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track 1

It's smaller than the glitzy cocktail bar he and Kris went to last Thursday after work. The smell of cigarette smoke is thick in the air, though no one is smoking inside, and Joonmyun runs his tongue over his teeth. He tries not to breathe it in. They've got a fire going tonight, and most of the small circular tables in the first floor lounge are taken. The candles on the tables don't provide enough light to keep Kris from banging his shin on the leg of an occupied chair.

Kris hisses as Joonmyun tries not to laugh at his pain.

"Toxic air," says Kris. Joonmyun smiles at him, a hand on his forearm to prevent Kris from bringing up further grievances.

"It's better on the rooftop," Joonmyun says, nodding toward the stairs. "Fresh air. A great view, as well."

The view of Namsan Tower from the roof of RUFXXX is spectacular. On the deck, Joonmyun can see the hills of Itaewon below him, and he feels above the ruckus of a Thursday night.

"So this is your kind of hangout?" Kris looks out of place in his designer suit. The bar is filled with plenty of foreigners, just as blond as Kris, (although some having come by it more organically) and a few just as tall. But Kris's suit gives him away as not-quite-belonging in this sea of worn in jeans and casual shirts. "It's more like a house than a bar."

"Good beer," Joonmyun says. "Import." He'd left his suit jacket in the car, and rolled up the sleeves of his crisp white button down. He's not as imposing as Kris is, in any aspect. It's easier for his expensive suit to get lost in the crowd without the broad shoulders and big hands. "Better cocktails. Interesting ones. Fancy ones."

"They serve fancy cocktails here?" Kris laughs, flashing small teeth. "I may have to raise my estimation of the place."

The places they usually go have seats for the both of them and whiskey glasses made of crystal. Kris has expensive taste.

Joonmyun prefers RUFXXX. Here, he can undo the top four buttons of his shirt and let the autumn air caress his neck as he looks out on the city. "Hmmm," he says, leading Kris past a few men leaning on the railing of the stairs with drinks in one hand and cigars in the other, "I don't come here for the drinks or the atmosphere, though."

"What do you come here for, then?" Kris ducks his head to avoid a low hanging tree branch as the stairs transition from indoors to outdoors. "Doesn't this place get noise complaints? This isn't really Itaewon. This is more Gyeongnidan, right? Residential?"

Joonmyun shrugs, running a hand through his hair to push it from his eyes. He'd had a careful part, but he assumes it's gone now. It doesn't matter. No one cares if his hair is messy. "I come here for the music."

He grabs Kris's wrist and pulls him through the clump of grad students cradling iced mugs of the beer on draft at the top of the stairs, and then weaves them both through the tables.

"Don't we listen to enough music?" Kris leans against the railing. "All day, every day?"

"That's business," Joonmyun says. He wipes his sweaty hands on his slacks. He has to send them to the dry cleaners anyway. "This is pleasure." He closes his eyes to attempt wetting his dry contacts. "Besides, I'm sure you've never heard anything quite like what you'll hear tonight."

He looks over to the stage. Whomever's performing tonight has already set up, two mics and the echo speakers, but they haven't come on stage yet. Joonmyun hasn't heard them before, but Yixing had nothing but praise for them.

"Do you really do things for pleasure?" asks Kris, tapping Joonmyun's shoulder with the back of his hand. "I'm shocked. Doesn't that take valuable time away from being lonely in your studio at every conceivable hour?"

"I allow myself the occasional indulgence," replies Joonmyun, accepting the teasing as he scans the rooftop. He sees some familiar faces, but none he'd put a name to. Then he sees Yixing, hunched over a table in heated conversation with a man wearing a Batman shirt and a beanie, not pulled down far enough to cover his ears. "There's Yixing." He nods toward the back, near the stage, and Kris looks in that direction.

"That's a Chinese name," Kris says. "Is he the one who looks old enough to be in a bar, or…"

Joonmyun looks up at his tall friend and smiles. "Why don't I go say hello and pick us up a few drinks?"

"I'll wait here," Kris says, lips curling down in displeasure at the thought of venturing back into the swarm.

"I told you to leave your jacket in the car," Joonmyun teases. "You look like an executive at a cool kids party."

"I am an executive at a cool kids party," says Kris. "That is a completely accurate description of what's happening here."

Joonmyun laughs. "Don't give yourself promotions because you're overdressed. You work in publicity. I'll be right back. Don't wither away from elitism while I'm gone."

"Like you aren't Gangnam born and bred," Kris calls after him, and Joonmyun laughs and slips back into the crowd.

Stopping behind Yixing, he rests his hands on Yixing's shoulders, finally getting a good look at the man he's been talking to. Even up close, he still looks young. Too young to be here. Joonmyun scans his face, taking in thin lips and dark lined eyes. He doesn't look like the usual performers that Yixing asks Joonmyun out to see. There is no elaborate costume, or feigned disinterest as he stares right back at Joonmyun.

"Joonmyun!" Yixing tilts his head up to look at Joonmyun over his shoulder, and Joonmyun looks down to meet his gaze. "You made it!"

"I did," says Joonmyun. "I left the office early and everything."

"Joonmyun-ah! It's nearing eleven at night." Yixing is grinning at him fondly, one of his hands coming up to rest atop Joonmyun's. "You're a workaholic."

"No," Joonmyun says. "I just like my job."

Yixing chuckles, flicking his hair out of his eyes. He squeezes Joonmyun's fingers once before letting go. "Sure, I know."

"I'm getting drinks for my friend and I. I just wanted to let you know I was here." Joonmyun drops his hands from Yixing's shoulders, taking a step back.

"Wait, wait," Yixing says. "Let me introduce you to Byun Baekhyun." Joonmyun returns his gaze to the man across from Yixing. "He's helping Chanyeol perform tonight."

Chanyeol isn't a name that means much to Joonmyun, but he's not surprised about that. Yixing's network of odd people extends in too many directions to keep track. They'd met randomly one night, years ago, details clouded in a haze of soju, but Joonmyun does remember the way Yixing had typed his number, with a concentrating gather between his eyebrows, into Joonmyun's phone and saved it as ‘Ray'.

"Oh?" Joonmyun bows, business manners, and the man, Baekhyun, smiles, revealing a set of perfect teeth. "It's a pleasure to meet you. My name is Kim Joonmyun."

"You don't look like the type to enjoy a place like RUFXXX," Baekhyun says. "No offense."

"None taken." Joonmyun is aware that even with his shirt unbuttoned and his missing tie, he still looks like a businessman with only one foot out of the office. It's funny, because he usually wears jeans to work. "I like good music. Yixing lets me know when things are happening that might interest me." Joonmyun's been on the lookout for some inspiration lately. His own well seems dried up.

"I hope you like the show, then," Baekhyun says. "I'd hate for you to have left work early for nothing." A quirk of his lips that betrays his amusement, and Joonmyun grins at him.

"There are always the drinks," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun's eyes flash with surprise. "Perhaps I'll run into you after the show," he whispers to Yixing, and with a final nod, he moves on to the bar.

"Ah, Kim-ssi," Jinho says. "It's been a long time. The usual?" The bartender is one of three Joonmyun knows on a first name basis here. Jinho's in his last year of a business program. Joonmyun's heard him sing, though, and he's fairly sure Jinho could make it, if he pursued a contract. But he's never asked Joonmyun to help him make contacts, or offered him a demo, so Joonmyun keeps quiet on the subject. Not everyone, he knows, wants the scrutiny of popularity. "We missed you around here."

"There's a lot going on at work," Joonmyun tells him. "Between you and me, we're working on a pretty big comeback and the pressure's high." He runs his fingers along the varnished wooden polish of the bar. "I think I'll have something different tonight, to drink. Surprise me with two of them, but no gin." Gin gives Kris hangovers, and they have an important meeting at eight with Kangta.

"Oh, did you bring a friend along? That's unusual."

"An old college buddy," says Joonmyun. "I do have friends besides Yixing, Jinho." He points over his shoulder with his thumb in Kris's general direction. "He'll be the one you see sticking out like a sore thumb back there."

"I see him," Jinho says, grinning. "He looks like a bourbon man."

"Close enough," Joonmyun says, winking. Jinho laughs and slides two glasses across the counter toward Joonmyun. Joonmyun offers his card to pay. "Don't bother with a tab." As he waits for Jinho to hand it back, he watches Baekhyun move around the stage with a much taller man, big ears and curly hair. They're both wearing jeans and they just don't look like the normal type of performers you get at RUFXXX.

Taking the two drinks back over to Kris, Joonmyun leans against the railing as people from the lower floors all surge up. "That bartender knows you," Kris says.

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Why?"

"How long have you been coming here?" Kris yanks on his tie, the perfect Windsor knot loosening in his grip.

"Since it opened," Joonmyun says. "Jinho is new, though. I guess he's been here for about a year."

"How did I not know you came here?" Kris takes a sip of his drink and smiles in approval. "That's smooth."

"The drinks are good," Joonmyun says. "This isn't some dive."

Kris shifts uncomfortably in his suit jacket. Joonmyun bites down on his lip to keep from saying I told you so. "Do you mind if we stay back here? Out of the crush?" Kris asks, and Joonmyun chuckles.

"I don't think this will be as visual as the performances I usually watch, so that's fine with me." Joonmyun prefers front-row-center when he flies overseas for once in a lifetime exhibitions. There's nothing once in lifetime about two men in jeans.

Big Ears leans into the microphone. He's careful of the barrel drum hanging from his neck, one hand resting on the rounded edge of it as the other holds the microphone stand. "Hello, everyone," he says. "I'm Chanyeol. Thank you guys for coming out to hear my new drum composition." He has a velvety, low voice. "I've asked my friend Baekhyun to sing with me today. He'll be playing a gig next Thursday in Hongdae, which you guys should all go check out." Obligatory cheering.

Baekhyun waves. His shirt really does have Batman on it. In the light from the mosquito candles that line the edge of the bar, both the men on stage look mysterious.

"Is this a cult meeting?" Kris asks, when an anticipatory hush falls over the audience. "Have you dragged me into an initiation?"

"It's performance art," replies Joonmyun, speaking quietly enough for most of his words to get swallowed up in the gentle quiet. "RUFXXX is known for its more… offbeat shows."

Kris nods his understanding, and Joonmyun turns his eyes back to the stage. He can barely see as the remaining space in front of the performance area is filled with people all substantially taller than he is, but he'd gotten enough of a look before.

Chanyeol's drum starts to beat a slow steady rhythm, an alternating high pitch to low pitch sound. He's using his hand at the drum's center for the low beats and a yeolchae to the edge for the high ones. Joonmyun's no expert on drums. It sounds exciting, though, the beat escalating until it's a varied and dynamic rhythm that's not nearly as traditional as the instrument it's being played on.

"What's that drum called?" Kris asks. Joonmyun takes a sip of his drink. "I remember seeing it before, in Insadong. When we went to the Children's Day Festival with Luna and Minseok, you remember?"

"It's called a buk," Joonmyun says, remembering his own samulnori lessons as a kid. He'd banged on the jing for three weeks in their elementary fourth year music class, and it was with relief that their teacher had confiscated the instruments from all of them at the end of the unit. "It's one of the folk—"

He's interrupted when Baekhyun begins to sing, his voice slipping and sliding through the drumbeats to cast a spell on the audience. The way he sings lyrics is weird. It's an arrhythmic chanting that vaults up into higher pitched wailing and falls back down into a nasal whine. He's so caught up in the style that it takes him over a minute to recognize that what Baekhyun is singing isn't exactly lyrics, but a familiar story. It's ‘Sugungga', one of the five traditional pansori tales, and Baekhyun is narrating between Chanyeol's precise, if strange, strikes to the drum with both hand and stick.

"He's singing old Korean," Joonmyun says, at Kris's mystified expression. "This is the story of the Dragon King, the Terrapin, and the Rabbit."

"This sounds like the stuff you listen to on repeat before holidays," Kris says. "Only cooler."

"This is a cool kids only party," Joonmyun says, partaking in another large swallow of his drink. "It's pansori. It's musical storytelling."

Chanyeol begins to beatbox into the mic, and Joonmyun is hooked.

Baekhyun's voice is rough and raw. He screams instead of singing, sometimes, and he cracks when he has to shift pitch. He's completely untrained.

Joonmyun has heard stronger voices. He works with stronger voices every day. But something about Baekhyun's… is sticky. Memorable. It worms in through his ears and tunnels into his brain, and Joonmyun forgets to clap, for a few moments after Chanyeol and Baekhyun go silent after the first number, because he's trying so hard to catalogue the sound.

Kris's elbow in his side brings his palms together in applause. "You have the strangest look on your face," says Kris. "What's that for?"

"I'm interested," Joonmyun says, purposefully vague, and Kris nods, turning back to his undoubtedly better view of the show. "This is interesting."

Baekhyun delivers the comedic lines with a sly lilt, and the melodramatic plot turns with a touch of satire. It's deft and sure and even when his voice is too hard his delivery is soft. The audience, more prepared for this than Joonmyun and Kris, clearly, yell out the replies when necessary. Joonmyun, over the sea of people taller than him, sees Baekhyun's lips tilt upward at the corners before he opens them to sing again.

"This is a cult meeting," Kris whispers harshly to Joonmyun, but Joonmyun ignores him, caught up in the music.

Chanyeol's mouth percussion gives the traditional song the strangest vibe, but it's Baekhyun's odd phrasing that clings to Joonmyun like summer humidity, even though it's an autumn evening. His throat is dry, and his drink is empty.

When Chanyeol plays the last beat on his buk, an hour later, Baekhyun's voice trailing off after an extended wail on the end of only a fraction of the entire madang, Joonmyun is disappointed. He wants to hear more of the odd fusion sound, hip hop and pansori and ballad all at once, a jumble of noise that somehow falls together into beauty. He wants to hear more of Baekhyun's voice.

The rooftop slowly empties, people wandering downstairs to get one last drink or to close their tabs. RUFFXXX closes around 12am on Thursdays, and it's approaching that now, if the exact hour hasn't already passed.

"So what did you think?" Yixing asks. He'd clearly been closer to the stage and to the lights. Sweat shines on his chest and neck, and his hair is damp. Joonmyun wishes he had a jacket to offer him. There's a sharp breeze. Yixing catches colds easily. He always has. "Worth your time, workaholic Kim Joonmyun?"

"Definitely worth my time," says Joonmyun. "Thanks for giving me the heads up."

"You always liked pansori, back in the day," Yixing says. "I had a wave of nostalgia crash into me when I saw what Chanyeol and Baekhyun were planning."

"He still likes it," says Kris, butting in. "Every Chuseok, the four days before he heads home, he listens to it nonstop."

"Really?" Yixing smiles, like that pleases him, and Joonmyun tentatively smiles back. "And you are…?"

"I'm Kris Wu." He holds his hand out for a shake before he drops it and shrugs. "Sorry, habit. I deal with a lot of Americans day-to-day."

"No apologies necessary. I'm Zhang Yixing. Joonmyun and I are old fishing buddies." Yixing says something different every time. Joonmyun has gotten used to it.

Joonmyun laughs. "I've never been fishing in my life," he says, and Kris gives him a look which he ignores. "So… they don't usually play together? Chanyeol and Baekhyun."

"No," replies Yixing. "They're friends, and they sometimes have these tiny… projects." He scratches at the back of his neck, where his hair has grown out. It's far shaggier than the last time Joonmyun had seen him. It looks nice. Joonmyun could never pull it off. "I only really know Chanyeol. He works at Gyeongbokgung, actually."

"At the palace?" Kris is still staring at Joonmyun, like he's trying to pick him apart with his eyes, even as he directs the question to Yixing.

"He plays the buk in those reenactment-ish shows they put on for tourists." Yixing drains the rest of his drink. Joonmyun's is long empty, the empty glass a prop in his hand. Kris's is still half full, but he isn't much of a drinker, even when he is in a place he feels more comfortable. "I met him at some show of Lu Han's. I only met Baekhyun last week."

Baekhyun's voice is still resounding in Joonmyun's head. He'd like to hear him again. "Baekhyun-ssi said his band was playing next week…" Joonmyun hints, and Yixing gives him an odd stare.

"It's a completely different thing," Yixing says. "It's Baekhyun and another friend of his, apparently, and they play mellow acoustic stuff."

"He doesn't seem like a mellow guy." Joonmyun pulls on the neck of his shirt, the starched collar tickling his throat. He undoes another button and then drops his hand down to his side to prevent himself from adjusting his hair. "He doesn't have a mellow voice."

"You're curious about him," Yixing says, surprised. "I didn't expect that." He prods at Joonmyun's arm. "I thought you didn't get curious anymore." He prods again. "Thought you'd seen it ~all~, big shot."

"Guess you don't know me as well as you used to." Joonmyun sits his empty glass on the table, and cuts his gaze to where Baekhyun and Chanyeol are chatting with each other next to the bar. Baekhyun is wearing a backwards baseball cap, now, in a bright red that clashes with his outfit. The beanie is nowhere to be seen, and the contrasting colors make him look even younger. Chanyeol has an arm around his shoulders, and they're laughing loud enough that it echoes across the rooftop. "Yes, I'm curious. His voice is sticky."

"Sticky," Kris says. "Like gum?"

"Like glue," Joonmyun says. "Like a very sticky glue."

"I think Joonmyun has been awake too long," Kris says. "And we have a meeting in the morning."

"The life of a busy career man," Yixing jokes. "Can't say I envy it."

"You never did well with structure," says Joonmyun. "You free spirit, you."

"Is that your nice way of calling me a flake, Joonmyun?" He shakes his empty glass, half-melted ice cubes clanging against the glass. "I'm going to go for one last refill."

"Be careful," Joonmyun says. "You're a lightweight."

Yixing rolls his eyes. "I'll see if I can find out where he's playing for you," he says. "I'll be in touch."

Joonmyun steals one last look at Baekhyun as they go downstairs and out the way they came. Kris doesn't speak again until they've walked all the way back to the car, a ten minute stroll in which they both spend most of the time replying to e-mails on their phones.

"Do you have a secret life?" Kris asks, as Joonmyun slips his suit jacket back on to fight the chill until the car warms up. "Bars I've never heard of, a separate set of friends…"

"If it's a secret life," Joonmyun says, "I'm not doing a good job with the secret part, am I? Introducing you, and all."

"I've known you ten years," Kris says, "and I've never known you go to that bar on Thursday nights or that you even had a friend named Yixing."

"Sure you did," says Joonmyun, turning on the radio. Jongin's voice is the first thing he hears, and he grins. "You probably just forgot."

"How do you even know him?"

Leaning back, Joonmyun fastens his seatbelt. "We're fishing buddies," he says with a smile. "I'm allowed to have friends that aren't you, Kris. I'm twenty-nine. I've been an adult for a long time now, and you're not my father."

Joonmyun is old enough to cut short interrogations.

"You're right," Kris says, starting the car. "Well, I'm glad you dragged me along tonight. The performers were good. Give me advance notice next time so I can wear something more casual."

"Do you own anything more casual?"

"I'm sure I have a pair of jeans or two," Kris answers, changing the station. "I'm so tired of listening to Kai. "

Joonmyun rests his head against the headrest and closes his eyes. "I met Yixing while you were gone. Right after college, remember?"

"Oh," Kris says. "When I went to Canada."

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "When you went to Canada."

Kris doesn't ask more questions. They speak of inconsequential things until they're back in front of the office. Kris pulls up alongside Joonmyun's car and Joonmyun climbs out.

"See you in seven hours," Kris says. "Thanks again for taking me to your weird performance art bar."

"You're welcome," Joonmyun says, and gets into his own car to go home.

Two mornings later, Joonmyun's Line blinks a notification at him, the green application bubble sliding up to the center of his screen and making a quacking duck noise before he can stop it. He grabs it, quickly keying in his passcode to check the message.

It's Yixing. i found out where baekhyun's playing next week~ the message says. want to go together?

I'll let you know, he replies, setting his phone back down and looking back to his laptop screen.

He resets the track and plays it from the beginning, frowning at the transition between Jongin's part and Soojung's. It isn't right. Joonmyun had come in this morning at seven-thirty to try to get it right, and now it's swiftly approaching noon. The album is due, complete, in four days. Joonmyun had been well ahead of schedule until this song had tripped him up.

He closes his eyes and tries to listen to the melody again. Maybe he'll find something there.

And exactly like every other time he's tried to focus, over the past couple of days, thin strains of a modified ‘Sugungga' play in his head. Joonmyun sighs, heavy with frustration, and looks back at his phone. want to go together?

Joonmyun does. Only he is unsure if that would get Baekhyun's voice, jaggedly scraping at the fourth verse of ‘Sugungga', out of his head, or if it would entrench it even deeper, making a home for itself in the recesses of his brain.

The morning after the performance at RUFXXX, Joonmyun had woken up in a kind of hazy stupor, tripping over the previous night's discarded clothes and brushing his teeth lethargically. He'd attempted to listen to music in the car on the way to his meeting, but he'd found himself unable to, Baekhyun's voice nibbling and chewing at his brain so strongly that he'd ended up tapping the beat of the buk on the table during the meeting, until Kris had awkwardly cleared his throat and Joonmyun had realized he was being rude.

He pulls at his sweater. It's too warm for inside this studio, and not warm enough for outside. Joonmyun can feel tiny beads of sweat bubbling up at the center of his back.

Perhaps it's time to try a different tactic.

Joonmyun opens WMP and scrolls through his files, stopping when he finds Park Songhee. It has a pretty high play-count. Joonmyun frowns, because it's almost Chuseok again.

The familiar tempo begins to play. ‘Sugungga', in a traditional arrangement. Joonmyun has the full thing on his computer. Baekhyun and Chanyeol had only performed the first portion, the first two songs. Maybe it's stuck in Joonmyun's head because the madang, even in this odd incarnation, remains unfinished.

(When Joonmyun was young, maybe only four or five, his grandfather used to play pansori on an old record player, for hours. "This is the heart of music," he used to say. "When music was art instead of noise. Listen to the whole story, from start to finish, Joonmyunnie." When he'd died, Joonmyun had kept and tucked away the abandoned collection of forty-fives. They gather dust in the closet and he stares at them sometimes, but doesn't touch them.)

It's when he arrives at the fifth track, well past where Baekhyun and Chanyeol had stopped, that Joonmyun realizes he can still hear Baekhyun's voice. Still constant. Still unavoidable.

He rests his forehead on the table. "Too sticky."

"Is… something wrong, Joonmyunnie?"

Joonmyun snaps his head up and looks toward the door. He thought he'd locked it. Apparently not. "What?"

It's Sunyoung, her hair hanging loose and her nails painted a soft pink. A few days ago, they'd been purple. Joonmyun doesn't know why he still notices her nails. He doesn't have to, anymore, but habits like that are hard to break.

"You're in here alone listening to pansori," Sunyoung says. She leans against the studio door, legs long in her high black heels.

Joonmyun shakes his head to clear it. "What are you doing here? It's Sunday."

"I'd ask you the same," she laughs, "but you're always here." She approaches. "Always, always, always."

"Not always," replies Joonmyun. "Sometimes I'm at home. Or at the bunsik restaurant across from my apartment. Or at bars with Kris—"

"One day a week not in this room doesn't do much to convince me."

"I'm not trying to convince you." A break in the conversation. It's filled with Park Soohee's rising vocal, surging through the speakers.

"So, tell me… Is something wrong?" she repeats, more firmly, sitting across from him in a spinning chair and crossing her legs. "I thought pansori was reserved for visits with mom."

"Am I that obvious?" Joonmyun rubs at his temples. "Actually, nothing's wrong. I'm just trying to get someone's voice out of my head."

"Someone's voice?" Sunyoung looks down at his laptop. Joonmyun clicks play again, and Soojung's voice blasts through the speakers. "You're still working on DoubleK?"

"The mixing isn't quite right," Joonmyun says. "Something with the levels, but I don't know what." It's boring. Everything Joonmyun's touched lately is boring. He knows it, even if no one has said it, not even Jongin. "I should take it out of the box. Maybe make it a stereo mix instead of a mono mix." It might mean starting from scratch.

"Perfectionist." Sunyoung stands, walking around Joonmyun to stand behind him. Her hands start rubbing at his shoulders, thumbs digging in hard. Joonmyun groans in pleased satisfaction. "Is that why you never sing your own songs?"

"I'm not Kyungsoo," Joonmyun says. "My songs deserve better than me singing them."

"You're Joonmyun," Sunyoung replies. "You always," she pauses, before squeezing hard enough that Joonmyun winces, "underestimate your voice."

"Speaking of always, you have always given the best backrubs," says Joonmyun. "I can't remember why we aren't married already."

"Because you broke up with me," Sunyoung says. "Remember?"

"I'm really stupid, huh?" Joonmyun says, looking over his shoulder to smile at her, and she stops her massage to slap him lightly on the upper arm. "Why are you still my friend?"

"Because I adore you," Sunyoung says, smiling down on him. He likes her new hair. It swings down over her shoulder in a subtle dark navy. In the light, she looks like a mermaid. "Everyone adores you. Punk." Her nails dig into his shoulders briefly.

"You're too nice to me." Joonmyun sighs and pulls at his sweatshirt.

"You're right. I'm a goddess and you are lucky to have me in your life. So tell me what's up."

"It's this kid," Joonmyun says. "His name is Baekhyun. He sang this… modified pansori… ‘Sugungga', actually, at RUFXXX last night. I can't get his voice out of my head."

"That good?" Sunyoung sits back down again, her knees bumping his. "Wow, maybe I need to meet the kid. I've been looking for someone fresh to feature on my next album."

"It's not…" Joonmyun leans forward to rest his head on his arms. "It's not that he was that good. He's clearly untrained, and he sings out of his nose."

"But…" Sunyoung has a knowing lilt to her voice that Joonmyun recognizes. "Still, here you are, trying to tweak the DoubleK album and thinking about him."

"Not him," says Joonmyun. "His voice. I'm sure I'll get over it. It was probably the pansori thing that got me so into it." He needs more sleep, too. That would also probably help. "I should get back to work."

"Me too," Sunyoung says. "But hey, if you ever want to go track the kid down for a listen, let me know? I'm curious."

"Will do," agrees Joonmyun.

She leaves, closing the door behind her, and Joonmyun is left alone in the studio again, with an unfinished DoubleK track blasting loudly now and still not drowning out Baekhyun's odd tone and odder arrangement. His phone is there, ominously still displaying Yixing's last message. want to go together?

Where and when? he replies, and turns the music off.

This time, Joonmyun takes the subway. Finding a place to park in the Hongik University area is always a pain. Joonmyun isn't a real heavyweight, either, and he has no idea how long he'll be out tonight with Yixing. He figures on taking a cab home, but sometimes it's nice to take the subway.

Yixing is waiting for him outside Exit 8, hands in the pockets of his jeans and wearing a sleeveless ribbed shirt too thin for the weather. "You made it, workaholic."

"It's been a long time since I've been out here," Joonmyun checks his watch and is pleased to find he's right on time.

"That's because you're getting old, Joonmyun." Yixing grins at him, quick and fleeting in the light-flooded streets. "I'm going to get you a cane next year."

"You think you're cute?" Joonmyun pulls down on the waist of his navy sweater. The air is chilly. "I don't need the reminder, okay? I looked in the mirror yesterday and I swear I saw a gray hair."

Yixing laughs, crisp in the air, like a bite of a fresh apple. Joonmyun loves that sound. Yixing reaches out and grabs a handful of Joonmyun's sweater and pulls. "Come along, silver fox, we've got a show to see." He releases it when Joonmyun starts walking on his own.

"How do you know Baekhyun, again?" It had rained while he was on the train. It always rains in September. Joonmyun's boots splash through puddles and dampen the hem of his jeans.

"He's one of Lu Han's," Yixing says. "Lu Han mentioned he'd be playing and doing some kind of pansori thing with Chanyeol and I passed it right along to you."

"I don't know whether to thank you or not." Joonmyun coughs as some college kid walking in the other direction blows smoke into his face. "I can't get the performance out of my head."

"Is it professional interest or personal?" Yixing cups his hand around Joonmyun's bicep and pulls him left at the roundabout. He does not look at Joonmyun. Joonmyun presses his free hand to his stomach at a sudden attack of nerves.

His throat is dry. He hates how much people smoke in Hongdae. "Professional," he says, following a long deliberation. "I have a personal interest in pansori, but he's… got something."

"He does," agrees Yixing. "Most people think so. Lu Han said to warn you he doesn't want to go professional with music. I think he and Baekhyun have known each other awhile."

"Is that so?" Yixing frowns at Joonmyun. "Are we going to Strange Fruit?" That's a club Yixing's taken him to a few times, with a dive bar feel and a lot of indie bands. He hasn't been there in a couple of years. He tries to imagine Baekhyun, with his perfectly even teeth and bright red baseball cap, lounging among the usual guests there, but Baekhyun seems too bright for Strange Fruit. There's already a disco-ball hanging from the ceiling. They don't need another on the stage.

"Someplace new." At the second roundabout, Yixing veers right. They pass right by Strange Fruit, going up the hill. Joonmyun's boots continue to splash water. "I doubt you've been there. Not your type of place."

"What is my kind of place?" It's dimmer up here, noraebangs less frequent, and clashing live music pours out of the doors. "I love the places you take me."

"You might love the music," Yixing says, "but you'll forever be a high-class Gangnam bar kind of guy, Joonmyun." Stopping in front of a club without much of a queue, right underneath the orange sign, he shrugs. His sweatshirt slips off his shoulder, revealing a stretch of collarbone. "You're the kind of guy who flies to New York City for three days to go to the MoMA, just to see some European painters take off their clothes and then use their hands to smear paint all over their bodies."

"You remember that?" That had been three years ago. Sunyoung had gone with him. He'd thought, then, as she'd stared at the performance exhibit, watching with fascination and intrigue as yellow paint trickled down between bare breasts, that she might be the perfect woman for him.

Sometimes things aren't meant to be. Joonmyun has always known that. It's why he's single and also why he has spent his life writing songs for other people and never for himself.

"Lu Han still brings it up when we have dinner together sometimes. He can't believe people like you exist, I think, even after having known you for years."

"That was an amazing exhibit," says Joonmyun. "And it has nothing to do with what kind of bars I'm allowed to go to."

"You're allowed to go where you want," replies Yixing, attaching himself to the end of the line. "But that doesn't mean you don't stand out." He plucks at Joonmyun's sweater. "This sweater costs more than Club Bbang will make tonight in drink sales."

Flushing, Joonmyun combs his nails through the hair at the sides of his face. "This is just how I dress."

"You look nice," Yixing says, wrapping a hand around Joonmyun's thin wrist and pulling him closer. "You always do, even when you wear a suit to RUFXXX."

"I didn't have time to change. I left my jacket in the car," Joonmyun says. Yixing licks at his lips. "Kris didn't take my advice on that."

"He's an interesting one." Yixing's hair is falling into his eyes. "Let me guess, you've known him since Seoul-Dae?"

"Yes," says Joonmyun. "Management major. You would have met him before, but he was in Canada." The line begins, suddenly, to move, as people start to shuffle out. "What's happening?"

"There's only a fifteen minute break between artists, here." Yixing pulls out his wallet, handing the man at the door 30000 won, and pulls Joonmyun inside. A wave of heat hits him, and he scans the floor, taking in the fold out chairs and the stage. Slatted wood turns the stage area into a half diamond. Joonmyun notices immediately that it's there to facilitate wiring. "Grab seats, I'll get us drinks."

Joonmyun has to stop himself from reaching for his wallet. Yixing has never deferred to Joonmyun's age or to his financial situation. They'd only fought about it once, and neither of them had yelled. Somehow, Joonmyun had lost that fight. "Right. You want near the front?"

"Wherever you want to sit," Yixing says. "You know where it'll sound best."

Joonmyun picks a couple of off-center seats to the left. The white fold-out chairs aren't comfortable, but they're also not uncomfortable. Joonmyun leans back, and only has to fend off another patron twice before Yixing comes back and claims the seat next to him. He hands Joonmyun a beer and smiles.

"Not a lot of drink choices here," he says, nodding over at the bar. "The bartender is also the sound engineer." He takes a long sip. "Baekhyun's up next."

Joonmyun's throat is still so dry. The beer doesn't help. In his head, he hears Baekhyun singing pansori.

"Is Lu Han coming?" Joonmyun asks. The second half of his question is swallowed up in sound as the couple behind them laughs. Yixing leans closer. His breath is hot on Joonmyun's cheek. It smells like cheap beer and peppermint. It makes Joonmyun think about the Cheonggyecheon at four AM, setting off illegal fireworks and hoping he's not too drunk to make it home and that he won't run into anyone he knows.

"I think so," Yixing says. "He'll be late, of course."

"Should we have saved him a seat?" Joonmyun looks around, seeing if there are any unoccupied chairs. There aren't.

"He knows what it's like here. If he comes in after Baekhyun goes on, he won't really be allowed to walk around, anyway. This place is pretty serious about the showcases."

"Showcases?" It makes sense to call them that. Joonmyun has gotten too used to watching shows like this in bars without much seating, and in live clubs where the band's last set is lost in the midst of grinding bodies and drunken shouting.

Club Bbang is clearly not that sort of venue.

He has more questions, but then Baekhyun is there, in the center of the stage. It's a hot pink Superman shirt this time, yellow comic font. He's still wearing the red baseball cap. It's on sideways. His ears stick out. Cute.

Tonight he is alone. Joonmyun had thought he was performing with a friend, but he's by himself on stage. He has a guitar slung across his chest, and he sits down on the stool set up behind a doubleset mic. He adjusts it, lowering them both so that one mic is set to catch his guitar and the other one is set to catch his voice.

"Hello there," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun shivers. His voice is… Joonmyun would not describe it as pretty. Lu Han's voice is pretty. Kyungsoo's voice is pretty. Baekhyun's voice is rough. He talks out of his nose just like he sings out of it. Joonmyun could coax it out sweeter, though, with just a few hours in his studio and Baekhyun behind the glass. "Thank you for coming out. My friend couldn't make it, so I'm doing it by myself tonight." He laughs. "Pretty much everything I'm singing tonight is new. Don't worry, I won't mess up."

The set is soft, gentle acoustic stuff that lets Baekhyun take deep breaths. He isn't a good guitar player, not by a long shot, but his voice is so crisp and clear tonight that Joonmyun leans forward in his seat. This is his first opportunity to really watch Baekhyun sing. At RUFXXX Joonmyun had barely caught glimpses. Baekhyun's whole face twists up and his lips stretch and the veins in his neck stick out as he strives for the high notes.

Within fifteen minutes, Joonmyun can tell that Baekhyun's voice isn't going to be leaving him alone anytime soon, and it has nothing to do with the pansori.

"You're really into this," Yixing says, when Baekhyun stops to take a drink of water.

"His voice is sticky." Joonmyun shifts. His thigh brushes Yixing's, denim along denim.

"Is that some kind of industry buzzword, or something?" Joonmyun tilts his neck to look at Yixing. "You said it last time."

"No," says Joonmyun. "It's just the perfect way to describe it." Licks dry lips. "Extremely memorable. I'm jealous."

When the set ends, Joonmyun peels himself out of the white plastic chair and follows Yixing back outside. Lu Han is waiting for them, leaning against the building with crossed arms. His hair is a bright purple, now, as vibrant as the neon bar signs on Hongdae's main streets.

"Joonmyun," he says, pleased. "You're not dead."

"What?" There's a fresh dampness to the concrete. It had rained while they were inside. "Had you suspected an untimely demise?"

"I haven't seen you since March. It's September, asshole. I thought you might have finally left your body and become one with your expensive-ass laptop."

"That's creepy, Lu Han," says Yixing. "Joonmyun's been working on albums for the past few months. It seems only your Baekhyun could pry him out of the studio."

"So I hear," Lu Han replies. "Don't bother asking him about professional work, Joonmyun. It's a waste of time. What a fucking waste." Lu Han might teach elementary school students Chinese, but it hasn't improved his vocabulary, Joonmyun notes.

"Yixing warned me," says Joonmyun. "In all honesty, I was just hoping that hearing him again would get his voice out of my head."

"Will it?" Lu Han lifts himself away from the wall. "Because, if I know you, Joonmyun, you'll just—"

"You're here." Joonmyun jerks around to see Baekhyun, his guitar case hanging loosely in his hand. His hair is sweaty and damp under his cap. "You're the guy from RUFXXX last week." He smiles, less teasing and more pleased, and his eyes crinkle up. He looks sweet and soft and very, very young.

"It's Kim Joonmyun." He bows again, smiling up at Baekhyun.

"Kim Joonmyun-ssi," he says, "who wears suits on a Thursday night at RUFXXX."

"That's me."

Baekhyun sets his guitar down, pulling out a shoulder strap from the side pocket of the bag he's carrying, and hooking it at both ends. He settles the case over his far shoulder, the strap crossing his chest and crumpling his Superman shirt beneath it. "Are we getting drinks or not?"

"Why do you think I'm still here?" Lu Han says. "It's certainly not for the thrilling conversation."

"Rude!" Yixing swats at Lu Han, and Lu Han shoves him back into Joonmyun. Joonmyun stumbles. Baekhyun steadies him with one hand on his lower back as Yixing wraps an arm around Lu Han's neck. "You just know you're not interesting unless everyone you're talking to is drunk."

"Baekhyunnie thinks I'm interesting, right?"

"Sure I do, hyung," Baekhyun says, quirking his lips into more of a smirk. "I'll think so even more after a few shots of 151, though."

"You little asshole." Lu Han looks betrayed, and Joonmyun and Yixing look at each other and laugh.

They wind up in a less crowded jazz bar. Joonmyun pays the cover before any of them can take out their wallets. Baekhyun raises his eyebrow and then shrugs. Lu Han leads them to an unclaimed booth in the back. There are empty glasses all around, and a harried looking waitress all in black rushes over and clears the table as they settle.

The music isn't too loud for conversation, as long as it's with the person next to you. Lu Han immediately takes all of Yixing's attention, the two of them conversing in faster Chinese than Joonmyun can understand as they sit across from him. So he turns to Baekhyun, who is pressed in next to him, elbow digging into Joonmyun's side.

They quickly order drinks, hard liquor instead of beer, and Baekhyun leans forward onto the table, resting his cheek in his cupped palm. "So tell me about yourself."

"There's not much to say." Joonmyun smiles at him gently. "I like music. Golf."

"That's a rich kid hobby," Baekhyun says. "The golf." He puckers rose lips around his straw. Despite the fact that he hasn't taken his eyes off Joonmyun, Joonmyun feels like he's being dismissed.

"Maybe it is." Joonmyun can taste the heaviness of the gin in his drink. "What do you like, then?"

"Music." Baekhyun is bigger than Joonmyun, even slumped forward, but Joonmyun has always been small. He's warm, too, but Joonmyun has also always been cold. "Underwear models." His eyes twinkle. "Video games. Samgyeopsal."

Joonmyun is being teased again. "Those sound like teenager hobbies," he says, to gain back ground.

"I'm old enough to come in for a drink," replies Baekhyun. "I have a young face."

"No," Lu Han says, and they both look across the table, "I have a young face." He's leaning on Yixing, and Yixing is smiling at Joonmyun. The waitress leaves refills on the edge of their table as Baekhyun sits up to look directly at Lu Han. "You are just young."

"I'm twenty two." Baekhyun takes another long, triumphant slurp of his alcohol. "Not that young."

"Some people at this table have reached their third decade of life," Lu Han says, shaking lavender hair from his eyes.

"No, hyung," Joonmyun says. "Only one person at this table." Yixing laughs and throws an arm around Lu Han's shoulders in the guise of comfort. He's silly drunk already, cheeks flushed and eyes glassy.

"Throwing stones from your glass house, Joonmyunnie?" Lu Han slides his fresh drink over from the edge of the table, immediately taking a sip. "Next year there will be two of us."

He can feel Baekhyun's eyes on him, so he turns to return the stare. "Surprised?"

"I'd wondered why you dressed like an old man." Baekhyun smiles again, with those pretty straight teeth and those dark-lined eyes.

Joonmyun isn't offended. Jongin, bless him, is straightforward enough that he speaks before he thinks about how it might sound, so Joonmyun's accustomed to jibes about his fashion sense. ("Hyung, that shirt was meant for someone, like, fifty years older than you.")

"He walks like an old man, too," Lu Han says. He pats Joonmyun on the back of the hand, and Joonmyun shakes his head at him. "You'll make a cute young thing a nice sugar daddy someday."

"I'm not in the market for that, thanks," he says, and he's about to add in something about maybe not being in the market for anything when the band starts. There's a great saxophonist, Joonmyun notes, craning his head around Yixing to catch a glimpse of the band.

They all relax and take in the music for a few songs, steadily ordering drinks. Baekhyun keeps his eyes on the stage, and Joonmyun keeps his eyes on Baekhyun. He's singing along to the Miles Davis cover, humming more than parsing the lyrics, but Joonmyun can still make out the distinct tone of his voice.

"You don't know the words to this song?"

Baekhyun startles, and leans back against the padded booth. His bright pink shirt is muted in the blue-tinted light. His cap is not.

"I've been told, many times, that I don't have a good memory," says Baekhyun, "and I'm shit at English, even if I did."

"But you can remember entire verses of pansori?"

"That's from practice, though." Baekhyun's fingers around his glass. Long and thin. Piano hands. "I've sung it so many times I'd have to be empty up top to forget."

"What about tonight's songs then?" The set ends. Joonmyun knows, from having been to so many shows, that it won't be a long break. They play recorded stuff over the speakers and it's as loud as the band but less focused, like a wash falling across the entire club floor as people continue to dance and drink.

"That's different," Joonmyun thinks Baekhyun says. It's hard to hear him. But Joonmyun watches his mouth and he's pretty sure that's what Baekhyun had said.

"Did you write all those?" It barely cuts through the noise, and Joonmyun should not try for real conversation. He's had a couple drinks too many, as well, though, and he's ever so curious. "The ones you did tonight, I mean."

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "Why? Did you like them?" He leans in toward Joonmyun, looking at him through his eyelashes. He's wearing mascara, Joonmyun thinks. His lashes are dark and they curl. Even in the darkness of the bar they're striking. "Did you, Kim Joonmyun-ssi?" He pronounces each syllable of Joonmyun's name, as though to prove he's remembered it, this time.

"I did," Joonmyun says, leaning right back. They're pressed together, arm to arm, and he can see the freckles on Baekhyun's pale skin. His breath tickles at Joonmyun's ear.

"Did you really like the pansori thing?" There is a flash of insecurity, gone so quickly that Joonmyun must have imagined it. He's drunk enough that he probably did. Baekhyun hasn't shown him anything other than a casual confidence, and there isn't any reason for that to have changed over the course of their conversation. "I'll have to talk to Chanyeol about arranging the rest of it. He's amazing with stuff like that. Plays a lot of instruments."

"It's been stuck in my head," Joonmyun says. He's proud that he doesn't slur. "That's why I came out tonight." With steadier than expected fingers, he taps the beat of ‘Round Midnight' along the edge of the table. "To listen to you."

"Well, I hope you weren't disappointed." Baekhyun is teasing him again. He really does have pretty hands. "Your fancy sweater smells like beer and Club Bbang doesn't have the drink selection of RUFXXX."

"Turns out I didn't need the drinks this time, either." Joonmyun laughs. Baekhyun's eyes do half of his smiling for him. The charisma oozes from him. "At least not during the show."

"So," says Baekhyun, "my songs are okay to listen to, but later you have to drink the pain away?"

More accurately, Baekhyun makes Joonmyun…. Anxious. Joonmyun has always been skilled at making good first impressions, and second impressions, he supposes, but he has no idea how to do that with Baekhyun. He can't even tell if Baekhyun is sincerely smiling at him, or if he's tolerating Joonmyun because of Lu Han.

"I write music, too," says Joonmyun, eyes briefly dropping to his empty glass before flitting back up. Not meeting someone's eyes when they're speaking is rude. It had been a harder rule to follow when he was younger. "Not that sort of stuff, but…"

"Lu Han said you were some kind of a producer." Baekhyun digs a pack of gum out of his pocket. He shoves a piece into his mouth and doesn't offer one to Joonmyun. It's bright purple, staining his mouth and tongue. "You write, too?"

"I make music," Joonmyun says. "Melodies, hooks, lyrics… Whole songs. And then I make sure whoever sings them does a good job."

"Hmmm." Baekhyun licks his lips, tongue lingering in the corners. "Is your music any good?" He pulls on the brim of his hat as he looks directly at Joonmyun, pinning him in place with piercing eyes.

Joonmyun considers a modest approach, but for some reason, he doesn't think Baekhyun would appreciate it. "It used to be."

"But…?"

But there are only so many songs he can write about feeling unfulfilled. About feeling lonely, and maybe like he's waiting for a bus that's already come and gone.

"But I've lost my inspiration," Joonmyun says. "The wily thing escaped!" He laughs, and Baekhyun grins, leaning away again. Joonmyun hadn't realized he was holding his breath. Too much charisma.

"Well, have you gone out and looked for it?"

"What?"

"When Chanyeol's dog disappeared, we put up posters and combed the city." Baekhyun's drink is empty. Joonmyun has lost count of how many he's had. How many either of them have had. Across the table, Yixing and Lu Han are lost in one of those conversations that seem to block out the rest of the world. "Have you gone out and combed the city?"

"To look for my lost inspiration?"

"Yeah." Baekhyun's cheeks are pink, flush with liquor, and his smile is sweeter this time. More genuine. "How else are you going to find it? Sitting in your studio?"

The band starts up again, and Baekhyun knows the melody of this tune too, singing along whimsically and too loudly. "You might be right," Joonmyun says, not sure if Baekhyun will hear him.

But his ears are better than his memory. "So you can teach an old dog new tricks," Baekhyun teases, biting down on that lower lip with his straight, straight, white, white teeth.

"You're a brat," says Joonmyun, fond and amused and so completely intrigued.

Baekhyun doesn't reply, but the look he shoots Joonmyun says yeah, but you're going to like me anyway, and Joonmyun doesn't doubt that he will.

It's another twenty minutes of listening and casual conversation before Joonmyun discreetly pays the tab and they make their way outside. It's actively raining, but only a light drizzle. Joonmyun's lips are numb but he can feel the dampness of his hair and sweater with crystal clarity, a sensory overload.

Yixing is swaying where he stands, and Joonmyun casually moves closer, so he can lean. Yixing rests his head on Joonmyun's, arm finding Joonmyun's waist as Lu Han angrily curses about the inconvenience of the rainy season.

"Shouldn't you be heading home?" Joonmyun nudges Yixing gently.

Yixing gives him a sleepy, intoxicated glare. "I'm not the one who has to catch a taxi," he mumbles. "I live around here."

"I'm not the one who has to teach a Saturday morning hip hop class." Joonmyun pulls up Yixing's sweatshirt so it's solidly on his far shoulder, the closer shoulder pressed too tightly for him to move the fabric there, then he zips the sweatshirt all the way up. "Don't get sick."

Baekhyun watches with interest, his eyes following Joonmyun's hand until Joonmyun pulls back, uncomfortably, embarrassed and not sure why. He looks at Lu Han, instead, who has abandoned his rant on the weather and is now watching Yixing with serious eyes.

"I'll walk him home," Lu Han says. "I'll see you when I see you, Joonmyun." He pulls Yixing's arm over his neck and plants a hand firmly on his hip, pulling him away from Joonmyun. Yixing is pliant and unprotesting, falling into Lu Han with the ease of familiarity. "Let's go, you drunk," he says, in Chinese, and Joonmyun laughs as Yixing mumbles something back at Lu Han as Lu Han guides him away.

Joonmyun and Baekhyun are left alone on the street. Music is spilling out of the doors of the club behind them.

"I should get going, too." Baekhyun's lips are tinted purple still, and his eye makeup is smeared from the rain. He's turned his cap to protect his face, but his cheeks and neck are shiny from the drizzle anyway. "Work tomorrow."

"Me too." They walk toward the station, where there will be more taxis. Joonmyun manages to hail one quickly, smiling at Baekhyun and opening the door for him. "Thank you for the show."

"Thanks for coming, Kim Joonmyun-ssi," he says, ducking into the taxi and looking up at Joonmyun with that curious, unreadable smirk. Then he closes the door, and Joonmyun is left alone at the side of the road, people walking by him on either side, still caught up in the mystery that is Baekhyun.

He moves forward, intending to catch the taxi that's just dropped off three college girls and claim it for his ride home, but his foot catches. He looks down at his boots, and lifts his left foot. Bright purple gum is adhered to the sole.

"Sticky Byun Baekhyun," he laughs, garnering a weird look from a guy walking by, but everything is funnier when he's tipsy and this is no exception.

He hails himself another taxi. Maybe he'll sleep late tomorrow. He probably won't.

As he gives his address to the driver, he collapses back into the seat, the alcohol making everything swim and hotter than it should be. He taps a beat on the edge of the seat, and Baekhyun, singing not pansori but a soft love song made darker by the husky roughness of his voice, haunts his entire trip home.

He wakes up with a splitting headache. You're not young enough to do this anymore, Joonmyun! His limbs are like lead, but the clock at his bedside tells him it's ten in the morning, so he peels himself up. There is the acid taste of alcohol behind his teeth and on his tongue as he roots for clean underwear and socks in his drawer.

A hot shower leaves him feeling much better. His headache has faded to a repetitive throbbing behind his eye sockets, but nothing he can't work through. The throb is to the beat of Chanyeol's buk drum.

It gives Joonmyun an idea. He muses on it his entire drive in to work. There's no one to hear him, so he sings out loud, filling the car with his own voice as he works out a melody.

"You look terrible, hyung," Jongin says, an hour later, when he comes into the studio to find Joonmyun hunched over his computer keyboard, a stack of five paper coffee cups sitting next to him.

"Ah, really?" Joonmyun uncurls himself, stretching his arms above his head. His stomach rages, angrily reminding him he hasn't had anything to eat since lunch yesterday. "I'm sorry."

"What are you apologizing for?" Jongin mumbles. His eyes are half-lidded. He looks like Joonmyun has just woken him from a nap in his big soft pants and sweatshirt. His hair is a mess. "I'm just saying." He crosses his arms and frowns.

"I went out last night." Joonmyun smiles softly at Jongin, resisting the urge to ruffle his hair. "With a couple of friends."

"You go out?" Jongin drops down in the empty seat next to Joonmyun.

"I'm not that old!" Jongin laughs at him. "We went to see a performance." Joonmyun sets the track to the start. "In Hongdae."

"So you're hungover," Jongin says, smiling as Joonmyun flushes and chuckles.

"Yes," he says. "Definitely." He cracks his knuckles, and Jongin scoots closer so he can rest his chin on Joonmyun's shoulder. It digs in, but Joonmyun is used to it. "Where's Soojung?"

"She's on her way," Jongin says. He's closer than Baekhyun was last night. But Joonmyun isn't woozy with it. Joonmyun also isn't drunk. "What's this about, hyung? I thought we'd finished recording the vocals?"

"I've… made some changes to the single."

"You're cutting it close, aren't you?" Jongin's breath smells like diet soda. "Minseok-hyung is sending it off to the choreographer tomorrow. We need at least a month after that to learn the choreography…"

"Just listen." Joonmyun starts the track, and Jongin immediately sits up straight, abandoning his slouch and sliding the swivel chair closer to the computer.

"What's that drum beat?" Jongin is tapping his foot. It's a good sign, when Jongin can't stop himself from dancing.

"It's a buk, isn't it?" Soojung is out of breath. Her hair is caught up in a hastily made ponytail and she isn't wearing any makeup. "It sounds like a buk."

"It is," Joonmyun says. "I also rearranged the bridge, so I need to rerecord a few vocals. Sorry about calling you in like this."

"Whatever." Soojung shrugs. "It's not going to take that long, is it?"

"Not at all," Joonmyun says. "Do you like it?"

"Yeah," Jongin says. "It sounded…"

"Flat," interrupts Soojung. "It sounded flat, before."

"But now it's…" Jongin scrunches up his whole face.

"Dynamic," Soojung finishes, punching Jongin lightly in the arm. "Jonginnie, do you want to write your thoughts down?"

"Shut up, Soojung!"

Joonmyun holds in his laugh as Jongin bristles. "So let's get it done so you can go home," he says, and Soojung nods as he moves ahead in the master. "This is the new bridge."

It only takes them an hour. Soojung leaves as soon as she's finished, citing lunch with friends as her pressing engagement. "It's Saturday, oppa. You should have lunch with friends too."

"You could have lunch with me?" Jongin asks, and Joonmyun weighs it out. He hasn't spent time with Jongin outside of the studio in a couple of months, and the song will be waiting for him when he gets back. And he's hungry.

"Sounds good." Joonmyun grabs his jacket off the back of his chair. Jongin grins at him and drags him out of the studio, barely giving him a chance to shut off the lights.

They get ddeokmanduguk at a bunsik restaurant close to where Joonmyun had spent most of last night. Jongin is wearing a beanie to cover his hair and ears, and sunglasses half the size of his face. Joonmyun isn't famous, and it's easy for them to escape notice when they're getting out of Joonmyun's nondescript Hyundai and in a neighborhood not frequented by celebrities.

The ahjumma here plays music from an old phonograph machine. Records Joonmyun remembers from his childhood. This is the music his grandmother likes.

"She's playing old people music, hyung," Jongin says, blowing on the soft dumpling on his spoon. "I bet you like this stuff." His beanie and sunglasses rest beside him on the table next to the box of chopsticks and spoons. It's empty in here today.

"It's called trot, Jongin. It's not old people music." It is, maybe. But Joonmyun likes all types of music. "And I'm not old."

"Clearly not too old to go out and get drunk." Jongin frowns at him.

"What's with that face?" Joonmyun takes a sip of his soup. "I'm not allowed to go out?" Everyone seems to have an opinion on who Joonmyun is supposed to be, lately. He'd kind of thought he'd escaped that when he left home against his parents' wishes, abandoning his business degree to pursue music. "I love small-time music shows, and live bands."

"Sometimes you say stuff and… I realize how little I actually know you," says Jongin, and Joonmyun sets down his spoon. "Like, I know you used to date Sunyoung-noona, but I don't know why you aren't anymore. The only friend of yours I know that isn't also a friend of mine is Kris-hyung. I don't know where you went to high school or if you like anyone, or…"

"That doesn't mean you don't know me," replies Joonmyun lightly, smiling at Jongin.

Jongin's frown grows deeper. "But you probably know all those things about me, hyung. And I've known you for five years, now."

"I went to Daewon," Joonmyun says. "I studied English, Japanese, and Chinese."

"You went to Daewon?" Jongin's spoon hovers above his bowl. "That's for like, really smart kids." He frowns. "And kids that come from money."

"My father is a university professor," Joonmyun says. "There was a lot of pressure to be successful academically."

"I can imagine." Jongin shudders. "I was totally crap at school. I always wanted to be dancing. Or sleeping."

"You've got a one track mind." Jongin sheepishly smiles at him. "So now you know where I went to high school. Am I less secretive, now?"

"Maybe." A shy grin. "Who'd you go out with last night?"

"Back in high school, I was really struggling in Chinese. I took weekend classes at a hagwon but I still..." The memory of that bone-deep exhaustion makes the kind of tiredness he feels these days seem like nothing. "My older brother found me a tutor. A friend of a classmate of his from Beijing. We got along really well, because we both like to sing and make music."

"You like to sing?"

"Not really," Joonmyun prevaricates. "I mostly like writing songs."

"Did you really go out with your Chinese tutor?"

"I went out with my friend Lu Han, who used to be my Chinese tutor," Joonmyun corrects. "But that was eleven years ago. Now he's just… Lu Han."

"Hyung," Jongin says, scooping up a thin sliced circle of ddeok, "you're really old."

"No," Joonmyun says, "you're just really young." He thinks he said that last night, to Baekhyun. Jongin isn't as young as Baekhyun. He seems more innocent, though, and there's less… darkness hiding in the corners of his smile.

"Do you have to go right back to work?" Jongin is smiling his happy-puppy smile again, so Joonmyun is inclined to say no, despite the hardline deadline on DoubleK's album. "I think the comic shop I've been meaning to check out for the past few months is around here."

"Comic shop?" Joonmyun is surprised. "A shop that sells… only comics?"

"Yeah," Jongin says. "I can never convince Kyungsoo-hyung to go with me, and you know I rarely get time off like this. Won't you?"

Joonmyun stands up and pulls a crisp man won bill out of his wallet and looks down at Jongin, who has tilted his bowl to his mouth to get the last of the broth. "So you asked me, because you know I can't say no."

"Is that a yes?" Jongin asks, wiping his lips on the back of his hands, and Joonmyun pulls on the bottom of his jacket. "It's not wrinkled, hyung, you don't have to pull at it."

He stands up, too, throwing an arm around Joonmyun's shoulders. "You don't wear clothes that wrinkle," Joonmyun says, plucking at Jongin's sweatpants. "I can't trust you." He ducks under Jongin's arm, to get Jongin's beanie and sunglasses. "Suit up, Clark Kent."

Jongin has been obsessed with comics as long as Joonmyun has known him. Jongin had been nineteen the first time Minseok had brought him to Joonmyun's studio, telling him "the kid wants to write his own songs."

Jongin had scrawled lyrics he had in mind for DoubleK's debut mini from margin to margin of his Beyblade notebook, and Joonmyun had been surprised to find that "the kid" was pretty good. Really good, actually, and more mature than Joonmyun would have guessed from the way he slouched in his too big sweatshirt and looked moments from falling asleep.

"Soojung told me she liked my lyrics," Jongin had said. "Do you like them, seonbaenim?"

Joonmyun had smiled, and told Jongin to call him hyung.

It isn't surprising that Jongin's love of comics hasn't faded. As they approach the shop, his eyes light up. Jongin does not get to go out much, like this, without a manager and a bodyguard. He's too distinctive and too famous. Joonmyun is surprised, but pleased, that they've made it this far without being spotted.

They walk past the station exit Joonmyun had gotten off at last night. He wonders if he looks, he'll still find Baekhyun's discarded purple gum stuck to the concrete.

The comic shop doesn't look like much. It's smaller than the large buildings on either side of it, and while the red, yellow, blue and white siding might have once given the shop animation, the white has long since turned to gray, the red flaking off to reveal bare metal below. A red banner with cute cartoon girls stretches above the glass doors "ComicsPlease?"

"Yeah," Jongin says. He pulls the door open. Posters line the walls of a wooden staircase headed down. "I've heard this is the one of the best places in Seoul."

"Then how have you not been here?"

"This is Hongdae, hyung," Jongin says. "DoubleK is huge here. Kai and Krystal are on posters around every corner." He looks over his shoulder as he stops midway down the steps. "You're like my disguise."

"So that's why you wanted me to come," laughs Joonmyun. "It's all clear to me now."

"That and I missed you," Jongin says. "You've been so wrapped up in work, between this DoubleK album and Kyungsoo-hyung's album, that you've barely had any time."

Yixing had said the same. "I know," says Joonmyun. "I'm—"

"Don't apologize," Jongin says, shuffling down the last few steps. "All of us know you put work first, and everything else second. That's just who you are."

Joonmyun's throat is dry. He swallows. The pounding of the buk behind his eyelids, and Baekhyun's voice, the rabbit teasing the terrapin. "So what are we looking for?" It's bigger than Joonmyun had pictured from the outside. Aisles and aisles of comics.

"The new volume of this manhwa I've been reading," Jongin says, carefully taking off his sunglasses. "It's about this Japanese guy who falls in love with a Korean girl." He starts talking faster, and Joonmyun knows his fans think he's cool and cold but Joonmyun can only see him as an excitable boy. "So he moves to Korea to become a policeman but he ends up caught up with this gang—"

"You must be looking for Sun-Ken Rock." Joonmyun's chest constricts oddly at the sound.

"That's it!" Jongin enthuses, as Joonmyun turns to look.

Red baseball cap. Purple lips. Big smile that has his eyes disappearing. "Baekhyun?"

"Hello there," Baekhyun says. "It's been a while." He's wearing the Batman shirt he'd been wearing that first night, when he'd performed with Chanyeol.

"About twelve hours," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun reaches out and casually runs a hand down his arm.

"But you missed me so much that it felt like forever, right?" Baekhyun's hand falls back to his side, but he's still close enough that Joonmyun can smell the sweetness of his blueberry? flavored gum and see the small patches where he'd missed when shaving this morning. "Right, Kim Joonmyun-ssi?"

Joonmyun laughs at the unexpectedness of it, and he grins. Jongin looks back and forth between them. "Hyung?"

"Ah, sorry, sorry," Baekhyun says. "We have the new issue of Sun-Ken Rock. Or were you hoping for the latest volume release?" He slips his hands into his pockets. This is the first time he's seeing Baekhyun in full light. His jeans are tight and holey, and his boots look larger than his feet can possibly be. He has an apron tied around his waist, and a nametag that says Baekhyun in fat hangul blocks. "We keep translated imports separate from native Korean manhwa. Unless you want it in Japanese?"

"No," Jongin says. "I'm not a Daewon boy like hyung."

Joonmyun nudges Jongin with an elbow and laughs. "Be quiet, dongsaeng."

Baekhyun leads Jongin to the comics he's looking for. Jongin picks up three volumes immediately and starts skimming through them, and Joonmyun is going to drown in his own fondness at the intent concentration on Jongin's face.

"You work here?" Joonmyun asks Baekhyun, when Baekhyun doesn't seem in a hurry to walk away.

"My day job." Baekhyun shrugs. "It's fun."

"Do you have others of these?" He presses his index finger to the Batman logo on the shirt, and realizes too late that this isn't the jazz club, and Baekhyun is practically a stranger, despite the game he'd played with Joonmyun at the bottom of the stairs. "Of these superhero shirts, I mean." Jongin loudly slides the first volume back on the shelf, probably satisfied that he's read it before. "You were wearing Superman last night."

"I've got a few," Baekhyun says. "Comes with working at a comic shop." He shrugs. Joonmyun had thought Baekhyun's hair was blond, but now he thinks it's orange. He wonders what it looks like under the cap. "You look really hungover, by the way."

Baekhyun's speaking voice sends shivers down Joonmyun's back. He hasn't felt like this since he'd met Yixing. Like he wants to take Baekhyun's scratchy, weird voice and bottle it up, so he can listen to it whenever he pleases.

"I am." Joonmyun's hands slide easily into his back pockets. "It was worse this morning." Jongin has only one volume in his hands now, and two thin issues of something else. "I stepped in your gum, by the way."

"Say what?"

Joonmyun points down at his foot. "Last night. Your bright purple gum. I stepped in it."

Baekhyun stares at him for a minute before he laughs, too loud for a bookstore, even one that sells only comics. Joonmyun winces, worried they might have disturbed someone, but no one seems to mind, although a few teenage boys look in their direction. Joonmyun relaxes. Baekhyun's eyes narrow and Joonmyun offers him half a smile.

A dark haired man with a strong nose and piercings all along both his ears leans around the nearest bookshelf. "Too noisy, Baekhyun-hyung."

"Sorry, Tao," Baekhyun says, before he looks back at Joonmyun. "I have to get back to work. Restocking the new X-Men. I've been putting it off since lunch."

"Oh, of course you do." Joonmyun hesitates, before he pulls out his phone. "May I… may I have your number?"

Baekhyun stares at him for a long moment, before neatly swiping the phone out of Joonmyun's hand. He's familiar with the model, apparently, easily keying himself in and saving it. Then he texts himself. "Now I have yours, too, Kim Joonmyun-ssi."

"You should text me the next time you have a gig." Joonmyun looks down at his text messages. One outgoing text to Baekhyunnie♫, and one unread message from Sunyoung.

"I'll try to remember," Baekhyun says. His smile is as… as sticky to Joonmyun as his voice is. His incisors are sharp. Puppy-cute.

"And Baekhyun?" Joonmyun says, as Jongin walks toward him triumphantly with an armful of comics.

"Hmm?" Baekhyun asks, spinning the brim of his cap to the other side.

"It's just Joonmyun." Jongin stops in front of him. "Or hyung. When you input my name into your phone, I mean."

"Right," Baekhyun says. He smiles, a smaller, softer one this time. It's just as bright. "Your friend should put his glasses back on, by the way. There's a group of teenagers toward the entrance who might recognize that pretty face." He winks and disappears down another aisle.

Jongin pouts, and Joonmyun chuckles and lifts Jongin's sunglasses from where they hang on the neck of his shirt. He slides them on to Jongin's face. "Let's get these bought and get out of here."

"Yeah," Jongin says. "That sounds good."

It's not until they're halfway back to the agency that Jongin broaches the subject. "Who was he?"

"Byun Baekhyun." Joonmyun tightens his hands on the steering wheel. "I saw his show last night."

"He was flirting with you."

"I get the impression he flirts with everyone," says Joonmyun.

"Like you," Jongin says. "You flirt with everyone too, even if you're more subtle."

"No, I don't," protests Joonmyun. "I try to be polite."

"You're a flirt. And so is that Baekhyun. It felt like I was watching Guerilla Date."

"He's a very interesting singer." Joonmyun carefully pulls into the parking lot, shifting the car into park as Jongin unfastens his seatbelt. "I want to hear him sing more."

"Ah," Jongin says. "I should have known it was about music." He grins. "I thought I'd figured out the reason you'd broken up with Sunyoung-noona, for a minute there."

Joonmyun feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. "Don't be ridiculous, Jonginnie. Adults break up for all sorts of reasons. Not all of them are scandalous."

"I know, I know," Jongin says. "I think I'm going to go dance for a few hours."

"I'm going to go finish the song," replies Joonmyun, climbing out of the car himself, Baekhyun's laugh in his head, a new melody.

Eleven at night is too late for a phone call. Joonmyun's tired and it'd taken him some time after he and Jongin had returned to the building to find his focus.

It's Joonmyun's brother, so he picks it up anyway. "Are you at home?"

"No," says Joonmyun. "At work."

"Mom says make sure you come home Wednesday night, not Thursday morning. Thursday morning is when we're going to visit our grandmother."

"I know." Joonmyun sighs and pulls on the sleeves of his sweatshirt. He should go home and go to bed. The beginnings of a migraine lurk behind his eyes. "I'll be there. I don't know why she thinks I won't be."

"I told her there was no way you wouldn't want to see Grandmother," his brother says. "That if there was one thing that ensured you came home, it was that."

"I come home every year," Joonmyun says. He does. Chuseok and New Years and Seollal. Every single year save for one. "I'll see you next week."

When he ends the call, he saves and closes the track he's working on, and puts on ‘Sugungga'. He wishes, despite tradition, he had a recording of the version he'd heard that night at RUFXXX.

He plays the finished album for Minseok and Kris, through the surround-sound speakers in Kris's office. They've heard it all before, save for the single. When it comes on, the last track on his demo, he nibbles on his lower lip.

"What do you think?" Joonmyun leans forward as Minseok bobs his head to the beat. The buk adds depth to what had previously been a track done mostly with synthesized piano. The thump of the drum is a breath of life.

"It's catchy, Joonmyun," Minseok says. "Very catchy."

Kris winds the necktie he'd taken off earlier around his fingers, weaving it over and under and catching it between his knuckles. "It's that instrument again, from RUFXXX. The traditional drum."

"Ah!" Minseok slaps his thigh. "I thought I recognized the wood-edge sound. It's a buk, right?"

"Exactly." Joonmyun's eyes are so dry. He hasn't gotten a good night's sleep in two days. He'd napped a few hours this morning, and he has to drop off the master of DoubleK's album in four hours. "Do you like it?"

"I love it," says Kris. "It sounds different from the dub-step flooding the market right now, and Soojung sounds fantastic on the chorus." He smiles softly, and Joonmyun files it away for later thought.

"Listening to Chanyeol and Baekhyun at RUFXXX ended up being good for more than just a night's entertainment." Joonmyun rubs at the back of his neck, where a knot of tension has formed. It's been a long homestretch. He's wrung out.

"You were really into it, that night," says Kris. "I'm not surprised you found some way to incorporate it."

"Well, the song sounds fantastic to me." Minseok gathers his things. "I have to go and escort Soojung to her radio interview now."

"I don't know why they make DoubleK do those," Kris says. "Neither Jongin nor Soojung has much skill with interviews."

"They're idols," says Joonmyun. "They're idols, and it's their job to promote, whether they're good at interviews or not." He cracks his neck. "That's why I'm not an idol."

"You would be great at interviews," Kris points out. "You'd probably have been a good idol, what with the face and the sappy songs."

Joonmyun wryly smiles. "Don't forget my amazing dancing skills."

"Well, no one's perfect," Minseok says, and they all laugh.

"We could send you on interviews with DoubleK as a buffer. They need a buffer."

"Precisely," Minseok says. "And since Soojung doesn't have her own personal Joonmyun, I don't want to make her late. She'll be grumpy enough about having to pretend to like people for an hour on air."

Minseok leaves Joonmyun and Kris alone in Kris's office. Kris restarts the last song, and they listen to it again in silence.

"It's weird," Joonmyun says, "but I feel like watching other people step outside the box has made me want to do it, too."

"Not surprising." Kris rolls his necktie up neatly and sets it to the side. His large hands find a pen to play with instead.

"I never imagined, when I threw away everything to do music for a living, I'd get trapped all over again."

"Do you want to be doing something else?"

"No," says Joonmyun. "I want to be doing this, but better."

"You're already the best, Joonmyun."

"I've been in the same place for a couple of years, now. It's all starting to sound the same, even to me." Kris looks like he doesn't know what to say. His eyebrows knit together, and Joonmyun breathes out, careful not to sigh. He smiles, carefully, sweetly. "Ah, but I'm sure it will pass." He laughs.

Kris's shoulders loosen in relief. Joonmyun is relieved, too. He doesn't want anyone to worry, especially not Kris, who seems to want to use his superior height to stand guard over everyone in the entire world.

"Are we on for Thursday, as usual?" Kris is leaning back in his chair, spreading his legs and surveying the notes scattered across his desk. "It's only Tuesday and I could already use a drink."

"I won't be here on Thursday," Joonmyun says. "It's Chuseok."

"Oh right," says Kris, "I'd forgotten." He pushes his glasses up on his nose. "Chuseok." He hesitates. "Are you… You'll be all right? I know you don't like…"

"Of course," Joonmyun says. "I'm going to drop this off and then go back to the studio. Sunyoung wanted to work on something."

"Yeah, okay," replies Kris. "I'm not going to say anything cheesy like ‘if you want to talk, I'm here', so I'll just assume you know that."

"It's Chuseok." Joonmyun stands up. "It happens every year."

"And every year," Kris replies, "you're sad."

"Not sad." Joonmyun moves toward the door. Sunyoung is probably in the studio waiting for him. "Just nostalgic."

"I hope you weren't busy." Sunyoung looks tired. There are dark circles under her eyes. She's in the middle of a promotion cycle, so it isn't unexpected. Still, Joonmyun thinks she should be asleep. "I just really wanted your help with this."

"I'm never too busy for you," says Joonmyun. "Besides, I've turned in the DoubleK album. This really was the right time to catch me."

"I'm glad." Sunyoung grips her pen tightly. "The CEO wants me to write my own song for the album."

"Oh?" Joonmyun leans closer. Her perfume smells like cherry blossoms. "Why?" Usually, it's Seohyun who writes most of Sunyoung's songs. They are usually sweet piano ballads with just enough edge that people buy one Luna album after another.

"He says I'm getting old. And that I'm getting predictable and boring." Sunyoung laughs. "I'm twenty-eight. That's not old, is it?" She pulls at her denim shorts. "Anyway, he said writing my own music would give me a graceful maturity that would make me marketable to an audience my own age."

"I see." Joonmyun rubs at the back of his neck. "I'd love to help you, Sunyoung, but I'm getting old, predictable and boring, too."

"Never boring." Sunyoung smiles. "And only predictable in that I know, for sure, that I'll never have any idea what you're thinking about."

"My thoughts are usually not that exciting," Joonmyun says. "There isn't really anything about them worth sharing."

"There's nothing exciting about all my problems, either. Sharing them is a form of catharsis."

"For you," Joonmyun says. "For me, it's a form of dwelling on them. I write music for catharsis."

"Speaking of writing…" She taps her pen on her notebook. "I have ideas. I just don't know how to make them… into a song."

"Song-writing isn't a science." Joonmyun scoots closer to her and away from his computer. "If it were, my family would have been happier about my career choice."

"Your parents are nice," Sunyoung says. "Friendly. They certainly don't treat you like the black sheep."

That's because it's important to save face, Joonmyun thinks. "That's because they like you."

"Even though I'm an idol?" Sunyoung grins.

"Despite that one obvious flaw." Joonmyun looks down at Sunyoung's notebook. "So what do you have?"

"The song is about soulmates," Sunyoung says. "And about how the idea that there is only one person in the world for you is so limiting."

"That's not very romantic," teases Joonmyun.

"I think it is." She hands him the notebook. There are sentences, and words circled. "The idea that in this world, there are many people who might add to your happiness in different ways." Her face is smooth, her mouth curled down in the tiniest of frowns. "It's a different kind of romantic, right?"

"You're a beautiful person," Joonmyun tells her, and she beams at him, her smile stretching across her face. That same smile had captivated him the first time he'd seen it. He'd been twenty-four and trying desperately to convince himself that… "Inside and out."

"You're an incurable flirt, Joonmyun." She slaps his thigh, and he laughs at her. She's so pretty and bright.

"I'm not flirting," protests Joonmyun. "I'm just offering an honest opinion."

"Your honest opinions are very flirtatious," she replies, and Joonmyun hands her back her notebook.

"Jongin said the same thing to me a few days ago."

"You flirt with Jongin?" Sunyoung looks down at her scattered ideas, rereading as she speaks. "He's a bit young for you. And the wrong gender."

"I'm not interested in Jongin." His stomach hurts. Too much coffee and not enough sleep, probably. Joonmyun's going to get ulcers again if he isn't careful.

"You're not interested in me, either," she says, quietly, and Joonmyun runs his tongue along his teeth.

They work for an hour on Sunyoung's song. They have the beginnings of a chorus and some solid direction on her verses when Joonmyun's phone rings.

He contemplates ignoring it. "It might be important," Sunyoung says, and Joonmyun picks his phone up off the table and looks at the caller identification.

Baekhyunnie♫

He'd given Baekhyun his number four days ago. Baekhyun has only sent him one text message: a screencapture of his phone with Joonmyun's name typed in as Joonmyun-hyung. Joonmyun had sent back a thumbs up.

"Hello?"

"Joonmyun-hyung?" He likes the way that sounds, coming from Baekhyun.

"Ah," he says, flicking his gaze to Sunyoung and wanting, weirdly, to keep Baekhyun to himself. "Hello."

"Are you busy right now? Or in a little while, I mean." Baekhyun is teasing him again. That's the tone Jongin had mistaken for flirtatious. "There's something I'd like to show you."

"Kind of," Joonmyun says, peeking at Sunyoung, who is watching him curiously. "But I can be free."

"Where are you right now?"

"In my studio," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun makes a noise that sounds like a snort. It's an ugly sound and it makes Joonmyun's stomach, which has been uncomfortably hurting for an hour, loosen its knots. "In Apgujeong," he clarifies. He thinks Baekhyun knows where he works. He'd recognized Jongin as SM artist Kai, even if he hadn't said so directly.

"I've just met you and I'm not even surprised."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means you work too much for someone in the arts," says Baekhyun.

"Can I meet you in an hour?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun laughs.

"Make it an hour and a half," replies Baekhyun. "But not any later. We don't want to miss sunset." Joonmyun looks at his watch. It's only three. He's not sure how they can possibly miss the sunset. "Meet me at World Cup Stadium Park."

"Where? It's… kind of big."

"Take a taxi to the station. Meet me outside exit 1."

"I have a car," Joonmyun says, and Sunyoung tilts her head. "If you wanted."

"I don't want," Baekhyun says. "I don't know where you'd park it. Are your shoes comfortable?" Joonmyun looks down at his sneakers.

"Yes?" Joonmyun should ask why it matters if his shoes are comfortable, or why he's meeting Baekhyun in front of an agricultural center. But instead, he's just… interested. "I'd rather not get gum on them, though."

Baekhyun laughs again. He laughs a lot at Joonmyun, but Joonmyun loves the sound of his laugh. It's loud and high and rough, but it reminds him of the way Baekhyun sings. "Good, see you at four-thirty."

"Right. Okay." Joonmyun ends the call, and Sunyoung combs her hair back from her face.

"Who was that?" She closes her notebook. Her nails are burgundy now. An autumn color.

"An acquaintance," Joonmyun answers, and he sets his laptop to shut down. "He has a lot of music in him."

"You used to say I had a lot of music in me," teases Sunyoung. She slides her notebook into her purse. "I won't keep you."

"You're never keeping me." Joonmyun reaches out and tucks her hair behind her ear.

"In more ways than one," Sunyoung says, before she leaves Joonmyun alone in the studio, staring at the empty chair where she'd just been sitting moments before.

Baekhyun's sideways red cap makes him easy to spot. Joonmyun pays the taxi driver and hops out of the vehicle, wondering what he's doing. It's not like him to drop everything and go.

"Do you ever sleep?" Baekhyun asks. He leans forward in greeting, more than a nod and less than a bow. "Or are you auditioning for a zombie movie?"

"I was going to go to bed early today." Joonmyun looks up at the sky, and is surprised to see it's cloudless. "It doesn't feel like rainy season."

"It's supposed to be clear tonight." Baekhyun smiles at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun thrums with it. He's had too much coffee today, and it runs through him instead of blood. But the creeping exhaustion fades in the wake of Baekhyun's easy grin. "Do you remember the flooding back in 2010 during Chuseok?"

He starts to walk, and Joonmyun follows, falling into step beside him as they head out onto a walking trail. It's clearly marked, light brown gravel making for easy traction underfoot. Comfortable shoes for walking. "I do remember. It was worse that following July, though."

"I don't think I minded in July, it was so hot," Baekhyun says. "But I remember that September. The rain never stopped. My uniform pants were wet up to the knees for what felt like three days straight."

"You were still in high school." Wonder sneaks into his voice. Joonmyun had been twenty-six, and preparing for a trip to New York while he sat cross-legged on the floor of his childhood bedroom. His father had been watching the news instead of the Chuseok variety programming. He had been texting Sunyoung and worrying about whether airport bus schedules would be affected.

"I was. A third-year." Baekhyun shrugs. "Doesn't matter. It won't rain today." He twists his cap until it's backwards. There are a few patches of faded pink in his hair. It's a patchwork quilt of bad dye-jobs. "I wanted to be sure, before I asked you to come out here. It's a three kilometer walk."

"I wasn't expecting you to call me until the next time you had a gig." Joonmyun hopes it doesn't sound accusing. He's oddly glad Baekhyun called. Or maybe not so oddly, since Baekhyun's voice rings in his head every time the other music that fills his life stops. Every word Baekhyun says gets catalogued in Joonmyun's personal library of Baekhyun-noises.

"I was bored." Baekhyun bumps into him as they walk. Their elbows keep brushing. Baekhyun is warm, so Joonmyun doesn't move away. He doesn't mind the way their hands touch with every step. "And I don't understand you, yet."

"I'm easy to understand." Joonmyun trips on nothing, toes of his sneakers kicking up the tan-colored dirt. Baekhyun laughs at him as he catches himself, and Joonmyun has had this body for almost thirty years, so he should know where all the limbs are going by now. "And still not capable of walking, I guess."

Baekhyun shoots him an indecipherable look. "At the jazz club you said you used to make good music." Non-sequitur? Joonmyun tries to keep up.

"There's something… stale about what I'm creating these days."

There are other people on the trail. A group of young women behind them and an older couple in front of them. Baekhyun pulls at the arm of Joonmyun's sweater, tugging him left at the fork and down a winding path. Now they are alone. "The other way is coffee shops and restaurants. But that's not what we're here for."

"What are we here for?"

"I was bored, so I decided we should comb the neighborhood." He smiles, sharp incisors dangerous in the last of the afternoon light. "I want to find your inspiration. Lost pets don't usually run far from home." Their arms brush now with every step, a full press.

"Inspiration isn't actually like a lost pet," Joonmyun says. His shoulders shake with laughter, and Baekhyun leans in further. "You can't just put up posters and ask people around town if they've seen it."

Baekhyun shrugs. He doesn't have broad shoulders, so the movement causes his sweatshirt to slip. He pulls it back up in annoyance. "But it is something you can't just count on coming back on its own."

"So we have to walk three kilometers to find it?" Joonmyun doesn't mind walking, really. Baekhyun has a way of winding his tongue around every final syllable that mimics the way the trail cuts through the grass, and each step, to the cadence of his speech, is a pleasure.

"No, we have to walk three kilometers to find something else." He's smirking, only the corners of his lips turning up in a smug expression that makes Joonmyun want to steal his cap and mess up his hair. He satisfies the urge by bumping his hip into Baekhyun's, causing him to stumble sideways.

"Brat," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun looks at him, startled, before it turns into a grin.

They walk a few minutes in easy silence. There is the faint sound of traffic, but it's distant enough that it really feels like they're walking by themselves. Joonmyun doesn't mind the quiet, but it seems to bother Baekhyun. He hums, first, then he starts to sing.

It's one of Joonmyun's songs. He'd written it three years ago for Kyungsoo. Baekhyun probably doesn't know that. No one really looks at the song credits.

Joonmyun wishes he could close his eyes and just listen, but he knows that would end with him flat on his face in the dirt. Baekhyun's voice is so raw, so unique. Joonmyun has never heard anyone with a tone quite like it, husky and rough and sweet, too, all in the same breath. It's untrained, though, and his inexperience shows in every weak note that doesn't quite soar.

"You sing through your nose," Joonmyun says, interrupting Baekhyun mid-song. Baekhyun catches the beginning of the next line in a hiccup, and Joonmyun chuckles. They're really cute, the puppy yips that Baekhyun makes when he's surprised or curious. They aren't as calculated as some of the other cute things Baekhyun does, like look up at Joonmyun through dark, heavy eyelashes as they sit side by side in a dark club. "You should be using your chest voice."

"What?" His tone is sharp. He moves away from Joonmyun, and his absence reminds Joonmyun that it's fall in earnest. The path evens out and comes to a wide bridge, inviting them deeper into the World Cup Park complex. "You're not a singer."

"That doesn't mean I don't know anything about it." Joonmyun shrugs. "Have you ever had anyone teach you?" He pulls his sweater sleeves over his hands. It's cold for him, even if Baekhyun looks perfectly comfortable in his thin sweatshirt. "About singing, I mean. How to get the most out of your voice."

"Nope," Baekhyun says. He drags his feet. Digging into his pocket, he pulls out his package of gum. Blueberry mint Xylitol. He shakes five pieces into his hand, and then pops them into his mouth. "I don't do well with teachers, anyway."

"You didn't even have a high school teacher who…"

"I didn't do well in high school." Baekhyun returns the gum to his back pocket, and then puts his hands into the pockets of his sweatshirt. "Not even in music class. I was too distracted."

"Distracted by what?"

"Stuff. I don't know." Baekhyun looks up at the sky. "We need to hurry."

"Why?"

"This is Haneul Park," Baekhyun says. "One of the best places to see the sunset in Seoul."

"I've never been here before," Joonmyun admits. "I haven't seen a sunset in who knows how long."

"That's your problem," says Baekhyun. "You can't make good music if you don't really live."

It shouldn't feel like Baekhyun has punched him in the gut, but it does. It makes Joonmyun think of how many songs he wrote sitting by the river's edge in Yeouido, Yixing strumming his guitar as he soaked in the smell of the fresh summer grass. That was a long time ago, though, years and years ago, and Joonmyun might be too jaded now to recapture that kind of magic.

Besides, those weren't songs for other people to hear.

They stand at the foot of a zigzag staircase, and Baekhyun whistles. "I don't remember it looking this intimidating."

The stairs are numbered with blue signs. Joonmyun's eyes aren't strong enough to see all the way to the top of the first zag.

"When's the last time you were here?" They begin the upward climb, Baekhyun's breath coming in short puffs as they ascend. Joonmyun's own chest feels tight at barely halfway, but he can already see some of the bridge and the Han river. It will be a fantastic view.

"My brother took me here when I was eleven," Baekhyun says. "There are two-hundred and ninety-one stairs here, and he practically dragged me up the last fifty."

"You have a brother?" He puts his left hand out to hold the steel railing. The wooden stairs give nicely underfoot as he and Baekhyun walk up in step with each other.

"He's your age." Baekhyun shrugs. "Just about, anyway."

Joonmyun can tell Baekhyun doesn't want to keep talking about it, so he doesn't pry. It's simple enough for him to stem his curiosity, and focus on the top of the stairs. The trees are thinning as they rise above them.

Up here, the sky looks like a watercolor painting. If Joonmyun weren't already winded, it would take his breath away.

"Wow," he says, and Baekhyun pushes at Joonmyun's lower back with a splayed hand.

"This way," he says, and guides them through lush growing wildflowers. "Can you believe this used to be a landfill?"

"Were you even alive when this used to be a landfill?" The stadium had only been completed in 2001. Joonmyun can remember the World Cup fever that had struck his classmates, a hushed frenzy underscoring mathematics class that no one, not even Joonmyun, had been able to ignore.

They're along a dirt trail again. On either side of them are rows of wind turbines, spinning rapidly as they amble past. "Haha, very funny," Baekhyun replies. He blows a bubble with his big wad of gum. It's starting to stain his lips. "I'm not that young."

"I didn't know Xylitol had enough dye in it to change the color of your tongue."

"Only if you chew six pieces at once," Baekhyun replies. "I'm preventing cavities."

They have the park almost to themselves. Maybe because it's a Tuesday, and no one else is free. Maybe because there's a nip in the air. Either way, Joonmyun can feel the tension of the past few days oozing out of him and blowing away in the gentle wind. Baekhyun pulls them off the trail when they get to a lookout point. The dirt becomes brick, and smooth silver benches that look like something out of a sci-fi movie that Jongin would make him watch sit behind a high wooden safety railing. They're shaped round like stones, but that doesn't deter Baekhyun, who immediately stands on top of one, balancing with his arms held straight out to his sides, gaze fixed on the city view.

"Get down," Joonmyun says. "You'll hurt yourself."

"No, I won't," Baekhyun says. "I'm standing on a bench. Not exactly dangerous, hyung."

"But…" Joonmyun sighs.

"Come up next to me," Baekhyun says.

"Definitely not," Joonmyun replies immediately.

"The view is really spectacular." Baekhyun looks down at him. "And I won't let you fall, old man."

Joonmyun sighs and pulls himself up onto the bench, wobbling as he straightens his leg. Baekhyun's arm immediately circles his waist to steady him, and Joonmyun's breath quickens.

It's because he's always been afraid of falling. It doesn't have anything to do with how warm Baekhyun is.

"See? Now look out."

Gayang Bridge crosses the Han in front of him, and Baekhyun was right; the view is spectacular.

The sun is just starting to set, now. The sun's reflection glimmers in the water of the river, and Joonmyun forgets, sometimes, how beautiful the city can be when the only thing he sees for weeks on end is the road between his studio and his apartment.

The sounds of the wind pushing the turbines and Baekhyun humming under his breath and the crowing of the birds as they prepare for sleep serve as a soundtrack to the sunset, and Joonmyun can hear his own heartbeat like the sound of a firm hand striking the flat of a buk drum.

Baekhyun doesn't let go until Joonmyun completely relaxes, laughing as he drops his arm. "See? Your skull isn't cracked open or anything."

"You must read too many comic books," Joonmyun says. "Cracked skulls are not funny."

"I never said they were." He blows another bubble with his gum, and it pops on his face. He flinches as he tries to suck the gum back into his mouth. It sticks to his nose and lips and cheeks. "You're funny though."

Sticky Byun Baekhyun. He laughs, quietly, and Baekhyun glares at him, using one thin finger to pull the gum off of his face. "Hmm."

"What do you think?" Baekhyun asks, as the sun sinks into the horizon. "Do you feel inspired?"

"A little," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun jumps down from the bench, looking up at Joonmyun until Joonmyun jumps down too. Baekhyun smiles.

"Chanyeol and I arranged the next part of the pansori last night." They start to walk again, rejoining the dirt trail. It's been a long time since Joonmyun let someone else lead him like this, but he can tell Baekhyun likes to be in charge. It reminds him of Soojung, who prefers being the person calling all the shots during recording and bristling whenever Jongin refuses to bend to her will.

"Really?"

Baekhyun grabs Joonmyun's arm and pulls him closer. "Do you pay attention when you walk?"

In front of where Joonmyun had been walking, the path dips. "It's dark," Joonmyun says. "I'm not an owl."

"Not an owl, not a singer. What are you, then?" Once, Joonmyun had wanted…

"A songwriter," Joonmyun says. "A producer."

"Do you want to hear it?" Baekhyun's hand is warm on Joonmyun's arm. It's a casual touch. Joonmyun does it to Kris all the time.

"Hear what?"

Baekhyun smells like blueberries and mint. "The pansori."

"We're not alone in the park," Joonmyun says. As dusk falls heavy, Joonmyun can finally see other people. An old couple holding hands walk the trail in front of them.

"So?" Baekhyun leans into Joonmyun, enough to chase away the chill slowly starting to sink into him. "Who cares? We're outside! It's a park!"

Joonmyun had never played in the park as a child. Had never run around for fear of ripping a hole in his uniform slacks or getting his shirt dirty. He'd never screamed or shouted. He'd stuffed his emotions down deep and presented a calm face to the world.

His mother had looked with disdain at people who shouted, tightening her grip on Joonmyun's arm and pulling him along. ("It's a sign of class," she always said. "You must always present yourself with dignity.")

Sometimes Joonmyun thinks that's why he finds it so hard to sing his own songs. Why he writes them and gives them away to other people to sing.

But Joonmyun's mother isn't here. There is only Baekhyun, who is looking at him expectantly. Joonmyun hates to disappoint expectations. "Only if you use your chest voice," he says.

"I don't even know what that means." Baekhyun frowns. "I thought you liked my voice."

"I love it," Joonmyun says, honestly, and Baekhyun, face illuminated by the floodlights, smiles. "It's wonderful."

"Then shut up and listen."

Up here, where it seems like he's on top of the world, the evening air crisp and fresh and Baekhyun singing at the top of his lungs into the night, Joonmyun feels so free.

"Thank you," he says to Baekhyun later, after Baekhyun has conned him into getting KFC instead of eating at a real restaurant. The grease sticks to his fingers, but Baekhyun's eyes are glittering with mischief.

"For what?" Baekhyun asks, leaning back in his chair so only two legs are on the ground. His ankles brush Joonmyun's calves. "I was bored. And you bought dinner."

"Brat," Joonmyun says, but he smiles down at his fries.

On Chuseok, it rains all day.

The window of his parents' condo is a blurry watercolor of the streets outside, and Joonmyun sits perfectly straight in his seat, hands together in his lap as his mother pours tea.

Joonmyun hadn't slept last night. The bed here is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. He'd had dreams during the night that had kept him awake, too. Memories, really, of his grandfather sitting next to him on the piano bench and showing Joonmyun where to put his hands. He'd barely been able to hit a seventh.

Now he's awake, and he's sitting in an armchair by himself as his mother looks at him from across the low living room table, the tea set between them.

"How is Sunyoung doing?" she asks. Her voice is soft and low but it still cuts through the silence.

"Well," Joonmyun replies. "She's working on a new album right now." He cautiously picks up the ceramic cup of tea in front of him. It's hot, but Joonmyun is cold. The air conditioning is on too high. The warmth seeps into his hands. "She's busy."

She always asks. Joonmyun always answers just like this.

He clutches the teacup between his fingers. He can't grip it as tightly as he would like, because he doesn't want to break it. It's import. Expensive. His mother had acquired it on a trip overseas she'd taken while Joonmyun was sitting for his university entrance exams.

His brother clears his throat, and both Joonmyun and his mother turn to look at him. "It's time to go see Grandmother," he says, and Joonmyun takes a sip of his tea. It burns his throat but settles warm into his stomach.

The care facility is busy. It always is, on holidays when everyone is off work. The rain hasn't kept anyone away, but the floors are dangerously slippery on the first floor, puddles from outside making their way in.

His grandmother is on the second floor. She'd been on the first floor for a while. Then they'd realized she might never get well enough to go back home. That was when she'd been moved to the second floor, down the hall from the woman who always screams, who Joonmyun has met once and often greets with a "Good Afternoon Mrs. Gu" as he leaves.

Chuseok is one of two times a year his whole family visits at once. Joonmyun knows his grandmother looks forward to these visits the most because she still hopes that the family will somehow magically fall back together. Joonmyun does not have it in him to break her heart with the truth.

Joonmyun's father, carrying a briefcase full of things to grade, takes the chair at the back of the large single-occupant hospital room, after kissing his mother ‘hello' on the forehead. "Too many students this semester," he mumbles in excuse, and Joonmyun angles himself so that his father and his blue marking pen are blocked from his grandmother's view.

"How are you today, halmeoni?" asks Joonmyun warmly, and his grandmother grins up at him.

"Another Chuseok," she replies. "How are you doing, Joonmyunnie?"

"Busy," he says, resting his hand on the back of hers. Her skin is soft and he can feel the veins. She looks brighter. Healthier. Joonmyun is happy to see the flush in her cheeks. "But never too busy for you."

"You're a charmer," his grandmother laughs as his brother perfunctorily kisses her cheek. "That's why the girls all liked you in high school."

"They did not," Joonmyun protests. "They were just friendly."

"Think what you want," she says, "an old woman like me knows what infatuation looks like." She coughs, and it shakes her whole body.

"Don't strain yourself," Joonmyun says, squeezing her hand.

"You remind me so much of your grandfather," she says, not for the first time. "Do you have any new music for me?"

"Nothing worth sharing," Joonmyun says. "I've got my eye on someone talented, though. Maybe I can get him to record something for you."

"If you haven't done anything worth sharing," his mother says, "what's keeping you too busy to visit home?"

"My work," Joonmyun says, and his brother puts a hand on his mother's shoulder. She quiets, leaning into Joonmyun's older brother's side as if to console herself that at least the first son turned out right.

"I look forward to hearing him," his grandmother says, and Joonmyun looks down at her with a grin.

"I'll see what I can do," says Joonmyun. "He's unpolished right now."

"A diamond in the rough," his grandmother says wisely. She always understands. "I'm still looking forward to hearing you. Maybe one day."

"Maybe," Joonmyun agrees.

In the car on the way home, his father turns up the news on the radio loud enough that no one has to talk. Joonmyun's brother is on his phone the whole time anyway, answering e-mails from work and texting his girlfriend. Joonmyun looks out the side window and watches the downpour.

They eat clear japchae noodles with their dinner, and songpyeon. Joonmyun, as a child, used to help his grandmother prepare the ricecake treats, always choosing the red bean ones to make more of because those are his favorite. He fills the silence at the dinner table by singing ‘Sugungga' to himself in his head, only it turns into Baekhyun halfway through and Joonmyun doesn't bother to fight it.

Baekhyun had sung, at Haneul Park, without any accompaniment. Now there's the clang of metal chopsticks against expensive plates to provide a beat.

After dinner, Joonmyun helps his mother wash dishes. They don't talk, really, but their hands brush as he takes the plates from her and carefully dries them. It's a temporary truce. His father disappears into his study and his brother is on the phone. Joonmyun can hear him through the door when he retires to his own room. It's probably his girlfriend.

Joonmyun's childhood bedroom still looks the same. Bare white walls, to help him study, and rich mahogany furniture. He sits on the edge of his bed and taps his fingers against his headboard to the tune of DoubleK's new single. The thump thump of the buk is as rich in his imagination as if he were actually listening to it.

His phone quacks at him. He slips his hand into his pocket and pulls it out, expecting a ‘Happy Chuseok' message from Sunyoung or Minseok or even Jongin.

Instead, he finds a message from Baekhyunnie♫.

what the fuck is a chest voice is all it says, and Joonmyun laughs easily and sincerely for the first time all day. He can picture Baekhyun's face, thin purple-stained mouth curled down and cheeks puffy with frustration.

It's Chuseok. Shouldn't you be paying attention to your family?

not from seoul, Baekhyun quickly texts back. at my place alone watching chuseok specials. idol olympics is on. your friend is pretty athletic. He must mean Jongin. Joonmyun is still smiling.

Joonmyun's family are all in separate rooms. They wouldn't miss him for the night. So you're not busy?

im very busy Baekhyun writes back. im watching tv and reading comics and eating ice cream kkkkkk

I could teach you, Joonmyun types. He sends the message before adding a qualifier. I could teach you how to get more out of your voice.

tonite?

Yes, replies Joonmyun, looking around at the blank walls of his room and feeling the smoothness of his blankets under his thighs. It's boring and stifling and Baekhyun is anything but. If you would like to, of course.

where shld i meet u?

"I expected more modern art," says Baekhyun, as he looks around Joonmyun's apartment. "Lu Han said you were into pretentious stuff." His hands are swallowed by the sleeves of a shirt that's too big, and his basketball shorts hang far past his knees. He's a child playing dress up in his big brother's clothes. Baekhyun is wearing a different cap today. It's dark blue, and the blue strap cuts across the brightness of his dyed hair. He'd been easy to spot when Joonmyun had walked down to meet him at the Gangnam subway station. "But this is nice. Not too cold, either. How long have you lived here?"

"About seven years." Joonmyun says as he walks into the kitchen. Lu Han and Yixing had helped him move the last of his things in. Yixing had sat on the kitchen table and laughed as Lu Han tried to lift the heaviest boxes by himself. "Even if the place was empty for two of them. Sunyoung watered my plants, though." Joonmyun stretches. "I am into ‘pretentious stuff'. And I don't like the cold."

"I don't like the cold, either. It's just the right temperature in here. Nice and warm." Baekhyun's thin fingers make themselves at home flicking through Joonmyun's CDs, occasionally pausing when Baekhyun comes across something unexpected. "You have a lot of music."

"It's one of my hobbies." Joonmyun watches Baekhyun's face carefully. He looks exhausted. Maybe Joonmyun shouldn't have asked him to come out. But he had asked and Baekhyun had accepted. He gets the feeling Baekhyun doesn't really do anything he doesn't want to do.

"Along with golf?" Teasing. Joonmyun's lip twitches in amusement. It's been a long time since anyone has pushed at him like this.

Joonmyun chuckles. "I thought your memory was bad, Baekhyun."

"It can be," Baekhyun says. "Sometimes I get lucky, though." He smiles down at the CD he's slid out of place. "You have golfing gloves in the shoe cabinet in your entry way. It reminded me."

"I don't know why," Joonmyun says. "My brother and I haven't played in over a year. Mostly I catch it on television now."

"That sounds as exciting as watching paint dry," says Baekhyun.

Maybe Baekhyun would think paint drying was, well, exciting, if he'd seen the MoMA exhibition Joonmyun had seen. There had been a thrill, watching the clean canvas of a naked body get slowly covered in paint. It's how Joonmyun feels, when he hears a really amazing song. Like he's being slowly coated in color.

"Golf can be exciting," says Joonmyun. "Most things can be exciting if you understand them."

"I'm serious. It must be a rich kid thing." Baekhyun is still teasing him. Still smiling that daring half-smile. He's drowning in his clothes and smiling down at one of Joonmyun's CDs, and Joonmyun is taken with how cute he looks like that, lower lip captured by one of his sharper white teeth. "I always liked kickball, myself. Or basketball. Playing, not watching."

Joonmyun hadn't been allowed to play sports as a kid. Maybe if he had, he wouldn't be stuck with the grace of a wobbly newborn kitten. "Can I get you something to drink?"

Baekhyun looks up from his perusal of Joonmyun's album collection to meet Joonmyun's amused gaze. "What do you have?"

"You're welcome to look," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun takes him up on the offer, opening his refrigerator.

"You don't strike me as the soda type." He grabs an orange Hwanta, and closes the refrigerator again.

"I'm not." Joonmyun pushes his hands into the pockets of his slacks. He wishes he'd changed before he'd gone to pick Baekhyun up. "Jongin likes soda."

"Jongin is Kai, right?" Baekhyun leans back against the kitchen table, like he's been here dozens of times and belongs. It's weird. Sunyoung had visited four times before she'd even sat down on the couch without Joonmyun inviting her to have a seat. Baekhyun's already routed his CD collection.

"Does he spend a lot of time here?"

"He used to." Jongin is famous now. He and Soojung are DoubleK, Kai and Krystal, and they have Asia-wide tours and music show performances. They have radio interviews to fumble through and songs to record and variety shows to attend. Joonmyun is busy, too. DoubleK is far from the only artist he makes music for. "Out of habit, I keep his favorites in the fridge."

"Does he like wine coolers, too?" Baekhyun looks more like a kid with a ring of orange around his mouth from the Hwanta.

"That's my ex-girlfriend's favorite." He walks into the living room and sits down on the couch. It's a soft suede. Kris swears, every time he sits on it, that he's going to get one of his own someday.

"The thing about having a shit memory," says Baekhyun, "is that I don't have habits that remind me of how lonely I am." Baekhyun sits down next to Joonmyun. The couch is large. Joonmyun expected Baekhyun to sit on the opposite end, but instead he leaves barely a hand's breadth between them. Their knees bump. "I can't remember my ex's favorite drink."

"Who says I'm lonely?" Joonmyun leans forward and snatches Baekhyun's hat, setting it on the table. His hair is as messy as Joonmyun had suspected, patches of it dyed all sorts of colors. At the roots, it grows out a dark brown. "And maybe she's your ex because you couldn't remember her favorite drink."

"Naw, I can't even remember Tao's favorite drink, and he's like, my closest friend."

"Your co-worker at the comic shop."

Baekhyun whistles. "You're good. Yeah, that's Tao."

Joonmyun's memory is amazing. In high school, he excelled at standardized tests, and at his father's important university parties, he remembered everyone's names and topics of study. His mother had trotted him around like a show-pony. Yes, he goes to Daewon and Yes, he has the top scores in his class. "What's your favorite drink, Baekhyun?"

Waggling his eyebrows, Baekhyun leans back, folds of his huge shirt shifting around him. There's a random splotch of pink in his hair. "I'm not going to tell you. That way, when I forget what you like, we'll be even." He laughs - maybe nervously? - and it rings through the apartment. It's a bright, lovely sound for Joonmyun to hoard away with the rest of Baekhyun's distinctive noises.

Truly, Joonmyun isn't lonely, because he doesn't mind filling the quiet with music instead of conversation. But Baekhyun makes his apartment feel full in a way it hasn't felt in years. "We will not be even," Joonmyun says, licking behind his teeth. His mouth is dry. "You'll just be a forgetful brat."

Surprised, Baekhyun meets his gaze straight on, and then his eyes crinkle. "You'll still like me though," Baekhyun says, and he kicks Joonmyun with a socked foot. Joonmyun pulls his leg up onto the couch for safety.

How did he get here? Baekhyun is practically a stranger and he's kicking Joonmyun on his own couch. "Does everyone like you?"

"At first," Baekhyun says. "It's because I have so much aegyo."

"You are very cute," Joonmyun says. "Like a puppy."

"Lu Han also told me you adopt people." Baekhyun tilts his head to the side, contemplating. Joonmyun stares right back. "I'm not a child. You know that, right?"

"I know." There's nothing childlike in the way Baekhyun approaches people. Joonmyun's side had tingled with the heat of Baekhyun's alcohol-heavy body. "I really do."

"You have a lot of CDs." Baekhyun is staring at him challengingly, and Joonmyun lets him change the subject. "A lot of pansori."

"My grandfather loved pansori," says Joonmyun. "We listened to it a lot when I was a kid. I have his records, too."

"Like forty-fives?" Baekhyun seems to have regained his natural confidence, the off-kilter look vanished from his eyes. "That's cool."

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Like forty-fives. He left them to me when he died."

"My brother collects records. Or he used to. He doesn't really collect stuff, these days."

"Why not?" Joonmyun is not actually expecting an answer. Baekhyun seems to know that, delivering a tiny, twisted smile that he follows up with a more cute one, the now familiar mischievousness oozing out of him. "Do you collect things?"

"So was it the song choice that made you want to hear me again, or…" He's teasing again. His knees brush Joonmyun's. His words have a way of lilting upward when he teases, like he's coaxing flies with honey. Joonmyun is not a fly. Honey is too sweet for him.

"Your voice," Joonmyun answers. "The song choice helped. ‘Sugungga' is a favorite."

"What if I'd sung Chunhyangga?" Baekhyun sits forward again. Orange Hwanta. He sets the mostly-empty bottle on Joonmyun's low catchall table. "Mongryrong and Chunhyang meeting at Gwang Hanru--"

"I like your voice," says Joonmyun. "It's sticky." Sticky like blueberry mint Xylitol and sticky like smiles at sunset. "The pansori just grabbed my attention."

"Your breath smells like songpyeon." Joonmyun cups a hand over his mouth and breathes. Sure enough, the distinctive pine-needle smell lingers. "I haven't had songpyeon in years." Baekhyun leans closer still. "Did you save me any?"

"I was at my parents' house." He hesitates. "Why didn't you go home for Chuseok?" Joonmyun finally asks, and Baekhyun's hands, lost in the too-long sleeves of his shirt, gather the fabric in his hands. He looks up through his messy hair at Joonmyun, eyes dark and serious even as he smiles playfully.

"Why were you so eager to leave home on Chuseok?" he asks in return, and Joonmyun swallows.

"That's…" He rubs at his temples. "Complicated."

Baekhyun laughs, scratching at his ear. His shin is completely against Joonmyun's now. It's warm and comfortable. "So don't pry, hyung. Just play with me."

"I'm too old to play."

"You're never too old to play," says Baekhyun. "Teach me about chest voice."

"Sing something for me."

"Sing what?"

"Hmm." Joonmyun stands, walking over to his keyboard and sitting on the bench. Baekhyun follows him, bumping Joonmyun with his hip, telling him to scoot over and make room. "How about ‘Three Bears'?"

Baekhyun pulls a face, and Joonmyun pats his knee. "Are you kidding?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "Just try it." He plays a few bars of it on the piano, to give Baekhyun a start, and Baekhyun pouts at him but sings it anyway. He goes flat on the second verse, but Joonmyun doesn't stop him. He just listens.

When Baekhyun's done, he takes a deep breath. "How was that?" He's smiling at Joonmyun again, his eyes crinkling up. His eyelashes are only a medium brown without mascara. He's close enough that Joonmyun can see them individually.

Joonmyun brings a hand up to Baekhyun's throat and rests his hand on it gently. Baekhyun's eyebrows pull together in alarm, and then relax in confusion as Joonmyun runs his thumb in a small circle just under Baekhyun's Adam's apple. "You're not singing with the richest part."

"What do you mean?"

"You're not supporting your voice," Joonmyun explains. "You're singing entire songs in your head voice, and it ends up sounding nasal and breathy. You're missing out on the best part of your range." He slips easily into teacher mode. He'd taught Jongin this once. He doesn't remember Jongin sitting this close to him, and he definitely hadn't touched him. "You need to settle in deeper." He slides his hand down, palm flat against Baekhyun's breastbone. "Down here. Where you speak." Baekhyun's heart beats steadily under his hand. "Although you tend to speak high and nasal, too."

"So I sing and talk all wrong, is what you're saying."

Joonmyun chuckles. "No," he says. "Actually this is an easier problem to fix than if you sang everything in your chest voice. If you'd tried to belt some of those notes you go for from down there you'd have really messed up your vocal cords."

"It's just singing," Baekhyun says. Raised hackles. Baekhyun is the opposite type of student from Joonmyun, he can tell already. Resentful of authority and defiant on principle. Joonmyun had needed to learn rebelliousness, when he was Baekhyun's age. Baekhyun already has it in spades.

"The voice is an instrument you have to learn how to use, just like a piano or a violin." Joonmyun lets his hand fall from Baekhyun's chest to his thigh. He leaves it there to keep Baekhyun's attention. "This time, I want you to sing from your chest. Let it resonate there."

"I'm not sure I get it," says Baekhyun, and Joonmyun pats his thigh twice before turning back to the piano.

"We have all night to get it right," Joonmyun replies. Baekhyun leans into Joonmyun, breath hot on Joonmyun's neck.

"Seonsaengnim~" Baekhyun purrs at him, and Joonmyun elbows him away, until Baekhyun laughs and pulls himself straight, eyes following Joonmyun's fingers along the keys. "Why don't you sing for me as a demonstration?"

"I don't sing," Joonmyun says. "I write so other people can."

"Let someone else feel for you, right?" Their hipbones dig into each other's. "Don't sing or can't?"

"Don't," Joonmyun says, pressing down and sending an F out into the air. Baekhyun's laugh tickles his cheek. "I know all the tricks but I don't have the voice."

"I want to hear you," Baekhyun coos, and Joonmyun distracts him with quick playing and a challenge in his eyes.

For the first time in a long time, Joonmyun's apartment is too warm.

"Where did you go last night?" his brother asks him, the next morning before breakfast. "I went into your room to ask you a question last night around ten, but you weren't there."

Joonmyun tucks in his shirt, smoothing away wrinkles and fastening his belt.

He can still feel the warmth of Baekhyun drowsily falling into him, cheek to Joonmyun's hair, body heavy and hot and lax as Joonmyun played the Park Songhee version of ‘Sugungga' through his surround sound. "Hyung," Baekhyun had said, "if you're trying to put me to sleep, it's working."

Baekhyun's voice is huskier when he's tired, all slurred phrases and unrolled consonants.

"Music stuff," Joonmyun replies, smiling at his brother. His mood is impossibly good. He'd left a practically soporose Baekhyun at a bus stop around six. Baekhyun had sung in the car. Three Bears.

"I should have known," his brother says. "I was hoping you had a secret girlfriend, or something."

"Not at all," says Joonmyun, as he sits down and pulls clean socks onto his feet. "I'm not nearly that interesting."

"I don't know," says his brother. "When you were a kid, I thought you were boring, but… You're the one that dropped out of college and became a big time music producer. I should expect the unexpected from you now." He smiles. "Maybe you have five secret girlfriends."

Joonmyun smiles back. "I was listening to Park Songhee at four in the morning," he says. Baekhyun's skin is damp and soft when he's asleep. "You have nothing to worry about."

"Chuseok is over," Kris says. "Why is your studio still filled with the sounds of wailing old women?"

"I enjoy it," Joonmyun says. "And it's my studio. I'll listen to what I want when I'm not mixing."

"It sounds so sad." Kris is too big for the doorway of Joonmyun's studio. He is sloppily folded limbs and a hunched back as he waits for Joonmyun to shut everything down. It's Thursday, and it's time to go get drinks. Kris chooses the venue this week.

"It's not sad at all," says Joonmyun, as he cuts the music off. "It's a satire."

"What? Really?" Kris's hair looks blonder than it had yesterday. It might be the light, but Joonmyun doesn't think so.

Joonmyun slips his arms into his jacket, the silk lining static against the wool of his sweater. "Yes, really," he says. "Your hair is different."

"You're always the only one who notices." Kris frowns, and curiosity tugs at Joonmyun unexpectedly.

"Is there someone else you want to notice?" Joonmyun locks the door as Kris walks down the hallway toward the elevator. It's a little past nine, and everyone else on this floor has gone home. He can hear noise above him, though. Trainees, probably, dancing in the fifth floor mirrored studios, and Jongin, who still has the mentality of a trainee sometimes.

"Maybe," Kris says, punching the elevator button. "But tell me about the song first."

"'Sugungga' is the fifth of the five pansori songs," says Joonmyun, as they walk out to the parking lot, waving at the guard as they pass. "A turtle lures a rabbit back to the palace to save his beloved Dragon King, whose illness can only be cured with the liver of a rabbit. But the rabbit is much cleverer than both the Dragon King and his loyal turtle and tricks his way out of the palace." Joonmyun waits for Kris to unlock his car, and then trips his way into the passenger seat. "Ow."

"Only you would hurt yourself getting into a car, Joonmyun." Kris laughs. "We're going to a bar where I won't stick out like a sore thumb this week."

"It must be so difficult being tall and handsome," says Joonmyun, and Kris scoffs.

"So does the Dragon King die?" Joonmyun looks up from fastening his seatbelt. "In your song. If the rabbit escapes, what happens to the Dragon King?"

"I don't know." Joonmyun rubs his hands together to warm them up. It isn't truly cold, but Yixing always jokes that Joonmyun has cool hands and bad circulation. "That's not the point of ‘Sugungga'. The point is that the commoner outsmarted the aristocrat and got away with his life."

"Ah, I see," says Kris. "So the Dragon King died?"

"Well," Joonmyun says, leaning back, "now you've made it kind of sad."

Joonmyun is definitely underdressed for the bar they go to, but he's wearing expensive shoes and an even more expensive watch, so no one says anything at all. Some of the staff seem to know Kris. Maybe he takes people here after meetings. People with jobs more like Kris's.

They drink wine. Kris orders a bottle of some pinot noir that costs as much as dinner for ten at a meat restaurant. Kris, for all his size, goes pink cheeked and soft after a couple of glasses, and Joonmyun keeps his friend anchored in the conversation with a hand on his forearm.

"So tell me about the person you like," says Joonmyun. He swirls the wine around in his glass, already feeling lightheaded himself. He can tell that he needs to stop drinking now, so he can drive Kris's car back to the office and then maybe drive Kris home, too. He sets the glass down on the table and focuses fully on Kris. "Do I know her?"

Kris purses his lips, turning an already small mouth into a minuscule one, and it's such a silly expression that Joonmyun laughs at him. "This is why people think you're flirting with them all the time," Kris says. "This."

"What are you talking about, Kris?"

"That thing where you look at people when you're talking to them like they're the only person that matters." Kris pulls his arm away from Joonmyun and takes a generous sip of wine. "You're doing it right now."

"It's not wrong to pay attention when you talk to people." Joonmyun subtly gestures to a hovering server that he needs a glass of water. "It's only being polite."

"Not the way you do it." Kris runs a hand through mussed hair. He has a natural part in his hair, right down the middle. He hates it, but his hair always falls into it by the end of the day. "You have a way of making people feel like they're the only person in the world that can make you smile."

"Aww, Kris," Joonmyun coos, unsettled, "how romantic."

"Those aren't my words," Kris says. "They're Sunyoung's."

"You talk to Sunyoung about me?" The server slides a glass of water with lemon onto his table, and Joonmyun flashes her a smile. She blushes, and Joonmyun quickly turns back to Kris, who is smirking at him now. "Shut up."

"I didn't say anything," Kris says. "But if you were wondering, that's why she isn't over you."

"She is over me," Joonmyun corrects. "She…" The water is cold, and the ice bumps his teeth. He grabs the straw and sticks it into the glass. The second sip is less brutal. "We're talking about you, not me."

"It's Soojung," Kris says. "I know it's a bad idea, but…"

Kris always likes ice princesses. Joonmyun shouldn't be surprised. "Why is it a bad idea?"

"Because she's an idol," he replies. "And she's so young."

"And because she doesn't notice your hair?" He smiles to take away the sting, and Kris laughs, revealing tiny teeth darkened by wine. "She's not that young." Joonmyun's gut is tight and uncomfortable. Wine is never good on an empty stomach.

"She's only twenty-three, Joonmyun." He spreads his hands on the table in front of them. "I'm a lot older. I've dated a lot more people."

Soojung is only a year older than Baekhyun. He's not sure why that thought pops up, but it's irrelevant, so he pushes it back down. "Do you think Soojung is the sort of girl who doesn't know what she wants?"

"Not at all," Kris replies. "That's what I like about her." He's blushing and Joonmyun can't help but laugh at him, putting a hand in front of his mouth to hide how amused he is. "You shut up."

"I didn't say anything," Joonmyun says. "But Soojung is not ever going to be the girl who tells you she likes your hair or compliments you constantly." Joonmyun's jeans are out of place, but he isn't. He gets the server's attention easily, and she brings a second glass of water for Kris. "So don't get bogged down by that."

"You have such good love advice," Kris says, and Joonmyun shakes his head, stealing Kris's lemon slice and putting it in his own drink. "I don't understand why you aren't constantly in love."

Joonmyun thinks about how much he'd thought his heart would burst, back when he was twenty-two and so afraid to feel like he was falling. "I'm constantly in love," he says. "With music, and people, and life."

"That's not a real answer," Kris says, finishing his wine and setting it aside. "But I should probably learn not to expect those from you."

Joonmyun drops a sleepy Kris off at his house, and as he drives himself home, Baekhyun's version of ‘Three Bears' playing itself on repeat in his head is a relief from the crushing weight of his thoughts.

"Something big is in the works," Minseok says. "We signed someone today. Full seven year contract."

"Really?" Joonmyun sets down the printed music sheets he's made for Sunyoung of her song and gives Minseok his full attention. Minseok cradles a cup of coffee like it's his child and grins. "A solo artist?"

"Apparently one of the best voices Ryeowook has worked with in years. He's only been a trainee for three months."

"That's it?" It's unheard of. Joonmyun's spent almost eight years working with talent at SM and it's never really happened.

"Apparently he can't dance, but he's being groomed as a solo singer, so…"

"So that doesn't really matter," finishes Joonmyun. "Wow. I wonder who's doing his debut album?"

"I'm sure we'll find out soon," Minseok says. "I think Kris mentioned something about Song Qian being his manager?"

"Lucky kid, right?" Joonmyun laughs. "Speaking of Kris, does he look okay? I dropped him off at his place extremely drunk last night."

"I can tell," Minseok says. "He walked into his office door twice this morning after two failed unlock attempts. Soojung was laughing like it was Christmas."

"Speak of the devil," Joonmyun says, as Kris peeks his head into Minseok's office. "Are you doing all right today?"

"I've felt better," replies Kris. "The boss wants to see you."

‘The boss?" Rarely does Joonmyun ever interact with Lee Sooman, especially when Joonmyun is not working on a D. Orchestra or DoubleK album. "Why?"

"Ask him," Kris says. "In five minutes. Which is when he expects you in his office."

Joonmyun gathers up his music sheets, tapping them against the table until they form a neat stack in his hands. "Wow, okay," he says. "See you later."

Lee Sooman's office is always cold. He keeps the air conditioner on maximum, even late into the fall. It does make the long room, with Lee Sooman's desk situated in the back, all the more intimidating. Joonmyun swallows, tasting the bitter remains of his own morning coffee.

Today, Song Qian and a man-boy that Joonmyun doesn't know are sitting in the two chairs in front of his desk. Joonmyun nibbles on his lower lip and debates between standing and pulling over a chair.

"Kim Joonmyun," he says. "Bring one of the extra chairs over. This won't take long."

"Yes, sir," Joonmyun says, following instructions. He still gets the anxious churn in his stomach that he got the very first time he'd entered this office with sweaty hands and an overstarched shirt.

"This is Kim Jongdae," Lee Sooman says. "SM Entertainment has just signed him. Song Qian will be functioning as his manager."

Kim Jongdae stands up and bows, and Joonmyun bows back, more slightly, meeting Song Qian's eyes and winking when she smiles at him.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Kim Joonmyun-ssi," Jongdae says. There's a confident tilt to his eyebrows, and a strong curve to his cheeks. He's beautiful, Joonmyun notes. He has the face of an idol, and when he speaks, his voice is soft and mellifluous and warm. "Please take care of me."

He reminds Joonmyun of Baekhyun. Possibly it's the way teasing lurks at the corners of his mouth.

"Of course," Joonmyun murmurs.

"Kim Joonmyun-ssi," Lee Sooman has old, swollen hands. The wrinkles in his face are strong, like his face is covered in crinkled up sheet music instead of skin. "I'm sure you've figured out why you're here now."

"You want me to write a song for Jongdae-ssi," says Joonmyun. "Right?"

"I want to put you completely in charge of his sound," Lee Sooman says, and Joonmyun grips the papers nervously, crushing them between his hands. "We're looking for something completely new with a twist of classical to show off his strong vocals. Almost everyone has said you are the best choice, and I'm inclined to agree."

It's a big opportunity. Even with DoubleK, Joonmyun has to run everything by Yesung and Kibum. Kyungsoo's songs all go through Ryeowook, who decides whether or not they're really Kyungsoo songs after all.

That person will be Joonmyun, for this fresh-faced kid with the pretty cheekbones and prettier voice. "I would be honored," he says, smiling gently.

"Good," Lee Sooman says. "Jongdae has vocal lessons now, but perhaps you two can become better acquainted this afternoon."

The three of them leave the office, and Joonmyun turns to Jongdae.

"I'll be in my studio," Joonmyun says. "Sunyoung and I are polishing a song for her new album, but you're welcome to join us whenever you complete your lessons."

"Sunyoung as in… Luna?" Jongdae asks. "You write songs for Luna, seonbaenim?"

"Just Joonmyun-hyung will do," he says, and Jongdae beams at him. "And yes, I do. Would you like to meet her?"

"I'm very happy just to meet you, hyung," Jongdae says and Song Qian chuckles.

"Another convert to the cult of Joonmyun," she says. Her hair is soft curls. A deceiving mane for SM's tigress. Joonmyun gives her a more genuine smile.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says, as Jongdae shines at him like a young adoring sun.

"Sure you don't," Song Qian replies, and Joonmyun is left to stare bemusedly as the pair walk down the hall, leaving him alone in the hallway.

It's a big opportunity. Joonmyun looks down at the music in his hands. Twenty-two year old Joonmyun would have embraced this challenge, but twenty-nine year old Joonmyun is just anxious and afraid.

 

 

"My parents aren't too sold on this whole idol thing," Jongdae confides in him. "They think I'm chasing a pipe dream."

"Sounds familiar." Joonmyun plays back Jongdae singing his scales, the sound so clear and rich in the studio headphones. It's far more polished than Baekhyun's. It's rich and filled out and he knows how to sing.

Joonmyun shouldn't think about Baekhyun while he's working with Jongdae.

"They still can't believe I got signed."

"You have a wonderful voice," Joonmyun says. "Of course you did."

"That's not all it takes to get signed," Jongdae says. "There's more to it than that."

"True," Joonmyun says. "But you have it all, don't you?"

"I'm a horrible dancer." Jongdae laughs, and he's still looking at Joonmyun with those big eager eyes that remind him… Maybe of how Sunyoung used to look at him, a long time ago. A long time ago. "Something I hear we have in common. But yeah, I guess I do."

Joonmyun looks down at his cell phone and slips the headphones around his neck. "Let's make good music together." He rests his hand on Jongdae's elbow. "But not dance tracks, probably."

"Not dance tracks," Jongdae agrees. "Were your parents okay, when you started producing music?" He has nervous hands. "Didn't you ever want to be a performer, yourself?"

"I was supposed to be a businessman," Joonmyun says. He's almost thirty, and his water bottle is nearly empty. "I think my family might have found that a more respectable career choice."

The son of a professor with no college degree.

"Mine want me to be a doctor," Jongdae says. "But they'll come around."

"I'm sure they will," Joonmyun says. Jongdae smiles, big and sweet, and therein lies the biggest difference between Jongdae and Baekhyun. Jongdae is still soft in all the ways Baekhyun is already hard. Baekhyun, who has never learned how to sing without hurting himself, is as rough as his voice. "Tell me, Jongdae-yah, what kind of music do you like?"

Joonmyun starts mixing music when he is fifteen.

Daewon is an academic high school, one of the best in Korea, but there is a focus on extracurriculars - after all, that's what American universities are looking for, and Joonmyun wants, sincerely, to make his mother happy by attending one.

So as a first year, he joins musical theater. He's always loved singing, and making up his own songs that he only sings in the shower where no one can hear him. He takes a chance and joins the club. That's where he meets third year Cho Kyuhyun.

"You're always tapping your fingers to the beat, Joonmyun," Kyuhyun says one day, after a long rehearsal that has left the director in tears and the female lead angrily stomping around backstage. Kyuhyun is the male lead this time, again. He's always a performer. Joonmyun is not. He plays the piano during rehearsals and helps with costumes. He doesn't expect Cho Kyuhyun to even remember his name, but clearly he does. "Like you can't stop. Even when you aren't playing the piano."

"Sometimes in my head," replies Joonmyun, "I change the songs around. The tempo or…" He shrugs, and then nervously combs at the hair in front of his ears as he forces himself to meet Kyuhyun's eyes. "I can't help it. Thinking about the ways the song could sound better."

"I have a friend who does that," Kyuhyun says. "Makes songs. And fixes songs." He smiles. "He says he's an artist but I think he's just anal. You should meet him."

And Joonmyun is still confused about the fact that Cho Kyuhyun is talking to him, but he finds himself agreeing to meet Cho Kyuhyun's college-student friend Shim Changmin and somehow, from there, Joonmyun falls in love with soundboards and samplers and FL Studio and Pro Tools. He falls in love with the tiny studio Changmin and his friend Junsu rent in Beotigogae, and with the way songs transform beneath his fingertips. He squirrels away time for it between exams and Chinese tutoring and rehearsals for the Lunar New Year's show. He buys a new laptop that can handle the mixing software and squeezes new mixes onto the demos Changmin and Junsu spin at the parties they DJ on campus.

"It's something I really love," Joonmyun tells his grandfather one day, when he steals Joonmyun away from his books for the day, two weeks before his Korean university entrance exams. He's decided to stay in country for college, to study business, just like his brother. His mother is proud of him, and Joonmyun is sufficiently resigned. They walk the sedate path up to Namsan tower, and Joonmyun can't remember if he'd always had to slow his steps this much for his grandfather to keep up.

"I think in life," his grandfather says, "we all deserve to find the thing we truly love to do."

"Even if it's not politics or medicine?" Joonmyun asks, thinking about the way his mother's face had lit up when he announced his intentions to pursue business.

"What's the point of living a long life if it isn't a happy one?" his grandfather answers. He folds his wrinkled hand around Joonmyun's wrist and maybe it is Joonmyun who is a few steps slow and can't keep up.

When he drops out of college six months shy of his degree to take a job at SM, one he hadn't even thought he'd get when he applied, his mother stops talking to him.

"She'll come around," his grandmother says, setting a plate of fresh kimbap in front of him. The smell of sundubu on the stove is comforting enough that Joonmyun does not feel like crying. Joonmyun has never disappointed someone in his life, and as liberating as selling his textbooks had been, there is an anchor that's pulling him to the bottom of the ocean and there isn't any air to breathe down here. Only water rushing into his mouth and filling his lungs. Rebellion doesn't taste as sweet as it looks in the movies. The saltwater of freedom turns sour on his tongue in the wake of unmet expectations. "You have to live your own life, Joonmyunnie."

"I know," Joonmyun says, and there's so much about him that he's tried to put away, measures of all the ways he doesn't quite fit. Yixing had helped him pack up the apartment his parents had bought for him and had laced his fingers with Joonmyun's own when Joonmyun had refused to meet his eyes.

Joonmyun has always been the type to ask permission to run away from home and never ignores his mother's calls. Maybe no one in the family knows what to do when Joonmyun says ‘no', not even Joonmyun.

"Just put your heart into your work," his grandfather says. "And eventually… eventually everyone will come around."

"Do you really think so?" Joonmyun asks, and his grandfather smiles.

"You don't have to be someone else for us to love you," he says, but Joonmyun has his father's grim face and the cold twist to his mother's mouth that tells him how untrue that is.

ive got a gig on Friday if youre free

is what Baekhyun texts Joonmyun on Wednesday night. Joonmyun is surprised. It's been almost two weeks since he's heard from Baekhyun. Since they'd fallen asleep for two hours on Joonmyun's couch and then split up at the line of bus stops near Gangnam station.

Where? replies Joonmyun, and waits.

why dont u meet me at the comic shop and ill take you, Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun sets his phone down on his bed. He walks into the bathroom and splashes his face with cold water. He squirts toothpaste onto his toothbrush and then scrubs at his teeth.

What are you singing? he types instead of a reply, when he gets back to his bed. The blankets are the soft fleecy ones he puts out in the winter. They still smell musty from his closet, but there's the lingering rose of the detergent he likes.

its a surprise

The music note after Baekhyun's name is cute. Cute like Baekhyun's text messages, which are rude and childish and still manage to make Joonmyun feel like he's being taunted.

What time?

im off at 9, Baekhyun responds, and Joonmyun feels a tingle of excitement.

Looking forward to it, he types.

 

"How are things going with Jongdae?" Minseok looks exhausted. He has the same circles under his eyes that Joonmyun had seen in passing as Jongin sleepily wandered through the hallways and Soojung had curled up next to the vending machine on the seventh floor with a disposable cup of what was maybe coffee in her hand, pink nail polish chipping.

"He's really talented," Joonmyun says. "His voice is powerful. Beautiful." And Joonmyun's songs are boring. Boring and lifeless and nothing like what Jongdae needs for his debut album.

Where there used to be a river as wide as the Han of inspiration, now there is only a thin branching stream. The rest of the bed is dried up. Sometimes Joonmyun can feel the brackish water lapping at his ankles, and he remembers when it surged high enough to drown him.

"He's a catch," Song Qian says, walking into Minseok's office, pleased and radiant on a day when everyone else Joonmyun has interacted with is wan and sedate. "Lee Sooman was right to snatch him up."

"He's going to do well," Joonmyun says, and Minseok nods.

"Maybe with another artist in rotation DoubleK can take a break for a few months. I'm worried about Jongin's back injury."

"Is that still bothering him?"

"He hasn't complained, but…" Minseok frowns. "I worry."

"Maybe you should speak to the boss?" Joonmyun is thankful he isn't a manager. He would be good at it, but he worries enough about each and every one of his friends without having to add their schedules and their relationships with Lee Sooman to the mix.

"I may have to," says Minseok. "But Jongin and Soojung would probably throw a fit. Better if they think the break is for the promotion of another artist than for their health. You know how the kids are."

"You probably shouldn't call them kids." Song Qian laughs, pink lipsticked lips stretching around her smile. "At least, not where they might hear you."

Joonmyun grins in reply, making a mental note to check on Jongin's back. Maybe take Jongin out to lunch next week and make sure he's okay.

"It's Jongdae who's the kid," Joonmyun says. "He's old enough to drink, right?"

"He's twenty-two, Joonmyun," Song Qian says. Same as Baekhyun. Jongdae feels so much younger, with a gentleness hidden in his smile that Joonmyun's never seen in Baekhyun. Baekhyun's smile, even when he's relaxed and being cute, is full of sharp edges.

Joonmyun should stop comparing apples and oranges.

"Is he really?" Joonmyun smiles. "I thought he'd be younger. Lee Sooman doesn't usually sign them that old."

"Rumor has it that he follows you around like a puppy." Minseok chuckles. "It's like you have some kind of magic power."

"The Kim Joonmyun effect."

"You're being silly." Joonmyun's noticed. He just hasn't figured out if it's something he needs to be concerned about or not. It's only been a week. Jongdae doesn't know Joonmyun at all yet. He'll realize that Joonmyun is better for a simple, casual attachment soon enough. "He's just new and a bit star struck. He looks at Sunyoung like if he blinks she'll disappear."

"A lot of people look at her like that," Song Qian says. Is it accusing? Joonmyun swallows.

"How is Jongdae doing in dance classes?" Minseok presses his lips into a thin line, feline eyes darting between Joonmyun and Song Qian with curiosity.

"No one's perfect," she says, somewhat defensive, and when Minseok snorts, she laughs, the tension in the room lifting.

"Most of us aren't even close," says Joonmyun. "Not too well, then?"

"Ryan's frustrated. We need fresh blood for the choreography," says Song Qian. "Someone who can choreograph for both Jongdae and his backup dancers. It won't be like working with Jongin, you know?"

Jongin is a natural. His limbs obey every instruction Jongin gives them, which is more than Joonmyun can say for most people. "So someone who can work well with beginners?"

"And just… someone different," Minseok adds. "Everything around here is getting stale." Joonmyun pulls on the collar of his dark gray sweater, making it easier to breathe. "Not that you-"

"I have someone in mind," Joonmyun says. "Let me give it a shot."

"Sure," Song Qian says. "There's no rush. You haven't written anything for his album yet, right?"

"Not yet," Joonmyun agrees, releasing his sweater and plucking at his pants leg instead. He's relieved when Kris peers into Minseok's office to see if they're still on for tonight. Joonmyun is happy to say of course and follow Kris out the door and into the hallway, leaving the stifling room behind.

The clientele at ComicsPlease is different at night. A few business men linger in the back, shirttails untucked and suit slacks wrinkled from a long day at the office. Young men in grungy T-shirts with dyed hair chat with the pierced guy Joonmyun had seen the last time—Tao?—and Baekhyun is flirting with an older woman who leans on the counter and smiles at him like he's all the stars in the sky.

Baekhyun looks over at the stairs, where Joonmyun leans back against an overflowing shelf of new releases, and grins. He murmurs something to the woman, and she frowns with faked sadness as she pulls out her wallet and hands Baekhyun a few manwon bills as he pushes a sky-blue bag toward her across the counter.

After she leaves, Joonmyun saunters over to the counter himself. "Are you carrying a backpack?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun laughs.

"I came straight from work. Sorry I'm early," he says. "But Jongin gave me a list of comics to pick up."

"Did he?" Baekhyun says. "Let's see it." His lips aren't purple today. They are chapped. There's makeup smeared on his left cheek, inexpertly covering a red blemish. He looks tired. "Only twenty minutes until closing time. Not that early."

"It's busier." Joonmyun shuffles through his phone's notepad, through half-thoughts and reminders, until he finds Jongin's list.

"The after work geeks," Baekhyun replies. "The part time fanatics."

He takes Joonmyun's phone and studies the list. Only four comics, nothing Joonmyun would have trouble remembering on his own but he'd wanted to be sure. Jongin had looked so tired. His hand had braced the small of his back and it would be nice if Sunyoung's new album promotions could start sooner rather than later.

"These are all in the same place," Baekhyun says. "Your friend Jongin has pretty predictable taste in manhwa."

"He likes the ones with magical animals and robots," Joonmyun replies. "I have a thirteen year old cousin that had the same taste when he was seven."

"Yeah, sounds about right," laughs Baekhyun. He's wearing the same faded, ripped jeans he'd been wearing last time Joonmyun came into the shop. "What does your cousin like now?"

"I don't know," Joonmyun says, hands finding their way into pockets as Baekhyun leads him down an aisle. Baekhyun hooks his finger on the spine of a volume of something called Digital Monsters, pulling it off the shelf and leaving a gap in the line of comics. His nails are shorter, but still perfectly rounded and glossed. "Do you play piano?"

He'd suspected Baekhyun might, the way his eyes had remembered the keys back on Chuseok. "Why?"

"You have piano hands."

"I have my mother's hands," Baekhyun says. "She plays piano."

"Hmmm," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun hands him the comic. Joonmyun pulls one hand out of his jeans to take it, and their fingers brush. Baekhyun's hand is very warm. The comic shop is underground, and there is barely a draft from outside. "My mother doesn't play the piano. At least, I don't think she does."

"Who taught you? Expensive hagwon lessons?" Further into the back of the shop.

"My grandmother," says Joonmyun. "She's better than I'll ever be, but I'm good enough to get my ideas down."

Baekhyun goes up onto his toes to grab another volume. His shirt, Wonder Woman this time, isn't long enough when his arms stretch out, revealing a stripe of belly. The brim of his backwards cap hits his shoulder blades as he tilts his head back. "Here are the second and third comics on the list."

Joonmyun holds the three comics to his chest. Baekhyun starts to hum, tapping his cheek right where it wrinkles when he grins, nibbling lightly on his lower lip as he thinks.

"That's why your lips are so chapped," Joonmyun says. "Because you lick and bite them."

Baekhyun narrows his eyes at Joonmyun. "Don't pay attention to things like that."

"That's the sort of person I am," Joonmyun says. "The sort who pays attention."

"I'm the sort who forgets," Baekhyun says. "I don't bother to pay attention when I'll forget whatever it is I see."

"Is it convenient, to be forgetful?" Joonmyun looks down at the comics in his hands. He thinks his cousin did like one of these, once upon a time. Joonmyun had bought something very similar for a birthday, a few years back. He remembers the thin lines and the outlandish costumes.

"Extremely."

"Hey, Baekhyun-hyung." Piercings guy is standing casually with his hands on his hips, dark hair falling into his eyes and lower lip pouting. "A couple of people at the register."

"Would you mind checking them out, Tao?" Baekhyun's hair is frizzy at the ends. "Don't bother to sign out of my register account. I trust you."

Baekhyun is rewarded with a warm smile that transforms the boy's face. "No prob," Tao says, and he gives Joonmyun a curious look before he meanders away from them, back toward the front.

"Tao is very cute," Baekhyun says. "He looks hard and tough, but he's just really cute."

"The opposite of you, then," teases Joonmyun. He adjusts his backpack.

"Am I cute?" Baekhyun asks, batting his eyelashes coquettishly and leaning his head to the side like some kind of drama heroine. "Really, hyung?"

"I'll cut your eyelashes off," Joonmyun says. "Flutter them at me then." Baekhyun's eyes flash with surprise before he's smiling again, big and wicked.

"You're a contradiction yourself, I think." He takes a few steps back, and it's only when Joonmyun can't smell candy and sweat that he realizes that Baekhyun had been standing too close. "Let's get the last one before closing, shall we?"

Baekhyun hums as he swings around the corner into a new aisle, past a Honggik student in a school sweatshirt. It's the same song, Kyungsoo's song, that he'd hummed on their sunset adventure.

"I wrote that, you know," Joonmyun says, offhandedly. Baekhyun turns to look at him. "For Kyungsoo. For D.O., I mean."

"Everyone knows his name is Kyungsoo," Baekhyun says. "D.O. is a stupid stage name." He snags the final comic on Jongin's list and hands it to Joonmyun. Joonmyun wants to comment that Baekhyun had only seen the list once and hadn't needed to check it again. He doesn't, though, and just carefully lines up the manhwa volume spines in his hands until they're a neat stack. "So is Suho."

"It's not a stage name if you're never on stage." Joonmyun's palms are sweaty. "You don't look like the type to read liner notes."

"You mean I don't look like the type to read, don't you?" Baekhyun smirks, and Joonmyun smiles back, not disagreeing. "Chanyeol says the same thing. All he does is read when he's not dressing up and running around the palace." Baekhyun brushes past Joonmyun, up toward the register. "Or knit."

"He doesn't strike me as the intellectual type, either," Joonmyun admits, and Baekhyun laughs. "But I haven't really talked to him."

"Maybe we'll see him out tonight." Baekhyun spins his hat, brim now to the side. He has freckles on the back of his neck. "Although Saturday is usually an early and busy day for him so maybe not."

Tao is watching them as they approach the counter. Joonmyun slides the four comics across it, and Tao takes them. Baekhyun stands next to him, taking off his apron, his sweatshirt clad arm constantly rubbing against Joonmyun's side. The zippers on his backpack jingle with each brush.

Joonmyun smiles at Tao as he casually slides the comics into a bag. Tao lazily blinks at him, before smiling back. "I'm Zitao," he says. "Baekhyun's best friend."

"I'm Kim Joonmyun." His sweater is soft in his hands as he pulls at the bottom of it. "Baekhyun's acquaintance, I think."

"No," Baekhyun says, leaning against the counter, "you're my seonsaengnim, remember?" His lips quirk, and Joonmyun's stomach burns with a strange heat. Putting the purchased comics in his backpack is a good distraction. "Do you want to leave that at my place?"

"Is that okay?"

Baekhyun shrugs, and Zitao fiddles with the cross earring that hangs against his neck, eyes going from Baekhyun to Joonmyun and then back, again, to Baekhyun.

"I wouldn't have offered if it wasn't," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun pulls on a strap. Carrying it through Hongdae does not sound appealing.

"Then yes, I'd like that." Too stiff and formal. "If it isn't inconvenient."

"Mister Polite," Baekhyun says, mocking. "And a cup of tea, as well, if it won't be an inconvenience."

"Are you going to Baekhyun-hyung's show tonight?" Zitao asks.

"You aren't?" Going to gigs seems like a best friend duty to Joonmyun. He doesn't have a best friend, so maybe it's something he can't make conjectures about.

"I can't go to these night shows," Zitao says. "I can't leave my daughter at home at night. She's scared when she's left with a babysitter. So we're having movie night instead."

Zitao looks too young to have a daughter. He's looking down at Joonmyun's receipt as though he thinks Joonmyun will say something along those lines. Baekhyun has keys now, in preparation for locking up, and he's tapping one key steadily against the countertop like a warning. "How old is she?" Joonmyun asks, and Zitao beams.

"Four!" he says. He fumbles into his back pocket and pulls out his wallet. The girl in the picture is young and cute and smiling wide.

"She's lovely," Joonmyun says, and Zitao smiles down at the picture before he closes his wallet and puts it away. "I hope movie night is fun."

"I'm leaving the keys," Baekhyun says. "Lock up?"

"Of course," Zitao says, and he shoos them both off like he's the hyung instead of Baekhyun.

It's raining outside when they emerge out of ComicsPlease. The rain is cold now, because it's autumn in earnest. The drops sting Joonmyun's cheeks. Baekhyun looks up at the clouds and scowls at them, as though that will make the rain stop, and Joonmyun laughs. "You look like a puppy when you frown like that." In the dark, the makeup smeared on Baekhyun's cheek and the freckles on his neck are invisible. Joonmyun can still make out the dryness of his lips. "Don't you have a jacket?"

"Zitao loves you already," Baekhyun says. "Most people can't hide the surprise as well as you did."

"About his daughter?" Joonmyun pulls out his umbrella and opens it, inviting Baekhyun under with a short pull to his forearm. Baekhyun's body is so warm against Joonmyun's as they fit together under the umbrella.

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "He's young, but he's a good dad. Better than most dads." Walking down streets that have cleared as people hide in shops from the rain, Baekhyun's voice is lower than usual. Serious. It reminds Joonmyun of the way sand sounds when crushed between his fingers. The tiniest pieces of glass.

"I used to be super afraid of the dark," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun jolts, and covers it by digging in his pockets. Then there's blueberry Xylitol and peeks of Baekhyun's tongue as he chews it. "I'm not sure…" The light in Joonmyun's father's office was, is, always on so late, but Joonmyun had known never to go in there, no matter how scared he was.

"I'm not afraid of anything," Baekhyun says. "I'm a hundred percent fearless."

"I'm afraid of everything," Joonmyun says. He laughs, and water sloughs off the umbrella and down their fronts as he tips it. Baekhyun curses, and Joonmyun apologizes with a small smile.

"Maybe I am too," Baekhyun says. "It's hard to say. I wonder if you can get so used to being afraid that you don't even remember what it's like to do things without feeling like that?"

Baekhyun puts his arm around Joonmyun's waist, underneath his bag, to pull him up onto the sidewalk and around a puddle, then lets his arm fall. They're deeper into a neighborhood now. The rain is letting up, too, fat drops coming down slowly as they wind up a side alley. "You can," Joonmyun says. The back of his neck is damp and he's lucky his backpack is waterproof. It's an umbrella meant for one, not two. "But I admire people that push through that just as much as I admire people who are fearless."

"So I've earned your admiration either way?" Baekhyun asks.

"Yes," he replies. Joonmyun likes to feel safe. Safe in his studio, behind the glass, penning the words and melodies and not having to face the reaction to them. Distance from his thoughts and his feelings. The man next to him writes songs and then sings them. Joonmyun has never been able to do that. "But don't get cocky."

"Me? Cocky?" Baekhyun smirks. His face is damp from stray raindrops. "Never."

Baekhyun lives fifteen minutes from the store. His neighborhood is nothing like Joonmyun's, where all smoking is done on private balconies and security guards have their own desk on the bottom floor of the building. Baekhyun hollers "be careful!" at some teenager on a bike who rides past yelling "what's up Byunbaek?!", and cheerfully greets a tired looking ahjumma with a single bag of produce and a worn out leather pocketbook hanging from a sloped shoulder.

"This is it," Baekhyun says, stopping in front of a glass door. He punches a three-digit code into the keypad.

Baekhyun's apartment is more like an officetel. A single room with his bed tucked into the corner and his washing machine underneath his sink.

"It's so clean?" Joonmyun says.

"Yeah, well," Baekhyun says, "it's not as big as your place so I can't leave stuff on every available surface like you do."

"Are you any good at cooking?" There's a pan in the sink and neatly stacked plastic containers on the counter next to it.

"I keep myself alive," Baekhyun says. "I'm not getting a job at a five-star restaurant anytime soon, but I eat."

"Kyungsoo is an excellent cook," Joonmyun says, sliding his backpack off and resting it by the shoe closet next to the door. He opens the front pocket and pulls out his black wool hat, and his wallet. "Thank you for letting me leave my bag here."

"Thank you for coming to my show." Baekhyun opens his closet and pulls out a plaid shirt in turquoise and black and pulls it on. "It's at a crowded club tonight. The backpack would be a bad call."

"Probably," Joonmyun agrees. "I didn't have time to stop by my place before I met you."

"You didn't have time, or you couldn't pry yourself out of that studio of yours?"

"Both," Joonmyun says. "I was recording a song with Sunyoung." Joonmyun's bangs are wet, so he combs his fingers through them as Baekhyun reapplies makeup to the pimple on his cheek. "We finished at eight-thirty, and I'd said I would meet you at nine-thirty, so."

"What do you do when you aren't making music?"

Baekhyun fingers the wet brim of his baseball cap and leans forward. The makeup on his cheek is uneven, so Joonmyun takes his thumb and smoothes it, carefully evening out the blend, as he's done for Jongin countless times before. Baekhyun's skin is hot like fire beneath his thumb tip, and Baekhyun's soft exhale is sweeter and lighter than any other sound Joonmyun has ever heard him make. The smell of blueberries fills the small space between them.

"Going with Kris to bars. Listening to live bands. Traveling." He drops his hand. "Taking care of kids who put their makeup on like amateurs."

"I'm not a kid," Baekhyun says. His eyes are dark. There are very few people that Joonmyun cannot read, but Baekhyun is one of them.

"I know," Joonmyun says. "I'm only teasing you." He pushes with both hands at Baekhyun's shoulders, and Baekhyun grins, sharp canines and crinkled eyes, the strange heaviness in the air gone.

"Let's go, hyung. I can't be late."

The rain has stopped when they leave Baekhyun's building. Good thing, because Joonmyun had left his umbrella upstairs and Baekhyun's shoes are a thin canvas. "You aren't cold?"

"I don't like to take a lot out with me," Baekhyun replies. "I always lose it." He wraps his fingers around Joonmyun's wrist, pulling him so they're walking side by side. The Xylitol has dyed his lips purple again.

There's the beginning of a melody in his head that matches perfectly with the way Baekhyun speaks when he's talking about something he cares about, like Zitao and his daughter, or brothers who drag him up the last fifty steps to see the sunset.

Joonmyun needs to write songs for Kim Jongdae, though, not Byun Baekhyun, who seems to have no problem writing his own songs.

Joonmyun's phone rings. "Hello?"

"Joonmyun," Kris says, "where are you?"

"I'm out with…" He looks at Baekhyun. "I'm out."

"Kyungsoo is back from Japan," Kris says. "We were hoping you could go out for drinks tonight."

"I'm sorry," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun grabs a fistful of his sweater and stops him from crossing the street as the pedestrian sign goes from walk to wait. He smiles up at him quickly, and Baekhyun adjusts his cap. "I made plans for tonight."

"With that Yixing guy, or Lu Han?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "Someone else."

Kris sighs and doesn't press. "Dinner around eight tomorrow, then?" he asks. Baekhyun is still holding onto him. Joonmyun can feel his knuckles hot through the sweater knit.

"That is something I can do."

"Good, I'll text you the time and place."

He puts his phone back in his pocket.

"That your friend you brought to RUFXXX?" Baekhyun asks. "Tall and overdressed?"

"Kris," Joonmyun says. "A friend of ours has just come back from overseas. He's been gone a couple of months, so we missed him."

Baekhyun shrugs. "If you'd rather—" His jaw is tight, but he's smiling. Baekhyun is so damn hard to read.

"I'd rather do what I was going to do tonight," Joonmyun says. "If it's all the same to you."

Chapped purple lips tilt upwards at the corners. "Well, naturally," Baekhyun says. "Nothing could be more enjoyable than listening to me sing."

"Have you been practicing what I taught you?" The crowds are thicker now than they'd been forty-five minutes ago. Hongdae is coming to life. "I'll know if you haven't been."

"What will you do if I haven't been?" Baekhyun slowly smirks. "Punish me?"

"Brat." Joonmyun fusses with his bangs again. "My hair's probably a mess."

"It looks fine," Baekhyun says. "You always look fine."

"Thanks," Joonmyun murmurs, and though it's swallowed up by the shouts of a gaggle of college students walking past them, he thinks Baekhyun hears him.

Baekhyun's gig is at Club Freebird tonight. Here, Joonmyun has definitely been. It's an older venue, going on twenty years old, and Joonmyun has watched shows here more than once.

Baekhyun waves at the bouncer, and he and Joonmyun are waved in without cover. Joonmyun gives Baekhyun a smile. "Usually it's me getting other people into parties."

"You don't have the right kind of clout to pass lines in Hongdae," Baekhyun replies. "Sorry, big time music producers aren't exactly the type us small timers like."

"You like me, though, right?" Joonmyun pokes Baekhyun's side, and Baekhyun puts on an exaggerated thinking face.

"I might." He chuckles. "You're interesting, though."

"Not really," Joonmyun says. "I'm just a regular guy."

"I'll keep you around until we find your lost inspiration," Baekhyun says. "I've always had a soft spot for causes."

"So I'm just a cause, that's what you're saying?"

"No, of course not," Baekhyun answers. "You're also free vocal lessons."

Joonmyun laughs loudly enough to catch the attention of a couple of other people at the bar. "When do you go on, then, student?"

"A half an hour from now," Baekhyun says. "Plenty of time to have a drink, don't you think?"

"Not good for your voice," Joonmyun says, wagging his finger.

"I'll have a vodka-cranberry, then," Baekhyun says. "That's almost like not drinking."

"Says who?" Joonmyun adores the way Baekhyun's voice sounds when he's smug. It reminds him of smug American boys making eyes at Sunyoung in New York coffee shops, and maybe of American coffee, too, richer and smoother than Baekhyun's normal speaking voice.

"Mmmm, Oh Sehun," Baekhyun says. "I'll introduce you some time."

"Will you?" Joonmyun turns to the barkeep and orders Baekhyun's vodka-cranberry and a gin and tonic for himself. "People might start to think we're friends."

"Don't get ahead of yourself there, Gangnam-oppa," replies Baekhyun. "You might not be cool enough."

"I'm definitely not cool enough," says Joonmyun, but he kicks at Baekhyun's shin. "Still, I'm your hyung."

"You're the same age as my hyung," says Baekhyun. "But you're not anything like him, so I'm not planning on treating you like I treat him." Baekhyun takes a sip of his drink as Joonmyun hands the bartender his bank card to start a tab.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" His own drink is perfectly mixed. Joonmyun takes a larger sip the second time.

"We'll see," Baekhyun says. "Will you be all right here on your lonesome?"

"You'll be playing, right?" Joonmyun leans onto the bar counter. "I'll be listening."

Baekhyun nods and heads toward the stage. There are two women up there that Joonmyun hasn't seen before, but one has a guitar and since Baekhyun doesn't, Joonmyun assumes they're playing together.

"Joonmyun?" Lu Han's hair has changed to a dark red, and it takes Joonmyun a moment to respond. "What are you doing here?"

"Baekhyun," he says, and Lu Han's eyebrows crush together in confusion.

"I didn't know he was here tonight. Unless he's performing with Jinri."

"So you came to see one of them?" Joonmyun points discreetly up to the stage, and Lu Han's eyes catch on one of the pretty girls. She sees him too, and waves until he nods at her and smiles.

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "She comes to pick up her friend from Yixing's studio sometimes. She's cool."

"Do you like her?" Joonmyun asks.

"No." Lu Han looks down at Joonmyun suspiciously. "Don't flirt with her," he adds immediately.

"Why would I?"

"You flirt with everyone," Lu Han says. "She'll think you mean it. You'll break her heart." He smiles. "Flirt with Yixing, he's almost immune to your charms now."

"I'm not flirting with anyone," Joonmyun says mildly.

"Has Lu Han warned you off from Jinri already?" Yixing asks, and Joonmyun smiles in greeting. "Surprised to see you out here in Hongdae tonight without me having been the one to drag you." He looks up at the stage. "Ah, your new favorite songbird brought you."

"He's not mine," Joonmyun says. "Pretty sure he'd resent the implication that he was anyone's at all."

"True," Lu Han says. "But when did you two become all buddy-buddy?"

Joonmyun doesn't think of them as ‘buddy-buddy'. Just two people with mutual interests and something to offer each other. "I want to help him train his voice," he decides on, because it's the safest answer. "I like the way it sounds, and think a lot about the way it could sound."

It's a solid set. Baekhyun tries to use his chest voice more, and it resonates nicely through the club. There's a lot of synth in the music Baekhyun's performing tonight. It sounds more like trap than rock.

Yixing likes it, dancing a little in place where they stand. "You should get out there on the floor," Joonmyun says into his ear, and Yixing smirks back at him.

"Not until I've had a few more drinks," he yells back, and Joonmyun nods before looking back at the stage. The strobe lights are going now, and the stage is illuminated with blue lights instead of yellow. Joonmyun is hypnotized.

Baekhyun catches his eyes as he goes into a high note, and holds them, and there's that clench in his stomach again. Joonmyun gestures to the bartender for another gin and tonic, and realizes upon first sip that it's actually his third drink tonight, the second one consumed in between Baekhyun rolling his hips at the microphone stand in the first number and licking his dry, dry purple stained lips at the end of the fourth.

When it's over, Baekhyun approaches them sweaty and triumphant, his eyes gleaming and his chest rapidly swelling and falling as he sucks in air. "What did you think?"

Lu Han claps him on the shoulder. "Good show, Baekhyunnie." Yixing quickly concurs, and they're pushing toward Jinri and the other girl with her to congratulate them.

Baekhyun is looking expectantly at Joonmyun. He has one hand on his hip, but Joonmyun sees more eagerness than demand in the posture, no matter what Baekhyun is trying to give off. "You used your chest voice well," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun grins at him wide enough that the strobe lights are briefly nothing in comparison to the flash of bright that is all of Baekhyun's teeth up close like this. "If you're up for a few more free vocal lessons, I can teach you more about how to transition to those high notes without screaming." He orders another drink, for him and for Baekhyun, and when the vodka-cranberry slides across the bar, Baekhyun picks it up with a pleased lip bite.

"You liked it," Baekhyun says.

"I did," Joonmyun agrees. "Every gig is something different. Which one is most you?"

"They're all me," Baekhyun says. "If everything was always the same, I'd get bored."

"That's why I like performance art," Joonmyun says. "It's never the same twice." He lets the conversation drop as Lu Han and Yixing come back, two girls in tow.

"We got a table," Lu Han says. "Apparently they'd had one reserved for these guys."

"Oh, right," Baekhyun says. "I forgot about that."

Joonmyun covers his mouth with his hand so hopefully Baekhyun will miss that he's laughing at him. With the way Baekhyun's oversized canvas sneakers try to crush the top of Joonmyun's leather loafers, he probably isn't very successful.

The six of them swish into a booth made for four. Baekhyun is the furthest in on their side, across from Yixing, and Joonmyun is crushed into him, thigh to thigh across the table from Lu Han. Jinri, and the girl who introduces herself as Amber, sit next to Lu Han and Joonmyun respectively.

Baekhyun's Wonder Woman shirt keeps catching light on the gold foiled sections of the front design, and Joonmyun, now on his fourth drink, thinks it's lovely. "Jongin would love that shirt," Joonmyun says. "Even if he'd never wear it."

"Tao buys them for me," Baekhyun says. "He loves Superman and Batman and all the DC comic heroes." His voice is pitched perfect for Joonmyun to hear it cutting under the noise of the current band.

Amber has them playing the cup tapping game. Joonmyun and Yixing have both always been horrible at it, and Baekhyun is strict, slapping Joonmyun's thigh with every mistake and leaving his hand there to draw circles just above Joonmyun's knee. Liquor sloshes over the side of the cup and leaves Joonmyun with sticky hands as Baekhyun threatens to lick up the wasted alcohol.

Lu Han is watching him, and Joonmyun tries to reassure him that he'll survive with regular smiles but Baekhyun steals most of his attention with inappropriate jokes and warm hands.

So Joonmyun steals a sip of Baekhyun's drink, something citrusy and strong, and then steals another when Baekhyun gives him an offended look like he hasn't been sneaking gulps of Joonmyun's drinks all night.

Joonmyun's head is spinning by the time Jinri looks down at her cell phone and says she has to go, so he leans back against the booth and lets Baekhyun hold his cold glass against Joonmyun's forehead.

The girls say their goodbyes, and Joonmyun thinks he tells them bye, but he's distracted by Baekhyun giving up on subtlety and taking his whole glass, and Lu Han sliding out of the booth to escort them to the front door.

"Bathroom," Joonmyun says, peeling himself out of the tangle he'd somehow gotten into with Baekhyun on their side of the booth, and staggers to the bathroom.

As he's washing his hands, Lu Han walks in. Instead of walking toward the urinals, he stops in front of the second sink, just looking at Joonmyun as Joonmyun rinses his hands.

"Do you… need something?" Joonmyun ventures to ask.

Lu Han licks his lips. "Well, it's sort of…" He turns the faucet on and soaps up his hands. The pink foam soap bubbles between his fingers, and Joonmyun is momentarily fascinated, thanks to the alcohol. "Don't get mad at me."

"Have I ever?" Joonmyun asks. "I don't get mad."

"Your friendship with Baekhyun is weird," Lu Han says. "Too close."

"What?" Joonmyun shakes his head. It's a mistake. His brains slosh around, like canned soup. "Baekhyun's a brat." He puts his hands on his cheeks. They feel hot. "I wouldn't say we're close. "

He can taste Baekhyun's drink on the back of his teeth.

"I like Baekhyun a lot, but Joonmyun, you don't want to get too attached to him."

"I like his voice," Joonmyun says. "He likes pansori."

"Baekhyun has a tendency to get close to people and then disappear," continues Lu Han. "He'll eat you up and spit you out."

Joonmyun wants to laugh. "You don't know me as well as you think you do," he slurs, and Lu Han rinses his hands thoroughly, soap bubbles collecting around the drain as he shuts off the water. "Maybe I'll chew him up and spit him out."

"No," Lu Han says. "You chew very slowly, and you never really stop chewing."

"What does that mean?"

"What do you think it means?" Lu Han asks. Joonmyun is too drunk to figure anything out right now. "I'm worried about the both of you, stupid."

When they get back to the table, Baekhyun has Yixing in stitches, curled over the table and laughing so hard tears are gathering in the corners of his eyes. "I was about to send in a search party," Baekhyun says, when he finishes whatever story he's telling Yixing, something about a children's television show on SBS2.

"No need," Joonmyun says, sliding back into his seat. "I found my way back."

"I finished your drink." Baekhyun's fingers clutch the empty glass.

"I probably didn't need the rest of it, anyway."

Baekhyun puts his head on Joonmyun's shoulder. "I didn't need it either."

"I might have trouble making my dinner date tomorrow," Joonmyun says, mostly to Baekhyun, but Yixing perks up.

"Date?" he asks.

"A friend back in town," Joonmyun says. "Kris is trying to get some of us together for a sort of welcome back party."

"Is it early?" Baekhyun's hand falls easily to Joonmyun's knee. His voice lilts, and it's been turned gravely by gin and whisky and a long night of singing.

"Eight in the evening," says Joonmyun, laughing, and Baekhyun's own chuckles tickle the skin of Joonmyun's throat. He looks across the table at Lu Han and Yixing. Lu Han is smiling wryly and Yixing is pink with intoxication and amusement. "Speaking of dates, I need to make one with you, Yixing."

"With me?" Yixing points at himself with his index finger, mouth dropping into an adorable ‘o' of surprise. His lower lip is smooth, not chapped. It isn't purple, either.

Joonmyun tries to clear the haze from his eyes by blinking. "Yes. Can I drop by your studio on Monday?"

"I have beginner classes at three-thirty if you want to brush up on your dancing,"

"I need you to help someone else brush up on their dancing, actually," Joonmyun says. "But it'll be top secret." He winks, and Yixing laughs loudly.

"Sure," Yixing says. "Drop by, then, you international man of mystery."

Lu Han rolls his eyes and orders another drink, curling an arm around Yixing's shoulder and pulling him into a half-hug.

Then the last band of the evening comes on. It's pure dance music, and it has Baekhyun wriggling in his seat as Yixing scrambles over Lu Han's lap to get out of the booth. "Let's dance, guys," he says, and Lu Han shakes his head.

"As drunk as you and Joonmyun are, it would be more like 'let's fall'."

"Joonmyun and I are adults," Yixing says, "who can definitely manage staying upright on the dance floor." He extends a hand to Joonmyun.

"Speak for yourself," Joonmyun quips, but takes the offered hand anyway, letting Yixing pull him out of the booth and away from Baekhyun's comfortable heat and out into the more oppressive hotness of the dance floor. "You'll probably have to drag me around," he says to Yixing, who glows with excitement as he brings Joonmyun deeper into the crowd.

"Just like old times, then," Yixing says, hands finding Joonmyun's hips as they both start swaying to the beat. When he thinks Joonmyun has the rhythm, he lets go and steps back, so that they both have plenty of room to move.

Joonmyun isn't sure how long they dance. Yixing's face is shiny with sweat and Joonmyun can feel beads of his own perspiration around his hairline. The burn behind his eyelids from the strobe lights is irritating but he no longer feels the heat of the crowd.

Hands come up from behind him and grip Joonmyun's waist. Pretty hands that Joonmyun likes and knows. Lu Han is grinding on Yixing comically, and Yixing is laughing and wriggling and in general being the star he always is on the dance floor, and Joonmyun grins at the sight. "Did you get bored?" he yells over his shoulder, and then Baekhyun is pressing closer, his chest to Joonmyun's back and his chin digging into Joonmyun's shoulder.

"What was that?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun repeats himself. "No, no, not bored," Baekhyun answers. "But you two looked like you were having too much fun without us." His lips tickle Joonmyun's ear so Joonmyun closes his eyes and tries to find the bass line of the song again, settling into it with gyrating hips and grace he only possesses when he's too drunk to worry about how badly he actually dances.

The club doesn't really start to empty until five in the morning. Joonmyun hadn't realized how much smoke had gotten into his lungs until he's outside again and breathing in the air on the street, which isn't fresh but is fresher. He has an arm around Lu Han and the other around Baekhyun. "Let's put you right into a cab home," says Lu Han, looking at Joonmyun with a smirk.

"No," Joonmyun says. "Baekhyun's home."

Lu Han frowns again, eyes curious and mouth discontent. "Why?"

"My stuff is there," Joonmyun says. "Everything."

"I'll make sure he gets home," Baekhyun says. He's hoarse. Voice ragged like he's just run a kilometer full out. "I promise."

Joonmyun looks up at him, intending to remind Baekhyun that it's Joonmyun who's the hyung, and that Baekhyun is just as drunk as he is, but he's distracted by the way Baekhyun's skin shimmers with sweat and the way his chapped lips pull when he's smiling friendlily. The makeup is long gone and the bump on his face is super red and his eyes are red too, from tiredness or tequila or something else, but he's still so damn pretty that Joonmyun is momentarily stunned.

The thought drifts away, and Joonmyun pulls free of both Baekhyun and Lu Han so that he can gently shove back at Baekhyun with both hands. "I'll get myself home."

"I have no doubt," Baekhyun says, genial smile falling into the more familiar mischievous lip curl. His red baseball cap is backwards again, and Joonmyun has the juvenile urge to snatch it off.

"Then into a taxi with both of you," Lu Han says. "I'll call you later, Joonmyun."

"Sure thing," Joonmyun says. His head is starting to feel heavy. Baekhyun gets into the taxi first, rattling off his address as Joonmyun falls in behind him, leaning on Baekhyun's shoulder to keep from jerking as the taxi speeds off toward Baekhyun's neighborhood.

A fifteen minute walk is only a five minute taxi ride. Joonmyun hands over a 10,000 won bill for a barely 2,000 won trip and gets out of the car before the driver can offer change. Baekhyun laughs and climbs out after him, moving past him to punch in the building keycode again. They stumble up the stairs, laughing loudly even though they're trying to whisper, and Joonmyun feels twenty all over again as Baekhyun slips his key into the lock of his front door.

"Lu Han told me to watch out for you," Joonmyun says. "That you're a friend eater."

"I am," Baekhyun says, as Joonmyun toes off his shoes so he can use the bathroom.

"So am I," Joonmyun says. "So I don't know why he's so worried."

"You're nicer than I am, that's why." Baekhyun puts both hands on Joonmyun's shoulders. "You're nice and I'm not nice." His mouth isn't so purple anymore. He hadn't chewed any gum on the way home. Joonmyun takes Baekhyun's hat and puts it on his own head.

"How do I look?"

"Like you're trying too hard," Baekhyun says, taking the hat back and dropping it back on his head. Then he runs a hand through Joonmyun's hair and Joonmyun swallows.

"I'm…" he says, and then points at the bathroom, and Baekhyun nods.

"Knock yourself out. I'm going to pour a glass of water for myself. You want one?"

"Sure," Joonmyun says. "Yes. Please. That would be nice."

When he emerges from the bathroom, face wet from splashing himself with water, he sees Baekhyun leaning up against the refrigerator, his head thrown back and a glass of cold water pressed to his throat. "You all set?" There's a second glass on the counter but Joonmyun doesn't want it anymore.

The room spins. "I should go home," Joonmyun says, searching for his backpack. Hadn't he left it right by the shoe closet? It's all kind of fuzzy. His knees wobble.

"Are you going to make it?" Baekhyun asks. He's opened his eyes, now, and set the water on the counter. "You look too drunk to function." He wraps a hand around the back of Joonmyun's neck to steady him. "Getting too old to keep up?" His fingers catch pieces of hair between them, and his nails scratch soothingly against skin.

And Baekhyun is not really his friend, so Joonmyun doesn't know what to call the warmth that slithers down his spine at the touch. The back of his mouth is dry and sticky. "I'm just going call a taxi," Joonmyun slurs. "I'm not going to walk further than the corner, you brat." He has two taxi companies on speed dial.

"You're not as polite when you're shitfaced," Baekhyun says. His face is flushed, and there's another freckle to the side of his mouth that is fascinating through Joonmyun's liquored haze. "I didn't think you had it in you to be less than perfect."

"I'm never perfect," Joonmyun says. "That's why I've gotten so good at pretending I am." He leans down to pick up his backpack, and Baekhyun's hat falls down between them as Baekhyun's hand falls from his neck. The world spins. "Isn't that all there is, to human interaction? Pretending and pretending so no one asks too many questions?"

"Just… Hyung, you should…" Baekhyun is pulling him up and then backing him into the bed. Joonmyun's shoes and backpack are further away now. "Just stay tonight. You can go home in the morning."

"But…" His own bed and his own toothbrush and his own painkillers are waiting at home. Baekhyun's hands on both his arms are warm, though, and Joonmyun likes the tiny whines Baekhyun makes when he sleeps. "Okay."

Baekhyun keeps pulling him, and this is a bad idea. Joonmyun knows it is, because he's drunk and everything Joonmyun does when he's this drunk is a bad idea. Laughing, he falls on top of Baekhyun into Baekhyun's nest of covers, straddling him.

"You're bony. That hurt."

"You're pretty soft, brat," replies Joonmyun. "I'm getting the better end of the bargain."

"You probably snore like a grandpa when you're drunk," Baekhyun mumbles. "You'd better not sleep-talk about golf."

"You're not cute at all," says Joonmyun, fisting his hands in Baekhyun's Wonder Woman shirt and scowling down on him. Baekhyun's sides are hot between his thighs and Baekhyun is pretty and flushed. His hair is frizzy and all too many colors. His eyes shine and he looks young enough that Joonmyun has to close his eyes because it makes him dizzier. "It's hot."

"Take off your sweater and the temperature in here will be perfect." Baekhyun helps Joonmyun free of the dark knit. Baekhyun is right. He keeps his apartment at about the same heat Joonmyun does.

Baekhyun sings pansori to him as Joonmyun plays the drum beat with flat palms against Baekhyun's chest. "Silly tortoise," he sings, and Joonmyun laughs and drinks up the cadence of Baekhyun's voice same as he'd done with those gin and tonics at the bar. Sticky, sticky, sticky.

And Joonmyun might not know which way is up but he knows that right now, he is full to the seams, full to bursting, with music.

Two pairs of jeans and Joonmyun's sweater end up in a pile at the end of the bed. Baekhyun's bed isn't really big enough for both of them. They make it work, though, Baekhyun's legs hooking around Joonmyun's and Joonmyun's face fitting into the curve of Baekhyun's neck. He smells like Xylitol and cranberry-vodka drinks, and his measured breathing is a lullaby that sends Joonmyun right to sleep.

 

Chapter Text




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.

"What?"

"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."

“Already?"

“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?

Yes

Yixing, can I kiss you?

Yes

Yixing, will you forgive me?

Yes


“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.

“Hello?"

“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?"

“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."

“Joonmyun…"

“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."

“What?"

“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.

“Hyung…"

“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."

“Again?"

“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.


Chapter Text

 

 


B-SIDE


track 1



He looks up as a shadow falls over him.

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

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

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

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

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

"Is that Baekhyun?"

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

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

"It isn't…"

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

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

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

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

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



Yixing, I think we should end this.

Okay.

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

Okay.

Yixing, I really do care about you.

Okay.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Help him with what?" Joonmyun asks.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What thing?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joonmyun's mouth is dry. He swallows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Use polite language, you little—"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I can't believe you washed it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who is Beast Boy?"

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

"I still get to be seonsaengnim, right?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

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

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

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

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

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

"What's in it for me?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He increases the pace of the windshield wipers.

"Can I ask you a question?"

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

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

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

"What does that mean?"

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

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

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

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

Joonmyun does not reply. Instead, he drives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," Joonmyun says. "No."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It suits him.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You'll probably think this is stupid."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Might?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And so she rewrote it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Joonmyun—"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It might take you thirty," Joonmyun says.

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

He looks beautiful.

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

"Mix Bar, or Garosu-gil?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Your mistake," says Joonmyun.

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

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

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

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

"We'll see," says Baekhyun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And how are we alike, Baekhyunnie?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

"So you're going to move in with…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you talking about?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kris takes a deep breath. Joonmyun holds perfectly still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No one can be perfect all the time."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Good luck," says Joonmyun.

People are very complicated, he sends to Baekhyun.

patch things up with kris OuO?

Almost. Joonmyun replies. Maybe.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Costs and benefits, huh?" Joonmyun laughs.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A good novelty, I hope."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks like Baekhyun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

"So what did you think?" Yixing asks.

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

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

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

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

"As always, thanks for the invitation."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My blessing and my curse," jokes Joonmyun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



"The teaser for your new artist is weird."

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

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

"Did you like the beat?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Have you seen her before?"

"In Germany, once," Joonmyun says.

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

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

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

"Do you want it to be?"

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

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

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

"Ah," says Baekhyun.

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

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

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

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

"Okay," Joonmyun says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here's an opportunity.

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

"Someday," Joonmyun agrees, curling into it.

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

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

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

"What is this?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hyung," he says, "I…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sometimes."

"Only sometimes?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Play something for me," says Joonmyun.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



On Tuesday, he and Sunyoung meet for dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joonmyun laughs. "How's your food?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Jongdae's music video drops on Wednesday.

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

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

"Are you not into romance novels, Baekhyun?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Chen?" Baekhyun frowns. "Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He waits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



"Hello?"

"Mother, it's Joonmyun."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You know how to hotwire a car?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mom?"

"It's just…"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Joonmyun?"

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

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

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

"Where's dad?"

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

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

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

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

"Not really," Joonmyun demurs.

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

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

Once they're all around the table, Joonmyun's mother serves rice to all of them. Baekhyun behaves, for the most part, only squeezing Joonmyun's knee once under the table as Joonmyun's brother and father exchange greetings.

Joonmyun's grandmother looks pleased to be seated next to Baekhyun, and they whisper at each other as his brother and mother discuss wedding plans and his job.

"So you're taking on another important client?" His mother smiles.

"Yes," he replies. "I'm working double-time to make up for my brother's life of leisure."

"I don't think my life is exactly what you think it is," Joonmyun says. "But I'm happy for your success at work."

"You could have been working at my father's company, too, Joonmyun," says his mother, and Joonmyun had hoped… He looks over at Baekhyun, who's talking cheerfully with his grandmother. He isn't paying attention, and that's good.

"I didn't want that," Joonmyun says quietly. Patiently. "That's not a life I could have been happy with."

"So instead you do heaven knows what with idols all day—"

"Have I asked you for anything?" Joonmyun does not raise his voice.

"No, you just live off our grandfather's money," his brother says, loud enough to get the attention of everyone else at the table. His phone rings, and Joonmyun is torn between laughing and crying because it's a D.O. song, from Kyungsoo's debut album, and Joonmyun remembers working on it the night before deadline, at five in the morning, Ryeowook bringing them both cup after cup of coffee. "We don't all have that luxury."

"I haven't touched that, actually," says Joonmyun. "It's in the bank, in a separate investment account. I make more than enough money to support myself with my job." He picks up a piece of kimchi. His mother makes wonderful kimchi. She makes wonderful everything, and it's Joonmyun's fault it tastes like nothing. "We have a guest." He means it as a reminder.

"I wouldn't worry so much," his mother said, "if you'd finished college and gotten a respectable job—"

"Joonmyun-hyung is amazing," Baekhyun says, interrupting Joonmyun's mother, and setting down his chopsticks. "He writes some of the most famous songs in South Korea. The music you hear in the train station, on commercials, when you're shopping at HomePlus or wherever it is you rich people go to buy toilet paper in bulk. That music? Joonmyun wrote it, a lot of it." He turns to Joonmyun's brother. "He wrote the song you use as your fucking ringtone and you're looking down at him like he does nothing all day."

Joonmyun puts a hand on Baekhyun's arm. "Baekhyunnie," he says, and Baekhyun shrugs him off, even as everyone else looks shocked, at Baekhyun's tone, or his words, or maybe at Joonmyun's own use of an endearment. "It's fine."

"It's not fine," he hisses at Joonmyun. He turns back to Joonmyun's mother. "Joonmyun-hyung must not have told you about all the awards his songs have won, or about how—"

"Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, grabbing Baekhyun's arm again. Baekhyun stops this time, still glaring angrily at Joonmyun's mother and brother. Joonmyun's brother is looking down at his phone, and his father has his face set in staunch disapproval. His mother… His grandmother's face is unreadable, but Joonmyun knows it isn't her he'll have to fix this with.

He stands up, leaving his rice barely touched, still holding on to Baekhyun's arm. Baekhyun is pulled out of the seat next to him, and Joonmyun bows low for the both of them. "It's time for us to leave. Thank you for the tea. For dinner," he says to his mother. He doesn't say anything to his brother or father. "I'll talk to you soon," he says to his grandmother, and then he drags Baekhyun toward the door.

He stuffs his right arm into his coat as Baekhyun furiously jams his feet into his shoes, and they're out the door. Joonmyun sighs when it closes.

"Are you going to let go of my arm?" Baekhyun asks. "So I can put my coat on? It's cold out here. I don't want to catch that flu that's going around."

"You don't get the flu from cold weather," Joonmyun says, releasing Baekhyun's arm. He starts walking toward the car, and Baekhyun hurries up to keep pace with him. "I'm sorry. I just meant for you to meet my grandmother. Not to see… I thought they'd be more circumspect."

"I screamed at them and you're apologizing to me?"

"It was an unexpected situation," explains Joonmyun. "Not what I'd invited you for."

Baekhyun makes a pained noise.

"Are you ashamed of what you do?" Baekhyun says, after they're in the car and Joonmyun has started the engine. It's so quiet, but it feels like a yell the way it sinks in Joonmyun's chest. "Is that why you don't say anything?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "I just… I know I disappointed them, so I try not to rub it in their faces, that I'm doing something else. It's easier to just… let them."

"You're successful," says Baekhyun. "You're fucking great at what you do, and you shouldn't let anyone talk about your work like that. Like it's nothing. They should be proud of you. I don't know what the deal is with your brother."

"He used to be different," Joonmyun says. "Kinder. More supportive. But I guess that's when I was still following directions."

"That's bullshit," Baekhyun says. "You're not a criminal. You haven't done anything bad, Joonmyun."

"That they know of," he replies, and Baekhyun punches at the dash. "Don't beat up my car. It hasn't done anything to you."

"I can't believe they talked to you like that over dinner." He grabs Joonmyun's hand and squeezes it. "At least my parents never pretended to want me around after I let them down."

"It doesn't matter," Joonmyun says. "I have the respect of the people that matter."

"They matter to you," Baekhyun says. "Your family. You can pretend they don't, if it makes you feel better, but they do. You looked…" Baekhyun leans back. "I've never seen you look that small. I couldn't stand it."

"I don't always do the right thing," Joonmyun says. "It's easier not to fight."

"Obviously," Baekhyun says, slumping. "That's okay. Nobody's perfect. Not even you."

Joonmyun sighs, and drives.

For a few minutes, there's nothing but the radio. A DoubleK song comes on, an old one from a couple of years ago, and Baekhyun turns it up. When it ends, Joonmyun expels all the air from his chest in an incredulous laugh.

"I can't believe you yelled at my mom." Joonmyun shakes his head. "You rude brat."

"I'm rude?" Baekhyun scoffs. "She's rude. Insulting you in front of someone she doesn't know."

"I think it's safe to say you'll never be invited back to dinner, even if my grandmother adored you," Joonmyun says. It's funny. It really is, even if Joonmyun should probably be angry. "You really made a rough impression."

"You like me anyway," Baekhyun says, and that word definitely isn't big enough, but it will do for now.

"I do," Joonmyun says. "You don't understand how much I do."

"I understand a lot of things," Baekhyun says, in a new tone, rich and full of all kinds of untold secrets.

Joonmyun turns onto Baekhyun's street. He pulls off the road, parking along an empty stretch of curb. He doesn't know how he should say goodbye. He doesn't really want to. He hasn't had enough of Baekhyun's laughter today to drown out his brother's condescension.

"Do you have any plans for the evening?" Baekhyun's coat looks likely to swallow him as he leans back into the seat.

"No," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun leans over to Joonmyun's side of the car and unfastens his seatbelt.

"Then come upstairs with me?" Baekhyun's eyes flicker down to Joonmyun's mouth, and then toward the keys still in the ignition.

"All right," Joonmyun says, turning the car off and following Baekhyun into his building.

As soon as the door of Baekhyun's officetel closes, Baekhyun kisses him. Joonmyun grabs at Baekhyun's coat to steady himself. Baekhyun deepens the kiss when Joonmyun catches up, turning it into something wetter and sloppier than Joonmyun has ever done before taking off his shoes at the entrance to someone's home

"Wanted to do that all day," Baekhyun says, unrepentant, as Joonmyun laughs at him. "Especially in the DVD-bang."

Baekhyun takes off his coat and hangs it up, then yanks his shoes off as Joonmyun unties his own.

"Are you going to be difficult about this?" He seems to be asking himself more than Joonmyun, but it's Joonmyun he's looking at.

"Baekhyun?" He hangs his coat on top of Baekhyun's. "Difficult about what?" He walks past the sink. The keyboard is set up right where Joonmyun had thought it should go. It's as flashy as Yura had said it would be, but it's perfect for Baekhyun.

"I love the keyboard," says Baekhyun. "I really do." He lightly pushes at Joonmyun's shoulders to get his attention.

Smiling, Joonmyun looks at him. "I'm glad."

A harder push, hard enough to press Joonmyun against the wall. "However," Baekhyun says, "I don't think you buying me a keyboard means I should sleep with you."

Joonmyun laughs, bringing one hand up to cup Baekhyun's face. "I know that," he says. "I just wanted you to know that I-"

"So if I say I want you to fuck me," Baekhyun says, low, oh so low, like he's been singing for hours and this graveled roughness is all he has left, "it's not because I think I should. That I'm supposed to. It's because I really want you to fuck me."

The light switch digs into his back. "Okay." December's cold is forgotten as Baekhyun cages him against the wall. Baekhyun's gaze is intent, and Joonmyun's skin crawls with the feel of those eyes on him. Baekhyun's mouth is so very pink. The skin on his cheekbones is dry.

"You aren't going to stop me, hyung?" Baekhyun asks, as he pulls at the button of Joonmyun's jeans. Joonmyun braces himself, holding on to Baekhyun's shoulders.

"No," Joonmyun says, a hand curling around the back of Baekhyun's neck. "Not a chance." The zipper is loud. Joonmyun keeps his eyes on Baekhyun's, and Baekhyun pushes down at the waist of his jeans, thumbnails scraping skin.

Joonmyun kisses the corner of Baekhyun's mouth, and Baekhyun greedily demands more, sealing his mouth over Joonmyun's. Baekhyun moans as Joonmyun tilts his head to push closer.

Baekhyun yanks Joonmyun from the wall, moving backwards until they both tumble onto the bed. He quickly scrambles out from underneath Joonmyun to climb on top of him.

He pitches forward and kisses Joonmyun again, pulling him apart and putting him back together in the space of a single breath. There's the coarseness of Baekhyun's sheets, and the softness of Baekhyun's mouth, and the way Baekhyun is so warm and solid above him. There's the needy noise Baekhyun makes as Joonmyun slides his hands down the back of Baekhyun's jeans to cup his ass. There's the grind of Baekhyun's hips pushing into his own, denim and metal making sharp sounds as they rub.

"Too many clothes," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun agrees, pulling at Baekhyun's thin sweater impatiently. Baekhyun sits up and tugs it up and off, and then leans down to remove Joonmyun's shirt, his fingers tickling the skin as he unfastens the buttons one by one. Joonmyun distracts him, running his hands up Baekhyun's arms and then down his chest, tickling his stomach. Baekhyun laughs, slapping at Joonmyun's hands. "Tickling isn't sexy." He finishes with the buttons, pulling Joonmyun's shirt open.

"Sure it is," Joonmyun says. "Touching you is sexy."

Still laughing, Baekhyun kisses Joonmyun's nose. "Are nose kisses sexy, then?"

"Most of the things you do are sexy, to me," Joonmyun says. "Not the way you chew gum, though."

"Too much teeth?" Baekhyun slides his hands down the fronts of Joonmyun's thighs, dragging his pants and underwear along. It burns, like his fingertips are made of fire. He moves downward, to pull Joonmyun's clothes off from his ankles. Joonmyun is naked, now, sprawled out on Baekhyun's bed. Baekhyun is just looking at him, and Joonmyun is not a teenager. He won't blush like one.

Licking his lips, Baekhyun shimmies out of his own jeans. He's half-hard already, when Joonmyun's gaze darts down to look.

Joonmyun struggles to breathe.

With hands that seem less steady, Baekhyun's hands trace the curve of Joonmyun's calves, pushing back up until he gets to Joonmyun's knees. Stopping there, he pulls Joonmyun's legs apart, making space for himself between them, bending them both until Joonmyun's feet are flat on the blanket.

He rests his cheek against the inside of Joonmyun's right knee, hair tickling sensitive skin, and watches him carefully. "It has never taken me this long to get someone naked, Kim Joonmyun." His voice wavers, and he's nervous, Joonmyun realizes, and it makes his own nervousness so much less to know that Baekhyun is…

"Oh, you know," Joonmyun says, "us old geezers get used to taking our time." Baekhyun's left hand trails down the outside of his thigh. "But I'm here now."

"You're here now," Baekhyun says quietly. Whatever he's looking for in Joonmyun's face, he finds it, and he smirks. He leans down, to kiss the skin just below Joonmyun's navel, and his chin bumps Joonmyun's cock. Joonmyun hisses, his hips moving before he can think to stop them.

"Sorry," he says, impulsively running his fingers through Baekhyun's hair. Baekhyun chuckles, nuzzling at the inside of his thigh.

"Sorry for wanting me?" Baekhyun's words are hot air on Joonmyun's cock. "You don't need to be sorry about that." His lips brush skin. Joonmyun is completely hard, and the mischief in Baekhyun's eyes has frustration and arousal knotted together in his lower stomach.

"Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, clenching his fingers around a handful of Baekhyun's hair, urging him to do something. Baekhyun moves so that Joonmyun's erection is right in front of his mouth, his back arched and both of his hands splayed flat across Joonmyun's pelvis. "Baekhyunnie, please."

"I like it when you say my name like that," Baekhyun says, letting the tip of Joonmyun's cock drag across his lower lip. "Like I'm special." He licks in a slow circle around the head. It's so warm, so wet, so… Joonmyun loves the pleased little noise Baekhyun makes when Joonmyun's hips lift again. "How many people have you had suck you, Joonmyun?"

"Two," Joonmyun says. "Including you." He tightens his hand in Baekhyun's hair. "Don't you want to use… something?"

"I'm clean," Baekhyun says, quickly. "I have the results, if you want to see them. They're from six months ago, but I haven't… It's been more than a year since… I'm still into sex, but only when I want it for me, now. Not just because someone else wants it from me." He smiles, anxiously, and Joonmyun flicks at his forehead. "Am I saying too much? I--"

"Your safety is important too, Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says. "I meant because of me. I didn't want you to think you had to—"

"Joonmyun, you would tell me if you had something, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs, scratching his nail along Joonmyun's inner thigh.

"Exactly. Because that's how you are." Baekhyun kisses Joonmyun's thigh, and then his hip. "As a warning," he says, "I'm really good at this." He pushes Joonmyun's cock against his stomach and licks at the base, sucking one of Joonmyun's balls into his mouth.

"You don't have to," Joonmyun says, getting up on his elbow so he can see better. "You could just… come up here and kiss me."

"I am kissing you," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun groans as Baekhyun takes him all the way in, lips stretching pink and pretty around Joonmyun's cock. His cheeks hollow as he pulls off, and his tongue strokes steadily back and forth across the tip.

"You're being purposefully obtuse," Joonmyun gasps, and Baekhyun wraps his long thin index finger and thumb around Joonmyun in a ring, bringing them to meet his lips as he takes Joonmyun deeper. The feeling of Baekhyun laughing around Joonmyun throat-deep makes his toes curl. "But yes, you are good at this. So good."

He frees his fingers from Baekhyun's hair so he can wipe the thin line of saliva that trails from Baekhyun's mouth. He catches it with his thumb, and Baekhyun watches him, his eyes so dark as he works his mouth.

"So good," Joonmyun says again. Baekhyun hums in pleasure, his eyelids falling to half-mast as he looks up at Joonmyun through his eyelashes. He shifts, getting up onto his knees, one hand on the outside of Joonmyun's hips as the other jacks him off where his mouth can't reach.

It's getting harder to control his hips as everything coils tighter and burns hotter. Joonmyun's muscles are tightening as Baekhyun sucks harder, tongue circling aggressively without breaking the seal of lips on shaft. It's getting more difficult to think about anything but how warm and soft it feels inside Baekhyun's mouth.

He falls back, refusing to let his eyes close as Baekhyun brings him closer to the edge, teasing and tasting and making all these noises that Joonmyun wants to commit to note so he can't forget them. "Baekhyun, I'm…" His abs burn and his thighs shake.

Instead of pulling away, Baekhyun takes him deeper, spit sliding down Joonmyun's cock as everything gets messier and more frantic. When he comes, all the knots loosing at once, Baekhyun swallows, keeping Joonmyun in his mouth until he softens some, then letting him slip out, eyes locked on Joonmyun's face.

Baekhyun licks Joonmyun's come from the corners of his lips. "Now maybe you know my favorite drink."

"That's disgusting, brat," Joonmyun says, winded, as Baekhyun crawls up his body, his hard dick leaving sticky precome on Joonmyun's leg. Baekhyun kisses him, rutting against him as he slides their tongues together.

Joonmyun wraps his arms around Baekhyun, touching cool skin and running his hands down the bumps of Baekhyun's spine until he gets to the small of his back, and then running them back up again. "It's my turn," he murmurs into Baekhyun's mouth, and Baekhyun grunts in surprise as Joonmyun flips them, sending him hard into the mattress.

"You're stronger than I am?" Baekhyun asks, bewildered, and Joonmyun winks at him, his hands pinning Baekhyun's wrists to the bed.

"Must be my secret abs," Joonmyun says, before he licks along the big vein in Baekhyun's neck, the one that sticks out when he sings, and when he laughs too hard. "Maybe I'm one of your superheroes."

"Where's the spandex suit?" Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun dips his mouth into Baekhyun's collarbones, before going lower to suck a nipple into his mouth and catch it between his teeth. "You'd look hot in a spandex suit."

"Hotter than I look naked?" Joonmyun drags his tongue up Baekhyun's sternum, then returns to his neck, because he likes the way Baekhyun arches when he bites too hard.

"No," Baekhyun says, "but that doesn't mean I don't have fantasies." Joonmyun lets go of Baekhyun's left wrist so he can reach between them and grab Baekhyun's cock. "Don't you have fantasies, hyung?"

Joonmyun wants to wring every noise he can out of Baekhyun, and it's easy, because Baekhyun is so very loud. "I want to know what you sound like when you come," he whispers, and Baekhyun moans as he tightens his hand and strokes him harder, focusing on the head because Baekhyun moans loudest when Joonmyun rubs his palm over the tip, catching precome to make the slip of his hand smoother and faster.

"Then you might want to listen," Baekhyun says, shivering.

"Already?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun laughs.

"You don't know what you look like spread out on my bed," Baekhyun says. "Or how much I like it that you stay exactly where I put you." He pushes his hips up insistently.

He whines high in the back of his throat as he spills all over Joonmyun's fingers, thick fluid lubricating the last movements of Joonmyun's hand as he milks Baekhyun dry.

Joonmyun captures the last of Baekhyun's noises with his mouth, swallowing the sounds as they push against his teeth along with Baekhyun's lips and tongue. Baekhyun's nails, from his free hand, scratch at Joonmyun's shoulders and he pulls him closer, trapping Joonmyun's hand between them as he rides out his orgasm.

Joonmyun peels himself off Baekhyun reluctantly, falling to the bed beside him. Sweat and come cool on his skin. He reaches across Baekhyun to grab a tissue from the table. He knocks over the television remote, and Baekhyun laughs at him breathlessly.

He wipes his hand, and drags the tissue across Baekhyun's belly to catch the last of his release, then tosses it into the empty trashcan.

Baekhyun's eyes travel across his face, like an artist preparing to sketch. Joonmyun is conscious of how messy his hair must look.

"What are you staring at?" Joonmyun asks. He is sticky and sweaty and gross. Baekhyun feels so nice curled up into him, though, and they can always shower in the morning.

"Someone who still didn't fuck me," Baekhyun jokes, and Joonmyun kisses his forehead.

"There's no hurry," he says, kissing Baekhyun's cheeks and then his nose and then, gently, his mouth. "I'm not going anywhere."

Baekhyun shivers, and Joonmyun pulls him closer. "Yeah, yeah," Baekhyun says. "I know." He glances away.

"Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says, more firmly, waiting for Baekhyun to look at him again. "I'm really not going anywhere. You're stuck with me." He grimaces at the sweat. "Or stuck to me."

"Who's sticky now?" Baekhyun asks, but he smiles, and his voice is clear and unclouded. Joonmyun wants to rest his head on Baekhyun's chest and listen to him sing.

"Both of us," Joonmyun says, pushing his face into Baekhyun's neck. He can see each and every freckle there, and the ones that lead down to his back. The blanket at the end of the bed is too far, so he just snuggles closer for warmth. "Go to sleep."

"Okay," Baekhyun says, a hand coming up to rest on Joonmyun's waist, as if to keep him close. "Okay."



Joonmyun's phone quacks loudly at him, startling him out of his zone. The screen flashes a kkt alert, and he smiles and picks it up. The alert says: call me when u r free

He looks at his laptop screen, and then back at his phone. He only hesitates a moment before he scrolls through his contacts and selects Baekhyun's name.

"That was fast," Baekhyun says, in lieu of a greeting.

"You caught me at a good time."

"I bet you say that to all your cute boyfriends," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun's heart squeezes.

"Who told you that you were cute?" Joonmyun replies, reclining in his chair. The wheels squeak as he slides backward.

"No one had to," Baekhyun says. Joonmyun can tell he's fluttering his eyelashes. He doesn't have to see Baekhyun for that. "I've always known."

"So what do you want, brat?"

"Dinner," Baekhyun says. "And possibly a second opinion on a song I'm writing. Any chance on either of those?"

"I think you could have them both if you were up for a late night."

"Are you working late on a Monday, Kim Joonmyun-ssi?"

"Somehow," Joonmyun says, "I don't get as much work done as I used to. I wonder why that is?"

"Because having fun is time-consuming," answers Baekhyun. "I'm okay with late dinner. How late are we talking about?"

"Possibly around eight? I know a place nearby here that serves amazing dakgalbi."

"That sounds good," says Baekhyun. "Eight isn't that late. I get off at seven today, anyway."

"I could come pick you up," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs. "Say, eight-thirty?"

"Or I could come pick you up," Baekhyun replies. "The place we're going is so much closer to where you work, right?"

"You could," Joonmyun says. "You might have to wait around here if I'm not finished, though, so…" He licks his lips. "I'll give your name to the guard."

"Oooh, I feel like I'm being given access to a very secret vault." Baekhyun has a mocking laugh that Joonmyun thinks is saved just for him. Joonmyun likes it a lot, even though Zitao says it sounds kind of like hungry baby birds. That's what Kyungsoo would say, anyway.

"You are." Joonmyun laughs. "He'll tell you how to find my studio. I'd tell you, but you'll forget."

"I'll wear all black for my break-in."

Joonmyun laughs again. "I'll see you later, Baekhyunnie."

As soon as Baekhyun hangs up, Joonmyun calls down to the guard at the front desk to notify him Baekhyun is coming, and then he dives back into his project. It's for DoubleK again, and Joonmyun is tweaking Jongin's lyrics to make them fit a much faster beat. Soojung's voice had sounded much better when they'd doubled the tempo, since she's never been great at holding the long notes. It's too fast for Jongin, though, making his voice go higher.

He startled out of his trance by a soft kiss on the back of his neck. "Hi."

Joonmyun pulls his headphones off, spinning in his chair to smile at his visitor. "You didn't get lost?"

"Not really," Baekhyun says. "I hope it's okay that I closed the door?"

"Sure," Joonmyun says. "Have a seat." He gestures to the extra chair, where Baekhyun's coat is draped, but Baekhyun ignores it, sitting down on Joonmyun's lap, instead. Instinctively, Joonmyun wraps his arm around Baekhyun's waist, pulling him closer so he won't fall. "Not what I meant."

"It's not so bad, right?" He plucks at Joonmyun's headphones. "Can I listen, or is it top secret?"

"It's top secret," Joonmyun replies. "But you can listen. This isn't the final arrangement, though."

Baekhyun grins at him, pulling the headphones off Joonmyun's neck and putting them on. Joonmyun spins his chair around, wrapping his other arm around Baekhyun to free his right one, so he can control the laptop. He starts the track, with the rough vocals on, and Baekhyun furrows his brows even as he taps his foot.

"You should slow it down a little," Baekhyun yells, and then realizes he doesn't have to, because Joonmyun isn't wearing headphones. "I like the tempo, but just a tiny bit slower? So that Kai doesn't sound so rushed."

"That's what I was just considering," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun tilts his head and takes off the headphones. Joonmyun repeats himself, and Baekhyun nods.

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "It seems a shame that Kai's voice is going up like that because he's trying to keep up with the music."

"Well, Jongin originally wrote some of these lyrics for music at half this speed," Joonmyun starts to explain. "Soojung-- that's Krystal, I mean-- sounded strained, so—"

"Is everything okay in here?" The door opens, and Minseok peers around it. "I heard yelling."

Joonmyun's arm stiffens around Baekhyun, and he feels this creeping dread, spiders crawling up his back. Baekhyun sits up, putting space between his back and Joonmyun's chest.

"That was me," Baekhyun says. "Sorry. I forgot I was wearing headphones."

Minseok looks at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun smiles, not moving his arm. Joonmyun has always liked touch. It isn't that strange, that Baekhyun is sitting on his lap to listen to music.

"This is Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun says. There is a flash of recognition in Minseok's eyes.

"Ahhh, Kris mentioned you. You're the singer, right?" Minseok steps all the way into the studio. "I'm Kim Minseok. I'm DoubleK's manager."

"Are you here to listen to the track?" Joonmyun frowns. "We still have to decide on tempo and re-record the vocals."

"I'm here because Song Qian, Kris and I are going to dinner, and we wanted to invite you." Minseok grins.

Baekhyun taps Joonmyun's arm, absently, and Joonmyun leans to the side so he can see Baekhyun's face.

"Baekhyun and I already had dinner plans," Joonmyun says, searching Baekhyun's expression. "So maybe some other night?"

"Byun-ssi is welcome to join us, of course," Minseok says. "It would be nice to get to know him, since he's stolen you away."

"Have I?" Baekhyun now has a question in his eyes, and Joonmyun sighs. Introducing Baekhyun to his friends. He can do that. After all, he's met Baekhyun's friends. It's only fair. An eye for an eye.

"If it's all right with Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, "I don't mind."

Baekhyun relaxes, and it will be okay. "It's fine with me," says Baekhyun. "On one condition."

"What might that be?" Minseok asks.

"You call me Baekhyun." He grins. "Are my terms acceptable?"

Minseok laughs. "That seems do-able." He looks at Joonmyun again, staring only briefly at the arm Joonmyun still has around Baekhyun's middle. "Meet by Kris's car in an hour?"

"No problem," Joonmyun says, and Minseok leaves them alone in the studio again.

"I can feel you freaking out," Baekhyun says. "I'm not planning to suck your dick at the table, hyung."

"Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun whines, dropping his head forward to rest against Baekhyun's shoulder.

"You'd probably like that, though," Baekhyun says. "It's always the quiet ones. Well, if you ask nicely—"

"I'm not used to my social groups mixing," says Joonmyun. "That's all."

"Are you sure?" Baekhyun says. "Because if that wasn't all, it would be okay." Baekhyun rests his hand on top of Joonmyun's, linking their fingers together on his stomach. "I know you're not… comfortable. I know you can't even say it to yourself yet." His voice is soothing. It's soft and sweet, like he's coaxing Ting into some kind of mischief. "I promise not to start any fights this time."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Joonmyun says, pulling Baekhyun back into his chest. "I need to work more on this song."

"Do you have another set of headphones?" asks Baekhyun. "I mean, since I'm here and all…"

Joonmyun laughs. "This is a studio. Of course I do."



Kris leaning against his car is a familiar sight for Joonmyun, but Baekhyun laughs, hands shoved in his pockets.

"What's so funny?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun shakes his head.

"The first time I saw him," Baekhyun says, "or the second time, I guess, I knew he'd drive a car like that." He shrugs. "You dress like you're a member of the Winter Sonata cast, but Kris Wu probably wears 100,000 won sweat suits."

"You're missing a zero on the end of that," Joonmyun tells him. "But he grew up without a lot, so…" He lowers his voice. "I don't know for sure, but I think the clothes, and the car, too, are a reminder that he's not in that position anymore."

"I see," Baekhyun says. "That's…"

Kris waves. "Hey Joonmyun. Baekhyun-ssi, good to see you again."

"Hey," Baekhyun says. "Likewise."

"I hope Minseok and Song Qian get here soon," Kris says. "I'm so hungry."

"Same," Baekhyun says. "I ate toast when I stumbled out of bed this morning, but that was hours ago."

"At noon, bright and early," Joonmyun adds, and Baekhyun kicks him in the shin without his smile faltering once. "Ow!"

"Watch it, old man," Baekhyun teases. "Those old bones are probably getting brittle."

"Just so you know," says Song Qian, Minseok at her side, "Joonmyun is the youngest of us."

Baekhyun's head whips around to stare at Song Qian. She has her hair out today, spilling down her shoulders in soft curls. Baekhyun bows, quickly and perfunctorily, and grins up at her. "Ah, but Joonmyun-hyung is far older than his years," he says, and Song Qian laughs. "The rest of you seem far younger than yours."

"Brat," Joonmyun says, punching Baekhyun in the arm, and then he blushes as all his friends stare at him. "Sorry, I…" He fixes his posture, and puts space between himself and Baekhyun. Baekhyun watches him with interest.

"This will be an entertaining dinner," Song Qian says, and Minseok laughs. "I can tell already."

"I thought it might be," Minseok says, and Joonmyun wonders what he's gotten himself into.

They get dinner at the same dakgalbi place Joonmyun had been considering. "We would've run into them anyway, hyung," Baekhyun says to him as they step out of their shoes and onto the smooth wooden floor.

Joonmyun and Baekhyun are seated across from Kris, Minseok, and Song Qian.

"So," Song Qian says, after their server has come and gone, leaving a table filled with side dishes and slowly cooking chicken and cabbage, "you're the kid Sunyoung found in Joonmyun's bed."

"What?" Minseok asks, as Joonmyun grips his chopsticks tightly and picks at the bean sprouts.

Baekhyun laughs. "I was sick," he explains. "Joonmyun-hyung insisted on taking care of me."

"Why didn't you just say that?" Minseok asks.

Kris chuckles. "Well, that wouldn't be as much fun for Song Qian, would it?"

"I never miss a chance to goad Prince Charming," Song Qian says. "Especially since Jongdae is even more in love with him than he was last week."

"He is not," Joonmyun says. "He just…"

"Has a bad case of hero worship." Song Qian ties her hair back with a clip, and then picks up the meal spatula to move the cooking food around on the grill.

"He'll get over it," says Joonmyun. "I'm not really a good role model for him."

"Like Jongin got over it? And Soojung?" Minseok asks. "Admit it. You flirt them into submission."

"Whatever you said to him a couple of weeks ago got him out on stage," Song Qian says. "The kid looked like he was ready to bolt."

"Only people who have been on stage can truly understand the feelings that go along with it," says Joonmyun.

"Have you ever been on stage?" Kris asks. "I thought you did tech in high school."

"I did," says Joonmyun. Underneath the table, Baekhyun's hand rests comfortably on his leg. Their knees bump.

Baekhyun takes his chopsticks and reaches for a piece of rice cake. He blows on it, and then sticks it in his mouth. "Hot, hot," he says around it, and Joonmyun automatically hands Baekhyun his own water and reaches for the plastic bottle by Kris to refill Baekhyun's empty cup.

"If you had just a smidgen of patience," Joonmyun mutters as Baekhyun gulps the water, setting Joonmyun's cup down and picking up his own now full one.

Baekhyun grins at him, unrepentant, and as Song Qian and Minseok both set some chicken and sweet potato on their tiny plates, Joonmyun realizes Baekhyun has successfully saved Joonmyun from an uncomfortable situation. He rests his shoulder against Baekhyun's briefly in thanks, and when he looks back at the grill, he notices Kris's little smile.

"So tell us about the song you're working on," Kris says.

"It's for Minseok's children, right?" Song Qian teases, and Baekhyun fights a laugh.

"They're not my children," Minseok says.

"I hear they need babysitters, though," Song Qian says. "Rumor has it they can't go anywhere alone."

"Oh, is that because of that Twitter scandal?" Baekhyun's laugh escapes, bubbling up and out, and Joonmyun laughs too, because Baekhyun, when he can't control it, has the silliest laugh.

"Don't laugh, Baekhyun-ssi, they're probably right around your age," Minseok says.

"Kai-ssi has a few years on me, actually," Baekhyun says. "Although I think he might be a child trapped in an adult's body, what with his ‘ten and under' comic book hoarding."

"Now, Baekhyun, you know he only bought four."

"And how many have you bought for him, hyung?" Baekhyun stuffs a piece of cabbage into his mouth. The white cheese that had been added clings to his lips and chin.

"You've met Jongin?" Minseok frowns. "When?"

"It's my fault," Joonmyun says. "I took Jongin out for lunch and he conned me into the comic book store."

"Ah, I guess that was in September?" Baekhyun taps his mouth. His finger catches cheese, and he grimaces. Joonmyun thinks about wiping it off. If it were just the two of them, maybe, but Minseok and Song Qian are watching and Joonmyun doesn't want to push things with Kris. "You're the one with the memory, Joonmyun-hyung."

"Yes," Joonmyun says, "it was in September." Four months ago. Joonmyun met Baekhyun four months ago, and he has already taken all the sounds Baekhyun makes and gathered them into the song that sings him to sleep at night. "Two weeks after I met you?"

"You say two weeks, I say one," Baekhyun says with a smirk.

"You knew I played golf for two weeks though," Joonmyun says.

"Rich kid hobby, that golf," Baekhyun says. "How did you meet Joonmyun-hyung?" he asks Song Qian, and Song Qian smiles.

"All the interns on the first floor had a crush on him and his manners," Song Qian says. "I had to see what all the fuss was about."

"What is all the fuss about?" Baekhyun asks, and Minseok and Song Qian laugh.

Baekhyun's phone rings, and he frowns. "I have to take this," he says, slipping away from the table.

"He's cute," Song Qian says. "I would like you to keep him around."

"I'm planning on it," Joonmyun says, and he doesn't look anyone in the eyes, focusing on eating a piece of chicken.

Baekhyun comes rushing to the table. "I need to go," he says, grabbing his coat. He fumbles for his wallet, and Joonmyun stops him.

"I'll take care of it," he says. "What's wrong?"

"That was Tao," Baekhyun says. He's white and his hands are shaking. "Ting is sick, really sick, and Tao is… I need to go and calm him down. I don't know why he took so long to call me."

"I'll go with you," Joonmyun says immediately, making to stand up. "We can take a cab back to the agency, and then I'll drive us."

"No," Baekhyun says. "I'll just take a cab, and I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun scrambles out of the restaurant, not bothering to tie up his shoes at the door or zip up his coat. "Stupid brat, he's going to get sick again," he mumbles to himself as he turns back to the table.

"Who's Tao?" Kris asks, and Joonmyun sighs.

"Zitao is Baekhyun's best… well, Baekhyun's family, really," Joonmyun says. "Ting is Zitao's four year old daughter."

"That flu that's going around is really dangerous for children," Song Qian says. "I hope she'll be all right."

"Me too," says Joonmyun.

The rest of dinner is quieter. Joonmyun's thoughts had left with Baekhyun, who had looked so worried.

When they get back to the agency, Kris keeps Joonmyun in the car when Minseok and Song Qian get out.

"It might not be my place to say this," Kris winces, "but if you aren't planning on telling anyone, you might want to look a little less besotted."

Joonmyun tries to clear his head, and think of anything but Baekhyun's shaking hands. "What?"

"Every time you look at Baekhyun, your face…" Kris runs a hand through his hair. "It's okay. We can talk about this later. You've got somewhere to be, don't you?"

"I do," Joonmyun says, and he waves bye to Song Qian and Minseok as he climbs into his car and dials Baekhyun.



The fifth floor hallway where Ting's room is has only one person slouched against the wall, puffy coat eating him up as he kicks the toe of his sneakers at the tiled floor.

"Hey," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun looks up.

"What are you doing here?"

"I called and got the location from you," Joonmyun says. "Where else would I be going?"

"I don't know why, but I didn't think you were actually coming," Baekhyun says, as he rubs at his face. When he lets his hands fall and lifts his head, his face is pink and his eyes look anywhere but at Joonmyun.

"How is Ting?" Joonmyun asks gently, reaching out to pluck at Baekhyun's sleeve. "Baekhyunnie~"

"She's doing well," Baekhyun says, voice crackling. "She's… we thought she was gonna…" He shudders. "She never gets sick. I always get sick, and she laughs at me. Four years old, and already laughing at me for sneezing." His laugh is sharp, a note gone awry.

Joonmyun swallows, and he gently reaches out and pulls Baekhyun into his arms.

Baekhyun's not loud when he cries. He presses his wet face into Joonmyun's neck, and Joonmyun hugs him hard. It doesn't matter that they aren't truly alone, and that anyone could walk around the corner, because Baekhyun is sad, and Baekhyun's face is not made for tears. It's made for obnoxious smirks and chewing gum too loudly and singing with his eyes all crinkled up.

"Hey," Joonmyun says. "It'll be okay."

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "I know. Her fever is dropping. It is going to be okay." He jerks out of Joonmyun's arms, wiping his face with the back of his hand. "Look at me crying like a baby because I'm so relieved."

His eyes are puffy and his cheeks are wet, and Joonmyun's chest goes so tight he finds it impossible to draw a single breath. "It's okay to cry, Baekhyun. Especially over family." Joonmyun fluffs his hair, and guides him to the empty row of chairs at the end of the hall. A nurse peeks up from the floor desk, and smiles when she sees Joonmyun dragging Baekhyun to a seat.

Baekhyun curls up in the chair, hugging his knees, and Joonmyun throws an arm around his shoulders to pull him in closer. Baekhyun melts into him, his coat squeaking as he burrows into Joonmyun's embrace.

"Did you cry when your grandfather died?" Baekhyun asks. His lips still tremble, and his eyes are glassy, with waiting tears.

"Not for weeks and weeks," Joonmyun says. "I walked around all day with the tears stopped up inside me until one afternoon when I was all alone in my brand new apartment. I was unpacking my boxes, and I came across the things he left me." Joonmyun squeezes. "I felt better, once I cried, actually."

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Baekhyun says. "She's fine. Just the flu."

"I think," Joonmyun says, quietly, carefully, "you've put a lot of effort into protecting yourself, and you've just realized there are still people who can affect you. Tao, little Ting, Sehun, Chanyeol…"

"And you," Baekhyun says, curling his fingers into Joonmyun's coat. "Somehow." He hiccups. "Fuck, that's so scary."

"You aren't afraid of anything, though," Joonmyun reminds him, and Baekhyun's lips quirk.

The elevator dings, and Joonmyun jerks back instinctively. Baekhyun lets him, but doesn't completely relinquish his hold on Joonmyun's coat. Out steps Sehun, smelling faintly of cigarettes and wearing thick glasses. He has clearly been studying, his hair a mess of waves and his mouth set in a tired frown. His eyes alight on Baekhyun immediately. "Hyung, Zitao called. He said Ting was really ill?"

"She's okay now," Baekhyun says. "It's room 507." He grabs tighter at Joonmyun's coat, and Sehun looks relieved to only have to deal with Zitao, leaving Baekhyun with Joonmyun. "She's okay."

"Zitao is probably beating himself up, though," Sehun says, sharing a knowing glance with Baekhyun. "I'll go knock some sense into him."

Sehun shuffles down the hallway, black and white striped sandals and socks passing for winter footwear, and Baekhyun chuckles, dry and small, but sincere. "He fell right out of bed to come here," Baekhyun says.

"That little girl has two fiercely protective uncles," Joonmyun says.

"I think Sehun has his eye on the other ‘dad' position, personally, but don't tell Zitao that."

"I won't," Joonmyun says. "It can be a secret between all of us that have eyes and basic observational skills."

Baekhyun laughs. It echoes in the empty hallway, high-pitched and slightly hysterical, but the tears are dried up. Joonmyun feels accomplished despite the disdainful look from the nurse at the front desk.

"Joonmyun-hyung," Baekhyun says, "thank you for coming."

"You're welcome," says Joonmyun, resting his cheek on Baekhyun's hair.



Joonmyun spends Christmas afternoon with Baekhyun at ComicsPlease. Like most of the shops during Christmas, it's crowded with couples: high school girls eagerly perusing the romance manhwa while dragging reluctant boyfriends, or couples Joonmyun's age laughing together over Western import comics.

"Comics are a great equalizer," Baekhyun says, between ringing up two separate customers. "You can be old, young, rich, poor, anything, but you still have to wait until January 4th to find out what happened to the Human Torch."

"Who is the Human Torch?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun sighs.

"I should give you superhero homework," he says, and then he's gone again, helping some other customer.

ComicsPlease closes early, at six. Baekhyun flips the sign on the front door to ‘closed' before stomping back down the stairs. "Aren't we leaving, too?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun leans against the counter and smirks.

"No," Baekhyun says, "we aren't."

He pulls out a box from storage, getting dust smeared across his face as he drags it out to the center of the floor. He sneezes, and Joonmyun walks over to him and cleans his face with the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

Baekhyun pinches some of the first ‘S' from ‘Seoul National University' on Joonmyun's sweatshirt. "You don't have to graduate to keep the sweatshirt?"

"I don't think so," Joonmyun says. It's ten years old, but he's worn it in just right. It's perfect for a chilly day like today, spent happily in a bookstore. "Do you have to be Batman to wear his name?" He slides his hand down the front of Baekhyun's shirt, the soft cotton comforting.

"Maybe I am Batman," Baekhyun says. "You never know."

"Okay, Batman, what's in the box?" He hooks his fingers in Baekhyun's belt and tugs him closer, dropping a short kiss on his pouting mouth. Dust gets in Joonmyun's nose.

"My educational materials," says Baekhyun. "Today, Kim Joonmyun, I'll teach you about all my favorite superheroes." He steps back and squats down in front of the plastic box, unfastening the side clips. That sends more dust up into the air.

"I never really had time, when I was a kid." Joonmyun laughs. "I was too busy with all of my more respectable pursuits."

"We still have to work on your definition of respectable." Baekhyun hums as he roots through the box.

"Sing something?" Joonmyun asks. Baekhyun looks up and grins. "Anything you want."

Baekhyun doesn't know all the words to ‘White Christmas', but neither does Joonmyun. They have a lot of fun making them up as Baekhyun prepares his introductory comics lesson.



On December 31st, Sunyoung sends him a text at midnight: Happy New Year's Day, Joonmyun.

Thirty minutes later, he gets a kkt from Baekhyun. i wanted to get u a christmas present hyung

Laughing, Joonmyun thinks about how to reply. His phone quacks again before he gets the chance. it took a while to finish but its done now

The third yellow bubble in the chat window just says sgg.mp3

He selects it, and it pops open the media player. There's a fuzzy silence, like someone breathing into the mic, and then the sound of a buk. "Slower," Baekhyun's voice says, and the tempo slows. "Better?" asks Chanyeol's low voice in reply, and Baekhyun says "yeah," as he takes an audible breath. He starts to sing, and Joonmyun, who has been sitting on his bed contemplating which Park Songhee album to play, is given something better.

You recorded you and Chanyeol's Sugungga?

just the first 3 parts. you can have the rest for your birthday

What if my birthday is tomorrow?

then you can have the rest for christmas next year

Next year. Joonmyun lies back into his pillows and holds his phone against his stomach. He's careful not to block the speakers. Baekhyun's voice fills his bedroom, and Joonmyun likes the sound of next Christmas. He likes it a lot.

A tiny part of him thinks knowing that Baekhyun plans on Joonmyun being around next year is even better than the pansori, but that's--

The mp3 file isn't super high quality, but it is long, and Joonmyun listens the whole way through before he messages Baekhyun back.

Thank you, Baekhyunnie.

youre welcome Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun listens to Baekhyun singing about the gullible dragon king until he sleeps.



"How was your New Year's Day?" Yixing asks, after he gets into the car. He's freshly showered. He must have just finished at the studio.

"I just dropped by and visited my grandmother," Joonmyun says. "It could've been worse."

Joonmyun's mother had been there, in the kitchen, when his grandmother had answered the door. He'd considered apologizing to her, to smooth things over, but instead he'd just followed his grandmother back to her bedroom. "I'm sorry I can't visit as often," he'd said, and she'd patted his hand, and said "I understand" and Joonmyun had felt that strange drowning feeling again.

"For you to say that, it must've been pretty bad." Yixing is not like Baekhyun. He never turns on Joonmyun's radio.

"Baekhyun yelled at my whole family when I took him home to meet my grandmother."

"You took him to meet your grandmother?" Yixing's dimple appears. "My, my, this is serious."

"She wanted to meet him," Joonmyun says. "I didn't see the harm."

"Song Qian likes him a lot," Yixing says. "She told me he had to leave halfway through dinner, but she'd enjoyed his company."

"Would she still like him if she knew…" Joonmyun laughs grimly, and turns on the radio himself.

"You really don't give your friends much credit, do you?"

"It's not about giving them credit," says Joonmyun. "It's about the rules."

"You care more about the rules than most people do," Yixing says softly, the radio almost drowning him out.

"I'm more keenly aware of them than most people are," replies Joonmyun.

"Thank you for taking me to see Taemin," Yixing says.

"It's not a big deal." Joonmyun merges onto the highway. "Taemin's a good kid. I'm glad he has you looking out for him. Besides, you said you wanted me talk to him?"

"Like you said," Yixing replies, "you're more keenly aware of the rules than most." He fixes his ponytail. "I've always been bad at noticing they exist."

"That's something I like about you," says Joonmyun. "It's what makes you so comfortable."

"That's good," Yixing says. "Lu Han always says I'm not very comfortable at all."

"He's probably talking about how bony your butt is when you sit on his lap." Joonmyun taps the steering wheel. "Not your personality."

"Maybe," Yixing says, and he closes his eyes.

When they get to the base, Yixing has to root around in his bag for five minutes to find his passport, and he turns over that and his alien ID card to the irritated looking soldier behind the desk. Joonmyun hands over his own ID with an easy smile, and the soldier smiles back at him, frustration melting.

"I used to get jealous," Yixing whispers as they walk down a short hallway to a cafeteria, "of the way you can't stop yourself from flirting."

"I'm just being friendly," Joonmyun whispers back, and the soldier escorting them to the main room pretends like he's not trying to listen.

It's a visiting day, so many of the tables are claimed by visiting families. Taemin meets them at the entrance. His hair is cut short, cropped so close to his skull that his mouth seems larger. He's thinner, too, face with that hollow look that often finds new enlistees in the wake of boot camp.

"Taemin, you're so thin," Yixing frets. He's seconds from reaching up to touch Taemin's hair when Joonmyun stops him.

"Not here," Joonmyun says, and Taemin nods, stepping back slightly. Yixing looks at Joonmyun curiously, and Joonmyun shrugs. "One of those rules you don't know."

Taemin leads them to an empty table, and Yixing volunteers to go get them sandwiches while Taemin fidgets, looking awfully young in his uniform. "Are you okay?" asks Joonmyun, quietly. It's too noisy in the cafeteria for anyone to hear them. At the table next to theirs, a mother fusses with her son's hair, nagging him in the way that means she misses him.

"It's not so bad, right now. We play a lot of soccer with our free time." Taemin looks down at the table like it's a fascinating novel. "I'm good at soccer, so it's not as hard."

"You had a rough time in boot camp?"

"I'm a professional dancer," Taemin says. "And I like to look pretty. What do you think, hyung?"

"When I was in boot camp," says Joonmyun, "no one paid any attention to me at all. I was painfully average at everything, and I'm not…" He laughs. "I don't look any sort of way, you know? Tough or weak or smart or anything."

"I took out all my piercings before I came in, but I can't get rid of the holes." Taemin fingers his ears. "Does that make me look some way?"

"There was another guy in my enlistment group, though. Older than I was. He looked… different." Joonmyun looks for Yixing. He's checking out with the food, laughing with the cashier as he hands her money. "He fought back when people started things."

"What are you trying to say?" The sleeves of Taemin's uniform are too short. He's still growing. He's so young.

"Keep your head down," says Joonmyun. "Let it roll off you, like water off a duck's back. Don't pick fights."

"I'm not like most of the other guys, hyung. I like to read fashion magazines for the clothes and I'm more interested in talking about the newest girl idols' dance routines than their breasts. Not that I'm not interested in girls, because I am, I just don't…" Taemin sighs. "I just don't fit here."

"Pretend you do," says Joonmyun. "It will be so much easier for you, if you pretend you do."

"I don't want to," Taemin says. "I'm no good at pretending to be ‘normal', whatever the heck that means." Yixing sets the tray down in the middle of the table with three hamburgers on it, and slides into the empty chair. "I don't think I should have to fake being something I'm not for other people?"

"There's nothing wrong with you," Yixing says sternly. "Eat your hamburger."

"People… can be very cruel when you go against expectations," says Joonmyun. He remembers that guy, from his enlistment group. He remembers the hazing, the wet uniforms, the black eye that reappeared every time it was starting to fade. He hadn't said anything, then, but he doesn't want that for Taemin, who is wild, creative, headstrong, and eccentric in all sorts of interesting ways. "That's more true in the army than anywhere else."

"If you let other people decide what you should like or how you should think," Taemin says, picking up his burger, "how can you possibly make yourself happy?"

Joonmyun pulls his own burger closer to him. "I don't know," he says. "I haven't figured that part out yet."

"I thought I couldn't handle it," says Taemin. He looks much more himself with a hamburger in one hand, mustard smeared on his mouth. But he still looks strange with no hair in a uniform that doesn't fit quite right. "But I think I'll be okay. Thanks for the advice, hyung."

"What advice?" Joonmyun laughs. "I didn't have anything useful to offer you, really."

"You did," Taemin says. "You reminded me that I can't let this be like high school all over again."

Joonmyun isn't all that hungry, after all.

"You take care of yourself, Taeminnie," Yixing says. "That's the most important thing."

"I will, Yixing-hyung~" and he smiles, and Joonmyun feels painfully walled up inside this cafeteria, and inside this moment.



"How did your visit go today?"

"Okay," says Joonmyun. "Taemin is doing better, I think."

"That's a relief," says Baekhyun.

"It is," Joonmyun says. His stomach is still slightly uncomfortable from their conversation. "Yixing was really happy to see he was okay."

"Are you going to visit me, when I enlist?" Baekhyun asks. He's dewy from the shower, hair wet and messy as he lies on his belly on Joonmyun's bed. He's wearing thin underwear and his Wonder Woman shirt, and the shirt has patches of damp where he'd neglected to dry off.

Joonmyun had showered before Baekhyun had come over. Baekhyun had brought clean clothes with him in his backpack, and had teasingly asked if Joonmyun wanted to shower one more time, before he'd spit out his Xylitol and slipped into Joonmyun's shower to wash off the scent of cigarette smoke that clung to him from the gig rehearsal he'd had tonight at the Gangnam club he's performing in this weekend.

"Would you want me to?" Imagining Baekhyun in a military uniform is impossible.

"Why wouldn't I?" Baekhyun sets the notes from his rehearsal that he'd been looking through on the bedside table. He moves so he can look right at Joonmyun.

"I don't know," Joonmyun says. "We seem to have trouble not touching each other too much. It's fine now, but what about when we haven't seen each other for a month?"

"It will be very hard for me to resist touching those abs," Baekhyun says, "but I can probably manage it." He laughs. "It'll be a struggle, though."

"Aren't you afraid people might get suspicious about our relationship?" Joonmyun scratches his scalp, sighing. "In the army, you can't…" He sighs again. "Sorry, I…"

"I'm not afraid of anything," Baekhyun says, when Joonmyun starts to find the silence stifling. "I used to be afraid of everything. Like, even my own shadow, basically." He rolls onto his side. "But then, when everything kind of… fell apart, I decided I wasn't going to be trapped by fear like that anymore."

"Trapped?" Joonmyun runs a hand along Baekhyun's side. He's so soft. So warm. "Fear is something our minds create to protect us."

"Fear is also something that pins us down," Baekhyun replies. "Locks us up. Fear is like a cage." He squirms in closer to Joonmyun, so that they touch. Joonmyun can feel Baekhyun's breath on his lips. "I don't do so well with cages."

"I can believe that," Joonmyun says, "without an iota of doubt."

"So to answer your question, no. No, I am not worried someone is going to get the wrong idea about us. Or the right one. I don't really care what idea anyone has. I only care about whether or not I'll have to go months without seeing you because you think it's for my own good."

"I'll mail you my favorite golf magazines," Joonmyun says. "It'll be like I'm there."

"Joonmyun-hyung, honestly, golf is the most boring thing on the planet to me."

"Who knows, anyway," Joonmyun says, kissing just to the right of Baekhyun's nose. He'd been wearing makeup, but now his face is clean, skin soft and soap-tinged. His mouth smells of blueberry and mint. "Maybe by the time you enlist, you won't even want me to come visit you."

Baekhyun arches back, so he can search Joonmyun's face. His purple lips curl down. "Planning on breaking up with me before I join the army or something?"

"No," Joonmyun says, still running his hand up and down Baekhyun's side. "But you're only twenty-two, Baekhyunnie. Maybe you'll decide you want to date someone your own age, and I'll have to let you go."

He thinks about it, sometimes. He knows that Baekhyun isn't a kid, but he's young. Joonmyun remembers how young when Baekhyun curls up on Joonmyun's sofa and whimpers in his sleep, or when he wears that red baseball cap sideways when he meets Joonmyun for dinner after work.

"Joonmyun," Baekhyun says, "tell your brain to shut up." He lunges forward to smash their mouths together, teeth clacking as Joonmyun presses back. It's messy, Baekhyun's tongue insisting on access before Joonmyun has even managed to close his eyes, but Joonmyun doesn't mind. He likes the way Baekhyun kisses. It's how Baekhyun does most things. Without hesitation. Without second-guessing. With all the passion he can muster.

He only pulls away so he can start systematically divesting Joonmyun of his clothes, yanking at his undershirt and underwear. Joonmyun finally catches up, and he grabs Baekhyun, pulling him into a hug. The foiled letters on Baekhyun's Wonder Woman shirt rub at Joonmyun's bare nipples. "I'm not saying I want you to go. I'm just being realistic."

"You didn't read enough comics as a child," Baekhyun says into Joonmyun's cheek. "If you did, you'd have a little more optimism. Don't you know the hero gets the girl?"

"There is no girl," Joonmyun says, and he rocks his hips forward, making Baekhyun gasp. "So how are the comics supposed to help?"

Baekhyun sucks Joonmyun's earlobe between his lips and nibbles at it, before beginning a slow trail down Joonmyun's neck. "If you don't want me to go," Baekhyun says, "don't say things like that." He sucks hard enough to bruise the base of Joonmyun's throat, and Joonmyun groans. "I haven't been a kid for a long time. I know what I'm doing. I know what I want."

"Knowing what you want doesn't have anything to do with being an adult," Joonmyun replies. "Trust me, I would know."

"I'm not promising you forever or anything dumb like that," Baekhyun says, mouthing his way back up Joonmyun's neck. Joonmyun can barely make out the words. "But if you don't want me to go, I don't really plan on giving you up."

"I don't want you to go," Joonmyun says, blindly searching for Baekhyun's mouth. He finds it, and Baekhyun sucks urgently on Joonmyun's upper lip, catching it between his teeth and nipping at it until it's almost sore before switching to the lower.

Clothes find their way onto the floor, and Joonmyun gasps as Baekhyun ruts into him, skin on skin. He pulls away just long enough to send Wonder Woman to the floor, and then he's kissing Joonmyun again.

Baekhyun reaches between them, grabbing both of their cocks in his hand, and Joonmyun bucks into the touch.

"Do you have lube?" Baekhyun asks, and it takes a minute for Joonmyun to understand, but when he does, he gulps, disguising it with a long lick along the angle of Baekhyun's jaw.

"Yes," he says. "Give me a second."

He gets up out of bed, suddenly conscious of his nakedness, and walks to the bathroom. He can feel Baekhyun's eyes on his back as he walks out the door and into the hallway.

He keeps stuff like lube and condoms in the cabinet above his sink. He grabs a brand new package of condoms and the tube of lube, and walks back into the bedroom.

He isn't expecting Baekhyun to be up on his hands and knees for him, locking gazes with him when he walks in the door.

"Fuck," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs, low and dark.

"I don't think I've ever heard you use that word before," says Baekhyun. "Where are your manners?"

"On the floor with your clothes, probably," Joonmyun replies, crawling onto the bed and immediately dragging his hands along exposed skin. "Are you sure this is what you want?" Baekhyun gives him this look that has Joonmyun laughing around the nervous tightness in his throat. "Okay, okay," Joonmyun says, and he opens the lube, squirting a generous amount into his hands.

When the lube is warmed through, he teases with his thumb, around the rim, and Baekhyun growls at him. "Before I die of old age, please," he says, and Joonmyun steels his resolve.

Joonmyun pushes in one finger, to the second knuckle, and Baekhyun whines, wriggling his hips and canting back. "C'mon, Joonmyun," he says, and Joonmyun flexes his finger before pushing it deeper, all the way in. "C'mon."

"Patience," Joonmyun says, and he slowly begins to thrust, driving that one finger in and out of Baekhyun as Baekhyun bites hard on his lower lip and holds on to clumps of sheet. "I'm not going to hurt you by hurrying." Baekhyun is so hot, and he's sucking Joonmyun's finger back in every time Joonmyun pulls most of the way out.

"Give me another," Baekhyun rasps, and Joonmyun takes the lube and squirts more of it, letting the thick, clear substance dribble down Baekhyun's crack. He draws his finger out and catches some of the lube, dragging a slow circle with his first two fingers around Baekhyun's rim until Baekhyun is steadily moving his hips back into the touch. Then he slowly pushes in with two fingers, and Baekhyun hisses and stills.

Two fingers is tighter, and Joonmyun's cock is heavy between his thighs as he watches Baekhyun's ass take both digits. It's a stretch, and Joonmyun has to move more slowly, more carefully, to make sure Baekhyun is loose enough for him to start thrusting. When Baekhyun's noises get more demanding, Joonmyun crooks both fingers down in quest. He gets close to what he's looking for, Baekhyun producing the tiniest, cutest hiccup as Joonmyun brushes his prostate.

"There?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun nods, his shoulders dropping and his back arching, sending his hips higher. He looks so long in front of Joonmyun, and the faint trail of freckles down his back begs for attention as much as the frustrated backward rock of Baekhyun's hips.

He puts a hand on Baekhyun's waist to calm him, and pauses with a third finger poised to enter. "Joonmyun," Baekhyun says. "I'm not going to break."

He's faster with three fingers, and Baekhyun is greedy about it, mumbling nonsense into the pillow and making all these noises that Joonmyun has never heard him make. There's enough yield now that Joonmyun can twist his fingers, search with more force for Baekhyun's prostate, and when he finds it, Baekhyun gives a long, low moan that sounds both nothing and everything like a note Joonmyun has heard him hold before on stage.

The noises get higher, and louder, but Joonmyun is methodical, stretching and thrusting and putting pressure, watching Baekhyun's muscle yield around his fingers as he prepares him. Baekhyun's thighs quiver, and his face is buried in Joonmyun's pillows. His back is drawn tight. "Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says, "are you okay? Am I hurting you?"

"No," Baekhyun says, "but I'm going to…" He groans, shivering full body, and Joonmyun palms Baekhyun's ass, caressing soothingly up to mid-back before reversing and coming back down to rest on Baekhyun's hip. "I could come like this."

"Really?" Joonmyun asks. "Have you done that before?" His heart is beating so fast. He's so hard, and it feels like he's been this hard forever, and Baekhyun struggles up to his elbows so he can look at Joonmyun over his shoulder.

"Once," he gasps. "On my own fingers. I was imagining you, though, and you were using that teacher-voice of yours. You kept telling me how good I was."

"You are good," Joonmyun says. He curves his fingers down again, hard, and presses relentlessly, thrusting harder and moving faster. "You underestimate your potential as a student."

"I think you're lax with me," Baekhyun says, his words slurring together. "Not much of a disciplinarian." His head falls between his arms again, back to the pillows, his forehead pushing into them and helping to support his weight. "Joonmyun, Joonmyun, I'm…"

"It's okay," Joonmyun says, soothing. "Just come for me."

Baekhyun whimpers, thighs flexing, and he does, with a shout Joonmyun can hear through a mouthful of pillow. Joonmyun works him through his orgasm, keeping constant stimulation on Baekhyun's prostate until Baekhyun starts to babble nonsense and pull away from his fingers. The he takes both hands and guides Baekhyun down onto his back, just out of the wet spot, and slides up so he's lying next to him.

Collapsing next to Baekhyun, Joonmyun starts to quickly jack himself off, thinking about Baekhyun's noises and how well he'd taken Joonmyun's fingers. His hand is slick and glides easy on his cock.

"Aren't you going to fuck me?" Baekhyun asks. His chest is red, and the redness goes all the way up to his cheeks. Exertion, not embarrassment. His lips are dyed purple and his eyes are dark and his voice is rough, like he's been running.

"Do you want me to?" Joonmyun asks, letting go of his cock in favor of kissing Baekhyun. Baekhyun is pliant at first, still lethargic from his release, but he quickly takes control of the kiss, both hands in Joonmyun's hair and one leg hooking around Joonmyun's to pull them together. Baekhyun's soft cock rubs against Joonmyun's hard one, but Joonmyun can feel it waking up again as Baekhyun grinds up into him.

"Well, yeah," Baekhyun says, laughing against Joonmyun's chin. "Have I not been clear about that?"

"Oh, you know," Joonmyun says, as he stretches his arm out toward where he left the lube and condoms on the edge of the bed. "My hearing is going…"

He finally finds both items, grabbing them with his slippery hands, kissing Baekhyun again as he struggles with the box of condoms. Baekhyun breaks the kiss and lightly pushes Joonmyun off him, to the bed next to him, and takes the box. "Let me do it." His fingers aren't slippery, and he easily opens the airtight plastic wrap with the edge of his nail, pulling out the two smaller boxes of five in the pack. He finally separates one condom from the chain and grins. "Get on your back, hyung."

He spreads his palm out on Joonmyun's chest, pushing him down to the mattress as he sits astride Joonmyun's thighs. He takes Joonmyun's cock in hand and strokes it a few times, and Joonmyun moans. Baekhyun's grin widens. He's almost hard again, and Joonmyun's mouth is parched with pleasure and anticipation.

Baekhyun rolls the condom down on Joonmyun, making sure it's on snugly, and then takes the lubricant and squirts it into his cupped palm. He quickly wraps his lubed hand around the condom to wet it thoroughly, before scooting up so that he can balance himself over Joonmyun, Joonmyun's cock brushing back and forth along his stretched entrance. He shivers, using his sticky hand to fit the head against the opening as his other hand grips too hard at Joonmyun's shoulder, nails into the skin.

Joonmyun reaches out to squeeze Baekhyun's hips as Baekhyun sinks down on him, his sharp teeth digging into his lip as Joonmyun's cock pushes into him. "Don't move," Baekhyun says. "I'll move."

He expects Baekhyun to start slowly, but Baekhyun leans forward, putting more of his weight on Joonmyun, and lifts his hips up before rapidly slamming them back down. "Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, tries to say, but then it's too hot, sweaty skin sliding and friction around him, for him to say anything at all.

Baekhyun rides him hard, leaving bruises with his fingers as his cock slaps into his own stomach. His mouth is open, panting, and his skin shines with sweat. He's beautiful, the veins in his neck standing out as he moans. "Touch me," he says, and Joonmyun peels one hand from Baekhyun's waist to wrap around his cock, thumbing the slit.

Coming for the second time, Baekhyun clenches down, spasming around Joonmyun and sending him over the edge before he even realizes it's happening, all the tension in his body heightening and releasing as Baekhyun slumps down on top of him, still shivering with aftershocks.

As the high fades, Joonmyun nudges at Baekhyun's cheek until Baekhyun meets him for a sloppy kiss, his hands coming up to curl around Joonmyun's cheeks. "Hi," he says breathlessly, and Joonmyun laughs.

Baekhyun lifts himself off slowly, sighing as Joonmyun slides out of him. Joonmyun sits up to tie the condom off and toss it into the trash, along with the condom wrapper, and he puts the rest of the box and the lube on the side table, on top of Baekhyun's rehearsal notes. Then he lies back down on the bed. The sheets are damp, and so is Baekhyun, but Joonmyun finds himself smushed between the two.

It's quiet, just their hearts beating, the steady constant rhythm of the buk drum.

Baekhyun starts to hum, then lightly sing into the silence. It's a song Joonmyun wrote seven years ago, for Sunyoung. He tries to remember what it sounds like when she sings it, but all he hears is Baekhyun. When Baekhyun begins the chorus, Joonmyun joins him, doing the high harmonies.

Baekhyun trails off, and Joonmyun follows, licking his lips and staring at the ceiling.

"Sorry," Joonmyun says. "I didn't mean to ruin it."

"You didn't," Baekhyun says. "Our voices sound nice together."

"Did they?" Joonmyun asks. He stretches out, flexing his toes. "It's harder to hear it when I'm singing too."

"I want to collect on my secret," Baekhyun says suddenly, and Joonmyun closes his eyes. Baekhyun's leg shifts, hairy calf against Joonmyun's smooth one.

"What do you want to know?"

"Why does singing make you so uncomfortable?"

Joonmyun combs a hand through Baekhyun's hair. "I told Kris it was because I'd been informed I didn't really have what it takes to be a singer in high school."

"But…?"

"That's true, but it's only part of it," says Joonmyun. "The other part is that singing takes too much honesty." He runs his tongue along the palate of his mouth. "When other people sing my love songs, the audience doesn't know who they're about, or why I wrote them. The artists are singing about their experiences, not mine. And it sounds real, because it is, but it's not real for me."

"Too much honesty, huh? Did some music teacher tell you that?"

"Kyuhyun-hyung had to fill in for the female lead during the audition," Joonmyun says. "He was so funny and smart, and handsome. I admired him a lot." Baekhyun wiggles into a new position, so he can look at Joonmyun's face. "I had to sing a love song to him. The first time was okay, but then my teacher made me sing it again. With real emotion, she said. They're just words if there's nothing behind them."

"Hyung…"

"And I looked at Kyuhyun-hyung, who was handsome, and funny, and smart… It wasn't hard to imagine being in love with him." Baekhyun's eyes narrow. "It wasn't the first time I'd imagined it, either." Joonmyun frowns. Baekhyun hadn't asked about crushes. "But when I was done, the teacher clapped really loudly and told me I had the makings of a good stage actor, but my voice wasn't strong enough for a musical role. You looked like you really meant it, she said." Joonmyun's eyes are so dry. "But I couldn't wait to get off stage, because I was horrified. No one could know, you see, that I was…"

"Joonmyun-hyung, high school students always gossip about everything, and no one believes them."

"All it would take was a few whispers at Daewon to get back to my parents' friends," says Joonmyun, "and it would be over."

It was easier to break his mother's heart with music. At least she could just be disappointed in him, instead of ashamed.

"What about now?" says Baekhyun. "Why can't you sing now?"

"Because I still can't be honest," Joonmyun says. "I still have too much to lose." Baekhyun's fingers dance down Joonmyun's chest. "I know it's silly, to associate that with singing. But I do."

He wonders, if his family were to know about all this, right now, Joonmyun woven in a tangle of limbs with Baekhyun and not wanting to be anywhere else, if they would even still say his name around the table at dinner. Maybe they would be like Baekhyun's family, and Joonmyun would never even be able to even think about them without wanting to disappear.

"If you'd lose it because of something like this," and he spreads his hand out just at the ends of Joonmyun's ribs, palm to stretched skin, "is it really worth having?"

"If you could go back in time and keep your parents from finding out you liked men," Joonmyun asks, "would you do it?"

Baekhyun laughs. "There was a time I would have said yes." He moves his hand again. "That first year, maybe. It was…" He's looking past Joonmyun, at the wall or maybe at something only he can see. "But, hyung, I'm always going to be like this. It's not something I can change about myself. One day or another, they were going to find out. It's like what I said earlier. I don't do so well with cages."

"I think I grew up in a cage," says Joonmyun. "I don't think I know how to live outside of one."

"It helps if you step out of it," says Baekhyun. "Live on the wild side."

"Do I look like someone who takes a lot of chances?" asks Joonmyun, offering Baekhyun a tiny smile.

"No," Baekhyun says, and then he moves his hand up to rest just right of the center of Joonmyun's chest, above his heart. "Maybe that's why I like it so much that you're here right now, with me."



It's decidedly odd, Joonmyun thinks, that there are two pairs of glasses folded on his nightstand every day. That there are two sets of worn in house slippers by his front foyer, and shampoo for color treated hair in the basket beside his shower.

Even more odd is the feeling in Joonmyun's chest whenever he sees that second set of slippers, with bumble bees on them that match Baekhyun's favorite winter sweater, or when he carefully picks up the large black glasses with no lenses that don't belong to him and puts them onto his face, just to see if it's like Baekhyun is around if he does.

The oddest thing of all is the way he can't say he's had a good day if he doesn't wish Baekhyun ‘good night', because Joonmyun is many things, but greedy has never been one of them. But he craves Baekhyun's attention like a teenager falling into puppy- love for the first time, and it twists him up inside, with hope and with happiness and with the first verse of ‘Sugungga' in Baekhyun's voice, raspy and sharp through his Galaxy speakers.

"What are you smiling at me like that for?" Baekhyun asks, sprawled out in the middle of Joonmyun's living room with his hands tangled together on his stomach. His mouth is set in a pout of concentration as he reads his comic. Joonmyun has an article about the Lao She Teahouse in his lap. He's never seen it before. He wonders if Baekhyun would enjoy Beijing. "You look creepy, hyung." Baekhyun narrows his eyes with exaggerated suspicion.

"You're very cute today, Byun Baekhyun," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun bites his lip before sitting up, setting his comic aside. He scoots forward, until he's between Joonmyun's knees, and rests his cheek on Joonmyun's leg.

"How cute?" He looks up through his lashes and pushes a flat hand up the front of Joonmyun's thigh. "Cute enough to get into your overpriced khakis?"

"Would you like to go to China?"

"What?"

"I've never seen any Peking opera," he says, scratching at Baekhyun's hair. It's matted from his cap, which has taken up residence for the evening under Joonmyun's living room table. Baekhyun moves into the touch. "It seemed like something you would like?"

"Hyung…"

"We could go in the fall," Joonmyun says. "China, if I remember correctly, is beautiful in the fall."

"You want to take me to China?" Baekhyun's face is strangely unreadable, the playful expression gone and replaced with blankness. "Why?"

"Because you'd like it," Joonmyun says, and then he twirls a piece of Baekhyun's hair around his finger. Then he adds, more quietly: "Because I'd like it if you were there."

"Sometimes I think you can't possibly be real," Baekhyun says. "Good things don't happen to me."

"I'm not that good," Joonmyun says.

"You are," Baekhyun says. "You don't understand, but you are." He nuzzles into Joonmyun's thigh. "You are."



"China?" Minseok rests his chin on Joonmyun's shoulder. "Are you thinking about taking a vacation?" He scans Joonmyun's smartphone screen.

"Not until the fall," Joonmyun says. "That's what I'm considering."

"You know what?" Minseok steps back, and Joonmyun turns to watch him make himself a cup of instant coffee, tearing the tip off the golden Maxim packet and dumping the powder into his tiny paper cup. "You look younger lately."

"Younger?" Joonmyun laughs. "The years are getting heavy."

Minseok stirs his coffee with the packet before tossing it into the trash. "Maybe you just look happier, then."

Joonmyun looks down at his phone again, at travel agent listings and hotel prices and dates. His happiness feels like a bubble Baekhyun is blowing out of his massive wad of Xylitol. Bubbles always pop. "I think you need to get back to work," says Joonmyun, and Minseok frowns at him.

"You try managing Jongin and Soojung," Minseok says, and Joonmyun laughs again.

"No thanks," he says, and Minseok grins at him as he leaves the lounge.



Lu Han strums absently on his guitar as Joonmyun takes the folder with his song out of his backpack. "What's this for, anyway?"

"It's not for anything. It's just a song I'm working on. I wanted your opinion on the bridge."

"Oh yeah?" Lu Han takes the music from Joonmyun. "I like this melody." He spreads it out on the floor, taking a sip of his beer before he settles back into the wall, guitar now held more carefully. He plays the beginning of it. "The lyrics are pretty."

"I wrote them awhile ago," Joonmyun says. "I haven't been able to put this song away."

"That just means you haven't finished it yet," says Lu Han. "Let's take a look at the bridge."



"Your phone is quacking," Kyungsoo says, pulling off Joonmyun's headphones. "Please check it before I strangle you."

"If you strangle him," Ryeowook says, "his phone will quack forever and we'll have no way of stopping it."

"He is pretty popular," Kyungsoo says with displeasure, as Joonmyun turns his phone on silent. "Why does your phone quack like that, anyway? I've always meant to ask."

"My grandfather picked that alert," Joonmyun says. "When I was in high school, I used to spend a lot of time at my grandparents' house, since they lived so much closer to my music hagwon. I would take naps after school before my extra classes on their sofa. I'd always sleep through my alarm, and through all of my phone calls. So he changed my alarm to a duck."

"You look so small and helpless when you sleep," Kyungsoo says. "I wouldn't change your ringtone. I'd draw pictures on your face or something."

"Mature, Kyungsoo," Ryeowook says, but charmed as he always is. "But why a duck?"

"Well, my grandfather told me it was because ducks are a symbol of happiness for children," Joonmyun says, then he laughs. "But later, my grandmother told me it's because the duck had made me twitch frantically in my sleep, and my grandfather had laughed so much he couldn't help but choose it."

Kyungsoo grins. "That can't be the same phone you had in high school, Joonmyun-hyung."

"Well," says Joonmyun, pulling up his notifications to see Baekhyun's cheerful lets have a hot choco date tonight message jump out at him, "I like to remember the way my grandfather looked when he laughed." He dismisses the chat. There's another missed notification, from earlier. It's from his brother. "I have to return this message with a call, so I'll step out of the studio."

"Sure," Ryeowook says. "I'm going to have Kyungsoo re-record the chorus at the end. It's flat, to me."

"It's not flat," Kyungsoo says. "Your ears are wrong."

Joonmyun leaves them to playfully bicker it out, walking into the hall and closing the studio door.

"Hello?" his brother says, and Joonmyun leans against the wall. It's cold, even through his sweatshirt. "Joonmyun?"

"Is someone ill?" Joonmyun asks. "Is halmeoni okay?"

"Yes," his brother says. "She's fine. Everyone's fine." He clears his throat. "I'm calling to ask when you'll be home for the Lunar New Year. I'm bringing my fiancée."

"What?"

"I'm going home the night before and staying three days. Mom wants to know when you'll be arriving, so she can prepare your room."

"I'm… going?" Joonmyun pulls his fingers through his hair. "I don't know. I have to figure out my schedule. I hadn't planned…"

"You always come home for Seollal," his brother says gruffly. "Always."

"I'll… let you know," Joonmyun says. "I'll text you, or something."

"Good," his brother says. Joonmyun is about to hang up, but his brother continues: "Did you really write the song that's my ringtone?"

"I did," Joonmyun says. "I write under the name Suho. That's one of my more famous songs."

"I have to get back to work," says his brother. "But I'll see you next week."

"Okay," Joonmyun says, and hangs up.

Back in the studio, Ryeowook is laughing as Kyungsoo scowls at him. "It was even flatter that time," he says, holding down his mic button so Kyungsoo can hear him in the recording booth. He looks up at Joonmyun. "Everything all right there?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Everything is fine."



"This arrangement is better for me, oppa," Soojung says. "Much nicer than last week."

"I think we should stick with this," agrees Jongin. "Should've known you'd fix it."

"That's good," Joonmyun says. "I think we're going to stick with this one." He looks at his phone. "It's getting late."

"Do you have somewhere to be?" Soojung asks. "Got a hot date?"

"No," Joonmyun says, smoothing his shirt anxiously. "Kris and I are meeting up with a few friends tonight." They're supposed to meet Chanyeol, Jinri and Amber at ten, and it's nearing nine now.

"On a Thursday?" Jongin's fluffy hair falls into his eyes. He has new hair, shot through with red dye. Soojung's hair is a matching red, but it suits her better. "This late?"

"Another friend has a gig at Club FF tonight," he elaborates, making sure all his files are saved. "I can finish this up by myself in the morning."

"I haven't been to a live in a long time," Soojung says. "I'm jealous."

"Maybe we should sneak out," Jongin says. "Take us with you, hyung."

"That's a terrible idea," Joonmyun says. "You know it's not all settled yet from the last mess you guys made."

"I think you mean mess Jongin made," Soojung says. "Still, I want to go out. I'm getting kind of… antsy, stuck at the studio and at the dorm."

"I'm not taking you out to a huge Hongdae night spot toward the end of a scandal." Joonmyun shuts down his laptop, and begins the process of shutting down all of his equipment. They've recorded a lot today. "There are posters of your faces in the store windows around there."

"Wouldn't you rather take us out than have us sneak out on our own?" asks Soojung. "Who knows what Jongin and I will get up to without you."

"What trouble are you talking Joonmyun into now?" Kris asks from the studio door, and Joonmyun grins.

"They're trying to talk me into letting them tag along to Baekhyunnie's gig tonight."

"Baekhyun?" Jongin finishes zipping up his bag. "Baekhyun from the comic shop who sends you kkts all the time?"

"Not all the time," Joonmyun mumbles.

"One and the same," Kris says. "He's singing tonight, and we're meeting friends to watch in about fifty minutes, in Hongdae."

"Then we should get going," Soojung says.

"There is no ‘we'," says Joonmyun. "You two are going home."

"I think we're going out recklessly clubbing at Answer," says Soojung. "Right, Jongin?"

"Unless someone responsible takes us with them…" Jongin is grinning, looking all of ten years old with his sleepy eyes.

"I can't believe you guys are putting me in this position."

"You just can't believe it's working," says Kris. He's stealing reluctant glances at Soojung. "I think we could do it."

Taking Jongin and Soojung to one of Baekhyun's shows sounds... Joonmyun pulls on the sleeves of his shirt, stretching them into his grip. There are a thousand ways this could go wrong, but Jongin is making puppy eyes at him and Joonmyun has never been able to say no.

They take a taxi from the parking lot, Kris sitting in the front seat with the driver and Joonmyun with Jongin and Soojung in the back.

"You have to stay out of sight," he says. "I reserved a table, but you really can't be photographed by a fan tonight, okay?"

"We know," Soojung says. "I've been an idol for five years now. We're not rookies."

"Yeah," Kris says, "and that's why you're on house arrest." He looks over his shoulder into the backseat to smile at them all, taking the sting out of his words.

"Is your friend good?" Soojung asks. "The one whose gig we're watching."

"Yes," Joonmyun says. The music always clings to him, as sticky as Baekhyun's wad of Xylitol on the bottom of his boot, outside that jazz club in September. "He's good."

Club FF is on the basement level, right under Gogos bar. The big neon-lit guitar on the front of the building reminds Joonmyun of being barely twenty and following Changmin to half the live clubs in Seoul. Club FF looks like ten years ago just as much as it looks like now. The live scene in Hongdae has progressed in so many ways but the old venues are a hallmark of their time.

Chanyeol is waiting outside with his hands in his pockets. His hair is curled, in fat frizzy ringlets that make his face look even younger. He gives his wide smile to Joonmyun and Kris, and then his face twists with confusion when he catches sight of Soojung and Jongin.

"I was about to apologize," he says, "because Amber called and said she and Jinri couldn't make it tonight, but it seems you've brought enough company along."

"This is Jongin and Soojung," Joonmyun says. "They're here incognito, so…"

"I thought you looked a little familiar," Chanyeol says easily, shrugging and grinning again. "It's all the same to me. I'm here to see Baekhyun."

They have a private table in the back. It's a circle booth, one side of the booth half blocked by the free standing armchairs that Joonmyun hates because you can only get in and out of them from the one end. Soojung and Jongin slide in the furthest, where they're blocked from the view of most people in the club, the lights dimmer.

Chanyeol plops himself next to Jongin. "I'm too fidgety for the armchairs," he admits. "My elbows always hit different parts of the chair as I talk."

Kris takes the armchair next to Chanyeol, and Joonmyun takes the one across from Jongin. There's one seat left, for Baekhyun. They order drinks, Joonmyun offering his Nonghyup card to start a tab out of habit, and Soojung examines her nails as they wait for the drinks to come. Chanyeol starts immediately asking Jongin about dancing ("I'm hopeless at it," he says, "so I think you're awesome!") and Kris, Joonmyun, and Soojung discuss Kyungsoo's new album, careful not to be too specific in case anyone can hear them over the noisy laughter and chatter in the club.

The crowd quiets as the lights go down. Joonmyun leans back in his chair. The stage is elevated, so he can see that there's a single stool on stage. A guy Joonmyun recognizes, Jonghyun, Baekhyun's friend from the rock festival, is already on stage, checking each string on his acoustic guitar and making sure the mic is placed correctly to pick up his playing.

When Baekhyun gets on stage, he immediately finds Joonmyun in the crowd, looking past the standing audience in front of the stage to beam at him. He has the glittery stuff on his eyelids again, and his teeth are so white as he smiles.

The first song he sings is one Joonmyun hasn't heard before. Not that Joonmyun has heard all of Baekhyun's music, but he's been to almost all of his gigs in the past few months and he's familiar with Baekhyun's different sets. The song he's singing right now is a happy love song. Baekhyun doesn't sing so very many of those.

As he watches, Joonmyun clutches the arms of his chair, his palms scraping against the scratchy fabric. Baekhyun's voice, when he performs, always feels like summer. Like tacky heat that clings to Joonmyun's skin and trickles like a bead of sweat down his spine. It's rough and smooth all at once, and Joonmyun can never get the echo of it out of his head.

And Baekhyun's eyes, when he sings, say far too much. He looks at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun's skin is peeled back, and the summer sun that is Baekhyun's gaze burns his insides to nothing but ash.

After his set, when another singer has stolen the stool and the spotlight, Baekhyun worms his way through the crowd and to their table, a drink in each hand.

"What makes you think I need a drink?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun smirks.

"These are both for me," he says. "Get your own drink."

Jongin, who has amassed four empty glasses in front of himself, claps at Joonmyun's surprised face. "Hyung, he got you."

Baekhyun winks, and Soojung leans across the table. "I've never had the pleasure of meeting you," she says. "I'm Soojung."

"Byun Baekhyun," he replies, grinning sweetly at Soojung. "What's a lovely lady like you doing here?"

"Just a little jail-breaking," Soojung says, and Baekhyun's eyes dart over to Joonmyun, amusement sparkling in the corners of them, visible even in the dark club. He smells like sweat as he presses closer into Joonmyun's space, standing next to Joonmyun's chair, an arm around the back of it. "I enjoyed your set."

"Thank you," Baekhyun says. "I had a couple of new songs in it."

"The first one," says Joonmyun. "That one was new."

"Yeah." Baekhyun looks at Joonmyun carefully. "That one was definitely new."

Kris coughs, and Baekhyun seems to come back to himself, sitting down in the empty chair next to Joonmyun and giving Joonmyun the chance to take a breath. His hair sticks to him, hairspray losing the battle against stagelight sweating, and his eyeliner is smoky and smeared. He's dazzling, even when Joonmyun can barely make out his pale features in the dark.

"You always put on a good show," Kris says, and Chanyeol nods.

"Top notch, as usual." He slides his beer across the table to clink with both of Baekhyun's glasses. "Amber and Jinri apologize for not being here. Where's Jonghyun-hyung?"

"It's okay," Baekhyun says, taking a sip from each of his glasses. They look like the same drink, at least. "Lu Han and Yixing couldn't make it, either. Jonghyun's got a new girl he's trying to chat up. You know how he is."

"Why would you need them when you have me?" Chanyeol asks, curls bouncing. Baekhyun gives him a slow, withering look, but Chanyeol is impervious.

"I wish Tao could come to these things," Baekhyun says. "But he and Sehun are playing house with Ting in Hapjeong."

"Ting is probably asleep," Joonmyun says. "It's rounding midnight."

"Ting is never asleep at midnight." Baekhyun laughs. "She sits on Tao's lap and makes him teach her hanja."

Jongin giggles loudly, catching Joonmyun and Baekhyun's attention, as he's falling into Soojung who looks at him with patented disdain. Kris looks over at them and frowns, before turning his attention back to Chanyeol, who's laughing and animatedly waving his hands in the air, almost hitting Kris in the face every time he gets too excited.

"Chanyeol adores him," Baekhyun says. "That's really cute, that they're becoming friends."

"It is," says Joonmyun. "Are you less jealous of Chanyeol now?"

"When have I ever been jealous?" Baekhyun says, wrapping an arm around Joonmyun's neck, leaning over the arm of his own chair. "Should I have been?" He's close, and his lips brush Joonmyun's cheek. His lips look shiny and kissable. "Were you planning on making a move on Chanyeol?" He's tipsy already, a combination of two strong drinks in quick succession and adrenaline.

"Now why would I do that when already have one brat underfoot?"

"But I'm a brat you want underfoot," Baekhyun whispers. Joonmyun tingles everywhere Baekhyun touches. "And under clothes…" He sneaks a hand up Joonmyun's shirt. His mouth is close, and his breath smells like alcohol, and…

Soojung laughs and Joonmyun jolts back, breaking eye contact. Jongin is waking up, eating the potatoes the server had brought a few minutes ago without opening his eyes, and Soojung looks up from watching him to find Kris. Then she smiles over at Joonmyun, and Joonmyun wonders what she sees.

He slowly extricates himself from Baekhyun's touch, putting distance between them.

"What's wrong?" Baekhyun asks. "Did I… do something?"

"Jongin and Soojung are here," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun gives him a long look.

"Right," he says, retracting his arm from around Joonmyun's chair. "Sorry." Baekhyun's eyes had been so bright, but they've dulled, and his voice is even.

The music is so loud. He can barely hear himself speak. "Baekhyun?"

"I think I just…" Joonmyun can barely hear him. The singer on stage soars into an impressive high note, but Joonmyun is watching Baekhyun's mouth.

"Just?"

"I just realized that it's always going to be like this with us," Baekhyun says. "That's… I don't know why, but it just hit me."

"I'm--" He wants to apologize, but he can't, for some reason.

"No, it's…" Baekhyun gulps. "I know you're not out. I… know that. I'm being dramatic." He laughs. "I'm going to get another drink." He pats Joonmyun's arm. It's a distant, mildly affectionate touch that leaves Joonmyun feeling cold in a hot, hot club. "Don't worry."

"Okay."

Baekhyun slips away, and Joonmyun sighs, collapsing forward onto the table.

Kris leans over. "What did you do?"

"I flinched away when he…" Joonmyun shakes his head. "It's nothing."

"Is it because Jongin and Soojung are here?" Kris asks. His voice is low and insistent. Joonmyun can hear him perfectly.

"I don't want…" Joonmyun pulls at the sleeves of his shirt. "I don't know."

When Baekhyun comes back, with another drink in hand, flopping back into the chair next to Joonmyun's, he's smiling again. It doesn't quite reach his eyes. Joonmyun tries to get Baekhyun's attention, but Baekhyun draws Jongin into a conversation instead, laughing at the sleepy drunk man's cryptic responses and prompting him to say more and more ridiculous things.

Something aches in Joonmyun's chest, like a bruise. Pulling Baekhyun close enough that Baekhyun can feel his heartbeat in time with the club's bass is all he can think about doing, his own way of silently apologizing, but touching Baekhyun is different when Soojung might look over and figure out exactly what it means.

It reminds him of his third year of university, when he'd been so scared Kris would look up at him at just the wrong moment and realize Joonmyun was hopelessly…

"Woah there," Chanyeol says suddenly, breaking away from his conversation with Kris to grab Jongin around the shoulders. "We don't throw up on club tables, dancer boy."

Joonmyun, Baekhyun and Kris all scramble out of their seats to let Chanyeol guide Jongin out. "I'll take him," Joonmyun says. Kris looks queasy but relieved that Joonmyun has volunteered. He's swaying on his own feet, anyway.

Jongin clutches at Chanyeol's shirt, and Chanyeol laughs, bemused. "I've got him," Chanyeol says. "I remember when Baekhyun couldn't hold his liquor."

"Shut up, Chanyeol," Baekhyun says, and Chanyeol laughs, guiding Jongin toward the bathroom. "No one even likes you."

Kris pushes Joonmyun and Baekhyun into the booth. He's creating a barrier between himself and Soojung. Joonmyun gives him a questioning look, and Kris just frowns.

Kris draws Baekhyun into conversation, and he has Baekhyun laughing within a few seconds. Joonmyun presses his hand to his stomach, and looks at Soojung. She's watching them too.

Soojung takes a sip of her drink. "I think Kris-oppa is avoiding me," she says.

"I think so too," Joonmyun replies.

"Do you think it's because I told him I didn't want him dating my sister, after all?" Her hair spills across the table as she leans her head to the side. Her eyes are glassy, and her mouth is set softer than usual. "I don't want to date him, but I don't want him to date anyone else."

"Why don't you want to date him?"

"I'm a celebrity," says Soojung. "You saw what happened at the mere idea of me dating Jongin. Chaos." She laughs. "It's easier to stay single than to cause any trouble."

"I understand," Joonmyun says. "I really do." He reaches past Kris to take a handful of the beer snacks. "You have to protect yourself, especially when the world has so many expectations of you."

"Is that why you broke up with Sunyoung-eonni?" At Sunyoung's name, Baekhyun and Kris turn to them. Joonmyun continues to look at Soojung, ignoring their gazes. "Because you wanted to protect her?"

"What?"

"It must have been hard, dating an idol. Never being able to tell anyone but a select few people that you were in a relationship."

Joonmyun can feel Baekhyun's eyes on him. "I have a lot of practice with that," he says. "No, it's not easy, but there are times when that's what you have to do."

"You and Sunyoung will laugh about it someday with your kids," Soojung says.

Kris chokes, loudly, and Baekhyun pounds on his back. Baekhyun's face is closed.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" Joonmyun mumbles, and Soojung laughs, drinking again.

"Almost everyone thinks you and Sunyoung will get back together eventually." She swirls her glass. "After all, it's not like you don't still go on dates, and she still looks at you the same way."

"That's not ever going to happen," Joonmyun says. He feels sick. His phone vibrates against his thigh. It's Minseok. "I'm sorry, I should take this."

"Joonmyun," Minseok says sharply. "Have you seen Jongin and Soojung?"

"Why?" he hedges, and Soojung looks alarmed as he mouths ‘Minseok' at her.

"I can't find either of them," he says. "The security guard at their apartment building told me neither of them have gone to their apartments, and with the dating rumors, they really can't be seen alone together right now."

"They're with me and Kris," Joonmyun says, resignedly, and Soojung kicks him under the table. "We're at a live club in Hongdae."

"Give me the address," Minseok says, voice like ice. "I'll be there in twenty minutes."

Joonmyun hangs up and looks at Kris. "Looks like we're in trouble," he says, and Kris frowns.

"I guess I should go warn Chanyeol that we've got to get Jongin off the bathroom floor," he says.

Joonmyun goes to the bar and pays their tab, and Baekhyun escorts an only slightly wobbly Soojung outside. "Now you know," she's saying to Baekhyun when he and Kris join them outside, "that if anyone ever asks, I definitely drink Jongin under the table."

"Even Kris could drink Jongin under the table," Joonmyun says. "Fasten your coat before Minseok gets here."

"Yeah, yeah, thanks, Dad," she says, and Baekhyun grins.

The wind blows and Baekhyun shivers. His smeared eyeliner makes him look ghostly in the neon red glow of Club FF's guitar sign.

Joonmyun could press into Baekhyun for warmth and kiss him. Leave a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth and feel Baekhyun smile beneath his lips. He wants it so much, and he can't do it.

But Minseok has just arrived, looking irritated to be out of bed at three in the morning and shooting Kris and Joonmyun disapproving stares. "I'll deal with you two tomorrow," he says menacingly. Chanyeol finally stumbles out of the club with a drunk Jongin, who has his hand over his mouth as though moments from throwing up again.

"You might not want to put him in that nice car of yours yet," Chanyeol says, smiling winningly at Minseok as Soojung stifles a laugh behind her hand.

"Fine," Minseok says. "We'll just have to wait a few minutes. Are you sure no one has recognized them?"

"Pretty sure," Kris says. "We stayed in the back, and had a private table."

"So not completely thoughtless," Minseok says. Jongin gags. "This is a mess. What are you even doing out this late tonight?"

"We came to see Baekhyun's gig," Kris says. "Jongin and Soojung have been getting cabin fever so we brought them along. Better they were with us than out by themselves."

"That would have fed the dating rumors," Minseok says. "This is why there are no other coed groups on the market." He keeps muttering to himself, fixing the turn on his woolen hat, then crossing his arms to lean against the car. Soojung looks bored but amused at her manager's antics.

Joonmyun looks over at Baekhyun, ready to share a grin about Minseok, but Baekhyun isn't looking at him. His eyes are on the ground. His shoulders are hunched, and Joonmyun knows he's still upset about earlier. And maybe upset about now, too, because Joonmyun is standing as far away as he can while still being in the same cluster by the door.

"Baekhyunnie…" Joonmyun says, and it's loud enough to catch everyone's attention. Joonmyun blushes, but Baekhyun looks up at him.

"You should go home," Baekhyun says to Joonmyun. "You and Kris. Chanyeol and I are headed in the same direction."

"I can get in the car now," Jongin says, and Soojung pumps her fist in victory.

"Great," Minseok says. "Let's all get going."

Joonmyun has no choice, really. He nods, following Kris, who easily hails a taxi. He climbs in and gives Joonmyun's address, and the taxi starts to move before Joonmyun finishes closing the door. He watches Baekhyun and Chanyeol start walking out the window, Baekhyun's hands deep in his pockets, and it's easy to see the thrill of a great performance is gone.

"So you can tell me to mind my own business," Kris says, "but I think you need to make a decision."

"About what?" They turn the corner, and Baekhyun is gone.

"A decision about Baekhyun." He looks up at the driver and lowers his voice. "About your… relationship, or whatever."

"I thought… I already had?" Joonmyun grips his knees to fight off a sudden wave of nausea. Maybe he'd had more to drink than he'd thought. He doesn't think so, though.

"Have you really?" Kris looks out the window for a second, then back to Joonmyun.

"What are you trying to say?"

"Don't you think Baekhyun deserves someone who isn't trying to keep him a secret?" Kris whisper-asks, and Joonmyun's heart stops in his chest. "He might say it's fine, that you can't even admit that you're gay to yourself, but do you think it really is?"

The driver can't hear them over the sound of his navigation device, and he isn't paying them any attention anyway, but Joonmyun still feels that familiar fear.

And maybe Kris is right. "I just want Baekhyun to be happy," Joonmyun says, and Kris sighs.

"Then what are you doing in this taxi with me, this time?" His blond hair is mussed, and his profile is striking in the dark. "How do you think he feels, knowing that you're too afraid to even touch him around your friends? No one in that club was paying any mind except people you know, Joonmyun."

"I'm a coward, Kris," Joonmyun says. "I don't know what I'm doing, and I don't know who to tell, or even if I want to tell. I don't know if I can."

Kris throws an arm around Joonmyun's shoulders, and Joonmyun curls his hands into fists and wills himself to breathe.

"I've got your back no matter what," Kris says, "but I think it's really selfish to keep Baekhyun around if you don't think you're ever going to admit it, at least to your family and friends."

There it is, looming in front of him just like it had two years ago, in that hotel room in New York. Sunyoung, with her long wavy hair, the perfect image of everything Joonmyun was, is, supposed to want. An answer Joonmyun doesn't want to see. Selfish.

"I know it is," he says. "I know."



"About last night," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun flips through Joonmyun's CDs, looking for something to play.

Baekhyun freezes, his whole body going still in a way it very rarely does. "I'm sorry," he says. "I wasn't trying to out you."

"I know," Joonmyun says, "you don't have to apologize." He frowns. "I should be the one…"

Baekhyun pulls out an older album, from the ‘90s, that Joonmyun hasn't listened to in years and years. "I loved this album back in the day."

‘You're not old enough to say ‘back in the day'."

Baekhyun puts on the album, and then walks over to stand in front of Joonmyun as it starts to play. "My brother had this CD. Played it twenty-four seven until our mom told him it was outlawed." He grins and winks. "Listening to it still makes me feel naughty, for some reason."

He straddles Joonmyun on the couch, hands going up Joonmyun's shirt to skate along his abs as he kisses the skin just behind Joonmyun's ear. "I knew when we started this that you didn't want everyone to know about it," Baekhyun says. He rolls his hips, and Joonmyun gasps, reaching out to grab Baekhyun's ass. "That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make to have you."

"You shouldn't have to—" he starts, but Baekhyun shakes his head.

"I'm the one who decides what I should do," he says, and he kisses Joonmyun quiet. "Just like I always have."



Joonmyun met Baekhyun exactly five months ago, when it was barely autumn. Now it is the dead of winter, and Baekhyun has embedded himself into every part of Joonmyun's life. Joonmyun knows every comic book incarnation of the Flash, and before he sleeps he listens to a version of ‘Sugungga' that sinks down into him, because Baekhyun's voice had captured his attention from the very first. Sticky, sticky Byun Baekhyun, who makes Joonmyun's condo feel like it has never been empty, and makes Joonmyun's heart feel like it has never been so full.

Joonmyun wishes he could give Baekhyun the world, but all he has to offer are expensive keyboards and his heart. It isn't enough, because Joonmyun has never had enough to give to anyone.

"Is everything all right?" Sunyoung asks, and Joonmyun looks up, startled, from his soundboard. She's standing in the doorway in her pretty purple coat, makeup freshly applied. She must be headed to a radio show.

"I…" Joonmyun tries to breathe, but chains are wrapped around his ribs, getting tighter and tighter. Fear has always been like that. "I'm fine."

Sunyoung smiles at him. It's a small one, like she knows he's lying. "Sometimes I really want to know what goes through your mind."

"You don't," replies Joonmyun seriously. "There's nothing good there." His eyes burn. "That's why I hurt so many people."

Sunyoung exhales slowly, stepping into the studio. She puts her hand on Joonmyun's shoulder. Her nail polish is a soft pearl. He puts his hand on top of hers to cover it.

"There's so much good about you, Joonmyun," says Sunyoung. "I think…" She sighs. "I think for some reason, you keep measuring yourself against some impossible standard."

"I always disappoint someone," Joonmyun says. "I can't…"

"You can't make everyone happy," Sunyoung says. "Who do you want to make happy the most?"

"I don't know," says Joonmyun. "I'm almost thirty and I don't know anything about myself."

Sunyoung hugs him, suddenly, from behind, her cheek pressing against his as she drapes her arms around his shoulders, her arms crossing in front of him. "That doesn't mean you'll never know," she says. "It's okay, Joonmyun."

He soaks in her warmth. "No, it isn't," he says, and he thinks about Baekhyun, who seems so sure that Joonmyun will leave.

Because Baekhyun expects people to leave him, and because Joonmyun is the type of person who leaves.

"Do you know why I'm still your friend, Joonmyun?" Sunyoung asks, standing up and releasing him. Her phone is vibrating in her pocket. It's probably her manager. Time for her radio show, or whatever appointment she has tonight. "It's because I know you care about me. You can fake a lot of things, but you've never faked that."

He looks at the song he's putting together, with still unfinished lyrics and a bridge that doesn't fit quite right. "I'm the biggest fraud I know," Joonmyun says, and closes his eyes.

Yixing stops by later to find him sitting in the dark. "You never turned the lights on?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "I guess I didn't."

"Whatever you're worried about," Yixing says, "I'm here if you need me, okay?"

"You always are," Joonmyun says. "And I don't know why."

"Didn't we already decide you don't understand people?" Yixing asks. "I wish you liked yourself more, Joonmyun."

"Me too," Joonmyun says. "Me too."

"I'm not that good."

"You are."


Yixing rubs slow circles on his back, and Joonmyun dreads.



Joonmyun calls his brother.

"I'll be home two nights before Seollal," Joonmyun tells him. "I'm not bringing anyone."

"I'll tell mom, then," his brother says. "Joonmyun, I'm…"

"I have to go," he interrupts, and he ends the call. His finger accidentally selects his web browser. Hotel comparisons in Beijing pop up, and Joonmyun imagines a world different from this one, where he links hands with Baekhyun as they walk through a night market in Beijing.

He minimizes the browser, because this isn't a different world. This is the world Joonmyun's lived in his whole life, and expectations drag him so deep into the ocean that he can no longer see the sun.



 

Chapter Text





track 2



The café isn't crowded. "It's weird that you're not at work on a Tuesday morning," Baekhyun says. "Aren't you arranging something right now?"

"I'm working on something for Hero Jaejoong, actually," Joonmyun says. "His concert was the first one I ever went to."

Baekhyun gives a low whistle. "Wow," he says. "So you've never worked with him before?" He sticks his finger into the copious amount of whipped cream on top of his hot chocolate.

"No," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun puts his lips on the edge of his mug without picking it up, because it's overly full and he doesn't want to spill it. "I've met him, of course, but he writes and produces most of his own music. Baekhyun, don't do that."

"Do what?" He lifts his head, and comes away with a tiny mustache of whipped cream. Joonmyun could reach across the table—

"Burn yourself on that hot chocolate," Joonmyun says. "You're always so impatient." And cute. So cute. Joonmyun will save this image in his mind, for later.

"It's called hot chocolate, not lukewarm chocolate," says Baekhyun. "So what's the deal? Not that I mind seeing you on a Tuesday morning, I'm just curious."

Joonmyun stirs his coffee. No sugar, the way he likes it. "I needed… to talk to you."

"About what?" Baekhyun is more alert, now, searching Joonmyun's face. "Is something wrong?"

Yes.

"I don't think I should see you anymore," he says, and he wants to look away. But he doesn't. He looks straight into Baekhyun's eyes, and tortures himself as realization suddenly floods them. "I don't think we should… be together, anymore."

Joonmyun wonders if this is what dying feels like. Baekhyun still has that whipped cream above his lip, nestled right at the bow, and he's gone pale.

"You're… you're breaking up with me?" Baekhyun's hands shake around the mug.

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "I am."

"Why?" Baekhyun asks. "Don't you dare say ‘It's not you it's me'." It's a terrible joke. Neither of them laugh.

"What am I supposed to say, then?" Joonmyun replies.

"I have no idea," Baekhyun says. "Maybe that I wasn't what you thought I was. Or that we just don't fit each other. Or that you're still in love with Yixing, or—"

"But none of those things are true," Joonmyun says, quietly, and Baekhyun swallows.

"Then what is true?"

That Baekhyun is an umbrella over Joonmyun's head, protecting him from rain he didn't even know was falling until he knew what it was like to be dry. That Joonmyun can't be who he needs to be to have Baekhyun, no matter how much he wants him.

"That I want you to be happy, and I don't think I can make you happy."

"Who are you to decide what will make me happy?" Baekhyun asks. He's glaring at the table, now, and his knuckles are white as he holds the mug too hard. The nails on his left hand are longer than the nails on his right. There are paper cuts along his left index finger. "How would you know?"

"I just…" Joonmyun is suffocating. "I can never be…"

"You never looked at me as though I was anything but an equal," Baekhyun says. "Never like I was that kid with no future, or someone you wanted to fix. You don't know how nice that felt. How wonderful it was." He laughs. It sounds like broken glass, or like Joonmyun's grandmother on the phone, when she'd called to tell him that his grandfather had passed away in the early hours of the morning. "That made me happy. So, thanks for that, I guess."

Baekhyun's looking up and smiling at him, this tiny crooked horrible thing that makes Joonmyun feel like he's being torn apart.

"You are my equal," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun isn't the one who needs to fixed. "Or my better, maybe."

"Don't say nice things," Baekhyun says. "I don't want to hear them."

"Baekhyunnie…"

"I don't want to hear that, either." Baekhyun wraps his arms around himself. It's warm in the coffee shop, but Baekhyun looks like he's freezing. "I have to go to work."

"You're off today," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun looks up at him, eyes wet and mouth curled with anger. His baseball cap is on backwards, and there's still, still foam on his lips, and Joonmyun has never felt so empty. "That's why—"

"Of course you remember that." Baekhyun shivers. "Can't you even fucking let me leave?" he asks. "Before I start crying in front of you?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says, and it's like he's talking from a thousand miles away. He can barely hear his own voice. "I can." He shuts his eyes.

"Bye, Kim Joonmyun-ssi," Baekhyun says, and his hand brushes Joonmyun's where it sits on the table. There is the scent of blueberry and mint. Baekhyun's hands are cold.

"Wait," Joonmyun says, opening his eyes again, and Baekhyun pauses where he stands. Joonmyun unwraps his scarf from around his neck and wraps it around Baekhyun's. "Don't get sick, brat."

Baekhyun's hands shake as they come up to brush the cashmere. "Right," he says. "I'll do my best."

Baekhyun is gone, then, and only his full mug of hot chocolate remains. Joonmyun's insides are collapsing, and he just stares at that mug of chocolate until his own coffee has gone cold.

He tosses both drinks on his way back out into the January cold.

When Kris arrives at Joonmyun's favorite bar, one close to his house with a friendly bartender and an overpriced drink selection, he immediately walks over to Joonmyun and puts his hand on the back of Joonmyun's neck.

"What's the emergency?" Kris asks. "We haven't been here in a while… Are you drunk? It's barely four in the afternoon." He sits next to Joonmyun at the bar.

"I broke up with Baekhyun today."

"You what?"

The bartender knows to bring Kris two fingers of Scotch. He sets it down in front of Kris and Kris grips it like a lifeline while Joonmyun peels himself up off the bar.

"I broke up with Baekhyun," Joonmyun says. "You were right. He deserved better. Just like Sunyoung did, and Yixing." He laughs, and it turns into a hiccup. His face is numb. He doesn't usually drink this much, but every drink fills in a little of the empty space in his chest. "I'm a horrible person, and he deserved better."

Kris looks at him, incredulous, before he massages his temples with frustration. "Joonmyun, that's not… That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean, then?" Joonmyun asks, as the bartender sets a fresh glass in front of him.

"I meant that you should push yourself!" Kris takes a swig of his Scotch. "I meant that you should become the boyfriend that isn't ashamed of him!" He purses his lips. "I meant that maybe it was time for you to come clean with yourself, and with your friends."

"I don't know if I can," Joonmyun says. "Baekhyun is so much younger than I am, but he has so much more figured out."

"Lu Han said that Baekhyun's had it rough," Kris says. "It makes sense that he's learned how to tough things out."

I'm not going anywhere, Joonmyun had said to Baekhyun. He wants to have meant it.

"Kris," Joonmyun says. "I'm—"

Joonmyun takes a sip of his vodka cranberry, and it tastes like heartbreak.

"It's your life," Kris says, "but I think you're not being fair to yourself. How long can you live for other people, Joonmyun?"

"As long as I have to," Joonmyun replies, and he doesn't have to look at Kris to know he's disappointed him, too.



It is not as though life stops when he ends things with Baekhyun. The calendar marches sluggishly forward, approaching the Lunar New Year, and Joonmyun goes to work and makes music, same as he always has.

He quietly packs away the extra set of slippers, though, and he turns up the heat in his condo, and he puts the magazine with the article on the Peking Opera in his closet, back behind his grandfather's old forty-fives.

Maybe this isn't the year to go to China.

He puts the song he hasn't finished into the back of his folder, and tries to forget about it, but Joonmyun never forgets.

He drops by ComicsPlease on a day he knows Baekhyun isn't working. Zitao seems shocked to see him, rubbing his hands on his apron as Joonmyun walks up to the counter. "Hi," he says.

"What brings you here?" Zitao asks coldly. "Baekhyun isn't in. Not that it should matter to you."

Joonmyun pulls his bag around in front of him, taking out an old Kyobo plastic bag. "These things… belong to Baekhyun. I was wondering if you would give them back to him?"

Zitao takes the bag as he stares hard into Joonmyun's eyes. "Sure. Is that all?"

"Can you…" Joonmyun hesitates. "Can you make sure Baekhyun wears a scarf? February is the month that most of our artists catch chest colds, and they can't sing, and I…" His voice is wavering, so he stops talking, and the cold look on Zitao's face fades into confusion.

"But…"

"I'd usually kkt him," Joonmyun says. "Every morning. To tell him to wear a scarf, and half the time, he'd still forget." He's rambling. "But I doubt he wants me to chat him and I don't want him to get sick because I won't be able to take care of him and…" His eyes are burning again. He takes a deep breath.

"Okay, hyung," Zitao says. "I'll try to remind him." He holds up the bag of stuff. "And I'll give him this, too."

"Thank you, Zitao," replies Joonmyun. He closes up his bag, and turns to leave.

"You know, Baekhyun's had people giving him up his whole life," Zitao says. "That's his biggest fear, even if he's never told me so. That people find him easy to give up. I didn't think you'd be one of those people." Joonmyun looks over his shoulder. Zitao's narrowed eyes are intimidating. "I don't think he did, either."

"I'm not giving up on him," Joonmyun pulls at the sleeves of his coat. "I'm giving up on me."

Zitao blinks slowly, dark eyelashes against tanned cheeks. "That's… really sad," he says. "Because you were really good together." His mouth curls down. "Really good."

"Don't forget about the scarf," Joonmyun says.

"I won't," Zitao says, and Joonmyun leaves the comic book shop for the last time.



Three days before Joonmyun has to go home for Seollal, Lu Han sends a text to both Joonmyun and Kris that says: we're having drinks tonight. this is not optional.

The first thing Lu Han does when Kris and Joonmyun show up at his apartment is punch Joonmyun in the shoulder, hard. "What the fuck is wrong with you, asshole?"

Joonmyun massages his shoulder. "Well," he says, "where should I start?"

"Go easy on him," Kris says, as he leaves his massive shoes in the doorway. "He's beating himself up already."

"Baekhyun cancelled a gig," Lu Han says. "Yesterday. He never cancels a gig. Especially not a Saturday night one."

"Baekhyun only mentioned it once," Joonmyun says, "but I know it bothered him. That I try to hide my… That I can't talk about, you know, my…"

"Your what?" Lu Han asks. He opens two beers and passes them to Kris and Joonmyun. His own is already half empty. "Your what, Joonmyun."

"I should never have let myself…" Joonmyun bites his lip. He looks at his feet, at his soft black socks, and feels the nausea start to swell. "I've always been afraid of being a disappointment. My life was falling apart my last year of college, and all I could think was that there wasn't any way I could make myself happy. But if I chose music, at least I could have that, and it would be enough. I would get married, and I would have two kids, a boy and a girl, and I would be okay, because I had music."

Lu Han looks horrified, when Joonmyun looks up at him. "Joonmyun, that's…"

"Then I dated Sunyoung, and I thought to myself, maybe I can't do this?" He takes a long drink of his beer. "I'd just… be alone. No wedding, no kids, but no scandal, either."

"A lifetime is a long time to be alone," Kris says.

"I know that," Joonmyun says. "But it didn't seem impossible." He yanks at the collar of his sweater. It doesn't help him breathe. "Then I met Baekhyun, and… He's like me, in so many ways. He tries to keep people out, too."

"Both of you are extremely stubborn about needing someone to listen," Lu Han agrees.

"And I…" The beer bottle is about to slip from his hand, so he sets it on the table. "I don't think I've ever met someone who understood me like that."

"Then why the hell did you dump him, Joonmyun?"

"Baekhyun… knows who he is." His hands are clammy. "He knows what he wants. Everyone who matters to him knows about…" His tongue tastes like chalk. "I'm afraid to let him show affection to me around half of my friends, because I don't want.... And it hurts him. His face, that night…" The dimness in his eyes. Joonmyun cannot forget it. "I can't do that to him, Lu Han. He deserves more than that." He looks at his beer. It doesn't have any answers. "It's better this way, right?" Joonmyun asks. "If I let him go? Everyone will be happier, in the long run."

"Everyone except you," Lu Han says, bordering on a shout, and Kris puts a hand on Lu Han's arm to keep him from yelling. "Joonmyun, you can't make everyone happy. There will always be people who don't like something about you. You have to figure out what you want the most. Whether fitting the best you can into some image of you that other people have made is worth your happiness."

Joonmyun stares at Lu Han. "It's not that simple."

"It is that simple," Lu Han says. "Some people are going to care that you like to fuck dudes," and Joonmyun flinches, "but that's not who you are."

Joonmyun shakes his head. "No," he says, "don't you see? It's made me who I am. It has defined most of the choices I've made since I was sixteen years old. And it will continue to define them for the rest of my life." He hides his hands in the sleeves of his sweater. "So don't say it's simple. Because it's not."

The room is quiet. Joonmyun can hear his own breathing, close to a pant, and it echoes in his ears. He's wrung out, everything on the table, and he wants to curl up into a ball and disappear.

"I can't imagine what it's like to be in your position," Kris says, into the silence, "but will you hear me out?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "I'll hear you out."

Kris smiles at Joonmyun. "I don't think I've ever seen you happier than you were with Baekhyun," he admits. "Do you want to spend your life never feeling like that again, because you're afraid?"

"I…"

"You keep saying there's something wrong with you," Kris says. "But there isn't. Not really. But, Joonmyun, imagine never seeing one of Baekhyun's shows again. Imagine never looking down to seeing a message from him on your phone again. Imagine him never invading your personal space again." Kris raps his knuckles on the table persistently with each example. "Imagine never seeing him again. Is that going to be okay with you?"

"I don't know," Joonmyun says. "I don't know." Kris and Lu Han… they don't, can't, understand. But the things they're saying...

Lu Han pushes his beer towards him. "Finish your beer," he says. "Before it gets warm."

Joonmyun puts the can to his lips and drinks, but he doesn't taste anything at all.



Joonmyun goes through his daily routine and does not think about Baekhyun. He gets drinks with Kris, and does not think about Baekhyun. He chats with Minseok and watches Jongdae's final rehearsals, and he does not think about Baekhyun.

Smiles at Jongin. Does not think about Baekhyun. Passes Sunyoung in the hallway. Smiles at her too. Does not think of Baekhyun.

When Jongdae does his follow up track performance on M!Countdown, Joonmyun watches with steady eyes on the monitor and does not think of Baekhyun. When it's over, Jongdae flawlessly hitting every note and never going flat and never starting to yell when he has to sing a long note, Joonmyun goes into the bathroom and vomits stomach acid and water into the sink and feels the steady, painful throb of his heart, a pansori performance with no lead singer.

Maybe Sunyoung was right, and Joonmyun never knew what heartbreak was really like before.

He knows now.

He does not think of Baekhyun.



He cleans his apartment just before the holiday, because he's off work. He picks all of his clothes up off the floor, dividing them into piles for laundry and dry-cleaners, and he puts all of his jeans and sweaters onto his shelves.

He saves his bedroom for last, piling up undershirts that have snuck their way under his desk and socks that have lost their mates by the doorway to be sorted out in the living room.

Surveying the empty floors, he catches sight of something peeking out from under his bed. He doesn't sleep on the left side, so he hadn't looked too hard there, but the patterned fabric catches his eye. He gets down on his hands and knees to pull it out.

It's Baekhyun's Wonder Woman shirt. The gold foil letters rub against his fingers as he clutches the shirt in both hands, holding it up to his chest.

Imagine never seeing him again, Kris had said, but it's more than that. It's never waking up again to Baekhyun's groggy pouts or falling asleep to his raspy humming. It's never feeling Baekhyun's lips on his neck again, or smelling the Xylitol on his breath. It's never hearing him teasingly call Joonmyun seonsaengnim as he tries to convince Joonmyun to have sex with him in the living room and it's never, ever making music with him in the middle of the floor on that flashy red keyboard in Baekhyun's officetel.

It's days like the past two weeks, where Joonmyun feels like he's caught between being dead and alive, listening to the sgg.mp3 all night and pretending like he doesn't ache all day.

It's that, for a long time, or for the rest of his life, and Joonmyun holds the shirt so tight it nearly rips in his hands as he starts to cry.

It's like when his grandfather died. Joonmyun has held it in, let it suffocate him, let it weigh him down, and now he lets himself sob, burying his face in that stupid shirt and finding Baekhyun's scent hidden in its folds.

When there's nothing left for him to cry out, Joonmyun stretches himself out on the floor and looks at the ceiling. There are no stars to ask for guidance, only the pale white he'd insisted on with the painters before he'd moved in, Yixing standing next to him and laughingly suggesting lavender.

"I'm in love with Baekhyun," he tells the white ceiling. The shirt is still on his chest. Saying it aloud feels like opening the door to his cage. "I'm in love with him." It isn't something he's ever said, to or about anyone, but the truth of it allows him to breathe for the first time in days.

He knows, still, that as he is now, he can't make Baekhyun happy. He knows that. But…

But he wants to, more than he's wanted anything in a long time, and he thinks, maybe, just maybe, he could.

After a hot shower, Joonmyun picks up his phone. He opens his kkt with Baekhyun. The last message Joonmyun had sent, free for coffee on Tuesday morning? glares up at him.

I know this is asking a lot, Joonmyun wants to type, but selfishly, could you give me some time? His fingers hover over the onscreen keyboard. He doesn't write anything. It takes a long while for old dogs to learn new tricks.

In the end, he doesn't send anything at all.

Joonmyun has spent so many years caught in other people's expectations. He wants, though, to be happy. He wants to be free.

Do you want to spend your life never feeling like that again, because you're afraid?

The answer is no.



He presses the doorbell outside his parents' house. His father answers the door. He has his reading glasses on, but he seems to have put his marking away for the day, because he doesn't retreat into his study.

"Dinner is almost ready," Joonmyun's grandmother says, giving him a hug. "I've missed you."

"I've been busy," Joonmyun says. "I'm sorry. I'll be better about it."

"You're forgiven," she says. "Now take your coat off and stay awhile."

Dinner is calm. No one raises their voice and Joonmyun's dad asks him to pass the kimchi, and Joonmyun's grandmother asks his brother's fiancé, Sujin, all about the plans she's made for their wedding in the late summer.

Joonmyun's mother does not look at him once, even when she sets a bowl of rice in front of him, and Joonmyun smiles politely and says ‘thank you' as he should.

He stays at the table only long enough to be polite, excusing himself with "I have to make a call," and leaving his brother and Sujin to bear the brunt of the attention. He exhales only when he's closed the door, and opens his childhood closet to pull out the pieces of his hanbok so they have time to un-wrinkle before he has to wear them.

When he's finished, he pulls out his phone and opens up the new backing track Ryeowook has sent him, popping in one of his mini headphone buds to give it a cursory first listen because he'd forgotten his studio-quality ones at home.

He's startled by a loud knock, audible over the music, and his door opens to reveal his brother.

He stands in the doorway, shifting anxiously. "Am I interrupting you?"

"No," Joonmyun says, taking out his earphones. "It's fine." He's lost his train of thought, anyway. He will have to find it again later.

"Could I talk to you?" Joonmyun nods, and his brother steps into the room. "So dinner was a little awkward."

"Just a little," Joonmyun agrees. "Probably because our mother tried to pretend I don't exist."

"She doesn't know what to say," his brother says. "She's never been good at apologizing."

"She doesn't owe me an apology. I'm the son that ruined everything, right?"

"I feel like I owe you an apology, though," his brother says. "I know I… haven't been the most supportive brother."

"I disappointed our parents," Joonmyun says, "but I never understood what I'd done to disappoint you."

"Because you had everything I wanted," his brother says, "and you threw it away like it was nothing."

"Everything…"

"I'm the oldest," he continues, leaning against Joonmyun's closet door, "but you were the smart one. The handsome one. The one who charmed all our parents' friends and acquaintances at those university parties. That was you, not me." He laughs. "I wanted it to be me, but at least you weren't arrogant about it. But then one day, mom calls and says you've dropped out of college and moved into some condo you paid for yourself and she didn't know your forwarding address, and my first thought was ‘doesn't he know what he's giving up?'"

"I didn't," Joonmyun says, "but I also knew what I couldn't handle."

"Business isn't such a bad field," his brother says. "You make a lot of money, and the work doesn't thrill me, but I'm not miserable."

"At the time," Joonmyun says carefully, "I was under the impression that everything else in my life was going to be miserable, so I needed something for myself that would make life worth it. I thought it could be my job."

"Why would everything else be miserable?" His brother sits next to him on the bed. "You could have gotten married and had a couple of great kids, and never disappointed anyone. It's not like beautiful women aren't constantly falling in love with you. Man, Sunyoung was gorgeous and cool. Even my college girlfriend had a crush on you, and you were all of sixteen at the time."

Joonmyun looks down at his knees. The denim is getting thin. He'll have holes there, like Baekhyun. "I can't get married," he says.

"I used to think that," his brother says, "but then you meet the right girl, and—"

"I'm gay," Joonmyun says. He keeps staring at his knees.

"What?"

"I'm gay," Joonmyun says again. It's odd, like someone else is talking, and Joonmyun is watching this conversation play out from nosebleed seats at the opera. He isn't nervous, or scared. He isn't anything. He's just here, waiting for judgment. "I expected to spend my entire life pretending not to be, so I thought that at least… at least I could have my music. At least life could let me have that." Joonmyun scratches at the denim where it has worn the thinnest.

His brother is quiet for a long time. It feels like an eternity, but it's probably only a minute or two. He starts to speak and feelings slam into Joonmyun. His heartbeat quickens, and he's not nearly as numb as he'd thought. "What about Sunyoung?"

"I wanted to be in love with her so badly," Joonmyun says, "but in the end, I wanted her to be happy more than I wanted to be normal."

"I need… I need to think," his brother says, standing up and walking rapidly to the door. "I'm not… I just need to think."

"I understand," Joonmyun replies, as his brother lingers at the door, unsure. "I've had about ten years to think about it, so I have an unfair advantage."

"Hell, Joonmyun, how do you keep a secret like this for a decade?" Joonmyun looks up and finally meets his brother's eyes. He's bewildered, and he looks a little lost.

"It helps when you know it's wrong and everyone might hate you when they find out," Joonmyun says, with a brittle laugh, "but I found something that means more to me than fear that people might hate me," and his brother closes the door, leaving Joonmyun alone inside his childhood bedroom with too many familiar fears crushing him down into the bed.

An hour later, there's another knock on his door. Joonmyun wipes his eyes and stands up to open it.

His grandmother's standing there, balancing on her cane. "Can I enter, or are you dedicated to brooding alone tonight?"

"You're always welcome," Joonmyun says.

"That's good to know," his grandmother replies. She sits down on Joonmyun's bed and pats her lap. "Like the old days," she says, and Joonmyun laughs, lying down with his head in her lap so she can pull her arthritic fingers through his hair. "I overheard part of your conversation with your brother."

Joonmyun freezes, every muscle in his body turning to ice. "Which part?" he asks, and his grandmother sighs.

"All of it, really. I was worried, so I…" She coughs, and Joonmyun immediately sits up grabbing the folded upthrow at the end of the bed and wrapping it around her shoulders. "You're such a good boy, Joonmyun."

"Not that good," Joonmyun says, and his grandmother grabs his hand, holding on to it.

"Maybe it's because I'm old," she says, "but I think life is too short to waste." She smiles at him. "Your grandfather always regretted not being able to pursue music. He was so happy when you chose to, since you loved it."

"Me too," Joonmyun says. "Making music is wonderful. So why isn't that enough?"

"Because," his grandmother says, pressing her other palm to Joonmyun's chest, "you make good music with your head, but you make great music with your heart."

"Baekhyun told me that I wasn't really living my life, and that's why I was having trouble making music." Joonmyun laughs. "He told me I needed to find my inspiration."

"I like that Baekhyun," his grandmother says. "Though I dare say not as much as you do."

Joonmyun realizes, all of a sudden, that he's shaking. "I never…" His voice is choked up. "I never thought I would tell anyone about this. I never thought I could."

"I love you," his grandmother says. "And just between the two of us, you're my favorite." She squeezes his hand again. "Now I know why you never noticed all those girls with crushes on you in high school."

"They didn't have a crush on me," Joonmyun says, pulling away so he can smile at her. He isn't shaking anymore. "They just wanted help with their homework."

"You're a good boy, Joonmyun, and don't let anyone tell you differently." She gives him a considering stare. "Although I suppose you're a man now."

"Halmeoni…"

"Get some sleep," she says. "Tomorrow we have to get up early to prepare charye. Your grandfather will roll over in his grave if we're late with the rites."

"Okay," Joonmyun says. "Halmeoni?"

"Yes, Joonmyunnie?"

He looks at her. She's smiling at him the same way she always has, and he marvels at it. "Thank you."

"For what?" she asks.

Joonmyun has trouble sleeping. After tossing and turning for a few hours, he gives up, putting on a shirt and wandering out into the kitchen. He pours himself a cup of water from the pitcher in the refrigerator, and leans back against it. It's cool, and so is the floor.

"Can't sleep?"

His brother stands in the doorway, his arms crossed over his chest.

Joonmyun sets his glass down on the counter. "No. Do you want something to drink?"

"I don't," his brother says. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh," Joonmyun says. "Here I am."

"Here you are." He takes a deep breath. "I'm not going to lie to you and say I get it."

"I don't expect you to," Joonmyun says. "I'll understand, if it… is something you'd rather not deal with."

"I'm not finished," his brother says. "Do you remember when we were younger, when I used to look out for you?" He scratches his neck. "I sort of forgot, for a while, a long time, that you were my little brother, not my competition. And I'm sorry about that."

"It was never supposed to be a competition," Joonmyun says. "I just wanted to do what everyone expected from me. I wanted… I didn't want to disappoint anyone." He laughs. "But I guess that's not going to happen. No way to avoid it, really."

"It's weird," his brother says. "The gay thing. It's weird." Joonmyun looks at the floor. There's nothing interesting there, just his toes. "You're still my brother, though. You'll be my brother for the rest of our lives."

"I'm sorry about that," says Joonmyun.

"So I'll get used to it." His brother frowns. "Do you have, like, a boyfriend or something? Do you have boyfriends, or do you call them something else?"

"I had a boyfriend," says Joonmyun. "Baekhyun."

"The kid?" His brother's face crinkles up. "That… makes sense, actually. He did look a little… infatuated with you." He clicks his tongue against the back of his teeth. "I wasn't even thinking that, then. I don't know how I missed it."

"I broke up with him," Joonmyun says. "Because I was still trying to be something I'm not."

"You don't have do that," his brother says. "I know I was part of making you feel like you did, and I…"

"It was me, too," Joonmyun says. "It was easier to say nothing than to face the truth."

They stare at each other across the kitchen. The table's between them, but Joonmyun feels closer to his brother than he's been in years.

"I'm going back to bed," his brother says. "Charye will come early."

"You were the first person I've ever said it to," Joonmyun says as his brother turns to go back to bed. "That I was gay. I've never said it aloud before today. Not even to myself."

His brother is surprised. "Really?"

"Yes," says Joonmyun. "Really."

"Then it was a long time coming." His brother pauses. "I might not get it, but I'm glad you told me."

Joonmyun smiles. "Are you?"

"You've never talked about your feelings much," his brother says. "So I know it must have been hard. I'm glad that even after everything, you trusted me with that."

"Even when I was close to hating you, I still never wanted to lose you."

His brother smiles. "You won't." He disappears into the dark, and Joonmyun slumps against the refrigerator door, letting the chill seep into him as he stares at nothing at all.



He meets Kris on Thursday, at a wine bar in Apgujeong.

It's no different to the countless Thursdays they've shared a drink before. At least, it shouldn't be, but Joonmyun feels different. Slightly stronger. Braver, maybe.

Kris tells Joonmyun about the messages Soojung sent him over the holiday. He looks confused, and Joonmyun doesn't blame him. Soojung is hard to read on the best of days, and Kris has his hands full.

"How was your Seollal?" Kris asks. "You seem to be in one piece."

"I told my brother and my grandmother I'm gay," he says, right as Kris lifts his glass to take a drink.

"You did what?" Kris sets his glass down and looks at Joonmyun like a third eye has just appeared on his forehead.

Joonmyun clenches both of his fists in his lap, and thinks about Baekhyun's expression, that night at Club FF. "I told them I was gay." It still makes him sick to say it, but slightly less.

"You… you said it," Kris says. "You actually said it?"

"You asked me," Joonmyun says, "when we were at Lu Han's, if I could imagine never seeing Baekhyun again."

"Yeah," Kris says. "I did."

"I can imagine it." He can taste the wine on the insides of his cheeks. "It's a really awful thing to imagine."

Kris looks at him, measuring something Joonmyun can't see, and then he grins, tiny mouth stretching wide. Joonmyun had been in love with that smile once, but now it just fills him with a comfortable warmth. "You want to keep him, don't you?"

"Yes," Joonmyun admits. "He might not want me, but whether he does or not, I won't continue like this. Scared all the time." He licks his lips. "I kind of… want to be happy, whatever that means."

"Good for you," Kris says. He raises his glass. "To looking forward?"

"To looking forward," Joonmyun says, clinking their wine glasses together.



"What's this I hear about you taking a vacation?" Minseok asks, startling Joonmyun into dropping his coffee on the counter.

"Are you talking to me again?" Joonmyun smiles. "I thought I was getting the silent treatment for my recreational idol smuggling."

"I am granting you a reprieve to assuage my curiosity."

"I'm going to see a show in New York," says Joonmyun. "Performance art stuff."

"You used to do that with Sunyoung, if I recall correctly?"

"I did," Joonmyun says. "I'm going alone this time." He pulls tissue from the roll and mops at the spill, soaking up the coffee.

"Why would you want to take a vacation alone?" Minseok fills two new paper cups with fresh water.

"To think," Joonmyun says. "Clear my head. Write some music."

"I only heard because Song Qian said Jongdae wasn't recording next week, and told me it's because you weren't going to be here."

"Now you know," says Joonmyun, handing Minseok two packets of coffee. "Curiosity assuaged."

"Jongin's hangover lasted two days," Minseok says. "I really should give you the silent treatment for a while longer."

"I saw you talking to Kris in the hallway last week," Joonmyun says. "Why am I so special?"

"Kris looked like he was about to cry after the first day." Minseok laughs. "He's a sensitive soul." Minseok takes one cup of coffee and walks out toward the lounge door. "Have a good trip," he says.

"I plan on it," Joonmyun says. "See you when I get back."



Joonmyun has never taken a trip alone.

All of his childhood vacations had been in trips of four, his mother and father taking he and his brother to expensive restaurants, spending the day on a strict and rigorous schedule to maximize their time. Vacations had been exhausting, if educational.

After, the only trips he'd taken were with Sunyoung. Vacations with her had always been caught between hectic and still, evenings sprawled out in hotel hot tubs juxtaposed with frantic album photo booklet shoots and high-end fashion appearances for Vogue. Joonmyun had planned leisurely shows and early nights in, and it had been fine.

His first day in New York, he checks in at noon. He leaves his bags in his room and immediately heads back out into the city, a folded up list in his pocket of places he means to go and no general idea of when he'll head back.

The thing about travelling alone is that it gives Joonmyun so much time to think. Being left alone like this, with his thoughts, would have been terrifying even a few months ago, but now Joonmyun has plenty to think about. Everything that has happened to him, and everything he has made happen. His family, his friends, Baekhyun.

The last time Joonmyun had come to New York, he'd decided to give something up. He'd brought Sunyoung with him, to share this city with her, and the light in her eyes when she looked at him had been enough to make him see that he could never, ever, look back at her the same way. This time, he's come to find something. Himself, maybe. Who he might be when he isn't afraid.

He spends his days wandering around music specialty stores. Two of the owners direct him to a coffee shop where the afternoons are dedicated to showcasing local musicians, and it's easy for Joonmyun to get caught up for hours sipping on a double shot espresso to combat his jetlag. He spends some of his nights at Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. He sees ‘Two Boys' at the Metropolitan opera house on Thursday, and Shostakovich's ‘The Nose' on Saturday.

He eats sandwiches with no mayonnaise and writes song lyrics on napkins and finally takes out all the feelings he's put away, always telling himself later, you can think about this later. He finishes two songs that might be for Jongdae at his desk, more creative and innovative than he's done in years. He goes to toy stores and presses all the buttons on the dinosaur figurines to make them roar, like he knows Baekhyun would, and buys useless souvenirs, and spends way too much money on Starbucks.

As he walks through the streets, he takes notes of all the things he loves, not worrying, for the first time in a long time, about pleasing anyone but himself.

On his last day, he finally does what he ostensibly came for, and goes to the MoMA to see ‘Meta-Monumental Garage'. The exhibit is a large-scale American style garage sale in the Marron Atrium, things upon things spilling from tables onto the floor, the artist wandering around haggling over prices and taking pictures of her customers with their purchases.

He finds, on a table in the back, a large collection of forty-fives jammed tightly into too many boxes.

"Interested in a purchase?" Joonmyun jumps, looking up to find the artist herself, a big camera in her hands and a smile on her face. "I'm Martha Rosler. This is my exhibit."

"I know," Joonmyun says. "I came from South Korea to see it." He fumbles for his wallet, pulling it from his pocket.

"Korea?" She smiles. "That's pretty far. Why?"

"It made me curious." He searches for words. "That's why I like this kind of… participant art? It makes me curious." He turns back to the records. "My grandfather collected forty-fives. When he died, he gave me all of them."

"Then these are perfect for you," she says. "Two dollars for the smallest box of forty-fives in the front."

"Just two?"

"Just two," she agrees. He pulls two dollar bills out of his wallet and hands them to her. She folds them up and puts them into a satchel clasped around her waist. "May I take your picture?"

"Yes," says Joonmyun, lifting the box into his arms and smiling for her. She snaps the shot, and then grins.

"Thank you," she says, and she goes to leave.

"Wait, please," Joonmyun says, and she stops. "Can I ask you a question about the exhibit?"

"Sure," Martha says. "Ask away."

"Who did all this stuff belong to?"

"Me," she says. "Some of it was given to me by my neighbors when they moved. Some of it was donated back in California and I had to ship it out here. Some of it was stuff I've had for years and years. It's all the things that have kept me from moving to a new home the past few years." She sweeps her hand out, like this installation in the atrium is her kingdom. "My art is all about the everyday. About everyday social interactions and the beauty found in the commonplace."

"I see," he says.

"Don't you think," says Martha, "that this is way too much stuff for one person?"

"Definitely," says Joonmyun.

"This garage sale is me, giving out pieces of the heaviness on me," she says. "It represents getting rid of the things that pull us down, and sharing small parts of them with people who won't find it nearly as daunting a weight to bear." She absently fixes her ponytail. "Making it possible for me to move forward."

"Like secrets," Joonmyun says, and the artist smiles.

"Exactly," she says. "Or fears. Or dreams." A shrug. "Something as ordinary and everyday as a conversation."

Joonmyun wraps his arms around the box of forty-fives. "I'm glad I came."

She disappears back into the milling crowd toward the middle of the installation, and Joonmyun watches her go with something like awe.

Back in his hotel room, Joonmyun takes the forty-fives out of the box. There are a couple of Rolling Stones records. The AC/DC ‘High Voltage' album and an early Sinatra. There are a few artists that Joonmyun doesn't recognize, but he can listen to them when he gets home.

Spread out in his suitcase, across his sloppily folded clothes, they don't take up much space at all.

He wonders if life really works like that. If sharing tiny bits of himself, with Kris, with Lu Han, with Yixing and Jongin and his brother and Sunyoung, has really made him lighter. Amazingly, he thinks it has.

Sharing secrets with Baekhyun had made Joonmyun feel like one day, he could be floating on his back at the top of the ocean, all the water beneath him and an endless sky above.

He watches the sunrise again, alone. His room is quiet, and so is his heart. Late February means a partially clouded sky, the clouds turning purple and then orange as the sun comes up to slightly warm a cold, cold day.

He checks out of his hotel at nine, and is at the airport by eleven. At thirty minutes past two, he leans back in his window seat on the plane, looking out at the JFK runway.

After takeoff, he puts on his headphones, and listens to Baekhyun sing ‘Sugungga'.

He has one more secret he would like to share with Baekhyun, if Baekhyun would like to hear it.



Waiting in his overstuffed mail slot are two bills, one flier, three catalogues, and an ornate invitation. He waves to the security guard as he drags himself and his suitcase upstairs, the sunlight punishing to his tired eyes.

It's an invitation to his brother's wedding. It's a formal invitation, the kind his mother would have helped pick out. High quality paper and finished edges. But inside is a tiny, messy handwritten note from his brother. Talked to S, and you can bring B if you want, it says.

He slides the invitation back in the envelope with trembling, disbelieving hands.

He's physically exhausted, but he isn't sleepy. He hates that, because it would make it so easy to climb into bed and pull the covers over his head and ponder the invitation and the note and what he intends to do about it.

He forces himself to be productive instead, unzipping his backpack and pulling out his laptop and his music.

"You're back," Sunyoung says, when he calls her, empty suitcase on his bed and a pile of clothes on the floor. The records are in a neat stack on his night table. "When did you get in?"

"About an hour ago," he says. "I'm unpacking."

"You mean you're throwing things around your bedroom," Sunyoung corrects, and Joonmyun laughs.

"Yes, that." He sits down on his bed. "Are you home?"

"Why?"

"I brought you a souvenir," Joonmyun says, "and I wanted to talk to you, so I thought I might drop it by today."

"I'll be home all this afternoon," says Sunyoung. "No schedule today."

"Great," Joonmyun says. "I'll be there in about an hour."

He showers quickly, pulling on a fresh sweatshirt and jeans after he washes the travel off. It's as biting cold in Seoul as it was in New York, and he makes sure to cover his head with a wool cap before he heads down to his car. He wonders if Baekhyun wears his scarf.

Sunyoung answers the door with her hair down. She has no makeup on her face, and a casual sweater that slides down off one shoulder as she beckons him to come inside. "So you still know the way here, huh?"

"Am I known for my forgetfulness?" Joonmyun asks.

"Would you like some tea?"

"No thank you," Joonmyun says. He hands her a wrapped package. "For you."

"You could have just taken me with you," she says lightly. "Then you wouldn't have needed to get me a souvenir."

"I needed to go by myself." Joonmyun sits down in one of the cozy armchairs in Sunyoung's living room. "I had some things to figure out."

"Oh?" She tilts her head, catching her lower lip in her teeth. "Did any of that have to do with me?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "Some of it." He gestures toward the package. It's lopsided and round. "Aren't you going to open it?"

"I'm more interested in what you figured out," she says. "I'm assuming you came here to tell me."

"A lot of people at work seem to think we're going to get back together." Joonmyun's mouth is dry. He shouldn't have turned down the tea, but Sunyoung might… not want him to stay to finish it. He doesn't want to waste her time. He's done enough of that. "You know… that's never going to happen, don't you?"

She flinches back, like he's hit her. Then she takes a calming breath. "I think a part of me does. The rest of me still kind of hopes."

"Why?" Joonmyun asks.

"I thought you loved me." Sunyoung looks down at her nails. Powder blue for upcoming spring. "Sometimes I think you still do."

"I do love you," Joonmyun says, "but I was never right for you, Sunyoung."

"What?"

"I love you. You're important to me, and that's why I didn't marry you. That's why I…" He takes a deep breath. He's still breaking her heart, he thinks. He breaks it every day. He can't ignore it anymore. "I had to end it. Because I cared about you, I still care you, but not the right way. You deserve more."

"You don't get to decide what someone else deserves. That's not how it works." Sunyoung looks, finally, angry at him. Mad. It's about time. In a way, it's a relief. Her anger is good. It's overdue.

"You're smart and beautiful and funny." There isn't enough air in the room. "You're kind and helpful. You're an amazing singer and my parents love you, anyone's parents would, and you're going to have kids that love you and a husband that adores you and you're going to be so happy."

"Then why not with you? What's wrong with me?"

What's wrong with me? Nothing is wrong with her. And maybe… maybe there's nothing wrong with Joonmyun, either, he hasn't figured that part out yet. But there is definitely nothing wrong with Sunyoung, who is the closest woman to perfect that Joonmyun has ever known.

"When we went to New York," Joonmyun says, "when we went to go see that exhibit at the MoMA. Do you remember that evening?"

"I remember," Sunyoung says. "That last night, we talked until dawn and watched the sunrise from the window of your hotel room. I'd never felt so in love with you."

Joonmyun thinks about how he and Baekhyun have never seen a sunrise, but they've seen the most magnificent sunset. He thinks about the hours he and Baekhyun spend tangled together on Joonmyun's bed, or Baekhyun's bed, talking about nothing and everything. About how much he secretly wants to hold Baekhyun's hand at a Beijing night market like he'd held Sunyoung's that morning in New York when they'd walked down to breakfast. Baekhyun would have let him, because Baekhyun isn't scared of anything. Joonmyun wants to be Baekhyun's kind of fearless, where he knows things are scary but he does them anyway.

"I knew, then," Joonmyun says, "that I couldn't do it." He's shaking. He's sitting across from his mother at the kitchen table all over again, knowing he's about to crush her, and she's looking back at him with eyes filled with disappointment. Only this is Sunyoung, one of his dearest friends, and he's lied to her for so long. "I'm…" He tries to breathe in, but he hasn't breathed out yet. Everything is out of order. "I like… men." It doesn't get easier. "Gay. I'm gay."

Her eyes widen, and she looks for words inside herself and must find none, because the silence that stretches between them is absolute. "You…"

"I didn't know," Joonmyun says. "At first I thought it was, that maybe it was just… " That maybe it had just been Yixing, with his soft mouth and softer eyelashes, and Kris, with his big warm hands and warmer smile. That maybe it could just be Sunyoung, too, if he tried hard enough. "You were so wonderful, and you were everything I'd imagined as my ideal type."

"But I'm not, am I?" Sunyoung isn't really asking.

"You were another box," Joonmyun says, because he has to tell her all of it. He has to tell her the whole thing, so she can slap him and maybe hate him and stop aching over him when he isn't worth it at all. "Another chance to do something right. To salvage the plans my parents made for my life that I'd already messed up."

"A box," Sunyoung echoes. "I was a box."

"But people... aren't made to fit in boxes. That's no way to live. And you should have the world. Every person on this planet deserves someone who will give them the world, but especially you. You didn't… don't deserve to be the four walls of my self-constructed prison."

"Joonmyun, you're so damn selfish." She's crying. He hates to see her cry. Every time he's seen her cry, it's been because of him. "You should have told me a long time ago, so I could stop…"

"I never thought I would tell anyone," Joonmyun says. "But I've been learning that lying to myself and to the people I love will only make us all more miserable."

"You're just now learning that?" she asks. "I thought you went to prep school."

"You sound like Baekhyun," Joonmyun says. He wonders if she might let him wipe her tears away. He holds his hands steady in his lap.

"Baekhyun? The one that was curled up sick in your bed with the puppy face?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "I… He told me nothing good ever happens to him. I want to be that. I'm trying to be a person that could be something good happening to him."

Joonmyun has tried so hard for so many years to hide himself beneath the masks he's made. Like forcing his wants and needs to fade away would serve as some kind of an apology for the one time he couldn't. There are boxes everywhere, from how he dresses, to the car he drives, to what he lets himself say over drinks with his friends.

He's breaking those boxes apart, now, bit by bit.

Baekhyun is not a box. Baekhyun is the open sky, and standing next to him, for Joonmyun, had been a breath of fresh air.

"I might not want to talk to you for a while," Sunyoung says. "Or look at you."

"I understand," Joonmyun says. "I'll leave."

"Not forever, though," Sunyoung says. Her face is shiny with tears, and she's pretty when she cries. "Just for now."

"I hope you like your souvenir," he says, standing up. He hears the paper crinkling as he laces up his shoes.

"You brought me a teddy bear?" she asks, and Joonmyun laughs lightly.

"I saw it in FAO Schwarz. You remember the big toy store with the keyboard you can step on? On fifth avenue?"

"I could tell how much you wanted to step on it," she says, "but you've always been too subdued for that."

"This time, I taught a six year old how to play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'," Joonmyun says. "The bear was on a shelf in the back that said ‘the perfect gift for someone with lots of love to give'." He grins at her. "The first person I thought of was you."

He leaves, closing the door behind him.

He doesn't stop moving until he gets into his car, resting his head against the steering wheel as he organizes his thoughts.

Now, he thinks, there's no turning back. He doesn't want to, anyway.



February becomes March. It's still so cold, and Joonmyun wraps himself up in his coat and just… continues.

He has lunch with his brother halfway through the month, Chinese food, and his brother talks about his job and asks Joonmyun about his, and Joonmyun gives him actual answers. Joonmyun tells his brother about his trip to New York, and his brother shows him the brochure for the Bali trip he and Sujin are taking for their honeymoon.

As they say goodbye, easily, like Joonmyun is fifteen again, he tentatively asks: "Did you mean it?"

"Did I mean what?" his brother asks, searching his pockets for his car keys.

"The note, in the invitation," says Joonmyun.

"I work with contracts," his brother says, pulling the keys out of his coat pocket triumphantly. "I never put it in writing if I don't mean it."

And at the end of the month, he gets a call from Yixing.

"Hi, Yixing," Joonmyun says. "How are you?" Yixing has been spending more time back in his studio, teaching classes while Jongdae makes the music show circuit. "How's life in the slow lane?"

"A pleasant breather," he says. "How are you doing?"

"Not bad," Joonmyun says.

"Are you free on Friday?"

"Sure," Joonmyun says. "Do you want to get a couple of drinks, or something?"

"Actually, I've heard through the grapevine that there's a show you might want to see, if you're game."

"I trust your judgment," Joonmyun says. "I haven't seen a live show since—"

"Yeah," Yixing says. "I know. So come out with me on Friday."

"I'd love to," he says. "Really."

"See you at Itaewon at ten, then," Yixing says. "I've got to get back to class."

That Friday night is the warmest evening in ages. Joonmyun still wears his coat, but the breeze is only chilly, not freezing. Yixing is wearing a tank shirt under his coat, and Joonmyun gets déjà vu as the first thing he does when he comes up out of the station is zip up Yixing's coat.

"You're always cold," Yixing says in his defense. "I'm not."

"You always have a cold," Joonmyun replies. "Where are we going?"

"RUFXXX," Yixing says. "There's something cool I want you to watch."

"Tell me about the group playing?" Joonmyun asks, as they get to the door. He pays the cover, immediately walking in and toward the back stairs.

"It's a duo group," Yixing says. "Two friends. They don't usually perform together." Yixing stops at the top of the stairs, and Joonmyun pauses to look back at him. "But I know how much you like pansori."

"Yixing?" Suddenly the open roof is suffocating. Joonmyun can taste the cigarette smoke in the air and the laughter of the table of women on the other side of the roof has become so loud in the vacuum.

"You've done really well," Yixing says, walking with Joonmyun to his favorite spot in the back, "on your own. You've come a long way. But we—"

"Who's ‘we'?"

"Lu Han and I," Yixing replies. "And Chanyeol, too."

"Chanyeol?"

"Yeah," Yixing says. "And Chanyeol. We thought you might need a little bit of a push."

"So…"

Yixing puts a hand on each of Joonmyun's shoulders, and shoves, lightly, just enough to make Joonmyun lean back. "So here's your push."

"I…"

"It's hard watching both of you," Yixing admits. "You've broken something only you can fix."

The sound of a drum. Chanyeol warming up, beatboxing into a mic. Baekhyun humming to test the sound.

He looks up toward the stage. Baekhyun won't see him. Joonmyun is too short, especially when he stands in the back. He can barely see Baekhyun, but he sees his red cap, and the slope of his forehead. As the crowd pushes in, he also hears his voice.

Joonmyun could leave now. He could go home and pretend he isn't running away. He doesn't know if Baekhyun will even want to see him. He'd planned on asking first. Maybe finally sending him a chat message and asking him if they could have a do-over on that hot chocolate, maybe at a different place. Someplace quiet.

"I'm glad you all could be here tonight," Baekhyun says. "Chanyeol and I have finally finished our rework of ‘Sugungga'." his voice drops lower. Sadder. Joonmyun notices and his stomach drops with it. "We're excited to play the second half for you tonight."

When Baekhyun starts to sing, Joonmyun knows he isn't going anywhere.

The second half is faster. More harrowing. Baekhyun's voice, as the hare bids farewell to the tortoise and the palace, is playful and wise. Joonmyun will never, ever have enough of it.

The applause is loud as the performance wraps up. As the crowd starts to thin, Joonmyun looks for Yixing. He's gone. Joonmyun is alone. He works his way to the bar.

"Kim Joonmyun-ssi?"

"Jinho," he says. "Did you like the show?"

"I always do," he replies. "That's why I still work here. Can I get you something to drink?"

"Not just yet," he says.

"Waiting for someone?"

"I am," Joonmyun says. He watches as Chanyeol packs up his buk drum, thrumming with excitement and adrenaline. Baekhyun is usually like that too, but today he's curled forward, hat obscuring his eyes. Chanyeol looks over Baekhyun's shoulder, meets Joonmyun's eyes, and smiles, before quickly looking away.

It's going to be fine, Joonmyun thinks. No matter what, it's going to be fine.

Baekhyun punches Chanyeol in the arm after Chanyeol says something, and Chanyeol bursts out laughing. "I'm headed home," he says. "I'll see you next weekend?"

He doesn't hear Baekhyun's response, but he sees him shake his head with affirmation. Then Baekhyun walks over to the bar, leaning against it. "It's too cold for outdoor performances."

"It's definitely too cold," Joonmyun says quietly. He's not sure if it's audible, but apparently it is. "You'll get sick."

Baekhyun grabs the edge of the bar, and his eyes widen like he's seen a ghost. "Joonmyun?" His lips are chapped, faded purple from gum he'd chewed hours ago, and Joonmyun has given himself so much time to think about it, and nothing about how he feels about Baekhyun has changed. He is totally and completely in love with him, still.

"Yes," Joonmyun says, and he gestures with two fingers to Jinho. "Two cranberry-vodkas, please."

Jinho grins. "Coming right up."

They sit in silence and sip their drinks. It's almost closing time, but Jinho doesn't ask them to leave. The roof empties out, people gravitating downstairs for their abandoned coats and bags.

"What do you want?" Baekhyun asks, finally. His voice is husky, all sung out. Pansori is a test of vocal endurance, straining even strong singers. This might be how Joonmyun likes Baekhyun's voice best. It's how he thinks of him, when he closes his eyes. "It's been a long time. I thought you were done with me."

"I want to tell you a secret," Joonmyun says. He wants to look away from Baekhyun, but he can't. Baekhyun's soft gasp is more visible than audible. His canines are sharp as he bites into his lip, and if Joonmyun gives him the chance, his words will be sharper. "My biggest secret."

"What if I don't want to hear it?" Baekhyun asks. He sips at his drink, condensation on the edge of the glass, nails clinking as he aimlessly taps fingers against it. "What will you do then?"

"Then I'll have to tell it to someone else," Joonmyun says. "Everyone else, until you hear it somehow."

Baekhyun's eyes search his own, looking for answers. Joonmyun stands there, and lets him search, hiding nothing. He has never needed to wear masks for Baekhyun, and he won't start now. "What kind of secret is that, old man? Or were secrets something different a decade ago?"

"Can I tell you, or not?" Joonmyun asks. "It's a secret I haven't told anyone before."

Baekhyun's eyes flicker between Joonmyun and his drink. "What makes you think I like vodka-cranberries?" He takes a sip. Ice rattles in his glass because his hand is quivering. "Don't expect me to listen to you because you remember something silly like my favorite drink."

"I don't expect anything," Joonmyun says. "But I'm asking. Hoping."

"Okay," Baekhyun says. "I'm listening."

"Sticky Byun Baekhyun," he says, "I have lived twenty-nine years pushing aside most of the things I wanted in life, and I was prepared to do it again. Tried to do it again." He trembles. "It turns out, though, that I've never wanted anything as much as I want you."

It is the closest Joonmyun has ever come to saying, to Baekhyun, what Baekhyun is to him. All the things Joonmyun is afraid of, and yet all that he needs. A contradiction made of blueberry-mint and an unforgettable voice.

Baekhyun just looks at him, eyes bright. Joonmyun's diamond, glittering so brightly here on the roof, where it all started.

"Well," Baekhyun says finally, and for the first time, he seems at a loss for words. But then he's smiling. It's some parts that smug, familiar grin that sends tingles down to the tips of Joonmyun's toes. It's some parts hopeful and other parts scared. But it's there. Baekhyun is smiling at Joonmyun.

Maybe it's okay to breathe, now. "Well?"

"It's only natural," Baekhyun says. His voice shakes, but the look in his eyes dares Joonmyun to mention it. "I am extremely cute."

"You're still such a brat," Joonmyun says. It surprises them both, maybe, because Baekhyun's lips are parted in shock for the briefest of moments before he laughs.

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. Time between them crumbles into nothing as Baekhyun's eyelashes flutter at him. "But you like me anyway."

"More than I like anyone else," Joonmyun says. A gust of wind blows Joonmyun's hair into his eyes. Baekhyun hesitantly reaches forward to brush it off his forehead, and Joonmyun does not flinch away. "There's only one Baekhyun, after all."

"The bar is closing," Baekhyun says. "But I know this great bench, in this small park along the Cheongyecheon."

"Do you?" Joonmyun pushes an empty glass forward on the bar. Jinho is making his way back up the stairs, having given them all the time he could. Joonmyun will write him a thank you note, the way his mother had taught him to do when someone does something nice.

Baekhyun reaches out and takes Joonmyun's hand. Their fingers still fit together so nicely, thin sliding between thick. "Let me show you," Baekhyun says, pulling Joonmyun up. Pulling Joonmyun after him. Pulling Joonmyun closer.

"Yes," Joonmyun replies, because there's no way he would ever refuse.

Baekhyun looks down at their linked hands, and then back up at Joonmyun, like he can't believe Joonmyun is letting him do this. "Are you drunk?"

"Haven't had anything but a sip of that," Joonmyun says, pointing to his mostly untouched drink. "I wanted you to be sure I was being serious."

"Then…" Baekhyun runs his thumb in a slow, exhilarating circle along the back of Joonmyun's. "An eye for an eye."

"Does that mean you owe me a secret?" Joonmyun asks.

"Yes," Baekhyun says, letting go of Joonmyun's hand when they get to the bottom of the stairs. "I guess it does."

"I'll save it for later," Joonmyun says.

"What makes you think you get a later?" He pulls on the bottom of his coat.

"So what have you been doing with yourself?" Joonmyun asks, as Baekhyun flags down a taxi.

"Working," Baekhyun says. "Singing." He kicks at the ground. "Moping."

"Moping?"

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. He fishes into his coat and pulls out a box of Xylitol, pouring out a handful and then jamming it into his mouth. "Moping."

A taxi stops and they get in. It isn't a long drive, but it feels long because they don't talk. Baekhyun sits next to him though, their arms brushing with every jolt of the car. After a sharp turn to the left, Baekhyun falls into Joonmyun, and Joonmyun puts an arm around him to keep him there.

Baekhyun doesn't pull away from him. He's so warm, in Joonmyun's grip.

After they get out of the taxi, they walk past the convenience store, down the railed stairs, to a bench they sat on before. Baekhyun takes the left side, and Joonmyun takes the right.

Joonmyun waits. He's always been more patient than Baekhyun.

Baekhyun's hands clench in the fabric of his puffy coat, and his exhale is so loud.

"You can't just come to my gig and expect me to forgive you just like that," Baekhyun says. "Because if you left me so easily last time, after you said you weren't going to, what's to stop you from doing it again?"

"I know that," says Joonmyun.

"You said you saw me as an adult but you treated me like a child," says Baekhyun. "You said you couldn't make me happy, and just—" He chokes on his words.

Baekhyun leans forward, wrapping his arms around himself, just like he did when Joonmyun had broken up with him. Now, without a table, Joonmyun realizes Baekhyun is curling up like he expects to get hit, not with fists but with words, and he's trying to guard against them.

"I know," says Joonmyun. "I was scared."

"I'm scared, too," Baekhyun says. "I always tell people I'm not afraid of anything, but I'm afraid of bugs and the thunderstorms and of not being good enough to keep around." He pulls his knees up, wrapping his arms around them instead, and rests his forehead on his knees. "I was scared I was asking for too much from you."

"You weren't," says Joonmyun. "I just wanted to give you more."

"So you thought nothing was a better choice?"

"You didn't ask me what I've been doing," Joonmyun says. "The past two months."

Baekhyun looks up at him. His mouth is dark, and he's so pale. He looks thinner, Joonmyun notes. And tired. "Tell me, then."

"I went to New York," he says. "I wrote two completely new songs, and arranged a dozen more written by someone else." He scoots closer to Baekhyun. "I cleaned my whole apartment. I found your Wonder Woman shirt."

"I'd wondered what had happened to it," Baekhyun says. "Sounds like you were productive."

"I told my brother I was gay," he says, and Baekhyun's eyes widen. "And my grandmother. And Sunyoung, too." Joonmyun runs a hand through his hair when the wind pushes it back into his eyes. "I might as well take out an ad on Nate."

"What… what happened?"

Joonmyun can't read him. He soldiers on. "My brother said it was weird," he says. "But that he'd get used to it. My grandmother said she still loved me, and seemed surprised that I thought it would change anything between us. She likes you so much, by the way."

"She did strike me as a woman with excellent taste," Baekhyun says. He drops his arms, uncurling his spine to lean back against the bench.

"Sunyoung said… she said she didn't want to see me for a while." It prickles, the memory, but it doesn't ache. "That's understandable, I think."

"Sounds like you were really productive."

"Kris told me, on the way home from Club FF that night, that you deserved a boyfriend who wasn't ashamed of you." Joonmyun sighs. "I knew he was right. I knew I was being selfish. I thought the best way to deal with it was for me to let you find that person, because it wasn't me."

"Are you positive that you're the older one, here?" Baekhyun asks. He lets his feet fall from the bench, back down to the concrete.

"But once you were gone, and I realized… and I realized how much I'd…" He gathers himself. "Baekhyun, I can live without you. I did it for a long time, you know?" He laughs. "But I don't want to. I want to be someone that can make you happy, and I'm doing my best to become that person, because I miss you so much. The world is so quiet without you." He grabs Baekhyun's arm, lightly enough that Baekhyun could throw him off if he wanted. "And it turns out I like things noisy."

"Hyung…" Baekhyun looks like he's waking up from a long sleep. He grabs the front of Joonmyun's coat and drags him the rest of the way across the bench. "All of this… was for me?"

"No," Joonmyun smiles. "It was for me. But it was because of you. Because I want you to have good things. You should expect good things." He rests his forehead against Baekhyun's. "I can't promise you I'm entirely comfortable with everything yet," he says. "I'm new to this whole ‘being honest with myself' thing. But I can promise you that eventually, I will be."

"That's a better promise, anyway," Baekhyun says. "Gives me the chance to make it worth your while." He tries to leer at Joonmyun, but it's ruined by the tears in his eyes.

"You want to?" Joonmyun asks. "Really? Even though I hurt you?"

"I think the fact that you could hurt me so much," Baekhyun says, "means I might be a little in love with you, Joonmyun."

"Just a little?"

"Well," Baekhyun says, his eye makeup running and leaving tracks down his cheeks. In the dim light of the bench, Joonmyun can see the way his eyes shine. "You dress like the dad in an SBS drama from the nineties." He laughs. "You can't expect miracles."

Joonmyun grabs Baekhyun's face in both of his hands. "Brat," he says, and he doesn't check to see if anyone is around. He just leans forward and kisses him. Baekhyun opens up to him, softer than Joonmyun remembers but exactly as warm. "I missed you."

"I missed you too," Baekhyun says. "And if you break up with me for my own good ever again I'll rip your balls off."

"That seems unfair--" Joonmyun begins to say, and Baekhyun grins and kisses the words right out of his mouth.



April showers bring May flowers, and Baekhyun's smile gets brighter as winter fades into true spring.

Joonmyun spends his days in the studio, recording tracks new tracks with Jongdae, and his nights with Baekhyun, playing the keyboard while Baekhyun sings, or going out to drinks with Chanyeol and Sehun and Kris, or curled up on Joonmyun's bed, listening to the records he'd brought back from New York on his grandfather's old Victrola.

Some nights, like tonight, Baekhyun works the late shift at ComicsPlease, so Joonmyun drops by as they're closing to pick him up.

"You're wearing my scarf," Joonmyun says, pulling on it lightly as he stops in front of Baekhyun, who is already wearing his zip up sweatshirt and the black cap Joonmyun had borrowed once, like he's ready to go.

Baekhyun bats his hand away. "It's my scarf now."

"Oh well, I guess I'll take you then," laughs Joonmyun, hooking an arm around Baekhyun's waist as Zitao closes his cash register. He plants a kiss on Baekhyun's cheek, and Baekhyun flutters his eyelashes. "Or maybe not. I'll cut those eyelashes off one day, I swear."

"Joonmyun-hyung might as well be twelve when you two are together," Sehun says.

"Not all the time," Baekhyun says wickedly, and Sehun laughs.

"I'm making up for some of my lost adolescence," adds Joonmyun. "I should have a birthday party, with hats and cakes."

"Wait," Baekhyun says, "when is your birthday?"

"Sixteen days after yours," Joonmyun says, pinching Baekhyun's nose. "The twenty-second."

"Oh," Baekhyun says. "Good. As long as I didn't miss it."

"You didn't," Joonmyun reassures him, and Baekhyun pinches him until he lets go of his nose. "Ow!"

"And how do you know my birthday, hyung?"

"Oh, you know, I picked it up somewhere…" He winks at Baekhyun, and Baekhyun scowls back.

"You think it's so cute, how you remember everything."

"No," Joonmyun says, "you're the cute one."

"You should have a birthday party," Sehun says. "It would be fun."

"Maybe I will," he says. "Aren't you guys ready to close up yet?"

"I am," Zitao says. "But someone has been too busy flirting to close out their register…"

"Okay, okay," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun laughs as Baekhyun purposefully steps on Zitao's foot as he starts punching things into the computer. Zitao chuckles and squeezes him in a one-armed hug.

Baekhyun finishes with an exaggerated sigh, and they all head up the stairs out into the evening.

It's only a little chilly, but Baekhyun pulls his scarf tighter around his neck. "Did you drive?" he asks Joonmyun, and Joonmyun nods.

"I did," he confirms. "Sehun, would you like a ride home?"

"No," he says, looking at the man locking up. "I'm going home with Zitao today."

He and Baekhyun exchange a look when they get in the car. "Sehun's quest continues," Baekhyun says dramatically, and Joonmyun laughs.

"So it does," he says, watching Zitao drape his arm around Sehun's broad shoulders as they wait at the crosswalk. "So it does."

Joonmyun starts the car.

"You should teach me how to drive," Baekhyun says. "Someday."

"Really?" He turns to look at Baekhyun. "Me?"

"You're the only teacher I've ever listened to," Baekhyun teases, and Joonmyun laughs.

"Can't beat that argument," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun buckles his seatbelt. "Are you telling me you know how to hotwire a car but not how to drive away with it?"

Baekhyun laughs. "You know what, Joonmyun-hyung?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm…" Baekhyun grabs Joonmyun's arm, lightly. "I'm really happy."

Joonmyun's heartbeat is probably audible, it's so fast and loud. "Me too," he says, and he sneaks a look at Baekhyun as he slows for the red light. "Me too."

The extra slippers are out again in Joonmyun's doorway.

They order takeout, eating until they're both too full, then lounge around on the sofa, talking about Jongdae's second mini album and the Park Yura show that Joonmyun got tickets for next month.

"We should get ready for bed," Joonmyun says, "before I'm too sleepy."

"You first," Baekhyun says. "I plan on lying on the floor for a little while."

"Okay," he agrees, and he disappears into the shower.

A half an hour later, when he emerges in a cloud of steam, he finds Baekhyun doing exactly what he said he would. His legs are so long, stretched out in front of him like that.

Joonmyun towels his hair as he steps into the living room. Baekhyun, in just his Batman shirt, sweatshirt abandoned on the couch, is on the floor with Joonmyun's folder of music. Joonmyun doesn't mind. He'd left it out, after all, and he has never kept the things he's working on from Baekhyun.

He's more interested in the faint trail of hair below Baekhyun's belly button that disappears beneath the elastic of his underwear.

"What's this?" Baekhyun asks, holding up the song that Joonmyun had started when Baekhyun was sick. "You never finished it?" He's nibbling at his lower lip. They aren't as chapped, now that the weather is nicer. He still licks them just as much.

"It was never right," Joonmyun says. "The second verse isn't meant for the same kind of voice as the first."

"So it's a duet," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun sighs. "Do you mind if I work on it?" He scratches at his stomach, pushing his shirt a little higher. Joonmyun's mouth goes dry.

"No," Joonmyun says. "If you want to, you can."

Baekhyun stands up. "Okay," he says, and he sets it down on Joonmyun's keyboard. "I'm going to go take a shower."

"I'll be in my room," Joonmyun says, carefully, and Baekhyun's lazy expression sharpens. His gaze drops to the V of Joonmyun's undershirt, and then back up to his face.

"Hmm," he says, offering a tiny dangerous smile. "I'll come find you when I'm clean."

"I'll be waiting," Joonmyun says.

When he hears the shower turn on, he slowly sits down on the edge of the bed, taking off his underwear and his shirt, and grabbing the lube from his night table.

He scoots to the center of the bed and spreads his legs. He doesn't know how long he has until Baekhyun gets out of the shower.

Spreading his legs, he presses a dry finger to his entrance. He shivers, tracing small circles until he stops flinching at the touch, then with trembling hands, he squirts lube into his palm, enough to slick up both of his hands, and wrap his left hand loosely around his cock as the other returns to his hole, this time pressing harder, dipping in with his middle finger and closing his eyes at the penetration.

He stretches carefully, making sure he's more than ready for the second finger before he pushes it in. The angle isn't great, but it's good enough to start opening him up. He pushes both fingers in as deeply as he can, knuckles brushing across his prostate but not hard enough for more than a faint shiver of pleasure, and scissors them gingerly. He doesn't add a third finger until he hears the shower water stop, hissing at the intrusion. He bends his fingers, trying to find his prostate again. When he does, he lets out a heavy sigh, thrusting his fingers quickly as the bathroom door opens.

Baekhyun comes into the bedroom with his hair dripping wet and a towel wrapped around his waist. He looks at Joonmyun, eyes trailing up from his spread legs to his face, and then back down again. His mouth is parted with surprise, and the freckles that dot down his neck stand out against the flush from the hot water that extends down the center of his chest.

"Joonmyun?"

"Are you just going to stand there?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun chuckles, walking up to the edge of the bed and then crawling up until he's between Joonmyun's legs. He pulls Joonmyun's hand out gently, and Joonmyun swallows as Baekhyun licks his lips.

"What do you…"

"What do you think?" Joonmyun asks. He feels strangely empty, muscle clenching around nothing as Baekhyun continues to stare instead of touch.

"I didn't know you wanted me like this," Baekhyun says, pushing his own fingers into Joonmyun to search for his prostate. He locates it easily, faster than Joonmyun had, pressing into it repeatedly as Joonmyun rides his hand. His fingers are thinner than Joonmyun's, and he adds a fourth. It's the fullest Joonmyun has ever felt, and his thighs burn with how tightly he has them tensed. "Are you sure?"

"I want you in every way," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun kisses him, slowly, sighing into his mouth.

Baekhyun opens the drawer and pulls out a condom, ripping the edge off the wrapper with his teeth and hastily rolling it down on himself. He grabs the bottle of lube still next to Joonmyun and squirts enough to slick himself up, swearing as he takes his lubed hand and jerks himself quickly before he moves to cover Joonmyun's body with his own. Joonmyun pulls his legs up, shuddering as his cock brushes Baekhyun's stomach. He can feel the sticky smear of precome from the head of it across the soft skin.

"How many people have taken you, Joonmyun?" Baekhyun asks, pressing the head of his dick and pushing lightly at Joonmyun's stretched entrance.

"One," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun slowly pushes forward, in, groaning low in his throat as Joonmyun takes him deeper. "Including you."

Baekhyun stops when he's in as far as he can go, and his cheeks are red, mouth full and parted. "Oh," he gasps. "I'm going to kiss you now."

"Okay," Joonmyun replies, breathless as Baekhyun shifts inside him. He feels like he's melting, everything focused on Baekhyun sucking his upper lip into his mouth, and the slide of Baekhyun inside him. The long, drawn out moans Baekhyun makes as he pulls himself most of the way out and then thrusts hard back in.

The next thrust nudges Joonmyun's prostate, and Joonmyun bucks his hips into it. After that, it's just dizziness, and the prettiest whines as Baekhyun peppers his face and neck with kisses, arms trembling as he increases his pace. "Joonmyun," Baekhyun says, high in his throat, in a sweet, even note that echoes in Joonmyun's ears long after it stops, and Joonmyun has to close his eyes to find his breath.

Tangled up in Joonmyun's sheets, some time later, Baekhyun leaves kisses along Joonmyun's collarbones. "I'm calling in my secret," says Joonmyun. "Tell me why it matters." He doesn't need to be specific. Baekhyun will know what he means.

"I wanted to be your first something," Baekhyun mumbles.

"Why does it matter?"

"We trade," Baekhyun says. "Secret for secret. Kiss for kiss." He licks down to Joonmyun's nipple, taking it into his mouth and laving his tongue across it as Joonmyun digs his hands into Baekhyun's still damp hair. "So you owed me a first."

"What first did you give me?" Joonmyun asks, as Baekhyun drifts lower, mouthing along the line of Joonmyun's abs. Arousal stirs as Baekhyun's lips close around the head of his mostly soft cock. He circles his tongue around the head, and then lets Joonmyun fall from his mouth, looking up at him with serious eyes.

"You were my first love," Baekhyun says, and then he licks a line up the underside of Joonmyun's dick. He smirks as Joonmyun moans. "I guess it's fitting that I get to be the first person to fuck you."

Joonmyun doesn't know whether he wants to laugh or cry because he's so happy, and it's disconcerting to be thinking at all when Baekhyun's lips are so close to his cock.

"Well, if you want to be my second, too," he says, as Baekhyun slowly pushes his fingers back into him. It's sore, but nothing he can't handle. "Then I'd suggest you hurry up."

"Do you have a bedtime, old man?" Three fingers, and a maddeningly slow pace. "Because otherwise, I think we have all night."

They stumble out into the living room a few minutes after six in the morning, after a short shower that consisted mostly of Baekhyun taking a nap on Joonmyun's shoulder while Joonmyun made sure they were both clean enough to sit on the living room furniture.

"This is the first sunrise I've seen in a long time," Baekhyun says grumpily, shifting on the couch. "I blame you."

"Me?" Joonmyun laughs. "You must be kidding."

"It's your fault. You and your sexy secret abs." He stretches his legs across Joonmyun's as they take up the whole couch. "I think I've used muscles in my body I didn't know existed."

"Now who's the old man?"

Baekhyun grunts. "You're taking off from work and we're sleeping all day."

"Okay," Joonmyun says. "That sounds nice to me."

Light pours in as the sun comes up. "You really do have the best view of the sunrise," Baekhyun says. "I could be convinced to see another one." He smiles, that same mischievous smile that had captured Joonmyun's attention all the way back in September.

"Baekhyunnie," he says, running his hand lightly up Baekhyun's calf, "you're not my first love." He tickles at Baekhyun's knee and enjoys his laugh as he squirms. "But you'll be my best love."

Baekhyun bites his lip, chewing at it thoughtfully before he speaks. "I think I could live with that."



For Baekhyun's birthday, they drive out to the ocean.

The beach is almost empty, because the water is still too cold to dip toes in, but since they're alone, Baekhyun can sing as loud as he wants into the salty sea air. Joonmyun laughs at him, taking video with his phone as Baekhyun mugs for the camera. Joonmyun has never had a particular fondness for the beach, but he develops some, between getting pushed into damp cold sand by Baekhyun and getting his shoes drenched by the rising tide.

Sometimes he thinks his life used to be a broken record, stuck on the same line of track playing over and over again. Baekhyun has moved the needle. Now, Joonmyun can listen to all these songs he's never heard before.

They make a mess of Joonmyun's car, and he has to get it professionally cleaned to finally get the salt smell out of the seats, but it's worth it when he remembers Baekhyun's noisy laugh every time he gets in to drive.



His guests start arriving at his condo around seven.

Lu Han and Yixing show up first, with five pies from Mr. Pizza, followed by Jongin and Minseok. Song Qian and Kris come at about the same time, and look to have spent about the same amount of time on their hair.

Baekhyun is the last to arrive, fifteen minutes late with two big plastic bags full of makgeolli and beer. "Happy Birthday," he says, when Joonmyun opens the door, and seeing that there's no one in the hallway, he bends forward and gives him a brief kiss on the mouth. "Are you going to let me in?"

"Of course," Joonmyun says. "Everyone else is already here."

"Wow, it sure is lively," Baekhyun says sarcastically, looking into the living room to find everyone caught up in an intense discussion about the upcoming presidential election as they eat pizza.

"Well," Joonmyun says, "you do have the alcohol."

They take drinks into the living room, along with more napkins and eight cups.

"Put on your party hats," Lu Han says, "it's time to play games."

"Do I have to wear a party hat?" Minseok asks Joonmyun. "Because when you invited me, you also mentioned party hats, and I could really live my whole life without the experience of being a thirty-three year old man in a party hat."

"No," Joonmyun says. "You definitely don't have to."

"You should have gone with Sehunnie's theme," Baekhyun says. "The am I turning thirty or three?! party."

"It would have been fun," Joonmyun says, "but I really wanted Kris to come." Everyone laughs. "I thought something small and intimate would be better," Joonmyun says. "I'm glad you guys could make it."

"It was a close call," Lu Han says. "One of my much cooler friends called, and said he was having his birthday down in Hongdae, but…"

"Then I appreciate your sacrifice," Joonmyun says, as Baekhyun sits on the arm of Kris's chair.

Song Qian grins. "It's a rare occasion when you let your friends mix like this," she says. "It's fun."

Joonmyun sits next to Jongin on the floor after making sure everyone has something to drink, and they play.

Joonmyun doesn't think he's played this many drinking games since college. He can barely remember the rules to some of them, but Jongin is the king of games, and Lu Han knows how to engineer things so that Joonmyun and Kris lose them all.

"I think we should have cake before I can't see straight," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs, disappearing into the kitchen.

"He acts like he lives here," Jongin says, laughing, and Joonmyun smiles at him, not replying.

Baekhyun comes out with one of the two cakes Joonmyun had bought from the bakery, the chocolate one with white creamy icing, and sets it onto the table. He has a stack of paper plates under his arm. "Eight people, eight pieces," he says, slicing the cake fairly even. His face is red from the alcohol, but his hands are steady with the plastic knife.

He hands everyone a piece of cake, and plastic forks, until there are only two slices of cake left on the table. Then Baekhyun turns to Joonmyun, picking up one of the two remaining slices.

"And a piece for the birthday boy," he says brightly, dangerously and he takes the paper plate and smashes it into Joonmyun's face.

All chatter stops as Joonmyun tries to process, through the haze of alcohol, the chocolate all over his face, and how cute Baekhyun looks with his eyes narrowed evilly like that. "Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun says, wanting to be stern but trying not to laugh.

"Oops?" Baekhyun says, and Yixing cracks and laughs, which starts everyone laughing.

Joonmyun wipes some of the cake with his fingers, and puts them to his mouth. "It's good cake," he says, and Baekhyun runs his index finger right down the bridge of Joonmyun's nose before tasting it for himself.

"It is," he says, licking his finger, and Joonmyun's brain is slow in telling him not now. "You should go wash up."

"Whose fault is that?" Joonmyun is unsteady, when he pulls himself up from the floor.

"Do you need a hand?" Minseok asks, looking worried, but Joonmyun waves him off.

"I can find my way around my own home," Joonmyun assures him, even if his head is spinning.

Everything is in slow motion, but he makes his way just fine to the kitchen sink, where he uses a clean towel to wipe at his face after scrubbing quickly with water and face soap.

When there's no trace of cake or icing on his skin, he turns off the water. About to head back into the living room, he grabs a kitchen chair and takes it out with him.

"Yixing tells me it was mean of me to waste your cake," Baekhyun says. He's moved to sit on the arm of Kris's chair again, but he's turned toward Lu Han and Yixing and Song Qian on the sofa, clearly having been talking to them as Kris looks between Minseok and Jongin as they bicker about something, like it's a tennis match.

"You're always mean to me," Joonmyun says. "I'm becoming immune."

"You can have some of mine," Baekhyun says generously, getting up from his perch on the arm of Kris's chair to walk over to Joonmyun, who has set the kitchen chair next to Song Qian and sat in it.

"Generous of you," Joonmyun says. He takes Baekhyun's fork when it's offered, and spears a bite of cake. Instead of eating it, though, he quickly bends forward and smears it on Baekhyun's cheek. "An eye for an eye."

Baekhyun makes an outraged squawk, and lifts the plate as though weighing his love of chocolate against his desire to decorate Joonmyun's face again, but Joonmyun catches his waist and pulls him down in his lap. "Just because you're stronger than me—"

The alcohol makes his mind fuzzy. He likes Baekhyun, and he likes chocolate, and that's all he thinks as he leans forward and licks the cake right off Baekhyun's cheek.

Baekhyun stiffens in his arms, and the world catches up to Joonmyun as Song Qian gasps. The chocolate is rich on his tongue, and it tastes even better with Baekhyun's skin.

"Oh," Song Qian says. "That explains a lot of things."

"No it doesn't. He's just drunk," Baekhyun says, trying to stand up. Joonmyun holds on tighter, and Baekhyun looks down at him in shock. "Hyung?"

"Now is as good a time as any," he says to Baekhyun, before looking at Song Qian. She just looks at him, shrewdly, like she's putting the puzzle pieces together in her mind. "Baekhyun is my boyfriend," he says, to the mostly silent room.

Baekhyun's hands tighten on Joonmyun's arms. His nails dig into the skin.

He finds Minseok's gaze first, but his face is impassive, and Jongin looks shell-shocked.

"You already told Sunyoung, right?" Song Qian asks. "That's why she's not here."

"She's mad at me for not telling her sooner," Joonmyun says. "She's not wrong to feel that way." He sighs. "You're all rather calm."

"What reaction were you expecting?" Minseok asks. "For one of us to run screaming and yelling out the door?"

"Maybe," Baekhyun says. "I had to defend myself, when my brother found out I was gay." He loosens up his fingers as he speaks, leaving tiny marks on Joonmyun's forearms. "My parents kicked me out. The only friends I managed to keep were Chanyeol and Zitao. So don't make it sound like telling people is easy."

"But Joonmyun-hyung is still Joonmyun-hyung," Jongin says, shrugging. "And Baekhyun is still Baekhyun? You're not different people than you were five minutes ago, just because you like each other." He stares forlornly at the empty cake platter, looking more upset that there isn't more dessert than at the fact that Joonmyun and Baekhyun are dating each other.

"Running and yelling takes so much energy that could be better spent on another round of Nunchi," Minseok adds. "Kris is still sitting mostly upright so clearly we can play again."

"Told you to give your friends more credit," Yixing says, and Lu Han looks extremely pleased.

Joonmyun hugs Baekhyun as he slumps back into Joonmyun, and smiles at him. "Let me up," he says, and Baekhyun slips off his lap and takes Joonmyun's chair when he stands.

Joonmyun retreats, into the kitchen, and Song Qian follows him. He can hear the others, in the living room, laughing and shouting numbers. He pours himself a glass of water, and silently pours Song Qian one as well.

"Of all the reasons I'd come up with for you breaking my friend's heart, this one hadn't even occurred to me." The water wakes him up, cool in his mouth and down his throat.

"That was purposeful," Joonmyun says. "I thought I wasn't going to tell anyone." Baekhyun yells with victory as Lu Han shouts "Asshole!" and then there's the carbonation sound of someone opening a new bottle of makgeolli.

"Here you are, though," Song Qian says.

"Here I am," agrees Joonmyun. He opens the refrigerator again, this time to pull out the second cake. "Should I make Jongin's day?"

She laughs. "I'll carry it," she says, taking the box from him, and as he hands it to her, the door buzzes.

"We might be too loud for my neighbors," Joonmyun says. "I'll get it."

He opens the door with an apology on his lips, but it isn't one of his neighbors at the door. It's Sunyoung, carrying a plastic bag and smiling at him. Her makeup is stage-worthy. Maybe there had been filming.

"Sorry I'm late," Sunyoung says, casually, as though it hasn't been two months since they've exchanged a word. Joonmyun had included her on his e-mail invite because it had felt wrong not to, not because he'd thought she would come. "Got held up at a shoot."

"That's…" he opens the door wider, and beams at her. She smiles tentatively back. "That's more than all right," Joonmyun says. "I just brought out another cake, so as far as I'm concerned, you're right on time."



The hangover the next day is worth it, because Baekhyun actually feels sorry for him and helps him clean the whole living room. They get distracted a few times, making out like teenagers against the wall in the hallway, but for the most part they're done before it's even time to think about lunch. Baekhyun has work today, so Joonmyun ponders places that serve haejangguk in the Hongdae area.

"I can't believe it's almost summer," Baekhyun says, looking out the window. His hair is messy, sticking up in every direction. He smiles back at Joonmyun, over his shoulder. "It's almost time to turn the heating off."

"Almost," Joonmyun says. Summer. "Baekhyunnie, would you…"

"Would I what?"

"Be my date for my brother's wedding, in August?"

Baekhyun frowns. "How would your brother feel about that?"

"He already gave me permission," says Joonmyun. "You can say no. You can always say no."

"Do you really…" Baekhyun rubs at his eyes, looking like a lost little puppy. Joonmyun's heart swells. "Do you really want me to?"

"I'll be bored unless you come," Joonmyun says with a tiny smile. "My family is kind of stiff. I don't know if you've noticed."

"I do want to see your grandmother again," Baekhyun says. "Do I need to get a suit, or something?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says, walking over to the window so he can wrap his arms around Baekhyun from behind. He muffles his laughter in Baekhyun's neck, and Baekhyun's ticklish there, so he shudders. "You'll definitely have to get a suit."



He finishes the last track for Jongdae's full-length album on the last day of May. It's a collaboration track with DoubleK, and it's the easiest song they've recorded yet.

"We're really pushing the deadline, don't you think, hyung?" Jongdae teases. "Song Qian-noona was kinda nervous." He grins. "I don't know how I calmed her down."

"I do," Soojung says. "You used your tongue. I caught those two sucking face in front of the third floor bathrooms."

"You and… Song Qian?" Joonmyun can't help it. He laughs. Jongdae blushes, a bright red across his high cheekbones, but he smiles unrepentantly. "A talent-manager romance. How starcrossed."

"Maybe I should date younger," Soojung says. "It seems to be the trend these days." She looks not-so-subtly at Joonmyun.

"You should date older," Jongin says pointedly. "I happen to know someone who'd be interested. You know him, too. Tall, blond, hands like a basketball player." He grins when Soojung shifts uncomfortably. "Plus, I'm not dating younger. It isn't a trend unless DoubleK's Kai does it."

"I don't know," Jongdae says, "I think your relationship with manhwa geared at children five to ten is pretty intimate—"

Jongin kicks out at him, landing a good hit to the shin.

Minseok clears his throat loudly to get their attention. "Sorry to interrupt, but the boss would like to speak with you, Joonmyun."

"Right," he says. He saves the file of their newly completed song, and pops the master onto his thumbdrive. "I'll see you guys later."

Lee Sooman's office is as cold and unwelcoming as it always is. This time, there's no one else there. The chair directly in front of his desk is empty.

"Come in," he says. "Sit down.

"Is something wrong, sir?" Joonmyun asks. "I have the last track of the new Chen album for you."

"I listened to the other new songs," Lee Sooman says. "They're good, Kim-ssi."

Joonmyun takes a relieved breath. "Thank you, sir."

"Everyone told me you were the right person for the job." He raps his knuckles on the desk. "Now I agree."

"Sir, I…"

"Chen is going to debut in China this winter," he says. "So I need you to start preparing tracks. We'll hire a Chinese lyricist to work with you."

"Yes, sir," Joonmyun says, and he smiles as he excuses himself.

It's a reminder, he thinks, about China in the fall.



Joonmyun takes Baekhyun to buy a suit.

He's not a patient shopper, infuriating the tailor as he whines about pins and it being hot. Joonmyun tries his best not to laugh, smoothing the lapels on the suit jacket when the tailor goes into the back to look for a different type of fabric.

"You look really handsome," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun's lips curl upward in a tiny smile as Joonmyun drops his hands.

When the tailor comes back, with the lighter summer fabric Joonmyun had inquired after, Baekhyun is much more pliant, letting him measure and tuck without complaint.

Afterwards, Baekhyun complains about feeling cooped up, and drags Joonmyun to Yeouido. There's a pleasant breeze, which means kids flying kites and couples on bikes, and Baekhyun's hair blowing fiercely in the wind because he'd left his baseball cap at work.

It's warm, though, and Baekhyun glitters just as brilliantly under the sun as he does under the lights on a live-club stage.

"So you're going to stay with your parents this weekend?" Baekhyun asks.

"I am," Joonmyun says. "I can't spring something like this at the wedding."

"I guess that would be horrible," Baekhyun says. "Hey, I know this is your oldest son's wedding, but surprise! Your younger son is never going to have one."

We could have a wedding if we wanted, Joonmyun thinks. "It wouldn't be kind."

"You're sure you don't want me to go with you?" Baekhyun picks a spot of grass and sits. Joonmyun sits next to him, stretching his legs in front of him. "I have experience facing parents, you know. I'm the biggest expert you've got."

"My brother will be there," Joonmyun says. "And my grandmother."

"Yeah," Baekhyun says, flopping back into the grass. He digs his hands into it, pulling up pieces. "I guess I wouldn't help."

"It's not that," Joonmyun says. "It's just that you've already been rejected by one set of parents. I don't want you to face another."

"What will you do? If your parents don't accept you?"

Baekhyun has plucked lots of grass now. There is green under his fingernails, and a pile of sad grass on his stomach, where he collects the pieces after he snaps them off.

"I'll be sad," Joonmyun says. "Hurt." He smiles down at Baekhyun, brushing the grass off his stomach and letting his hand rest there for a moment before he pulls it back. "But I won't be alone." He has people who know him, now. Know who he is, some of his scariest secrets, and they still like him.

"You won't," Baekhyun agrees, grinning at him.

He has Baekhyun, too.

It will be enough, even if he loses his mother and father. It's like ‘Sugungga'. Kris had thought it was sad, when Joonmyun had told him about the story's end, the hare escaping the palace and leaving the Dragon King to die. Joonmyun just knows that most types of happiness have some kind of cost.

This kind of happiness, Joonmyun thinks, as Baekhyun lies on his back in the grass in his Superman shirt, smiling up at the clouds, is worth anything.

This kind of happiness, Joonmyun decides, lying down next to him, feeling the grass tickle his cheeks, is better than any cage.

"No matter what," Joonmyun says, "I'm not going anywhere."

He means it, and Baekhyun looks like he might be starting to believe him again.



On Saturday morning, he drops Baekhyun off at work. "I'll see you tomorrow," he says. "Or maybe tonight. It depends on how it goes."

"Good luck," Baekhyun says. He leans across the center console, pulling Joonmyun into a lingering kiss. He moves away when they're both breathless. "Either way, I'll be waiting."

He gets to his parents' house around noon. His brother is already there, and it's he who answers the door.

"Our mother is freaking out about the flowers for the reception," he says. "So you're right on time."

"I don't know anything about flowers," Joonmyun says. "Sorry."

His brother shrugs. "Either way, we'll split her attention." Joonmyun laughs and carefully puts his shoes on the shoe-rack. His stomach is all twisted up. He feels nauseated. "Are you going to do it today?" his brother asks.

Joonmyun nods. "Yes," he says. "I've put it off as long as I can." His brother must hear the panic.

"Then she'll really be off my back about the flowers," he jokes, and Joonmyun forces a laugh. "Sorry, it's not really funny, but you're the funny one."

"No," Joonmyun says, smiling, "we both got split pretty even on that."

"Pity," his brother says, and they both laugh a little easier at that.

He walks into the living room, where hundreds of photos are spread across the table and floor, and walks over to his grandmother to kiss her on the cheek, and smiles at his mother. His dad's office door is closed.

"Joonmyun," his mother says, demandingly, "come here."

"Okay," he says. He sits next to her on the white sofa, relishing the smell of her perfume and trying to memorize the fall of her hair across her shoulders.

"Do you like the white one or the pink ones?" she asks, showing him two pictures, and Joonmyun's brother laughs as Joonmyun tries to figure out which one she already likes.

They have an early dinner. His mother makes a soup with leeks and potato. It's always been one of Joonmyun's favorites. It's also his father's favorite, even if he'd never say so.

Everything is always so hard.

His brother seems as on edge as he is, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Joonmyun searches desperately for his courage.

"I have a date for the wedding," Joonmyun says, after dinner is over. His heart is pounding, and his mouth is as dry as the desert. His mom has brought tea out, and Joonmyun, as the youngest, pours for everyone. No one takes any sugar.

"Oh?" his mother asks. "Who is she? Someone you work with?"

His brother coughs, shifting awkwardly in his chair. His grandmother stirs her tea.

"He," Joonmyun says, "isn't someone from the company."

The only sound in the kitchen is his father's teacup setting down too hard on the table.

"You're bringing a friend?" His mother frowns. "I suppose that's all right, though people might get the wrong idea, if you know what I mean."

"I think," his brother says delicately, "that they would be getting the right idea."

"What?"

"He's not a friend," Joonmyun says. "He's…"

"You're a… homosexual?" Joonmyun's mother sets down her tea. "Is that what you're telling me?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says. "You already met my boyfriend. Baekhyun."

Joonmyun's father takes his glasses off and folds them on the table next to him. Joonmyun has his full attention, the one time in his life he doesn't want it. He could laugh, if he wasn't trying so hard not to shake.

His mother turns to his brother. "You knew this?"

"I did," his brother says. "I told him he could bring Baekhyun to the wedding, if he wanted."

"You will not shame our family at your brother's wedding like that," his mother says. He hands are clenched, but her tone is even. "It isn't too late for me to call in a matchmaker." She reaches for her tea, picking it up white knuckled. "We'll find you a nice girl from a respectable family."

"No," Joonmyun says. "I don't want a nice girl from a respectable family. I want Baekhyun."

"A rude man-child with no manners?" She sets her tea down again without taking a sip. Joonmyun's grandmother squeezes his arm reassuringly, and his mother notices. "You knew as well? Why didn't you say anything?" she asks his grandmother, and his grandmother smiles.

"I like Baekhyun," she says mildly. "He's interesting."

"He's loud," his mother snaps. Joonmyun's father sighs. His brother looks trapped. Joonmyun doesn't blame him.

"When I was younger," Joonmyun says, "I was afraid to be loud, unless I was with my grandparents." He bites his lip. "I really like noisy things."

"You're not… bringing him here," his mother says. "I'm not going to watch you throw your life away any more than you already have."

"I'm sorry you see it that way," Joonmyun says. "But for the first time in my life, I'm…" He runs a hand through his hair. "I'm not clinging to one thing to help me get through everything else. I love going to my job, and I love coming home from it, too."

"I'm not discussing this with you anymore," his mother says. "I'll speak to the matchmaker in the morning."

"No," Joonmyun says, with a sinking feeling in his chest. "I'm not going on any arranged dates."

"You will," she says, "or you won't be coming back to this house." Ice runs through Joonmyun's veins. His brother gasps. His father starts to massage his temples, and his grandmother is still reassuringly holding on to his arm.

Everything is quiet. It's the sort of ultimatum Joonmyun used to give himself.

"Okay," Joonmyun says, and his mother relaxes. But Joonmyun looks at his brother. "If I give you a list of personal items that are in my room, can you ship them to me?"

His brother's expression is grim. "I'll drop them by myself," he says. "You don't live far."

His mother grabs the tea again, like it's a lifeline. "Are you… are you choosing that boy over your family?"

"No," Joonmyun says. "But I'm choosing him over you."

"But…" His mother's face is dark red, even if she hasn't raised her voice. She also seems confused. He has never seen her so angry, and disappointment and hurt and sadness curl up so tightly in him that he feels like he's gone back in time, to when he curled up on the floor of his half-unpacked apartment crying all over again, a box of his grandfather's forty-fives next to him as he thinks about what he's giving up.

Only it's been almost a decade since then, and Baekhyun is waiting back at Joonmyun's apartment, playing Joonmyun's keyboard and wearing a backwards baseball cap. No matter what happens here, Baekhyun is going to smile at him.

Sometimes, Baekhyun still looks at Joonmyun like he thinks Joonmyun is going to leave him. But Joonmyun isn't. Not ever again.

"I'm choosing Baekhyun because he knows what this is like," Joonmyun says. "Because his parents kicked him out and made him put himself back together afterwards. Because Baekhyun thinks I'm…" He wipes angrily at his eyes. "Because he thinks I'm amazing, just the way I am, and he isn't disappointed in me because I can't fit into some mold he made for me before I was even born, where any kid would've done as long as he was smart and obedient." His father's frown becomes more pronounced. Joonmyun notices out of the corner of his eye, but he keeps his eyes on his mother. "But most of all, I'm choosing Baekhyun because he understands how even after everything, years and years of self-punishment and inadequacy, you're still so important to me, and he'd never, ever, ask me to choose."

He stands up from the table. His knees try to lock up, but he forces himself to push back his chair. His grandmother stands up too, hugging him firmly in her frail arms, and he returns it. He meets his father's eyes over her shoulder, and he's looking back at Joonmyun like he's never seen him before. He probably hasn't.

"I'm not just choosing Baekhyun, though," he says, when his grandmother releases him. "I'm also choosing me." His mother doesn't look up as Joonmyun walks out of the kitchen and then straight out of his childhood home, into the balmy early summer night.

Baekhyun opens his door after a single knock, grabbing Joonmyun by the front of his shirt and pulling him in as close as he can. "I'm so sorry," he says, into Joonmyun's neck. "I'm so sorry, hyung."

They stand there in the doorway of Baekhyun's officetel for a long time, Joonmyun's hands clutching at Baekhyun's back as he tries not to shake apart.

Baekhyun sings to him, through most of the night, indistinguishable words that calm Joonmyun's racing thoughts enough for him to fall asleep.



It doesn't feel real until a week later. Someone knocks on the door early in the morning, and when Joonmyun opens it, his brother is standing there with a box of Joonmyun's things. The pretty sky blue silk of his hanbok is visible where the top of the box is askew.

"Do you want to come in?" Joonmyun asks. "You haven't been here before, have you?"

"I'm on my way to work, actually," he says. "On a Saturday. It's terrible."

"Oh," Joonmyun says. "Okay." He takes the box. It's light. How can everything fit so neatly into a single cardboard box?

"Halmeoni says to call her," his brother says. "And I'll bring her over to visit whenever you guys want."

"Thank you," he says. "Really, thank you. I know this isn't something…"

"It's fine," his brother says gruffly, looking away. "This is all so stupid. You're Joonmyun. You're just Joonmyun."

"Hyung, I…"

"I remember that time you busted up your knee when you were in second year of elementary school because you were trying to run away from that mean kid in fourth year, and our mother reamed me a new asshole for not looking after you." Joonmyun still has the scar. "I felt so bad, because you were my little brother, and I'd been too busy with the other sixth years to notice."

"I didn't want you to know," Joonmyun says. "I've always been like that."

"This is just like that, though, for me," his brother says. "I should be looking out for you, but I've spent the past few years not really doing that." He swallows. "Even if you have a boyfriend or whatever, it doesn't really change the fact that you're Joonmyunnie." He reaches forward and ruffles Joonmyun's hair. He's thirty. He should be far too old for that to be reassuring, but it chokes him up anyway. "I'm just following mom's directions, okay? Looking out for you since she's not here to do it."

"I'm sorry I can't come to your wedding," Joonmyun says. "I'm really sorry."

"What are you talking about?" His brother gives him a hard stare. "You'd better come to my wedding. I invited you and Baekhyun-ssi, and it's not her wedding. It's mine. Sujin and I agreed that it was fine long before I sent the invitation."

"I don't want to cause problems."

"If you don't come," his brother says, "I won't ever forgive you."

"You're playing dirty," says Joonmyun.

"Yes," his brother says. "Is it working?"

"Maybe," Joonmyun says, gripping the box tighter. "Thank you for bringing this by."

"You know," his brother says, turning to leave, "she's going to come around. I don't think our dad really even cares that much as long as it doesn't change your handicap for golf."

"If she doesn't, I'll understand," Joonmyun says. "It's hard, to find out that your son is none of the things you wanted him to be."

His brother nods. "Well, I'd better get going, or I'll be late."

"Thanks again," Joonmyun says. "I'll see you… soon, I guess."

He closes the door, and takes the box over to his living room table.

"Who was that?" Baekhyun asks groggily, leaning against the doorframe to the bedroom.

"My brother," Joonmyun says. "He brought some of my stuff from my parents' house."

"You okay?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun stares at the box.

"I think I will be," he says. "You are."

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "I guess." He walks into the living room and comes to stand behind the sofa. "I used to think I wouldn't be. I wondered, a lot, if my parents missed me. If my brother thinks of me in jail. But…" He bends down to press a kiss to the side of Joonmyun's neck. "Do you want a distraction?"

"Depends on the distraction," Joonmyun says. Baekhyun pulls away from him and walks toward the front door.

He bends down and digs into his backpack, pulling out a folder. The edges are wrinkled, but it says for joonmyun-hyung on the cover in thick black sharpie.

"What's this?" Joonmyun asks, and Baekhyun grins.

"It's your birthday present," Baekhyun says.

"My birthday was in May," Joonmyun says. "It's July."

"You know how I'm always late," Baekhyun says.

"Your worst quality," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun laughs.

"You like me anyway." He nudges Joonmyun. "Do you want it or not?" Joonmyun takes the folder from Baekhyun and opens it. There's a CD in the left pocket, and carefully handwritten music sheets on the right. "The CD is Sugungga," he says. "Since it's finished."

"Baekhyunnie…"

"I told you you'd get the rest of it for your birthday or Christmas. This is close enough to be in-between, right?"

"It is," says Joonmyun, pulling the music sheets out. Baekhyun's music is sloppier than Joonmyun's, but his lines are bolder, like he's more sure that he's putting the notes exactly where he wants them, the lead leaving impressions in the paper that Joonmyun can feel when he brushes his thumb across the page. "And this?"

"It's our song," Baekhyun says. "All the parts you wrote… Those parts were all suited to my voice." Baekhyun leans his head on Joonmyun's shoulder. "But that second part, that you were struggling with…" Baekhyun pushes the first sheet aside, "those parts are for yours."

It makes sense. The song makes sense, the way Baekhyun has put it together, and Joonmyun doesn't know why he didn't see it before. "Should we sing it together, then?" Joonmyun asks.

"That is exactly what we should do," Baekhyun says, standing up and pulling Joonmyun toward his keyboard. "What are you waiting for?"



The first day of August, it rains. "It's too early in the year for torrential rain," Baekhyun says. "I should have three more weeks of perfect weather."

"Perfect?" Joonmyun laughs. "I thought it was too hot, Baekhyun."

"Hot is better than wet," Baekhyun replies. "Unless, of course, we're both naked and in the shower, in which case both hot and wet are very good."

Joonmyun kisses Baekhyun's cheek. "Are you still going over to Chanyeol's tonight? I'm thinking about having dinner with Kris."

"You should," Baekhyun says. "Chanyeol wants to tackle a new pansori. ‘Chunhyangga'."

"Sounds fun," Joonmyun says.

"You just like it when I sing pansori," Baekhyun says. "You'd better come and see it when we're finished. Maybe September?"

"I like it when you sing anything," Joonmyun replies. "Of course I'll come see it. What else would I do?" A smile. "Are you going home first, before you go to Chanyeol's?"

"Yeah," Baekhyun says. "It's a Superman kind of evening, I think." He's wearing another one of Joonmyun's shirts right now. Joonmyun thinks Baekhyun looks cute in his clothes. Baekhyun looks cute in anything. "I'll see you tomorrow maybe?"

"Sounds good," Joonmyun says, and Baekhyun winks at him before he leaves.

He picks up his phone to call Kris, but before he can scroll through his contacts, his phone starts to quack in his hands. He answers it automatically.

"Hello?"

"Joonmyun?" asks his mother, and Joonmyun nearly drops the phone.

"Yes?" His voice is not steady. His mother never calls him. She shouldn't be calling him now. "Did you mean… to call me?"

"I wasn't sure if you would answer," his mother says, hesitant. "Do you have time to meet with me?"

"You want… to meet with me?" Joonmyun's chest hurts. He wants to say ‘no'. To end this call and hide under his covers until tomorrow. "Why?"

"Do you have time, or not?"

"Where?"

"Do you remember the bakery your brother liked, when you guys were kids? The one with the red-bean muffins."

"I remember," Joonmyun says. "You know I remember." My Joonmyun did the best in his class on the high school entrance exams. His teachers say he has an excellent memory.

"Then there," she says. "In an hour."

She's already there when he arrives, ten minutes early. She's wearing a pretty silk dress in pale green, and cream high heels. She's perfectly put together, but clutching her handbag like she's nervous. Joonmyun is nervous.

"Can I get you a cup of coffee?" he asks, and she nods at him to cover her jump.

He goes up to the counter and gets two cups of black, and one of the muffins for them to share.

He sets the tray between them, and she looks up at him.

"Your grandmother told me to talk to you."

"You don't have to," Joonmyun says. He's holding the mug too tight. It's burning his hands, but he doesn't know what he'll do with them otherwise. "I won't force you to do anything."

"You've already forced me," she says. "Thirty years old and pulling the rug out from under me all over again."

"It's not about you," Joonmyun says. "It's about me."

"You were such a happy child," his mother says. "I don't understand what I did wrong."

"It's not what you did wrong," Joonmyun says. "It's who I am. I made sure you didn't know how tired I was. I didn't want to disappoint you."

"I am disappointed, though. You're so smart and handsome, and you always excelled at school."

"But I love music," Joonmyun says. "Not business. I like nightclubs and fast, loud music, and people who sing in the park." She flinches.

He drinks, and she stares at him before echoing the motion. "I knew you liked your music classes best. I could tell. It was fine, because your grandfather liked music too, but he'd started his own business, so it couldn't be a bad hobby, I thought."

"I love it," Joonmyun says. "It's not a hobby. It's my career." He smiles at her. "And I'm really good at it."

"I know," she says. "But Joonmyun, I could deal with your job. But the boy…"

"His name is Baekhyun," Joonmyun says. "And he's a grown man."

She's surprised at his vehemence, and she recoils some, and then she exhales heavily.

"You didn't grow up to be the man I'd dreamed you would be," his mother says.

"I'm sorry," Joonmyun says. "I really am."

"But in the end…" she breaks off a piece of the muffin, but she doesn't eat it. She just sets it back down on the plate. "In the end, you're still my son."

She looks small and lost in front of him, expensive pearl earring glinting as she turns to look out the window. It's still raining. "What are you saying?"

"I wanted so much for you," she says. "I don't know why it never occurred to me that you might want things for yourself."

"I tried so hard not to," Joonmyun says, "but I was so miserable. I didn't even know how miserable until I wasn't anymore."

"I'm not going to lie to you, Joonmyun. I am not your grandmother, or your brother. It's not going to be easy for me, to accept your… lifestyle."

"It's not a lifestyle," Joonmyun says. "Being in love with a man isn't like turning to a life of crime."

She looks down at her hands. She's pulling on the sleeves of her jacket, just like Joonmyun does. "I'll see you at your brother's wedding," she says, before standing up and grabbing her purse and the big pink umbrella she's had since Joonmyun was ten. "Him, too, I suppose?"

"Baekhyun too," Joonmyun says.

"Okay," she says. "I don't have anything else to say." She leaves Joonmyun alone at the table, and Joonmyun watches her go.

He clears away the tray methodically, pouring the coffee out and stacking the mugs, throwing the uneaten muffin in the trash. Then he walks out of the bakery and into the street, not bothering to open his umbrella. The rain is warm, and it soaks through his thin shirt in moments.

He doesn't mean to call Baekhyun. He can hear Chanyeol laughing when Baekhyun answers the phone.

"What's up, old man?" Baekhyun asks, and Joonmyun smiles, the knot inside him loosening some at just the sound of Baekhyun's voice.

"I just had coffee with my mom," he says.

"Hmm," Baekhyun says. "Maybe meet you at my place in twenty?"

He can hear Chanyeol's groan of protest, and Baekhyun shouts at him to shut up without covering the mouthpiece of the phone.

"No," Joonmyun says, when he has Baekhyun's attention again. "It's okay. I just wanted to hear your voice."

"Hyung, I can…"

"No, I mean it," Joonmyun says. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay," Baekhyun says. "You better not be sick. I don't take care of sick people."

"Yes, brat," Joonmyun says. "I'll go home now. I'm going to get a drink with Kris."

In clean, dry clothes, Joonmyun meets Kris at a wine bar.

"I don't think I could have imagined things being this mixed up a year ago," he says to him, as they sip a bottle of some dessert wine Kris had chosen without even really looking at the menu.

"Me neither," Kris says. "Do you have any regrets?" He smiles at Joonmyun.

He thinks about his mother's face, as she looks at him flush with rage from across the table. It's replaced the disappointment from nine years ago as the image that haunts him. He thinks about Baekhyun's face in the café, tears on the verge of falling into a cup of hot chocolate. He thinks about Sunyoung holding a wrapped teddy bear from FAO Schwarz, hair falling into her face as he says goodbye.

"I do," Joonmyun says. "I have a lot of regrets." He takes a long sip of his wine. "But if I had the chance to do this year over again, I would do everything exactly the same." The wine is sweet on his tongue. "Because where I am now… this is better than I ever imagined things could be."

"Why, Joonmyun," Kris says, clinking their glasses together, "that sounds almost like you're becoming an optimist."

He laughs. Everything will be all right. "Maybe I am."



Weddings, in Joonmyun's opinion, are new beginnings.

The ceremony is beautiful, and his brother looks so happy. Joonmyun would have hated to miss this.

Joonmyun sits between his grandmother and Baekhyun at the reception, and when his brother makes a toast, to his family and his new bride and her family, too, Joonmyun raises his glass and smiles at him, broad and sincere. He grabs Baekhyun's hand under the table, desperately tight, and holds on.

He catches his mother staring at their hands, a few minutes later, and she startles when she sees that he's noticed. She smiles at him, wan but sure, and Joonmyun licks his lips and smiles back.

New beginnings for more than just his brother, maybe.

"Baekhyunnie," Joonmyun whispers, as they lie in bed that night, "I'm not going anywhere."

"I know," Baekhyun says, and Joonmyun can hear his smile in the dark. "Me neither."



"It's fine," Baekhyun says. "Really. I do this every other week." He laughs. "The first time is always the scariest."

"I don't think I can do this," Joonmyun says. "I'm not…"

"You can," Baekhyun says. "You absolutely can. Do you know why?"

"Why?" The crowd at DGBD is loud. Louder than Joonmyun's thoughts. He thinks he can hear Lu Han and Yixing's raucous cheering above the rest of the crowd, and he imagines Kris looking distinctly uncomfortable next to them. It helps some.

This was a horrible idea. Baekhyun had talked him into it, and Joonmyun, somehow, had agreed, thinking maybe he should tackle one last fear, but now, in the moment, it's terrifying.

"'Cause you're doing it with me," Baekhyun replies. There's BB cream over the zit he'd discovered this morning along the line of his jaw, and he's wearing the blue-gray eye-shadow that makes his eyelids shimmer in the dim lights. "We wrote this song together. It's our duet."

He holds out his hand, and Joonmyun takes it. "Right," Joonmyun says. "Our duet."

Joonmyun takes his place behind the keyboard, adjusting his mic. And when he starts to play, Baekhyun singing the first note of a song Joonmyun had written thinking of Baekhyun and Baekhyun had written thinking of Joonmyun, he takes one last look at the cage that had been his life, and leaves it behind.











hidden track:

"I want to eat everything," Baekhyun says, pulling at the cashmere scarf Joonmyun had insisted he wear this morning as they left their hotel. Baekhyun had put up a protest, but a few kisses had changed his mind, Joonmyun slipping his tongue into Baekhyun's mouth as he'd looped the scarf around his neck.

Joonmyun laughs. "That seems ambitious," he says, looking at all the stalls around them. "But if anyone can do it, Baekhyunnie, it's you."

They're pushed together as a large cluster of high school girls brush by them, already in autumn uniforms, laughing and joking as they eat meat from a stick. Baekhyun takes advantage of the closeness to grab Joonmyun's hand, lacing their fingers together and holding on. "I have to try," Baekhyun says, lips still purple from gum discarded hours ago, and Joonmyun squeezes Baekhyun's hand once before he has to let go. "Who knows the next time we'll be in Beijing?"

Tomorrow, Joonmyun thinks, they'll go see the opera. But tonight, he'll just enjoy the blush from the wind in Baekhyun's cheeks, and the sticky sound of Baekhyun's laughter.