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The scotch swirls in the glass, the clink of the ice cubes against the glass a harmonious companion to the piano piece playing over the bar. After a long day of meetings and tiresome business calls, Kyungsoo has come down to the hotel bar to wind down, and a nice ambience, a jazz repertoire, and two fingers of scotch are exactly what a quiet guy like him needs.

 

What a quiet guy like him doesn’t need, though, is unwanted attention. His second glass was bought by a woman at the end of the bar, who has been eyeing him all night. Kyungsoo didn’t refuse, instead he had sent an awkward smile her way, that she had answered with a glossy smile and a not-so-subtle once over.

 

He’s almost relieved when the stool next to his is taken.

 

“Hello,” the newcomer greets. “Mind if I keep you company?”

 

The first thing that strikes Kyungsoo is that the guy is beautiful. Dark eyes watch him under shaggy hair, dyed a light color. There’s kohl on his waterline, a smoky eyeshadow on his lids that scatters glitter over the corners, and lends him an ethereal aura.

 

He smiles under Kyungsoo’s appraisal.

 

“You already sat down,” Kyungsoo notes flatly, belied by a half-smile. He tingles with satisfaction when the stranger chuckles after telling the bartender his order. “Let me pay for your drink.”

 

“Well, this is a development.” The man leans closer, throws a leg over the other. The denim strains over plump thighs and Kyungsoo tries hard not to stare. “Last time you made me buy you drink after drink, even though your paycheck had a couple more zeros than mine.”

 

Kyungsoo chuckles. “I’m offering to buy you a drink right now, aren’t I?”

 

There’s a sheen of gloss over the man’s mouth. Kyungsoo toys with his glass, focusing on the amber liquid to avoid following the path of the tongue moistening the other’s lips.

 

“Let’s see what you got, then.” He leans in until Kyungsoo feels hot air on his ear, and rests a hand over Kyungsoo’s knee. “I’d rather drink the scotch from your mouth, though.”

 

He rubs up Kyungsoo’s thigh, dangerously close to his crotch. The man’s smirk grows. The smoldering look in his eyes singes Kyungsoo’s skin under his clothes, an abnormal rise in his temperature that has him feeling too hot in the bar.

 

He lets it happen.

 

He knows he’s taking this stranger home tonight.

 

In the elevator ride to his room, hands wander and mouths slot together. His tongue is swirling tantalizingly in Kyungsoo’s mouth like a fine wine, leaving Kyungsoo drunk on the exhilaration of being touched and kissed by this gorgeous man. He tastes like smoke and the citrus in his drink, cloying Kyungsoo’s senses with his searing touches. The man learns quickly what makes Kyungsoo crumble; he bites the juncture between his neck and shoulder, cupping Kyungsoo’s erection with enough force to elicit a groan out of Kyungsoo.

 

They leave a trail of clothes in their wake as they stumble into the room. Kyungsoo’s pushed to the bed, but any protest dies the instant another body is on him, finding his mouth and grinding into him wantonly.

 

The guy rides him fast, hands curled over Kyungsoo’s chest. The yelp he lets out when Kyungsoo flips them is satisfactory, but more so is the loud whimper that tumbles out of him after Kyungsoo pushes back in. Legs wrap snugly around Kyungsoo without missing a beat, and Kyungsoo caresses the guy’s thighs with reverence as a tongue traces the shell of Kyungsoo’s ear.

 

With a shout, the man comes over his abdomen, back arching gracefully off the bed. Kyungsoo latches on a swollen nipple, tasting saltiness on the damp skin, but he’s sweetest treat he’s ever had. His companion writhes with oversensitivity, but his wanton moans get louder as the snap of Kyungsoo’s hips grows erratic.

 

On purpose, the man clenches around him. It sends Kyungsoo over the edge with a name on his tongue.

 

Baekhyun.

 

Kyungsoo rolls to the side, and Baekhyun laughs, out of breath.

 

“Well, hello there,” he pants. “Nice to meet you, stranger.”

 

“Shut up.” Kyungsoo shoves him playfully. “You suggested this stupid game of pretending we don’t know each other.”

 

Baekhyun’s laugh rings clear in the room. “You enjoyed it, didn’t you?”

 

“It was okay,” Kyungsoo cavaliers, facing away to hide a smile.

 

Baekhyun perches a leg over Kyungsoo to straddle him. “Ready for round two, old man?”

 

Kyungsoo slaps his thigh, then caresses the supple flesh. “I’ll make you regret that, brat.”

 

Baekhyun’s smile is wicked. “I can’t wait.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

First stop: Beijing

 

 

They meet at the bottom of the staircase to the Hall of Prayer at Temple of Heaven, three months earlier. Kyungsoo is in the city for business; he met with clients in the first couple of days after arrival, but the rest of the trip is dedicated to exploring.

 

The midsummer weather is muggy and stuffy. Kyungsoo’s shirt is glued to his back due to perspiration, and he’s sure there would be ugly sweat rings under his armpits if the shirt wasn’t black. It’s a little embarrassing, because, among the crowd of tourists, there is a guy a few feet away with a gigantic camera, and Kyungsoo has taken immediate notice to how pretty he is. He’s all slim legs in skinny jeans and broad shoulders under a white tee, moving with a gracefulness that doesn’t suit the dense heat.

 

Kyungsoo glances away before the stranger catches him staring. Raking a hand through his hair, he lifts his phone to take pictures of the temple. He’s perusing through the phone gallery when he hears the distinct click of a snapshot, and whips around to find the camera lense directed at him.

 

The man emerges behind the device with an enigmatic smile, undeterred by Kyungsoo’s glare. He has pretty eyes, too.

 

“Hey, I didn’t ask you to get my picture taken,” Kyungsoo says, tripping over the unfamiliar consonants and vowels of mandarin. “The temple is over there.”

 

“You looked far more interesting.”

 

The response comes in the clipped tones of Korean. The knowing smile on the stranger’s face stretches wider as Kyungsoo gawks at him.

 

“How did you know I was Korean?”

 

The stranger shrugs. “I took a wild guess.” It doesn’t convince Kyungsoo, though, and the man bursts into a giggle. “I heard you talking on the phone at the entrance to the park.”

 

He had called his friend Minseok, just to let him know the meetings had gone well.  He’d ended the call after Minseok had begun his perfunctory lecture about using your free time to unwind and don’t be a loser, talk to some eye candy at the hotel bar.

 

The man slings the camera over his shoulder and offers a hand to Kyungsoo. “Baekhyun.”

 

“Do Kyungsoo.”

 

He instantly winces at the use of his whole name—a habit forged by work—and the formality of his tone, but Baekhyun takes it in stride. Kyungsoo notes the contrast between the firm handshake and the daintiness of his hand.

 

Kyungsoo realizes then that he’d been staring. His cheeks burn as he looks away.

 

“Nice to meet you, Do Kyungsoo.” Baekhyun’s smile is amiable after he drops his hand. “How do you feel about ice cream?”

 

The offer is strange, but Kyungsoo finds out in no time that everything about Baekhyun is quite particular.

 

Baekhyun takes him to an ice cream parlor he likes because it reminds him of home. Kyungsoo chooses mint with chocolate chips, and Baekhyun ignores his own bubblegum-flavoured ice cream to steal some from Kyungsoo’s cup.

 

Kyungsoo pays him no mind; he’s more preoccupied with the intriguing stranger sitting across from him.

 

 “So, what brings you to Beijing, Do Kyungsoo?” Baekhyun asks, licking his spoon.

 

He’s peering at Kyungsoo closely. The attention isn’t unwelcome, but there’s something about Baekhyun that makes it hard to hold his gaze for too long.

 

“Business,” he answers. “I’m a management consultant, so I often travel to other cities for companies that need my specialty.” Baekhyun emits an ooh under his breath, and Kyungsoo hurries to add, “It’s not as exciting as it sounds.”

 

The meetings are boring, but the travelling still excites Kyungsoo, even though he’s not that wide-eyed kid fresh out of grad school anymore. He’s good at his job, and his clients continuously tell him as much, so he doesn’t understand why he’d been recently passed for a promotion, in favour of someone less competent and experienced.

 

After Joohyun had left him last year, he thought—he hoped—things would start to look a little brighter, but he guesses this isn’t his year as well.

 

“I guess trying to please old fucks must be as exciting as watching paint dry,” Baekhyun says. “But you still get to look around and enjoy the city, right?”

 

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo acquiesces, scratching his forearm. He smiles sheepishly under Baekhyun’s chuckle. “It’s nice, but I miss home sometimes if I have to stay too long in one place for a project.”

 

Baekhyun gnaws on his bottom lip, nails tapping on the plastic cup. “I haven’t been home for a while now.”

 

Kyungsoo dabs on the ice cream dripping over his cup with a napkin. “What do you do?”

 

“I’m a travel photographer,” Baekhyun replies, stealing another spoonful from Kyungsoo’s cup. “And food blogger on the side, but that’s just an indulgence of mine.”

 

Baekhyun’s laugh is boisterous and sticky, like the Beijing streets in summertime. Kyungsoo decides he likes it.

 

“I started with a small blog when I was a freshman in college, but it did so well, I packed my bags and started to take pictures of places that people wanted to see.” Baekhyun licks the melted ice cream around his cup. “This year alone I’ve been to so many places. Last week I was in Bangkok, and now I’m here.”

 

“You really enjoy it,” Kyungsoo notes.

 

The smile he receives in place of an answer intrigues Kyungsoo even more.

 

After the ice cream, they spend the rest of the day together. It’s because they’re both foreigners lost in this maze of a city, Baekhyun says, and they need to stick together. Kyungsoo has always found comfort in the quietness of solitude, but Baekhyun’s company adds some color to the city and its gritty, hot streets. His laughter rings high over the sizzling of grills and the voices of pedestrians, but Kyungsoo finds that he doesn’t mind the noise.

 

They end up in a club in the Chaoyang district in the evening. The crowd is composed by foreigners mingling with locals, and even though they’re not exactly teenagers, Kyungsoo feels older by comparison. He hasn’t been clubbing since college, when Jongdae would lure him out with a cat-smile and the promise of buzz. Kyungsoo’s more of a quiet nature, and the rapid gunfire of the dance music suited Jongdae more, and it fits Baekhyun like a ring on a finger.

 

After a few shots at the bar, Baekhyun leads Kyungsoo to the dancefloor, a mass of bodies moving to the electro remix of a Top 40’s song. It’s a tight squeeze, so Baekhyun presses his back close to Kyungsoo’s chest, ass grinding provocatively against his crotch to the frantic beat of the music.

 

It’s too hot in the club. A haze envelops them like fog, and the proximity of skin of skin rises the heat to extreme levels. Fire runs in Kyungsoo’s veins as his hands roam over Baekhyun’s thighs and hips, lapping at his insides when Baekhyun sucks on Kyungsoo’s earlobe, moving down to lick a stripe over his neck. Kyungsoo shivers with want, his grip on Baekhyun impossibly tight as he mouths over Baekhyun’s neck, but even that is not enough.

 

Baekhyun whips around to throw his arms over Kyungsoo’s neck, breath ghosting over his mouth. “Hello, stranger.”

 

Baekhyun’s lips are chapped when Kyungsoo kisses him. With a hand in Baekhyun’s hair, he slants his mouth to deepen the kiss, and the moan Baekhyun merges into the kiss sends a spark of electricity right through him.

 

At the end of the night, they wind up in Kyungsoo’s hotel room, his pants mid-thigh and Baekhyun fully naked above him. He rides Kyungsoo hard, vein protruding in his neck as he whines, and a sheen of sweat covering his entire body, Kyungsoo’s hands slick where he traces the curves of his waist and ass with awe.

 

Baekhyun comes with his head thrown back, mouth slack for a groan that pierces the air. Within the drunken stupor, Kyungsoo thinks it’s the most stunning sight he’s ever seen.

 

In the morning, Kyungsoo remembers the previous night with the hazy clarity of a dream. That is, until he finds a phone number and the name Baekhyun scribbled on his arm.

 

He saves it to his phone, but it’s only after he’s in Seoul two months later that he dares to call the number.

 

“Hey, it’s Kyungsoo,” he says. “I’m going to be in Hong Kong in two weeks, and I was wondering if you’d be in the area.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Second stop: Hong Kong

 

 

A steaming cup of coffee awaits with pastries and toast over a white tablecloth.

 

“I figured you liked coffee,” Baekhyun explains. “So I ordered some for you.”

 

Kyungsoo ties the robe around his middle and flicks away wet hair. “Thanks, I’m starving.”

 

Baekhyun sits by the foot of the bed, munching on a slice of toast, a laptop open in front of him. Kyungsoo takes the cup of coffee and sits next to him. He assumed Baekhyun would sneak out during his shower, but he’s still here, eating breakfast unhurriedly.

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t mind that much. Baekhyun had been good company back in Beijing—if not a little noisy and talkative—but Kyungsoo had found himself paying more attention to all of Baekhyun’s mindless facts about the city than the attractions themselves. What interested him most were the vague details about his life, handed carelessly and sparsely, as if Baekhyun hadn’t realized he’d veered into that topic until his brain caught up with his mouth.

 

Baekhyun exudes excitement and energy, wrapped up with an intriguing and alluring little bow. It makes Kyungsoo wonder why this near-stranger wants to stick around a quiet, boring guy like himself.

 

The pictures displayed on the laptop’s screen catch his eye. “Is that your blog?”

 

“Yup,” Baekhyun answers, scrolling down the page. “That’s me.”

 

There are pictures of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and random alleyways in Beijing. Kyungsoo is momentarily mesmerized by the precision in which they were taken, the understated beauty of the scenery accentuated by the play of lighting and colors. He didn’t imagine Baekhyun was this skilled.

 

“Your pictures are beautiful,” Kyungsoo says. “You’re very talented.”

 

In a split second, a smile stretches from ear to ear on Baekhyun’s face, chest puffing up with pride. “Thank you. I know.”

 

Kyungsoo swats at Baekhyun’s arm when he cackles, even though the reaction to his compliment had unfurled a funny feeling inside him. He’s very cute, it seems to say.

 

On the exterior, he grumbles, “You’re a brat.” He puts the cup back in the tray and begins buttering a toast. “An annoying brat.”

 

“But you still like me, don’t you?” Baekhyun throws back, cheeky grin showing all of his teeth.

 

Kyungsoo allows one end of his mouth to quirk. “We’ll see about that.”

 

“What do you want to do today?” Baekhyun’s lips are glossy with melted butter, and crumbs gather on the corners. A tongue darts out to wipe them but misses. “I wanted to take some shots at Victoria Peak, if you wanted to join me.”

 

Kyungsoo hadn’t planned anything for this trip in advance; he figured he could get a tourist brochure from reception if he decided to venture into the city. But spending the day with Baekhyun, who can double easily for a tourist guide, sounds far more tempting.

 

His agreement comes with a gentle bite to Baekhyun’s neck. “If you don’t get us lost, I’m game.”

 

Baekhyun giggles, and leans in to steal a kiss, but Kyungsoo stops him to wipe the crumbs on his mouth. Baekhyun’s eyes roll exaggeratedly, and Kyungsoo chuckles, right before he kisses him.

 

Mischief threatens at the corners of Baekhyun’s lips. “Only if you fuck me before we go.”

 

The robe falls off his shoulder, exposing a long strip of smooth, fair skin over his chest and stomach. Teeth scrape over a bubblegum lip, smile sharp as a razor and eyes alluringly dark. Kyungsoo is sure he hasn’t seen a more devastating sight in his thirty years of life.

 

Baekhyun’s sigh of pleasure is sweet next to his ear when Kyungsoo thrusts steadily into him. Baekhyun nudges his cheek so Kyungsoo opens his mouth for him, lets their tongues chase each other with abandon, wet and warm. He still tastes like strawberries and cream from the pastries, sweet and intoxicating as the rest of him.

 

“Make me come untouched,” Baekhyun pants, “and I’ll buy you lunch.”

 

To get his point across, Baekhyun bites his lower lip hard enough to bleed. Kyungsoo gasps, the even rhythm of his hips stuttering.

 

“What makes you think I’ll do what you tell me?” he asks through gritted teeth. “Brat.”

 

Baekhyun smiles brighter. “Because I’m pretty good at—” He gasps at a deliberately hard thrust. He slaps Kyungsoo’s shoulder, who laughs raspily. “I’m pretty good at this and you can’t resist me.”

 

Kyungsoo hooks his elbows under Baekhyun’s knees and hefts them up over his shoulders, leaning over him so Baekhyun is nearly doubled in half. Baekhyun releases a sharp cry as Kyungsoo picks up his pace, nails dragging down Kyungsoo’s back. Baekhyun settles his palms on each of Kyungsoo’s buttcheeks to push him even deeper inside, whispering filthy encouragements that would turn Kyungsoo into a flustered mess in a different situation. The pounding of Kyungsoo’s heartbeat is lost within the sounds of flesh on flesh, the bedframe hitting the wall without rest, and Baekhyun’s loud whimpers as he draws closer to his climax. Kyungsoo spares a vague thought for whoever occupies the room next door.

 

Baekhyun finishes first, long white stripes coating his abdomen, muscles spasming from his orgasm. In the heat of the moment, Kyungsoo pulls out and takes off the condom, strokes himself until he’s spilling over Baekhyun’s stomach. It’s not something he’s ever done before, but Baekhyun’s moans at every drop incites him further, until Kyungsoo flops, sated and spent, at his side.

 

“That was so hot,” Baekhyun drawls. “But now I feel kind of disgusting.”

 

“You’re disgusting,” Kyungsoo says, childishly. His mind is too foggy to bother coming up with a witty comeback. “And I won that bet.”

 

“You cheated,” Baekhyun counters. “Who would’ve known you had those moves on you? I think I underestimated you, old man.”

 

Kyungsoo lands a half-hearted kick to Baekhyun’s shin. “Don’t call me old man. I’m thirty.”

 

“And I’m twenty-four.” Baekhyun’s smile is devilish. “So you are older.”

 

Kyungsoo hopes that his silence isn’t a dead giveaway to the mild crisis happening inside him. Baekhyun is younger than Kyungsoo presumed at first—twenty-six, twenty-five at most—but six years is not such a big difference that would justify his alarm. Still, he can’t help but think of the men he works for, the CEOs with dates half their ages, and Minseok’s remarks about how disgustingly cliché it is.

 

Minseok would likely punch his shoulder and then ruffle his hair, say something along the lines of are you going through your middle-age crisis. But Kyungsoo wonders if the fact that Baekhyun is a man would entail a completely different reaction.

 

“Wanna shower before we leave?”

 

Baekhyun makes for a delightful diversion from his reverie by sauntering to the bathroom in all his naked glory. Kyungsoo takes a moment to admire Baekhyun’s perky ass, the deliberate swing of his hips, and decides that is all Baekhyun is going to be: a diversion. He’ll go back to Seoul in a few days and leave all this behind him.

 

“Wait for me, brat,” he calls, hurrying after Baekhyun.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

The Peak is a wok-shaped tower, famous for its viewing platform at the top. They walk the circle trail to the tower under the noon sun, a balmy breeze caressing their faces, taking pics of the view in the break between trees.

 

The sky terrace is packed with tourists and selfie sticks, and Baekhyun has to shove past a middle-aged couple to get some shots of the scenery. Since it is early fall, fog looms over the skyline and the harbour, but it doesn’t subtract from the stunning sight. Despite the people bumping into him, he gets a good view of Lamma Island, the buildings littering the city, and the surrounding forests that cover the mountains standing guard in the distance.

 

Camera in hand, Baekhyun takes picture after picture. A quiet intensity clouds over his features whenever he’s searching for the best angle or light for a shot, and Kyungsoo mustn’t be in his right mind, because he finds it oddly arousing.

 

“Do you want to try your hand with Eunhee?” Baekhyun asks.

 

Kyungsoo’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “With whom?”

 

“My camera.” Baekhyun lifts the device pointedly. “That’s her name.”

 

“Do you have names for your cameras?” Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, but a chuckle belies the gesture. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

Baekhyun is already slinging his camera off his neck and handing it to Kyungsoo. “Here, try it.” He smiles lopsidedly. “Treat it with care, though, or you’re sleeping on the floor tonight.”

 

Kyungsoo scowls, but it only earns him a cheeky grin as he receives the camera. “It’s my room,” he says. “If anyone’s sleeping on the floor it’s you.”

 

“Ah yeah, about that.” Baekhyun scratches his ear abashedly. “Can I stay with you for a few days? I didn’t check into a place beforehand and—”

 

“Yes, you can,” Kyungsoo cuts in. Baekhyun blinks at him dazedly. “You don’t need to explain.” He glances away to avoid the grin that strains Baekhyun’s cheeks. “Alright.” He rises the camera to his face. “How do I do this?”

 

Baekhyun guides his hands over the camera, but Kyungsoo can’t focus on anything other than the heat of Baekhyun’s body against his back, and a faint scent—kiwi or strawberry?—that Kyungsoo assumes is his shampoo.

 

“You have to adjust the white balance here,” Baekhyun explains, but Kyungsoo isn’t paying much attention, not with how his breath brushes his cheek and his hair tickles his temple. “And you’re all set.”

 

Baekhyun moves away, and Kyungsoo suppresses a shiver at the sudden loss of heat. The picture he takes comes out perfect, and the warmth Kyungsoo had just lost returns to his face under Baekhyun’s resulting smile.

 

They have lunch in a restaurant that, according to Baekhyun, serves the best hotpot in Hong Kong.

 

“I have to come here every time I’m in Hong Kong.” Baekhyun grabs a piece of meat with his chopsticks and nibbles on it. “It reminds me of my grandma’s food.”

 

“You miss home a lot,” Kyungsoo observes, without thinking, into the rim of his glass. “You always eat food that reminds you of home.”

 

Baekhyun falls silent, face shuttering, and Kyungsoo regrets his words. Then, Baekhyun’s smile resurfaces, but it’s buried beneath layers of guarded posture.

 

“There’s nothing to miss back at home, really.” Baekhyun swirls the contents of the pot with his chopsticks, to avoid looking into Kyungsoo’s eyes. The dismissiveness curled in his tone doesn’t fool him, either. “My parents died when I was four and my grandmother passed away a few years ago.”

 

Kyungsoo’s stomach twists with sympathy. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” he backtracks. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

Baekhyun waves a hand, chuckling. “No, it’s okay! I have Baekbeom, my brother, but he’s a hotshot lawyer and married with a beautiful daughter. He doesn’t have much time for me. Or anything besides his job, really.”

 

Baekhyun laughs, but it’s stilted and jarring. Kyungsoo thinks about how fearless Baekhyun must be to plunge into a new adventure in an unfamiliar country, where he can pick up strangers like stray puppies to keep him company. It makes Kyungsoo wonder if one of the reasons Baekhyun travels is to escape the loneliness that awaits him back home. 

 

Or perhaps it’s just that Baekhyun loves traveling, and Kyungsoo should stop projecting his own single-life woes—as Minseok likes to tease—on other people.

 

“I have a brother, too,” Kyungsoo says, attempting to veer the subject in another direction. “Seungsoo. He’s so kind, but…” But Kyungsoo hadn’t seen him since last Chuseok, when he’d broken the news to the family about him and Joohyun. The songpyeon his mother so carefully prepared had tasted like ash in his mouth. “He worries too much about me.”

 

“That’s what older brothers do, I guess.” Baekhyun’s fingernails clink along the glass, almost in the same rhythm as his leg bouncing under the table. “But I wouldn’t know because I always forget to write to Baekbeom, to be honest. I’ve been too busy travelling and there’s rarely any good wifi where I go.”

 

There is that laugh again, clanging with a hollowness that strikes a chord in Kyungsoo. It’s a shadow of Baekhyun’s laugh, so hearty and ebullient. Kyungsoo makes a mental note not to bring up the topic again, if only to avoid the way Baekhyun’s smile had dimmed a few watts, an edge of something lurking behind the fabricated nonchalance.

 

“What about you, old man?” Baekhyun prompts, more casual than the question would suggest. “Is there somebody waiting for you back home?”

 

Kyungsoo thinks about Joohyun, and the ring he left on the nightstand the previous night. He catches Baekhyun’s gaze skipping to Kyungsoo’s forefinger trapped by his thumb and three fingers from his left hand. It’s an unconscious habit of his that he’s found hard to drop, even after he stopped wearing the ring months ago.

 

“No, there hasn’t been for a while,” he answers, quietly. “I’m single at the moment.”

 

With a shake of his head, Baekhyun’s hair falls across his forehead, honey brown and silky soft. He looks so much like a puppy, Kyungsoo almost wants to pet him. “So I’m not your mistress on the side?” Baekhyun’s lips are curled with teasing. “I gotta admit, the idea made it more exciting.”

 

Kyungsoo reaches to swat at Baekhyun’s arm, who cackles in response. “You’re terrible,” Kyungsoo reproaches him. “I would never cheat.”

 

“Such a gentleman.” Baekhyun’s chin is cupped in his hand, voice dropping a few octaves. “There aren’t many like you around.”

 

Heat pools in Kyungsoo’s cheeks under the weight of Baekhyun’s gaze. He’s thirty, this obvious flirting shouldn’t get to him at his age—he’s sure he would never hear the end of it if he told Minseok—and yet here he is, falling prey to this boy’s charm like a mouse caught between a cat’s paws.

 

They take the ferry to Kowloon just after sundown to catch the Symphony of Lights—a nightly light show across Hong Kong’s skyline, which Baekhyun said they can’t miss. It’s a cheap tourist trap, Kyungsoo soon finds out, because the spectacle of laser beams and lights shimmering on the harbour, synchronized to cheesy music, doesn’t captivate him at all.  

 

It’s not until Baekhyun mumbles, “Well, this isn’t what I expected,” that Kyungsoo bursts into laughter.

 

“At least we didn’t have to pay for it,” Kyungsoo says, as comfort. “I would be asking for my money back right about now.”

 

“We have to pay for the ferry ride.” Baekhyun heaves a dejected sigh, hefting his camera to keep filming. “And I have to film this for my vlog, anyway.”

 

It’s a strange feeling that drives him to fit a palm on Baekhyun’s lower back, and reassure him, “We can buy food to take back to the hotel or ask for room service.”

 

Baekhyun smiles, bright as the display of colors across the harbour. “Oh, I feel like having dumplings!” One eyebrow is arched slightly, smile turning crooked. “But I also know another way to lift my spirits.” 

 

“You’re incorrigible,” Kyungsoo chastises him, but he drags a hand over the swell of Baekhyun’s butt, and accepts Baekhyun’s satisfied smirk as a promise.

 

Two hours later, Kyungsoo finds himself behind Baekhyun while he’s on all fours. Baekhyun lets out the filthiest sounds, rocking back to meet each one of Kyungsoo’s thrusts.

 

“Fuck—harder!”

 

Baekhyun is the bossiest, most impatient person Kyungsoo has ever met, so he slows down on purpose, grinding filthily into him. “Harder? Like this?”

 

“God, I hate you, old man,” Baekhyun whines. “C’mon, give me—”

 

He starts to push back desperately, but Kyungsoo holds him back. He takes his time to trace Baekhyun’s hourglass shape; the roundness of his hips, his small waist, the smooth expanse of his spine, the plumpness of his thighs. Baekhyun is gorgeous with his clothes on, but naked he makes for a mesmerizing sight. Kyungsoo could spend hours tracing every line and curve that constitutes his body.

 

Baekhyun groans, rolling his hips back, and Kyungsoo reprimands him with a light smack to his ass. It causes a domino effect: Baekhyun’s back arches, a drawn-out mewl escaping from deep within him that pulls at Kyungsoo’s stomach like a hook.

 

“You like that?” He does it again, with a little more force. Baekhyun falters, moaning just as high, arms quivering under him. “Seriously? Spanking?”

 

“Kyungsoo, please,” Baekhyun begs without shame, “please, faster.”

 

“Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”

 

“Please fuck me so hard I can’t fucking move!”

 

With a shuddering breath, Kyungsoo picks up his pace, driving into Baekhyun mercilessly. Baekhyun’s arms do give in this time, but Kyungsoo follows, falling on Baekhyun’s back without losing his tempo. Baekhyun howls into the pillow as he climaxes, scrambling for purchase on the sheets. Kyungsoo comes with one final thrust, digging his teeth into Baekhyun’s shoulder to muffle his grunt.

 

“That was… so good, fuck.” A small giggle erupts from Baekhyun. “You really fucking wrecked me, there.”

 

The raspy, blissed cadence in Baekhyun’s voice, and the satisfied smile on his profile fills him with an odd sort of warmth, and before he knows it, he’s pressing his lips to the ridges of Baekhyun’s spine. A set of alarms start ringing in his head when Baekhyun goes rigid underneath him, and Kyungsoo is all too aware of how Baekhyun can feel his heartbeat hammering against his back.

 

The apprehension lasts just a second, for Baekhyun unleashes the tension with a long stream of breath, and wiggles his butt beneath him. An invitation to continue.

 

Kyungsoo hesitates, because this isn’t how one-night stands behave, but one-night stands are supposed to last a night, and Baekhyun’s proving to be a little more than that.

 

He ducks to drop one more kiss, then another, evolving into a smattering of kisses that ends over a mole on Baekhyun’s shoulder blades.

 

“That feels very nice.” Baekhyun hums, pleased, stretching his arms and legs. “I didn’t know you had it in you to be this soft, old man.”

 

Kyungsoo’s hand glides over the curve of Baekhyun’s waist down to his thigh, and lands a spank on Baekhyun’s buttcheek. Baekhyun yelps, writhing under Kyungsoo, but it soon turns into a husky chuckle.

 

Kyungsoo’s stomach twits into an uncomfortable knot. That’s enough, he scolds himself. He rolls to the side, but he allows his hand to stay on the ascent of Baekhyun’s lower back.

 

“I’m not soft, I was just taking care of you,” Kyungsoo deflects. “I feel like I’m a bit rough with you sometimes.”

 

Baekhyun laughs, high and musical, that twinkling sound that reminds Kyungsoo of wind chimes in a storm. “You know I like it rough, so don’t hold back on me, you hear me.” One finger pokes Kyungsoo’s side. “I know there’s a lot of softness there, buried under layers of sarcasm and dry humour.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Kyungsoo’s lips twitch into a smile. “There’s no such a thing in me.”

 

“I know I’ll find that spot one of these days,” Baekhyun promises with a bemused smile. “You’ll see.”

 

Kyungsoo knows he’s joking, but the mention about a next time lingers in his mind during the lull that follows. Baekhyun sings under his breath a song Kyungsoo can’t make out, weaving an invisible thread in the air with his fingers. Kyungsoo stares, spellbound by Baekhyun’s pale skin glowing in the moonlight, and his singing hypnotizing, like a siren calling sailors in the sea.

 

It’s Baekhyun who breaks the silence. “Can I ask you something?”

 

“Sure,” Kyungsoo murmurs. “As long as it’s not something dumb.”

 

Baekhyun turns on his side, head propped with an arm. “What’s with the ring on your nightstand? I saw it the first night, but I didn’t want to pry, and you said you were single today…”

 

Baekhyun’s bottom lip is caught under two front teeth, fingers fumbling with the sheets. Kyungsoo has never seen him this nervous. It’s cute. He dwells on that thought for a moment to distract himself from the faint pang in his chest.

 

“It’s, well, a long story.” Kyungsoo sighs heavily, eyes drifting to the ceiling. “But to make it short, I’m going through a divorce.”

 

Baekhyun’s eyebrows raise. “Oh,” he breathes. “That makes sense.”

 

“Yeah, it was bad, but that’s done now.” Kyungsoo clears his throat, but the lump now lodged there doesn’t budge. “We’ve been separated since last year. Joohyun—that’s my ex’s name—she’s been living with her new boyfriend for the last few months.”

 

Kyungsoo hadn’t found out from her. It had been his car in the driveway of their home, when Joohyun came to get stuff after Seollal, that had alerted Kyungsoo of his promotion from coworker-friend to hot new boyfriend. The pain of this discovery was a match to the guilt that had weighed him down for months, long before their marriage reached a breaking point.

 

Baekhyun whistles, one eyebrow quirked. “She moved on fast.” He pats Kyungsoo’s thigh comfortingly. “But I’m sure you’re better off. I hope you kept the dog or her favorite rug or something just to spite her.”

 

“Thanks,” Kyungsoo murmurs. After a pause, he adds, “I don’t really like to relive it.”

 

Baekhyun changes gears, fast as a hare. “You really are old, huh,” he quips. “Going through a divorce and all…”

 

“Shut up, you ass,” Kyungsoo laughs, shoving Baekhyun half-heartedly. “I married right out of grad school, and she was the same age as me. We’d been dating for a while before that.”

 

It had seemed like the most rational decision back then. They had been together since Kyungsoo’s senior year and Joohyun was everything Kyungsoo wanted. He would graduate and work at a good consulting firm, get married and have three kids, one boy and two girls, and live off the rest of his life with Joohyun.

 

He realized too late that wanting wasn’t enough to make things happen.

 

Baekhyun has retreated into a contemplative silence, and Kyungsoo only notices when he speaks. “Do you do this often?”

 

Kyungsoo turns to look at Baekhyun. His expression is guarded, and Kyungsoo spots the tightness in the set of his mouth that he’s trying to pass for nonchalance.

 

“No,” he answers. “I’ve never done this kind of thing before I…”

 

Before I met you, he’s about to say, but he fears it might come out more meaningful than intended.

 

“Me neither,” Baekhyun admits. “I’d hook up with someone from time to time, and sometimes I meet up with vloggers I keep in touch with.”

 

The spike of possessiveness in his gut comes as a surprise. Kyungsoo halts it before it can extend, because it’s not his right to be jealous. Not when Kyungsoo isn’t sure he’s ready to bare himself to someone else yet, and Joohyun’s things are still sitting in corners of his apartment. Like the buncheong box in the living room bookshelf.

 

It’s not Baekhyun’s fault that Kyungsoo has loved and hurt too much in the past.

 

“But there’s something about you,” Baekhyun says, and slips him a devilish grin. “Maybe it’s because you can be my sugar daddy.”

 

“Shut up.” Kyungsoo slaps him lightly on the ass, and Baekhyun guffaws.

 

(When he had seen Baekhyun’s scrubbed sneakers next to his oxfords, he’d genuinely considered to buy him a new pair, only to shake that thought straight away. It’s bad enough that Kyungsoo had freaked out over being an older guy sleeping with a hot young thing, he didn’t need to go and become a damn sugar daddy.)

 

 “Or maybe it’s that cute little ass of yours.”

 

It’s a cheap compliment, but for some reason, color sits high on Kyungsoo’s cheeks at the praise. “Don’t be crude,” he chastises, but he’s smiling, and Baekhyun’s own smile grows in size. “Come here.”

 

Baekhyun goes quickly, nestling his head in the crook of Kyungsoo’s neck and mouthing at the skin. Baekhyun’s hair is in his nose and his fingers are cold over his stomach, but it’s easy to forget about the sadness of his failed marriage and burrow in the contentment of holding Baekhyun in his arms.

 

Baekhyun rolls onto his back, legs falling open to welcome Kyungsoo between them. Kyungsoo dips two fingers into Baekhyun, still loose from earlier, and smiles at his gasp.

 

“Do you want to…?” Kyungsoo asks, searching Baekhyun’s eyes.

 

Baekhyun punctuates his answer by bucking his hips into Kyungsoo’s fingers. “Hurry up, old man, or I’m going to come from just your fingers.”

 

Kyungsoo crooks his fingers, just the way Baekhyun loves. On cue, Baekhyun whimpers.

 

“Why, we have all night.”

 

A flush spreads over his face, and Baekhyun smiles, slow and beautiful, like the sunset. “Then I expect you to make me come several times tonight.”

 

It’s a challenge, since Kyungsoo isn’t twenty anymore and his recovery time takes longer than he’d like to admit. But he can’t resist Baekhyun’s grin and the defiant glint in his eyes.

 

“You’re going to be my undoing,” Kyungsoo says, pulling out. Baekhyun laughs, unhinged and unapologetic, and Kyungsoo determines that yes, Baekhyun is definitely going to be his ruin.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Ms. Qian is gorgeous and elegant, age solely denoted by the laughter lines around her mouth that appear with her smiles.

 

“So this is it, for now,” Kyungsoo says, closing the file and leaving it on the next chair, where his suitcase resides. “I hope it meets your expectations.”

 

“A good job as always,” Ms. Qian congratulates. “I never fail to be pleased with your work.”

 

She’s one of their firm’s oldest clients. Kyungsoo first met her when he had just started, and she was just as strikingly beautiful as she still is today. He and Joohyun had just moved in to their new apartment back then, and Kyungsoo felt like he had everything he could have ever wanted.

 

That happiness emboldened Kyungsoo to be more open about his life to his clients than he would be any other time. Among them was Ms. Qian.

 

“Thank you.” Kyungsoo bows in gratitude. “I just try to do my best.”

 

“You look different too,” she notes, squinting as if the reason was written in code over Kyungsoo’s face. “Happier, dare I say.”

 

That catches him off guard. He had fooled around with Baekhyun until dawn had sneaked up on them; he’s sure there are bags under his eyes. But his mind skips to Baekhyun this morning, sleeping by his side, mouth tilted in a peaceful, dreamy smile, and how Kyungsoo had considered missing a meeting for the first time in his career to sleep in some more.

 

“I don’t know what it could be,” he replies, but the smile that tugs at his lips gives him away. “Maybe I’ve been eating better.”

 

Ms. Qian laughs, short and melodic. “No, it’s something else,” she insists. “Could it be that you worked things out with Joohyun?”

 

Kyungsoo grips the edge of the table as his gut coils into an uncomfortable hitch. Ms. Qian seems to take in the change in his countenance because her smile drops instantly.

 

Kyungsoo clears his throat, taking his cup of coffee. His mouth is so dry, all of a sudden. “No, actually, we’re going through with the divorce.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ms. Qian says. “You were such a lovely couple.”

 

“It’s okay.” He dons on his handsome smile, the one he reserves for clients, and pulls another file from his suitcase. “So how about we go through the data for the quarterly term?”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Baekhyun is dressed and ready to go when Kyungsoo gets back to the hotel after brunch with Ms. Qian. He takes note of Kyungsoo’s strange mood, but makes no mention of it during their trip to Lantau Island.

 

It’s when they’re in the cable car to see the Tian Tan Buddha that Baekhyun breaks.

 

“What’s wrong? You’ve been sulking all day,” he says. “Did the meeting with your client go wrong?”

 

He’s checking his camera’s LCD screen as the scenery of Hong Kong shrinks below their feet. The view of Hong Kong is beautiful, its buildings rising and falling and the trees that sway with the breeze, but it doesn’t quite lift Kyungsoo’s spirits.

 

“Not at all,” Kyungsoo answers. “Ms. Qian is really lovely. It’s just nothing.”

 

He couples the reassurance with a smile, but it doesn’t convince Baekhyun—his eyes shift to Kyungsoo for a moment, before focusing on his camera once again.

 

The Buddha sits on a lotus throne, standing guard over the island in all its bronze and hazy glory, at the top of a stone staircase. A couple of hundreds of steps, Kyungsoo counts with slight apprehension from the bottom.

 

Ngong Ping Village is quiet on a weekday, a handful tourists milling about the premises. Baekhyun hums into the Starbucks cup he bought as they crossed the conclave.

 

“Are you ready for that, old man? There are a lot of steps.” Baekhyun’s grin is amused. “Do you want me to bring you your cane?”

 

Kyungsoo jabs him with his elbow and Baekhyun chokes on his next sip. “Keep it up with the jokes and I’ll find a nice rock to tie you to at the top.”

 

Baekhyun doesn’t miss a beat. “Is that what you’re into? Kinky.”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes; they’ll get stuck at the back of his skull at this rate. “Shut up and let’s get going.”

 

“Did you know this was built in 1993?” Baekhyun comments, as they make their trek up the steep stairs. “Not exactly the old-civilization wonder as I thought it was.”

 

“It’s still pretty great.” He’s losing his breath faster than he’d presumed. His resistance from setting foot in the gym is catching up with him now. “I mean, how tall is that thing? Not even Godzilla was that big.”

 

Baekhyun chuckles, taking a shot of the ten-story statue. “I think Godzilla would win in a fight, though. Big Buddha doesn’t really strike me as the violent type.”

 

Kyungsoo slaps his arm, but he’s laughing as well. “You’re annoying,” he tells him, without venom. “Did it meet your expectations?”

 

“I wish the weather was better because otherwise the pictures will come out a bit blurry.” The slight frown on his brow fades, and the small pout on his lips melts into a smile, just as minute. “But other than that—this whole trip has turned out better than expected.”

 

Those simple words float in front of him like smoke rings, ready to be poked. A smile accompanies the statement, small and secretive, and it drives Kyungsoo’s heart into a frenzy. But Kyungsoo doesn’t dare to misinterpret what Baekhyun’s saying, so he forces all thoughts of it into a standstill, and concentrates on his own steps.

 

In the remainder of their climb, Baekhyun’s knuckles brush the back of Kyungsoo’s hand, and Kyungsoo’s conviction wavers.

 

Kyungsoo dozes off in the bus ride back to Hong Kong, and wakes up to his head on Baekhyun’s shoulder.

 

Baekhyun points to his chin, smile bemused. “You have drool here.”

 

Kyungsoo pulls away, and rubs his chin with a scowl. Baekhyun snickers at him, but it blends into a yawn, which he precariously muffles. He blinks at Kyungsoo slowly, a weight of sleepiness added to his usual droopy eyelids, and Kyungsoo attributes the fluttering near his ribs to fitful sleep in an uncomfortable seat.

 

They stroll around the street markets of Causeway Bay, exploring its maze of shops and advertisement deluge. Baekhyun takes pictures of the facades of high-rises and hidden alleys, filming himself from time to time to document his steps.

 

(Kyungsoo had warned Baekhyun he would break his camera if he discovered a picture of him on his blog. Much to his chagrin, Baekhyun had winked and said, “I wouldn’t post them for free.”)

 

They have dinner at a Mos Burger joint, and Kyungsoo regrets every decision he’s made in life once his burger arrives to their table.

 

“This is huge.” He shoots a half-hearted glare at Baekhyun’s cackle. “How am I going to eat all this?”

 

“It’s simple.” Melted cheese sticks to his chin and mouth, pulled around a saucy smile. “You just put it all in your mouth.”

 

“You’re gross,” Kyungsoo mutters, “I don’t know why I’m even here with you.”

 

“Because I’m the best travel buddy you could have ever stumbled upon.” Baekhyun purses his lips, pondering. “Or should I say travel-fuck-buddies.”

 

Kyungsoo spills some of his coke in the result of a snort. He wipes the table with a napkin and scowls at the shit-eating grin on Baekhyun’s face.

 

“Fuck buddies would imply we meet more than once,” Kyungsoo remarks flatly. “It’s kind of hard when you’re constantly on the other side of the world while I have a job back in Seoul.”

 

Baekhyun’s pink bottom lip sticks out, in that way it gets when he’s considering whether to voice his thoughts.

 

“Well, maybe we’ll meet again. Who knows.” He lifts both shoulders in a shrug. “My parents met on a train in Europe and my dad asked her to come down with him and they spend the entire night together before they had to go back to their respective cities. Then they met again ten years later and got married.”

 

“That’s a nice story,” Kyungsoo says, lips quirking into a smile. “But that’s also the plot of Before Sunrise, you ass.”

 

“You caught me.” Baekhyun chuckles, lifting up his palms. “But I met you out of all people in that temple last summer. Who says I won’t meet you again by accident in another part of the world?”

 

“I don’t believe in things like fate or coincidences,” Kyungsoo says. “I don’t like the idea of not being in control of what happens in my life.”

 

Baekhyun nods slowly, a smile on his lips that reveals nothing. “That’s a valid point, I suppose, since you made our second meeting happen of your own accord.”

 

A curious lump has lodged in his throat, and Kyungsoo takes a draught of his coke to dispel it. “I like being in control of situations sometimes.”

 

“I understand.” One end of his smile widens a fraction. “But I still think our first meeting was a nice coincidence.”

 

Baekhyun’s gaze flickers significantly, sending Kyungsoo’s stomach into a thousand knots. He diverts his attention to tracing shapes on the perspiration of his glass, and lets the topic fade into the background noise of the restaurant.

 

When they leave the restaurant, Kyungsoo buys a plastic umbrella from a street vendor to fight the drizzle, and they weave through the crowds, talking about their time in college. Kyungsoo has never had a more perfect evening, with the blush on Baekhyun’s nose from the cold, his hand draped over Kyungsoo’s bicep, and the sounds of Hong Kong thrumming around them.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Baekhyun moves with determination, like everything he does is more of a decision than circumstance. This translates to his kisses, eager and intent, deciding every left and right, and challenging Kyungsoo to keep up with his pace. But right now, his lips slide over Kyungsoo’s with leisure, mapping the crevices of Kyungsoo’s mouth, so, so maddeningly slow.

 

To speed things up, he abandons Baekhyun’s mouth to bite at the juncture between his neck and shoulder, a spot he’s found makes Baekhyun shiver and gasp.

 

Kyungsoo pulls down the neck of Baekhyun’s shirt to suck a mark above his collarbone. “What do you want?” he asks, lips dragging over the sensible skin.

 

Baekhyun tangles his fingers in Kyungsoo’s hair. “I want you to fuck me in the loveseat,” he breathes. “Please.”

 

The sole use of that please makes Kyungsoo twitch in his pants. He leaves Baekhyun on the loveseat in the main room while he looks for the necessities in the bedroom. The sight that awaits him upon his return steals the breath from his lungs: Baekhyun, naked as the day he was born, legs spread out and hand moving lazily over his cock. His gaze is heavy and lustful, and it locks on Kyungsoo with the force of a net, catching and stringing him without escape.

 

“Fuck, Baekhyun.” Kyungsoo tosses the condoms and lube, and kneels in front of Baekhyun. “You’re impatient, brat.”

 

The moniker elicits a laugh from Baekhyun, soft and airy, and Kyungsoo would have fallen to his knees if he wasn’t already on the floor. A pretty blush paints Baekhyun’s face down to his chest, ribs expanding and contracting with each labored breath, and of all the monuments and wonders he’s visited, none of them holds a candle to the one in front of him.

 

“Let me,” Kyungsoo says, and moves Baekhyun’s hand away to take over, stroking faster than Baekhyun did. Baekhyun’s head rolls back with a moan when Kyungsoo guides him to his mouth, tongue pressing into the underside when he bobs down.

 

Baekhyun’s breathing fast, eyes half-closed and mouth open, but his gaze is burning, setting Kyungsoo’s skin ablaze. He fits Baekhyun’s legs over his shoulders, and leaves a trail of rosy blotches as he sucks and bites his way up Baekhyun’s inner thighs. Then, he ducks to swipe a long stripe with his tongue over his hole.

 

“Ah, fuck!” Baekhyun hollers. “Kyungsoo, oh my—”

 

It’s been a long while since Kyungsoo has done this, but judging by the persistent tugs on his hair and high-pitched moans, he’s doing an amazing job of taking Baekhyun apart. Kyungsoo enters him with his tongue, over and over, until Baekhyun’s legs quake and Kyungsoo’s so hard it hurts. Kyungsoo uses fingers to probe Baekhyun’s hole along with his tongue, setting a steady rhythm that has the younger’s whimpers growing louder, and Kyungsoo digging the heel of his hand into his erection, seeking some relief.

 

He gives the supple flesh of Baekhyun’s cheek a gentle bite, and puts his legs down to remove his clothes, tossing them carelessly aside.

 

He maneuvers Baekhyun on his lap, holding his cock as Baekhyun lowers himself onto it. Baekhyun abandons all precautions, and sinks down fast, whimpering when he’s fully seated. He steals Kyungsoo’s name from his lips as he starts to move, a slow grind that soon turns into quick, desperate rolls. Kyungsoo slides hot hands down Baekhyun’s back, and grabs his buttcheeks to guide his movements.

 

It’s so hot, the way Baekhyun yells as his hips buck down with fervor, nails burrowing into Kyungsoo’s shoulders. Lips sear his name with fire on Kyungsoo’s skin, a swollen nipple in his mouth that spurs Baekhyun on, pushes him over the edge. Baekhyun unburies his face from his neck to kiss him, clumsy with desire and bliss. It’s uncommon for them to kiss after sex, but he’s consumed with the urge to taste Baekhyun, and Baekhyun kisses back as if he’ll die if he stops.

 

Kyungsoo wakes hours later to the sound of shifting in the room. He panics at the thought that he’s being robbed, until he hears a muttered shit from an unmistakable voice. It’s then that he realizes he’s alone in the bed, and twists to see Baekhyun fiddling with his phone, fully dressed and his bags at his feet.

 

“Baekhyun?”

 

Baekhyun whips around, picture-perfect of the deer caught in the headlights. “Shit, you’re awake! I didn’t mean to be so loud.”

 

“You’re always loud,” Kyungsoo mutters, rubbing his eyes with the heel of one hand. “What time is it? Why are you dressed?”

 

“I thought it would be better if I left now so you could get some sleep before your flight,” Baekhyun explains. “I promised a friend I would drop by her place, anyway.”

 

Kyungsoo’s gut twists with disappointment he can’t explain. It was their last day, yes, but there was the hope of waking up to Baekhyun’s face and having sex one last time before he had to leave. All of that has ebbed away and left only the dregs of sleep.

 

“Do you want me to help you with your bags?” Kyungsoo offers, sitting up in bed.

 

Baekhyun waves a dismissive hand. “I’ll ask reception to send someone.”

 

Kyungsoo gets up, and throws on the nearest jeans he finds on the floor. “I’ll go with you.”

 

“Alright, Mr. Bossy,” Baekhyun relents. “Have it your way.”

 

The lobby is deserted at five a.m., except for the guard at the entrance. He bows as they walk out, and Kyungsoo can feel his eyes on them as they wait in the street for Baekhyun’s uber to arrive.

 

“You shouldn’t have bothered,” Baekhyun says. “It’s really cold and you’re not even wearing shoes.”

 

Kyungsoo faintly regrets having come down as the cold nips at his exposed skin. It hadn’t occurred to him he would need a coat, and hadn’t bothered to put on socks. Baekhyun, on the other hand, is bundled up in a thick coat and beanie, cozy and adorable as ever, and Kyungsoo wants to snuggle up to him for warmth.

 

“If I die from hypothermia, you know whose fault it will be.”

 

“Don’t you dare pull that now.” Baekhyun throws a light punch to his stomach that Kyungsoo dodges by a hair. “I didn’t ask you to come, but you’re one stubborn old man.”

 

“I’m not stubborn,” Kyungsoo refutes. “I just wanted to say goodbye.”

 

It comes out more tender than he had mentally calibrated. There is surprise in the height of Baekhyun’s brow, but more softness in the curve of his smile than Kyungsoo has seen before.

 

“I wanted to leave before you woke up because I hate goodbyes,” Baekhyun says. “I’m not good with them.”

 

“Me neither.” Kyungsoo shakes his head, and laughs along with Baekhyun. “But I guess we can try, right?”

 

There is not a soul nearby at this hour, and Kyungsoo thinks what the hell.

 

He yanks Baekhyun by his coat and kisses him.

 

He swallows a surprised gasp, but Baekhyun catches up quickly, tongue poking and teasing his own, shifting right when Kyungsoo veers left. It’s not the kind of kiss an old bore like Kyungsoo would be caught having in the middle of the street, let alone with a man. But that was before he met Baekhyun, and admittedly, the thrill of doing things he’d never dared to do before is more than a little addictive.

 

Baekhyun finds purchase on either side of Kyungsoo’s waist, and Kyungsoo’s hands sneak to Baekhyun’s neck, tugging at the strands poking from his hat. If he dares to be honest with himself, in this moment, he’s going to miss Baekhyun’s scent, the smoothness of his skin and how he has perfected the art of driving Kyungsoo insane with the smallest of touches.

 

Most of all, he’s going to miss that dazzling smile, the one he’s gifting him right now as they separate to breathe.

 

“This was a great trip,” Baekhyun murmurs, inches away. “I knew it was going to be because it’s Hong Kong, but you made it all the more enjoyable.”

 

The teeth over Baekhyun’s bottom lip fail to quell the smirk giving the meaning away, and Kyungsoo chuckles, ears burning in the cold of early morning.

 

“Thank you for spending your time with me,” Kyungsoo says. “You didn’t have to, after all.”

 

“I wanted to and you saved me a lot of money.”

 

He pinches Baekhyun for his cheekiness, and his mirth peters out as Baekhyun’s eyes latch on Kyungsoo’s mouth. If he’s learned anything from these past days is that Kyungsoo can’t resist him. He reels him in for another kiss, slower and more deliberate than the last, and forgets completely about the cold and his surroundings.

 

This isn’t how fuck buddies behave, he intones, but the realization is drown out by his heartbeat thundering in his ears.

 

He registers the sound of a car pulling up in the curb, but it’s the honk that breaks them away.

 

“He’s here,” Baekhyun pants. “I guess this is it.”

 

A blush coats the apple of his cheeks, bunched up by a fuzzy smile, and Kyungsoo doesn’t want him to go. He nearly tells him as such, before another honk slices the air and his courage dissolves.

 

Kyungsoo waves an awkward hand. “Enjoy your stay and have a safe flight.”

 

“You sound like a receptionist,” Baekhyun jokes. “Goodbye, Kyungsoo.”

 

Kyungsoo stands there, watching the car that takes Baekhyun away get lost in the city. He returns to his room as dawn breaks through the sky, but sleep eludes him.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Seoul: layover

 

 

“What did you do to your hair?”

 

Minseok stands by his desk, scrutinizing him. Kyungsoo strokes the shaved parts of his head.

 

“I shaved the sides and trimmed it a little,” Kyungsoo says. “Do you like it?”

 

“It makes you look younger.” Minseok’s eyes sharpen. “Are you trying to impress someone? Or maybe… you’re having a middle-age crisis already?”

 

“You’re older than me,” Kyungsoo throws back. “I should be asking that to you.”

 

For being thirty-two, Minseok could pass for a twenty-something any day, with his youthful face and gummy smile, more appropriate for a middle-schooler. This is part and parcel of their banter, though, one that they’ve built since Minseok gained the dubious title of best friend sometime after Kyungsoo’s incorporation to the company and too many cocktails during happy hours.

 

“Smartass.” Minseok laughs, loud and tinkling. “It’s just that you rarely wanna look this nice, so I thought it would be for someone.”

 

Minseok has a keen instinct for deals and reading clients like tarot cards, a gift he often employs to get a rise out of Kyungsoo. He flushes under Minseok’s knowing smirk, trying not to give himself away.

 

This time, Minseok lets him go with a shrug, and Kyungsoo nearly sags with relief.

 

“See you at lunch?” Minseok asks at the door.

 

“Sure,” Kyungsoo says, and Minseok parts with a smile.

 

Kyungsoo clicks on the video paused on his computer screen. Then, Baekhyun’s effervescent laughter fills his office.

 

It’s the video from the Hong Kong trip. Baekhyun is grinning to the camera, explaining something about the cable car in Lantau Island, and Kyungsoo can’t tear his eyes away from him. A fleeting motion of the camera shows his profile walking alongside Baekhyun, but it promptly returns to Baekhyun, whose cheeky smile tells Kyungsoo it was intentional.

 

Two months have passed since he last saw Baekhyun. There hasn’t been a day where he hasn’t thought about him, which had culminated with him looking up his blog and feeling like a creep as he watched his videos. But ever since he found out his next business destination would be Tokyo, he turned in his head the idea to contact him, more times than he would toss and turn awake in bed at night.

 

A email notification pings on the screen. Kyungsoo clicks on it, and immediately regrets it. It’s a message from Joohyun.

 

Hi, Kyungsoo. I was wondering if we could talk over coffee one of these days.

 

There’s no way to read the tone of the message or the importance of the request. Kyungsoo clicks out of it, before he types an answer without thinking it through. He hasn’t seen Joohyun since last January, when she had come over while her boyfriend waited in the driveway. The mere thought of sitting across Joohyun has the old fear sinking its fangs, because he still hasn’t told her the entire truth.

 

He grabs his phone and searches through his contacts for Baekhyun’s number.

 

Hi, it’s Kyungsoo, he types into a text. I’ll be in Tokyo on the 15th. Let me know if we can meet up.

 

A reply comes hours later, when he’s finished lunch. It’s ur lucky day, it reads, I was just thinking of going to tokyo in december ;).

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

 

Third stop: Tokyo

 

 

Tokyo is beautiful in the winter. The hotel is in the heart of the business district in Chiyoda, and the view from his window is flanked by tall buildings and streets sprinkled in snow.

 

Three quiet knocks on the door. Kyungsoo crosses the room in five strides.

 

On the other side of the door, Baekhyun smiles, slow and steady, and the tingle of anticipation at the base of Kyungsoo’s spine melts into sweet relief.

 

“Hello,” Baekhyun says. “Nice to see you, stranger.”

 

A duffel bag drops to the floor, and Baekhyun is on him the second the door is closed. Kyungsoo’s caged to the wall with strong arms, Baekhyun looming over him, so close it’s all he can see. At the back of his mind, Kyungsoo curses their slight height difference.

 

He gulps, steels himself against the rapid tick of his pulse. “Aren’t you going to kiss me?”

 

An amused exhale caresses Kyungsoo’s face, light as the thumb stroking the seam of his lips. “A little impatient, aren’t you?” He scrapes his nails over the short hairs at the back of Kyungsoo’s skull. “I like your new haircut.”

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t trust himself to speak. The tension thickens the air, stretching as the seconds go by. He’s pinned in place by dark eyes and soft hands, holding his face like it’s something precious. Mild irritation scratches at his nape—he wants to laugh, because who’s the impatient brat now—but he’s waited weeks to have Baekhyun here, solid and warm, like one of his best dreams come true.

 

Baekhyun nuzzles his nose with his own, and Kyungsoo seeks out his mouth, swallowing his pride at Baekhyun’s bemused little hum. He tugs at the front of Baekhyun’s hoodie, and Baekhyun meets him halfway, finally, fitting his mouth with Kyungsoo’s and kissing him like he’s been waiting for this just as much.

 

Pants are unbuttoned and unzipped, and hands are free to roam and rediscover. They crumble to the floor together, without interrupting the dance of their tongues.

 

“My flight got delayed,” Baekhyun says, between kisses. “I had to wait at the airport for two hours. I was going crazy.”

 

“I can’t imagine you actually having to sit still for that long,” Kyungsoo laughs, and kisses him in the space between his collarbones, where a flush blossoms. Baekhyun’s skin is so sensitive. “How did you manage?”

 

“The prospect of making you come as soon as I got my hands on you.” Baekhyun nibbles on his lower lip, as if making a point. “It was making me hard just imagining it.”

 

“Stop,” Kyungsoo grunts. He pinches Baekhyun’s nipple, reveling in his gasp. “You just came here and you’re already making lewd comments.”

 

“I haven’t come not once, but I’m planning to come a good few times this weekend.” When he leans forward to meet Kyungsoo’s mouth, though, his kiss is gentle and unhurried. “I’m glad to see you.”

 

“I’m glad you’re here.” Kyungsoo strokes the hair behind Baekhyun’s ears. It’s gotten longer, but he likes it. “Welcome to Tokyo.”

 

He fits himself over Baekhyun, and steals whatever response was at the tip of Baekhyun’s tongue.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

In the afternoon, they amble through Shinjuku, merging in with the crowds pulsing through the streets. Feathery flakes swirl and whirl with the wind, turning the neon rush into a colorful smudge and the afternoon sky into a dark overcast. The snowfall doesn’t deter people from shopping, nor does it stop Baekhyun from capturing the fluorescent signs and towering buildings with his camera, or recording for his vlog as they walk.

 

At one point, Kyungsoo blinks dazedly at the tell-tale click of the camera aimed at him.

 

“Hey, I didn’t ask you to take my picture,” Kyungsoo calls. His irritation is short-lived, after Baekhyun tugs down the scarf Kyungsoo had draped on him earlier and giggles mischievously.

 

“You looked cute just now,” Baekhyun contends, a playful lilt to his voice. Kyungsoo swats at him, and he cackles. “I’m gonna post this on my blog!”

 

“If you do that, I’ll end you,” Kyungsoo warns, with no real heat. Baekhyun squeezes his waist as a silent reassurance. “You have to carry the umbrella now in retaliation for that picture.”

 

“Fine,” Baekhyun concedes. “But I’ll get to decide what we have for dinner tonight.”

 

Baekhyun picks a sushi restaurant for dinner. They sit side by side in a table at the back, a calming pop ballad playing as a backdrop to the muted noise of patrons. The place is a cozy hideout from the snow that seems to thicken by the hour.

 

“I wanted to go to Shibuya and Asakusa tomorrow,” Baekhyun announces as he scrolls through his phone. “If you’re in, of course.”

 

“I’m supposed to meet with my client on Tuesday,” Kyungsoo says, biting a slice of sashimi. It’s tender on his tongue. “So we’re good.”

 

“I know I’m going to Paris next week, but it can’t beat Tokyo.” Baekhyun submits his arm to an excited shake. “There are so many places I want to visit!”

 

Kyungsoo yanks his arm back, and shoves Baekhyun playfully. “Get off me, you demon.”

 

“Demon?” Baekhyun questions, clutching his shirt in mock offense. “Is that all am I to you now?”

 

“You’ve always been a demon to me.” Kyungsoo takes a draught of green tea to hide his amusement. “You just keep proving it to me more each day.”

 

Baekhyun picks a piece of tempura with his chopsticks and offers it Kyungsoo. “Open up,” he drawls, leaning over, “just like you did for me this morning in the shower.”

 

“Shut the hell up,” Kyungsoo mutters, fighting a smile at the salacious remark. “We’re in public, Baekhyun.”

 

Baekhyun’s fingers disappear into his mouth to wipe the leftover oil, moaning on a way that borders on obscene. Kyungsoo hates that he stirs with mild arousal at the cheap trick.

 

“Will you stop that and behave?” Kyungsoo hisses. “I don’t wanna pop a boner where people are eating.”

 

A short laugh from Baekhyun, like the child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “It’s just that your face always makes me laugh, it’s like—” His eyes open wide as plates, lips flattened and downturned like an inverted parenthesis. Kyungsoo slaps his knee and Baekhyun guffaws, breaking from the terrible impersonation.

 

“I don’t look like that at all, you ass,” Kyungsoo grunts.

 

“C’mon, Soo, don’t be a grumpy old man.” Baekhyun winds his arms around Kyungsoo. “I’ll buy you a green tea cake and all the desserts you want from that bakery near the hotel.”

 

His tone is saccharine and coaxing, and Kyungsoo throbs with an odd sort of ache. It bewilders him, because he’s been exposed to Baekhyun’s flirtation countless times before.

 

“I don’t even like sweets that much,” he croaks out, “you just want an excuse to eat them.”

 

A pink tongue peeks between teeth. “You caught me there.” He hooks his chin on Kyungsoo’s shoulder. “But we can eat them watching a movie or something.”

 

Baekhyun babblers on, but Kyungsoo’s attention ebbs away like water between fingers. Something strange has taken root within him, even though he’s overly familiar with this, Baekhyun’s weight slumped against him and the steady flow of his words.

 

He fixates on each detail—Baekhyun’s hair tickling his cheekbones, the scent of his shampoo in his nostrils, and his fingers playing with Kyungsoo’s splayed on the table—because none of them justify the way his heart has ground into a slow halt, then beings pumping with renewed vigor, wired by the exhilaration that sloshes in his stomach, warm and effervescent.

 

It is attraction, mixed with something else. A Pandora’s box Kyungsoo doesn’t want to probe further.

 

As the seconds tick in silence, the smile drops from Baekhyun’s face.  He asks, voice tightly wound, “Soo, are you mad for real?”

 

He can’t stand the look on Baekhyun’s face, worried and apologetic, when he’s done nothing wrong. It’s just Kyungsoo and his conflicts. It’s always Kyungsoo’s fault.

 

“I’m not,” Kyungsoo says, softer than he had calculated. “Let’s buy all the sweets you like before we get back.”

 

All the concern seeps out of Baekhyun’s expression, and his smile resurfaces, like sunlight breaking through the clouds. “That sounds like a plan.” He nuzzles his nose into Kyungsoo’s neck. “Maybe I could put whipped cream on me later.”

 

Kyungsoo’s all pins and needles, but he doesn’t move away. “I’m still eating, Baekhyun.”

 

Baekhyun doesn’t skip a beat. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

 

This time, Kyungsoo does smile, rolling his eyes at Baekhyun. “You’re so annoying.”

 

Baekhyun sees right through him. He presses his cheek to Kyungsoo’s shoulder, chuckling, and Kyungsoo lets him, burrowing closer.  It’s become sort of an automatic response now, giving in to Baekhyun without much effort at all. To be wrapped around this boy’s finger was the last thing he expected when he entered this fuck buddies affair, and yet…

 

He keeps the epiphany at the back of his mind as they talk and drink, nestled together and away from the snowfall, for the rest of the evening.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Tokyo is a white smear behind the window of the hotel the next morning. The roads are closed since the snowstorm worsened overnight. Baekhyun had sulked for an hour after seeing his plans for the day thwarted. We still have three more days, Kyungsoo had comforted him, and that, coupled with a makeout session, had done the trick.

 

Lunch comes with wine and chocolate mousse for dessert, waiting for Kyungsoo by the bed after he’s done with work phone calls. He’d been on the line with his assistant for an hour, and Baekhyun had entertained himself with an episode of Running Man and a bowl of strawberries, oblivious to the amused glares Kyungsoo sent his way every time he would laugh too loud at the TV.

 

“Hey, the food is here,” Baekhyun says, mouth full. “I ordered wine for you.”

 

Baekhyun insists on feeding the dessert to Kyungsoo by edging the spoon close to his mouth. Kyungsoo complies, but not without an eye roll.

 

“Is it good?” Baekhyun grins when Kyungsoo hums. “It’s the best in the entire world.”

 

The chocolate sauce is delicious in his tongue, but Kyungsoo doesn’t feel like indulging him. “I’ve had better.”

 

Baekhyun huffs, and screws his mouth with indignation. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m a food blogger, when I say something is delicious, you should take my word for it.”

 

“I wouldn’t take your word for anything.” Kyungsoo pulls on track pants, and shrugs off his robe to put on a long-sleeved black shirt. He shoots Baekhyun a withering look when he wolf-whistles. “Quiet, you punk.”

 

“Why are you covering yourself?” Baekhyun whines. “You look so good naked, you should just stay like that.”

 

Kyungsoo’s turned away from Baekhyun, but he can hear the pout in his voice. It’s silly, how the image alone makes him smile. “Do you want me to catch a cold?”

 

“No, but I want you naked all day,” Baekhyun counters. “And you’re kind of ruining another one of my plans right now.”

 

“That wasn’t in my plans today,” Kyungsoo ripostes. He lies in the bed, back against the pillows. “You can be naked all by yourself.”

 

“Oh, is that what you’re into, old man?” Baekhyun climbs to the bed, standing over Kyungsoo. “I could do that, I don’t mind.” He has a devious little grin that Kyungsoo has learned to be wary of. “Or I could dance for you, if you want.”

 

Before Kyungsoo can get a word in, Baekhyun starts crooning a girl group song, uncoordinated dance moves and all. Kyungsoo laughs so hard his stomach hurts and tears well up in his eyes, and it’s only when Baekhyun finishes the tragic act to sit on his lap that he calms down.

 

“You’re insane.” He wipes the corner of his eyes, peals of laughter still spilling out. “Has anyone told you that?”

 

“Quite often,” Baekhyun replies, pleased as punch. “Nothing I’ve never heard before.”

 

“I haven’t laughed this hard in years,” Kyungsoo tells him. “You’re really something.”

 

Baekhyun’s smile softens. “You should always laugh like that.”

 

It comes with so much fondness, it thickens in Kyungsoo’s throat like a cotton ball.

 

Baekhyun glows with so much youth and vitality, and Kyungsoo hasn’t felt this alive in a long time.

 

“Get off now.” He pats Baekhyun’s leg, but Baekhyun doesn’t move an inch. “I want to eat something.”

 

“You can eat me out,” Baekhyun is quick to reply. “I wouldn’t mind.”

 

Baekhyun grinds on his crotch to prove his point. Kyungsoo groans, gripping Baekhyun’s hips under his robe, a spike of arousal coiling in his gut. Baekhyun strokes his abdomen, dragging his sweater on his way, and Kyungsoo lifts his arms obediently to pull it off.

 

It’s embarrassing, how hard he’s in his pants already, how fast his breaths are coming when they haven’t gotten started yet. Baekhyun moves back so he can slide his track pants off along with his underwear. The tongue that darts out to moisten Baekhyun’s lips, as Kyungsoo’s cock springs free, is what dries his mouth into a desert.

 

Baekhyun shrugs off his robe and shimmies out of his underwear with a wiggle of his butt. It’d be adorable, if his gaze wasn’t dark with lust and want.

 

With a labored breath, Baekhyun lies over him, flattening himself over his torso so their hips align.  There’s a simultaneous gasp from both at the delicious friction that the small motions of Baekhyun’s body creates.

 

The rhythm of their breaths and hips becomes frantic. Baekhyun sucks on Kyungsoo’s bottom lip, parting Kyungsoo’s mouth so their tongues slide together in an idle dance.

 

“How do you want me?”

 

The question skates over a hot breath that fans his face. Kyungsoo opens his eyes. Baekhyun’s lips are red, kiss-stung, his cheeks painted a similar pretty color. Baekhyun cages his head with palms on each side, messy hair falling across his forehead.

 

It’s the look on Baekhyun’s eyes that begins a slow, steady throb in his chest. It’s mellow and honeyed and riveted, as if Kyungsoo was the only thing that existed in the world, in this very moment.

 

Kyungsoo’s heart almost runs out of him with an exhale. “I want you inside me.”

 

Baekhyun freezes, like a machine unplugged of its lifeforce. A laugh bubbles out of Kyungsoo, and it serves to break the spell, because Baekhyun’s laughing too, a little disbelievingly.

 

“Really?” Baekhyun looms over Kyungsoo, and drops a kiss on his cupid’s bow. “Are you sure?”

 

“You heard me,” Kyungsoo breathes. “Just prep me already.”

 

He pushes Baekhyun off him, but Baekhyun doesn’t budge, and leans down to peck his lips. Baekhyun inserts a finger delicately, and Kyungsoo gasps at the intrusion. Soon, Baekhyun adds another finger, scissoring them gingerly, but setting a rhythm quickly, and brushing Kyungsoo’s prostate insistently.

 

“Add one more,” Kyungsoo demands. “I’m not going to break.”

 

Baekhyun licks his lips and adds another finger. Kyungsoo hisses at the intrusion. The initial burn fades quickly, and he rides Baekhyun’s fingers in pursuit of more friction.

 

“I think I’m ready,” Kyungsoo mumbles.

 

Baekhyun nods, and fumbles with the condom before putting it on, moaning when he strokes his length to spread lube on it. His hands are trembling as he guides himself in, and Kyungsoo is struck with a surge of adoration and fondness he can barely contain within his chest.

 

“Baekhyun,” Kyungsoo beckons, drawing Baekhyun in to kiss him. A nice distraction from the sensation of being split open as Baekhyun pushes into him. Baekhyun moans into his mouth, but it’s nothing compared to the drawn-out groan that escapes from Kyungsoo’s throat when Baekhyun starts thrusting.

 

Baekhyun watches him with unconcealed wonder and Kyungsoo feels like laughing, because he’s never felt as happy, never has his heart been so full to the brim, as it is right in this moment.

 

Some time later, tangled in the sheets and each other, they share drowsy kisses, reveling in the afterglow. Baekhyun leaves his mouth to pepper kisses over his neck, sucking on a small patch of skin that makes Kyungsoo hiss.

 

“Can I ask something?”

 

His voice is so small and cautious. Kyungsoo’s eyes snap open. “Go ahead.”

 

“Have you ever bottomed for someone?” Baekhyun hesitates, teeth worrying his lower lip. “Or am I the first one?”

 

“You’re the second one,” Kyungsoo confesses. “I’ve only bottomed before for my boyfriend back in college.”

 

“You had a boyfriend before?”

 

“It was this guy called Jongdae.” Kyungsoo holds Baekhyun’s hand, sweeps his thumb over the pale back. “He was a friend of a friend. He was so loud and funny, but we still connected somehow. We broke up because he went to study overseas at the end of our junior year.”

 

Jongdae was so different to Kyungsoo. Oil and water, his friends would say. It didn’t matter when they were together, though, because Kyungsoo was a good listener to Jongdae’s incessant chattering and Jongdae could read Kyungsoo like the palm of his hand.

 

In a way, it’s not much different than how he is with Baekhyun.

 

“Then I met Joohyun and I thought that would be it,” Kyungsoo says. “I would finish college, get a good job and get married.”

 

Joohyun was more like him. Grounded and timid, but with a confidence that Kyungsoo could see in her posture. It’s what had drawn him to her in the end. She was young, but she knew what she wanted out of life, just like Kyungsoo, and not before long, they had started to plan a life together.

 

 It seemed so solid, back then.

 

“What happened with your wife?” Baekhyun asks. “I mean, if it’s not too intrusive of me…”

 

Kyungsoo closes his eyes. It’s like a boulder sits on top of his chest, crushing him under its weight. He can’t get enough air when he inhales through his nose.

 

“Our relationship became strained two years after we got married.” Kyungsoo remembers the long nights in the office and the silences during dinner whenever their schedules matched. “I knew I was into men when we started dating, but I thought it was just a phase. I never thought I would realize that maybe I was only into men, after all.”

 

“It must’ve been rough,” Baekhyun says. “You did love her after all, right?”

 

“Yes, of course I did.” Kyungsoo scratches his chin, feels the roughness of a five o'clock shadow. “Joohyun is beautiful and funny. She used to tell me about her day while we had dinner, and listening to her was my favorite thing. And one day that just stopped.”

 

The silences, the stares, and the backs turned when he woke up in the morning. The sensation that something was off that kept mounting and mounting until it was inescapable.

 

It was Kyungsoo who asked for the divorce when the guilt had been eating him away for months. Joohyun had cried, and Kyungsoo had merely held himself back from sobbing, too. They had spent five years of their lives together after all, but they had reached a point of no return; they had become two strangers living under the same roof, linked only by memories of a distant life together.

 

“Do you know how terrible it is to wake up one day and realize that you don’t love the person sleeping next to you anymore?” Kyungsoo asks, absently. “That your marriage is ending and it’s all your fault?”

 

He didn’t want it to be true, because it would mean so many years of their lives would go down the drain, and it would all be his fault. What took him to the final step was the decision that Joohyun deserved better than a failing marriage.

 

I thought that it would hurt less if I did it, she had told him with tearful eyes, I knew that this was coming and yet I still hoped

 

He requested the separation, but she filed for the divorce. He owed her that much, at least.

 

Baekhyun fitting himself against him interrupts his memories. He leaves a kiss on his collarbones, then rests his head on his chest. Kyungsoo strokes the shaggy mess of his hair, the cold that had gathered in his lungs already thawing.

 

“I’ve never been in a serious relationship before.” Baekhyun sets his chin on Kyungsoo’s sternum. “A few flings here and there, but that’s about it, so I don’t know much about this.”

 

His mouth is pulled in a comical shape, and Kyungsoo laughs, for what feels like the first time in an hour.

 

“But I’ve been out to my brother since I was fourteen. He was the first person I told.” A laugh rumbles out of Baekhyun, and Kyungsoo feels its vibration against his torso. “And I think my grandma knew, but she never cared. Those are the only people I cared about knowing, anyway.”

 

Kyungsoo softens from the inside. Baekhyun hasn’t learned about heartbreak yet, how it can taint a perfectly good heart like his, while the years have hardened and weathered Kyungsoo, more than he likes to admit.

 

“You’re so young.” He rubs Baekhyun’s arms, linking their fingers together at the end. “What are you doing with an old man like me?”

 

Baekhyun smiles, fingers skimming over Kyungsoo’s knuckles. “Maybe I like an old man like you.” An uncharacteristic seriousness falls on his features. “Thank you for trusting me like this.”

 

There is that burning feeling in his chest again, but this time, Kyungsoo locates its roots. It’s affection, pure and undiluted. He was aware of his attraction towards Baekhyun, but this is different. This is wanting someone so much he’s consumed with the desire, like the wick of a candle. And the determination to stop the path of the fire dwindles each moment he spends with Baekhyun.

 

“You can have me again,” Kyungsoo whispers, “if you hurry up.”

 

Baekhyun grins against his mouth. “What’s the hurry? I didn’t know you were going somewhere.” He pecks his lips. “We can stay in bed all day.”

 

The storm rages on outside, but Kyungsoo has never felt as warm as he does right now, nestled in this haven he’s built with Baekhyun, far away from the rest of the world.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

The roads are opened the next day. Kyungsoo meets with his client over breakfast—a man in his fifties with a greasy smile and small piercing eyes by the name of Mr. Arakawa, whom Kyungsoo has never felt too comfortable around. 

 

From the window of the subway station, Baekhyun takes pictures of the world-famous crossing in Shibuya. Kyungsoo remembers it from the movie Lost in Translation, where the characters say their final goodbyes, but it’s something else to see it now, as thousands of bodies spill into the streets when the lights change from red to green.

 

“The shots are going to look amazing,” Baekhyun says. “I’m gonna do some 4k shots for this.”

 

On the 52nd floor of Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills is one of the tourist traps that Baekhyun insisted on visiting.  The open deck offers a more centric view of Tokyo than the SkyTree, he had said, and Kyungsoo had rolled his eyes and indulged him with a smile.

 

Kyungsoo shuffles away to take pictures of his own. The bright red of the Tokyo Tower stands out among the whites and greys of the skyline, soaked in the golden glow of the late afternoon sun, and even his high-end camera phone can’t do it justice.

 

He startles when an arm winds around his waist, and a camera is shoved to his face.

 

“What are you doing?” Kyungsoo jabs Baekhyun with an elbow, but he doesn’t pull away. “I didn’t ask to take a selca with you.”

 

Baekhyun presses his cheek against Kyungsoo’s, grinning wide towards the camera. “Say cheese!”

 

With a reluctant sigh, Kyungsoo shows his teeth to the camera, right before the click of the snapshot. A kiss sneaks itself to his cheek, too quick for him to react in time. Baekhyun skips out of Kyungsoo’s reach with a cackle that has people looking over, and Kyungsoo stands there, with a tight fist at his side and a heart hammering away at his ribs.

 

They stumble out of a pub at night. They’d done sake shots at the bar until Baekhyun’s chattering had deteriorated into babbling. The pleasant buzz of alcohol isn’t enough to fight off the biting cold breeze nipping at his cheeks as they roam the streets aimlessly, so Kyungsoo seeks refuge for his hands in the pockets of his coat.

 

Baekhyun’s balance is slightly compromised by the alcohol by the way he keeps bumping shoulders with Kyungsoo, so he lets Baekhyun loop an arm with his own, if only to feel his warmth against him.

 

“I had fun tonight,” Baekhyun says, visibly trying not to slur, “even though my alcohol tolerance is outrageously low.” He tugs at the ends of Kyungsoo’s scarf. “Did you have fun?”

 

Kyungsoo hasn’t had this much since college, when Jongdae used to take him out to pubs and clubs on the weekends, and Kyungsoo would go, because he loved to indulge his boyfriend.

 

You move like a fifty-year-old dad on the dance floor, Jongdae used to joke, but his smile had been impossibly fond.

 

Perhaps it’s the sake fuzzing his thought-process, because he says, “I always have fun with you. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.”

 

His brain catches up with the candor in his words right as Baekhyun grins wide, and it’s too late to backtrack. He exhales, breath leaving him in a silver puff.

 

“I’m happy to hear that.” Baekhyun clutches his arm tighter. “You were different when we first met, like there were so many things dragging you down. But now you seem… better, I guess.” Baekhyun lapses into a ruminative murmur. “I wish you weren’t so afraid of being yourself.”

 

Kyungsoo’s gaze flicks up towards Baekhyun. He’s blanketed by the orange neon lights of the noodle shop they’re passing by, looking down at Kyungsoo through the floppy fringe of his hair. Kyungsoo can read the hesitance in his folded lips, though his eyes are clouded with something Kyungsoo can’t decipher. There might be words there—or even a question, yet to be formed—that Kyungsoo can’t pluck out of Baekhyun in the same way he can so effortlessly make him fall apart with the barest of touches.

 

The staring match ends when Baekhyun trips on an uneven patch of sidewalk, and Kyungsoo holds onto his jacket to prevent him from face-planting into the cement.

 

“Not all of us can be fearless like you, Baekhyunnie,” he hears himself say. “Or as reckless.”

 

“Don’t use that nickname on me,” Baekhyun admonishes him, belied by the upwards tilt of his lips. “I’m trying to be harsh with you right now.”

 

But it’s true, Kyungsoo wants to say, I wish I was braver.

 

“I do have fears, you know,” Baekhyun goes on, “I lied earlier. I’ve had sort of a serious relationship before.”

 

Kyungsoo frowns. “Why did you lie? Because it doesn’t bother me, Baekhyun.”

 

“I just don’t like to talk about it.” Baekhyun blows out his lips. “He was the same age as me, when I was a junior in college. I thought I could love him, but then he met an older woman—rich and beautiful—and broke up with me and married her a few months later.”

 

His confession is said in one single breath, slurred through a messy tongue. But Kyungsoo identifies that quiet quality in his voice and that faraway look in his eyes by now—he’s retreating into himself, the same kind of sadness that placates him when he’s speaking of his parents or grandma.

 

“And when my brother went to college he practically forgot about me.” He fixates on the sidewalk, but it doesn’t seem like he’s seeing it. “He wasn’t even there for our grandma’s funeral because he was too busy with his internship.” His adam’s apple bobs. “I didn’t go to his wedding because I was still bitter, you know, but he didn’t even bother calling to ask why I didn’t go.”

 

He untangles himself from Kyungsoo to wrap arms around himself, as if he was now feeling the cold.

 

“He was my best friend when growing up, but he outgrew me,” he murmurs. “All of it made me fear that, maybe, I’m not good enough for people to stay. I’m only something they like until it gets boring and they move on to a new toy.”

 

It’s how small Baekhyun looks, hunched over by a cold that comes from inside, that makes Kyungsoo stop and pull him into an embrace.

 

He takes Baekhyun’s face with one hand, so he’s looking directly at him. “That’s not true.” He puts as much firmness in his tone as he can muster after the bomb shots. “You’re not a thing or a toy—you’re so much more than that.”

 

Baekhyun’s droopy eyes are still shadowed, but the edges of his lips soften into the smallest of the smiles. Kyungsoo melts like the thawed snow by the roadside, heart pumping with renewed vigor under all the thick layers.

 

Baekhyun buries his face in Kyungsoo’s neck, nuzzling into the navy wool of his scarf. “So this is your soft side, huh.” His breath tickles the underside of Kyungsoo’s jaw, and he shivers. “I think I really like it.”

 

It’s the alcohol, he decides, that brings him to place a kiss on Baekhyun’s forehead. It’s the alcohol that causes the lurch in his stomach when Baekhyun sighs contentedly.

 

“Don’t get used to it, brat.”

 

It’s also the alcohol that makes his hold around Baekhyun tighten, Baekhyun sneaking his way under his coat, and stand still long after his face has gone numb because of the winter cold.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Kyungsoo wakes up to an empty bed the next morning. He checks the bathroom, but Baekhyun isn’t in the suite. He orders lunch for two, but he isn’t back by the time it’s brought to the room. As he cuts the steak into tiny, rectangular slices, Kyungsoo keeps glancing at Baekhyun’s bag in the corner of the room, gripped by the irrational fear that Baekhyun isn’t planning on coming back.

 

He leaves the hotel to do some shopping and buy souvenirs. He buys a malted whisky for Minseok that he knows will earn him a smack on his cheek against his will, and an amused shake of the head from his girlfriend Yoona.

 

On his way back, he stops by the bakery that Baekhyun mentioned the previous day to buy a slice of matcha chocolate cake for when he returns.

 

He finds Baekhyun outside the hotel talking to a tall man. He can’t hear what they’re saying, but the laughter carries over to Kyungsoo with the chilly breeze. It’s obvious they’re close; there’s familiarity in the way the man pats Baekhyun’s hair, and how he guffaws when Baekhyun mimics punching him.

 

A moment later, they exchange a hug, strong but tender. Then, the man walks away, waving goodbye at Baekhyun.

 

“Go visit me in Korea, you ass!” Baekhyun shouts after him.

 

It’s then that Baekhyun turns and catches Kyungsoo standing a few meters away.

 

The initial surprise blends into a grin. “Soo, did you go shopping without me?!”

 

Baekhyun takes the bag labeled with the bakery’s logo, and peeks inside the box with the dessert.

 

“I bought it because we forgot to the other day and…”

 

He loses that string of sentence when Baekhyun beams at him. “Thank you, Soo.”

 

Baekhyun insists they eat the dessert in the tub. Baekhyun sits between Kyungsoo’s legs, back against his chest, and the slice of cake on a tray in front of them.

 

Kyungsoo glides his fingers over the edge of the tube, and with forced nonchalance, he asks, “Where did you go today?”

 

“I met up with Chanyeol for brunch,” Baekhyun answers around a mouthful of cake. “I hadn’t seen him in months, so we lost track of time walking around and talking.”

 

“It’s good that you didn’t get lost,” Kyungsoo tries to tease. He rubs Baekhyun’s arms. “Is he one of your photographer friends?”

 

“Nope, he’s a youtuber friend,” Baekhyun says. “He’s a musician. You wouldn’t know because you’re an old man, but he’s pretty popular for his songs and covers. He even got an offer from a producer.” He licks the cream from the spoon. “I haven’t seen him a in while and he called me pretty early today, so sorry for disappearing on you like that.”

 

His concern slips out like steam under the door. “I thought you had left.” He winds an arm around Baekhyun, palm flat against his stomach. “But you left all your stuff in the room, so that made me less worried.”

 

Baekhyun freezes, then twists to stare at Kyungsoo, wide-eyed. “You were worried about me? I left all my things here so you wouldn’t get the wrong idea.”

 

Baekhyun’s lashes flap with anticipation, rosy lips parted by a sliver. The water has gone cold. There’s no pretext for the flush now coating Kyungsoo’s face.

 

“Can’t I worry about you?” He averts his eyes to the marble tiles. “I… care about you, Baekhyun.”

 

It’s the closest he’s come to express how much Baekhyun has become to him in such a short time, and yet it isn’t enough. It’s ridiculous, how a simple confession can send his heart hammering against his chest, breath stilled in his throat as the silence stretches, as if Kyungsoo was a teenager all over again. From his hand splayed on Baekhyun’s stomach, he can feel his pulse quickening, and he’s aware Baekhyun can feel his own, too, racing with Baekhyun’s in its haste.

 

Baekhyun turns to face Kyungsoo, trapping him with arms on either side of his head. Water sloshes loudly onto the floor, but Kyungsoo’s sole attention is on Baekhyun and the pretty color tingeing his cheeks.

 

“I care about you, too,” Baekhyun says, kissing the dip of his upper lip. “I know it’s been such a short time since we met, but like, I think we know so much about each other and I even feel like I know you better than people I’ve known for years, so—”

 

“Baekhyun, you’re rambling,” Kyungsoo interrupts. Baekhyun chuckles, bashful. “I understand what you mean.”

 

Baekhyun sucks on his bottom lip, a crinkle on his nose like there’s more he wants to say. In the end, he resolves for pecking Kyungsoo’s lips and resettling on his lap. Their cocks are pressed together between their bellies, and Kyungsoo grips Baekhyun’s thigh, as the tiniest of movements makes them gasp with the friction.

 

The dangerous glint in Baekhyun’s eyes singes down Kyungsoo’s spine, rekindling a fire that laps at his gut.

 

“Have you ever fucked someone in a tub?”

 

Baekhyun doesn’t give him time to answer before he’s fisting Kyungsoo’s cock and moving.

 

The water from the tube is all the floor, but the mirror is fogged with a different kind of steam. Kyungsoo fucks Baekhyun in the tube, knees knocking painfully into the porcelain, and Baekhyun’s moans ricocheting off the bathroom tiles.

 

They cross the suite to the bedroom, naked and sopping wet and slipping over the floor. The sheets stick to their soaked bodies, trapped between their legs as they entangle in each other. Baekhyun recovers in record time, kissing and groping Kyungsoo until he’s hard and ready again.

 

This time, they move slowly, chests flushed together, writhing with every push and pull of their bodies. They lap into each other’s mouths, far too gone to properly kiss, exchanging breaths for names as the pleasure coasts.

 

And there it is, swirling in Baekhyun’s eyes, those unsaid words from earlier. A fist burrows into Kyungsoo’s hair, thin lips poised around a question. Then, Baekhyun plunges to seal his mouth with Kyungsoo’s, bucking his hips to incite Kyungsoo to fasten his pace, and the moment is lost.

 

Kyungsoo hooks one of Baekhyun’s leg over his forearm before accelerating his thrusts, Baekhyun’s moans reaching a high pitch, and the question fades into the backburner with everything else on his mind.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

The airport is jammed with people for the start of the winter holidays. A mother and her three kids shove past Kyungsoo, and it’s Baekhyun who stops him from face-planting onto the floor.

 

“Be careful.” Baekhyun adjusts Kyungsoo’s knit cap over his ears, and Kyungsoo scowls. “You’re so tiny, anyone could trample you if you’re not watching.”

 

“Who are you calling tiny.” He jabs a finger into Baekhyun’s side, trying to quell a smile at Baekhyun fretting over him. “You make sure to eat well and not spend too much time outside. Make sure to check both sides of the road—”

 

“Before stopping to take pictures—yes, I know, mom.” Baekhyun’s nose crinkles, eyes rolling with mock exasperation. “You’ve told me a thousand times.”

 

“I always need to remind you.” Kyungsoo punches his stomach lightly, and smiles at Baekhyun’s huff. “And make sure to wear a scarf when you go out.”

 

Baekhyun steps closer, tugging Kyungsoo’s knit cap down so it covers his earlobes. Kyungsoo’s breath stills in his throat when Baekhyun sweeps the strands that stick to his forehead with the pads of his fingers, thumbs brushing his cheekbones on their way down and settling on the strings of his sweatshirt.

 

“I’ll make sure.” Baekhyun’s gaze is unwavering. He grabs Kyungsoo’s arm, and his touch burns through the fabric of his coat. “My friend Seulgi is an artist and she’s holding a exhibition in Gangnam next month and I was thinking—” Baekhyun laughs, shaky with nerves. “Can I just call you when you’re Seoul and then we’ll see?”

 

The hopeful twinkle in Baekhyun’s eyes makes Kyungsoo’s insides dissolve, like an ice cube dropped into scalding tea. Indecisiveness gnaws at him, because Kyungsoo’s life is still a yarn of issues he needs to resolve, and Baekhyun shouldn’t get tangled in his mess.

 

But the bigger part of him, the one that wants Baekhyun like he hasn’t wanted anything else in years, zings through him with newfound resolve.

 

He wants this boy in his life.

 

It’s a small step, but it takes all of him to admit it to himself.

 

“Yes to the call.” Baekhyun’s grin broadens, shoulders sagging with apparent relief. Kyungsoo’s heart skips a hundred beats. “But we’ll figure out the rest in time.”

 

“I promise not to call you at six in the morning,” Baekhyun laughs. “Or maybe I will, so my voice is the first thing you hear in the morning.”

 

“And why would I want to hear that?” Kyungsoo returns, but he’s smiling, too.

 

“Because I’m cute,” Baekhyun replies, voice sickly sweet, “and you like me.”

 

I like you a little too much, a voice in him rebels. “I don’t know what could have possibly given you that idea.”

 

The intercom announces Kyungsoo’s flight is about to board. The knowing look on Baekhyun’s face plucks a string in Kyungsoo’s heart. He hasn’t let go of Kyungsoo, his hold sliding to his elbow.

 

“Have a safe flight,” Baekhyun tells him. “I’ll call you when I’m in Paris.”

 

One end of Kyungsoo’s lips quirks. “I’ll be waiting.”

 

Baekhyun’s pink lower lip pales under his teeth. Kyungsoo can almost see the cogs turning in his head. Then, in a split second, a peck lands on Kyungsoo’s lips.

 

It’s quick, a ghost of a kiss. Kyungsoo didn’t even have time to close his eyes, but he’s hot under his skin. He simmers with the desire to pull Baekhyun in, take his face in his hands, and—

 

“Mr. Do?”

 

The voice chills the blood in his veins. His client, Mr. Arakawa, stands at their side, looking between Kyungsoo and Baekhyun with a mix of disbelief and repulse.

 

Kyungsoo’s heart grinds to a slow, painful halt.

 

“Sir, Mr. Arakawa,” Kyungsoo stutters. He steps backwards, putting space between him and Baekhyun. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

 

“I have to catch a flight to Taiwan,” Arakawa says curtly, eyes laid on him with stone-cold disapproval. “I’m sure we’ll see each other when I go back to Seoul.”

 

The threat in his tone is loud and clear. Words are caught in Kyungsoo’s throat. Mr. Arakawa doesn’t wait for an answer, before he parts with a bow of his head.

 

Dread rushes down Kyungsoo’s spine like ice cold water. “Fuck, he saw us,” he mutters, writhing the front of his sweatshirt in a fist. “I’m so fucked.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Soo.”

 

He lifts his gaze at the sound of Baekhyun’s voice—small and helpless, robbed of all its cheerfulness and confidence. Not only five minutes ago, both of them had been laughing, and Kyungsoo was sure about what he wanted.

 

Now, his determination fades like a puff of smoke in his hand.

 

“I didn’t see him standing there,” Baekhyun goes on, frantic. “If I hadn’t been so dumb and kissed you like that—it’s all my fault—I’m so sorry—”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head, and Baekhyun stops. “It’s okay.” He licks his lips. “I’ll work it out.”

 

It’s a lie, at most. He doesn’t know the extent of the trouble he’s gotten himself into or what the consequences will be. Acid churns and roils in his stomach every time he remembers the look of repulsion on Mr. Arakawa’s face.

 

Baekhyun reaches out, but before he can tangle their fingers together, Kyungsoo snatches his hand back.

 

“I have to go or I’ll miss the flight,” he says, eyes fixed on the sole of his shoes. His voice cracks, and he clears his throat. “Goodbye, Baekhyun.”

 

He doesn’t look back as he walks away, but he wonders if Baekhyun watched him go, long after he’s in his seat in the plane.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Seoul: stopover

 

 

“How did your trip go?” Minseok asks on Monday morning. “You look like you haven’t slept in three weeks.”

 

Kyungsoo had, in fact, not slept since he went back to Seoul. The scene at the airport kept replaying in his head, and the ensuing panic of what could happen robbed him of sleep.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kyungsoo says, going back to his papers. The information blends and fuses together into a undecipherable jumble. “I slept just fine during my trip.”

 

“Or you hooked up with someone again that kept you up all night?” Minseok’s sharp smile becomes askew. “That would explain why you look so rough.”

 

“I didn’t,” Kyungsoo mutters, hoping against hope that Minseok can’t see the revealing blush creeping up his neck. “Don’t you have meetings to go to? Interns to intimidate into doing your work for you?”

 

“Nope, I’m actually taking my lunch break in half an hour so I’m picking you up to go to our favorite Thai place.” He points a threatening finger to Kyungsoo. “You better be here when I come back.”

 

Once Minseok is gone, Kyungsoo checks his email in search of a distraction. What he finds, though, is the message Joohyun sent a couple of weeks ago, wedged between other work mails. He considers calling her, but their last phone call had been stilted and awkward, and Joohyun deserves more than that.

 

It’s one in the afternoon, but Kyungsoo is exhausted. He rubs his eyes with the pads of his fingers, and types an url into the browser’s search bar.

 

Kyungsoo hasn’t spoken to Baekhyun since he got back. By now, Kyungsoo figures Baekhyun is in Paris, but there’s been complete radio silence on his part despite the call Kyungsoo was promised. The sleepless nights that followed their last trip had knocked some sense into him. He regrets being so terse, and running out on Baekhyun out of shock and fear, instead of acting like the adult he is.

 

He scrolls down pictures of the arc de triomphe and random arrondissements in Paris, a dainty hand throwing a v sign over cobblestones. There’s a picture of Baekhyun nibbling on a baguette, nose scrunched, and the rush of affection that surges within him overcomes his exhaustion.

 

To say he misses Baekhyun is an understatement. It baffles him at times, how much space a person’s presence can occupy in someone’s life unknowingly, until the hollowness they leave behind echoes and echoes like an enormous, empty house.

 

A knock on the door startles him. “Are you busy right now?” his secretary asks, popping his head into the office. “Mr. Kim wants to see you.”

 

His smile drops—when had he started smiling?—and his mirth is replaced by the dread that fills him like lead in his lungs.

 

“Thank you, Doyoung,” he says. “I’ll be right there.”

 

Mr. Kim’s office is spacious and luminous, floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the skyline of Seoul lining the room. His boss lounges in a high-backed leather chair, impenetrable eyes following Kyungsoo as he settles in the opposite seat.

 

“How long have you working with us, Kyungsoo?”

 

The question is unexpected. Kyungsoo had been prepared for harsh words delivered in his boss’s rumbling tone as soon as he sat down.

 

“Five years going on six,” Kyungsoo answers. “Sir.”

 

“And you’ve always showed an exemplary behaviour,” Mr. Kim says, linking fingers over his desk. “I dare say you’re one of my best employees. Never disappointed the firm, not once. And our clients always speak so highly of you.”

 

And yet you still passed me for a promotion, Kyungsoo thinks bitterly. “Thank you, sir.”

 

“It’d be such a shame that one mistake could taint that shiny career of yours.” Mr. Kim’s gaze sharpens under the thick glasses. “Don’t you think?”

 

It’s said as more of a statement than a question. Kyungsoo can’t speak anyway; his mouth is cottony, tongue sticking to the palate.

 

“I got a call from Mr. Arakawa, our client in Tokyo, who tells me he encountered you at the airport before his trip to Taiwan.” A pause, where he tilts his head to the left. “And that you were with company.”

 

Mr. Kim pins him in place with a icy stare. Kyungsoo swallows, but the thickness that constricts his throat doesn’t disappear. “Sir…”

 

“Listen, Kyungsoo.” Mr. Kim sighs, long and heavy, leaning back in his chair. “I know you’re going through a hard time because of your divorce, but this conduct is unacceptable. And I’m afraid we can’t have someone of your kind among us.”

 

Kyungsoo’s pulse quickens. “What do you mean?”

 

“This client warned us that he wouldn’t continue to do business with us if you happened to be in a relationship with a man.” Mr. Kim’s thin lips contort, as if tasting something unsavoury. “And I’m sure, if word were to get out, more of our clients would take the same position.”

 

“I don’t know what to say, sir, I’m not...” Kyungsoo starts to say, but stops. The words feel all wrong as they roll on his tongue.

 

Mr. Kim arches a bushy eyebrow, waiting. “Kyungsoo, since you’ve shown such a good behaviour and loyalty to this firm since the beginning, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and leave this in the past.”

 

Kyungsoo thinks of Baekhyun and his wide, boxy smile that makes his eyes crinkle at the corners. He thinks of that night in Tokyo, and Baekhyun slurring into his neck. I wish you weren’t so afraid of being yourself.

 

He draws in a breath, gripping the armrest white-knuckled. “I’m afraid I can’t deny it, sir,” he says. “I’d rather be honest.”

 

“Are you aware of the consequences of this admission, right? You could lose your job and I’m sure you would have a hard time finding another soon if word were to coincidentally spread around.”

 

Kyungsoo’s blood is boiling. His hand folds into a tight fist, nails burrowing painfully into the flesh. “I am aware,” he says through gritted teeth.

 

“So I’m giving you the chance to retract your statement if you want to keep working with us,” Mr. Kim offers, inclining closer in his desk. “I could give you that, in exchange of a small percentage of your salary going to the company, just to ensure you won’t stray and make a mistake again.” Another pregnant pause. “But if you don’t, I’m afraid we’ll have to let you go.”

 

I’m about to lose my job, Kyungsoo thinks with panic, I’m about to lose everything. His job is his life, everything he had worked towards since college, where he had poured over years and years of hard work.

 

Kyungsoo is nothing without his job. He can’t lose the one thing that has been a permanent fixture in his life, when everything else he loved came tumbling down around him.

 

He closes his eyes briefly, tasting bitterness in the back of his mouth. “I accept your conditions.”

 

“Good.” Mr. Kim lounges back in his seat, showing yellowed teeth with satisfaction. “I knew you were a smart boy.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Kyungsoo hears from Baekhyun on Friday evening, when he’s getting ready for bed. He gets a text saying, can i call you now?

 

He splashes water on his face. Sure, he types back. He’s just finished brushing his teeth when his phone thrums on the sink.

 

“Hey, it’s really fucking cold here,” comes Baekhyun’s greeting. “My nipples are going to pierce through my sweater anytime now.”

 

A chuckle shakes him up. The mere sound of Baekhyun’s voice is enough to smooth down the lines of stress along his forehead. Baekhyun sounds carefree and cheery and so much like himself, no trace of shadows from the incident. Kyungsoo lets relief wash over him.

 

“Hello to you, Baekhyun,” Kyungsoo says. “Is it morning over there?”

 

“Yeah, but it’s snowing so I stayed in today,” Baekhyun answers. “What have you been up to?”

 

“Nothing much, just work.” Kyungsoo keeps his tone neutral as he pads to his bedroom and sits on the bed. “I bet you’ve done more interesting stuff.”

 

Baekhyun hums, and drops the topic. “I’ve been to the Eiffel tower, and Soo, it’s huge! You have to see it one day. The lines are pretty long, but it’s so worth it. The Notre Dame was very pretty and I took a lot of pictures.” The French names stumble out of Baekhyun in a funny accent, and Kyungsoo chuckles to himself. Baekhyun barrels on, “The Louvre was great, too, but I didn’t see all of it because it’s too big. And the view from the Basilica is so beautiful, it’s such a good spot to take pictures of the city, but you have to go up like—”

 

“Two-hundred and seventy steps,” Kyungsoo chimes in, “I read it on the internet.”

 

Kyungsoo had read about Paris in the past few days, whenever he missed Baekhyun. He imagined them wandering through the Jardin des Tuileries, with its fountains and sculptures, and holding Baekhyun’s hand under the afternoon sunlight.

 

 The daydream didn’t last long, until reality came crashing down on him.

 

“Someone has been doing his homework,” Baekhyun teases. “It’s the same amount of steps to the Tian Tan Buddha, right? I’m sure you can manage the Basilica, old man.”

 

Kyungsoo’s chest constricts at the memories. He grips the phone tightly, screwing his eyes shut.

 

It’s now or never.

 

He has to do it now so it won’t hurt as much as it would if he told Baekhyun in person. He won’t have to see the hatred in Baekhyun’s eyes.

 

“There’s something we should talk about.”

 

Baekhyun seems to catch on his tone, because his voice lowers into a confused pitch. “What is it? Are you okay?”

 

“I think we should stop seeing each other,” Kyungsoo grits out. Clean and quick, like removing a band-aid, but just as painful.  “You’re too young and I don’t think it could work out with our schedules.”

 

The line goes silent and Kyungsoo is tempted to check if Baekhyun has hung up—but then a chuckle, mirthless and hollow, breaks through the silence. “I knew this was going to happen.” A rush of breath creates static. “But your excuse is fucking awful.”

 

Kyungsoo opens his eyes. He’s never heard Baekhyun this upset before. “What else do you want me to say?”

 

“What about the truth?” Baekhyun points out. “I know you’re doing this to keep your job and you should at least tell me as such before letting me down.”

 

The disappointment threaded in the accusation slams against Kyungsoo’s chest, ears prickling with shame.

 

“I can’t do anything more,” Kyungsoo murmurs, defeated. “I’m sorry, Baekhyun.”

 

Baekhyun’s sigh is long and weighty, and it’s drained all the fight in him with it. “It’s fine, I understand.” His voice wobbles, squeezing Kyungsoo’s heart. “I’m sorry for snapping at you, but I think...” He cleared his throat. “That first night in Hong Kong—I thought ‘oh I’m going to stay for now because the sex is fantastic’, but there was something about you—I don’t know what it was, but I wanted to get to know you so badly. And then I did and I liked you so much, but I knew…” Another stream of breath. “I knew you were unavailable. It was just wishful thinking that you would change.”

 

Kyungsoo’s drowning in so much remorse and guilt. The sadness pressed into Baekhyun’s words is suffocating. “Baekhyun…”

 

“There is more you can do, but you’re not brave enough,” Baekhyun says, voice frayed at the seams. “I hope you can let yourself be happy someday.”

 

The call ends before Kyungsoo can get a word in. In a surge of desperation and regret, he types into a text: can we still be friends?

 

He gets no response by the time he goes to sleep that night, and when next week rolls around, he stops waiting for one.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

On a Saturday, Kyungsoo calls Minseok to meet him at his favorite bar near his place. Kyungsoo is on his second glass of scotch, and ignores Minseok’s worried look when he finds him slumped on a booth at the back.

 

“Isn’t it a little early to be getting drunk?” Minseok asks. “It’s not even five p.m. yet.”

 

“I need to get drunk,” Kyungsoo says, making an effort not to slur. “I’m a terrible person.”

 

“Don’t talk like that.” Minseok takes a seat next to him. “What got you like this?”

 

Kyungsoo draws courage from the alcohol running through his blood, and tells his friend, “I’m in love with a man. A boy.”

 

A myriad of emotions flit through Minseok’s face: shock in the slack of his mouth and the whites of his eyes, then concern in the furrow of his brow.

 

“A boy?” Minseok asks, with half a voice. “How old is he?”

 

“He’s twenty-four and he has so much figured out,” Kyungsoo says. “He knows who he is and what he wants while I’m a fucking disaster.”


“Why didn’t you tell me you were into men?” There’s no accusation in his tone, just tender chastising. The kind only best friends know how to give. “Did you think I would be bothered? Because you really underestimated me there.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Kyungsoo mumbles. “I knew I liked men before, but I never thought I would…” He knocks back the rest of his drink. “I loved Joohyun, and she suffered because of me.”

 

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for that,” Minseok says. A small hand splays over Kyungsoo’s shoulder blades. “You didn’t know how this would change, and you don’t know either if that was the real cause for your marriage to end.”

 

Kyungsoo licks his lips. His mouth is numb from the alcohol. “I didn’t want to fall for Baekhyun. It was just supposed to be for fun.”

 

“So, I was right about you hooking up with someone all these months?” Minseok laughs, bumping his shoulder. “And here I thought you were too prude for that.” Minseok scoots closer in the seat and Kyungsoo leans into his heat. “Who is he? How did you meet him?”

 

Kyungsoo closes his eyes and tells Minseok about Beijing and how enticing Baekhyun was under the fluorescent lights of the club. He tells him about Hong Kong and falling in love with Baekhyun in a hotel room. Coming to terms with his feelings and his decision to take a chance with Baekhyun in Tokyo. How everything had fallen apart on the last day.

 

Finally, by the time he’s done recounting Mr. Kim’s deal, Minseok’s thin upper lip is curled in anger.

 

“Mr. Kim is a piece of shit!” Minseok’s fist slams against the table. “You can’t let him get away with that!”

 

“I already broke up with Baekhyun.” Kyungsoo’s head drops, forehead pressing to his glass. “I don’t want to lose my job and Baekhyun deserves better than a boyfriend who will hide him from the rest of the world.”

 

Minseok clucks his tongue, arms crossed over his chest. “Then you could do something about it? Instead you’re using this situation so you don’t have to face things as they are.”

 

There’s more you can do, Baekhyun had said, but you’re not brave enough. A fresh wave of nausea and self-hatred hits him, metallic-tasting. “Why do I feel so awful, Minseok?” His left cheek is freezing where it flattens against the cold surface. “It was for the best.”

 

“That boy went to every place you were just to be with you.” Minseok’s words dig sharp knives deeper into Kyungsoo’s chest, inch by inch. “And you’re telling me it was the right decision to give up on him?”

 

“That was one of his biggest fears,” Kyungsoo says, “people giving up on him.” Kyungsoo props his chin on his forearm. “Maybe I should just be alone so I won’t hurt anyone else. Joohyun and Baekhyun… they deserve better than someone who only thinks about himself.”

 

“I think you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” Minseok squeezes his shoulder. “You can’t keep living in the past forever. Do you really want to spend your life like that?”

 

I hope someday you can let yourself be happy. Baekhyun had sounded so sad. It aches now as he replays it in his head.

 

“Can you get me another drink?” Kyungsoo asks, not bothering to lift his head.

 

Minseok casts him a sidelong glance, reproachful but resignated. He goes, muttering, “I’m making you pay for my drink if I’ll have to listen to you whine all night.”

 

Kyungsoo will repay him. Buy him one of those expensive wines he likes. For now, he’s content with keeping his head on the table and letting the alcohol numb him into oblivion.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

December sludges to January, and Kyungsoo works himself to the bone. He stays late at the office more often than not, so he doesn’t have to return to an empty apartment.

 

He drinks with Minseok and Junmyeon, another coworker, as they’ve always done on Fridays after work. And he tries not to pay much attention to the lingering looks Minseok gives him in the interim of their conversations.

 

Minseok drops by his apartment on a Saturday. He inspects the state of his apartment with mild disgust.

 

“You’d think that you turning thirty-one next week would mean that you can actually clean up after yourself,” he says, hands on his hips. “I guess not.”

 

Minseok helps him start on his spring pre-cleaning, and Kyungsoo pretends to not know that Minseok’s just making sure Kyungsoo doesn’t die in his dumpster of a home.

 

When Minseok leaves, the dishes are drying in the rack, the floors are swept and the washing machine is running on full-swing. Kyungsoo takes care to clean up the rest. He organizes the magazines in the coffee table and puts a pile of books on a sofa back into the shelf in his living room.

 

The buncheong box sits at the end of a row of books, where it has been these past few months. He’s never realized how out of place it looked, shiny and slick among his tattered books and mangas. The box had been expensive, and he never understood why Joohyun left it behind until now.

 

There’s a miniature of a hareubang couple leaning towards each other for a kiss inside. Kyungsoo remembers clearly when they bought it: it was during their honeymoon in Jeju while they strolled the street markets holding hands, and Joohyun had looked beautiful with the breeze in her hair. The ahjumma had smiled, told them the figurine looked just as enamoured as the two of them.

 

Will you still kiss me when I look like this ahjumma? Joohyun had joked, holding up the figurine. Kyungsoo had kissed her and laughed when the wind flung her hair into his face.

 

The rest of Joohyun’s things are in a box in his closet. He collects all her things littering his place: the hairbrush in the sink, the Jane Austen books Kyungsoo never liked, the DVDs he’s not going to watch again, and finally, the buncheong box with the hareubang figurine. He waits for the pang that stabbed him in the center of his chest whenever he thought of Joohyun, but it doesn’t come.

 

In its place, there’s the feeling that he’s saying goodbye to a part of his life, accompanied by a sense of liberation that flows through his veins, and his heart, finally, is featherlight.

 

He leaves the box by the door to put it in his car later, and makes himself a cup of coffee to start on his room.

 

A duffer bag falls out of his closet as he’s organizing the top shelf. Inside, there are receipts of the restaurants Baekhyun liked, the entry ticket for the cable car in Lantau Island, multiple subway and bus tickets. A repertoire of memories that flood Kyungsoo with bittersweet nostalgia, and threatens to drag him down with its force. He’s putting the papers back, when his hand brushes soft fabric at the bottom of the bag.

 

The instant Kyungsoo pulls it out, he recognizes it as Baekhyun’s beanie. He presses it to his face, breathes in the smell lingering in the fabric, the fruity scent that used to permeate his fingers after carding them through Baekhyun’s hair.

 

The only twinge that hits him nowadays is reserved for those moments when he thinks of Baekhyun.

 

Do you really want to spend the rest of your life like that? Minseok had said, and at last, Kyungsoo has an answer.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

When Joohyun arrives at the café, Kyungsoo has already finished his americano. She’s gorgeous in a baby blue dress, her hair pushed into a bun. She’s wearing earrings that Kyungsoo gave her for her birthday once, but he doesn’t point this out.

 

Joohyun is smiling at him, open and inviting, with no trace of the awkwardness that’s stiffening Kyungsoo. She’s just as beautiful as the last time he’d seen her, maybe even more so with how radiant she looks.

 

“Kyungsoo,” Joohyun greets him, sliding her bag off her shoulder and placing it on her lap. “How’ve you been?”

 

A whiff of her perfume wafts over to him. It’s not the same brand she wore when they were together; there’s no memory attached to this smell, unlike the previous one that he could smell for weeks in his pillows and clothes.

 

Kyungsoo also makes no comment on it.

 

“I’ve been good.” Kyungsoo gives her a smile in response, and it helps to dispel some of the lingering tension. “I brought you stuff that you left at the apartment. I think that’s all.”

 

“You didn’t have to.” Joohyun waves a hand. “You could’ve just thrown it away.”

 

“I wanted to get rid of them.” Kyungsoo smiles sheepishly. “No offence.”

 

Joohyun laughs, her small hand obscuring her mouth. “It’s fine, I got rid of your stuff a long time ago, too.”

 

It’s nice, to laugh with her again. “You probably don’t want them cluttering your new place.”

 

“It’s quite spacious,” Joohyun comments. “But you know I’ve never been messy.”

 

A lull in the conversation. Kyungsoo uses it to pull a bundle of papers out of his leather bag.

 

“I signed the papers yesterday.” He pushes the documents toward Joohyun. “It’s all done.”

 

Joohyun blinks once, twice, the edges of her cherry red mouth tugged upwards by unveiled surprise. “I thought that, since you hadn’t signed them yet, maybe… you wanted us…”

 

Kyungsoo lets the meaning of her words float over to him above the noise of the café. He reads it in the searching eyes boring into him across the table. She’s placed one palm over the wooden surface, leaning forward ever-so-slightly. These simple signs could have elated him last year, when their separation was still a fresh cut.

 

Now, surprisingly, there is nothing. There’s none of the bitter taste of resignation or resentment in his tongue that have accompanied him for months—just an ease and lightness in his bones that signifies Kyungsoo has finally moved on. 

 

Kyungsoo licks his lips, lets the revelation sink in within his chest.

 

“Is that what you want?” he croaks out, tentative.

 

“I—I’m not sure.” Joohyun’s eyelids flutter like the wings of a butterfly. “I’m happy with Kyhyun, but we were together for so long…”   

 

“You’re still so important to me,” Kyungsoo says. He wishes he could order another drink, because his mouth is full of sand. “But our lives are so different now.”

 

Joohyun retracts, as subtly as she had moved forward. “I know,” she murmurs. Her eyes trail over the edge of the table. “I think a part of me still can’t let go.”

 

Her lips flatten into a simile of a smile. Kyungsoo can understand that. The intimacy and familiarity in their relationship may be gone, but the way he had felt then is seared into his heart like a brand.

 

He will never forget the memories, but he has let them go in his own way.

 

“Can I ask… is there somebody else?”

 

“There was.” Kyungsoo drops his gaze to the dregs of coffee in his cup. “I’m trying to win them back because I was... unavailable when we met.”

 

“I hope everything works out.” Joohyun shows her perfect set of teeth again, and Kyungsoo can tell it’s genuine. “Is it someone I know? From your job?”

 

Joohyun’s eyes are expectant, her smile is kind. A wave of guilt and shame slams into him at the prospect of lying to her.

 

“It’s…” He inhales, but it’s not enough air. “It’s a man.” The breath he expels is ragged. “I like men.”

 

Time slows down between them in the seconds it takes for the admission to sink in and Joohyun’s eyes to widen in shock. The barista calls out an order in the background. Porcelain clanks with cutlery. The coffee machine burbles and hisses as it pours steamed milk into a pitcher. A jazzy song plays on the speakers, reminiscent of the tunes Baekhyun hummed after a shower.

 

Joohyun’s lips quake with unformed words, but her stare is steady.

 

“Since when?” Joohyun’s voice is small and fragile. “Is it a recent thing?”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head. “It’s been a thing for a long time.” The cup is gripped tightly between his hands. “Since college, to be exact. I thought it was just a phase…” Jongdae’s gentle smile and even gentler touch. “But I realized, before our marriage ended, that I might be only into men.”

 

Joohyun’s eyes shift left and right, as if trying to discern what Kyungsoo’s telling her. “But… we were married, Kyungsoo,” she says. “What does that mean?”

 

“I knew I was into men before we met, but I was also attracted to you.” He gulps. “I never thought that would change.” His grasp loosens around the cup. “I guess that’s why I couldn’t give you what you wanted, why we drifted apart like we did. I blamed it all on myself because I couldn’t be honest to you.”

 

Joohyun leans back in her seat, puffing out a defeated gasp. “Did you even love me, then?”

 

The brittle sound of her voice is a cue. Kyungsoo pushes aside his cup to grab both of her hands.

 

“Of course I did,” he reaffirms. His thumb strokes the back of her hand. Kyungsoo forgot how smooth her skin was, so pale it’s almost translucent. “I did love you very much.”

 

“I think it’s going to take me some time to process this.” A single tear rolls down her cheek, and she yanks her hand from Kyungsoo’s grip to wipe it. “I don’t know what to think right now.”

 

“I understand,” Kyungsoo says. “I brought you that buncheong box you liked so much. The haraenbaung couple is inside.”

 

“The one we bought in Jeju?”

 

“Yes, that one.” Kyungsoo reaches for her again, but her hand hides under the table. His nails scrape over the wood. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better husband to you.”

 

“You were.” Joohyun straightens, holding herself with dignity. Ever so elegant, even in pain. “We were both very happy, but it just… didn’t work out.”

 

The pull of her mouth spells anguish, but there’s certainty in her tone. For Kyungsoo, it’s like a ten-story building has finally been lifted off his shoulders, and he’s allowed to breathe again.

 

“I hope you’re happy now,” Kyungsoo wishes. “You deserve the world, Joohyun.”

 

Joohyun gives a fraction of a smile, the tension leaving her face. “I hope you can be happy, too.”

 

When Kyungsoo gets to his car later, he rests his head in the steering wheel and takes even breaths. He’s still shaking, but the quivering subsides as he rubs his palms over his thighs repeatedly.

 

It’s done, echoes in his head, over and over. The next step isn’t going to be as hard, but it’s going to need a lot of courage.

 

He’s ready anyhow.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Mr. Kim sits behind his desk, giving Kyungsoo a long look over his glasses. His forehead is corrugated into a dozen lines above raised eyebrows.

 

“Mr. Do,” he says. “I didn’t expect to see you today.”

 

His name is said as more of an acknowledgement than a greeting, in the same tone one would grant a nuisance their attention. For years, Kyungsoo withered under the rigid baritone of his boss, but not today.

 

“I wanted to talk to you, sir.” He takes the leather seat across from him. “It’s important.”

 

Mr. Kim watches him for a moment, impassive and measured. “Is this about our previous agreement?”

 

“Yes, it is, sir.” Kyungsoo fidgets with the seams of his suit jacket. “I’ve thought about it, and concluded that I can’t accept it.”

 

Mr. Kim’s eyes broaden, but narrow down to slits in a second. “What are you saying, boy? Have you lost your mind? Do you know that this mean you could lose—”

 

“I know I could lose my job.” Kyungsoo breathes in. The lurch in his stomach is like the one before a high jump. “This is what I’m doing. I quit.”

 

Mr. Kim’s mouth is set into a disbelieving frown. “You’re absolutely out of your mind. No other firm will want to work with you knowing that you are...”

 

“I’m willing to take that risk,” Kyungsoo says. “It’s better than living under threats because of who I am.”

 

Color raises from Mr. Kim’s throat, dispersing in ugly blotches over his face. “How dare you! I was extending my generosity towards you and you—you—” 

 

“Your generosity looked a hell lot like blackmailing, sir.” Kyungsoo’s mouth curves in a smirk. “You used personal information to manipulate me and I won’t accept it.”

 

A vein throbs in Mr. Kim’s temple, dangerously close to exploding. Kyungsoo stands, and doesn’t turn when he hears shouts calling after him.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

“You’re a free man now, huh.”

 

Junmyeon pats his back and takes a swig of his beer. They’re in a bar near Junmyeon’s apartment where Minseok had called them earlier after picking up Kyungsoo’s things from the office.

 

“You’re jobless,” Minseok says. “I’d be scared shitless, but here you are smiling like an idiot.”

 

“I am scared shitless, but it feels good.” Kyungsoo’s thumb traces the condensation in the bottle. “A good kind of fear.”

 

Kyungsoo had panicked before and after he quit his job. He had been a mess when got to his apartment with Minseok, but he had calmed down after a few beers and all the plans Minseok had rolled out for him.

 

Tonight, he’s smiling. He’s been looking into freelance jobs, and gotten in contact with a few of his old clients. A couple have already give him an answer about possibly hiring his services.

 

“I’d be smiling too if I got to quit in front of Mr. Kim’s face,” Junmyeon says. “He’s a real piece of work, I’d love to tell him where he can stuff his annual numbers.”

 

Kyungsoo chuckles, right before he takes a draught of his beer. “I didn’t know he could turn that shade of red, and that vein on his temple look like it would explode right there.”

 

“I’m proud of you for doing this.” Minseok’s arm drapes over his shoulders. “I know it must’ve been hard on you.”

 

Kyungsoo knows he’s not only talking about the job. “I realized I wanted to be happy,” Kyungsoo says. “And the only way was finally letting go of what was holding me back.”

 

“I think I’m missing something here.” Junmyeon regards Kyungsoo with sleepy eyes, his cheek on his palm. Junmyeon has always been a light drinker. “Anyone care to fill me in?”

 

“I’m gay,” Kyungsoo says. He laughs at Junmyeon sputtering in surprise. “I’m trying to get used to saying it, and your reaction has been the best so far.”

 

“I didn’t see that coming.” Junmyeon chuckles, and Kyungsoo releases the breath he had been holding. “But I’m happy for you?”

 

“Let’s not get cheesy, please,” Minseok whines. “I want to get drunk.”

 

Junmyeon pats his back with a grin. Minseok lifts his glass.

 

“For new beginnings,” Minseok says, with a gummy smile.

 

Kyungsoo clinks his glass with his friends’. “For new beginnings.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

On Saturday morning, Kyungsoo sits down with his laptop and a cup of coffee to check his email.

 

There are three new messages. Ms. Qian says she’s sorry about the news of his unemployment and she would be happy to hire him in the future. She’s always been so graceful. The next one is from another client, who’s looking to start on a project next month in Seoul. Lastly, an untitled message. His heart jumps and lodges in his throat. Byun Baekhyun, the sender reads.

 

The content is images that take a few seconds to load on the page. Slowly, he sees the snowed streets of Tokyo, the skyline view from the Mori tower, food from restaurants. The Tian Tian Buddha covered in a light mist. The buildings and harbour of Hong Kong. The Symphony of Lights. He can remember the moment each picture was taken, how Baekhyun looked behind the camera, and his smile when he caught Kyungsoo staring.

 

It ends with a picture of both of them. Their faces are pressed together, smiles wide and eyes crinkled at the camera. The glow of the sunset illuminates the top of their heads and softens their features. He clutches at his chest as a twinge punctures between his lungs, spreading to his torso and the tips of his fingertips until he aches all over.

 

The message under the pictures is short and succinct:

 

here are the pictures i promised u. hope ur doing well.

 

Kyungsoo can't breathe with so much longing and yearning and everything in between.

 

He closes his laptop, and curls up in his couch. He decides to postpone work in favour of a nap.

 

It doesn’t feel like he’s slept for too long when his phone thrums on the coffee table.

 

“I’m picking you up to go somewhere tonight,” Minseok tells him as soon as he answers the call. “So be ready at ten.”

 

“Uh, hi?” Kyungsoo mumbles. “Where are we going?”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Minseok says. “Just wear your best outfit.”

 

The line goes dead before Kyungsoo can edge in another question.

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

Minseok pulls up outside his apartment at ten on the dot. He’s tight-lipped until they arrive to an art gallery in Gangnam.

 

“Is this where you wanted to take me?” Kyungsoo asks, when he climbs out of the car. “I didn’t peg you as the artistic type.”

 

The posters for the exhibition are familiar, but it’s only as they’re entering and he sees the name of the artist that he remembers why. My friend Seulgi is holding an exhibition in Gangnam next month.

 

“Minseok?”

 

“Yoona talked about a Baekhyun she met through her artist friend,” Minseok explains. “She showed me his blog, because he sounded familiar. We watched some of his videos and there you were." Minseok's smile is pleased. "Small world, huh."

 

"Are you sure you didn't plan this whole thing up?"

 

"I did plan it," Minseok says. "I thought you needed a little final push." He raises one thin eyebrow. "And I'm not above giving a non-metaphorical one if you try to run away."

 

“What if he doesn’t want to talk to me?” Kyungsoo’s stomach is tied into a thousand knots. “I hurt him, Minseok.”

 

“Could you unclench? You don’t know if he doesn’t want to talk to you.” An excited little sound comes from Minseok, and Kyungsoo turns in the direction he’s pointing. “He’s over there.”

 

Kyungsoo’s heart jolts when he spots Baekhyun across the room. He’s dressed in an elegant grey coat and turtleneck, specs sitting low on his nose. His light brown hair is groomed into a neat comb, which accentuates the sharp line of his jaw. He’s never looked as handsome. His posture is relaxed, a tube of champagne held between his fingers, while he talks to a tall guy, big ears peeking from curly, pink hair.

 

Chanyeol, Baekhyun’s absurdly tall friend. Kyungsoo zeroes on the guy’s massive hand cupping Baekhyun’s shoulder with such easiness, as if it belongs there.

 

“He’s with a friend,” Kyungsoo says. “That guy… Baekhyun met up with him in Japan.”

 

“They do look… very friendly.” Minseok makes an irritated sound. “You know, you should go and talk to him.” Minseok pushes him lightly. “Don’t mess up.”

 

Kyungsoo’s heartbeat resonates through him, louder than his footsteps hitting the floor. Chanyeol notices him first—he stops mid-sentence and Baekhyun turns to see what’s caught his attention.

 

His eyes grow tenfold and his lips part ever-so-slightly, but he catches himself, and his expression seals into impassiveness.

 

“Kyungsoo, what are you doing here?”

 

The question comes with a spice of defensiveness. Kyungsoo winces.

 

“Don’t tell me to leave,” he blurts out. “I need you to hear me out first.”

 

“Right now?” His gaze hardens. “Why would I do that?”

 

“Because I think this concerns you as well,” Kyungsoo says. “Please.”

 

Baekhyun nods after a long moment. “I have to stay here a little longer because this is my friend’s exhibition, but I can come by your place around midnight. Chanyeol is staying at my place right now.”

 

Baekhyun must have seen something in Kyungsoo's face because he laughs. Kyungsoo nearly keels over at how much he had missed that sound.

 

"Chanyeol is staying with me for a while," Baekhyun says. "Remember that producer I told you about? He's here to record some songs and he needed a place to crash." He wrinkles his nose. "Not like I owe you an explanation anyway."

 

Kyungsoo tries to quell the wayward bubble of hope that springs within him. “Alright, I’ll be waiting then.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

He’s waiting by the door when his wristwatch strikes midnight. After saying goodbye to Minseok, he had come home and taken a shower, but it hadn’t eased his nerves. Each minute that passes adds a stone to the mounting fear that Baekhyun might not come, but the anticipation that singes down his spine is greater, quickening his pulse with each tick of the clock.

 

A knock on the door comes at half past twelve.

 

Baekhyun has undone the first two buttons of his dress shirt, revealing the concavity of his throat, and his comb has crumbled into strands flopping over his forehead. Even in this disheveled state, he looks perfect, and Kyungsoo wants so much he can barely breathe.

 

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Baekhyun says, bending to slip out of his shoes. “They went for drinks after it was over, and I stayed around for a bit.”

 

“It’s okay,” Kyungsoo murmurs. He plucks at the loose fabric of his track pants. “Are you tired? Because we could—”

 

“No, don’t run away now.” Baekhyun’s fingers curl over Kyungsoo’s shirt. His free hand closes over his wrist. “I came here to talk.”

 

Baekhyun’s tone is as steady as his gaze. Kyungsoo can feel his knuckles burning through the thin shirt, and he knows Baekhyun can feel his pulse piquing where his thumb presses to the inside of his wrist.

 

He sucks on his lower lip, inhales until his lungs are full to bursting. "I came clean to Joohyun and quit my job. I wanted to be brave for once."

 

The space between Baekhyun’s brows crinkles. “Sounds like you've been busy.”

 

"I've been so lost for a long time." Kyungsoo studies Baekhyun’s socked feet on the mat. "I didn't want to hurt you so I pushed you away. I thought it was for the best."

 

"You don't get to decide what's good for people," Baekhyun counters. "I'm an adult, I can decide for myself."

 

Kyungsoo lifts his head in time to spy the vulnerability in Baekhyun’s gaze, right before it drifts to the floor.

 

He’s been such an idiot.

 

"I know and I'm sorry.” Kyungsoo covers Baekhyun’s hand on his chest. “I'll do anything to make it up to you."

 

"It's gonna cost you, old man." Baekhyun laughs, a shaky, breathy sound, that coils around Kyungsoo’s heart. "But we'll get to that later."

 

Kyungsoo’s reaction at the sound is instant. He moves forward to take Baekhyun’s face in his hands, and his relief when Baekhyun goes easy is near-palpable.

 

“There’s something I need to know.” Baekhyun’s voice lowers into a whisper, husky and velvety. His breath is hot on Kyungsoo’s chin. “How do you feel about me?”

 

“How do I feel about you,” Kyungsoo echoes. He takes in Baekhyun, his Baekhyun, beautiful as ever. “I’m very much in love with you. I thought that much was obvious from how I can’t stay away from you.”

 

It’s like a switch has been turned on: Baekhyun grins, glowing from the inside out. Kyungsoo wipes the moisture gathering at the corner of Baekhyun’s eyes with his thumbs, and revels in the softness of his smile, the warmth of his hands encapsuling his own.

 

“When did you become such a sweet talker, old man?” His voice is warbled and wet, eyes glittering with unspilled emotion. “That was the answer I wanted to hear.”

 

He clutches Kyungsoo’s shirt, tugging him closer, and Kyungsoo laughs, with so much relief and wonder and happiness. The meeting of their lips is like a balm to an itch. Baekhyun’s mouth is yielding and sweet, as the rest of him is—he goes pliant under Kyungsoo’s hands, expelling sighs that taste of wistfulness. 

 

The demureness doesn’t last. Baekhyun pushes him to the wall and traps him there, kissing him deep and merciless. Kyungsoo’s lightheaded, heady with the smell and taste and feel of Baekhyun clogging his senses, and all of them as familiar as coming home.

 

“I want you,” Baekhyun rasps, breath fanning over Kyungsoo’s kiss-swollen lips, “I want you so much.”

 

“You can have me.” He pulls Baekhyun flush against him, leading them towards the bedroom. Baekhyun sucks a mark on the crook of his neck, fitting a palm over his ass and squeezing. A surge of desire and longing rushes out of him in a gasp. “I’m yours.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

With taut legs on either side of Baekhyun’s waist, Kyungsoo moves on his lap slowly, teasingly, fisting Baekhyun’s hair as he leaves a trail of kisses on his neck.

 

Every now and then, Baekhyun says, “You look so pretty writhing on my dick,” a shiver rippling through Kyungsoo at the gravel in his voice. Kyungsoo only responds to the admissions of love Baekhyun sears into his skin with his lips, and wishes they could be as visible as the hickeys scattered over his body.

 

Baekhyun leans back, supporting himself on one hand, the other splayed on Kyungsoo’s lower back. He starts thrusting up, fast and unforgiving, and Kyungsoo throws his head back and yells.

 

Baekhyun makes his coffee in the morning, fumbling with the machine while Kyungsoo laughs from the table. His nose wrinkles when Kyungsoo takes a swig of the liquid, but smiles proudly at the hum of satisfaction it earns.

 

“What can I say? I have a talent for making crappy things look better,” Baekhyun says. “That applies to the disgusting thing in your cup, which I think you should stop drinking because—”

 

“I love you,” Kyungsoo says, and Baekhyun’s rambling ends abruptly. Kyungsoo chuckles, linking their hands over the small kitchen table. “Was that enough to make you shut up?”

 

Baekhyun lower lip juts out in a pout. “That was dirty, Do Kyungsoo.” He rounds the table to invite himself into Kyungsoo’s lap. “You can’t just say it like that.”

 

Kyungsoo runs a palm up Baekhyun’s back, dragging his flimsy tank top. “How can I say it then?”

 

Baekhyun buries his fingers in the hair behind Kyungsoo’s ears. “I don’t know, but—” He presses a chaste kiss to Kyungsoo’s mouth. “—give a man a warning, will you.”

 

Kyungsoo cups Baekhyun’s face, mellowing when Baekhyun leans into it. He wishes he could save exactly how he feels right now, with Baekhyun warm in his lap and the morning light on his hair, gaze still fuzzy with sleep.

 

“Where do you want to go next?” Baekhyun asks, the flat of his thumb on Kyungsoo’s chin. “I mean not right now, but in the future.”

 

That’s right, Kyungsoo thinks, giddy with excitement. Their future unfurls before them, yet to be written, and entirely their own.

 

The answer comes with a kiss to Baekhyun’s nose. “Wherever you want to go, as long as I’m with you.”

 

 

❦❦❦

 

 

The streets of Sicily are sizzling with the midsummer heat. It doesn’t help that it’s a Friday, the last day of classes for some schools, so students crowd the pavements and cafés. Baekhyun’s portable fan whirls on bravely against the weather, and it’s contradicting enough that Baekhyun wants to stick as close to Kyungsoo as he can.

 

“Maybe we shouldn’t have left the hotel,” Baekhyun says. “I’m melting out here.”

 

“But you wanted to try all the wines,” Kyungsoo says. “And you said we wouldn’t go back until we were properly drunk.”

 

Baekhyun drapes an arm over Kyungsoo’s shoulders, and uses the opportunity of a woman and her children pushing them together to plant a kiss on Kyungsoo’s cheek.

 

“That’s right.” His smile is as bright as the Sicilian sun. “You look so cute when you’re drunk.”

 

Here, they don’t have to worry about the disapproving stares. No one cares about them and Kyungsoo finds that he doesn’t care if anyone is watching.

 

He presses close to Baekhyun and kisses his neck. Baekhyun’s skin is warm due to the sun, and Kyungsoo tastes salt when he licks his lips.

 

“Have you ever seen me drunk? It doesn’t take me one shot to get drunk,” Kyungsoo says. “I can drink you under the table any day.”

 

Baekhyun’s smile is wicked and crooked. “You want a challenge, old man?”

 

“Is this how it’s going to be?” Kyungsoo muses with a wry smile. “Us getting drunk everywhere we go?”

 

Baekhyun holds him close and plants a kiss to his head. “It’s the way we roll.” He shrugs. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

 

The sunlight catches on Baekhyun’s hair and his eyelashes, but it can’t compete with how bright Baekhyun is beaming. It never ceases to amaze Kyungsoo how beautiful he is or how much he loves this infuriating man.

 

“I’m game,” Kyungsoo says, his heart full to the brim.

 

Baekhyun’s satisfied with his answer. He entwines their hands together, palms fitting like two pieces of a puzzle. Baekhyun’s laughter rises with the afternoon breeze, and Kyungsoo reels him back in for another kiss.