"Not gross, but…" Joonmyun pulls at Baekhyun's hair lightly, before dropping his hand. "You were really sick." He pushes forward, his back leaving the counter. He rests his forehead on Baekhyun's. "You're still sick."

"If you get sick too," Baekhyun says, eyes crossing so he can keep looking at Joonmyun, "remember it's all your fault. Don't blame me."

Joonmyun wrinkles his nose at Baekhyun's morning breath, and Baekhyun moves back with a laugh. "Should I brush my teeth, too, hyung? Is that on the schedule?"

"I've moved it to the top of the list," Joonmyun says. "I'll be home when I can. There's more juk in the fridge. There's cash in my desk in the bedroom if you want to order takeout. Don't get anything that will upset your stomach or burn your throat."

"You're really going to let me stay here in your fancy condo all day without you?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun rubs his hands on his sleep pants.

"Yes," Joonmyun says, then he hesitates. "Don't break my keyboard."

"I won't," Baekhyun says. He picks up the bowl of rice again. "I'm definitely going to order takeout."

"I'm not much of a cook," Joonmyun says.

"The juk was good, though," Baekhyun says, and he grins. It's a shadow of his usual grin, but all the mischief is thick in his voice. “I liked it a lot." He tilts his head to the side, like Joonmyun is suddenly a whole new puzzle. “Thank you."

“You're welcome," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun closes his eyes and leans his head back, and Joonmyun wants to taste the bared skin, which is possibly wrong. Joonmyun isn't sure yet. It might be the same as wanting to hear every sound Baekhyun can make, which he's wanted to do since he heard Baekhyun sing for the first time on the deck of RUFXXX. Maybe Byun Baekhyun is… is sticky in every single way, and Joonmyun never really stood a chance. “I don't believe you."

“About what?" Baekhyun asks.

“That no one has ever been in love with you," Joonmyun replies. “You just didn't notice."

“I'm not you," Baekhyun says, and there's that expression in his eyes, again.

And there was that moment at TRANCE when Joonmyun would have said anything, told Baekhyun anything, to make that expression go away.

“I notice," Joonmyun says. “I'm not…"

“Will you still be here when I get out of the shower?" Baekhyun asks.

Joonmyun shakes his head. “Probably not. Will you still be here when I get home from work?"

“Yeah," Baekhyun says. “This…" he scratches at the new zit, “getting taken care of thing, it's not so bad." He frowns. “Not if it's you, at least."

Suddenly, Joonmyun wants to ask Baekhyun if he's ever been the one to have his heart broken.

A doong, doong, doong of the drum, his heart smacking right into the center of the pulled canvas. “Finish your breakfast," Joonmyun says, and wonders why Baekhyun fits so easily into his apartment, and into his life.

If he takes the song half a step lower, it would fit Baekhyun's voice. But Baekhyun writes his own songs, so maybe no one would sing it at all.

That night, Joonmyun comes home to Baekhyun playing something new on the keyboard, wrapped up in blankets from the bed, wearing one of Joonmyun's shirts and a pair of his sweatpants.

“How was your meeting?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun approaches him, hands on Baekhyun's shoulders. His throat sounds raw, and Joonmyun winces. But the Baekhyun that looks up at him from over his shoulder is the one he knows again, not quite as sick, and not quite as open.

Joonmyun has been closed off all day, too, brushing off questions from his friends and coworkers about his missed afternoon of work and locking himself up in his studio to revise based on the board's suggestions for Jongdae's mini.

That's why it's suddenly simple to slip into old patterns with Baekhyun. They spend the night laughing at Baekhyun's croaking voice, Joonmyun making him hot honey drinks to wash down his medicine. The weird atmosphere of this morning disappears in the midst of Joonmyun's gentle teasing and Baekhyun's breathy laugh.

The last few days of November pass in last minute adjustments to the music, in watching Jongdae rehearse his live performances.

Joonmyun barely has time to breathe, but Baekhyun is responding to his texts again, with stupid things that make Joonmyun laugh when he just wants to curl up and go to sleep.

He keeps expecting things to change. For Baekhyun to mention something about that night. He doesn't, though, and Joonmyun eventually stops reading into every text message and wonders why he doesn't feel relieved.

“I'm glad you've fixed it," Yixing says, when they run into each other in the hallway. Joonmyun had been looking at his phone and not ahead of himself. He is a zombie. “I was starting to miss your obnoxious ringtone."

“You're so kind," Joonmyun says. “It's one of your best qualities."

Yixing rests against the hall wall. “What are my other ones?"

“Don't fish for compliments," Joonmyun replies. His phone is heavy in his hand.

“I thought we were fishing buddies?" Yixing offers him a flash of his cute teeth, his full lower lip stretching with the smile. “I should get back upstairs. Jongdae will cry if he has to run through the performance with Song Qian breathing down his neck." He pushes off the wall.

“Hey, Yixing," Joonmyun says. “Wait a second, please?"

“Sure," Yixing says. “Is something up?"

you pay attention to whether Yixing's sweatshirt is zipped up when it's cold but not the way he looks at you.

“Do you think I'm a bad person?" Joonmyun pulls at the sleeves of his sweater. “I don't know if I'm making sense, but…"

“No, Joonmyun," Yixing says. “I don't." He's looking at Joonmyun, into Joonmyun, and Joonmyun doesn't move but somehow he's still pulling away from that stare. He always has. “Get some sleep, Joonmyun."

“I will," he says. “You too, Yixing."

“I will," Yixing replies, leaving Joonmyun alone in the hallway.

Joonmyun's grandmother is happy to see him. He hasn't come to see her in a few weeks, and she lights up to see him at the door with a wrapped up package of flavored rice-cakes and a bottle of her favorite kind of sugary tea.

“Hello, halmeoni." He drops a kiss to her brow. “How are you?"

“Better now that you're here," she says. She sits up in bed, Joonmyun putting a hand on her back to help. “I got out of bed and walked around earlier."

Joonmyun smiles. “That's great!" He drags the single chair in the room closer to the bed. “We'll have you out of here in no time."

“The doctors are still skeptical that I'm going to get well." She winks at him. “But they don't know how stubborn I am."

“I do," Joonmyun says. “So I believe in you, halmeoni."

“You need a haircut, Joonmyunnie."

“I've been busy." He pushes it back from his eyes. “One of the artists I work with is releasing an album soon."

“Your diamond in the rough?" she asks.

“No," Joonmyun says. “My diamond is… He's… He works at a comic book store. He sings because he loves to sing, but he doesn't do it for a living."

“When you were younger," she says, “I thought you'd want to be a singer."

“I did," Joonmyun says. “But not everyone who wants that can have it." He grins at her, and pulls his phone out of his pocket. “Do you want to hear a song?"

“I'd love to," she says, and Joonymun pulls up Jongdae's new single on his music player. “I always want to hear your music."

“That's because I'm your grandson." He presses the earbud to her ear. She reaches up with wrinkled hands to hold it there.

“No," she says. “It's because I think you're talented. That I'm also lucky enough to have you as my grandson is a bonus."

“You're the only person left in our family who isn't secretly disappointed in me." Joonmyun laughs. “Well, mom isn't very secretive about it."

“I doubt there's much you could do to make me disappointed in you, Joonmyun." She squeezes his arm. “You're a good boy."

Joonmyun says, “I'm almost thirty, halmeoni," and contemplates whether bruises on his neck left by a pair of lips stained purple and slick with vodka would change her mind.

It's the coldest December in years and it's only just begun. Joonmyun takes to wearing several coats outside, because the cold crawls in through every chink in his armor.

Today he's just wearing his biggest, warmest coat, because it'll be hard enough to keep track of one coat in a Hongdae club.

“You look like you're about to go day-hiking in Antarctica," Kris tells him, and Joonmyun would glare at him, but with two hoods over his head and Kris's superior height, he doubts Kris would even see.

“I don't like to be cold," Joonmyun says. “You know that."

“That's why your condo feels like a swamp." Kris sighs. “Where are we going again?"

“The gig is at DGDB," Joonmyun says, stepping out of the building and onto the slightly icy road. “You don't have to come. It's going to be crowded. Standing room only. I know that's not your scene."

“Lu Han messaged me on Weibo." Kris checks his hair. “Said that if I didn't show he'd eviscerate the both of us." He smiles. “Plus, I've got to keep you from getting crushed. And it's Thursday. Thursday is our night."

“I can keep myself from getting crushed, thank you." The cold nips at Joonmyun's fingers. “I've managed without you for years."

“I still can't believe you and Lu Han have kept up this secret club lifestyle for years without inviting me."

“I've never heard Lu Han and Baekhyun play together," says Joonmyun. “Should be good."

“You and Lu Han should do something one day." Kris wraps his scarf around his neck twice to fight off the wind. “You can play the piano and Lu Han can sing."

“I'll leave the stage to more qualified performers."

“There's something so odd about your mix of arrogance and humbleness," Kris says. “Which one is fake?"

“Neither of them," Joonmyun answers. “Why did we walk on today of all days?"

“Because parking in Hongdae is a nuisance at night." Kris laughs. “The place we're going for dinner is just one block away now. Don't worry, Joonmyun, we'll catch a cab above river."

“We'd better," Joonmyun says, “or I'll freeze to death."

They get fried pork cutlets for dinner. Kris looms over his meal but takes tiny bites for his tiny mouth. He's learned his lesson about clothes, too. Under his coat he's wearing a simple pink button-front shirt, tie forgone on his desk back at the agency and sleeves rolled up. “What are you staring at?"

“You have surprisingly dainty wrists," Joonmyun replies, and Kris's thick eyebrows rise on his forehead.

“You pay attention to the weirdest things."

“Details are important when you write music." Joonmyun rubs his cutlet in extra sauce on the plate. “Details make or break a ballad, right?"

Kris shrugs. “I like music," he says. “But it's not like with you. That's why I'm on the business side. I only work here because you told me to apply." Kris's hands are too big for his fork. “Which I appreciate. This is a great job. But I'm not, you know, into it like you."

“I didn't get you the job. I just told you there was an opening."

“You missed me, didn't you?" Kris smirks, like there's no way Joonmyun didn't. “Anyway, maybe I should notice details too. Soojung had to tell me she cut her hair."

“She colored it, too," Joonmyun adds. “You've been spending time with Soojung?"

“Just, you know, as friends," Kris says. “I like her as a person. She's funny and smart, and those are good friend qualities. Besides…." He slants his gaze. “I have to do something with my time, since I've been left for a younger man."

Joonmyun chokes on a bite of pork. “What?"

“Jongin says you've been spending all the time with one of your musician friends, when I asked him. And Sunyoung said…" Kris clears his throat. “Sunyoung said that the Baekhyun kid was sleeping over at your house when he was sick." He taps his fork against the plate. clack clack. “He wouldn't be sleeping there unless you spent a lot of time together. So I figured…"

“I give him vocal lessons," says Joonmyun, pushing rice around on his plate. “And I watch his gigs."

“Vocal lessons?"

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “Like the kind our artists take with the voice teachers. He's never had a teacher to show him things. He knew some pansori techniques, that Chanyeol's sister taught him, but he didn't know how to get the most out of his voice."

“Ah," Kris says. “I should have known."

“Known what, exactly?"

“You're only really aggressive about music," Kris replies. “Baekhyun is music, to you."

At some point, that had been true. In the beginning. Still, now, Baekhyun, a lot of the time, is music. The way he laughs, the way he sleeps. The way he hisses when he's angry and squeals when he's surprised. He's stuffed so full of notes that Joonmyun is overwhelmed trying to categorize and sort them all.

Baekhyun is also cutting jokes and a quick temper and adorable smiles and captivating smirks. He is also quiet comfort at the end of the day, no questions asked in exchange for the mash of his cheek into Joonmyun's shoulder. “I also just like him," Joonmyun says. “As a person."

“That's good," Kris says. “It would be a shame that you spent that much time with him if you didn't."

The cab lets them off by the Sangsangmadang building at around nine.

“We're really early," Joonmyun says. “We're not meeting Yixing until eleven and it's freezing."

“No one says we can't get drinks while we wait."

They end up having two beers each in front of the Buy the Way, sitting in plastic chairs and talking about this one time in college that Kris had worn a dress for the basketball team formal after losing a bet. “You looked hot," Joonmyun teases. “I'm pretty sure Tiffany from your math class was suitably impressed."

Then he and Kris explore the first floor of Sangsangmadang, perusing the crafts until Kris finds a pair of earrings he can't resist. “Zitao would like those," Joonmyun says without thinking, and Kris stares at him.

“Who is Zitao?"

“Baekhyun's best friend," Joonmyun says. “He has a lot of piercings in his ears." He laughs. “I think it'll be hard for his daughter to catch up, when she's old enough."

“He has a daughter?" Kris's cheeks have already gone the dark pink they get when he's had anything to drink. Bright like he's wearing makeup. “Is he Baekhyun's age?"

“Younger," Joonmyun says. “But you'd never think so."

“Having kids makes you grow up," Kris says, biting his lip. “You don't get to be as reckless." He scratches his ear, nails clicking against the earring backs. “That's what my mom says. She had me when she was really young, too. I turned out okay."

“Maybe you did," Joonmyun says, and Kris reaches to straighten a tie that isn't there. “Or maybe you didn't."

“Hey!" His earring makes a noise as his hands drops. “It's cool that he's sticking with that kid. Not all dads do."

“True," Joonmyun says, and Kris changes the subject.

They wait for Yixing outside DGDB feeling much less aware of the cold thanks to their beers. The club's gotten a facelift since the last time Joonmyun was here. He's old, though. He remembers when the place had been called DRUG.

“I didn't know I'd see you here, Joonmyun-ssi," says a low voice behind him, and he and Kris both turn to see Chanyeol. “I should have, though."

“Chanyeol-ssi, this is Kris Wu."

“Park Chanyeol," he says, sticking out his hand like it's some kind of Western business deal. It appeals to Kris, though, because he smiles. “Please, call me Chanyeol, Joonmyun-ssi."

“Then you'll have to call me hyung," Joonmyun replies.

“Baekhyunnie won't like that," Chanyeol says with a laugh that contorts his face. “That won't stop me, though, hyung."

“Good," Joonmyun says, ignoring the tightness in his chest at won't like that. “Have you seen Yixing?"

Chanyeol shrugs, pushing his hands in his pockets and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. “Not yet," he says. “I was wondering if you had free time next Wednesday? My sister is doing a showcase, if you'd be interested."

“That sounds amazing," Joonmyun says. “Let me make a note in my calendar." He pulls his phone out, adding next Wednesday into his planner.

“That's why I recognize you!" Kris suddenly says. “You played the drum at RUFXXX when Baekhyun-ssi was singing."

“That's me," Chanyeol says. “Did you like it?"

“Yeah, actually. I wasn't sure what I was getting into but it was fun."

“Not a musician, are you?" Chanyeol has a million teeth, and Joonmyun can see them all at once.

“How could you tell?“ Kris says, and he and Chanyeol laugh together, getting into a conversation about how musicians are good at finding each other, or something.

Joonmyun's phone vibrates in his hands. “Hello?"

“Joonmyun, I'm running late," Yixing says. “There's something, with Taemin, and I have to take care of it. So you should go in without me. I'll try not to miss the set."

“Oh, okay," Joonmyun says. “Don't worry, take your time. I'm sure they'll understand. You just do what you need to do."

“Thanks," Yixing says. He sounds worried and tired. Joonmyun wants to help, but he also doesn't want to keep him.

“It's nothing," he says, hanging up.

“Yixing isn't coming?" Kris asks.

Joonmyun looks up at Kris. “How did you know?"

“You always talk to Yixing like he's your girlfriend or something," Kris replies. “It's easy to tell."

Chanyeol coughs. “You have a girlfriend?" He gives Joonmyun an odd look, and Joonmyun shakes his head. His hair is getting too long, really.

“He doesn't need one," Kris says. “He still has his ex-girlfriend."

Cheap beer taste clings to the back of Joonmyun's teeth. “We should go inside. Try to get closer to the stage. Yixing is coming late if at all."

It's only a little past ten, but the cover's only 5000won until eleven, so the place is getting close to packed. Chanyeol uses his long limbs to move easily through the crowd, pulling Kris and Joonmyun along behind him and elbowing at least three guys in the head. Joonmyun bows apologies at them as he passes, laughing despite himself at Chanyeol's determination. They end up at the bar faster than Joonmyun ever would have managed on his own.

Joonmyun sticks with beer. Kris pays for everyone's drinks, Chanyeol looking surprised when he doesn't have to pull out his own wallet.

“Oh, going out with you guys is fun," says Chanyeol.

“You're taking my job," Joonmyun tells Kris, and Kris grins back at him.

“It can be your job later," Kris says. “When your friends come off the stage thirsty."

“Ah," Joonmyun laughs, “tactics."

“Tactics," Kris agrees.

They work their way closer to the stage. Lu Han and Baekhyun will be on soon, and the band in front of them is really good, revving the crowd up.

Joonmyun hasn't heard Baekhyun sing in a while. Baekhyun had been sick, and then Joonmyun had been busy.

When Lu Han and Baekhyun come on, the crowd screams.

The performance passes in a blur, Joonmyun getting caught up in that same feeling of enchantment he'd had the first time he'd heard Baekhyun sing.

There's something…. Something about Baekhyun's tone. About the way he curls the ends of his vowels and lets his voice go raw on the hard consonants.

It ends before it feels like it's begun, and the stage clears, leaving Joonmyun winded as Chanyeol cheers loud enough to catch the attention of almost everyone around them. Kris is mildly embarrassed, but mostly amused, by Chanyeol's antics.

Then Baekhyun is pulling on Joonmyun's shirt, stretching it out of shape and digging his nails in, and Joonmyun squawks even as he puts his arms out for a hug.

“How were we?" Baekhyun asks smugly, nuzzling Joonmyun's cheek for a moment before pulling back, free of Joonmyun's grasp. He drops Joonmyun's shirt, too, rubbing the wrinkles out of his own with both hands spread flat.

His nails have been trimmed even.

“So good," Joonmyun replies, and Kris and Chanyeol are talking to Lu Han, congratulating him. Lu Han is sweaty and pleased. He punches Kris in the shoulder at something he says, and Joonmyun laughs at Kris's face. He turns back to Baekhyun, and his breath catches when he realizes Baekhyun's face is so close to his own. “Really."

“I know," Baekhyun says. He grabs Joonmyun's belt loops. “Dance with me?"

The live acts are done, so the DJ has started, putting on a dance track with a strong techno beat. Joonmyun lets Baekhyun pull him out into a throng of already moving people. It isn't the first time they've danced together. But this time, Joonmyun notices the way Baekhyun's hands keep landing on Joonmyun's waist, sneaking under to touch bare skin, and the way his hair sticks to his forehead. He notices the way he bites on his lower lip when he throws his head back and how pretty his thighs look in his skintight jeans.

He spots Lu Han, dancing with girls he recognizes as Jinri and Amber, maybe, and Kris and Chanyeol are barely dancing, seemingly more intent on the conversation they're having, both of them resting against the empty stage.

“I need a drink," Baekhyun says, wrapping an arm around Joonmyun's hips and pulling him close enough that Joonmyun can hear him. “How about you?"

“We should find a table first," Joonmyun says. “I still haven't talked to Lu Han."

They manage to score a round booth, he and Baekhyun squeezing in on one side as Chanyeol pushes in next to them, forcing them to slide in and around until Joonmyun's shoulder hits Amber's. “Hi again," he says, and she laughs.

“Saw you on the dance floor," she says. “I'm not sure you need any more drinks."

“Sadly, that just means I haven't had enough of them to give me rhythm," Joonmyun replies. He leans around her to say “it was a good show" to Lu Han as Jinri plays with Lu Han's watch.

Baekhyun is plastered against him, laughing with Chanyeol about something. For a second, Baekhyun's laugh is the only sound Joonmyun can hear, but then he realizes Amber is talking to him.

“What about your big friends?" Amber asks, and Joonmyun chuckles.

“I'm going to venture a guess that alcohol won't help." Kris raps his knuckles on the table and says the first round is on Joonmyun, but he'll go get their orders. “But it seems he's willing to try."

Chanyeol goes with Kris to pick up drinks for the table, leaving space for Baekhyun to move away, but Baekhyun doesn't, just slumps more heavily into Joonmyun. His hand rests on Joonmyun's inner thigh, tapping out the melody against the seam of Joonmyun's jeans.

Kris comes back first, two drinks in each of his big hands. He slides Joonmyun's beer across the table to him, and Joonmyun smiles at him to say thanks. Kris holds his gaze, giving him a long, searching look before smiling at Lu Han and Amber and passing them their drinks.

They talk about the performance for a while, and about Lu Han's students and some of Baekhyun's wackier customers at the shop. Baekhyun's hand continues to stroke up Joonmyun's thigh in slow, maddening circles as they speak, and the lines that they'd silently drawn after the night in Joonmyun's bed seem blurry.

“I have to go to the bathroom," Joonmyun blurts out. He looks apologetically to Chanyeol and Kris, who make no qualms about getting up to let him out.

He weaves through the crowd to the bathroom. There's no line, and it smells like cigarettes and beer. He splashes cold water on his face, looking at himself in the mirror. “What do you want, Joonmyun?" he asks himself, and then he shakes his head.

He walks out of bathroom and right into Baekhyun. “You okay, hyung?"

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “Just needed…" He smiles. “Did you need something?"

“Another drink," Baekhyun says. “Come with me to the bar?"

When they get up to the bar, Joonmyun turns to Baekhyun. “What did you want?"

“You're going to pay for my drink again, hyung?" Baekhyun smirks. “Is this a date?"

“Silly brat," Joonmyun says. His palms itch. “Just tell me what you want."

Baekhyun pushes Joonmyun back against the bar with two spread hands, gently, and then pins him in place. “What do you think I want to drink?" Baekhyun isn't actually touching him anymore, his arms on either side of Joonmyun and his body held away.

“A vodka-cranberry," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs. He's wearing lip-gloss. It's still shiny on his mouth, even after several drinks have washed it from the corners. Baekhyun's eyes are lined dark and Joonmyun feels like he's being stripped. “Right?"

“Tonight I want something with peaches," Baekhyun replies. “Sweet." He swallows. Joonmyun's gaze trails down to his neck, to where the vein is visible when he sings. “What are you looking at?"

“What do you think I'm looking at?" Joonmyun leans forward, one hand cupping the back of Baekhyun's neck. The skin is hot to the touch. He strokes his thumb along the vein, and Baekhyun leans into his hand.

The skin is smooth, and Joonmyun wonders what it tastes like. There's hesitation, but Joonmyun is just tipsy enough to give in to impulse: He bends the rest of the way and licks at Baekhyun's throat. Salt and makeup explode on his tongue, but Baekhyun's gasp quickly steals his attention. He worries at the skin with his teeth before sealing his mouth and sucking, tongue laving in tiny swirls over the captured skin.

Joonmyun pulls back, remembering they're in public. It wasn't more than half a minute, but Baekhyun is breathing hard. One of Baekhyun's hands has come to settle on his hip, and the pale column of his neck blooms with a starburst of red right where Joonmyun's mouth had been.


“An eye for an eye," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun's lips are parted with surprise, and his eyes are wild. There's a promise in them that Joonmyun has only seen flickers of, before, and it sends a hot rush right down into the pit of his stomach.

He spins around, breaking Baekhyun's hold, and signals to the bartender. His heart is hammering. No one seems to have noticed them, but Joonmyun is rarely so reckless.

“More like a neck for a neck," Baekhyun whispers, into his ear, chest to Joonmyun's back as Joonmyun fumbles out a drink order. His whole body is on fire, and he is so aware of every place Baekhyun is brushing him.

The rest of the night passes in too many more drinks, and in Joonmyun overly aware of every movement Baekhyun makes. He can feel Baekhyun's eyes on him, and he doesn't dislike it. In the dark corner where their booth is, the mark on Baekhyun's neck looks like part of the result of the alcohol flush that has colored his cheeks and chest a dark rose.

Joonmyun is dizzy.

Baekhyun and Chanyeol take tequila shots, maybe more than one each, Joonmyun can't remember, can't think, and Baekhyun meets Joonmyun's eyes as he licks the salt from his own wrist.

When they all stumble outside, coats unzipped or unbuttoned, it's past three in the morning. Kris can barely stand, slumped against Chanyeol, and Amber has her arm around Jinri's waist to hold her up as well. Lu Han is frowning down at his phone, like he'd started doing around one, and Joonmyun has the suspicion that it might be Yixing.

The cool air clears his head.

“I guess we're all splitting up, then," Baekhyun says. “Joonmyun-hyung, do you wanna…"

“I should take Kris home," he says quickly. “He's a mess."

“A little," Baekhyun agrees easily. Something like longing pulls at Joonmyun's navel. The bruise on his neck is getting darker. Tomorrow, there will be no mistaking what it is. Tomorrow…

Kris laughs, at Chanyeol or at Amber, maybe, and Joonmyun had forgotten Kris was there for just a moment too long.

Joonmyun pulls his coat closed around him, like he can trap all the want inside the confines of the down and quilting.

Grabbing Kris's arm, Joonmyun says a short goodbye to the group still clustered at the club entrance and starts walking Kris toward a wider main road. Kris trips over an empty plastic bottle that's probably from the Buy the Way, and Joonmyun catches him, grunting with the effort. “You're too tall."

“You didn't have to come back with me," Kris says, as they walk away from the group. “If you wanted to go home with Baekhyun."

“What are you talking about?" Joonmyun is much warmer with the alcohol sloshing around in his stomach. With the memory of Baekhyun's hands on his waist, on his inner thigh. “I only go home with him when I'm too drunk to make it to my own place. Gangnam isn't exactly close to Hongdae." He laughs. “Also, you'd be eating concrete right about now."

“He wanted you to go home with him." Kris stops walking, swaying on his feet. He's so big, but his alcohol tolerance is so low. “I always wondered why you broke up with Sunyoung."

“Kris, you're drunk." Now it's too hot. His coat is suffocating him. The air itself is suffocating him.

“I am," Kris agrees. “Which is why I can say this and then worry about you getting mad at me again tomorrow."


“Maybe you never stopped being mad at me," Kris continues. “Maybe that's why you never told me."

“Told you what, Kris? I broke up with Sunyoung because I was all wrong for her—"

“And she was all wrong for you, too," Kris says. It's amazing, how the word wrong can be laced with so much meaning. There is no mistaking what Kris is trying to say. Dread is a dead weight in Joonmyun's gut. It's the sad third section of Joonmyun's favorite pansori song, the cliffhanger that makes Joonmyun close his eyes, even when he knows how the story ends. “I get that, now. It explains other things, too."

“Like what?"

“Like why you never introduced me to Yixing," Kris says. “Like why you listen to everyone's problems but never, ever share your own. I used to think…" Kris shakes his head, blond hair falling into his eyes over angry eyebrows. “I used to think you didn't want to burden us." He laughs, straightening himself. His left sleeve has come unrolled. “But it's because you're afraid, isn't it?"

“You're mistaken, Kris. It's not… I'm not…" Afraid.

And maybe Joonmyun was afraid to live his life stuck in the mold his mother had set out for him to grow into, just like the uniform she'd bought for him slightly too large in the second year of junior high. And maybe Joonmyun had been afraid to wake up in the morning and go to another class he didn't care about, burnt out and trapped in a life someone else had chosen for him.

But saying no to the way he craves more of Baekhyun's touch is possibly the only way in which Joonmyun is being brave. It's terrifying, after all, to know that for the rest of his life, he can never truly be himself, because the way he's put together isn't something most people will accept.

Producing music… is the rebellion he had allowed himself, back then, to make up for the other rebellions he could never wage.

“You can't see the way you look at Baekhyun, Joonmyun. You probably can't see the way he looks at you, either." Kris laughs. “You never notice."

“Everyone thinks that," Joonmyun says, his voice unsteady, “but no one ever considers that I just don't know what to do about it."

Kris's long arm crushes around him, for balance or maybe comfort. “I'm only saying," and Kris sticks his other arm out, catching the attention of a taxi driver who has just let off a couple of college girls, “that if you wanted to go home with him, you should."

“And what then?" Joonmyun asks. His voice trembles. He's wanted to hear this from Kris for so long that…

“I don't know," Kris says, opening the back door of the taxi to duck in. “But you'll still be Joonmyun to me." He waits for a moment, to see if Joonmyun is going to get into the car with him. Joonmyun hesitates, and Kris smiles. “See you tomorrow, then."

“Yes," Joonmyun says, heart pounding and want in heady conflict with logic, and common sense. “See you tomorrow."

The taxi drives off, and Joonmyun stands there, watching it go.

He walks back to DGDB. Baekhyun and Chanyeol are still out front. Chanyeol has an arm around Baekhyun's shoulders, and Baekhyun is scowling at his shoes.

“Hi," Joonmyun says, and both of them look up.

“Thought you'd left, hyung?" Chanyeol looks confused. “Where's Kris-ssi?"

“I put him in a taxi home." Joonmyun shrugs. “I'm feeling like I might not make it through a taxi ride without getting sick, so I was going to stay with Baekhyun."

Baekhyun's eyes are narrow and thoughtful, and Joonmyun meets him head on. His mind is still spinning, from the things Kris has said and the things he hasn't, but one thing is clear. He doesn't want to go home to his condo in Gangnam right now. He wants to stay with Baekhyun. Talk to Baekhyun. Listen to Baekhyun whine and then hear those sleepy mewls that Zitao describes as annoying but Joonmyun thinks are kind of perfect.

“Cool," Chanyeol says. “Well, I'll just be heading home. See ya, Baek. And you too, Joonmyun-hyung. Next Wednesday. I'll call."

“Sounds good, Chanyeol," Joonmyun says. “Thanks."

“Anything to share the love," replies Chanyeol, already halfway down the street with long strides.

Baekhyun shivers. “It's too cold to hang out here," he says. “We should start walking."

“We could take a taxi," Joonmyun teases.

“Do your joints ache, old man? Maybe you're getting too old for Hongdae."

“It's three AM in December, Baekhyunnie." Joonmyun sees Baekhyun's tiny smile. “You're as cold as I am."

“As soon as I see my bed, I am going to sleep in it." Baekhyun tucks his chin into the color of his coat. “So if we walk, I can…" He wrinkles up his nose like a child. “No, never mind."

“You can what?" Joonmyun purposefully swerves right, so that he and Baekhyun bump arms. “Talk to me longer?"

“Something like that," Baekhyun says. “Maybe I'll con you into some drunk singing."

“Not on your life, brat," says Joonmyun.

Joonmyun taking off his boots, leaving them to sit among Baekhyun's copious amounts of sneakers, is now a familiar action. But the feelings, the heavy ones that Kris had set upon his shoulders, make it harder for him to walk into the narrow hall.

Baekhyun flicks on the light. They both blink at the brightness, and Joonmyun is immediately drawn to the mark on Baekhyun's neck. He coughs, taking off his coat and then stuffing his socks into the ankles of his boots.

“I wasn't joking," Baekhyun says, dropping his own coat onto the floor. “Let's go." He leans forward and grabs Joonmyun's hand. “Bed."

“I should take off my jeans," Joonmyun says.

“No," Baekhyun says, dragging Joonmyun over to his bed and flopping down, pulling Joonmyun with him. The air is knocked out of him as he falls onto Baekhyun. Baekhyun immediately pulls him into a hug. Joonmyun's face fits into the curve of his neck.

“The lights?" Joonmyun laughs into Baekhyun's cheek as he turns his head.

“Can stay on," Baekhyun mumbles.

“I have work tomorrow," Joonmyun says.

“I'm sure you have an annoying alarm on your phone. It better not be a duck."

“The duck is for texts and chats," Joonmyun says. “My alarm is still Gee from when you set it that one time."

“You left it?"

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “I left it."

Joonmyun expects Baekhyun to ask. About why Joonmyun had changed his mind or why Joonmyun had done that in the bar. But Baekhyun doesn't. Joonmyun should have known better—Baekhyun can probably read how unsure he is in every line of his body, and Baekhyun never pries. “Go to sleep," Baekhyun says. “Stop thinking so hard."

“I'm sleeping," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun rolls so Joonmyun is beside him, grabbing at the crumpled up covers at the foot of the bed. He pulls them over them both.

“Good," Baekhyun says. “Because I am too."

Joonmyun wakes up a few hours later with his jeans plastered to his legs and Baekhyun's palm flat on his stomach. His alarm is sounding belligerently, and Joonmyun digs into his pocket to shut it off.

“I have to get up," he says to Baekhyun.

“What time?"

“It's eight," Joonmyun says. “I've got to be in my studio at nine-thirty."

“I have to be in at nine-thirty, too," Baekhyun says. “Why are the lights on?"

“You left them on," Joonmyun says. He hasn't gotten enough sleep, but his head is clear. Now, without the alcohol to make it a distant fear, he remembers all the things that had happened last night. He sits up, rubbing at his face, and then looks down at Baekhyun. As Baekhyun peeks out over the covers, the terror eases, leaving behind the hollow want he's gotten used to since…

“I guess you're going to be responsible and we're going to get up."

“Yes," Joonmyun says. “Up, up, up, Baekhyunnie."

“Fine," Baekhyun says. He shoves the blankets down. “I'm awake."

His hair is a disaster, going every which way, and Joonmyun can feel his own acting up, too. “Cutie," Joonmyun says, ruffling Baekhyun's hair as Baekhyun pouts at him. He looks softer around the edges when he's sleepy, the hardness missing from his eyes and the smirking curl of his lip relaxed. On impulse, Joonmyun kisses his forehead, but then pulls back, quickly. “Sorry, I…"

“It's okay," Baekhyun says. He chews at his lower lip, and then smiles. “Move it, gramps."

“If you keep calling me old, I'm going to develop a complex," Joonmyun informs him, and Baekhyun laughs, looking more awake. “I know I'm getting older."

“You're not really an old man," Baekhyun says. “Just like I'm not a kid."

They both shuffle into the bathroom, shoulders bumping. Joonmyun looks down at the sink and is surprised to see two toothbrushes in the cup Baekhyun keeps by the sink. One is orange and the other is purple.

“I…" Baekhyun swallows. “I saved the one from last time."

It seems like nothing, that he has a toothbrush at Baekhyun's officetel. It's just a toothbrush, with a purple handle and barely used bristles. It is nothing, but Joonmyun's chest squeezes as tight as Baekhyun's fingers on the tube of toothpaste, and as he takes the toothbrush, blue gel in a thick fat line, from Baekhyun's hand, his own hand is trembling.

“Thank you," Joonmyun says.

After brushing his teeth, Baekhyun takes off his shirt, dropping it outside the door as Joonmyun rinses his mouth. It's followed by his jeans, and then Baekhyun hesitates. “I'm going to take a shower."

“I'll wait for you to finish," Joonmyun says, wiping extra foam from the corners of his lips. “Out there. On the bed." Maybe he should even go home. His clothes smell like sleep and sweat and liquor and smoke. He could change, collect himself. But there isn't much time before he has to leave for work. Going all the way home to Gangnam doesn't make sense. “I might have to borrow a shirt."

“You could…" Baekhyun turns away from him, leaning around the clear glass stall wall of his shower to start the water. It's loud. Straightening up, Baekhyun's thumbs hook on the elastic of his underwear. “You could shower with me," he says. “To save time."

His voice is low velvet. Still hoarse from last night, and rough with sleep, but as irresistible as Baekhyun's lower registers always are.

And Joonmyun's toothbrush is on the edge of the sink. And Baekhyun's freckles descend down his back, soft brown speckles on a canvas of pale skin. And Joonmyun had put Kris in that taxi, and tumbled into bed with Baekhyun last night knowing that in some ways, he'd already made a choice.

“I could," he says, and unbuttons the top two buttons of his shirt.

The lines of tension in Baekhyun's back soften, and he pushes his underwear down. Joonmyun closes his eyes, fumbling with the rest of the buttons on his shirt, and wriggling out of his jeans. Baekhyun walks over to him, past him, to add his underwear to the pile of his clothes in the narrow hallway. Joonmyun's own clothes are gathered in his arms, and he takes a deep breath before dropping them on top of Baekhyun's.

Fingers wrap around his wrist and pull him forward. “C'mon," Baekhyun says. “You can't be late."

“What about you?" Joonmyun says. He opens his eyes and his heart leaps at Baekhyun's grin.

“I'm always late," he says. “I'm pretty sure Shindong-hyung constantly tells me my shift is an hour earlier than it actually is."

“Smart of him," Joonmyun says. He holds out his hands, cupping them, and Baekhyun squirts soap into them.

He lathers up his body, keeping his eyes fixed just past Baekhyun's shoulder, on the tile. “Do you need to rinse?" Baekhyun asks.

Joonmyun nods, and they switch places, shuffling around each other. He has to hold on to Baekhyun's shoulders to keep from slipping, and just the feel of the smooth skin makes his mouth dry. “Shampoo?"

“Here," Baekhyun says, squirting some into his own hands. “Wet your hair."

After Joonmyun's hair is soaking wet, dripping rivulets down the bridge of his nose and into his ears, Joonmyun slides past Baekhyun again. His time, his arm rubs up against Baekhyun's chest, and Joonmyun's eyes flicker down to catch a glimpse of brown nipple before he forces his eyes back up. “Okay," he says.

Baekhyun scrubs at Joonmyun's hair quickly and efficiently with both hands, those long nails scratching soothingly at Joonmyun's scalp.

“You're purring," Baekhyun laughs, and Joonmyun flushes.

“It feels so nice," Joonmyun admits. “I can almost forget the clock is ticking."

“You don't make noise, that much," Baekhyun says. “Must be all those Gangnam manners."

“You make a lot of noise," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun bites his lower lip. “You're so noisy. Gasping, humming, singing, laughing really high and obnoxiously…"

“You like it," Baekhyun says.

“I do," Joonmyun replies. “I really do. I like all of it." Baekhyun's face is really close. His eyelashes have collected tiny droplets of water that make them glisten. The eyeliner Baekhyun had been wearing last night is smeared. The water runs like black tears down his face, leaving gray shadows on his cheekbones. “You're like a living and breathing song."

“That's really…" Baekhyun's hands slide down the wet skin of Joonmyun's arms, trailing shampoo. "This is really stupid," he says.

"What--" Joonmyun begins, but Baekhyun has pushed him into the wall and caught the rest of Joonmyun's sentence with his mouth.

Joonmyun's hands come up to hold on to Baekhyun's slippery waist, skin giving under his fingers as Baekhyun pushes closer, one leg sliding between Joonmyun's as the water streams down behind him, filling the bathroom with steam.

Baekhyun's mouth is soft. So soft. He knows what's doing, too, tongue flicking out to lick at Joonmyun's lips until Joonmyun opens for him. There's so much skin, and Joonmyun still has Baekhyun's shampoo in his hair, but it fades into nothing as Baekhyun moans into his mouth. Joonmyun tastes mint as he sucks on Baekhyun's lower lip, and…

Water pools around their feet. It's loud as it hits the tiles, and he can feel the steam on his skin. Baekhyun's leg rubs against his inner thighs, just shy of his cock, and Baekhyun's hands have trailed back up to cup his jaw.

Joonmyun is shaking, but it's a good shake. Baekhyun is shaking too, when Joonmyun runs hands up his sides, fingertips grazing pebbled skin. Baekhyun licks one more time behind Joonmyun's teeth, and Joonmyun pants quietly as Baekhyun pulls away.

“You're going to be late," Baekhyun says. “So we should get out of the shower." Baekhyun's mouth is red and the uneven dip of his top lip is more pronounced than usual.

Joonmyun keeps his eyes on Baekhyun's face. “Help me rinse the shampoo out of my hair?"

“Yeah," Baekhyun says, and he smiles wide when Joonmyun doesn't drop his arms from about Baekhyun's waist. “I can do that, hyung."

Joonmyun smiles back, and forces himself not to think about anything beyond how much he likes it when Baekhyun beams just like this.

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