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1961 California Spider

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"the male doesn't want a rich man or a handsome man or even a poet,

he wants a man who understands his eyes if he gets sad,

and points to his chest and says:

this is your home country"

-نزار قباني, Nazir Qabbani*

 

For the twenty years Yoon Sanha had lived in Seoul, never once had he been to this side of the city. Dominated by neglected welfare housing, and inundated by petty and not-so petty crime, the corrupted downtown streets of Seoul were overrun with infraction and vulgar wrongdoings. This criminality, deemed shameless and profane, was enough to make Sanha avoid the area for the entirety of his life.

Sanha had been born privileged. Privileged in that his family had Money – capitalised, italicised – in such substantial amounts that it was more a title than something they were in possession of. The Money Sanha had been born into had allowed him the education he’d received, sending him onwards and upwards until he graduated two years early; allowed him to decide against the best universities in Korea, and choose travel instead. For a year Sanha danced with the sky and was married to the sea, before he returned home to the city he was undoubtedly fond of. There, Sanha moved out from under the wings of his disagreeable parents, and into a place of his own overlooking the Han. He needn’t worry about work given the weight of his wallet, but often found himself in a grey-walled office building in the centre of the business directory two days a week, offering his services as Friend to a one Park Jinwoo. Jinwoo, five years his senior, was kind enough and smart enough to see past Sanha’s money and peer in at his soul instead, because underneath the Gucci and the Prada, Sanha was just a twenty-year-old boy who missed getting his knees dirty. With the same monetary status as he, Jinwoo was concerned enough to offer going with him to the downtown streets, knowing that people like them didn’t belong in a place like that. Sanha had politely turned his offer down, though, knowing full-well he was plenty capable and should, matter-of-factly, learn to do things for himself.

As he drove these very streets now, hostile and distastefully grey, he couldn’t help but feel he was a very long way from his uptown apartment. Because for the twenty years Yoon Sanha had lived in Seoul, never once had he needed to venture into this side of the city – but he’d never needed a mechanic before either, never needed a classic car specialist. Jinwoo had insisted upon finding the right person for the job, and within a few days of the purchase, Sanha’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider was booked in for a check-up with a mechanic going by the name Rocky. There had been no first nor last name; or at least, nothing proper enough, or used enough, to be worth mentioning.

So, Sanha was left gripping his new (old) steering wheel, trying his best to focus on the robotic drawl of his GPS, trying to ignore the countless stares he was receiving. Sanha himself wasn’t much of a car person. He knew brands, sure, but didn’t know their street value, didn’t know what was rare and what was not, but knew enough to know that the car he drove now was worth millions. To drive such a vehicle – the most expensive purchase Sanha had ever made, and perhaps, would ever make – into these parts felt ludicrous. But alas, it had to be done – Rocky was the go-to guy for rare classic cars, and what Sanha drove was undoubtedly that.

The voice emitting from his phone speakers was loud enough to cover the mindless music playing on the radio, and informed Sanha that the mechanic’s garage was just two hundred metres ahead. It wasn’t so much an industrial area – at least, not one Sanha was used to – but more a suburban domain, houses cramped together and looking inhumanely derelict. Sanha couldn’t help the tiniest pang of fear he felt, couldn’t stop the overwhelming guilt that followed, either.

Sanha didn’t think himself a bad person – no, definitely not – but he could be better, too. Everyone could be, he guessed. He was good enough to know that people didn’t choose this life, knew that it came down to social construction and minorities being pushed farther and farther down, away from people like him, the privileged; but was bad enough to still be somewhat terrified of being in their presence.

With the garage in his sights, he indicated off and parked the spider into one of the vacant spots beside the office.

The building itself looked like most garages, Sanha supposed. One storied and emitting an uncomfortable stench of oil and burning rubber, the garage stood lonesome on a large vacant lot surrounded by residential properties, and in his navy suit and brown leather brogues, Sanha felt entirely out of place. There were a few curious stares being sent his way from mechanics, who stood underneath cars raised on automotive lifts, jumpsuits matching the colour of the suit he wore. Sanha assumed that the car itself was being stared at, not him, because the cherry red convertible was almost a one-of-a-kind and in perfect condition, sleek and shiny and gorgeous, that it would be difficult not to stare.

With a heavy sigh, Sanha opened the car door. He was immediately hit with silence, the distinct smell of gasoline stronger now, and the eyes he could feel staring at the car were now staring at him. Sanha knew he looked a little ridiculous. Knew that the way he held himself was a little foreign in these streets, the bag he held at his side worth more than the company in front of him. Sanha wasn’t entirely sure what he had expected – perhaps more cat-calls; wolf-whistling– but alas, there was nothing apart from the staring, but even then, their eyes had now darted away. From what he could see, there were four men in the workshop, one of whom was making his way over to him now.

“She’s a beauty!” His voice was surprisingly delicate, matching that of his soft – yet still striking – features.

He gestured to the convertible with his head. “You must be Yoon Sanha.”

He was close enough to him now to see that the man was shorter than he was, though not by much, and he strolled with a relaxed swagger and a welcoming smile. It was warm, and the man was surprisingly cute and clean-cut. The hand he held out for Sanha to shake was smudged black with grease and oil, but Sanha shook it anyway, well aware of the reputation snooty rich boys like him had in these parts, and desperately not wanting to leave a three-million-dollar vehicle in their possession should they believe in it.

Sanha smiled back with what he hoped was an equal amount of warmth, and dropped the man’s hand. “Ah, yes. That’s me.”

The mechanic grinned, sensing his curiosity. “It’s not every day we get a car like this in here. Nearly passed out when I saw what model you’d booked in.”

Sanha nodded curtly, “right.” He felt his chest fill with pride as the man stared at his car. A pause followed, filled with silence and the sound of drill bits and other machinery Sanha couldn’t quite place. “Right,” he said again, “are you Rocky then?”

The man huffed, gestured with the full extent of his arm towards the steps of the office, directing Sanha forwards. “No,” he said, voice laced with mock irritation. “I wish I was Rocky. He’s a God, really. At least in these streets, he is.”

The inside of the office was covered in framed newspaper clippings and business certificates and warrants, something Sanha found surprisingly comforting as he stood in the tiny room. There was a desk in the back left-hand corner, a few old desk chairs pushed back against the far wall. There was a door labelled staff only that Sanha assumed led out into the workshop, and another which led further back into the office, ducking out around a corner he couldn’t see. The desk itself – although small and ancient looking – was semi-organised, unlike Jinwoo’s desk at the law firm. There were no disorganised stacks of paperwork or half-eaten lunches; instead, there was a mug full of pens, and a document book in the middle, and wrench that looked somewhat thrown there haphazardly off to the side. The smell wasn’t as bad inside as it was outside, in the way of the workshop itself, but it was strong enough that he could feel a headache coming on.

The mechanic made his way over to the desk now, steps a little closer together now as he flips a switch and the overhead fan begins to whirl. Sanha hadn’t noticed it before amidst all the other chaos of the room, but now he was grateful for it as the closeness of the room was startlingly obvious now. He grabbed a pen and flipped the document book open to a fresh sheet, lining up the tracing paper and wrote the date and Sanha’s name in silence.

“Okay,” he said, voice small and barely audible over the tick-tick-tick of the fan. It wasn’t balanced correctly, the decade-old mechanism running on its last legs. Sanha didn’t mind, though; the movement of air was sweet relief. “Rocky isn’t here right now – he’s off getting lunch. He’ll be back in thirty minutes if you want to wait around? Or I can take the keys and have him call you?”

Sanha contemplated this for a minute. He could wait around, though that meant a whole half hour either sitting in his car – which seemed terribly rude – or in the office, and he wasn’t entirely sure how much longer he could stand the smell. A drill bit sounded from the workshop – muffled by the walls, but still loud enough for his temple to throb. As soon as he hands the keys over, he plans to call a cab, take him straight to Jinwoo to prove to his friend that he was alive and unharmed. Thirty minutes, though realistically short and made up of nothing, seemed like years away to him now.

Across from the desk, Sanha shook his head at the mechanic. “No, it’s alright. I’ll leave the keys with you,” he added a polite smile, hoping the smiley man would see through his painfully obvious headache and general discomfort. The man must have, because he just nodded and continued writing whatever details into the book. He’d ask for his full name and contact number and email, and when he asked for his address, Sanha hesitated. He hated this part.

Sanha knew that this privilege he was born into allowed him to have ample opportunity and choice, so much so that when it came time for him to purchase an apartment, he’d decided on one in the most expensive and sought-after buildings in all of Korea. Telling people this address usually earned him a bombardment of questions, both invasive and innately curious, though more often than not, these queries escalated into rude and suggestive connotations. He muttered off his address to the mechanic with a low rumble, hoping that he’d brush over it and take no notice. The man relayed the address with him, as if to confirm he had heard right, and the only reaction he got from the mechanic was a slow rise of both eyebrows as he wrote, before they retreated back down to normal a short moment later. Sanha felt his shoulders ease down, slouching around his body.

When the time came for Sanha to hand over the keys, he felt somewhat nauseous. He knew that it was just his nerves eating away at him, telling him to not trust this place – the gurgling of his stomach and increase in his heart rate acting as a forceful shove, telling him to get out of there, and just take the car to fairly reputable place in his neck of the woods. But the document had been signed, and the mechanic in front of him now looked like both a kitten and a puppy, and was all-round unreasonably soft, and denying him now felt like its own criminal act itself. So, with one last smile – despite being incredibly forced, lips spread wide and frightful over perfectly-straight, white teeth – he passed the keys over to the open hand, and bid him – and these streets – farewell for the day.

 

The mechanic – Moon Bin, the document sheet read when Sanha unfolded it from his suit pocket over lunch with Jinwoo – mentioned that Rocky would call him and give him an overview of his inspection. Sanha had booked the car in for a complete check over, something that was Rocky’s supposed God-like territory, especially when it came to rare classic cars. Jinwoo had said finding Rocky’s reputation online had been a swift and easy process, claiming that nearly every website was filled with reviews for the man. He didn’t know much more about him other than the fact he was fairly young, in his twenties from what he could gather, and had been working around cars since he was a child. His experience – though limited to Seoul and the downtown area – was invaluable, and had allowed him the reputation he had today: unbeatable.

Sanha – being the bubbly, confident socialite he was – didn’t so much get nervous over phone calls much these days, though as he waited for this particular call, he got that same nauseating he feeling he had at the garage. He thinks it’s because part of him was still absolutely terrified that something would be drastically wrong with the car itself, because the likelihood of someone like Sanha picking up vintage Ferrari in perfect condition was very unlikely. On top of that, the cement-like terror that hung stiff and heavy in his gut was a constant reminder that the 3.25-million-dollar car was sitting – maybe torn apart – a good twenty-seven minutes from here, in a dodgy neighbourhood Sanha swore he’d never go to. Maybe even more than those two things, it was because the phone call was coming from Rocky, who everyone compared to God himself, and the idea of communicating with someone of that calibre was terrifying all on its own.

For a moment, Sanha wonders if that’s how people felt talking to him. He can’t really remember where his parent’s money had originated, but knew that more had come from being the socialites they were, from writing projects and owning stocks and investments and a whole lot else. For Sanha, there had been the fact that he was a superb saver, but additionally, he himself had followed in his parent’s footsteps with investments and stocks, and, on one occasion, illustrated a children’s book for his friend Dongmin. Jinwoo would often say that people were intimidated by him, especially those who didn’t know him well, because he was – obviously – outrageously rich, and more so handsome with pore-free skin and a golden glow about him that matched that of the sun. His eyes were kind as they were warm, but in the right conditions they were also serious and obscenely soul-searching. Jinwoo commented that that last one could be because they had known of his intelligence, given that he didn’t need a university degree to get where he has. Many would say, though, that he got where he has because of his Mummy and Daddy, and to some extent, that was one hundred per cent true. However, by age sixteen, Sanha’s parents were more or less vacant from his life. Which was why, when it became easy enough for him to do so, he packed his shit and left them. They had yet to contact him in the three years he had been gone. It hadn’t necessarily bothered him all that much, given they weren’t the kindest souls he’d met; but they were his parents, and at the end of the day, all anyone ever wants is for their parents to be proud of them.

On the table where Sanha sat opposite Jinwoo, his phone started to vibrate. The elder jumped, then glared at him when he chuckled. The phone number wasn’t in his contact lists, and this was his private line, so unlikely to be anyone media related – which meant it could only be Rocky.

He clicked the line through, hands a little shaky. “Hello?”

There was a shuffling on the other end, something sounding like a door opening and closing. “Yeah, hey – is this Yoon Sanha?”

The voice was deep, deeper than Sanha had predicted, but at the same time it wasn’t menacing, wasn’t intimidating at all. It felt like honey, thick and viscous and unsuspectingly sweet. It’s the kind of voice one would associate with a novelist, or a professor; someone with a great expanse of knowledge, and an intriguing voice to match. He heard a coarse swear in the background, followed by a loud clatter somewhere by the phone.

Shit,” came Rocky, and Sanha pressed his lips together in a snicker. Jinwoo looked at him from across their lunches with curiosity, but Sanha merely shook his head and flapped his hand in dismissal.

“Uh,” came the voice. “I mean. Um. Sanha?”

“Still here,” he said, hoping the mechanic couldn’t pick up on his laughter.

Rocky cleared his throat, “okay, good, excellent. I just wanted to—” He was cut off by another bang in the background, much louder this time. So much so, that Sanha yanked the phone away from his ear, though it was still close enough for him to hear a violent thwack against someone’s bare arm, and the resounding yelp that followed. He had to admit, this wasn’t outright helping his anxiety about the entire situation, but he couldn’t deny that it was slightly enjoyable hearing the flustered voice that belonged to this God-like mechanic.

“Sanha? Sanha?”

He pushed his ear back to the phone, “Jesus,” he said smirking around the word. “Is everything alright?”

There was a groan, “Yes. No. I mean, yes, it’s all fine. Just my co-workers think it’s fun to bother me on important phone calls.”

Sanha bit his lip, “this is an important phone call?”

Rocky hummed, “not every day I get to call someone about a three-and-a-half million-dollar car, that’s for sure.”

“I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.”

He laughed, higher in pitch than his voice, but just as smooth and lovely. “It’s a beautiful car. One of the best kept classics I’ve seen in a while, actually.”

Sanha drew back in his seat, let out a sigh of relief. “Oh? That’s good then. No work needed?”

“Well,” the voice sounded as nervous as he felt. “I’d recommend a proper tune up, still. And I’ll give it a usual service, just to be sure. Are you happy for me to give it a bit of drive, to make sure she runs smooth and the transmissions all working?”

Sanha could tell that there was a smile in his voice, the nervousness still there but overrun by subtle traces of excitement. He knew, because he wasn’t unobservant by any means, that the mechanic desperately wanted to drive the car, not just sit in it and hear the engine purr. He was so sure this Rocky wanted to feel the wind in his hair, something Sanha hadn’t realised he loved so much, and who was Sanha to deprive a man of that?

“Of course, you can. Have fun.” He hoped, as he said it, that Rocky could hear his smile, too.

 

He hadn’t really expected a call from Rocky so soon, but the very next day, his phone vibrated on his bedside table at half nine in the morning. Normally, Sanha would find himself annoyed at being disturbed so early, but upon seeing Rocky – Mechanic come up on his caller ID, the irritation dissipated.

After their phone call yesterday, Sanha had saved his number into his phone a little too eagerly, perhaps, because Jinwoo watched him with one brow raised and his half-drunk latte in one hand. His eyes were knowing, and somewhat disapproving, because Sanha did have this habit of pouring all his attention into the very wrong people. Rocky, in Jinwoo’s eyes, might have been just that. Sanha argued over and over, though, that he hadn’t even met him, had heard only his voice, and that he seemed both funny and professional, and an all-round kind person which was, at the end of the day, what anyone could ask for in a mechanic. Jinwoo had snorted at that, saying he would be going with him to pick the car up. Sanha was, although embarrassed, grateful – because whilst his car was in limbo, he was using his Mercedes, and getting to the mechanic with one car, and then needing to leave with two was impractical and made zero sense. Jinwoo would go with him, and drive the Mercedes back, while Sanha took the Ferrari. 

He swiped his screen, cursing his fumbling hands in the morning, and managed a scratchy, “hey!”

There was a hesitation. “Sorry, darl. Did I wake you?”

As stupid as it was – and unreasonably creepy – Rocky’s voice made Sanha feel peaceful, and the nickname certainly hadn’t helped. It was awkward thinking it, actually, considering he’d never even seen him before, and had had only one phone call before this. But Sanha wasn’t very good at denying himself things, and a boy with a pretty voice and soothing accent was one of the hardest things to resist. Sanha felt like he could melt in the warmth of his voice, thick and smooth like melted chocolate, and for not the first time, Sanha found himself imagining what his face looked like.

“No, ah,” he stuttered, sitting up in his bed. “No. I was already up. What’s up?”

“Oh good! Bin told me it was a bit early, but I wanted to get a start on your baby early.”

Should have listened to him, Sanha thought, but grinned nonetheless. “Of course, no worries. How can I help?”

He heard a ruffle of paper in the background, and a click of a pen. “Well, I did the service and the tune up for you, and it’s all clear. Changed the filter and gave ‘er an oil change, she’s good to go.”

Sanha made a weird noise at the back of his throat, caught somewhere between a gasp and a yelp. “That’s fantastic! Thank you!” He had pushed the sheets aside now, bare toes touching the cold, wooden floorboards with an inaudible hiss.

“Yeah,” he said. More shuffling, more pen clicking. A habit, Sanha thought, a nervous one. “Just one thing though. More aesthetic, than mechanical.”

Sanha walked from his room – covering his yawn – and through to the kitchen. “Which is?”

He flipped on the coffee machine, reached up in the cupboard for a mug. “The radio…” he started, then stopped, as if searching for words.

“Is shit?” Sanha finished for him, smiling at the resounding snort coming from the man down the line.

“One way of putting it.”

Sanha chuckled, “you don’t have to tell me about it. It gets one, maybe two stations, and it play’s old-time country music.”

Rocky chortled, and Sanha mentally slapped himself for grinning as widely as he did. “Can you fix it?”

The mechanic scoffed, mock-offended. “Can I fix it?” He copied Sanha, smile in his voice. “Of course, I can. Will put a delay on the car though, I might have to order in some specialty parts? That alright with you, darl?”

Sanha choked at the nickname again, and Rocky’s voice came down the line – a little muffled – laced with panic. “Sanha? Sanha? Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” he wheezed out. “I’m good, yeah, good.” He coughed, clearing the invisible lump, and gasped into a mouthful of coffee.

“Alright…so, are you happy for me to put that through?”

Sanha nodded his head, then shook it at his stupidity. The pretty boy’s voice made him delirious, but Sanha decided to blame the early hour. “Go ahead.”

Rocky said his thanks, and cheeky sorry for waking you, Darl, before hanging up, leaving Sanha stuttering into the beeping phone and forgetting all about his morning brew.

 

A few nights later, Sanha found himself at the entrance to Dongmin’s apartment.

Sanha had met Dongmin way back in high school, when he was a first year and Dongmin was a year away from graduating. Sanha’s intelligence had shone through right from the beginning, earning him a place on the math team and in a number of advanced placement classes, which just so happened to be shared with the junior. Unlike Sanha, Dongmin had aspired for university, and pursued the creative writing degree he’d dreamt of since he was old enough to write. A few semesters in, and Dongmin merged his writing with Law, graduating a few years later and getting a job at the law firm Sanha met Jinwoo through.  

The day Dongmin introduced the two of them was the day Sanha realised he did have loving people around him. After having broken with his parents so young, while he was still in high school, the emotional distance he felt around people was dauntingly obvious. Dongmin filled that empty space underneath his ribcage, but only so much; when Jinwoo entered the picture that one fateful Christmas Party, the warmth that soared through him was unlike anything else he’d felt.

Tonight, though, Sanha hoped he could shed some of that warmth onto Dongmin.

In his first year of University, Dongmin had come to Sanha’s home in a fit of ecstatic tears, telling him the boy – Woo Jin – he’d been fantasising about from his Introduction to the Creative Writing Craft class had finally asked him out. From then on in, and for the remainder of his degree, the two were inseparable. On the day of his graduation, Woo Jin proposed, and had prepared their wedding for this Spring, but—

The door yanked open, and Dongmin looked just as Sanha had predicted. Red-eyed with swollen, worried lips, the skin dry and peeling off from where his teeth had gnawed on the flesh. The sweater he wore was one Sanha recognised as Woo Jin’s, unsurprisingly considering the two lived together, but a shock just the same as the man had cheated on him. Sanha stepped forward on instinct the moment he saw Dongmin’s lip begin to tremble, and the elder collapsed into his arms in the doorway. Sanha – with strength he reserved for moments just like this – scooped the man up in his arms, one looped under his knees, and he hated how similar this lift was to those cliché bridal lifts, something that Dongmin would now miss out on. At least, this time around.

He carried the sobbing boy through to his lounge, avoiding the memory-filled bedroom as best as he could, and sat him down right in the centre. When he released him, the sobbing only got louder, so Sanha hastily kicked off his shoes and sunk into the spot beside his friend. Dongmin’s small, shaking hands latched onto the lapels of Sanha’s jacket, which he wished he’d removed as the room felt stuffy and hot, but didn’t risk moving to do so now. Dongmin very rarely cried, and when he did, it was even rarer for him to cry like this. Sanha had seen him do so just once before this, when his grandmother had succumbed to her illness, and there had been a week where Sanha couldn’t recall how many times the boy had fainted from exhaustion. When that had happened, Sanha ensured that he’d never let it happen again, so this time around, seeing Dongmin as he was now, it was a painful reminder of what exorbitant amounts of pain could do to this usually strong-willed man.

Sanha let him cling to him for many hours, watched him drift in and out of dreamless sleep. The younger examined the room the best he could from his angle, could see the despair littered around it. Books had been pulled from the shelving unit against the back wall, books that Sanha knew to be first editions, many of them gifts from Woo Jin. More than that, and the most painfully obvious, was the broken window by the small balcony. The large lamp that once stood by the doorway was no longer standing, lying flat on its side with a torn lamp shade, and Sanha noticed how bare the walls looked without all the pictures that had one hung there.

There was a slight rattle on the front door, and Sanha shifted his head as Jinwoo crept in, shutting the door silently behind him. He had come from work, it looked, satchel hanging off his side and overflowing with manila folders, and a bag of takeaways in the other. His suit looked rumpled, and Sanha noted how he usually left the office late, around eight pm, but now it was only just nearing six pm, and he was already here. Sanha smiled, despite the sadness of the situation, that they were a friend group made of meringue and concrete – soft yet supportive when it mattered most.

He placed the takeaways on the table, before unlacing his shoes just as Sanha had done. He walked over the lounge, where Dongmin was still pressed against Sanha’s side. The tears had stopped, but only because he was sleeping, and Jinwoo’s cast-iron lawyer gaze was replaced by his soft, gooey centre. He knelt on the floor, hands reaching upwards to Dongmin’s face, and cradled his cheeks between his hands. Dongmin mumbled something in his sleep, twitching, but didn’t awaken completely. His breathing had changed, though, so he was somewhat alert, and Sanha had to look away when Jinwoo leant upwards to kiss Dongmin’s forehead. It was emotional, quite a precious moment, something he’d seen many times before, and every time it happened, Sanha had to draw himself away.

Sanha knew there was nothing more to it; it was, according to the two of them, merely platonic. But as he watches Dongmin wake up fully now, leaning into the hands and the kiss, and eventually falling forward into Jinwoo’s opened arms, Sanha wishes that it was more. If it had been, maybe Dongmin’s heart wouldn’t be quite so broken.

 

It was later that same evening, when the moon hung bright and high in the sky, that Sanha found himself lost for words outside a 24-hour liquor store. There was an unsurprisingly small collection of alcohol in Dongmin’s apartment, as Woo Jin himself didn’t drink, and Dongmin had never wanted to make the other man uncomfortable by doing it himself. But alas, now was the time – so Sanha drove to the nearest store he could find that was open at ten pm at night, and planned to buy out half the store. And he did just that, but when he returned to his car outside, there was an almighty prang right in its side, the driver’s door half buckled inwards, and his windscreen so badly cracked that just by looking at it he was sure it would shatter.

He stood there in silence for a moment, contemplating his options, which turned out to be very limited. He could have Jinwoo come get him, but that would mean Dongmin would either have to come, too, or be left alone, and in his current state, Sanha couldn’t bring himself to call his friend. He could leave the car in the lot, and call a cab to Dongmin’s and just come get the car tomorrow. But that in itself could call problems, as people would assume the car had been dumped, and the authorities would chase after him because of it, and that was attention he definitely didn’t want – or need – right now. His last option was to call his mechanic, but he snorted to himself at that. He didn’t even have a mechanic to—

He stopped. He narrowed his eyes, furrowed his brows. He was wrong. He did have a mechanic, and his name was Rocky.

He was calling the man’s number before he could consider any other options.

 

 

"With what do you fill an empty life?"

Louise Glūck, Poems 1962-2012.

 

 

Chapter Text

"i want to love you,

the corners of your heart no one's been to.

i want to know you,

run my fingers down the creases and unfold you."

Lenachka, 'I Want to Love You'

 

 

Sanha hadn’t considered the time.

Hadn’t really bothered checking it when he pressed the mechanics number in his contact list, hadn’t considered that calling someone at half past ten at night was downright wrong. By the third ring, Sanha had started to panic, because in the silence of the liquor store car park – the only sound the north and south travellers on the motorway a few streets back, the hum of the 24-hour sign above him – it seemed so much louder, tinny and gravelly, but loud. When he heard the crackle of the line being picked up, the bile sitting at the back of his throat sunk back down to his gut.

“Sanha?” The voice was as warm and velvety as he remembered it, but it was laced with what could only be described as panic, now.

He swallowed, “Yeah – Rocky, hey.” Sanha looked to the road in front of him, saw the lack of traffic there, and felt guilty immediately. “Um, I am so sorry.” For what, he wasn’t so sure. Sorry for waking him, sorry for calling him in the first place, sorry for the fact that this had even happened in the first place, and thought calling him was his only option.

“Sanha—” There was a crash, sounding similar to the first time they were on the phone, when a co-worker had bothered him mid-call. Through his guilt, and his nerves, he was able to a smile a little at the thought of Rocky’s flustered voice.

Fuck off, would you?” It wasn’t aimed at him – he knew this, because the voice was far away, distant-sounding, and it was obvious that a hand had been put over the mouthpiece of the phone. Not well enough, apparently, because Sanha could clearly hear the fuck you that someone through back, and he bit his tongue to stop his chortling. It was funny, that was sure – but right now, Sanha just needed Rocky’s undivided attention, because Dongmin was at home crying, eating takeaways and completely sober.

“Rocky, listen, Rock—” He tried his best to but in, use his professional voice, the one he reserves for media statements to silly magazines and for making appointments.

“Sanha, shit I’m so sorry – shit, I mean. Gosh. I’m sorry. I don’t normally swear—”

Rocky are you fucking kidding me right now, you little shit, you always swear? Who are you even talking to?” It was the distant voice again, and Sanha could feel the frustration eating away at his bones like acid, and his eyes were prickling, stinging as cold air starts to whip around him, and the rattling of his bones gets a little louder. He was cold and Rocky wasn’t paying attention to him. “Is it your Mum?”

There was another crash, louder this time, like the hand had been removed. Sanha sobbed now, dry and painful in the back of his throat, and was considering hanging up when—

“Sanha. darl, what’s going on?” Rocky’s voice was one of those voices that could give you goose bumps no matter what was being said, there was a lilt to his voice that was both awakening and soothing, and was so very much like melted chocolate or gooey caramel that just hearing it was enough to make him shudder. For all Sanha knows, this Rocky character could be the most hideous creature to walk the earth – not that it really mattered, in the grand scheme of things – but one thing was for sure, he had the most attractive voice Sanha had ever heard.

Sanha couldn’t stop the second sob, louder this time, less dry, because the tears that had been welling up in his eyes were down his cheeks now, and the shaking that often accompanied his semi-breakdowns were kicking in, and everything was too much. His friend was at home, heartbroken, waiting for some kind of relief, in the form of the vodka bottles that were rattling in the eco bag in his left hand, and he just needed to go home. He should’ve called a cab.

“Darl, are you crying?

Crying? Who’s crying? Rocky who the fuck did you hurt this time?”

Sanha groaned, spinning on his heel, then wincing when the bottles smacked against his legs. He ignored the clatter of the glass, not feeling any liquid ooze, so knew they hadn’t broken. “Can you please tell your friend to be quiet?”

Silence followed, and then Sanha groaned again, dropping to the ground in a half-squat. He held back his next sob, knowing he was out of line, and the lack of response was eating away at him. Why this mechanic had a way of affecting him like this, Sanha had no clue, but the regret of his words was as painful as the acid eating away his insides.

“Jesus. I’m sorry, that was,” he rubs at his forehead as he says the words, swallowing another groan of defeat. “That was not cool. I’m sorry.”

There was a pause, and the only reason Sanha knew he hadn’t hung up was because he could hear a hitch in his voice. He waited a moment longer, ready to speak again, but Rocky beat him to it. “Sanha, what’s going on? Why are you crying?”

Sanha had to admit that this was the strangest phone call he’d had to date, especially given that this was his mechanic, and it was nearing eleven pm at night, and he had nothing but three bottles of vodka and a pranged Mercedes.

“Someone smashed my car.”

It wasn’t how he had intended to say it, but now, once the words were out, he realises that there was no better way to communicate his problem. His car was smashed, and he was crying because of it. Not because of the car itself, but because Dongmin was sad, too, sadder that he was frankly, and Rocky’s friend was annoying him beyond belief, and had no respect for the importance of late-night phone calls.

Rocky’s reply was immediate, and his voice was stronger and louder than it had been all evening. “Where are you?”

 

Sanha wasn’t entirely sure what he was expecting. He knew Rocky to be young, no chance of him being older than twenty-five, but Jinwoo had suggested only a few years older. Because of this, he knew not to envision an older mechanic with grey hair and wrinkly, tan skin, but rather a young man like him – but still, he couldn’t avoid all the other stereotypes. He pictured a bald, young man, with tattoos on both his hands, and maybe one behind his ear, too, because from what he had seen and heard about the downtown streets, tattoos were more common than not, despite their illicit standing in Korea. Everyone knew people still got tattoos, still ran studios despite the illegality of it all, but Sanha had yet to meet someone so blatantly open with it. He had thought, maybe, that Rocky would be his first.

But no. He wasn’t.

Ten minutes after hanging up, a tow truck roared into the liquor store car park, coming to a stop near his Mercedes. The front cab was red, the paint a little flaky and in dire need of a paint job, not that Sanha knew anything about that. He was sure it was mechanically sound, given a mechanic drove it, but Sanha would be an idiot to deny that he was an aesthetics person, and found himself somewhat repulsed by the physical condition of the truck. But even still, Rocky was inside that truck, and had come to save his ass at eleven pm without argument, and the relief and gratitude he felt was overwhelming.

The engine cut out as Sanha pushed himself up from the concrete beside his car, preparing and rehearsing an awkward introduction in his head, like he always did, and wiped away any gravel from his hand for the man to shake.

Sanha had expected a bald, tattooed man with big arms and a stout stature, with a tight singlet and ill-fitting jeans, because of all the stories he’d heard, that’s what he’d come to expect. How wrong Sanha was. How wrong everyone was.

Because the man who had climbed out of the tow truck was anything but the stereotype. His hair – which he had lots of – was floppy and a little wavy, like it was a victim to the humidity outside. It parted a little in the middle, too, exposing just a sliver of clear forehead underneath. It was dyed, but done so artfully, and the silvery blonde tresses looked delicate and soft, and Sanha bets if he were to smell them, they’d smell of coconut. Even in the poor lighting, he could see how deep his eyes searched, how intoxicating they were. They were eyes that commanded attention, along with the rest of his body – shorter than Sanha but more than a head, quite significantly, actually, and had the boy not been so muscular and confident in his stride, Sanha would find it endearingly cute. But the man was, muscular and confident, that is. So much so, that Sanha felt attacked by his self-esteem, biting at his ankles and tugging at his shirt, trying to make it bigger, sink him down inside of it.

Sanha knew it to be ridiculous – he knew himself handsome to some extent, knew that in the end it was overrated anyway. The socialite status he had gathered was often plastered in local trash magazines, alongside comments about his recent hair colour, or recent outing, discussing the beauty of his face, the perfect alignment of his features. He had gotten to the point in his life where he wouldn’t read them all, because there were far too many, but the ones he did read often sounded identical and praised him for nothing but his face. Not that Sanha had any right to complain; they’d given him this life he has now, though at the same time, it was very possible it was this same life that had meant his licence plate was easily distinguishable, and as such, had put him in this situation to begin with.

Rocky stopped in front of him now, small but built, a wide, cheeky smile amplifying the handsomeness of his face. The prettiness of it. Because that was what he was, Sanha decided. More than handsome, more than just attractive, Rocky was pretty. And it was such a refreshing thing, to see a man embrace that pretty – or not, maybe he didn’t, but Sanha sure hoped he did, because it was a look that was radiating and astounding and Sanha wished to copy it at some point.

Sanha took a tiny moment to notice his clothes – not a white singlet, and not ill-fitting jeans. The opposite, actually. His jeans were acid-wash blue, splattered with what Sanha could only assume was paint and oil and grease, like he’d worked on a car in them, which Sanha guesses he had. His shirt was stain-free, however, and was grey and oversized and looked so unbelievably snuggly on his small frame. It looked like a hand-me-down shirt, one he’d stolen from a friend.

Or a boyfriend, Sanha thought, cursing inwardly at himself for even bothering to check the guy out. He was going crazy, he was sure of it, because this was his mechanic, not a potential love interest. Christ.

Rocky was still smiling at him, and Sanha still wasn’t sure what to do or say, so he settled with “Hi.” As soon as he said it, he realised it didn’t sit right.  “I mean, I’m Sanha.” He shakes his head, stupid.  “You know that, of course. Just. Thank you so much for coming.” He wants to die, but that won’t do right now. Instead, he sticks his hand out.

Rocky’s eyes slip from his face, down to his outstretched hand a second later, delayed as Sanha felt the mechanic watch him speak – he flushed at this, but willed it away before it was too obvious – and shakes it eagerly. “Nice to finally meet you,” his voice, in person, was just as it sounded on the phone – but the quality was just different. Instead of sounding tinny and rattly and far-too distant, it was so very close and clear and so very much like toffee and sugar that he wanted to pinch himself to make sure this was actually happening. That was too forward though, too obvious, and Rocky would well and truly think him crazy if he did that.

“So,” Sanha said, forcing his eyes away from Rocky’s beautifully pink lips, and over to his mess of a car. “That happened.”

Rocky seems to have tuned out a little, or maybe his reaction speed is just really bad, because his eyes don’t shift over to the pranged vehicle for a few seconds. When he does, he immediately cringes, his lip tugging down at one side. “Yikes.”

Sanha scoffs, “yikes?”

“I mean, that’s not good?” The mechanic purses his lips, shrugs a little.

Sanha groans. “You can fix it right?”

Rocky shrugs again. “I can’t. But Binnie will. He’s our panel beater. MJ’s our glass guy, so he’ll sort you out with the window.”

Another co-worker. Sanha hadn’t met this one. Binnie – Bin, he guesses – he had, that first day, had been a little taken aback at his attractive cleanness. MJ though, that name wasn’t familiar, but—

“Is MJ the guy who’s always bothering you on the phone?” Rocky ducks his head, grinning a little embarrassedly. Sanha wants to pinch himself again. He refrains himself from doing so.

“Yeah,” the mechanic explains. “We live together. He can be a little…loud, I guess.”

Sanha snorts, “loud.” He chuckles. “You’re polite.”

Rocky lifts his head, shakes it through his laugh. “Gotta’ be. I’m with you, Darl.”

Sanha catches the instant regret in Rocky’s eyes the moment the words come out, and whilst they’re normally enough to make him cringe – in a cute, little way – Sanha makes no move to make Rocky feel embarrassed by it. The red flush on the mechanics cheeks is enough, it’s endearing and sweet, Sanha feels strangely protective of the older man in front of him. He doesn’t even know him – Sanha’s paying him to fix his car, to tow his Mercedes – but he here is, biting his tongue to stop himself cooing with fondness at how blushy his damn mechanic is.

Rocky moves away, closer to the car, probably to avoid more humiliation on his behalf, and Sanha thankful for the break in the conversation. Gazing politely into Rocky’s eyes was hard, especially when he was so impolitely attractive. Sanha watched the muscles clench in the man’s legs, admired the way they looked in the tight jeans from a distant, allowing himself this simple pleasure. Rocky ran a finger along the prang of the driver’s door, muttering something to himself, before pulling out his phone. From here, Sanha could see that he was texting someone, a blue bubble being sent, with nearly automatic replies. Sanha aspires for that kind of reliability, and from a business perspective, Sanha was very impressed with how Rocky was created his clientele.

He heard Rocky snap two pictures – one of the door, another of the window – before sending them through to the recipient, and shoving his phone back into his pocket. He turns back to Sanha, oblivious to the youngers shameless staring, and gives him a mind-blowing smile.

“Right,” he says. “Where to?”

 

Rocky makes Sanha sit in the truck as he loads up his Mercedes, much his distaste, but Rocky was adamant that he needed to do so for safety. He was more embarrassed by the flashing lights on the roof he turned on, making yellow spin around the dark car park, drawing unnecessary attention towards them. A few minutes later, after the car was secured on the back, Rocky climbs into the driver’s side with a knowing smirk. He glances his way, throwing that smirk his way, and Sanha wants to punch him. Sanha’s embarrassed, in more ways than one, and maybe MJ on the phone earlier had been right – Rocky was a little shit.

Sanha glared at him – playfully, he made sure of it – and Rocky giggled cutely as he reached to turn the flashing lights off. Sanha sunk into the seat, huffing and crossing his arms across his chest. Rocky started the engine, and the loudness of the engine was enough to make him jump in his seat. Across from him, the mechanic chuckled again, shaking his head to himself as he puts the truck into gear.

“What?” Sanha asks, turning towards the mechanic, tucking the seat belt under his arm to stop it cutting into his neck.

Rocky shook his head, this time at him, “no, nothing.”

“Rocky.”

They met eyes, the only sound the indicator as Rocky pulls to a stop at the driveway. “Really, nothing. You’re just funny, Sanha.”

He blanks. Rock thinks he’s funny. He’s about to freak out when he reminds himself there’s no reason too, that this is his mechanic, and he’s driving him home because some asshole decided to smash up his car – this was not a date, nothing romantic about it at all. Sanha really, really hated his hormones sometimes, and this was one of those times.

There’s a silence between them that’s strangely comfortable, but it means his other senses can run wild – and he wished they wouldn’t. The truck smells like he’d expected – like oil, gasoline, like the build-up of age and use. There’s something else there, too, kinda musky, like sweat maybe, but something different, too. He decides that it must be residue of aftershave, or cologne, or something that’s lingering on Rocky’s skin, because when his hands move around the gear stick, or the steering wheel, the smell amplifies, as if being distributed through the vents.  Sanha has no other way of describing it other than Man, and he mentally punches himself in the dick for nearly whimpering at that.

Sanha needed out of this damn truck, desperately, actually, and he’d never been more thankful that Dongmin’s apartment building was so close.

Rocky slowed at a red light, and the silence had just started to seep into awkward territory when Rocky spoke again. “So, can I ask – what were you doing at a 24-hour liquor store this time of night? I mean, don’t get me wrong, you do you. I just kinda took you for a martini guy, not a late-night vodka run guy.”

Sanha snickered, running an anxious hand through his fringe. He had no idea what he looked like right now, but he was sure it was messy and unkempt and borderline disgraceful, and he was thankful that there had been no one to sight him.  As soon as he formulated a response to his question though, his smile dropped.

Rocky noticed. “Hey, Darl, you don’t have to answer. I’m just being nosy. Don’t worry—”

“No, No! I’ll tell you it’s just…a little, awkward, I guess.”

Rocky looked anguished now, as if in physical pain, “Sanha, really—”

“Rocky, stop.” The boy stopped, hands tightening on the wheel, throwing a concerned look over to him now. “Really. It’s fine. It’s just, my best friend, his fiancé…his fiancé cheated on him, and there was no alcohol at his place, so I went for an emergency run.”

He saw Rocky’s hands clench tighter on the wheel, the knuckles turning white. “Shit, that’s shitty.”

Sanha hummed in acknowledgment. “And as for the vodka thing – I mean, you’re right. I try to have more class than this, but—”

Rocky puts up one hand to stop him. “No need to explain. I understand the vodka now. Though, I’ll admit, I would have gone for four bottles myself. Not three.”

He giggles, and they lapse into comfortable silence again. Rocky smiles when he drives, and Sanha’s not sure if it’s because of their conversation, or because it was just how he was. Either way, Sanha appreciated it, because the night past hadn’t been filled with many. Dongmin’s wrecked cry echo’s in his mind, and Sanha fiddles nervously with the handle of his shopping bag. He wonders how Jinwoo is going, if he’s handling it okay – there’s no messages on his phone, which is somewhat of a relief, but also concerning that neither of them had questioned his whereabouts, especially now that he’d been gone for over an hour.

When they stop at another set of lights, Sanha rakes his eyes over Rocky’s upper body, admires the way a sliver of his biceps can be seen through the baggy sleeve, and how every now and then it clenches as he changes gear. His eyes drop to his hand, and it’s bigger than he thought, and he immediately looks away. He settles his eyes on his face, now, the sharp line of cheekbones, the hollow of his cheeks below it, causing envy to flood into Sanha’s body, but also pride at being in his presence. The man was, undoubtedly, beautiful, and Sanha was positive that he’d be a huge asset to any modelling company, even with his height.

Sanha didn’t normally check people out quite so blatantly, but the man was driving, and looked very focused on doing so, so he let his eyes wander a little more than he’d normally allow. Sanha was human, and he was male, and he was so outrageously gay and out that he couldn’t resist staring at Rocky. He hoped Rocky knew how attractive he was. It had to be a crime if he didn’t. Surely.

“What’s your favourite colour?”

Rocky’s voice pierced the silence like a knife. Sanha jumped again, cursed at himself for doing so, for being so jumpy around the elder. “What?”

Rocky quickly glanced over at him, a smirk playing on his lips that Sanha chose to ignore. “Your favourite colour. What is it?”

Sanha frowned, “why?”

He sighed deeply, “c’mon. Small talk. Humour me.”

Sanha turned away from him, turning his attention to the fast-moving world outside. In the night, the lights zipped quickly and blurrily. “Red.”

Red?”

Sanha didn’t turn to face him, but he scrunched his nose up at the tone Rocky used. “What’s wrong with red?”

“There’s nothing wrong with red. I just took you for more of a yellow kind of guy.”

“You’ve got all these ideas of what I’m like, and they’re all wrong,” Sanha said with a snort.

Rocky shrugged again, arms flexing as he slowed the gears to a stop. A car tooted somewhere up ahead as the lights burnt to a stop. “Misconceptions.” The lights changed again, and the car started forwards. “Okay, how’s this. I ask you some questions, you ask me some back. Clear some things up.”

Sanha faced him again, briefly admiring the way the light cast shadowy depths across his face, blushing when Rocky turns to face him now, tongue-in-cheek, grinning. “Okay there, Darl?”

He shoves Rocky’s arm playfully, “first misconception. You’re nice.

The mechanic takes one hand off the wheel to clutch at his chest, “you wound me, Sanha.” He pauses to check his blind spot, swiftly changing lanes before asking his own question. “Coffee or tea?”

He smiled, “tea. Cats or dogs?”

“Easy, dogs.” He giggles at Sanha’s screwed up face. “Cat person?” Sanha nods shyly, gaging the others reaction. Rocky shakes his head with mock-disappointed, “should’ve known. Precious things like you never like dogs.”

Sanha splutters, crosses his arms over his chest. “Excuse me, I am not precious!”

Rocky coos over at him, twiddling a finger in his direction, and for not the first time that night, Sanha wonders what the hell is going on. This is his mechanic, not some friend he’s known all his life, so why are they acting like this? Sanha didn’t mind per se, but the confusion was strong enough to illicit an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

“Do you cook?”

Sanha makes an inhuman noise, clapping his hand over his mouth to stop it further. Rocky is quite obviously trying not to chortle in his seat. “I’m going to take that as a big, fat no.

“You’d be right too.”

He shakes his head, “disappointing.”

Sanha scoffs at him, shoving him a second time. “Are you a morning or night person?”

Rocky looks across the cab to look at him. “It’s eleven pm, Sanha. What do you think?”

His fingers twitch. “Well. I. What. That’s not fair! I said was sorry!”

He’s laughing across from him, and it does nice things to his eyes and face, makes him bubbly and squishy and just really soft, and Sanha doesn’t understand how someone like this can really exist. He pinches himself again, but loses track of how many times he’s done that this evening.

Yoon Sanha, you’re silly. I don’t mind. Really. I’m just teasing you.”

Sanha grumbles, sinks lower into the seat. “Why were you awake?”

Sanha finds he wants to put his hands down on to Rocky’s shoulders – because one, they looked irresistibly strong and probably lovely and warm to the touch, but mainly because he just kept shrugging. “I do my best work at night.”

“You fix up cars at night?”

“Uh, no,” he says, suddenly looking nervous, maybe even a little embarrassed. “I um. A couple of us teach some of the kids around the neighbourhood, and we do our best choreo planning at night.”

Sanha stiffens. “You dance?” Rocky nods, eyes not leaving the road, knuckles white on the steering wheel. “You teach kids to dance?” He nods again. Sanha whistles, because what he really wants to do is lean over the gear stick and plant one on him, but that’s not really appropriate.

“What?” Rocky’s glancing at him again now, eyes dashing from the road back over to him a little frantically.

Sanha hums, “it’s cute.” He dares to poke a finger in one of the mechanic’s dimples, and the blush rises higher along his cheek bones. “You’re cute.”

Sanha liked being daring, he liked the thrill of it, liked that usually people responded well to it. Liked that at the end of the day, he didn’t owe them anything, liked that it was all fun and games and that both parties knew it was. But he felt different with Rocky – different because he was his client, and he was doing business with him; different because it was closer to tomorrow than it was today, and in these late hours Sanha knows bad things can happen. Bad in the sense that realistically, they’re good, but Sanha didn’t want to be held accountable for anything that happens now, especially when he was getting on so well with Rocky. So, hearing the words slip of his mouth just now, he instantly regrets them.

But Rocky just giggles – his fucking giggles – and presses one hand to his cheek, as if to stop the redness that was exploding there. Sanha hadn’t prepared himself for the next thing though, which was Rocky’s cheeky reply, sending him in a bit of a downward spiral.

“Nowhere near as cute as you, though.”

 

The questioning continues, though the flirting stops. Sanha is quick to review his words before saying them out loud. He was trying to maintain some kind of professionalism, even though Rocky himself didn’t seem to be going for that affect – but the whole thing didn’t really sit right with him otherwise. Not that there was anything wrong with a bit of harmless flirting, it was more that if anything were to go pear shaped, Rocky literally held the keys to a three-million-dollar vehicle he’d very much like back. And, on top of that, a reputation that could be very easily tarnished by such antics.

When Rocky pulls up to the front of Dongmin’s apartment building and cuts the engine, a saturated sort of feeling embodies him. He feels nauseated, because of what awaited him upstairs, but also because he was nervous. No matter how much he told himself this wasn’t a date, his body sure felt like it was one – a handsome man with a nice smile and admirable manners had just driven him home, and his mind had this way of tricking itself into believing things that are quite obviously not that way. He can’t stop that pull though, the one that exists between them in this moment, and he hopes Rocky feels as suffocated as he does in the tension.

Just when Sanha doesn’t think he can take it anymore – take the slow, heavy breathing being exchanged between them, the smell of gasoline and oil turning Sanha on a little more than he’d actually care to admit, Rocky’s wide gaze slicing through the darkness and tearing into his own – he elder quickly turns away, and is opening the door. Sanha is so shocked by the sudden tear in the tension that he can’t move for a moment, and startles when his passenger door opens, a rush of cool air entering the cab. Rocky is low to the ground now, with what his height has (hasn’t) given him, and the fact that the truck is raised off the ground. Rocky had pulled down a step-stool from the inside of the door earlier that night so it was easier for him to climb inside, but looking down at it now, he realises it’s a fair bit steeper than he remembers. He considering the physical consequences of jumping out and onto the pavement, but Sanha wasn’t overtly coordinated, and he’d probably sprain his ankle doing so. And no one wants a ridiculously attractive person to see that happen to them. No one.

He’s studying the drop, trying to decide the easiest way to climb down, thinking that surely the car had been heightened a great deal because climbing in wasn’t this complicated, when all of a sudden, Rocky’s hand dashes out around him, unclipping his seat belt. Next, with a yelp, Sanha has two big hands wrapping around his waist, lifting him easily from the seat. He’s weightless for all of two seconds, the time it takes for Rocky to lift him from the cab and set him down on the footpath, but it’s enough to suck the oxygen out of his lungs, and leave him scrabbling for more when his hands leave his skin.

The movement was innocent enough, Rocky had seen his contemplation, his hesitation, and had gone and done something about it. It was nice. But Sanha didn’t want nice. Sanha wanted a rude and heartless mechanic, who charges him double because he’s rich and doesn’t know shit about cars, wants a mechanic who would have said fuck off instead of dropping everything to come get him. If his mechanic had been an asshole, then Sanha might not be feeling quite so breathless, quite so fluttery in his tummy. It was an inconvenience, these feelings, this attraction, but there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about them now that they were sowed and ready to grow.

Though, as Rocky turns to him, holding the bag of vodka, he can’t help but he grateful. His smile is little, but its genuine and warm, and it’s unfairly inviting. Rocky was testing his self-control, and was proving that he had very little.

Sanha went to take the bag from him, but Rocky shook his head. “I’ll walk you to the lift.”

He went to protest, but Rocky had an expression of determination that looked impenetrable, set in stone, even, so he kept his mouth shut and led the shorter man inside the building. He pressed the buzzer by the lift, waiting a few seconds, allowing his face to be entirely visible on the screen so Jinwoo could buzz him through, and then he could hear the lift travelling down to greet him.

He turns to Rocky, hating the slight tug on his heart when he realised he had to leave him, hated that he was feeling that at all more. Rocky shared a similar expression, and Sanha noted now how the lights reflected prettily off the earrings that lined his ears. Rocky handed over the bag when the elevator dinged in arrival.

“Goodbye, Yoon Sanha,” he said, voice somewhat remorse, but still cheeky like Sanha knew it to be.

“Goodbye, Rocky,” Sanha said back, tops of his ears red, matching his cheeks, his neck. He lifted a hand up in farewell as he stepped backwards into lift. Rocky smirked back and their eyes stay locked in an intense gaze as the doors slide closed, the door between them the only division. When he’s sure he out of ear-shot, Sanha screams.

He’s so fucked.

 

Sanha had managed to somewhat contort his face into something resembling composure when he opened up Dongmin’s door. It was nearing midnight now, but all the lights were on and Sanha could hear faint music being played.

Jinwoo was in the kitchen, shoving a plate of food in the microwave. “Sorry,” Sanha said, half-whispering, unsure where Dongmin was, and in what state.

The man spun on his heel, nearly tripping at the haste. “Shit, Sanha! Don’t sneak up on people like that! It’s rude!”

Sanha didn’t say anything back, just lifted the bag of vodka in greeting. He watched Jinwoo’s eyes flicker down at it in confusion, before recognition took its place. “Perfect,” he says, lips pulled into a smirk.

Sanha grabbed the biggest glasses in Dongmin’s apartment, while Jinwoo grabbed the Coca Cola. They made a beeline with the drinks – and food – to the lounge, where Dongmin was still sprawled on the couch. Now, though, the boy had changed into something he himself owned, not his ex, and the television was playing late-night drama reruns, though it played on mute. The depressing drawl of music was coming from the other side of the room, and Sanha knew that at some point they were going to have to change it to something more upbeat and mindless, something to get smashed too.

For now, though, Sanha kicks his shoes off again, deciding against telling the story of the attractive mechanic coming to the rescue, and sits down the end of the couch. He lifts Dongmin’s feet into his lap, tugs at his calves a bit, and Dongmin understands the notion immediately. He sits upwards, wobbly, eyes still dangerously red, but his skin maybe looks a little less blotchy, maybe even a bit thicker already, and he crawls up into Sanha’ arms.

Sanha let’s Dongmin cry for a whole ten minutes before pulling him away from his chest, stopping the soothing movements of his thumbs on his upper arms. In place of his arms, he gives Dongmin a drink – and then another, and another, and another, until the bottles become less and less full, until Dongmin’s passes out, until Sanha’s dreams about big hands and gasoline.

 

Somewhere in the hazy morning light filling the apartment, Sanha awakens. Not enough to get up and moving, and definitely not with the pounding of his head, but enough to scratch around for his phone. It’s nestled right on the edge of the glass topped coffee table he’s lying beneath, and he grabs at it with a groan.

8:23.

He groans again, and goes to throw the phone away from him when he catches sight of his notifications. There’s a few Instagram likes and something from his aunt on Facebook, but there, right in the middle them all, are two green alerts.

 

7:59 am
Rocky – Mechanic

            Good morning Darl! I hope your head isn’t hurting too badly when you wake up ;)
 

Sanha chokes at the wink.

 

8:08 am
Rocky – Mechanic

            thought I’d just also mention that your friend is lucky to have someone like you around right now.

 

Sanha doesn’t choke this time, instead just tucks the phone underneath his body with a red-cheeked smile.  

 

"in the end there doesn't have to be anyone who understands you.

there just has to be someone who wants to."

- Robert Brault

 

Chapter Text

"i was in the dark when you caught me like a reflex.

you were in the car with the headlights glowing.

where are you going?

all i wanna do is burn with you."

- lilly wolf, 'burn with you'

 

 

The next time Sanha hears from Rocky, it’s a few days later and he’s sitting at Jinwoo’s desk. There’s a half-drunk bottle of iced tea in front of him, and an untouched sandwich. The temptation to eat it is getting stronger, and if Jinwoo doesn’t hurry back from his meeting soon, he’s going to snatch it. He’s flicking through the calendar on his friend’s desk when the office door is pushed open, and a flustered looking Jinwoo storms through.

Sanha puts the calendar back in its rightful place. He knows better than to ask. After all these years, Jinwoo rarely got into foul moods – was only ever in them because of work. This was one of those times where the frustration got the better of him, and Sanha took note of how his leg would bob up and down underneath the desk and his fingers slammed across the keys, searching for answers that he knew weren’t there. Normally, Sanha would find a way to occupy his mind with something less strenuous, but he’d overheard how important this particular case was, and knew that he’d be putting a foot in it. Instead of interrupting, or demanding attention, he silently slides the rest of his drink and the sandwich he’d picked Jinwoo up on his way over across the desk towards him.

Jinwoo’s countenance changes when it slides into his line of sight. The rough edges soften out, the crease between his brow smoothening just a bit. It wasn’t enough, not for Sanha, who hated seeing his generally carefree and boisterous friend act this way, but it would have to suffice for now. He knew Jinwoo wouldn’t want to talk about it – knew that his friend wasn’t legally allowed to, anyway. But Sanha, sitting there silently, providing Jinwoo with something to eat, was his gentle reminder that the support was there if he needed it.

They sit in silence for a while longer, Jinwoo still searching through pages of documents, while Sanha watches on completely disinterested. By now, the law firm has gathered that Sanha is somewhat of a permanent addition to their team, even if he doesn’t provide them with any help whatsoever. He’s there just as often as some of the part-time workers, and he doesn’t shy away from making himself known to all of the building. Sanha goes to say something – opens his mouth, clicks his tongue into action – but no words come out. It’s not like Sanha was nervous, or over-thinking anything; it was just that whatever this case was, meant a great deal to Jinwoo, so seeing him as worked up over it as he was, Sanha knew that words lost their meaning. It didn’t matter how poetically he strung together a sentence, nothing would help right now. 

After ten minutes of more silence, Sanha reaches into his bag for his notebook and sketch pen, opening it to a fresh, crisp page. Dongmin’s latest children’s book – yet to be published, yet to be named, yet to be announced, even – sat in Sanha’s e-book library, and the accompanying artwork he was asked to provide remains unfinished. He’d sketched half the book, sent them away to Dongmin for review, but hadn’t heard back due to recent upsets. They had already pushed the date of his publication back given these recent events, and had chosen against announcing the work any time soon to cut Dongmin some slack. But still, Sanha mindlessly started to sketch whatever came to mind, hoping he could perhaps adapt it to fit the storyline of the picture book later.

The story was one inspired by Icarus, though the story lacked physical magic and the natural elements of mythology, and was replaced by modern skylines and high rises. There was a distinct element of sentimentality to it, which Dongmin had hoped adult readers would pick up on as they read it to their children, but as for the child it is intended for, it’s a story about someone archiving greatness against all odds. It’s sort of cliché and the tiniest bit tacky, but it’s well-written and eloquent and so very Dongmin that Sanha was more than proud to have his name listed as the illustrator.

Sanha’s drawings weren’t, by any means, museum-worthy, or anything you’d see in an art gallery. They were simplistic, usually, though detailed when need be. They were produced of thin strokes and lines rather than distinct shadows and shading. Some may say they were even childish, comical, but when Dongmin had seen him doodling one day, he claimed that he had to have him draw for his children’s book. Sanha was happy to do – Dongmin had offered to pay, though Sanha had declined. He didn’t want or need money, especially not from a friend as dear to him as Dongmin.

His book was very different to his first. His debut book had been about a small community of snails branching out and defying expectations; whereas his second boasted themes of encouragement and self-discipline. In Sanha’s opinion, they were award-worthy, and the public seemed to agree. Awards were almost handed over to him without question, the influential nature of his books hitting the nail right on the head in South Korea’s current political turmoil, giving parents and children alike a fresh viewpoint on conservative thought.

Just as he had started to draw some streamlined wings on his character, his phone buzzed from where it sat on the edge of Jinwoo’s desk.

The way he jerked up in his chair, scrabbling after the phone, could have been described as comical, and he thinks he hears Jinwoo snort beside him, but Sanha takes no notice. The caller ID tells him it’s Rocky calling, and that flare of excitement bursts into a roaring flame, illustrations forgotten, book having fallen off his lap to the floor.

“Hello, Rocky,” he greets cheerily, pretending not to notice the flash of curiosity in Jinwoo’s gaze. He quickly adds, “and MJ. If you’re lurking again.”

On the other end of the line, which had been silent up until now, Sanha hears Rocky snort. “How’s it going Darl? Now a bad time?”

Sanha noted that his voice sounded deeper today, a little moodier, even, but not any less captivating. He swivelled on his chair, so his back was facing Jinwoo. “Never for you,” he teases, absentmindedly twirling a long strand of his fringe around his finger. He felt – and probably looked – like a teenage girl, but he decided that it was just Jinwoo, after all, and Dongmin was unlikely to believe him without proof.

Rocky was snickering, and Sanha’s toes curled at the sound of it. “How’s your friend?”

Sanha spun on his chair again, humming. “Yeah. I mean,” he shrugs out of habit. “He’s doing the best he can.” Rocky hums back, and there’s a brief period of silence where the two of them are just listening to each other breathing, and it should be weirded than it is, so it scares Sanha a little at how normal it feels.

Though he didn’t mind the silence, didn’t mind a casual conversation with Rocky by any means, the daunting look Jinwoo was giving him from across the desk was slightly intimidating. Sanha knew he’d have to provide an explanation as soon as he hung up – so to an extent, he did want to draw this phone call out for as long as he could – and that would end up with Sanha close to fainting from humiliation and quite possibly shame, and Jinwoo scolding him for flirting with an employer. With this fear in mind, Sanha didn’t lift his eyes from where they were fixated on the speckled pattern of the carpet, knowing too-well that Jinwoo’s eyes would make him shudder and lose his words.

“Was there a reason you called?” It didn’t come across as rude, or so Sanha had hoped, but just inquisitive.

There was a rustling of paper on Rocky’s end of the line, followed by a coarse, dry cough. Sanha winced for him. “Rocky, are you alright?”

There was another cough, smaller this time, released further away from the phone than the first. Sanha could still detect the roughness of it, though, the discomfort it must been causing on Rocky’s throat. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, voice a little strained. “It’s just a cough. It’ll be fine soon.” Sanha wanted to say something else – maybe ask him if he needed anything, like food or medicine, or a date, or something – but Rocky was already talking before he could.

“We’ve fixed up the Mercedes for you – so she’s ready to be collected,” he says. The paper wasn’t rustling anymore, and Sanha was met with stark silence for a moment.

“Oh!” Eloquent. “Can I pick her up today, then?”

Sanha forced his eyes upwards to Jinwoo, who was regarding him curiously. Jinwoo knew him well enough to know what he was asking, and he nodded once. “Of course, Darl,” came Rocky’s voice, returning his attention to him once more. “I’m, er,” there’s another cough, another delay in words.

Sanha’s heart sinks, anticipating his next words. “I’m not actually in today, so you’ll have to collect it from one of the other guys. Should I tell them to expect you?”

Sanha’s heart sinks lower. Stupidly so, really. So, low, in fact, that he thinks its sitting like a weight around his ankles, and he finds himself kicking like a child against them, trying to break free. To no avail though, because Rocky starts hacking down the line again, and Sanha’s selfish side that desperately wanted to see his mechanic in person again automatically disappears with general human rationality.

“Of course, Rocky. Let them know. I’ll be there within the hour.”

Sanha hopes his voice didn’t sound too sympathetic, or despondent, considering that he felt unreasonably guilty for the man being sick – though there’s not logical reason for him to be feeling this way – and because he so desperately wanted to see him again, see his dumb face and his dumb arms and his dumb smile. Rocky was dumb – what Sanha already felt for Rocky was dumber. It was stupid. So, damn stupid that Sanha was feeling like this, and Jinwoo was going to give him hell for it. The only good thing to really come out of this situation, Sanha realises as Rocky bids him farewell and hangs up the phone, is that at least he can’t make a mumbling, blushing fool of himself in front of Jinwoo.

Sanha puts his phone back on the table with a heavy sigh, earning a grunt of acknowledgement from the elder across from him. He ignores it, pays more attention to gathering up his pen and notebook from the floor, knowing that Jinwoo was going to pester him with questions whether he wanted him to or not.

He counts the seconds of silence in his head, finds his way up to eight when Jinwoo finally speaks. “What are you doing?”

Sanha sits back up, lifting his satchel from the floor and planting it on his lap. He starts to shove his belongings back inside, the zip catching a little, but snags free with a hefty tug. “I’m putting my book—”

Yoon Sanha.

He huffs, though makes no move to respond. In all honestly, he wasn’t sure what to say. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, per se, but to Jinwoo he supposes he would be. Jinwoo was a ‘by the books’ kind of guy, except when it came to Dongmin – when the other was involved, Jinwoo’s guard dropped down, and the two were merciless in their teasing of Sanha. Not that he minded, but after a while, the blatant favouritism got a little exhausting. Sanha couldn’t argue that being that way was a bad thing though, considering Jinwoo was a lawyer, and a very good one at that – but Dongmin was a lawyer, too, in this same firm, even, and yet when it came to his home life his work demeanour immediately shied away. Sanha didn’t know if it was his love for professionalism, or just how he was, but whatever it was, it was admirable, and Sanha loved Jinwoo regardless.

“Sanha, what are you doing?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he says whilst sniffing.

Jinwoo sighs, and rolls his chair closer to him. Sanha can’t avoid his judgemental gaze for too much longer, knowing that the look of disappointment was only minutes away. “Sanha…” he trailed off, knowing too-well that Sanha knew what he was asking. Sanha didn’t want to say anything though, didn’t want to admit that he was sort of, kind of, attracted to his mechanic and was, unabashedly (when alone), flirting with him. It didn’t matter how much Sanha insisted Rocky flirted back, Jinwoo would still argue that Sanha was too charming for his own good. Sanha didn’t really see how that was a bad thing, but Jinwoo always had evidence, always won the argument he brought forth to the table.

 By now, Sanha had resigned himself to losing every battle they encountered as friends – whether it be serious or petty – because Jinwoo wasn’t one of the best criminal defence lawyers in South Korea for no reason. Sanha, on the other hand, had to be one of the worst arguers in the world, as he belonged to that percentage of people who cried when any voice was slightly raised in their direction. Not that Jinwoo ever yelled, but disappointment was always worse than anger – especially from someone whom you loved very deeply. Jinwoo was, and Dongmin, too, one of those very people.

“I’m just talking to him, Jinwoo – don’t give me that look!” Sanha rushes out, quickly defending himself as best he could before the lawyer knocked him down with his big words and mature advice. “He’s really nice, okay? I told you about the other night, he was an absolute gentleman—”

Just because he was a gentleman Sanha, doesn’t mean you have to flirt with him!”

“I wasn’t flirting with him!” Another reason Sanha would never – could never – be a lawyer, was that he was a terrible liar, too. Jinwoo knew this, was able to detect this whether he knew the person or not. Studying human behaviour was an elective of his at university, but had really helped him in reading people’s actions, made him as terrifying as he was brilliant. Sanha hated that he used those tricks on him, though he didn’t blame him – if Sanha had that power, that very skill, he’d never shy away from using it.

Jinwoo didn’t even need to say anything. He merely just removed his glasses from his face, sat them on his keyboard, and turned back to face Sanha with his arms crossed. Had Sanha not known him, he’d have found it extremely intimidating – but he did, and he knew that this man put four spoonsful of sugar in his tea each morning, and another two on top of his cereal. He was as sweet as they came, he just had a hard time showing it sometimes. His concern for Sanha right now was one of the many ways he displayed it, no matter how irritatingly fatherly the concern may be.

“Jin…please, don’t.” Sanha tried to convey his words and eyes as pleadingly as he could, hoping the questions would stop, that the disappointment in his eyes would dissipate into something a little more supportive and understanding. Wishful thinking, really.

“Sanha, I know you think what you’re doing is harmless—

“It is!”

“—but actions have consequences, and I don’t want you to lead this guy on if you have no intention of doing anything about it!”

Sanha drew back in his chair. Wait, what? “Huh?”

Jinwoo mimicked his expression. “What, what?” Flapping his hand in front of him, somewhat wildly, Sanha spluttered incoherently. Jinwoo understood. “Sanha, I’m not against you flirting with anyone – you know that, you know I want you to find someone to care about like that. But I’ve seen this before. You’re flirty, Sanha. It’s not a bad thing! It only becomes a bad thing if the person you’re flirting with doesn’t know that you’re a serial flirter.”

Sanha stood up from the borrowed desk chair, and holds his fingers up, seeking clarification. “Hold on. You’re telling me, that I can flirt all I want with my mechanic, so long as he knows I’m actually interested?”

Jinwoo shrugs, clicking out of a document on his screen, and switching off the monitor. Sanha watches it zip to black. “Of course, Sanha. It’s just…look, don’t get, offended, or mad alright?”

Sanha tenses, but nods.

“I’ve not met this guy, but he must be alright if you’re flirting with him—”

“—Hey!”

“—it’s just that Sanha, sometimes, people from that part of town don’t know of you. They don’t keep up with the lives of the rich and locally-famous. They don’t care about your fashion tweets, they don’t care that you went to an art gallery. People here, who are in our world, know that you flirt with just about anything. Or not flirt, but you’re one of those people who are touchy and far too kind for your own good, and people see it as flirting. But they know that, they know they don’t have a chance with you. This guy – Rocky – he might not know that.”

Sanha let the words sink in, let the meaning swirl around his brain for a while as Jinwoo packed up his bag. He gets where he’s coming from. Sanha was depicted as a serial flirter, as Jinwoo had said earlier, but it wasn’t something that could be helped. He was kind. He was touchy. And both those things were more often than not mistranslated and morphed into pages upon pages of Sanha being a heartbreaker, or a tease, or – in some hurtful instances – a slut. He tried not to take such articles to heart. When they were released, he often discarded of them immediately, not bothering to waste his time on the garbage that they were. The other socialites in his correspondence knew of his antics, knew that when he touched them playfully on the arm, he wasn’t interested in getting drikns with them; they knew that when he adjusted the collar of their shirt, he wasn’t interested in dinner; knew that when he giggled at all their jokes and cocked his head to the side if contemplation, he wasn’t interested in going home with them. Those who mattered enough to Sanha – or were respectful enough to want to know Sanha more as a person than an object of photogenic desire – knew that these were movements and acts of friendly admiration, and nothing more. And they knew, no matter how much it secretly pained many of them, it would never, ever be something more.

“Jinwoo,” he begins, then stops, reconsidering his words. “Jinwoo, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like anything’s going to become of it.”

The elder regards him with refined curiosity. “Why not?”

Sanha snorts, lifting his shoulders up in a half-hearted stretch, before letting them sag down again. “Because he’s my mechanic. Because I’m me and he’s him, and there’s no way any of it would work.

Jinwoo purses his lips, cocks his head to the side in acceptance. “But,” he says, too optimistic for Sanha’s liking. Jinwoo wasn’t normally like this. Normally by now, Jinwoo would be forcing Sanha in the opposite direction, ensuring he held no interest in the man, and vice versa. He’d normally screech that they were from two different worlds, that it was pointless and meaningless, and would do nothing but tarnish his name and run him to the ground. But instead, he was almost encouraging him. Encouraging him to stop flirting, really, but Sanha was good at the twisting of words, and he used that very skill now.

“No, wait.” Jinwoo stopped. “You say you don’t mind me flirting with him?” Jinwoo pauses, but then nods. Sanha continues, “the only thing you’re against is that Rocky may not know about my reputation, and may think that I’m actually interested?” Again, Jinwoo nods.

Sanha huffs indignantly, “but what if I am interested?”

Jinwoo steps forward, hoisting his bag over his shoulder, and snatching his keys from the corner of his desk. “Are you interested?”

Was he?

“I mean, no.” Jinwoo cocks a brow at him. “Yes?”

“Sanha,” he says, dropping his head back in resignation. “This is what I mean. You don’t even know if you like him, yet you’re flirting with him!”

“He flirted first!”

“You flirt back!” He had a point. Sanha drops back, getting his own bag, and follows Jinwoo out of the office towards the elevator.

“I don’t know him that well, Jin. Don’t you see?” He makes sure his voice is lower out here, not wanting to draw attention to the two of them, or disturb anyone else in the firm for that matter.

When they’re in the elevator, Jinwoo turns to him and says, “then get to know him Sanha. Until then, no more flirting.”

He lets out a noise close to whine, stomps his foot in a way that’s borderline childish. “But Jinwoo – what if he does it first?”

“No, Sanha. Just no. Get to know him. You never know, it might fizzle out – he is your mechanic after all.  Give yourself a few weeks. If you find yourself interested after say, learning his real name, or even, I don’t know, if he likes cats or dogs—”

“Dogs,” he interrupts, recalling Rocky and his conversation in the truck a few nights ago.

Jinwoo looks at him curiously before returning to his rant. “Then,” he emphasises, “and only then, do I grant you permission to flirt with him.”

Sanha pouts, follows after Jinwoo when the doors open. “You know, Jin. I don’t actually have to listen to you.”

Jinwoo unlocks his car, the beep-beep echoing around the underground parking building, a sly smirk on his lips. “I know,” he says, coy. “But you will.”

He climbs inside the car, leaving a grumbling Sanha to follow in after him.

 

Jinwoo looks tense as he drives into the outskirts of the city, and into the uptown streets Sanha had taken not many days ago. Sanha doesn’t blame him. He’d felt the same. Felt the same rush of fear, the same feeling of heavy anticipation curdling like sour milk in his stomach. Sanha still felt it, really, though there were nerves of a different nature stirring there now.

He knew that Rocky wasn’t going to be there, but the garage was somewhere he frequented, somewhere that Sanha might catch glimpses of his life from. From what he’d gathered from Rocky thus far – which, truthfully, wasn’t much at all – was that he was both an open book and very reserved, and Sanha’s curiosity for him sat somewhere in the middle of those two things, as if he wasn’t sure which side he wanted to explore first.

Considering what Jinwoo had told him, getting to know Rocky as a person, and not just a pretty (handsome, hot, attractive, gorgeous, godlike) face, meant that discovering answers on both sides was key. Though, from what he knew so far, these small pieces of information, tiny personal details that he’d been willing to share, Sanha suspected starting on the open book was his best option. He just didn’t know how to quite get there without being teasy and flirty, because his kindness – as Jinwoo had put it – was his best quality. Apart from that, Sanha really didn’t have a whole lot going for him.

Jinwoo would argue with him over this, so he doesn’t bring it up. The lawyer would most likely whop out a fifty-page document titled Reasons Why Yoon Sanha is Perfect Part One, and force him into memorising every single line. And Sanha just did not have time for one of Jinwoo’s talks right now, not after the last one – even if that had ended reasonably satisfactory – because not only were the lengthy, they were also enough to make him cry. Sanha didn’t want to cry right now, not in this neck of the woods, at least – and definitely not in front of a group of mechanics.

“Just here,” he says, pointing to where the faded sign sticks out on the left. Jinwoo pulls into a free park, cutting the engine. Sanha watches him examine the garage, the workshop, the vague glances the workers throw their way. Jinwoo’s car was similar in appearance to Sanha’s Mercedes – despite that Jinwoo’s was an Audi – in that it was a sleek black sedan with curved edges and shiny silver trimmings. Sanha felt the knot in his gut tighten, and then expand, and with that tiny bit of courage in his step – fuelled by the lack of Rocky himself – he stepped out of the car. He walked around the other side, towards Jinwoo, who had climbed out and was watching the workshop with a blank expression. Sanha was thankful for that. He didn’t want any misinterpretations of Jinwoo’s expression causing problems for him, or causing offence for that matter.

“Sanha!”

Both Sanha and Jinwoo turn towards the voice, and Sanha watches Bin appear from underneath the lift, and head towards them. He’s grinning widely again, teeth on full-exposure, and he’s wiping his hands on a sad looking rag that Sanha suspects used to be white. Sanha smiles back, hopes Jinwoo is, too. He’s not entirely sure anyone could resist smiling around Bin. Even though Sanha has met him a grand total of once, he knows that the man must be renowned for that smile.

He stops in front of them, leaving a polite distance between them. “The Mercedes, right?”

Sanha nods curtly, once, and follows after Bin to the office. Jinwoo is following after him, can hear his footsteps behind him, but he’s moving slowly, as though he was distracted. Sanha turns to inspect before stepping inside, sees him watching the movements of a small mechanic in the workshop, with a huge smile that covers half his face, tapping on the undercarriage of a car as his co-worker recalls what must be a hilarious story. Sanha grins wickedly, tucking that into his pocket to use against Jinwoo later.

Inside is the very same as last time, though the desk looks somewhat more clutter, though no less organised. The fan is still ticking overhead, and there’s still the smell of gasoline, but there’s not headache today. Bin is scurrying around with the document book on the desk, scribbling a signature down the bottom, before passing the book over to him.

“Just a signature, confirming collection.” Sanha smiles, takes the pen and does as such, handing it back instantly. Jinwoo is right inside the door, looking through the open door that exposes the workshop. He’s not staring quite so intensely as he had been doing outside, but his eyes are trained to one specific vehicle being worked on, the one with the same mechanic as before. Sanha presses his lips together to refrain himself from laughing, or worse, making a snarky comment. There’s a time and a place, and it’s neither of those things right now.

Sanha turns back to Bin, who’s tearing out his side of the receipt, smile still wide and unbroken on his face. Sanha’s curiosity gets the better of him, the stomach ache too strong. “Rocky said he’s sick.” It comes out sounding more like a question than he’d wanted, sounding a little too interested and concerned.

Bin looks up, “hmm? Oh, yeah. Nasty bug or something. Tonsils are shot.”

Sanha frowns, “is he okay?” Sanha feel’s Jinwoo turn to glance at him for the resonating sound of pity in his voice, then turns back to watching the shop. Sanha ignores him.

From across the desk, Bin just shrugs. “He’s a tough cookie. Had to force him to take the day off, though. He was annoyed at me.” His words are laced with amusement, and Sanha does find the fact that Rocky of all people had to be forced to take a day off work. It’s endearing, actually, and unfairly cute.

Sanha smiles, bordering on fond, and diverts his eyes to the receipt in his hands. “Why’s that?”

The mechanic snickers, causing Sanha to look up at him. His cheeks are a little red, from embarrassment or from heat Sanha’s not sure. “He was annoyed because he wanted to sign the car over to you.”

Sanha blushes furiously. “Oh,” he says, lamely. He tucks his chin again, hiding the blush spreading to his neck. “it would have been nice to, uh,” he stumbles a little over his words, unsure if saying them is wise, deciding he doesn’t care. “Would’ve been nice to see him, yeah. But what can you do?” He brushes it off with his last comment, adds a shrug and a big smile to show Bin that it isn’t really as heavy as he thinks it is, but Bin was an alert and attentive kind of guy, and picked up on it straight away if his smirk had anything to do with it.

Sanha nodded in thanks to the receipt, taking the keys from Bin’s outstretched hand. “It’s over by the back wall, under the awning,” he points in the general direction, and Sanha and Jinwoo nods in understanding. Jinwoo’s out the door, holding it open for Sanha as he turns to leave, when Bin coughs once.

“You know, Sanha, there is actually one thing you can do.” Bin says it with a wicked smile and wiggly eyebrows, and Sanha feels sort of doomed.

 

Sanha thanked Jinwoo in the parking lot of the garage for dropping him in, told him he’d see him at Dongmin’s later that night, and they parted ways. Sanha waited till his car was out of sight before he turned to Bin, who was back in the workshop. He smirked, raised his hand in a wave that Sanha reciprocated. His cheeks were still red from Bin’s earlier words, his implication that he knew Sanha had wanted to see him, coaxing out the confession from between Sanha’s lips far too easily.

Bin had said that Rocky, being who he is, rarely takes sick days, and when he does, it’s because he’s forced too. Bin had done just that, driven him home, and dragged him to bed with medicine and hot tea and told him to not come in for the rest of the week. Sanha was starting to understand the actuality of Rocky’s dedication to his job, the intensity of his passion for it. He realised that it really was more than a job to the man, it was a genuine interest and love for automobiles – preferably the classic kind – that brought him happiness. The fact that Rocky couldn’t come to the workshop and do just that was enough to make Sanha’s heart churn a little, make him feel that strange oozy pity as he did before.

When Bin had uttered those words – there is actually one thing you can do – followed by the cheeky smile, Sanha knew that something was up. Or was going to be. He figured whatever it was, was going to make him awkward and embarrassed, and probably do something stupid in front of Rocky. Though, when Bin explained what he did, Sanha felt the anxiety leave his body, the tension dissipating, his shoulders slumping in relief. Sanha was immediately soft, and quite frankly, excited.

“I forced him to go home, and he’ll listen up to a point. Unfortunately, he also happens to have a key for the workshop, which means I can’t stop him from turning up after hours. Which he’ll definitely do. He’s done it before, many times, he’ll do it again.”

“Okay?” Sanha had said, eyes inquisitive, eyes searching.

“Which means, Rocky will be here tonight, alone, and he might appreciate some company.”

Sanha blushed, lips turning up in a giddy smile he had no control over. He was reminded again of why he hated having crushes, why he tried desperately in high school to banish them entirely from his line of thought when the feeling rose. “You want me to come here, tonight?”

Bin shrugged, “I’m not telling you to do anything. I just thought I’d let you know that he might get lonely here, and I don’t know, he really likes that Spicy Thai Chicken soup from that place up on the corner, but I mean, not that that matters.” With that, Bin had kindly shoved him in the direction of the door, leaving Sanha fish-mouthing and fumbling and as awkward as he thought he’d be.

Sanha drove back to his apartment, showering straight away and wrapping himself up in a fluffy towel. He scrunched some Curl Magic mousse into his hair before wrapping it up in a towel, too, before heading into his wardrobe. Sanha was, to say the least, a clothes hoarder. He liked fashion, delved into that world far too frequently, but he was allowed too, and with the amount of times he’s photographed and seen frequenting events, he detested the idea of being labelled as drab or outdated.

He also knew that he tended to overdress, which meant right now, he was overthinking every choice he was pulling out. It was either too classy, or too casual, or too obscure, or too plain. Sanha was sure Rocky wouldn’t mind either way, but he wanted to make a statement without being too intense about it, and Sanha was lost in this fuzzy cloud of indecision and anxiety, and he really wishes Jinwoo or Dongmin were here to help him.

The thought crosses his mind. He thinks about Dongmin, lying in his bed alone, watching sad movies and crying and using up box after box of tissues. He thinks about all three empty bottles of vodka Sanha had cleaned up earlier that week, the empty packages of ibuprofen, too. Remembers leaving Dongmin that night snuggled up in his bed – brand new bedsheets provided by Jinwoo, who decided that new was good, as it avoided any reminding smells of Dongmin’s ex – and Sanha had this horrible sinking feeling that he was most likely in the same exact position. With that in mind, he snatches at his phone from the dresser, and composes a new text.

 

I’m delivering soup to a friend I don’t know very well. Jeans or sweats?

 

Sanha wouldn’t normally be caught dead in sweats – and in actuality, he’s certain he only owns one pair – but for Rocky, he’d do it. It doesn’t take long for three bubbles to appear on the bottom of the screen, and he sighs in relief. At least he’s awake.

 

Is this friend attractive?

 

Sanha smiles. Of course.

 

Dongmin’s reply is immediate.Jeans. And then, with the Raf Simons sweaterfollowed quickly by a third, and the acne boots

 

Sanha cocked his head to the side in consideration. It was a cute look, one Sanha had done before on quick grocery runs, or lazy days at either Dongmin’s or Jinwoo’s. He went to where the sweater was folded up top, pulled it out and regarded it seriously. He guessed it would work, would be suitable, and it was one of his particular favourites. And, to appease Dongmin, he sent through a confirmation thumbs up emoji, and once dressed, a full-body selfie with an ugly expression that was sure to be seen again around the time of his next birthday.

He’s ready early, but he’s good at killing time, even when he’s nervous as all hell. He’s not entirely sure what counts as night time for Rocky, but the garage shut at five pm, so Sanha thinks cruising up at seven seems likely. He spends the first hour in utter silence, counting the number of books on his bookshelf in the living room (five-hundred-and-seventy-three), and then removes all the cutlery from the drawer before replacing them one by one, after he’s polished them. He kills another hour with that, and then another with few rerun episodes of an almost plotless drama, and another with flipping through a magazine.

When the time draws close, he phones ahead to the Thai place Bin had mentioned, places a take away order of the Spicy Thai Chicken soup, and heads off.

 

The garage looked different at night. Though it was surrounded by household residences, it was shrouded in darkness aside from a dim glow of the workshop. The roller doors were all close, bar one, which was only half-opened. It was enough to let enough light out onto the driveway, and to spill across in the parking lot, but not enough to illuminate where one wall ended and another started. He pulls the Mercedes into a park closest to the partly opened roller door, and cuts the engine. He inhales the smell of the soup beside him on the passenger seat, before unbolting and clambering out. Outside, he can hear the faint sway of the trees overhead, the distant sound of music playing, the clattering of metal against concrete. There was no way Rocky hadn’t heard him pull up, even with the music playing. It was hard to miss, especially with the headlights streaming in as drove up the entrance.

There’s nervous butterflies flapping their wings rapidly in his tummy, and one flutters up into his throat. He’s almost about to turn around and drive away again, because with the takeaway bag rattling in his hand with how quickly they shake, and with the cold sweat he can feel between his shoulder blades, Sanha isn’t quite so sure he’s going to be able to keep standing. What if Rocky didn’t want him here? What if Rocky wasn’t feeling lonely, and didn’t want the soup? What if Bin had told him lies, just to set him up to be embarrassed and humiliated?

He was turning on his heels when the roller door was pushed the rest of the way up, and Sanha’s heart melted.

It was Rocky. Of course, it was Rocky; and he had this little pout on his lips and a perplexed looking daze in his eyes as he scans the darkness. When those eyes fall on him – casually dressed compared to his usual suit attire – the bewilderment disappears, and is replaced with something Sanha can’t quite place. It reminds him of relief, the way the softening of his eyes in this light is paired with the softening of his shoulders, too, though it seems like more than that. Something maybe bordering on amazement, but it was calmer than that, so Sanha felt not only lost for words, but also for breath.

“Sanha?”

Rocky’s voice was croaky, evidence of his illness, but it was still honey and still what Sanha remembers it to be. One arm is still stretched upwards, holding the base of the roller door, as if he stopped midway upon seeing him there. His other hand is twitching by his side, as though attempting to reach out to him. Sanha blushes at this, kicks a stray stone towards the tire of his car

“What are you doing here?” The words are made up of all breath and whisper, and Sanha finds it hard to detect when one word ended and the other started, and it’s softer than he’s ever heard him speak before, but the words don’t sound painful as they slip from his tongue. He realises that this would be to ease the use of his throat, and Sanha can’t stop the swooping feeling of guilt for making him speak. But then, the confusion that was there, the amazement, or whatever it was, shifts into what is undoubtedly pure joy.

It’s a giddy kind of joy, one Sanha is familiar with, is feeling right now watching him smile in front of him like that, showing off dimples he hadn’t noticed before. He’s asking himself how he had missed the beauty of those two little indents, when Rocky released his arm from the roller door, and steps back in welcome. The movement allows Sanha to take in Rocky’s appearance. He looks drained, as most sick people do, with black bags under his eyes and hair a little messy, but that could have been from the fact there was a truck hoisted up on the automotive lift where Rocky was working. He clicks his tongue, mainly to himself, but Rocky notices it enough to cock his head in interest.

Sanha steps through the roller door, hands hidden by the long sleeves of his sweater, and he wishes he could drown in the oversized body of the cream material, because the way Rocky was regarding him in the yellow light was intoxicating. His throat felt dry, and he hadn’t even considered the possibility of catching whatever it is Rocky has, and frankly, no bone in his body would even mind if he did.

Rocky turns his back to him, and quickens his pace towards a workbench to the side, where a stool – which looked a little worse for wear – was shoved underneath it haphazardly. Sanha watches him pull it out with an eerie screech against the concrete floors. He admires his hands a little too much as he grabs a stray rag from the table, and wipes it down hastily, defining the muscles of his biceps nicely. Sanha admires the way Rocky’s legs look in the black jeans he’s wearing, isn’t afraid to admit that the way the denim stretches across his thighs is affecting his breathing somewhat. Sanha wants to scold him for only being in a t-shirt, white and oversized much like his own sweater, but he can’t bring himself too, because the man turns back to him now with a wide grin and hopeful eyes and even though he looks wrecked, he’s still beautiful, too.

He pats the seat, pressing his lips together as to try control his smile, but he can’t hide the way the corners of his lips are still tugged upward. Sanha coos internally, wants to shove his fingers into the dimples of his cheeks, maybe kiss them, too. He shoves that thought away, and instead shoves the takeaway bag in Rocky’s direction. He has both hands holding it out, it feels childlike, but that’s being a theme now whenever Sanha is in his presence. Rocky makes him feel like he’s in school again, like he’s got the first crush of his life and he’s constantly trying to confess it, but unsure how. He watches Rocky drag his eyes away from his face down to the white plastic bag, and he looks at it as if he’s only just noticed it. His eyes widen, and refill with the confusion he’d expressed earlier.

The flood of emotion in his eyes makes a giggle fiddle on his tongue, slipping out between his teeth and Sanha can’t help but giggle louder when Rocky blushes because of it. He settles himself down a little, enough so his words could be distinguishable between snickers. “I thought that, maybe, you might be hungry. Or something. So, I got you some food,” he shakes his hands a little, so the plastic rustles, trying to get Rocky to take it from him and save him from his embarrassment.

He steps forward, off where he was standing by the stool he just cleaned, and gingerly takes the bag from him. For a brief second, their fingers graze together, and Sanha imagines what would happen if he just curled his fingers into the elders, wonders what he would say. His hopeful imagination tells him that Rocky would squeeze his fingers right back, and draw him close, and maybe press kiss, soft as a feather, across his cheekbone. But instead, Sanha drops his hand back to his side, where his fingers find refuge in the folds of the excess material. Rocky’s cheeks are tinted prettily, a rosy sort of pink with deepening undertone, and he’s biting his bottom lip, worrying it between his teeth. He’s too much for Sanha to handle, too pretty and too handsome and too gentle and kind, a mix of all the things he loves so much, unsure of how someone like him can exist realistically. He’s not even sure he’s real. Can’t be.

“C’mon,” Rocky says, breaking the silence, gesturing towards the stool again. “Sit.”

It’s a demand, but it’s not demanding. Sanha smiles at him, feeling like that’s all he knows how to do anymore, especially around him, and sits himself down on the stool. He was scared that it would buckle underneath the weight, but it held strong without a whisper of protest. He curled his feet around the legs of the stool, his hands falling into his lap, limp and covered by length of his sleeves. Sweater paws, he thinks to himself, trying to imagine Rocky with him. He decides that the image is too soft for him right now, too cute to even fabricate, so he locks it away for another time, when he feels less vulnerable.

Rocky leans back against a neighbouring workbench, and Sanha watches on fondly as he regards the food in the back. “Is this?” He says, voice a little clearer than before, eyes flicking up to where he was seated with unguarded glee.

Sanha nods, giggling at the way Rocky’s eyes light up. The elder walks over to the bench that Sanha is leaning his back against, and places the takeaway container between them. He pulls out the cutlery, and snaps open the lid of the soup. Rocky inhales, and lets out an over-dramatic, which only makes Sanha giggle more. Giggling and smiling, that’s all Sanha’s good for now. Rocky looks up at him with his own smile, his own giggle, and Sanha thinks if anyone were to see them like this – oh God, if Jinwoo were to see them like this – then they would surely get attacked.

Rocky is watching him laugh with an awed expression, and then he’s shovelling a mouthful of the Thai into his mouth. He moans around the spoon, and Sanha rolls his eyes at him. “Here,” he says, passing Sanha the container, and fetching a new spoon from the set. “Try this while I fix this last bit up.”

Rocky pulls away with what Sanha thinks is a wink, but he could’ve been imagining it, and walks over and under to the car on the lift. From where he’s seated, Sanha can get a full view of the workshop, but Rocky’s the only view he’s interested in right now. He’s reaching up under the undercarriage with a hefty looking tool that Sanha recognises, but can’t name, and his face is narrowed in on it with a methodical glint of concentration on his face, his bottom lip caught between his teeth again as he works. He’s tightening something, Sanha thinks, or maybe reinstalling it, and the movement emphasises his arm muscles again. He blinks, and again, and goes to pinch his thigh, to see if this is really happening.

He yelps a little at the pinch, making Rocky freeze and glance over to him. “Okay?”

Sanha simply nods, and goes to taste the soup when Rocky turns back to the car. He hums around the mouthful, understanding straight away why it’s supposedly his favourite. He’ll thank Bin later for introducing him to it, because even after one mouthful – and a cheeky second – he’s hooked. As he’s taking his third spoonful, Rocky’s dropping his tool on the bench, and sneaking up to him. “I said try it, not eat all of it Sanha!”

Sanha cackles around the spoon in his mouth as Rocky attempts to snatch the container back. Using his elevated height to his advantage, Sanha raises it above his head slightly, throwing his head back and laughing harder when Rocky grumbles and swears under his breath. But then, suddenly, Rocky’s all up in his personal space. He’s stepped between his legs on the stool, his face suddenly very close to his own. Sanha freezes his antics when he feels a warm rush of breath on his neck, and he feels the prick of his hair sticking up on his arms and legs. And then, Rocky’s eyes are staring right into his own, mouth temptingly close to his, and then—

Rocky is snatching the container from his hand, and yanking himself back and out of Sanha’s reach. He’s laughing at him, and what he guesses is his dumfounded expression, before retrieving his own spoon and digging in to the meal. Sanha grumbles from where he’s seated, mumbles something along the lines of “bloody unfair”, but all it does it make Rocky choke out a laugh that sounds dry and amused.

When the man swallows, he turns his attention back to him, eyes a little hooded in the shadowy light. “Sanha, what are you doing here?” He’s asked his earlier question again, and this time Sanha plans to answer him, he just isn’t entirely sure how. He assumes his tongue is still working, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it had shut down; it wouldn’t be the first time he’s lost touch with his senses because of the hot mechanic.

He manages a shrug, a tilt of his head to the side. “Bin said that he can stop you coming to work, but he can’t stop you using the keys afterhours.”

Rocky smiles cutely, looking embarrassed.

And, he said that you might be a little lonely here by yourself. Especially being sick and all – though you could have fooled me, Mr I’m-Going-To-Wear-a-T-Shirt-Even-Though-I-Have-a-Cold!” The elder chuckles at that, downing another mouthful of the soup.

Sanha smiles at him, before turning his attention to the oil-stained floor. “He said you might like some company.”

The silence that sits between them feels heavier now, and Sanha can hear Jinwoo’s voice in his head – no flirting until you’ve gotten to know him – but he can’t resist, can’t avoid temptation when it’s handed to him on a platter like this. And this hardly counts as flirting. Hardly.

When Sanha speaks again, his voice sounds incredibly small, even to him, and he wonders why he had let it sound so soft and weak. He sounds like he’s demanding praise, craving attention, or something of the like. “Rocky was he…was he right?”

Rocky isn’t smiling now, but holds an intense expression on his face for what feels like a long time. When it passes, he’s smiling again, teeth white and cheekbones casting shadows. “Yeah, Darl,” he says, throat less rough, soothed by the soup. Sanha blushes at the nickname, doesn’t choke like he had last time – congratulates himself on the achievement.

“He was right.”

 

Sanha stays a few hours more, until it nears half ten and Jinwoo’s texting him, asking him where he is. He’s meant to be at Dongmin’s by now, but was lost in the trance of Mechanic Rocky. They were mostly sitting in comfortable silence, Rocky working on the car, Sanha watching him do so. Occasionally, one of them would ask the other a question (favourite movie, recent book they’ve read, a song they’re playing a lot recently) and it would break the silence for a moment, before it creeped back up on them. Each time, they embraced it happily, not bothered by the long stretches of silence. Sanha felt comfortable around him, like he’d known him for years, and not just days. Felt like they’d hung out together for weeks, not just once before this – and even then, that hardly counted, considering Rocky had been there to collect his car, so it was more business. And yet here they were now, comfortable as though they were decade-old friends, sharing food and giggling and sharing smiles and stares from across the workshop.

Sanha heads off with a shy smile that Rocky returns eagerly, and he thanks him profusely for his company and bringing him dinner. Sanha boldly suggests doing it again sometime, and Rocky blushes and stammers out an agreement, before walking Sanha to his car.

Sanha thinks back to Jinwoo’s earlier comment, about not flirting until he was sure he was interested. Sanha was certain that he was going to listen to him, but now, in the yellow light of a downtown mechanics garage, with a beautiful man in front of him, and a cup of tea in his hand, Sanha isn’t quite so sure.

 

 

"i want to begin at the beginning.

i want to tell you everything.

but where is the beginning, 

and what is everything?"

- johnathan safran foer, 'extremely loud and incredibly close'

 

Chapter Text

"eye contact: how souls catch fire"

Yahia Lababidi

 

 

 

When Dongmin and Woo Jin had bought their apartment together, Sanha had – as a house warming gift – bought them a 12-piece silver cutlery set with mother of pearl inlays along the handle. Sanha watches Dongmin stir his coffee with one of the teaspoons now, wonders if he should consider buying him a brand-new set so that the other doesn’t have to be reminded of his ex every time he goes to eat something.

Dongmin removes the spoon from the mug with a series of clanks and taps it on the side, over the lip of the mug, before placing it on the table beside him. One hand is hidden underneath the table, where Sanha assumes it’s tucked into Jinwoo’s own, who was seated beside him. Both elder men look lethargic and worn down, Dongmin expectedly more than the other, as though they hadn’t slept at all last night. They had though, Sanha knows this to be true, because when he snuck in with his key late last night, they were already asleep on Dongmin’s bed, movie credits still rolling on the television.

Sanha thinks – not for the first time, and definitely not for the last – that Jinwoo would be perfect for Dongmin. They shared similar interests, and their morals and passions were shared so identically that it was like they were the same person at times. Jinwoo would treat Dongmin right, because Jinwoo was like that – caring and gentle and with so much love to give. He’d been in relationships before, but none whilst Sanha had known him, and his loneliness often crept up on him on his bad days, the days where he was clingier than normal, where Sanha would find him crawling into his bed and demanding to be held for hours, or crawling into Dongmin’s for the same reason. Sanha was close to Jinwoo, close to Dongmin, too, but he would never be as close to them as Dongmin and Jinwoo were to each other.

As the many times they had said before, they’re just best friends, and everything they do is strictly platonic.  Sanha is doubtful though, because he remembers that one Christmas Party at one of the many art Gala’s they attended a few years back, where Jinwoo and Dongmin shared a kiss under the mistletoe – quick and silly and fuelled by copious numbers of martinis – they had seemed too well-versed in the pull away, of which lacked the usual awkwardness, or tenseness, or general inability to function with hands. It seemed too done before, too casual. But perhaps Sanha’s mind was playing tricks on him, making him see things that just weren’t there.

But still, Sanha wishes that Dongmin’s mind hadn’t been clouded by Woo Jin all those years ago, wishes he himself hadn’t fallen into his charismatic trap. The two of them had shared many special memories – carnivals and Galas and art expeditions and Woo Jin had been one of Dongmin’s biggest supporters of writing and releasing a children’s book. From what everyone knew, Woo Jin was a good guy, a great day, even, one of the best. But that thought – and all those memories – haven’t added up too much now, because Dongmin had no soul left, no life left in his eyes, and Sanha didn’t care how fond of Woo Jin he had been, because none of it remained anymore.

Sanha dragged his eyes away from Dongmin’s invisible hand, hidden underneath the antique wooden table, and fixed them on the ceiling instead. He tried to focus on his breathing, and not the feeling of two sets of eyes watching him curiously from across the way. He knew better than to hope, though, because this was Jinwoo and Dongmin, and when together, they were somewhat scheming and conniving.

“Sanha?” Dongmin’s voice, tiny traces of amusement audible there. Dammit. Sanha just grunts in acknowledgement, bites back a groan of defeat.

“Where were you last night?”

He grimaces. He had expected this, though perhaps not before his own morning coffee. After leaving Rocky and the garage last night, Sanha drove straight to Dongmin’s apartment, though by that time, it was past eleven, and the two were already asleep. He bypassed the kitchen on his way to the guest room, eyes catching sight of an empty tequila bottle on the marble benchtop, wondered what he had missed and what tomorrow would bring. It brought, apparently, a self-loathing kind of feeling in Sanha’s gut, where he realised Dongmin had probably tried staying awake for him, but couldn’t hold out any longer.

Dongmin cleared his throat, “I mean, I know you said you were dropping off some dinner to someone, but—”

“You did what?” Jinwoo’s voice came out as a yell, right into Sanha’s ear, though muffled from the mouthful of coffee he was drinking.

Sanha covered his face with his hands, and let out an embarrassed groan. From the gaps between his fingers, Sanha can see that Dongmin looks the tiniest bit guilty.

Sighing, he lowers his hands. “I took Rocky some dinner last night. No big deal,” he adds with a shrug.

Jinwoo narrows his eyes at him. “You kissed him, didn’t you?”

“What? No!” Sanha fish-mouths at him, eyes wide and alert, and he feels very much awake now.

Dongmin snorts, swallowing a mouthful of coffee. “You so did!” If Sanha hadn’t been so embarrassed, he would have made a bigger deal about Dongmin smiling like that, looking happy and at ease. It was something Sanha hadn’t seen since Dongmin found out about Woo Jin cheating, and he had missed it.

Sanha puts his hands up in front of him in defence, looking like he was attempting to stop traffic. “I didn’t kiss him!”

Jinwoo looked at him disbelievingly, but Dongmin was more versed in how faces worked, it seemed, because he just smirked knowingly across at him. Sanha felt his brain stutter. “Oh no, Sanha’s telling the truth, Jinwoo.”

Jinwoo snorts, leaning back in his chair. Dongmin mimics him, and they cross their arms across their chests in unison. “Sanha here wishes they had kissed. But no actual kissing took place.”

Sanha feels the blush spread like a wildlife – from his cheeks up to his scalp, and all the way down to his navel. His voice sounds small when he speaks, and he hates sounding so defeated, so doomed around his friends. “He was sick, okay? I wanted to do something nice for him.”

“You were there for nearly four hours, Sanha!”

Dongmin slaps his hands on the table, making the younger jump. “When you were asking what to wear, I thought you were just going to drop it off and then leave.” Sanha bites his bottom lip, embarrassed and mildly ashamed, trying to find his words but coming up with nothing substantial enough to make sense.

“You must really like him, Yoon Sanha.”

It was Dongmin’s voice, but in Sanha’s head, all he could hear was Jinwoo telling him to be careful, to make sure he knows he definitely likes Rocky – not just his face – before flirting and trying anything. Get to know him first, Jinwoo had said, and the curdling feeling in Sanha’s stomach is finally identified as guilt. Guilt because he wasn’t here for Dongmin last night because he was too busy staring at Rocky working on the undercarriage of a car, too busy watching the bead of sweat run a wet line from his hairline down to his jaw, where it then dropped off onto the oil-stained concrete floor, lost forever; guilty because while he did that, Dongmin and Jinwoo drank tequila and probably cried, and Jinwoo would have endured another terrible romance film; guilt because he had flirted, even though he said he wouldn’t; guilty because he’s being a terrible friend; guilty because he’s not sure he’s even sorry for last night. Rocky had been so kind, so very charming, and it was a constant reminder to Sanha that the stereotypes he had listened to as a child couldn’t be more wrong. In his brief observation, Rocky wouldn’t even hurt a fly, let alone belong to a villainous street gang causing riots and havoc on the city.

He can feel the small smile on his lips, can feel the corners of his mouth tug upward, betraying him. Jinwoo snorts again, but before he can say anything, Sanha finds his words.

“We didn’t kiss. Yes, a kiss would have been nice, but it will be nicer to kiss him when I know him better. And I don’t know him well enough yet. So, yes, I do like him, but I want to like him more than this, and to do that I need to learn more about him.”

Jinwoo looked pleased, Dongmin like he wanted to say something else, but Sanha’s phone was vibrating in his pyjama pocket, and had silenced them both. Sanha was looking at his phone – laying face up, caller ID clearly readable from this angle to him, but not to the others. He looked up hesitantly to them now, hoping he looked calm, but knowing that the high blush on his cheeks would surely give him away. There was a second of silence, interrupted only by the occasional jingle of the phone, before Jinwoo rolled his eyes and groaned into his hands, wincing away from Dongmin’s playful slap.

Embarrassed, Sanha scrambled with the phone. “Hey, Rocky.”

There was shuffling, a sigh, “Morning, Darl. Nice to hear your voice,” he added cheekily, and if they were face-to-face, Sanha know’s Rocky would have winked. The thought of this – and the words alone – were enough to turn him a dangerous shade of red.

“Yeah, uh,” he was verbally tripping, victimised daily by his own inability to formulate normal conversations with the unreasonably attractive mechanic (friend?). Sanha mentally battled with himself over the next words, because he knew Jinwoo would be mad, knew Dongmin would tease him mercilessly for it later. But still, he couldn’t not, couldn’t resist when Rocky handed it to him so easily and willingly.

“It’s nice to hear yours, too.” Sanha bit down on his bottom lip, unable to stop his smile, his blush, the tiny giggle he let out at the sight of Jinwoo rolling his eyes again and pushing himself up from the table. Dongmin was snickering into his coffee, eyes squeezed tightly shut.

Sanha scowled at them, but then Rocky was speaking again, and the crackle of the phone was sending tingles throughout his body.

“I liked last night.”

It was simple, Sanha noted, and very short – but neither of those factors stopped his heart rate from increasing. Sanha tucked his chin, turning his eyes away from Dongmin’s general embarrassment, to save himself from whatever humiliation he’d find there.

“Yeah,” Sanha cringed at how breathless he sounded. “I meant it, y’know?”

“Hmm?”

Sanha smiled, fiddled with a stray piece of thread on his pants. “We should do it again sometime. I had fun.” He would have been embarrassed by the confession had it not been for the rewarding stutter he heard on the other end of the line. Rocky, it seemed, was as flustered as he was by the entire conversation. Sanha felt strangely glad that he wasn’t in this alone. 

“We sh-should.” There’s a silence that follows that allows Sanha to bask in his embarrassment, allows him to question why he’s so embarrassed in the first place. He can still see Dongmin in his peripheral vision, still sipping away on his coffee, but his position is stiffer now, as if standing to attention. Sanha is somewhat aware of the fact that in the quiet morning air, every word Rocky says can be heard.

Somewhere in the vague recollection of last night, Sanha realises Rocky’s voice isn’t scratchy. “Your voice,” he says, sounding less like a question than he’d hoped.

There’s a snicker, and then the sound of a door closing. Sanha imagines Rocky walking out of the garage, away from eavesdroppers, and into the quiet office with the ticking fan. My voice,” he says amusedly. “Is partly the reason I called.”

Sanha leans back in his chair, hums, “oh really?” He hopes his voice sounds as cheeky as he wanted it to be. From his new arrangement, he can see Dongmin perfectly, and right now the elder male shakes his head at him in amusement.

“It is,” he says, sounding just as cheeky. “I called to tell you that first of all, your cars ready. Feel free to pick her up whenever you want. I’m a genius—”

Sanha snorts.

“—so, your radio is now fantastic.” There’s more shuffling in the background, another door closing, a distant yell that sounds like Bin.

“The second reason I’m calling is to tell you that you, Yoon Sanha, are an angel.”

Sanha chokes on air. Dongmin, across from him, is heaving out silent laughter, smacking his legs underneath the table. Sanha stands rapidly, nearly tripping over his own feet to get away out of Dongmin’s prying ears. He struggles with the balcony door, trying to get the lock to work, but the world isn’t on his side today.

“Sanha? Are you okay?” His voice, though caring, is laced with a distant sort of amusement that is both cocky and childish, and it makes Sanha squirm with humiliation.

“Yes, yes,” his voice is saying he’s fine, but his voice is betraying him – it’s high in pitch and squeaky and reminding him of his prepubescent self. He gets the door open, and he hurries outside, sliding it closed behind with excessive force.

The wind outside whips around his face, and he’s sure Rocky can hear it whistle down the line, but at this stage he doesn’t care – he needs the fresh breeze, needs it cool his face down. “Um,” he manages, spinning so his back is against the balcony railing, can watch his reflection in the windows leading back inside. With the glare, he can’t see Dongmin sitting at the table, or the expression he still wears, but he knows that he’s probably laughing at him. He doesn’t blame him. Sanha feels like a bit of maniac right now.

“Why um,” he starts again, taking a different approach, still failing. “Why am I an angel?”

Rocky makes an unidentifiable noise, caught somewhere between a hum and a sigh. “I woke up this morning and my flu was miraculously gone.” Sanha smiles sheepishly, eyes on the tiled balcony floor. “You cured me, Yoon Sanha.”

Sanha shakes his head, “no, no.” He clears his throat, spinning so he’s facing out over the skyline. “I think you have the soup to thank for that.”

Rocky snorts, “unlikely. You ate most of it.”

Scoffing, Sanha lets out an “what? Did not!”

“I had maybe, like, three mouthfuls.”

“Yeah, three big mouthfuls,” Sanha snaps back, smile tugged widely over his teeth.

Rocky goes to say something – the first few syllables hanging down the line – but is cut off by someone yelling in the background, and Sanha recognises the banging as someone’s fist on the window looking out from the office to the workshop.

“Sorry, Sanha,” Rocky says, voice hurried. “I’ve got to go, there’s a customer. But I’ll see you later, yeah?”

He’s gone before Sanha can reply, and Sanha’s little ‘yeah’ gets lost in the wind. Sanha kind of wishes the fluttering in his stomach would fly away with it, but he knows better than to wish for the impossible.

 

This is ridiculous, Sanha thinks, as he watches Dongmin out the corner of his eye. The elder is in the passenger seat, legs bouncing up and down with excitement. Jinwoo is in the back, looked much more reserved and calm, but the smile on his lips gives him away. Sanha had only needed one of them to come with him to drive his Mercedes back while he took the Spider, but both had insisted upon coming. Sanha wishes they had just lied to him as to why they wanted to come. They should have said they were board, or just wanted some fresh air – but they hadn’t. Instead, they declared they wanted to see this Rocky which had left Sanha in such shambles lately. The idea of them meeting him – especially Dongmin – was so nerve wracking that Sanha could taste his breakfast in the back of his throat again.

Sanha loved Dongmin, he did, truly, but sometimes it was very off putting going places with him. The man was unrealistically gorgeous – personality more than his face, but still, physically gorgeous. So much so, that love at first sight was something that happened because of Dongmin a lot. Before he was with Woo Jin – and even during – Dongmin had experienced a lot of confessions, numerous professions of love; so many, in fact, that Dongmin had lost count somewhere along the line. He was so attractive, in fact, that Sanha feared Rocky would slip straight through his fingers when they met. Sanha wasn’t overly self-conscious, but he was nowhere near as handsome as Dongmin was – so self-doubt sat heavy and solid in his gut like concrete. He couldn’t avoid, couldn’t just brush it aside as his nerves soared in his throat as he drove to the garage.

When he pulls the Mercedes into the drive, he keeps his eyes lowered to the steering wheel, to the ground when he steps out. He hears Dongmin and Jinwoo clambered out along with him, rounding the car to stand by him. They’re chatting mindlessly, about nothing in particular, and Sanha’s far too nervous to hone in on what they’re saying. Having only seen Rocky last night, talked to him on the phone not long before, Sanha expected himself to feel less nervous, less tense. But stepping out of the car just now felt more like a chore than anything else. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Rocky – he did, he really, really did – it was just that he wanted to see him a little too much. It was unhealthy, surely, how attached he was the man already. How detached he was about to feel after he picked up his California Spider for good. After accepting the keys back, Sanha knew he had no reason to stick around; had no reason to keep coming back, to keep in touch with the mechanic (his friend?). The thought was so off-putting, in fact, that he almost sent Jinwoo alone in a cab to collect the car for him. And now, now that he’s here, he wants to turn around and pretend he never showed up.

Bin sees them before he can plan an escape route, though, and waves at them from where he was bent over the bonnet of a beat-up Toyota. He drops his tools and throws the dirty rag onto the bench beside him, before sauntering his way over. Sanha watches his eyes flicker from his own over to Jinwoo’s, recognition flashing there for just a moment, before his eyes moved again, further to the left, and onto Dongmin. There was a stumble in his step, tripping over nothing, and beside him, Sanha could feel Jinwoo snort. Dongmin had that kind of effect on people, though Dongmin himself never really believed it. Even now, he was just looking around somewhat blankly, completely oblivious to the way the mechanics were looking over at him.

As Bin nears, he stops momentarily in his tracks. He turns his head over his shoulder, “Rocky! Sanha’s here!”

There was a clatter from the garage, and Sanha found himself watching the scurry of someone sliding out from under a car instead of greeting Bin politely. He watches the messy head of hair he associated with Rocky buzz around the workshop, dropping off tools and snatching at paperwork, all the while Sanha tries not to hyperventilate, because he’s wearing a singlet again.

There’s suddenly an elbow being shoved into his side, and Sanha’s attention is drawn back Bin in front of them. He’s smiling expectantly at him, eyes darting back and forth between him and Dongmin. Sanha smirks.

“Uh, Moon Bin, you’ve met Jinwoo,” Bin nods his head at him in greeting before Sanha continues. “And this is Dongmin. Dongmin, this is Moon Bin.” Sanha watches Bin gulp – it was blatantly obvious, but Dongmin was oblivious to nothing except people’s attraction to him, so he didn’t notice. When they shook hands, it lasted a little longer than a normal handshake, and across the gap between them, Sanha rolled his eyes at Jinwoo. Jinwoo smirked, his own eyes darting inside the garage.

Sanha followed, and his breath hitched in his throat. Rocky was heading towards them now, the singlet he wore a little damp with sweat and stained with oil, like everything else he seemed to own. His arms were out and exposed because the navy jumpsuit was shucked off his shoulders and tied around his waist, and through the way the material clings to his body, Sanha can make out defined abdominal muscles. His tongue feels numb and heavy in his mouth, and he’s forgotten how to speak.

It feels like a lifetime watching him walk towards them. Like he’s moving in slow motion. He strolls casually, wiping his hands nonchalantly down his side as he does so. His hair messy and frizzy at the ends, but it’s so cute, Sanha thinks, especially as he brushes it out of his eyes now. When he stops in front of him, their eyes feel inseparable, and an unsteady breath escapes between his lips. Sanha feels self-conscious again, in his blue jeans and his white button down, plain and casual and not elaborate enough to make a true statement, and he wishes he had worn something a little different now, so he’d stand out beside Dongmin. Rocky’s smiling at him so wide, though, that for a moment, Sanha forgets where they are. Forgets that Rocky was going to fall in love with Dongmin – probably already had.

Someone clears his throat beside him, sounding suspiciously like Bin. Sanha snaps his eyes over to the company around them, their eyes expectant, glistening with knowledge.

Sanha huffs a laugh, “this is Rocky.” Dongmin rolls his lips together, as if to hide his growing smirk. Jinwoo raises one eyebrow, but drops it when Rocky’s eyes look their way. “Rocky,” Sanha says, the mechanics eyes falling back to his immediately. “The short one is Jinwoo,” Jinwoo scowled at him, earning a smile from Rocky. “And this,” Sanha hesitated, saying his final goodbye to Rocky in his mind, before pointing to his left. “—Is Dongmin.”

Sanha was shocked, to say the least, that once Rocky shakes both Jinwoo and Dongmin’s hand, that his attention went straight back to him. His polite smile dropped from his face and was replaced by a full-blown genuine one, and the glint in his eyes were warm and fresh.

“Hi Sanha,” his voice is as wispy as his hair looks, as soft as his skin. It’s barley a whisper, meant for just them two, and Sanha can feel the heat creep up his face again. Though, perhaps it never even left.

“Hi Rocky,” he says back, just as breathless.

Rocky looks as nervous as Sanha feels when he speaks next. “I’ll uh, get you the keys?” He directs to the office with a tilt of his head, and Sanha follows alongside him wordlessly. Jinwoo and Dongmin brush him away in dismissal, staying put outside the office to speak with Bin. As they walk inside, Sanha snaps his head back when he hears a roaring laugh from outside, and a small but well-built man in blue overalls stops by Bin’s side. Sanha cocks his head to the side, recognising it as the mechanic Jinwoo had been infatuated with the other day.

Sanha smirks, turns back to Rocky. “Is that MJ?”

“Hmm?” Rocky looks up from the desk to where Sanha is pointing, and he smiles. “Yeah, that’s him. Loud little shit, he is.” Rocky’s eyes are fond as he watches MJ slap at Bin’s shoulder playfully, laugh loud and boisterous across the carpark. Rocky walks around from the desk, paperwork in hand. Sanha takes both the document book and the pen, huffing out a laugh at Rocky’s “you know the drill,” and signed away the collection form. Then, Rocky was passing him back the keys to his Ferrari, and then—

Sanha’s suddenly touching his forehead, and by the time he realises he’s doing it, he’s snatching his hand away in embarrassment. “Sorry!” He yelps out, putting a step between them. Rocky’s eyes are unchanged, albeit a little confused. “I just wanted to check your temperature, y’know, being sick and all.” His voice was a venting spew of words, and it sounded as crazed as it did in his head as he spoke it. Sanha was starting to feel that this state of embarrassment he constantly found himself in was permanent; at least, whenever he was with Rocky it was.

The confusion in Rocky’s eyes cleared, and he smiled toothily. “I already told you, Sanha. I’m cured.

Sanha nodded lamely, threw in a shrug for good measure. “I just wanted to check, is all.”

Rocky moved expressionlessly, closing the gap Sanha had put between them in one easy second. Sanha’s breath hitched, and he was watching Rocky’s hand drift down to his own, where it was limp at his side since touching his face. The feeling of Rocky’s finding curling around his wrist made a jolt of electricity zap through him, licking up his spine, and Sanha could feel it happening, but couldn’t stop it, either. Rocky had Sanha’s wrist in his hand, and was dragging it slowly – as if with nervous hesitation – and then using his other hand, stretched out Sanha’s fingers. In the next second, Sanha’s hand was back on his Rocky’s forehead.

The breath Sanha had been holding slipped out between his teeth.

Rocky’s forehead felt warm, but not dangerously so. It just felt like living flesh underneath his own warm skin. Sanha usually ran a little cold, so maybe the fire he felt in his veins now was because of the heat Rocky radiated. The night before, their fingers had grazed together, though that had been minor, not enough to create a reaction like this one. Sanha felt dizzy, felt high off Rocky’s touch. He had dropped his hand from his wrist now, and his eyes has slipped closed. He looked remarkably peaceful, Sanha thought, and he didn’t want to disturb him. So, he left his hand there for a while longer, taping his fingers just the tiniest bit against the smooth expanse of the mechanics forehead. Being this close reminded him of how tan Rocky’s skin was, how beautiful his melanin was. Sanha hadn’t been quite so lucky, running a litter paler than the man in front of him now, and he admires the blemishes dotting Rocky’s skin, admires that he makes no move to cover them up as Sanha does his own.

Sanha thinks it weird that he can be touching his mechanic like this, and yet feel no weirdness, no heavy awkwardness lingering in the air around them. Thinks its weirder that he doesn’t want to take his hand away; wants to keep it there forever, find home against the warmth of his skin.

Soon, Rocky flutters his eyes open, and Sanha takes that his cue to drop his hand away. When he does, he suddenly feels significantly colder, and he shivers in his t-shirt. Rocky’s eyes look peaceful and sated, and Sanha wants to drown in them.

“Well?” Rocky says, voice breaking the silence. “Satisfied?”

Sanha isn’t entirely sure what he’s meant to be satisfied about – satisfied about touching him, or satisfied that Rocky isn’t still sick – but he assumes the latter. He also isn’t sure if he’s got his voice back yet, so he settles with a nod in confirmation. Rocky smiles wider, but then it falters a little.

“I’ll show you where it’s parked, yeah?” Sanha nods, diverting his eyes from the closeness of Rocky’s pink lips to his own. “It’s out back.”

Sanha follows him out the office, and around to side of the workshop building. They follow a gravel pathway wide enough for cars to get in and out of till the end of the building, and when they turn the corner, Sanha is met with more roller doors. They’re closed, and Sanha assumes it’s where they park the more expensive cars when they’re ready for collection. 

Rocky digs around in his overall pocket, pulling out a series of keys before shoving one with a practiced ease into the lock. Sanha admires the contraction of muscles as he rolls the door up, and then is distracted further by the movement of his arms pulling away a grey car cover off his Spider. And then there, in her polished red glory, sat his vintage Ferrari. It hadn’t even been long, but he had missed it. Had missed this very materialistic thing, the bright red, the silver rims, the tan leather seating. He had yet to drive it in its proper convertible state, having always driven it with the roof pulled up, but seeing it now, he knew that was the first thing he would do.

Rocky turns to him with a knowing smile, and then suddenly the excitement is gone, and the concrete is back. This was it, Sanha realised. The end of their communication, or at least, until something else happened and he needed a mechanic again. There was no doubt in his mind that he’d come back to Rocky again, he’d come back for his regular services and check-ups, but still – it didn’t feel enough, and it was so far in the future that he felt ill thinking about it. Rocky must have felt something similar, because the nauseating expression on his face was identical to that of his own.

The keys in his hands suddenly felt like weights.

Sanha thinks about reaching out to shake his hand, but that seems so professional, so final. Something so set in stone that its irreversible. And Sanha doesn’t want that. Doesn’t want this to be their final greeting, their final hello and goodbye and whatever else. Knows it won’t be, but can’t stop the doubt flourishing in his mind, either. Sanha doesn’t want to be his client, his customer; Sanha wants to be his friend. Wants to bring him dinner regularly and sit on the benchtop and watch him work, tease each other and talk about nothing important, because it was so easy and carefree and so much simpler than Galas and art expeditions and guest speaking at charity balls. Sanha loved all that, don’t get him wrong, he was so grateful for the life he was able to live – but sometimes, sometimes, he wanted to go bare-faced and throw a beanie on his head to save himself styling his hair; wanted to wear ugly pants and old t-shirt because it took no effort.

Rocky looks as hesitant as he does, and there’s still a smile on his lips, but it doesn’t reach his eyes – and everything feels so forced, so pathetic and withered and wilting like an old bouquet. He feels stupid and he doesn’t know what to do anymore.

“Well, thanks, I guess,” Rocky says, voice as empty as his eyes.

Sanha nods, stops himself. “No, thank you. For everything. I really,” he trails off, hesitates, thinks one thing, says another, “I really appreciate it.”

Sanha goes to unlock the car, tries to bite back whatever is sitting on the tip of his tongue, when Bin rounds the corner.

“Sanha! Heading off now?”

Sanha holds the open door in his hand. “Yeah, I mean…I guess I’d better head off. Leave you lot to it.”

Bin scoffs, brushes it aside. “Nonsense. Feel free to stick around whenever. You’re definitely one of our favourites,” Sanha blushes, ducks his head, misses the way Rocky smacks at Bin’s arm with a scowl.

“Oh!” Sanha looks back up, eyebrow cocked. “Has Rocky asked you to drinks yet?”

Rocky’s face blanks, smile dropping from his lips. Sanha darts his eyes between the two of them, before shaking his head. “Er, no?”

Bin tuts, wiggles a finger at Rocky, jabs it under his ribs. Rocky yelps, whacks his hand away with a curse. Bin straightens himself back up again, slapping his hands together with a loud clap. “Well, we’re heading down to the pub tonight after we close up shop. Grabbing a few drinks. Feel free to join, yeah?” He goes to say something more, Sanha thinks, but he hears Bin’s name be called from the other side of the driveway. Bin shrugs, throws a thumb up in his direction before shooting back the way he came and leaving the two of them in silence.

The silence is awkward, Sanha notices. Often, the silence that spreads out around them doesn’t feel quite so heavy, but right now, he notices it more than ever before. He feels itchy, like mites were crawling all over his body, and he has a sudden need to down an entire bottle of wine.

“You should come,” Rocky says suddenly, voice low. Sanha raises his eyes from the bonnet of his car and over to where Rocky was leaning against the bannister. “I mean, to the drinks tonight,” he pushes himself of the wall, steps a little closer to the car. “It would be fun. Only if you want to, of course. I’m not going to make you go, I mean, don’t feel—”

“I’m really glad you asked.” Rocky stops speaking, a delicate rose pink dusting across his cheeks, a cute smile to match. “I’d love to go,” Sanha adds for good measure, the pink evolving into red.

Sanha goes to get into the car, one leg in, one out. “Text me the details, yeah?” Then, before Rocky can say anything more, he slams the door behind and is gone before he allows himself to breathe again.

 

 

Wilt’s Pub, 6 pm.

 

Sanha frowned. Was that all?

He pinches himself, because he was being ridiculous. What more did Sanha want? He had the location and the time, which meant he’d be seeing him in a few hours anyway. And here he was, acting like the clingy one in the relationship. His phone buzzed again in his hand.

 

Can’t wait xx

 

Sanha spends the next hour contemplating the xx and finds himself scared at what the weight of it means.

 

 

The moment he parks, he knows he’s overdressed.

He usually is, but normally the venue is a little different, the event something publicised enough that he can brush it aside. But now, where he knows there won’t be any photographers, no journalists, no media attention whatsoever, he feels a bit ridiculous. He should have realised at home, in his damn apartment, that the Swarovski embellished shirt was a bit much, even paired with simple cream trousers. He didn’t want to get out the car, let alone face Rocky like this.

It wasn’t that he looked bad – he looked good, and on any normal day, Sanha would walk around proudly in this outfit. But this was the downtown, this was a grungy pub on the corner, an establishment Sanha hadn’t even considered ever walking into. He buries his head in his hands so that when he screams, its muffled, and passer-by’s don’t stare in his general direction too long. When he removes his hands, he can see a small group of approaching figures, and judging by their dishevelled appearances, it’s Rocky and the rest of the mechanics. As they draw closer, it’s undeniably them, and anticipation is bubbling throughout his body. He fumbles with the longline cardigan on the passenger seat, which he had originally decided against, but is now thankful for. It’s casual enough that it tones down the bedazzled shirt he was wearing, and covered most of it up, too. He slipped his arms through, before snatching his wallet from the glovebox and transferring it to his trouser pocket. He made a mental sign of the cross, counted to ten, and then pushed his door open.

It was warm out, despite the rapidly setting sun, and he wished he could go without the cardigan, but right now, he had no other choice. It was either sticking out like a sore thumb, or getting heat stroke; and the latter was looking very appealing right now.

There was no doubt in Sanha’s mind that they knew it was him – no one else drove the exact car he did – and it was confirmed by the deafeningly loud wolf-whistle resonating from their direction. Sanha shut his eyes in embarrassment as the whistling started up again, this time from MJ. He couldn’t see Rocky, assumed he was at the back of the group – there was about seven or eight of them all up, from what he could roughly count, and he felt sick.

Yoon Sanha!” It was Bin’s voice that yelled it out, loud enough for people on the other side of the road to turn and stare at them. Loud enough that Sanha felt his legs shaking from the attention, the attention he was usually fine receiving. But this was different. This was Rocky’s co-workers, his friends, the people he lived with, even. Sanha had wanted to make a good impression on them, and if clothes were going to get him there, he was going to try it.

From behind the small group, Rocky steps around. When their eyes meet, Sanha throws him a shy wave to match his equally shy smile. Rocky sends a wave in his direction, too, and makes a beeline straight towards him.

He stops in front of him, breathing out, and Sanha looks down at his face with giddiness. “Hello,” he whispers, unsure he can trust his speaking voice.

Rocky scrunches up his face cutely, whisper a “hello” right back. Sanha watches his eyes drift down his body, settling on the crystals on his shirt. He absentmindedly reaches out to one, his index finger tracing the swirly loop the crystals left on the sheer white material, and grins to himself.

“You look great,” he says, retracting his hand. The smile he’s given is warm and genuine, and all of a sudden, Sanha’s nerves disappear.

 

When the group of them walked inside, it was exactly as Sanha had imagined.

There was loud, bass-heavy music playing from overhead speakers, and booming laugher from every corner. It was dominated by men, if the deep drawl of mindless chatter was anything to go by. It was decorated with dark colours and furnishings outdated and battered with use and age. Though it was the opposite of what Sanha was used to, he didn’t dislike it – in fact, he found it somewhat welcoming. Compared to the glassy stares of other socialites he was paid to interact with, be photographed with, this was so very different. Rocky’s co-workers may not have all looked it, but they were undeniably sweethearts.

Not that they needed to, but they bought the first round of drinks, and Sanha accepted it graciously and what could only be described as a shy dip of his head. He received a few glances his way as he followed after Rocky towards a table along the back wall, a double-sided booth with two stools either end of the long table, and Sanha was squished in between Rocky and MJ. The proximity to Rocky was intoxicating, their thighs flush against each other, arms brushing as they lifted their drinks. It was a beer, something Sanha very rarely drank, but right now, he barely tasted the cheapness of it. He found himself drinking it at their same pace, found himself laughing along with them, joining in to their conversations as if he had always been there. The rounds of drinks followed, and soon, Sanha’s head felt a little heavier than before, his eye’s a little hooded – a tell-tale sign that he was on his way to being tipsy. He didn’t care, because the others were just about the same, and Sanha felt warm and safe pressed against Rocky’s side.

During the spiel of the evening, they’d pressed impossibly closer. One of Rocky’s hands had found itself placed just above Sanha’s knee, and over the course of a few minutes, the grip had tightened and spread further up his leg. It now sat at his mid-thigh, strong fingers providing a warm hold which seeped through the material of his trousers, and down into his bones. Rocky’s body was angled away from the wall, so that Sanha was leant back against his chest just the slightest. To anyone else, he assumes it would have looked well-practiced and perhaps even a bit relationship-y, but to Sanha – on his level of intoxication – it was suffocating and temptingly sweet.  Rocky was warm against him, and despite loving it, he was starting to overheat in his cardigan. He knew this would happen, knew that the red of his cheeks would become more than just evidence of the alcohol he had consumed, would be more heat-related than anything else. He whines a bit, under his breath, barely audible to anyone except Rocky, who’s head was so close to his own.

His hand on his leg tightens as he whispers in his ear, “You alright, Darl?” Sanha squirmed, the red on his cheeks deepening at the return of Rocky’s pet-name. Sanha liked it too much to be healthy, he thinks, and the way his body reacts to it makes him feel insane.

“I’m hot,” he says, sounds whiny and childish, but he can’t help it. He feels clammy; can feel the build of moisture between his shoulder blades.

He feels Rocky use his other hand to tug at the sleeve of his cardigan. “Take this off, Sanha.”

Sanha shakes his head, pulling the sleeves further down his arms. “It’ll ruin the outfit if I do that.”

Rocky chuckles, shakes his head. “You’ll look great regardless.”

“I’m overdressed Rocky. This cardigan hides that.” Sanha’s pouting, and Rocky taps at his bottom lip with his fingertip. Had he been completely sober, Sanha would have screamed; but his mind is preoccupied by the buzz of liquor, and doesn’t react as he normally would. Everything is delayed and a little blurry, and his smile comes a little late. Rocky just smiles back. “You look perfect Sanha.” His words are gentle and are nearly lost amidst the loud music, but Sanha strains his senses to grasp the words properly.

The hand on his thigh is a little looser now, and Rocky’s other hand is tugging the cardigan down of his shoulder. Sanha snatches at his wrist. He doesn’t pull it away, just holds it there, stopping him in the middle of his ministration.

“You promise?”

Rocky narrows his eyebrows at him. “Promise what?”

Sanha licks his lips, “that you won’t tease me.”

His thigh is squeezed tighter again, just for a second, before the grip loosens back to normal. “Why would I tease you?”

Sanha whined, pouting again when Rocky snickered. “Because I’m overdressed, Rocky. Really.”

Rocky shook his head, and then started moving his hands again, tugging the arms of his cardigan down and away from his shoulders. Sanha let him tug his wrists out of the sleeve, and he sighed when his arms were met with the cool air outside the knit. Rocky folds the cardigan up, and places it behind him on the seat. 

He turns back to Sanha, eyes not straying from his face down to his elaborate shirt, and smiles. “Better?”

Sanha nods, “better. Thanks.”

They fall back into the conversation they had drifted out of, ignoring Bin’s knowing gaze from across the table. After a while, Sanha realises Rocky’s hand never returned to his thigh, and using his drunken confidence, he grasps at Rocky’s hand blindly under the table, and drags it back to his leg. He drops it there, and squeezes Rocky’s hand, motioning for him to do the same. Out the corner of his eye, he catches Rocky smirking into his glass. Sanha thinks he’s going to comment, tease him, say anything; but he doesn’t. He just tightens his grip on Sanha’s thigh, his fingers brushing mindless patterns against the inside seam of his trousers. It was soothing, and somewhat grounding in the environment he felt out of place in. The guys were welcoming, yes, and they didn’t tease him for his high-pitched laugh like many others did. He felt like decade-old friends, like they had known each other forever. The mood of the evening was flowing bubbly and warm and fresh and new, and so different to how he usually spends his evenings, and Sanha decides right then and there – when a new glass of beer is pushed his way – that he wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

That mood changes though, just for a minute, when a group of similar aged men stumble their way over to them from the bar. They don’t look terribly frightening, but they’re bigger than Sanha was, definitely more muscular. He shrinks back in his seat when one of the men from the back sneers at him.

Bin catches Sanha’s discomfort in his eyes, and shifts in his seat to look behind him. When he sees the group of people, Sanha doesn’t miss the way his eyes roll back in his head.

“What do you lot want?” Bin’s voice sounds tired, and Sanha realises that this is not their first interaction with the bystanders. Their table as stopped drinking, hands just resting on their cups, eyes resting on the other group.

The man standing at the front has his eyes directly on Sanha, and he squirms under his stare. He doesn’t recognise him, but the look he’s giving Sanha makes him think that maybe he recognises Sanha. It’s possible, Sanha thinks, if the man read magazines or newspapers or any online articles. “We’ve come to say hello, Binnie.”

Bin scowls as he stares into the contents of his glass.

“Now, don’t be rude. Who’s your new friend?”

He hears Rocky’s breath hitch, and Sanha diverts his eyes from the group over to him. The hand holding his glass drops beneath the table, scratches along his leg, rests on Rocky’s wrist where it meets his thigh. Bin yelps, and Sanha realises Rocky has kicked Bin under the table.

He sighs. “What do you want Jaz?”

Jaz flicks his eyes down to Bin, then back over to Sanha. “I want you to introduce me to your friend,” his smirk turns menacing. “Or is he your pet, maybe? Looks innocent enough to be.”

Rocky’s hand tightens on his leg two-fold. MJ, on his right, squishes in closer to him. Sanha mentally thanks him. “He’s our friend, Jaz. Now leave us alone.”

Jaz doesn’t leave. Instead, he steps a little closer, so the backs of his legs hit the booth. “I know who you are, y’know?”

Sanha snaps, “then you don’t need to be introduced then, do you?”

MJ cackles loudly beside him, and Rocky joins in after a while.

Jaz doesn’t even smile, though, and Sanha’s confidence deflates. “You’re that bastard who does nothing for a living yet gets paid more than any of us will see in a whole life time. Rich prick, doesn’t even deserve a name.”

Rocky goes to stand, but Sanha grabs out with both hands and stops him. “Rock—no, don’t.” Rocky shifts his eyes from Jaz down to him, where Sanha sees confusion laced with anger. “Really, don’t bother. It’s okay.” His eyes are pleading, his hands gripping Rocky’s hip and wrist as tightly as he could. “It’s okay,” he repeats, emphasising with an extra-long squeeze of his hands. He pays no mind to the fact that his hand it on Rocky’s hip, dangerously close to where his t-shirt is riding up above his jeans, to where his hand is itching to hold his own. Rocky must feel the same thing, though, because the hand trickles down, and he laces their fingers together. The movement is paired with a death glare sent in Jaz’s direction, and Sanha tucks his chin, following the grooves on the wooden table.

Slowly, Rocky starts to sit down, not letting goes of his hand. Jaz snorts, shakes his head, but they meander away at the boredom of no response. The table is quiet, no one retouching their drinks, and Sanha feels tears welling up in his eyes. He’s starting to shake, and Rocky must notice, because he lifts his chin up with his finger.

“Sanha? Are you alright?” Sanha finds the time to note how ridiculous it is that a man he’s not even known for two weeks has already seen him cry twice, and has yet to make any teasing comment about it. Rocky was an enigma that Sanha couldn’t get enough of.

“I am so sorry,” he manages out, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. He’s didn’t wear mascara often, and today was no exception; but he was wearing foundation, and he cursed at himself for possibly smudging it. He lifts his eyes to the rest of the table, repeating his apology with a wobbly bottom lip. The recipients at the table stare at him – gobsmacked – before bursting out in mayhem. Sanha can’t really detect full sentences, can only pick up key words, but knows they’re saying it’s not your fault, and Jaz is a dick head, and stop it, Sanha. Sanha sobs out a little laugh, and he’d be embarrassed weren’t it for Rocky’s reassuring hand on his leg, MJ’s snickering in his ear, and the fresh beer pushed his way from the other side of the table. Sanha takes a long gulp, earning himself a round of cheers, and suddenly everything falls back to the way it was.

 

It was one am, and Sanha was half asleep. He wanted to go home, to climb into his bed and fall asleep, but at the same time, he wanted nothing more than to stay tucked up into Rocky’s side. Rocky’s hand was long gone from his leg, but had wrapped itself around his shoulders instead, tugging him farther back into his chest. Sanha wasn’t bothered, liked resting his head in the curve of elder man’s neck. The alcohol in his system meant that he didn’t fumble with his words or his hands over the awkwardness of the situation. Later, when he’d wake up, he’ll have a headache and all the embarrassment would catch up with him. For now, though, he basks in the attention Rocky’s giving him, allows himself to sink into his body, lapping up the warmth and the soft brushing of fingers against the hair at his nape.

After a while, his eyes start to drift closed. He’s far too comfortable, and Rocky’s gentle movements are lulling him to sleep. Across the table, he hears Bin coo. He wants to make a sarcastic remark, defend himself, but the drag of sleep is too strong. He feels what he thinks is Rocky’s lips against the side of his head, buried in his hair, and he absentmindedly turns into them. He keeps his eyes shut the entire time, and there are hands moving to sit him further upright.

The lips in his hair drift down to his ear, breath fanning across his face as they whisper to him. “Up we go, home time.”

Sanha all but groans, curling into Rocky’s arms when he heaves them upright. His eyes flicker open long enough to see MJ sliding out of the booth to let them pass, to see Rocky snatch up his cardigan and drape it over his spare arm, long enough to throw a barely-there wave to the rest of the table. There’s some laughter, but Sanha’s too tired to decide if it’s because of him or not.

Rocky guides him outside, and when the fresh air hits his hot cheeks, he sighs. Sanha opens his eyes, frowns at the lack of stars – frowns deeper when he finds himself surprised by that. He’s lived in the city his whole life, he shouldn’t be shocked that there are no stars. He stumbles a little, and lets out an unattractive squawk that has Rocky nearly in fits. Sanha whines in response, trying to tug his hands out of Rocky’s grip – but Rocky’s stronger, and more stable on his feet.

“Why aren’t you drunk?” Sanha may be highly intoxicated, but he’s almost highly intelligent – and Drunk Sanha refuses to let his IQ drop by using incorrect language or letting him slur out sentences. Drunk Sanha is stupid, but he’s not an idiot. Rocky’s laughter has died out, just to a snicker now, and Sanha curls into his arms to tuck his head into his neck. Drunk Sanha was also clingy.

“Because stopped drinking hours ago. Unlike someone else I know,” he finishes his sentence with a chaste kiss to Sanha’s temple, who flounders in his arms at it. He squeals when he feels fingers jab at his sides, tickling him, before the hands are gone completely. Then, he’s being pushed into the passenger side of his Ferrari, and the door slammed in his face. He’s woozy for a minute, eyes adjusting to the complete darkness of the car, before Rocky is in the driver’s seat, key in the ignition.

“What are you doing?”

Rocky stops, turns his head slowly to Sanha. “I’m driving you home.” Sanha frowns, eyes Rocky’s hand on the steering wheel cautiously. Sanha knows Rocky has driven it before, during the service, but Sanha knows this is different. This would be longer, but Sanha’s too drunk to realise the consequences of his actions, really, so he nods.

When the engine starts, he rolls his head onto the window, mumbling, “take care of it, alright? It’s beautiful.” He emphasises the word by dragging his hand across the dash, fingers dancing along the air vents.

Rocky snorts, putting it into gear. Sanha – had he been more coherent – would have commented on how attractive his hand looked wrapped around a stick shift, but his words were lost to him now.

It’s beautiful,” Sanha hears himself repeat as Rocky slows at a red light.

Sanha’s eyes are too focused on the streets outside to see the way Rocky watches him, eyes fond and smile wide. “Yeah,” Rocky says, Sanha humming in response. “Beautiful.”

 

 Sanha is vaguely aware of arms wrapped around his waist, a body flush against his back, as he’s pushed through his apartment. He doesn’t remembering getting there, doesn’t recall opening his door, kicking off his shoes, but he’s here, and the body behind him is warm and familiar.

“’Ocky,” Sanha whines, when the man drops him on the middle of his bed. Rocky chuckles, shaking his head. “Stay,” he says, whiny and not thinking clearly.

Through squinted eyes, Sanha sees Rocky shake his head. “No, Sanha. I’ll grab a cab home.”

Sanha watches him a little longer, trying to find any ounce of him that could be convinced of otherwise, but soon his eyes are closed, and he’s dancing with sleep. He rolls to his side, then groans as the zipper of his trousers digs into his skin.

He blindly goes to undo them, but his hands are shaky and he can’t unhook the clip, and he yells out against his pillow. Hands are there, suddenly, on top of his own, yanking them away. Sanha doesn’t have the energy to protest, or to fight against Rocky’s hands as they work his trousers down his legs. He’s too lethargic, heavy too heavy between his shoulders. Sanha wants to say something, anything, but can’t find his tongue inside his mouth, can’t connect the dots joining his brain to his mouth. There are fingers are his chest now, unbuttoning the shirt he’s alert enough to know shouldn’t be slept in, and then his chest and legs are completely bare. Even in his drunken state, Sanha feels embarrassed – embarrassed because this is Rocky seeing him like this, and it’s not even in the way Sanha would have ever liked. Sanha got embarrassingly drunk, and now Rocky had to take care of him.

He whines into his pillow again, tucking his legs up and spreading his hands across his chest, trying to assume some modesty. He hears Rocky chuckle above him, and then there’s a soft weight on top of him that he recognises as his duvet, and he suddenly feels less exposed and vulnerable.

Sanha wants to think that the brushing against his cheek is Rocky’s lips, and he wants to open his eyes to check, but he’s fast asleep before the thought is there.

 

 

 

 

"breathe me in like air tonight,

let yourself unwind.

get lost in the garden of my mind."

Alina Baraz, 'fantasy'

Chapter Text

"like a pack of wolves, 

taking everything that's mine.

i'm losing every sense of my pride,

i need a soul in which i can confide."

- astronomyy, 'pack of wolves'

 

Money had never been a problem for Yoon Sanha. He was lucky, in that regard, that he was never necessarily poor. He was well travelled and spoke a few different languages with confidence, and the experiences he had accumulated in his short life were only doable because of his parents’ bank accounts. As he aged, allowances became larger. Soon enough, Sanha had started to earn money of his own. Magazines – paper and online alike – and newspapers had request the permission to photograph South Korea’s wealthiest couple’s son, and although at first Sanha had not wanted any part of it, his parents had pushed him to agree.

To this day, Sanha isn’t entirely sure if he made the right decision. Because yes, he was financially wealthy, but he had been deprived of a regular upbringing. Not because of the money aspect, but because the more money his family gained, the less time they had for him.

He was a solitary child. More often than not, he was the youngest in his classes, but usually the smartest, too. He was an outcast in high school, because of the way his brain worked, and how his parents had more money than any of the students combined, and that Sanha didn’t really need to be here, because he was never going to need to work, so why would he need an education? When he met Dongmin, that all changed – because the elder boy didn’t care for his money, he had enough of his own, and he didn’t care that Sanha was outrageously intelligent, because he was, too. It was never a contest between them of who had it better or worse, they just were, and they just did, and they just worked. Dongmin was there for him when his parents most definitely were not.

His parents – stock rich, monetarily rich, asset rich, just rich – spent more time at events than they did with him, and it got to the point where Sanha would venture out on his own without them even knowing. By the time Sanha was sixteen years old, he already had plans to leave his family behind – and thus travelled and left and moved out when the moment arose. His own accomplishments came later. He purchased his own stocks, he held his own events, he earned invites all on his own, he drew for Dongmin and he sponsored athletes and charities alike. Sanha got to where he was on his parent’s money, but he swore he’d make it the rest of the way using his own. And so, he did. The apartment he purchased, his cars, the holidays – all of it – purchased using his own funds. And maybe people will question his lifestyle, the fact that being a socialite isn’t a real job, but he got here on his own now.

So, it didn’t make sense for his Mum to be calling him at a little past eight am.

Sanha knew enough about his body by now to know that he hasn’t had enough sleep. He can tell by the way his brain is still throbbing in his head, and his vision is still multiplied by three, and his hands are sweaty – that he’s probably still drunk from the night before with Rocky, just easing into hangover waters now. Seeing the call from his Mum – who he hadn’t properly spoken to since he was seventeen years old – was enough to sober him up, drag the hangover from his head, and then spit it back in his face.

He declined the call, groaning and shoving his face deep into the pillow. A moment later, and his phone buzzed again. Instead of declining it, he silenced the call, and shoved it deep under his blankets on the unused side of his bed.

He thinks he’s just about asleep again, when he’s jolted awake again by a pillow slamming around the back of his head. He grunts. Realistically, he knows it can only be one of two people – Dongmin or Jinwoo, the only others who have keys to his apartment. He doesn’t open his eyes for whoever it is, though, because after a night out of drinking, Sanha estimates ten hours of sleep are needed for him, should he want to be able to function properly the next day. That, combined with a large triple-shot latte and a thirty-minute shower.

“Sanha!” The pillow hits him again, but he makes no notion of recognition this time.

The pillow slaps him once more before it continues in a rapid succession, the feathery thump, thump, thump constant enough that it was making his headache worsen. On the thirteenth thump, Sanha jolts upwards, snatching at the pillow with his left hand and pelting it across the room. It hits his white silk blinds, which sway under the impact. Sanha turns, glares at Dongmin’s half-cowered expression at the foot of his bed, and growls. 

“What do you want Dongmin?” He snatches his phone back out from under the pillow, vaguely recognises he had missed three other calls from his Mum, and a series of texts, too, before checking the time at the top of the screen. “It’s eight forty-three! What could you want at this time?”

Dongmin smirks, tutting. “Have you got the drawings done?”

Sanha narrows his eyes in thought. “For your book?”  Dongmin nods, eyes heavy with concern. Sanha just snorts. “Of course, I do. Finished them the other day. Want me to print them?”

Dongmin nods, “please.” He stops, yanks the blankets down from around Sanha, and then squeals. “Argh! Put some clothes on. I’ll make coffee.”

He leaves the room, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, and Sanha yells back “my house, my rules” but Dongmin doesn’t acknowledge him. Sanha’s blushing at the recollection of events from last night with Rocky as he’s scooping his laptop from off the floor beside his bed, at how intoxicated he’d gotten, at how Rocky had stripped him and put him to bed. Sanha looks down at the black boxers he was wearing, and sighs with relief – thank God, he hadn’t worn any embarrassing ones. He takes another moment to glance over his torso, the length of his legs. He wonders if Rocky had liked what he saw – Sanha wasn’t muscular by any means, had always struggled to gain weight, so the abdominal muscles he had were only there due to his lack of body fat in that region, and he had genetics to thank for his slender legs and arms. He hopes Rocky was, but then he shakes the thought away before he can think any more of it, because Rocky’s a good guy, and a friend, and sure, they flirted, but it was different. Rocky wouldn’t take advantage of his drunken state to check his naked body out, though still, Sanha hoped Rocky still thought him beautiful.

He enters his passcode, and opens up his scanned documents. Dongmin always wondered why Sanha drew by hand when he had every opportunity to make his life easier and draw using his tablet. Sanha would always scowl at him for that, because Sanha liked the weight of an actual pen or paintbrush beneath his fingers, liked being able to feel the grooves and line-work on the paper. He used to draw electronically, using professional programs when he was in school, but as he grew older, he grew out of it, much preferring blank pages and canvases to blank documents.

He connects to his printer in the other room, and sends the drawings through. When he hears the familiar churn of paper coming from his office, Dongmin is coming back into his room with a coffee in either hand. He passes one to Sanha, who forces himself to sit higher up against the headboard of his bed, a pillow behind his neck. Dongmin sits wordlessly on the end of his bed, near his feet, and Sanha drags his knees up to make more room for him. He’s thrown a nervous smile in thanks, and Sanha narrows his eyes.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

Dongmin shifts nervously. “What? What do you mean?”

Sanha takes a large mouthful of coffee, savouring it, before swallowing it. His head thumped. “Your face. It’s all nervous looking, and you’re doing that fiddling thing with your fingers when you’re trying to think of what to say.”

Dongmin looks down at his hands, caught out, and then forces them back around his coffee mug. He shrugs, but says nothing.

Sanha groans, letting his head fall back. “Dongmin. I am way too hungover for your shit right now. Please, just tell me, what’s going on?”

Dongmin’s eyes are shut, as if to hide whatever was hiding there, but the nervous way he held his limbs started to dissipate, transforming into something tangible only as excitement. Sanha squinted his eyes in anticipation.

“I’m going to write a book.”

Sanha watches Dongmin’s eyes snap open and fall on his slouched position in the bed. They were hesitant, albeit curious, though Sanha didn’t understand why.

“A book? You’ve already written two books.”

Dongmin shook his head, leaning over and sitting his mug on the bedside table. “No, Sanha. I mean. I’m going to write a book.

Sanha stilled. “You mean, you’re going to write a novel?” Dongmin nods.

He sits further upright, his back tearing away from where it was lounging against the bedhead. “Dongmin!”

He’s about to throw his arms around his friend when he catches himself, placing his coffee on the bedside table beside Dongmin’s, before continuing. Dongmin melts in his arms the moment they’re around him, and Sanha tries his best to swallow away the tears welling in his eyes.

For years, Dongmin hadn’t been able to find enough words to procure a novel. He had always wanted to, but had always torn himself to shreds when he wasn’t able to. Sanha didn’t know personally, but had heard of the horrors that came with writing a novel. Knew that it took years to be fully satisfied with it, knew that the chances of it being published were slim. In his arms now, Sanha isn’t quite so sure when he had made the decision, or where he had found the courage to do so, especially now of all times – but Sanha somewhat assumes his breakup has something to do with. There’s something about misery that brings the best out of people.

Sanha pulls his arms back away from Dongmin’s shaking frame, delicately running his fingertips under his eyes, catching stray tears. Dongmin, annoyingly, was pretty even when he cried. Sanha would be envious if he were so elated.

When?”

Dongmin sniffs, shrugging one shoulder. He splutters out a laugh at Sanha’s expression, which he assumes is no short of flabbergasted. “I don’t know. I just woke up this morning and thought about my life, where it’s at, where it’s going…I have nearly two hundred missed calls from Woo Jin on my phone, and today is the only day I woke up without any new ones.”

Sanha waits patiently, knows Dongmin has a point to all this. His tears are streaming down quicker now, though he isn’t sobbing. Sanha puts a hand over his and squeezes it reassuringly.

“If he,” he starts, then stops. He wipes his nose with the back of his sweater. “If he can get over me that quickly, then I can, too. Even if it’s forced. I’ve never been afraid of commitment, Sanha, you know that right?” Sanha nods. “I think maybe my words were afraid of him. Because now that he’s gone it’s just…they’ve all come home again.”

Dongmin stands from the bed, walking slowly over to the blind. He drags it across in a rapid jerk, early morning light streaming in over his bed. Sanha squints, but doesn’t complain.

“But I’m not going to write it for him. I’m going to write it for you Sanha,” Sanha goes to interrupt, but Dongmin holds his hand up to stop him. “I’m going to write it for you, and for Jinwoo, and for myself. I’m going to write it for what Woo Jin missed out on.”

Sanha rises from the bed, stands himself beside his best friend with a comforting hand on his lower back.

“I’m going to write a novel. A real big one. A real meaningful one.” He turns to Sanha now, lacing their fingers together. “I want my life back, Sanha. And this just might help me get it.”

Sanha lifts their joined hands and presses a kiss to the back of it, before dropping it. “Okay. I support you. And, if you need me, you know where to find me.”

Dongmin’s tears have stopped, but he’s hiccupping cutely now, dapping at the redness of eyes. Sanha snatches at the hand doing so, tutting, telling him it’ll only make it worse. Dongmin snorts, shoving his shoulder. “Go shower. We’re leaving soon.”

Sanha steps back, raising an eyebrow at him. “What for?”

Dongmin sighs, dropping his arms beside him, defeated. “To the publisher. You’re coming with me.”

“What, right now?” Dongmin nods. “Can’t it wait, I don’t know, till like, tomorrow?”

His friend is pouting at him now, eyes doing that thing Sanha’s never been all that good at ignoring. Sanha holds up a single finger to stop him. “No, Dongmin. Stop.” The boy in question frowns deeper, sticks his bottom lip out that much farther. He even goes to clasp his hands together in a begging motion, but Sanha kicks him in the shin before he can start.

Fine. But go make me another coffee. I’ll be in the shower.”

 

Dongmin’s publisher is in the centre of the city, so parking is often a challenge, even with the private parking. Sanha isn’t overly fond of valet parking when he’s in his Spider, so today he has to settle with one of the worst parks in the underground building – right against the far back wall, stuck between a concrete beam and a badly parked Maserati. Dongmin scoffs at him when he chooses against valet parking, especially since Sanha is usually the first to accept it when he’s in his Mercedes.

“This car is different, Dongmin,” he said as he waved the man away.

Dongmin makes a grunting noise from the passenger seat, “yeah, yeah, heard you the first three hundred times.”

Dongmin was almost right. It was probably more than three hundred times by now that he’s told him about the California Spider, including all the times before he had officially purchased it.

Sanha hadn’t been looking directly for a car, but it was one of those late-night things he found himself doing. He’d google online for old, vintage fashion, laugh at some of the old styles, and one thing would lead to another. In an old photo he stumbled across, models were posing with vintage Chevrolets in the background, and Sanha found himself searching the web curiously when he came across the Ferrari. At 3.5 Million USD, it was far steeper than Sanha thought he’d ever pay for a car, especially considering he’d have to have it transported to get to him. Though, after a week of being unable to get it out of his mind, and talking about it endlessly to Dongmin and Jinwoo, Sanha impulse purchased it. He thinks now that there’s a pretty good chance it’s one of the best things he’s ever purchased; not just because he’s a fantastic car to drive; not just because it’s a beautiful car in general; but because it has brought him close to Rocky, someone he’s not too sure he would ever want to lose now. That thought alone leaves him feeling remarkably terrified as he climbs out of the car with Dongmin, locking the doors behind him.

The building belonging to Dongmin’s publisher has high ceilings with pristine white tiles and marble walls, and the furnishings are modern yet sparse to match. Despite his apartment being styled similarly, there’s a serious lack of personal embellishment and style, which is enough to leave Sanha uncomfortable in the light grey armchair he’s been directed to. There’s a twinkle of music playing, though it plays so distantly that Sanha can’t decide if there are lyrics or not. Sanha has been exposed to these kinds of environments for his entire life, especially more recently with his own personal endeavours, but he still hadn’t figured out how to remain as calm in them as Dongmin had.

Dongmin’s wealth stemmed from a whole different place to Sanha’s. Although Dongmin’s parents were well off, they were by no means as wealthy as Sanha’s parents, but enough that Dongmin was able gain a large amount of money after graduation, enabling him entrance to Korea’s finest university, and to purchase a beautiful apartment along with it. On top of that, Dongmin had gone ahead and earned his money in more respectful ways than Sanha had at first. He wrote a children’s book, he became a lawyer, he worked hard in an office five days a week. Sanha didn’t, but saw the amount of time and effort and mental strain Dongmin put in to everything he did; saw the physical and emotion toll it took on his body. So, to see him here now, leg bouncing with excitement for the last-minute appointment with his publisher, Sanha couldn’t help but feel giddy right along with him.

Dongmin was slapping his phone on the palm of his hand, and there was an elderly man narrowing his eyes at him from across the waiting room at the repetitive sound. Sanha was about to grab his wrist, to silence him, when it began vibrating. Dongmin sprung up, motioning to Sanha with a flick of his wrist that he had to take it, showing him the screen that read Jinwoo and a little heart. Sanha nodded, but not before giving him a disgusted look.

Dongmin snorted, but shot away to the back wall to take the call. He kept his voice low as he spoke, but even from his position on the other side of the spacious room, Sanha could detect the occasional laugh. Sanha smiled to himself as he listened, eyeing the grooves on the white tiles. Sanha raised his head when a man came out from the back room, and over to the man who had stared at him angrily before. They stood, shook hands, and disappeared back to where the first man had come from.

Sanha sighed, leaning further back in the armchair. His phone sat hot and heavy in his hand, and he spun it aimlessly between two fingers. He was debating with his mind, deciding whether or not to text Rocky, whether or not he should invite him to the drinks Dongmin wanted to have tonight in celebration of deciding to write a novel. Sanha had somewhat protested against drinks, suggesting waiting until he had written it, but Dongmin argued back better than he did – being a lawyer, and all. Dongmin argued that it didn’t matter if he ever got it published or not, but he was celebrating the idea of writing one, the fact that he’d find the strength to even put forth the idea. Sanha couldn’t deny him that, especially not considering what he was going through recently.

Just as he went to compose a new message, his phone buzzed in his palm. Sanha grinned sheepishly down at the new text, pleased to see it from the man in question.

 

9:49 am

Rocky – Mechanic

Hopefully this isn’t too early for you…how are you feeling this morning Darl?

 

If Sanha weren’t in a public place, he’d be curled up in a ball squealing by now. But, Sanha was in a public place – though, to be fair, it was practically empty now save for the two of them a few receptionists – and he was well-practiced in maintaining his poker face when need be, so he allowed only the tiniest fraction of a smile to greet his lips. He shook his head down at the phone, giddy that Rocky had remembered the last time they had communicated in the morning – Sanha insisting Rocky hadn’t woken him up (he had) and Rocky apologising for it later. He was giddier at the two pink love hearts he’d attached at the end of the message, though. Sanha found himself seriously struggling to keep his excited squeal inside.

 

Never too early for you. I’ve definitely felt…better. How are you feeling?

 

He can’t help but send the message with a kissing mouth, either – testing the limits, he thinks, isn’t recall his forte. He jumps from nothing up ten levels in a single move, but Rocky had sent hearts – two hearts, so what harm would a kiss do? His reply came through fairly quickly and in two parts. The first was simply a blushing emoji, and his own kissing face. Sanha covered his mouth, trying to disguise his far too big grin. The second continued their small talk, much to Sanha’s delight.

 

9:51 am

Rocky – Mechanic

I can guarantee I’m feeling better than you. What are you doing tonight?

 

Sanha contemplates his answer. He’ll definitely tell Rocky about Dongmin’s quest to write a novel, though he’s unsure if he mentions the scheduled drinks for tonight. Sanha, more than anything, wants Rocky to come – though he knows it isn’t Rocky’s scene, knows Rocky would feel dreadfully out of place and uncomfortable doing so, especially considering he barely knows Dongmin and Jinwoo anyways. But, Sanha’s a greedy and a relatively selfish creature, so he decides to ask him anyway.

 

Dongmin’s decided to write a novel, so we’re having celebration drinks at the K Bar tonight if you want to join?

 

Sanha waits patiently, tapping his phone against his hand much like Dongmin had done before. He’s glad the angry man from before is gone now, because it was likely he’d finally snap. Sanha doesn’t blame him. The noise is somewhat annoying, but he doesn’t have the rationality to stop himself right now. Rocky takes longer to reply this time, though Sanha watches the blue bubbles dance on his screen as he types.

 

9:55 am

Rocky – Mechanic

Damn, I would love too – but I have to work on a car tonight. Rain check? 

 

He sends through a sad face next, too, for good measure, and Sanha can’t find it in him to be too disappointed with him. He’s about to reply, but his phone buzzes again.

 

9:55 am

Rocky – Mechanic

I was going to ask if you wanted to have dinner with me at the garage. Rain check on both?

 

Sanha giggles around his palm, unsure if it’s Rocky’s way of asking him on a date, or just another thing as friends. Sanha realises, deep down, that he doesn’t care what it is – just so long as it happens, because spending time with Rocky has become of his favourite things, even if he has only done it casually once or twice now.

 

I won’t forget.

 

He sends it, adds another kissy Emoji because he can’t help himself, and then pockets the phone as Dongmin heads his way.

“Jinwoo’s in the parking building. He’s on his way in now.” He sits back down in his seat from before, and he either doesn’t notice the blush on Sanha’s cheek, or he chooses to ignore it. Instead, Dongmin opts to stare at the elevator leading up from the parking building, fingers dancing along his knees. Sanha grins again, but stares along with him, because he knows as soon as those doors slide open, Jinwoo will hurry through.

Dongmin had called Jinwoo on the way here in Sanha’s car, giddy and jittery, and he had almost felt the intensity of Jinwoo’s scream all the way from the driver’s seat, and over the radio (which was now working excellently, he’d have to tell Rocky as such). Jinwoo rarely ever got excited enough to scream; was usually a little more self-controlled than that, and made sure everyone knew it, too. He considered himself a mature man, who had the self-control of an alcoholic in a liquor store, or something along those lines, though when Dongmin had told him this story of his endeavoured self-discovery, that had been shot out the window.

The doors to the elevator shot open now, and Jinwoo hurried out. He looked unkempt, yet put together at the same time. Like both Sanha and Dongmin, Jinwoo was considered a socialite to some extent. The three of them were often photographed together, as they attended events as a trio more often than not. They were sometimes referred to as SK’s Threatening Trio, because they were an unrealistic standard of looks, brains and personality. Sanha found that admirable, being considered on the same scale as Dongmin and Jinwoo for his looks, the former being an epitome of elegance, and the latter being the truest definition of classic handsome masculinity, which was, in his opinion, unmatched.

Dongmin stood in time to have himself wrapped up in Jinwoo’s arms, and despite Jinwoo being significantly shorter, he scooped up Dongmin’s legs in his arms. Dongmin took the message well, apparently, wrapping his arms around the elder’s waist with a practiced ease Sanha found remarkably suspicious. He wanted to take a photo as Jinwoo spun them where they stood, but he didn’t want to be visually reminded of the scene before him. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed, it was just embarrassing that they kept telling each other that there were no feelings there. Maybe, Sanha thought, there wasn’t. Maybe they really were just great friends, but the look Jinwoo is giving Dongmin now – who’s staring at the tiles, red-cheeked, looking sheepish at the unexpected attention – is making Sanha think otherwise.

When Dongmin’s publisher appears moments later, beckoning them down the hall to his office, Sanha follows along behind the two elders, the sickly feeling sitting low and heavy in his stomach.

 

Sanha’s deciding between Calvin Klein and Prada when his phone buzzes from the dresser in his wardrobe. He frowns at its general direction, holding the two almost identical shirts up to his chest in the mirror. He knows, realistically, that either one wouldn’t make much difference in his outfit. He’s going for a casual look – shirt tucked into jeans, black brogues, not even bothering with a suit jacket this time around. His phone buzzes again, reminding him, and with a sigh he puts both shirts back on the rack. When he snatches it off the shelf, his breath stutters.

 

4:37 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

What time are you going to the bar tonight?

 

Sanha bites his lip. Maybe Rocky had changed his mind? Maybe he’d come after all. Sanha momentarily considers changing his outfit.

 

6, he types, pausing over the send button.

 

He doesn’t want to seem dry, but doesn’t want to come across too eager, either. He settles with his original message as a smiley Emoji, and hits send before he can overthink it. Moments later, Rocky simply replies with a thumb-up emoji, and Sanha has a disappointing feeling that he won’t hearing from him again for the rest of the night.

With a reluctant sigh, he snatches the first pair of black jeans he sees from its designated hanger, the first black belt, too, and picks the Calvin Klein shirt and heads to the bathroom.

He spends longer in the shower than he normally would, considering he had a long one this morning. He feels like he’s still sweating out alcohol from the night before, still feels like he can smell residue beer and spirits on his buffed-out skin. His body wash is peppermint and tea tree, and he’s taken away to a faraway place every time he uses it – but not now. Now, he’s thinking about the party tonight, thinking about how very little he wishes to go.

He loves Dongmin, he does, more than he loves most other things, but lately, the reluctance to go out to events has been getting more overwhelming. Lately, all he’s wanted to do is curl up on his couch in the media room with popcorn and some mojitos and watch stupid movies that hold no general meaning or purpose; wants to feel the comforting body warmth of the people he loves around him. Doesn’t want to hold the waist of a stranger awkwardly as someone snaps another photo of them together, only to release an article saying they’re sleeping together the next morning. Doesn’t want to be asked about his love life again, or his supposed lack of it, his lack of commitment, his lack of ambition, even. Dongmin would allow the press in, because their contracts say they can, and also because Dongmin has never been good at saying no. He was going to keep the party’s purpose a secret, but since the meeting with his publisher went so well, Dongmin didn’t shy away from the queries already being emailed through to him from media outlets. Dongmin’s publisher was thrilled at his suggestion, and even encouraged him to feel the need to write more than one, if he wished. Dongmin was overjoyed, and understandably emotional at the acceptance and support. His publisher was a huge part of Dongmin’s life, responsible for making his dream come true. Sanha would be forever thankful for that.

Sanha rinsed the body wash off his skin, watching the bubbles be sucked away in the drain. When Sanha bought the place, it had only one shower head in his bathroom. That was the first thing he had renovated, followed by the kitchen – despite never actually using it for anything that complicated. The bathroom now had two walls of jets, and a huge waterfall showerhead that reminded Sanha of the monsoon rains each year. Every few weeks, Sanha buys a eucalyptus bouquet from the markets down from his apartment, returns home, and ties it around one of the wall jets. When the steam begins to whirl, the comforting and healing smell fills both the shower and the rest of the bathroom when he emerges. Through the French style shower door, Sanha is thankful for his stock tank bath, it’s high sides, and almost regrets not having a bath instead. He turns his back on the bath, the potted plant on the sink, the mirror that hangs expensive and righteous, reflecting back at him the white and black tiles, the pointless size and emptiness of it back at him. The subway tiles were something he chose along with the bath, bringing that eclectic vintage style into trend along with his matching kitchen tiles.

He exfoliates his face now, wincing when it gets in his eyes a little. He drags his eyelids open, rinses it, only to realise it wasn’t a crushed walnut seed in his eye at all – rather, he finds himself crying. He groans, snatching at his cleanser next, hoping to find solace in its calming scent.

Sometimes, things got like this. Sometimes, when things weren’t always going to plan, even if he wasn’t sure why, or what those plans even were, he’d find himself in this same very situation. Emotional and feeling obscenely vulnerable in the large, empty space, wondering why this life was important to him, wondering if it even was, or if it was just a fragment of his imagination. He didn’t know, sometimes, if any of this worth it. If the pain staking amount of time it took in the morning to look perfect was worth the shameful things articles wrote about him anyway. Didn’t know if the way he polished and painted his nails each night was worth the daily criticism. Didn’t know if the smiles in all the photos was worth the slandering statements they made about him the next day. Didn’t know if he himself was worth it. He groans again, letting his face fall into the direct flow of the overhead shower. He grabs his body wash again, lathering it up extra thick.

When he emerges from the shower later, he takes note of how small he feels in the large room again, takes note of how empty his bedroom feels, how empty the entire apartment feels – and how much better it would feel if someone else were to share it with him. Thinks back to Dongmin’s earlier words, about not fearing commitment, about getting his words back.

Because whether the articles reported it or not, Yoon Sanha was lonely, and he was not afraid of commitment. Sometimes, Sanha thinks it’s commitment that’s afraid of him.

 

When they get to the bar, there’s no Rocky waiting for him. There’s no sign of anyone looking remotely anything like the man he’s so terribly fond of. In fact, everyone looks incredibly bland compared to him. The media is already there, out front as they’re walking in, and they stop to take a few photos together as a trio. Sanha doesn’t care about this part as much, considering he knows the comments they’ll make about them are never quite so severe as when they’re separate. When they get inside, there are large groups of people already mingling, more people than Sanha had been expecting – but still, he’s not surprised. He recognises most as either co-workers of Dongmin and Jinwoo, or other aristocrats and socialites they had somewhat befriended – if that was even the accurate term – and others that had turned up solely for the coverage.

What caught his attention most, though, was the beautiful bouquet of flowers on one of their reserved tables. It was abundant in colour and size, with classic flowers – roses and calla lilies, and buttercups and hoya and hydrangeas, but it was gorgeous nonetheless. Sanha turned to Dongmin, who’s eyes were wide with surprise. Sanha watched him turn to him with the same, startled expression Sanha wore, and they both realised it hadn’t been either of them to organise it. Jinwoo shrugged with his own confusion, so Dongmin hurried over to the flowers in an instant.

He was smelling a particularly bright red rose as he read the note attached, when his body tensed up. Sanha had a sickening feeling they were from Woo Jin for a moment, but then his face broke out into one of those rare smiles that contorted his entire face in the movement. His eyes were closed and his mouth wide, head thrown back and hands almost crushing the note. Sanha grinned back – it was impossible not to when Dongmin was like this – but not before offering Jinwoo a confused stare.

Jinwoo motioned to the bar, Sanha nodding, and by the time he returned back with three flutes of champagne, Dongmin had controlled himself enough to hand Sanha the note. He didn’t read it at first, pocketed it for safe keeping as it would surely disappear from the arrangement at some point during the night, and Sanha didn’t want the press getting to it either. They made a brief toast between the three of them, the clanking of glasses one of Sanha’s sounds usually – but not tonight. Tonight, it rang heavy and too-loud in his head, and he wanted nothing more than to finish this one glass and take a cab to Rocky’s garage. But he couldn’t, because this was Dongmin, his best friend, and they were celebrating his success.

They finished their first flutes before making an announcement to the entire party. Dongmin kept it short and simple, filled with many thank you’s and many I’m so excited, and by the end of it Sanha’s jaw felt sore from all the smiling.

He had never noticed it before, but now he thought of it more, he recognised the clenching pain in his face as smiling pain. Sanha thought that to be particularly concerning, so he grabbed another flute of champagne, realising there was no way he was getting away any time soon – so he’d may as well make it somewhat bearable. The champagne wasn’t the type he usually drank, so when he downed that, he opted for a martini instead. The note felt heavy in his pocket, and he wanted to read it, but Jinwoo dragged his arm into a photo with some other lawyers from the first he had spoken to once or twice in the office. Sanha’s smile was more willing in these photos, because Jinwoo had a way of telling when he wasn’t quite feeling it, and would place his hand a little lower on Sanha’s back so he could rub reassuring circles into his skin through the thin material of his shirt. That, plus the fact the photo included good company, it wasn’t so difficult to keep a smile on his face throughout the duration of the photos being taken, and the brief questions afterwards. He was thankful that the questions were more aimed at the lawyers than him, trying to coax statements from them about their latest cases – knowing full well they’d get nothing anyway.

Sanha slipped away from their sides with a polite nod and wave, before heading over to the bar again. He held up his empty glass, the bartender nodding in his direction, before he pulled the note out of his pocket.

The penmanship was neat and swirly, obviously done by a well-trained florist having been in the business for years. When Sanha read it, his heart swirled and he feels it combust in his chest at the same time the fresh drink is placed on the counter in front of him. Sanha looks up to say thank you, but his reactions must be delayed, because the bartender is already on the other side of the bar serving. Sanha runs his fingers of the written words, pride swelling so deep inside he can feel it in every cell of his body, every atom. He wants to frame it in his apartment, wants to make it so everyone can see the importance – but knows he’ll have to return it to Dongmin at the end of the night. It was his, after all.

 

Dongmin, Congratulations – for this, and for getting rid of him. We’ve met only once, but I want to applaud you for your strength and courage to go forth with your dreams, even during one of the hardest times of your life. My apologies that I cannot be there tonight, but I hope these make you smile just a little bit more. Rocky xx

 

At some point during the night, Sanha’s eyelids become heavier, and his vision a little harder to separate. He knows he’s had too much to drink, but it’s necessary when the night itself is fairly unenjoyable. Not even Dongmin’s joy can make him appreciate the evening more; the usual elated perks of his smile have run dry, and Sanha is itching to get away. Jinwoo has been glued to Dongmin’s side the entire night, and Sanha’s lost count of the number of photo’s having been taken of them doing so – he knows, tomorrow morning, when the articles are released, Dongmin and Jinwoo will complain about it, and make more statements than ever.  Sanha thinks the two of them should just stop denying it, because it’s becoming harder and harder to actually believe them. Especially now, what with the way Eunwoo leans down into Jinwoo’s shoulder, giddy in the warm embrace of his arm. Sanha wants to gag, but can’t, because there’s a group of journalists heading his way where he’s seated at the bar. So, instead of cringing, he removes the look of comical disgust and replaces it with warm familiarity.

“Evening, guys,” he says, throwing in a shy smile as one of the camera’s flash. It’s unusual for a flash of that calibre to be inside, so his vision suffers a little. The photographer must notice, because he squirms, and apologises. He lowers the camera instantly, but Sanha brushes it aside.

“Yoon Sanha, are you happy to answer some questions about your newest illustrations?”

That threw Sanha off a little. Usually this particular magazine was more interest in beauty routines and latest runways he had taken a liking too, or would ask repetitive questions about what his love life was looking like currently. It threw him off so much, in fact, that he was sure his expression proved it as much. One of the interviewers in front of him snickered, though he couldn’t pick which one had done it. His eyes flickered around the group of them, standing above from him, where he was seated. Recognising this, he stood, hands holding the drink carefully in front of him. He wasn’t as sober as he’d have liked; usually they ask questions at the start of the evening, and then general regulation and manners sees them gone by the tail end. Sanha isn’t sure eleven pm still counts as the start of the evening anymore, and he partially wants to scold them for it, but they had asked a somewhat important question, and he wanted to answer it more than he wanted to answer any of the others he had been asked tonight. He’ll give them that.

“Of course. Ask away.”

One of the journalists steps a little closer with her tape recorder, the taller man beside her with his camera, recording, Sanha assumes. “So, tell me about the illustration process – what system do you follow?”

The questions were, in the grand scheme of things, mundane. He had been asked them the first time around, with Dongmin’s first illustrated children’s book, but he felt obliged to answer them now that he’d promised some answers. He kept his smile front and centre, made sure it met his eyes more than the alcohol did, and kept the drink away from his mouth at all times. He didn’t want to make a fool of himself, by spilling it, or intoxicating himself any further in their presence. When the questioning was done fifteen minutes later, his head felt dizzy with exhaustion, and he sat down with a tired sigh.

Beside him, someone snorted.

Snapping his eyes up from his almost-finished drink, Sanha was greeted by a cocky smile and an ill-fitting beige suit. His hand was outstretched, and for appearances, Sanha shook it.

“Sang Chul.”

“Sanha,” he greets, smiling small and obviously forced.

Sang Chul rakes his eyes over Sanha, gaze unashamed with its blatant stare. Sanha gulps under his expression. He wasn’t unattractive, per se, he could see the handsome curve of his face and the definitive structure of his jaw, but Sanha didn’t really consider him his type. Sanha’s type was a little more rustic, perhaps; a little less done up, with messy brown hair and sharp cheekbones and—and everything Rocky was, his mind produced. Sanha coughed, drawing his attention back up to him. Sanha found pleasure in the ignorant grunt he heard, when Sang Chul noticed Sanha’s attention was on his glass, and not him.

“So, Sanha, what do you do?”

Out the corner of his eye, Sanha saw the man lean back with unabashed confidence, once that left Sanha squirming. Unfortunately, the man seemed to take it as a good thing, even though Sanha hadn’t replied.

“I’m a lawyer. I work with Dongmin.”

Sanha nods, “cool.” He picks up his drinks, and downs the last of it.

“Let me get you another one of those,” Sang Chul says, and Sanha’s immediately shaking his head.

“No, no. Thank you, but no. I’m fine,” he goes to stand, but the man is reaching out and grasping at his wrist with a little too much force.

“Let me get you another one of those,” his expression isn’t necessarily fierce, or angry, but there’s a subtle trace of violence there that Sanha doesn’t want to tempt out of him, so he gingerly sits himself back down on the stool, and accepts the offer for a drink. When it’s put in front of him, the bartender eyes him warily – Sanha had been to this particular bar enough to know the bartender’s face, and he assumes he knows Sanha’s too, knows that he isn’t his usual bubbly self. For that, the bartender puts Sang Chul’s glass a little too roughly on the bench in front of him, and Sanha lowers his head to hide his knowing smirk.

The hand that had been on his wrist moves further up his arm, cupping around his elbow. Sanha’s uncomfortable, anyone with half a brain would be able to tell – but this man didn’t. This man took his discomfort as a sign to keep going, and Sanha felt stupid that he couldn’t find his tongue right now, to tell him to stop. Hated that he didn’t have the confidence to say it even if it had the option to, right now. He hates that he feels obligated to be gentle and kind and respectfully submissive under his gaze, under his touch, despite Sanha knowing full-well he owes the man nothing. It’s something about the cameras lurking around the room, the unknown positions this man has on him in the mornings articles. He also knows that photos of Sang Chul touching him will be spreading like wild fire across media outlets, too, and freelance journalists will already be exchanging photos over the web. Sanha whimpers into his drink, hoping the favourite taste will make the nightmarish experience disappear.

“Sanha – are you listening?” No.

“Sorry. What were you saying?”

Sang Chul’s expression is hard and sort of condensed to boiling rage, and Sanha assumes it’s because he’s begun to realise his disinterest now. Sanha doesn’t care for it, doesn’t care that the man is angry – he just hopes he doesn’t lash out on him.

“I was saying, that Dongmin must be struggling a lot right now, after his break up. You must be very supportive of him.”

Sanha cocks his head to the side in curiosity, wondering where this was going. His tone of voice was surprisingly thoughtful, but it felt almost faked, or mocking in a way, too. Sanha didn’t trust him. Didn’t need to, either.

Sang Chul continues, swirling his drink. “I mean, with all that support your giving him, you mustn’t be getting much back,” he says, biting his bottom lip, raking his eyes over Sanha again. Sanha feels sick under his eyes, knowing now what’s coming next.

“Maybe,” he says, eyes back on his face. “Maybe I can give you some that…support,” he finishes with a disgustingly smug smirk, and Sanha’s decided he’s had enough.

He pushes to his feet off the stool, his drink spilling slightly at the sudden movement. “I’m going to the bathroom.”

Sang Chul doesn’t understand, and goes to stand with him. “I’ll join you, then,” he adds, smirk widening.

Sanha shakes his head. “No, Sang Chul. Really. No. I’m not interested.” With that, he turns on his heel, cheeks flushed from the copious alcohol he had drank, the memory of the letter in his pocket, the grimy touch the man had left behind just now, and with the vile taste of being violated left in his mouth. 

In the bathroom, the lights are brighter, bulbs white instead of a warm yellow. He locks himself into a vacant stall, and closes the toilet lid. He sits himself down on it, and lets his face fall into his outspread hands. He doesn’t cry, nor does he wail or let out any other noise, but he pretends he is, because he wants to trick his body into thinking he’s letting it all out. Despite the good of the day – a quickly receding hangover, Dongmin’s fantastic news about his novel, Rocky’s note – it was starting to end up one of his worst. He was having a bad day in general, and to think he was here having a terrible time, instead of with Rocky having a great time, makes him feel worse. He sniffs a little, and lifts his head from out his hands.

He tilts to the side so he can pull his phone from his back pocket, and he isn’t surprised to see a flurry of email notifications sent to his business email. They’ll be article mentions and e-magazine listings, and he’ll read them in the morning, when his head feels less jumbled.

He pushes the notifications aside for now, opting to open up the recent texts from Rocky. There had been no new ones since their last interaction – Rocky asking what time he was going to the bar – but Sanha wanted there to be. He reread their older messages, letting the giddy feeling that comes with having a crush, flood his chest and wash away some of the negative emotions he was having.

He bit his lip in consideration, and then – whether it was fuelled by his drunken state, or by the crush itself – he sent through a silly selfie to the man. He waited for it to send before he sent another text along with it

 

Wish I was with you instead.

 

He added a crying face, and a red heart, too. Rocky seemed to be a fond user of Emoji’s, much like himself, and Sanha felt immature about the fact that Rocky had – once again – ticked something in his chest to make him giggly. Surprisingly, Rocky was typing – and the blue bubble bounced in time with his thumping chest.

 

11:47 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

Wish you were here, too.

 

Sanha had kind of hoped for a selfie back, but he snorted at the thought. That wasn’t really Rocky’s style, he thinks, as he lets his head lean against the bathroom wall. His phone buzzes in his hand again, and he scurries to read it.

 

11:48 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

Gorgeous! Who are you wearing?

 

The winking face at the end of the message sent Sanha into a fit of uncontainable giggles, because it’s so silly and so very Rocky, that he can’t control himself. The alcohol doesn’t help, he supposes, but he loves that Rocky is mimicking the journalists that ask him who he’s wearing each time he’s at an event. He stands up from the toilet and exits the stall. There are a few people mingling in the large restroom, but none pay attention to him as he snaps another selfie in the full-length mirror, making sure to show off his new shoes, and throwing in finger-hearts for good measure. He sends it through straight away, without looking at it first, because he knows he’ll critique himself too much and never send it, and adds ‘Calvin Klein’ as a second hand thought.

 

11:50 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

Wow. Gorgeous. Why are you hiding in the bathrooms? Not having fun?

 

Sanha smiles sheepishly at the heart-eyed emoji, at the concerned sad face at the end. He finds himself sniffling a bit more than before, feels the sting behind his eyes. He hadn’t directly asked, but it was the first time someone had bothered to mention his bad mood, his expression which lacked its usual brightness – and yet, Rocky had noticed just solely on the fact he had been in the bathroom. He wasn’t even seeing him in person. Sanha quickly typed a message back.

 

Bad day. Worse night.

 

He emphasises it with more sad faces, and then, on impulse, and surged by liquid confidence, he sends another.

 

I think I miss you.

 

11:53 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

You ‘think’?

 

Rocky sends it with a teasing wink again, and Sanha grins through his next reply.

 

Might just be the alcohol.

 

11:54 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

I miss you, Sanha.

 

Sanha squeals, getting a weird look from a man washing his hands, but he ignores it in favour of replying.

 

I miss you too, Rocky.

 

Sanha leaves the bathroom feeling a lot brighter than when he entered, and when he gets back to the bar, Sang Chul is gone, and Sanha decides that that is the best decision the man has ever made. Sanha goes to tell Dongmin he’s leaving when he sees him sitting with Jinwoo – a little too cosily, even for them. So, instead of bothering them, Sanha sends Jinwoo a text as he exits the bar, hand outstretched for a cab.

When cab pulls up at the rank, he climbs in, mumbling out his address using a heavy tongue and weighty eyelids drawing closed. Sanha tugs his phone out of his back pocket again when it buzzes, expecting it to be Jinwoo confirming his departure, but it’s Rocky again.

 

12:03 am

Rocky – Mechanic

Can you let me know when you’re home safe please xx?

 

Sanha’s grinning the entire ride home to his apartment, pays a bigger tip than normal because he’s too tired to wait for change, and isn’t even bothered when the elevator takes longer than normal. Because Rocky cared, cares. He cares so much that he’s wanting to know that Sanha is safe, even on opposite sides of the city. He stumbles into his apartment, slamming the door a little roughly behind him before remembering to dead lock it.

He’s struggling out of his clothes, leaving a trail through his apartment. He’ll regret it in the morning, because the creases in his Calvin Klein shirt will need to be pressed out professionally again, but he doesn’t care. The only thing he takes care of are his shoes, which he slides of carefully instead of kicking them off at the wall. He climbs into bed in his underwear again, finding that this was becoming more of a routine now than a random thing. He plugs his phone in to the charger by his head, and opens the phone to his camera.

Snapping a quick selfie, proving himself to be in bed safe, he sends it to Rocky with just a kissing face, and nothing else. Rocky’s reply comes soon enough, and when it does, Sanha feels tired enough to sleep easy.

 

12:42 am

Rocky – Mechanic

Sweet dreams, darling Sanha.

 

 

Dongmin is typing away at his laptop on Sanha’s couch, composing what appears to be an email. Sanha’s feet are touching the edges of his thighs, and Sanha giggles when Dongmin snatches at them blindly with one hand.

“Stop it, Sanha!” He slaps at his toes again, but its playful, his words holding no true anger.

Sanha snickers, then groans. “What are you doing tonight, Minnie-Moo?”

Dongmin stops typing, shifts his gaze from the screen and over to Sanha. “It’s Sunday, Sanha.”

Sanha cocks an eyebrow at him, and Dongmin returns it right back, stare expectant. It’s takes a while five seconds for Sanha to remember, and when he does, he throws his head back against the armrest of his couch, and sighs.

“How long will this mayhem continue, Dongmin!”

Dongmin sighs himself, and closes his laptop. He shoves Sanha’s feet away and stands. “Don’t start with this, Yoon Sanha.”

Lee Dongmin,” he fires back.

“It’s just dinner at Jinwoo’s. It’s not a big deal.”

Sanha scoffs. “You left out the part about it being dinner at Jinwoo’s parents place every Sunday since you started working together. You know his parents better than you know me.”

Dongmin glares “that’s not true, and you know it.”

Sanha shrugs, “might as well be true. You go every single Sunday Dongmin. Sometimes Jinwoo isn’t even there.” Dongmin doesn’t reply, just starts shoving his belongings back into his bag, pulls his shoes on.

Sanha sighs. “I’m not doing this to offend you. You know that. I’m saying this because I’m trying to get you to realise how strange this actually is.” Dongmin stops his movements to stare up at Sanha, eyes worrisome.

“Dongmin, do you like Jinwoo?”

Dongmin splutters, shaking his head in annoyance. “Sanha, don’t be ridiculous. I just broke things off with Woo Jin,” he resumes tying his shoes up, and Sanha feels a little guilty at the pained expression Dongmin is holding onto. “You’re my best friend, and so in Jinwoo. And I’m sorry if you’re jealous or something that I—”

Sanha pushes himself up into a seated position. “You know that’s not it!”

“—spend more time with his family, but right now, I need your support, okay? I’ve just lost the love of my life, Sanha, and I know that might be tough for you to understand because you’re so young. But please, can you try?” Sanha shrivels back from Dongmin’s words, not laced with anger, nor was it yelled. Dongmin’s voice was small and hurt and pleading, and Sanha felt nauseous – and not just from his hangover.

“Sanha, please. Please, just…just don’t ask me things like that, alright? At least, not for a while.”

With that, Dongmin was picking up his bag again, and leaving Sanha’s apartment with a gentle click of the door. Sanha wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, but he hated the taste it left in his mouth. The teasing, it seemed, had finally reached its peak. Sanha knew when enough was enough.

 

Sanha had tried to avoid the articles, but his foul mood from last night had seeped into the next day, only made worse with his semi-argument with Dongmin. Now, scrolling through his phone, the curiosity got the best of him. He opens up the usual big three – their comments are generally the same, and now is no different. There’s a photo of him smiling with Dongmin and Jinwoo, and another by his lonesome. They talk about his love life – or lack thereof – and his recent charity events. Another article captures his recent illustration work for Dongmin, another illustrating what it’s like to be friends with such a successful author. The last few, though, have Sanha scrabbling for air on the end of couch.

There’s photos of him and Sang Chul, the touchy ones, where from this angle it probably looks like Sanha’s fond of the attention. The first two touch base on his flirty-status, on his ability to ‘sleep around without getting attached’ and calling him a ‘serial heart breaker’ and question when the day will come that he will ‘finally mature enough to know that willingness to commit is one of the most attractive qualities in a man.’ Sanha grunts, and closes off the article, opening the final one.

It sucks the air out of his chest like a vacuum. It’s one of the photos of Sang Chul and he, but this time, Sanha looks outright disgusted by his actions. Instead of the article targeting topics of consent or anything of the like, they’ve decided to bring in his sexuality to their statements. Sanha feels sick reading it, because he had come out publically years ago, and this article was claiming it to be fake. They said that Sang Chul was practically irresistible, and the usual type Sanha flirts openly with, and that the likelihood of a ‘gay man like Sanha turning down his advances is next to zero, so surely – his sexuality is a sham?’ Sanha feels like curling into a ball at their next few lines, insinuating his ‘man-whore’ title is still running strong, despite last night’s turn of events.

By the time he’s closed out of all the articles, the damage has already been done. He weeps into his bare, emotionless apartment at such an intensity that his chest is aching by the end of it.

 

Later, when its nearing three in the afternoon, Sanha pulls his phone from his pocket where he’s watching television, and sends a text to Rocky.

 

How about that dinner tonight?

 

His text comes ten minutes later, when Sanha had just started to get into the next episode of some mindless K drama. He mutes the tv in favour of Rocky, though, because he couldn’t care less about the heterosexual madness on the screen.

 

2:46 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

Sounds lovely. I’m at the garage from 7 onwards xx

 

Sanha smiles, heart fluttering with glee. He’s thankful, actually, that Rocky had agreed so easily. It was uncommon for Sanha to have two bad days in a row; his usually bubbly mood enough to shake the misery out of him. This time around, though, it wasn’t working.

 

What should I bring?

 

2:47 pm

Rocky – Mechanic

Just you and your lovely self

 

He adds a kiss emoji, and Sanha’s beet-red at it. He shouldn’t be, considering how many they had sent each other in the past twenty-four hours, but still – Sanha was giddy and butterflies were flapping their wings in his tummy. He sends back a kiss himself, and a thumb’s up, before surrendering himself to the fact that Rocky was becoming his good thing, the thing that would transform his bad day into a better one. Because even now, with the plans having been made, Sanha feels more alive than he has in days.

 

Rocky is wearing a singlet again, Sanha notes, but he has an oversized blue checked flannel overtop of it. Sanha pulled into the park he had last time he came at night, but the roller door was fully opened this time, prepared for his arrival. Rocky strolls out when he hears the engine cut out, and Sanha can’t help but smile at the sight of him. He’s leaning casually against the support wall of the roller door, a tiny fond smile on his lips as he regards Sanha.

Sanha knows he looks silly, as always, and he knows he’s overdressed – again – but Rocky doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, he looks the opposite. The fondness of his smile has spread to his eyes, too, and they glisten prettily as Sanha gets closer to him. Sanha doesn’t know what’s changed between them. Maybe it’s their openness between texting now; or the fact he’d sent flowers to Sanha’s best friend out of the kindness of his heart despite knowing him from a single hello; or maybe it was their mutual, but unspoken, admiration for each other’s company. Sanha didn’t need Rocky to verbalise this to him, he already knew. Knew because Rocky wouldn’t suggest dinner if he wasn’t interested in spending time with him. Knew that he wouldn’t get these fluttering wings in his tummy if it hadn’t meant anything to him to be here.

When Sanha gets near enough, Rocky sticks his hand out and—his heart stumbles a bit when he takes it, and Rocky’s leading him inside. He’s got his other hand on the small of Sanha’s back, directing him forwards and over to the work bench he’d been at the other night. There’s more space there now, and Sanha smiles at the notion of Rocky tidying up for him.

There’s a green Chevrolet truck up on the automotive lift, and there’s music playing in the distance again. He thinks he can recognise the tune, but it’s too far away for him to be certain.

The hand in his is dropped when he gets to the chair, and Rocky shoots away to a fridge tucked in the back corner, returning with one of those non-alcoholic mock-tails. He hands it to Sanha with a cackle, but Sanha accepts it graciously. Rocky has his own drink, and he leans against the work bench where Sanha’s sitting. With the low height of the chair, Rocky and Sanha are the same height now, and Sanha finds it nice being able to turn his head and see him fully in the eyes, without having to glance downwards. Not that that is such an issue – the opposite, in fact; it’s remarkably cute – but it’s nice that his neck doesn’t feel quite so strained.

Rocky takes a swig of his drink before sitting on the bench. Then, slowly, he turns to Sanha. Their faces are close, but they’ve been closer, so it doesn’t consume Sanha with lust or fear as it usually would. Instead, it’s rather comforting, because Sanha feels as though he’s been separated from man for so long – even though he knows it’s been only two days.

“Hello,” he says. It sounds like a whisper, but that might just be because his breath washes over Sanha’s face like gentle wave.

“Hello,” he whispers back, clutching at his drink with both hands. He doesn’t trust himself, not with Rocky looking so soft, with his hair brushed back off his face, looking long and relatively scraggly at the back, but handsome nonetheless. He’s smirking now, and Sanha notes how different it is to Sang Chul’s smirk.

“Thank you,” Sanha says now, forcing his eyes onto Rocky’s face. He doesn’t miss the confused look that settles there. “For the flowers. For Dongmin. That was really…that was really cool. Thank you.” Rocky shakes his head, brushing it away with a wave of his hand – a hand that Sanha catches now between one of his own, stopping the movement.

“Rocky. Please. Accept my thank you. I really appreciate it. Dongmin he…he loved it, and I loved that you did it.” Sanha hoped his eyes were conveying at least a fraction of the sincerity he felt, because he truly meant every word, but just had no realistic way of portraying his seriousness of it all. There must have been some truth to the way he said his words, though, because Rocky’s cheeks were a dangerous shade of red now, and his eyes squinted through a smile.

Rocky just nods, and then pushes away from the bench. He disappears out back, into the separate room Sanha himself had yet to venture to, and returns within minutes with two steaming plates of food. Sanha’s eyes widen at the sight of it, and he takes the plate and cutlery with careful hands. Rocky looks uncommonly sheepish, and it suddenly registers to the younger.

“Rocky, did you cook this yourself?”

Rocky blushes, tucks his chin and looks at Sanha from under his eyelashes. He shrugs with one shoulder, “yeah.”

Sanha shakes his head with wonder. “You’re amazing.

He takes a quick mouthful, and he sees Rocky is unmoving beside him, waiting for a reaction from him. Sanha doesn’t have to fake or act or anything, because how delicious the food actually is, is unwarranted. He moans around the mouthful, which was the perfect temperature for eating – not too cold, nor hot enough to burn the top of his mouth or tongue. It was rice with a curry Sanha couldn’t quite place the flavours too, but he gathers that it’s of the vegetable variant judging by the lack of protein. Sanha, an avid meat eater, couldn’t care less – the taste is too surreal to be bothered by such a trivial thing. Sanha hasn’t realised he’s been scoffing his face without comment until he notices Rocky chuckling under his breath, finally eating his own serving of food.

He swallows, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, embarrassed. “It’s so good, Rocky. Wow.” This makes Rocky laugh harder, though Sanha can tell he’s embarrassed too by the compliment. Sanha makes note that Rocky is bad at taking compliments, and finds it far more adorable than he ought to.

“Gotta’ feed you – you don’t know how to cook, if I remember correctly.” Sanha smirks, thinking back to the first night they met, and the mutual interrogation in Rocky’s truck.

They eat in relative silence, though it doesn’t bother Sanha, nor is it boring. He finds his attention straying from the food and onto the bulletin board behind Rocky’s workbench. It’s mainly empty, save for a few photos and a childish drawing down the bottom. Sanha thinks he recognises the photo at the bottom as Rocky and MJ, surrounded by children, as perhaps his dance group.

“Rocky,” he stars, pointing with his cutlery to the photo. Rocky twists from his position against the workbench to look where he’s indicating. “Are those the kids you teach dancing to?”

He smiles at the photo, then nods. “Yeah,” he swallows before speaking again. “When I was in school, I was part of the dance team. I always really loved it – could have gone somewhere with it, probably. Was offered a place at an academy in America, but turned it down.”

Sanha pulled his head back, “why?”

Rocky shrugged, smiling at him in contemplation. “Seoul’s home for me. And I don’t know. I love my job here. It might not be much, but it’s all I could ever want.”

Sanha smiles. “No regrets, then?”

“Not one,” he replies, shaking his head and scraping the remains of his plate.

Sanha considers this, then continues. “What are the kids like?”

Rocky puts his plate to the side, his smile wide and elated. “They’re incredible kids. Really talented. Some more than others at dancing, I guess, but that’s all part of it,” he says, reaching out and placing a hand on Sanha’s thigh. Sanha tries not to jump at the contact, but he’s sure Rocky can feel the muscle tense and then release under his grip.

“They’re kids I’ve seen around the neighbourhood before. I think you’re aware of the reputation these streets have, and I wanted to give them some purpose, you know? Give them something to work towards,” he trails off, staring in the distance.

Sanha puts a hand over the one on his thigh, and Rocky’s attention is drawn back to him.

“Give me something to work towards,” he concludes, and Sanha feels like that’s the end of that, so he turns his attention away from the beautiful photograph, and back to his last mouthful of food. When he’s done, he puts the plate on top of Rocky’s, muttering another thank you.

Sanha says, “for what it’s worth, Rocky. I’m glad you didn’t accept the academies offer.”

The mechanic doesn’t reply, just squeezes his thigh in recognition. The grip there reminds him of the other night, where they were squished together in the booth, and of the strength Rocky’s grip had heightened to when Jaz had disturbed them.

He thinks back to the night he’d had last night, wonders what Rocky would think – and do – if he knew of the things Sang Chul had done and said to him, what the journalists had written about him. He considers the possibility of Rocky being disturbed by him as viable, but then he shakes his head inwardly. The thought is ludicrous. Rocky isn’t of that breed. Rocky was different. Sanha knew enough about him by now to be able to say that with confidence. And he trusted him, too; trusted him enough to know that Rocky wouldn’t pretend to like him for his money, because that just wasn’t right, and Rocky was a good person. And maybe that was silly of him to think like that, but right now, it’s all he had to bounce off from. The only damn solid and happy thing right now, because things with Dongmin were unsteady, and Jinwoo would always take Dongmin’s side before his own, and articles were slandering him and calling him a slut even though Sanha was so far from being as such, and Rocky was right there, being a friend when no one else would be.

Sanha doesn’t realise it, but he’s crying. Rocky’s standing in front of him, where he’s seated on the stool, and much like the few nights before, Rocky slides in between his legs. It’s not as sensual as it had been back then, though; there was no lust nor temptation to kiss him. Now, there was just pure shame and humiliation, and an agonisingly heavy weight in his chest that clenched and unclenched every single time a sob wrenched its way from his throat. Rocky’s hands were on his cheeks, tilting his head up to him, and Sanha so desperately wanted to kiss away the look of concern that was flaring up on his face – but he couldn’t, wouldn’t, because he wasn’t going to act upon these emotions, he wasn’t going to do that to Rocky.

Rocky’s thumbs were brushing away his tears, which were steady – and heavier than Sanha thought them to be. He’s whispering something, too, but Sanha feels too hazy to be able to recollect their meaning. Rocky just keeps holding him, and eventually, Sanha lets his head drop forwards. At this angle, his head falls against his mid-chest, and he chokes into the fabric of the elder man’s singlet. His hands are clutching there too, and under any other circumstance, Sanha would appreciate the firmness of the muscles there. But now, he just slides his hands around his slight waist, and drags him closer in a half-hearted hug. Rocky doesn’t push him away, nor does he question why he’s crying – he just lets Sanha dampen his shirt without complaint, brushing his fingers through Sanha’s dark, brown hair with a gentle kind of patience that makes Sanha sob harder.

He isn’t quite sure how much time passes, though he starts to notice the amount of song changes, and he gets to about the fifth song before he lifts his head from Rocky’s chest. Rocky lets him, though doesn’t remove his own hands from where they’re scratching affectionately along Sanha’s scalp. Sanha whines into the touch, leans into it more, and Rocky laughs a little breathlessly. “Like a cat,” he mumbles, more to himself than to Sanha directly, but the younger does smile at the comment.

“What’s happened, Sanha?” His voice is controlled, no ounce of hesitance, though its heart breaking to hear how concerned Rocky sounds. Sanha shakes his head, reaching one hand out to grip at Rocky’s waist. He rubs mindless circles over the material of his singlet with his thumb, subconsciously dragging the elder towards him.

“Darling Sanha,” he whispers out, trying to coax words from him. Sanha feels guilty, but then all at once, he feels relieved. Relieved that Rocky is still talking to, still interested in him, still wanting to know what’s concerning him. Any doubts Sanha had about Rocky wanting to be his friend immediately dissipated.

“Just,” he started, and then stopped. “I just,” he tried for a second time, but find the words wrong in his mouth. Rocky waited patiently, one hand removing itself from Sanha’s hand, and placing it delicately over where Sanha’s hand was grabbing at his waist. The warmth that covered his shaky fingers was enough to pull the plug on the flow of words.

Sanha let lose all the things he had been holding in. Told Rocky about the semi-argument with Dongmin; about his empty and bland apartment; about Sang Chul; about his Mum's text, which he had deleted instead of bothering to read; and, most painfully, about the articles.

Rocky presses his forehead against the top of Sanha’s head at the last comment, when Sanha’s confesses what the articles had said about him being a slut. Sanha tried to defend himself to the end, but Rocky had shushed him.

“I know you’re not Sanha. I know you,” he had whispered into his skin, nose grazing along his hair, down the side of his face. “I know you,” he said again, voice lower and wispier, lips dragging across his temple, the top of his cheek. Sanha lets his eyes flutter closed at the sensation. Where Rocky’s lips drag across his skin, there’s a trail of fire behind it, and he shivers into the touch. He tilts his body farther into Rocky’s grasp, and there’s a shaky release of breath coming from one of them, but they’re too close together now, to far fused for Sanha to separate who had actually been the one to release it. Sanha’s hand is scrabbling against Rocky’ side, itching along his skin, trying to get him closer, trying to illustrate how desperately he wants that kiss.

Rocky gives him one, but not where he most truly wants it.

The press of his lips against his cheeks is so delicate, so soft, that Sanha is sure he dreamt it. It was so light, resembling a feather that much, that it could have just been a slight breeze that kissed his red cheek. But, there was a tiny feeling of wetness against his skin when Rocky pulled away, and then, the feeling was back again. This time, under his eye, beside his nose, where a few stray tears were lingering. He kissed them away with his lips, before moving to the other side. He gave Sanha a total of five kisses, the final on the tip of his nose, and yet Sanha still felt hungry for him. He felt greedy, starved for Rocky’s attention, for more of his lips – but he wouldn’t quench that hunger. Not now, not after those gentlest touches.

Rocky pulls his lips away, but doesn’t remove his hold from Sanha. “It’s going to be okay, Sanha. I promise. It’s going to be okay,” he says the last bit against his hair, and Sanha falls into his chest again.

This time, though, there are no tears to accompany him. Just a warm chest and warm hands, and a warmer type of love holding onto him.

 

 

"under street lights on long car rides,

i can't forget your eyes. 

through the dark nights,

two hours till sunrise,

i can't forget your eyes."

- brooke annibale, 'under streetlights'

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"i'll dive in deeper for you,

down to the bottom,

ten thousand emerald pools.

under water time is standing still, 

you're the treasure,

dive down deeper still."

 

- børns, '10,000 emerald pools'

 

Judging by the way Bin and MJ keep smirking at him from across the garage, Sanha isn’t being as subtle as he thinks he is. Sanha would like to think himself a somewhat sly person when he needs to be, but perhaps he’d been wrong; that, or Rocky just makes it impossible for him to keep his emotions in check. He’s leaning towards the latter.

The midday sun was sweltering, and Sanha had found it difficult to leave the cool interior of his uptown apartment in exchange for the workshop which lacked air conditioning. He had forgone his usual long trousers or jeans, and opted for denim shorts instead. He very rarely wore shorts – hated the way they made his already-long legs seem longer, and how the cut-offs would show off how bony his legs really were. Trousers usually hid all that, and that’s the way Sanha liked it, but the humidity would have made it inhumane to do so. Desperate times really do call for desperate measures.

His outfit was, to say the least, unrefined. It lacked his usual taste, and was far too casual for his liking, but there wasn’t anyone here who was in any state to judge him for it. It’s more that he likes to keep up some sense of an appearance, especially around Rocky, who had recently taken a liking to some his fashion choices. He didn’t want the elder man to think he was slacking, or not putting in as much effort as he usually would.

The heat, though. The heat changes things.

It makes Sanha’s hair unreasonably difficult to work with, for one. His hair is naturally flat and relatively thin, but the copious amounts of money he spends on hair products each month allows his hair to hold a wavy sort of texture on top; not quite straight, but not quite curly. It suited him more than his natural hair did, he thinks, or at least he hopes. No one had told him otherwise.

A while back, Sanha had dyed his hair a stark white blonde, and had loved it – loved being able to add different colours, too, pinks and reds and mauve. Liked the creativity of it, but disliked the upkeep. Even someone like Sanha, who didn’t have to work, who had a fairly clear schedule most of the time, would find it irritating to deal with black regrowth on white hair. It was frustrating, but perhaps it was worth it.

Sanha pats the top of his head a little aimlessly now, eyes half lidded as he imagines himself with his pink hair again, wonders if he should do it again. He drops his hands, and squirms a little as he feels a bead of perspiration trail down between his shoulder blades. That right there was the second thing about the humidity: the sweating.

Sanha understood sweating to be a natural process, especially in high percentages of humidity, but Sanha’s fashion choices were not sweat-friendly. He mainly wore well-fitted button up shirts, and this alone was enough to send anyone crazy if the temperature reached a certain point. But long sleeve shirts mixed with long trousers, and a jacket should the event be formal enough and see fit, Sanha would often feel himself go crazy.

So, shorts it was. Though they were still slim fitting, and denim could be thick and relatively irritating, it was a much-needed relief in the current climate. Even so, the relief wasn’t enough to stop his annoyance, his disappointment, at the fact that he wasn’t able to look his cutest. With the way Rocky was able to make hordes of butterflies appear in his stomach, it shouldn’t be surprise that Sanha wishes to look beautiful around him at all times. And Sanha’s legs in denim shorts was not beautiful. Sanha didn’t particularly respect himself a whole lot for those thoughts. The notion of seeking validation of one’s appearance from another is dangerously and undeniably unhealthy, but Sanha wasn’t stupid. He knew it was wrong, knew that it was impossible to avoid, anyway. But this was different to those situations, because yes, Sanha hoped that when Rocky sees him, he takes his breath away, even for the tiniest moment – but he also hoped that he found his personality beautiful, too. In fact, the more he thought about it – perched up on the stool that had become unofficially his – he thinks he’d rather have Rocky think the latter.

Sanha has one leg drawn up on the stool, the other swinging in time to the beat of whatever song the radio was playing. It was unfamiliar, but Sanha found himself humming along to the catchy tune. He just knew it would be stuck in his head later. It was drawing closer and closer to one pm, which was when Rocky was allowed to stop and have his lunch break with him. Despite spending hours with each other just the night before, no one else in the garage knew that from what Sanha could suspect, and perhaps Rocky wanted to keep it that way. Sanha assumes that his co-workers are very fond of teasing each other, Rocky included, and no doubt himself, if their warm and welcoming greetings this afternoon were anything to go by.

When Sanha had pulled up to the garage that afternoon, he had a sampler takeaway bag of different meals from a gourmet Asian cuisine restaurant in the city that Sanha was overly fond of, and had told Rocky about, in one hand, and a ginger little wave in the other. Rocky had greeted him similarly, but in the place of food there was a wrench instead, though his wave was no less shy.

From the evening before, there seemed to be a shift in their relationship. Rocky had sent Sanha home when it neared one am with a chaste farewell kiss to his cheek. It was too quick for Sanha’s liking, and somewhat rushed, nowhere near as finesse and delicate as the five others Rocky had pressed to his face, but it had still been enough to make Sanha’s hands clammy, to make his breathing hitch and stutter between his lips. Now, because of that, Sanha’s cheeks turned a violent shade of pink just at the thought of Rocky’s lips against his cheeks, and he was ashamed to admit he stood in the shower for almost an hour when he had returned home, lost in his own little world thinking about the soft and supple pressure of the mechanics lip. They were a complete contrast to the stereotype that hung around him – Rocky, stone-cold and rough and being a mechanic in general, all these factors accumulating to this image of disrespectful motives and intentions, but Rocky was – without any doubts – one the kindest souls he had ever encountered.

The subtlety that Sanha thought he had most definitely wasn’t there anymore – he could feel the fondness oozing off his countenance, could feel the way his eyes were dopey and how his lips were permanently parted in awe. The automotive lift had a typical looking SUV hoisted up, and Rocky’s muscles were – as per usual – on full display. Rocky and Bin were usually the only ones to forgo the usual navy jumpsuit attire the others wore, but today, Sanha couldn’t see a single one of them wearing it. If they were, they wore it how Rocky and Bin did – tied low and tight around their hips, so that they’re arms were left completely bare. Sanha liked – no, loved – that Rocky did this, because his arms were out of this world. Sanha had seen muscular men before, seen them more muscular than some of the men in this workshop, that much is undeniable, but none of them had ever looked so natural and still so soft being so. Rocky, on the other hand, was cut straight down the middle. Muscular enough that it was noticeable, but not forced – the muscles stemmed from his profession, from his dance, not from grunting in front of a mirror five days a week. He wasn’t muscular for vanity, but because it was a side effect of his work, of his passion, and Sanha would give just about anything to run his hand around the curve of his bicep now. It looked particularly appealing today, what with the way Rocky was covered in a sheen of sweat. Normally, Sanha would find this unattractive, but it was Rocky, and his arms were golden and his skin gorgeous, and he was grunting as he worked on the car, and Sanha thought he was going to pass out.

MJ cackled loudly at something Bin was saying, throwing his head back and clapping his hands together. Sanha hadn’t spoken much to MJ yet – just a few things here and there – but had been around him enough to know that clapping was his natural instinct during a laugh. Sanha smirked over at him, catching Bin’s gaze, who headed in his direction. MJ proceeded to work on the Mini he was hunched over the hood of, the conversation with Bin forgotten completely.

Bin leant against the car where Rocky worked, and Sanha giggled into his hand when Rocky drew his eyes away slowly from here he was working, and over to his friend.

“Can I help you, sir?” Sanha snorted, Rocky’s voice laced with an amusingly bad posh accent, which earned him a shove.

Ass. Take your break now. You’ve made Sanha wait long enough.”

Rocky nodded in thanks, and as Bin passed through to the office, he sent Sanha a smirk and a wink to match. Pink-cheeked and giddy, Sanha watched Rocky turn to the basin to wash away the grease from his hands. He dried them on what Sanha saw to be a surprisingly very white rag, before he headed over to him.

“Darling Sanha,” he says in greeting, smiling cheekily. He leans against the bench, their heads at the same level again. “I’m sorry. I’ve been depriving you of my attention.”

Sanha grins back toothily. “I’m hungry.”

Rolling his eyes, Rocky unnecessarily helped Sanha down from the stool, and guided him towards the back room. Sanha hadn’t been back there before – knew it had a fridge and a microwave, a subpar coffee machine – and he felt privileged to walk through to the staff only area. None of the mechanics batted an eye at it, which to Sanha’s curiosity. In fact, when he had turned up to spend lunch with Rocky, none of them seemed surprised, either. Sanha knew he’d contemplate this later, when he was lying in bed, no doubt, and unable to sleep. For now, though, he follows Rocky through to the small sectioned off room.

It’s got shabby linoleum on the floor, bubbling with age in some place, and the walls are covered in tacky posters – many of them half-naked women, like in the movies – and others are of cars themselves. Much to Sanha’s surprise, there’s a male underwear model he can’t put a name to beside the fridge.

“It’s…” he starts, finds himself unable to finish, because an irritatingly high-pitched giggle beats him to it.

Rocky groans, shoving him playfully. “Yoon Sanha!” Sanha keeps laughing, trying to stop it between his palm, but Rocky’s annoyed expression just makes it that much harder. Rocky grumbles with mock anger, and then turns to the fridge to remove the takeaway bags they’d stored in there earlier. As Rocky decanters the food onto plates and transfers them into the microwave to reheat, Sanha manages to contain himself.

He sits down at the empty table, eyes regarding the room a little more, before fixating themselves of where Rocky has one hand pressed against the wall, the other resting on top of the microwave. This angle allows Sanha to see the ripples of muscles in his back pushing through his singlet, the lick of slightly paler skin where the singlet pulls away from his neck slightly. The sheen of his skin is more obvious in here, too, given that there’s LED lighting. It makes him unfairly tempting, and he’s not even trying. If Sanha weren’t so fond of him, he’d be annoyed by the fact that he would never be able to look so effortless and casual and yet so sexy. If Sanha ever wanted to look like that, he’d have to gain both muscle and an entire new attitude.

The microwave beeps, and Rocky is quickly dragging the plates over to the table. He sits directly beside Sanha, their arms grazing, and Sanha can’t stop the rise of heat on his cheeks that of all the seats – there were seven other empty ones, he counted – Rocky had chosen that one. Rocky turns his head and smiles at him – eyes soft and lidded, like Sanha’s own – and they eat in relative silence for the first part. They make comments about the food – which bits they liked best, which bits they didn’t – and about what work Rocky still had to do that day; but other than that, it was silent. Not awkwardly so, either, but their kind of silence. The silence Sanha loved and admired because it was natural and forthcoming, and it didn’t feel like a strain on their friendship to be that way, nor did they feel the need to fill the silence with meaningless chatter.

They had just tried the prawns when Rocky spoke again. “Sanha, can I ask you something?”

Sanha swallowed, “of course.”

Rocky is biting his lip nervously, hesitant, Sanha thinks. “What do you do?” Sanha can see the tiny trickle of fear in his deep brown eyes – eyes he always got lost it, no matter how cliché that truly was – and Sanha just snickers.

“Just about nothing.”

Rocky’s eyes soften again. “Now, I know that’s not true. Tell me,” he says, nudging Sanha with his arm.

Shrugging, Sanha picks at a piece of batter on his plate. “I’m sure you’ve heard.”

“But I want to hear it from you,” the sentiment in Rocky’s voice makes him tuck his chin, attempting to hide his red cheeks, but to no avail.

“Well, I draw.” Rocky doesn’t say anything, just watches, beckons for him to continue.

“I draw for Dongmin’s children’s books…and I organise and sponsor quite a lot of charity events, I suppose. I’m uh, in the stock market?”

Sanha stops, blows out a rush of air, making his fringe waver a little before settling back down. “I’m a socialite, Rocky, there’s not a whole lot to it unfortunately.”

Rocky’s shaking his head now, sitting down his chopsticks. “Stop. Don’t do that. Don’t downplay the work you do in fear that I’m,” he trails off, looking for words. “I’m not going to judge you, Sanha. I never have. I don’t think I ever could.” He snatches a piece of stray chicken from Sanha’s plate, popping it in his mouth. “I mean, what is there to even judge? You’re obviously very talented if you’re drawing for published books. You’re smart enough to know about stocks. I don’t know shit about stocks. Way above my head, that’s for sure. And you’re thoughtful and kind enough to do lots of work for charities? That’s more than most people do. You’re a triple threat, Sanha.”

Sanha cocks his head to the side, embarrassed by curious all the same. “You mentioned my brains and my charity work. What triple threat?”

Rocky sits his chopsticks down again, and looks across at Sanha with pure shock. “What?”

Rocky’s fish-mouthing, and Sanha doesn’t understand. “What, what?”

With one hand, Rocky waves it to Sanha’s body. Most of it is obscured by the table top, but Sanha gets the gist of it, and turns dangerously red again. “You’re gorgeous Sanha. That’s the third thing. Didn’t think I’d have to point that out though.”

Sanha releases a choked-up sounding breath, which makes Rocky shake his head. “God knows everyone else here knows it, everyone else in Korea, too, I’m sure.”

He tucks his chin, and presses his lips together as he cheeks catch fire. Part of him thinks he should try go about seeing a doctor sometime soon, because the amount of time he spends with red cheeks these days is somewhat concerning. He should be blaming Rocky for that, but really, he knows he can only blame himself – and his body’s inability to handle compliments.

“Sanha,” he says, turning his body in his seat, so his knees are pressed to the side of Sanha’s thigh. Sanha is forced to look at him when Rocky snatches at his hand. “Sanha,” he says again, more pleadingly this time around, and the emotion in Rocky’s eyes isn’t something he can place, but it’s intense and his pupils have expanded.

“W-what?” His voice is wobbly, and his vision a little blurry – not from tears but from the dizziness he’s experiencing. Another thing to tell the doctor. Rocky makes his senses defect.

“My darling Yoon Sanha,” his hands tighten at the same time his heart stops beating in his chest.

My darling Yoon Sanha, he had said. My.

“You are as beautiful as you are kind and as you are smart. There is no part of you that is embarrassing or shameful or wrong, or anything else you’re thinking. Every single part of you is incredible and…” He trails off, his once-confident demeanour slipping back into the rare bursts of shyness Sanha had witnessed in the short time of knowing him. Sanha squeezes his hand again, where Rocky had released some of the pressure. Sanha wasn’t sure he’d be able to work his tongue right now, so that would have to do.

“And there is no part of you that cannot be loved.”

 

Rocky’s break did have to end at some point, though Bin did give them an extra fifteen minutes before barging into the staff room. They had just finished eating, and Sanha had twisted his body in the chair similarly to the way Rocky had done just before. They were face-to-face now, too, which meant their knees slipped in-between each other’s, and their breath on each other’s tongues.  Rocky had a hand on Sanha’s thigh comfortingly, rubbing soothing circles into the denim of his shorts, tapping occasionally at one of the small patches that adorned the material. When Bin barged in, Sanha had almost expected Rocky to jump up and put some distance between them, but Sanha swore Rocky’s grip just tightened.

Back in the workshop, Sanha situated himself back on the stool, dragging his satchel up onto his lap in the process. Rocky went straight back to work, though not before giving Sanha’s hand one last squeeze and throwing him a toothy smile. From his bag Sanha drew out his notebook and a stray pencil from the bottom, tucked his foot back up onto the stool as he had done last time.

As Rocky worked, Sanha drew.

He sketched him from the small distance, adding as much detail as he could, though it was still fairly rough. It was different in style to what he drew for Dongmin – less cartoonish, the features and lines more lifelike. Sanha worked with the position he could remember Rocky in the most: hunched over the bonnet of the SUV, a streak of grease along the high-cut edge of cheekbone, biceps bulging and straining under the labour. Sanha wanted nothing more than to be closer to him, despite being a mere few feet away. Wanted to be closer so he could sketch every scar, every pore, every beautiful blemish that defined the beauty Rocky beheld.

He didn’t move, though, because he didn’t want to be a nuisance to the elder man as he worked. Occasionally, Sanha would find himself drifting into space, entranced by the sheen of sweat thickening along the exposed surfaces of his skin. His skin was delicious, and Sanha wanted to ravish it – wanted to cling to it as if it were his very own skin, never release it, mark it up as his own. But he couldn’t. Because while the teasing and flirty was reciprocated, Jinwoo’s words of advice to him were constantly on his mind. The reputation that Sanha despised did hold some validation – he was a flirter, albeit not as much since meeting Rocky, and the press knew this. Whether or not Rocky knew of this reputation didn’t matter; he didn’t want Rocky to think that he was flirting with him and desiring no end result. Rocky could very well be flirting back out of kindness, out of the mutual respect for each other that they share. Sanha didn’t want to lead Rocky on, despite the fact that he was almost one hundred percent positive he had feelings for the elder man. He didn’t want to pursue them, at least, not yet – not when he wasn’t confident in Rocky’s own feelings for him. If he even had any, that is.

Sanha wasn’t an idiot. Not entirely. He knew that Rocky found him handsome to some extent, but most people did. It was just most of them thought that way because his face was recognisable from all the magazines and articles he featured in, and his name was listed on hundreds of different organisation websites and benefactor listings, and he had several investment properties and stocks that meant he was well known. But it was his money that was the most well-known part about him. It wasn’t his drawing or his charity work, or even his intelligence, but his bank account that made him as popular as he was. Where Dongmin and Jinwoo’s bank accounts sat in the mid to high millions, Sanha’s had grown above that, beyond his parents, too, and well into the billions. Sanha didn’t brag about that much, but journalists were well aware of it, and tended to comment on it more than Sanha appreciated.

It was because of this that Sanha had, at first, shied away from dating.

He had too much money – more money than he knew what to do with. So much money, in fact, that he had tried to stop investing, because there was no point in it anymore. That’s why his contribution to charities had escalated in the past few years, why his donations had risen into higher millions than not. Sanha feared that getting close to anyone romantically would mean betray and deceit, using him just for his money alone. Sanha didn’t care about the money – didn’t care about his significant other using it – but he wanted their feelings to be genuine. Hoped and prayed that when he meets someone to love, that they love him back for the same reason he loves them – and not for his money.

So, he dealt with the loneliness. He came home to a too-big apartment and slept in his too-big bed alone. He never cooked, because he had no one to cook with or even for. He busied himself with events and sightings so that people would assume he wasn’t bothered by the lack of romantic interests. He tried everything. He did. But after a while, that all changed.

Soon, it became too heavy on his chest. Sometimes, a lot of the time, it hurt more than it should have. The loneliness ached in ways he’d never experienced before, and he cried himself to sleep more often than seemed healthy. He considered seeing a doctor, but what would they say? What would he say?

Sanha hated being single. Hated the emptiness of it; hated seeing his friends fall in love – albeit, out again, too – hated the fact he had no one to come home to, or someone to come home to him. It was infuriating. Because sure, Sanha had his bad days. Days where he was too far this side of angry, and his temper would rise and he’d kick and scream at the large space of his apartment, but he was a good guy, he thinks. He’d treat someone right. He’d take his partner on cute dates out and cute dates in, he’d kiss them all the time and tell them how much he loved them. And maybe he isn’t in any position to talk about how unfair life could be, considering many things were a card swipe away from him, but happiness truly couldn’t be bought. Sure, to some extent, it could. But it’s not true happiness. It’s not happiness designed to last. Not really. It’s a band aid kind of happiness. Works well for a while, but eventually, it needs to come off. And you can replace it as many times as you like, but the outcome with always remain the same. In the end, you realise you need something more permanent, and Sanha guesses that’s where scars come from.

Sanha wanted to date. Sanha wanted to hold someone’s hand and open doors for them, and pull their chair out for them to sit in some quaint restaurant on the river. He wanted nothing more than to have someone for his own, his equal – not in money or in status – but in heart. Someone who shared his values and morals, someone who wanted love more than anything else. And maybe Sanha was only thinking that because it was Rocky who was giving him attention he’d never had before; attention which more closely resembled any kind of mutual feelings that he’d ever experienced before.

Sanha had dated, but nothing serious, nothing that had lasted. Sanha was, despite what people said about it, extremely inexperienced. Only Dongmin and Jinwoo knew how deep that inexperience truly ran, and he didn’t want anyone else finding that out anytime soon, either. Not that he himself was embarrassed by it, but the media would plaster it everywhere they could, try to slander him with the private piece of information that definitely breached their privacy contracts. Sanha was tired of being alone. Tired of being lonely. Wanted to open his eyes in the morning and have someone who desperately loved him staring right back. Sanha just didn’t know how to get it without his money and status getting in the way. For the first time in a long time, Rocky made him feel like those two things weren’t important – that it was the other things, his kindness, his actions, which were the qualities that counted most.

Sanha sketched over the line of his back, the slight curve to it, before etching in some shading around the rough bonnet he had drawn. Rocky was oblivious to his actions, entire focus on tightening a bolt deep under the hood. Sanha’s favourite part of Rocky to draw was his arms, because it was like immortalising them, immortalising Rocky so that this image – and the way Sanha felt drawing it – would never, ever die.

Sanha’s phone buzzed from where it sat in his satchel, and Sanha snatched for it one-handedly.

 

2:37 pm
Minno

are you home? We should talk.

 

Sanha cringes, dropping his notebook and pencil onto the workbench. Dongmin and Sanha hadn’t spoken since their semi-argument, and although it had only happened yesterday, this was the longest they had gone without talking in years. Sanha felt sick at the thought that alone, and the fact that Dongmin was still in his grieving process from losing Woo Jin only made it worse. Sanha clicked into a reply straight away.

 

I’m out at the moment, but will head home soon. I’ll let you know when I’m home.

 

Dongmin reads it, but doesn’t reply, so Sanha counts that as somewhat of a win before tucking his phone back into his bag. When he lifts his head, Rocky’s looking at him.

“All okay?”

Sanha nods once, but his expression must give him away, because Rocky’s dropping the—whatever tool he’s using, and heads over to him. He’s constantly got a rag with him now, because he knows not to touch Sanha if his hands aren’t pristine, because Sanha had made an off-handed comment about his thousand dollar jeans, and Rocky had almost passed out. When that happened, Sanha swore to always watch his tongue about the prices of things, unless Rocky had outright asked – and then he was happy to oblige.

He’s started to keep a small tub of new rags on his bench, because Sanha was undeniably a little precious, and liked clean seats to sit on. He snatches at one of them now, and wipes his face before his hands. He twinkles his fingers at him when it’s done, and Sanha catches sight of clean palms and fingers. Sanha nods in approval, and Rocky reaches out and clutches one of Sanha’s hands in both of his own,

Sanha’s heart flutters, or maybe that was just the swarm of butterflies that had taken up residency in his stomach coming to the surface. He squirms under the weight of Rocky’s expectant eyes, and knows he can’t pretend around him anymore. He finds himself wondering when he had become such an open book to the elder; wonders if he had always been that way.

“It’s Dongmin. He wants to talk.”

Rocky hums, a deep, guttural sound in the back of his throat. It makes Sanha’s skin feel all tingly. He steps a fraction closer, so his thighs are against Sanha’s knees. Using his free hand, Sanha lets his fingers dance along the part of Rocky’s thigh he can reach. It’s a gentle touch, Sanha realises, but an affectionate one at that. He hears Rocky sigh, feels his muscles deflate just the tiniest bit. Sanha smiles at this, likes having the ability to take away some of Rocky’s tension.

When Rocky speaks, his voice is a little croaky, reminding Sanha of when he had been sick the other day. It’s as deep as it is rough, though it still possesses its familiar high-pitched kind of lilt to it that Sanha admires so much. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

Sanha shrugs, looks down at their connect hands, wants it to stay there forever. Wants it to mean more than it does, though, which bothers him more than he wants it to. “You two need to talk,” he says, dropping one of his hands from where it’s holding Sanha’s own, and brushes a stray piece of Sanha’s hair away from his eyes. Sanha subtly pushes into the touch, liking the way Rocky’s calloused hands flutter around his refined delicacy.

“He’s your best friend, Sanha, and you need him just as much as he needs you right now.” Sanha hates that Rocky is so wise, because Sanha wants to pout and whine, but knows that he’s right. Dongmin is his best friend, and even though he hates confrontation, he knows he has to face it. Knows that in the end, it’ll be worth it.

“I know,” he puffs out, squaring his shoulders, fingers tightening on where they’re clasping at Rocky’s thigh. Sanha is appreciating the tightness of the muscles there, wonders what they’d look like in tight jeans. His mouth feels dry, so he looks away.

“You two are going to be alright. I don’t know much about Dongmin, but I know that he loves you – and you love him, too. It’ll work out fine. You just have to go make it happen.”

Sanha does pout this time, and drops his head back between his shoulders. He stares up at Rocky from his angle, from underneath his eyelashes, and he loves the way the afternoon sunlight dances on Rocky’s skin.

“Okay,” he whispers to him, dropping his hand from the elder’s thigh, drawing it into his own lap.

“Okay,” Rocky says back, dropping his hand now, and slapping both down on Sanha’s thigh with a very audible smack that turns even the tips of his ears red. Then, suddenly, his face contorts into one of mock annoyance. “Now, up and at ‘em. You’re annoying me.”

Sanha shoves him away playfully, slipping off the stool and to his feet. “Shut up,” he spits. “You love my company.”

Rocky shrugs, then winks. “That may be true, but that doesn’t make you any less annoying. Now leave. Go.” He shoves Sanha in the direction of the open roller door, though doesn’t use much force.

“Fine,” Sanha grumbles, snatching up his bag from the floor. He shoves his pen back in the front pocket, and goes to put his notebook away, too, when he hesitates. Should he? Sanha glances over his shoulder at Rocky’s empty bulletin board, and then turns back. Rocky watches his movement closely and with blatant curiosity as Sanha goes and flips open the notebook at his drawing of Rocky, and carefully tears it from the book. He then turns to the bulletin board, grabbing a stray push-pin, and jams it through the top of the paper. Satisfied, he turns back to Rocky.

Rocky, though, isn’t looking at him. He’s looking at the new addition to his bulletin board, a smile of pure surprise etched there. Sanha watches him reach out and touch the paper fondly, bites his lip when Rocky’s eyebrows dart up under the hair falling in his face. Sanha isn’t sure how long he stands there examining it, but Sanha really should be off.

He coughs once, and Rocky jumps out of his trance. He snaps his head towards Sanha, eyes elated and smile wide, showing off all of his teeth, and suddenly there’s no space between them anymore. Rocky has him wrapped up in his arms, his embrace hot and suffocating in the afternoon sun, though Sanha doesn’t shy away from it. Instead, he lets his hands weave themselves around his waist and across his back, and melts into him. The height difference between them means Sanha’s head sits atop Rocky’s shoulder, but he doesn’t mind; in fact, he finds it endearing that a man of such a confident stature is smaller than he is. Rocky is squeezing him tightly before releasing him, keeping him at arms-length. He’s vaguely aware of numerous sets of eyes lingering on them, on their movements, but Sanha keeps his eyes trained on the beautiful man in front of him.

Sanha tries to think back to when Rocky’s happiness had become his happiness, but he can’t quite place it, doesn’t really know when it started – but thankful it had. Sanha’s own smile stretches long and wide across his face, and he knows they probably look like a pair of fools, but he’s to giddy to think much more of it. Rocky’s then got a hand around his waist, and pulling him flush against his chest. Sanha huffs at the sudden movement, at the sudden closeness again, and his eyes flutter closed when Rocky’s lips press to his forehead. All too soon, the feelings gone, and Rocky’s leading him out to his car. Sanha is half-stumbling, because his senses feel shot again, and his legs are most likely made of jelly at this point. Rocky is snickering at him when he falls forwards against his car door, laughs harder when Sanha tries to play it cool, rolling so his backs against the driver’s side.

Rocky shoves his hands into his pockets, rolling his shoulders back. Sanha sighs, sticking his lips out. Rocky takes a step closer. “Thank you, Sanha.”

He shrugs, “it’s not a problem. Your desk needs more life to it, anyway.”

Rocky smiles slightly at that, before reaching out to Sanha’s hair again. Sanha tries to keep his eyes open this time, tries to catch whatever Rocky’s thinking by watching the movement of his eyes, but the touch is so gentle and relaxing, that they slip closed anyway, against his will. Rocky is humming an unfamiliar tune, one Sanha guesses he’d heard playing on the radio earlier that day, and he leans into the touch of Rocky’s fingers. He thinks back to his earlier comment, about dying his hair, thinks about asking what Rocky thinks now – but doesn’t. He flutters his eyes open, looks down a little at the elder man, before tagging his hand away from his hair.

“I have to go, Rocky. Your orders, not mine.”

Rocky sighs, but steps away. “Be off, then. Can I see you again soon?”

Sanha’s insides clench and then burst, but he maintains a straight face. “I’d like that. Lunch tomorrow? My treat this time.”

Rocky blushes, but nods enthusiastically. “I’ll be here.”

“I can’t wait,” Sanha says, unlocking the car and climbing in. The roofs down, something Sanha had taken a liking too now the weather permitted it. He slides his sunglasses on, and pokes his tongue out at the mechanic hovering by the door. “Good bye, Rocky,” he adds, tilting his cheek up expectantly.

Rocky chuckles, shakes his head. “You and your kisses, I swear, Yoon Sanha,” but leans down and gives his cheek a kiss anyways.

Sanha pulls back, puffs out his chest. “You love it,” Rocky blushes deeper, and Sanha doesn’t miss it. “You started it, so it’s your fault. Don’t pin this on me, mister!” Rocky laughs harder, clutching at his side, and shoos Sanha away with a final wave of his hand.

As Sanha puts the car into drive, he swears he can hear MJ and Bin wolf-whistling from inside the workshop, and Sanha laughs harder than he has all day when he sees Rocky slapping them in his rear-view mirror.

 

Sanha has six missed calls when he gets home to his apartment, and they’re all from his Mum. He leaves the front door unlocked behind him as he heads towards his bedroom, and he’s considering blocking her when a text comes through.

 

3:48 pm
Mum
Sanha, please. Call me.

 

Sanha knows not too, but he’s on the verge of relenting, and dialling his Mum’s number just to shut her up. He’s not entirely sure what he wants – not money, he knows that much – but it must be relatively important if she’s contacting him this often and this frequent. He’s human, so he’s innately curious – more so than others, too, he thinks – and so the itch beneath his skin is becoming almost unbearable to withstand.

Before he can think of doing otherwise, he quickly sends a text to Dongmin, telling him to come whenever. Then, he returns to his Mum’s messages to him.

They’re all relatively the same, pleading for him to answer her calls, that it was important, that she needed to speak with him. The most irritating thing about it, though, was that not once had she made a comment about him not wanting to speak with her. As always, it was about them, and no part of it was about him. Never had been, and Sanha feels foolish to have ever thought otherwise. The itch under his skin is still flaring up, though, and he desperately wants to scratch it, to alleviate some of the pain – but he throws the phone away, buried somewhere beneath his pillows, and slinks to the bathroom.

He washes his face with cold water, not caring that his foundation bubbles and smudges underneath his fingers, and wipes away any excess on a clean face cloth. He catches himself eyeing the bathtub from out the corner of the mirror, and with a grunt, he pushes himself away from the basin. When he bought the apartment, and the renovations were finally completed, Sanha had spent nearly every evening in that tub. Now, he barely went near it without being reminded of the vast emptiness of his apartment – and lately, it seemed to be getting harder and harder to avoid the churning sensation that sat low and heavy in his gut.

His phone dings from somewhere amidst his bedsheets, but there’s a soft knocking on his door just moments later, so he assumes it was Dongmin letting him know he’d arrived. It was uncommon for the man to knock, given he had his own key, and that Sanha always left the door unlocked if he was expecting him, but since their spiff yesterday, Sanha kind of understands his reluctance to use it.

When he opens it, and sees Dongmin’s face – eyes droopy and bags beneath them as black as they were the day he found out Woo Jin had slept with someone else, and last-seasons sweater tugged down over his hands – his walls crumble around him. His whimper is the only warning of the tears that come next, and through the bleariness of his eyes, he manages to grab hold of what he hopes is Dongmin’s body, and hauls him flush against his body. There is a severe desperation to it that Sanha hadn’t experienced in a long time, and what with the way Dongmin clutches his back hard enough to leave indentations in his skin, is a sure sign that he’s feeling the very same way. The last time they had argument quite so badly was when Dongmin was in his second year of university, when exam season had gotten the better of him, and when Sanha’s reputation had been slandered one too many times that week, and they lashed out at each other over lunch one afternoon. Back then, though, they had made up by dinner. Sanha thinks he even recalls them watching a Disney film together, though he can’t quite place which one it had been. Now, though, it had been so much longer – a whole day, even, and Sanha had unsurprisingly missed the warmth of his best friend.

Dongmin was sobbing into his shoulder, and Sanha could feel the dampness seeping through his t-shirt and onto his skin. He can’t bring himself to care though, because he’s doing the very same to Dongmin. The thick material of his sweater somewhat muffles his tortured cries, but not enough for Dongmin to misplace them. His arms only tighten around him, a gesture Sanha finds himself immediately returning. They’re so close together now that he feels out of breath, and he finds it remarkable that neither of them have passed out yet.

Soon, though, the rush of intensity starts to fade, and their arms begin to fall slack. Their grip loosens, and they drag their heads out from each-other’s necks, and then their words are tumbling out of them before either of them are ready.

“I’m so sorry—”

“—Sorry!” 

They say it at the very same time, and the cliché silence that follows is remodified by the outburst of giggles falling from Dongmin’s chapped lips. Sanha purses his lips for a moment, before he can no longer hold in his own cackles. He doesn’t know what he was so worried about. This was Dongmin; the Dongmin who was afraid to say no, even to those who hurt him, who betrayed him; Dongmin, who was his best friend, and had been for years; and judging by the expression of regret and dismay in his eyes just now, that status would remain for many years to come, too.

Sanha holds him at arm’s length, too scared to let go of him completely. He motions with his head over to the couch, and Dongmin sniffles once before nodding. They sit wordlessly, though it isn’t heavy or in any way uncomfortable. It’s a familiar kind of silence, comforting, even, and it reminds Sanha of all the other times they socialise together. They didn’t say much sometimes, and it’s in those memories that he finds the fondest stories. He thinks this one will join them, no matter how bitter the tale starts.

Dongmin taps his knee in hesitance, unsure where to start. Sanha thinks briefly that he looks washed out and drained, and the guilt that rushes through him is unmatched with anything else he’s felt in a long while. He hates knowing he’s responsible for putting Dongmin at unease, especially when there was plenty of torment already going on inside his head. It’s because of this, that Sanha knows its him that is apologising first.

“Dongmin,” he stars, wispy and sharp in the silence. “I am so, so sorry for the way I’ve been acting. You were right: you’ve lost the love of your life, and of course you’re spending more time with your friends because of it. I was selfish and rude, and in all honestly, immature about the entire thing,” he stops, panting a little, hoping the rush of words were compensation for his foul words and intentions the other day.

Dongmin sniffs, eyes doused in a new round of tears. They glisten underneath Sanha’s bright, white lights. “Why?” He croaks out, throat dry and as rough as sandpaper. Sanha worries his bottom lip between his teeth, fiddles with the hemline of his shirt. “Why do you want us together so desperately?”

Sanha thinks on this for a moment. Realistically, he knows why – the signs are all there of a budding relationship, but it was that idea that had got them into this mess in the first place. He decides against bringing that up again, understanding that Dongmin had made it clear that he was bouncing off the support of his friends – Jinwoo, primarily. Their bond, although just as close as his and Sanha’s is, is different – and settles for his second option. His wishes. His wishes which couldn’t be shot down, because no one – not even your best friend – can deny you of your feelings.

“I guess it’s because,” he starts, voice clearer than Dongmin’s, but still wavering. “Because Jinwoo wouldn’t hurt you.”

Dongmin’s entire body seems to relax at that, the tension that was quite obviously attached to his bones released their tethers to him, disappearing into the atmosphere. Sanha shivers in anticipation. “Sanha,” his voice not rough now, as though it had shot away with the tension, too. “I love Jinwoo. I love him so, so much. But I love him the way I love you, Sanha.” Sanha knows what’s coming next, and it hurts a little more than it ought to, but he understands now. He gets it.

Dongmin swallows, “I love him, Sanha. I do. But I will never, ever be in love with Park Jinwoo. At least, not in the way you want me to be.”

 

Dongmin stays for dinner, and the routine they fall back into is familiar and relaxed, and as if the hiccup in their friendship hadn’t even taken place. Sanha relishes in the fact that neither of them are good at holding grudges, because if they were, their relationship would have taken many hard hits in the past few years.

Sanha’s kitchen is never well-stocked, and tonight is no exception, so they order pizzas from the Italian place down the road. When it turns up, Sanha chucks Dongmin the remote, and he’s scrolling through some movie selections on Netflix when Dongmin speaks up.

“Are you free Wednesday?”

Sanha doesn’t take his attention off the slice of pizza he’s eating, but narrows his eyes at the slice of pepperoni as he thinks. “Uh, yes? What’s happening?”

Dongmin takes a bite of his own pizza, chews and swallows before answering. “Jae from the firm is hosting an art viewing for an auction in a few weeks’ time. Wants to give people the time to think about their choices, or something,” Dongmin shrugs, presses play on some talked-up action movie that they’d more than likely regret watching later. “Probably just an excuse to drink alcohol and talk about himself, but I said I’d be there. He asked me to invite you,” he says the last bit with a knowing smirk thrown his way, looking at him from the corner of his eye.

Sanha groans, cuddling a cushion to his chest. He remembers Jae, had met him briefly in the past, and the man nine years his senior had taken quite a liking to him. He was handsy, not going so far as Sang Chul had the other night, but his words were borderline vulgar, and the entire evening was ruined when Sanha slapped him fair across the face because of it. Dongmin had laughed when he saw him do it, told him later that he was like that with everyone at the firm, too, and that everyone would be applauding Sanha the next time they got him alone.

Dongmin pouts at him from the other side of the couch. “Please, Sanha?”

Sanha throws the cushion at his friend. “Can’t you just hang out with Jinwoo, and not make me go along?”

The elder whines, “Jinwoo can’t even go. He has a dinner with his parents for their wedding anniversary.”

Sanha sighs heavily at his friends pleading eyes and deeply-set pout. Dongmin opens his mouth, goes to beg again, but Sanha holds his hand up silence. “Don’t bother. I’ll go.”

Dongmin claps his hands together, releasing all the air he’d been holding in anticipation. “Thank you, Sanha!”

For the most part, they’re silent during the movie. They make the occasional off-handed comment about an actor or an outfit, snicker at the cheesy lines of dialogue and unrealistic action scenes, but other than that, relative silence – save for the movie itself – fills Sanha’s living room. At one point, when Sanha finds his mind drifting off to what he’ll wear on Wednesday to the art showing, Dongmin clears his throat.

“Sanha?”

Sanha hums, not lifting his eyes from where he’s picking at his nails.

“You should invite Rocky.”

Sanha stops. He breaths in and out three times before lifting his eyes to Dongmin. “What?”

Dongmin shrugs one shoulder, “Rocky. Invite him.”

Sanha struggles to find his words. Dongmin takes this as confusion, and maybe it is, but his tongue feels numb and heavy in his mouth and there isn’t much he can do about it. He swallows, throat dry, and suddenly the word fumbles out of his mouth, coarse and worn out. “Where?”

Rolling his eyes, Dongmin throws the cushion Sanha had thrown at him earlier back at him. It hits his cheek, deflects off and falls to the floor. “To the art showing, idiot.”

Sanha stiffens in his seat. He sits so still, he thinks even his heart has stopped beating. His hands start to feel clammy in his lap. “I-I don’t know, Dongmin.”

Dongmin cocks his head to the side. “Why not?”

Sanha bites his lip. “It’s not really his scene, is it?”

His expression softens, the puzzled look resting in his eyes rolling over and disappearing into pools of white. “Maybe you should let him decide that.”

He was right. Of course, Dongmin was right. Sanha had no place in deciding what Rocky was and wasn’t comfortable doing, but the thought of Rocky attending an event that the same slandering journalists and photographers were always at made his insides twist and buckle.

“If it makes you feel any better, Jae said it’s really casual. He made it very clear to save the suits and ties for the actual auction. It’s just a showing, so jeans and shirts.” Sanha contemplates this, realises that that would soften the edges of the media, would make Rocky – who he assumes isn’t overtly fond of suits – more inclined to go.

Because Sanha wanted to ask Rocky. Wanted to loop his arm through his and parade him around, show him off, because realistically Sanha knew that of all the artwork at the showing, none of them would be as beautiful as Rocky himself. Sanha so very desperately wanted to call Rocky and ask him right now, but it was late, and Sanha felt undecided and torn between his old desire and his general common sense.

“And, if it makes any different, Jae only ever lets a small handful of press in.”

It makes a world of difference.

“I’ll ask him tomorrow.”

Dongmin smiles, winning this round.

 

Sanha’s feeding Rocky a piece of chicken from his salad when his phone starts ringing.

It’s over on the workbench, and he glares across at from where he’s standing beside Rocky. The mechanic is standing under a vintage looking Volkswagen raised the automotive lift, and although it was nowhere near as humid as he had been yesterday, there was still a fine sheen of sweat to Rocky’s skin. He’s eyeing Sanha’s phone mid-chew from across the small distance separating them and the bench, and Sanha feels the moment they dart back to him in curiosity.

In the periphery of his mind, Sanha knows there’s a chance it could be something important – but logically, he knows it’s his Mum calling again. Sanha thinks Rocky goes to ask, but then the call cuts out, and his mouth closes. Sanha feeds him three more mouthfuls before curiosity gets the better of him.

“Should you not have gotten that?”

Sanha shrugs half-heartedly. “No,” he mumbles, kicking a piece of glass on the concrete.

He hears Rocky put down the tools he’s using, and then a moment later there’s a thumb brushing along his cheek. Next thing, he’s tilting his head upwards to look at him, and the expression of his eyes is dark and searching and intense, and Sanha shivers through a choked breath.

“Hey,” he mutters, and whatever hesitation Sanha had for crying in front of a group of mechanics is eased away. It’s relatively embarrassing, he supposes, as he not only feels the tears stinging behind his eyes, but always them to bubble over, too. Rocky gasps, and drags him in by the waist. Sanha knew by now that Rocky’s hugs were some of the best there were, what with the way his warmth seemed to envelop him from the inside out, crawling along the grooves of his bones and itching into the outmost layer of his skin. The warmth would make his cheeks burn red and hot, though that could have just been the touch itself, the fact that it had come from Rocky, and not someone else.

Sanha lets his forehead drop down along below Rocky’s collarbones, allowing the mechanic to nuzzle his nose into his hair. Sanha feels him inhale, and it should be weird, but it isn’t – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It has some kind of healing and comforting effect on him, and the dry sobs heaving from the lowest part of his chest because to soften and ease.

Darling,” he whispers out, lost a little in his dark hair. Sanha curls further into his embrace, hearing the curious murmurs around him from the other workers, but paying them no mind. “What is it?”

Sanha draws himself back, keeping his hands latched on to where they clung for dear life on his shoulders. His fingertips dance along the backs of them, feeling the grooves of the muscles there through the thin material of his t-shirt. Sanha winces when he sees the wet spots he’s left on the shirt at the front. Rocky doesn’t seem to care though, just pushes back his fringe from his face, murmurs something unintelligible.

“What’s that?” Sanha whispers to him, fiddling with the seam of the shirt where the shoulder meets the sleeve. There’s enough distance between them now that Sanha can see the blush arranging itself on Rocky’s cheeks, the tops of his ears, the base of his neck. Sanha gives him a light, teasing shrug, a stark contrast in the vibes in the atmosphere.

Rocky shrugs, dropping the hand from Sanha’s hair and placing it on his waist. Sanha wants to angle his body farther into the touch, maybe let rocky wrap his other arm the other side, too, hold him close for the rest of the afternoon. He doesn’t though; he maintains some kind of self-control that he admires himself for.

“I don’t like it when you’re upset,” he says, repeating his earlier unintelligible rolling of words. He speaks them slowly this time, voice clear and relatively stable, and it makes Sanha shrivel up with affection.

“You’re cute,” he says simply, with a light shrug of his shoulder.

Rocky’s face – although flushed red very prettily – contorts into an expression of mock-anger and disgust. “Don’t call me cute, Yoon Sanha! I’m a grown man!”

Sanha, his own reds cheek, with puffy eyes to match, places a hand over his heart. “How dare you. Don’t you think I’m cute?” He sticks his bottom lip out, eyes Rocky accusingly.

Rocky presses his tongue on the inside of his cheek. “This is a trick question, and I’m playing no part in it.”

He takes precautious step backwards, his hold slipping from around Sanha. Sanha already misses his rough hands against him, so he closes the distance again with his own step forward. Rocky takes another step back. 

“Sanha,” he says, voice wavering.

Sanha’s expression falters, lips tugging the tiniest bit upwards. “Rocky. Admit it. You think I’m cute.” He twiddles his fingers at the elder man, stepping another fraction closer.

Rocky shakes his head, “no, I don’t.” He folds his arms across his chest, a look of determination on his face.

Sanha giggles, fingers very close to the elders face now. “Yes, you do,” he argues back, the out the ‘o’ in the do.

The mechanic purses his lips, shakes his head again. Normally, Rocky has the final say – gets the last word in, managing to leave Sanha breathless or speechless or, more of than not, both at the same time.
Though they were teasing now, Sanha’s mind was still focused on his phone sitting on the bench, the missed calls and unanswered texts from his Mum still there, pestering him, mocking him. He very much wants to confide in Rocky about it – he’s told him very briefly the other night, when he broke down to him, about the lack of bond with his parents, but he hadn’t said anything more – but he doesn’t think it’s the right time, his own head space not right, not shifting well within the waves.

Though, despite the distraction cemented in his brain, he leans forward, hands resting ever-so-gently on the elder’s shoulders. He has to drop his knees a little so the angle isn’t wrong, but Sanha finds himself thinking that he’d gladly do it any day for him. He hears Rocky’s breath hitch, trapped in the bend of his throat, when his face draws closer. Then, with a lopsided smile, Sanha presses his lips to Rocky’s cheek delicately.

It’s small, very chaste, and he’s sure he’s left a sticky residue on his skin from his lip balm, but Rocky’s eyes have fluttered shut, and Sanha’s gifted with one of Rocky’s rare shy smiles. When he draws away, the breath that had been stuck in his throat stutters out of him, ragged and dreamy. Sanha thinks he hears someone wolf-whistle, much like they had the other day, but Rocky doesn’t seek out the culprit this time around. Sanha’s cheeks flare up like a beacon, because although Rocky had given him numerous kisses, Sanha had never taken the initiate and given him one first. He decides right then and there that he’s going to keep doing it, because Rocky’s reaction is far too precious to ignore, now.

Sanha’s eyes are questioning as they watch Rocky’s eyes open again, and there’s a look of refined dismay in the chocolate swirl. “Yes,” he says, defeated. “Yes, I think you’re very cute, Yoon Sanha.”

Sanha fist pumps the air, unleashing a groan from his competitive side. Rocky rolls his eyes at him, but smiles fondly at him nonetheless. “Yeah, yeah. You win. Now shut up and go get me a drink.”

Snickering, Sanha gives him a poorly executed military salute. “Yes, sir!”

 

“Will you tell me?” Rocky asks later, when they’re locking up the garage for the night.

Sanha has his coat thrown over one arm, his bag hanging off his shoulder, and a heart full of affection for a pretty boy with engine-oiled hands. He’s hovering beside him now, tucked up close as a brisk wind starts to pick up. It’s night out, now, and Sanha had stayed much longer than he had ever intended; but time seems to move much quicker in the elder man’s presence. Sanha didn’t mind, he liked spending time with him, but it shocked him all the same.

Sanha hums, his thumb and fore finger reaching out and holding on to the sleeve of Rocky’s navy work jumpsuit. He twists it a little under his finger-tips, and lets Rocky guide him towards where his car is parked. Sanha leans against the driver’s door with a slight huff, his hand not dropping from Rocky’s sleeve.

“Tell you what?”

Rocky shuffles a little closer, so his hand is resting on the car beside Sanha’s head. Sanha allows his eyes to divert from his fiddling fingers, and up to Rocky’s own, half a head or so lower than his own.

Rocky knocks his hip with his. “Why you were upset earlier.” It sounds more like a question than a statement, and Sanha doubts he means it rhetorically, but he isn’t sure what to say. “Was it your Mum calling again?”

Sanha tenses against the car. Despite night fall, the metal was still warm against his back from where it had heated up in the afternoon sun. He wasn’t cold, but it was a pleasant feeling being stretched along it, feeling the heat tingle across his skin and soften his muscles out.

“Yeah,” he confirms, puffing his lips out around a strong exhale. The hand not caging him against the car settles on his cheek, cupping it in Rocky’s hand. His calloused thumb rubs mindless circles into the red skin.

“Will you tell me?” He asks again, voice softer than before, face closer. Sanha, on instinct, closes his eyes. That was Rocky’s saying good-bye voice, which meant it was his good-bye kiss time, too.

He remembers Rocky had spoken, though, so he shakes his head. “Another time,” he says. His voice cracks on the little “please” he lets out next. Rocky hums something under his breath, but then his lips are against Sanha’s cheek, right against the spot his hand had just been, and his senses are shot and his brain stops working.

Sanha hesitates getting into his car. He wants to ask Rocky now – ask him to the art showing, ask him as his date, a romantic one, even. But knows he can’t, knows he won’t. Resigns himself to asking anyway.

“Rocky?”

The man in question hums, glancing up from the asphalt and to his eyes. “Yeah?”

Sanha’s fiddles with the piping of the door, his other hand rattling the keys nervously. “How would you feel about going to an art showing with me?”

Rocky’s face drops into one of both confusion and elation, and Sanha can’t quite decide which one shines brighter. “Y-you want me to go with you?” Sanha nods, struggling to hide his grin. He hates how he’d been nervous, how he knows there was no reason too. “To an event? An art showing?” Rocky seems positively overwhelmed, and his eyebrows are lost beneath his messy hair.

Sanha grins, “that’s why I asked you. So, yeah, I’d love for you to go with me.”

There’s a brief moment of hesitation that has Sanha thinking Rocky might say no, but then Rocky’s smile is back, and Sanha’s worries disappear. “Well,” the mechanic says, voice gaining back some of its original confidence. “What do I wear?”

Sanha snorts, “something casual.”

Rocky snorts back. "Yeah, okay. And what does that entail?"

Sanha cocks his head to the side. "I don't know. Just casual. Nothing fancy."

“You’re literally wearing a Valentino t-shirt right now Sanha, in a mechanics garage. Your definition of casual is a little skewed.”

“Aww,” Sanha coos cheekily, reaching out to pinch his cheeks. “You listened!”

Rocky slaps his hands away, “of course, I did.” Sanha thinks Rocky means for it to sound teasing, but it just comes across fond and endeared, and Sanha bites his lip, tucks his head.

“I’ll text you, alright?”

Rocky flushes, but nods. “I’ll be waiting.”

Sanha hops into the car. The roof is pulled up today, given its night time now, so he hesitates closing the door at first. “Good-bye, Rocky,” he says, following tradition.

“Good bye, my darling Sanha,” Rocky following it right along with him.

 

"hit him with a little bit of crazy,

hit him with a little bit of love,

let him know that i'm not leaving."

- great good fine ok, 'you're the one for me'

 

 

  

 

  

Chapter Text

"i just wanna tell you how i feel about you,

'cause you don't even have a clue,

that my whole world revolves around you."

- voom, 'b your boy'

 

Sanha was zipping up a pair of pink trousers that reminded him almost too much of a candy-striper costume he had worn one year for Halloween when his phone vibrated on the change-room bench.

Though Sanha had a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes at his apartment – both worn and unworn, with the tags still attached – he wasn’t able to find anything that sat quite right, and for the art viewing tonight, he wants to look perfect. Perfectly casual, much to Sanha’s general distaste for the word; but alas, there’s nothing worse than looking overdressed in a crowd of underdressed guests. He had opted out of the idea of suit trousers, knowing full well Dongmin would scold him if he did, so he had to settle for either jeans or casual pants. On top of that, he didn’t want Rocky to feel uncomfortable if he did surpass the usual guidelines for what is deemed casual.

But despite all this, Sanha did have some standards to hold himself too.

The pants were, although somewhat garish, a good fit; they cut him right at the ankle, which was pleasing as he eyed the black shopping bag sitting in the corner, its contents a new pair of Louboutin’s. They were a statement piece all on their own, and perhaps the pants were, too, but Sanha decided that yes, he did like them, thank you very much, and twisted to check his backside in them one final time.

The pants were Italian made, which meant the lining was silky and delicate against his skin, and the outer cotton of the highest quality. Though, Sanha wasn’t at all surprised, considering the price tag and the Thom Browne label etched in the back. He wasn’t at all unfamiliar with the back-strap style, though he had worn very little of it recently, and the journalists were going to have a field day at the sight of them. This alone would have sold the idea of the pants to him had he not fallen in love with them already.

He turned back to face himself front-on, nodding his head in acceptance. His phone buzzed again – reminding him of the text he had left ignored and unread – and he snatched it up with heavy reluctance. He knew that at some point he was going to have to block his Mum – that, or answer her calls and texts. He had expected it to be her now, as he had ignored a call of hers this morning, too, but Sanha found a different name in her place instead.

 

12:43pm
Rocky – Mechanic

Yoon Sanha.

 

Sanha could tell he was grinning at his phone like a bit of a fool, and he was grateful for the protection that the change room walls and velvet curtains provided.

 

Rocky.

 

12:43pm
Rocky – Mechanic

What are you doing today?

 

There was a cute collection of smiling emoticons attached at the end, and for each one sent, Sanha’s heart rate increased the tiniest bit. His cheeks felt as pink as the pants he was wearing.

 

I’m out shopping! Are you at work?

 

As he waits for a reply, he begins to strip the pants off and pin them back onto their rightful hanger. He changes quickly, a skill he had acquired after years and years of shopping, and spending. He’d always had an insatiable love for fashion – whether it be the classic labels, or the more quirkier ones, Sanha found the concept of trying on unique pieces overwhelmingly satisfying. It was a feeling, Sanha thought, that could rarely ever be matched. Except for maybe now, when Rocky was texting him – and just texting him. It shouldn’t really be as big of a deal as Sanha’s heart made it out to be; but here he was, heartbeat loud in his ears, and palms clammy.

 

12:44pm
Rocky – Mechanic

I swear, Sanha, if you’re buying something for tonight I’m not going to be happy!

 

12:44pm
Rocky – Mechanic

But yes, working today. Finishing early though so I can pretty myself up!

 

Sanha bites his lip around a grin. The idea of Rocky prettying himself up was an exciting feeling, but it was also a terrifying one. Rocky on a usual day – which was him at work – consisted of navy blue overalls, usually unbuttoned with a singlet underneath; or tight, faded jeans with oversized shirts – was oil-stained and greasy, and smelt like a confusing mix of sweat and aftershave and burning rubber and, strangely, of sugar. These factors alone were enough to make him irresistibly attractive, so the thought of him actually trying to look better than he already does was paralysing.

Despite this fearful concept, Sanha cheekily taps out his next reply. When it sends, he pockets it, and leaves the change room.

 

...

 

He sets out towards the counter, where a far-too eager sales assistant patiently awaits him. Sanha can feel his phone vibrate a couple of times in his pocket, and he can’t help but grin. Rocky was one of those people who would never forget to reply to you; nor would he ever leave you waiting for a reply for very long, either. He was generous like that. He settled Sanha’s anxiety without even having to try, and it was so astonishing to Sanha that this prospect shocked him.

Dongmin and Jinwoo were good at replying – most of the time, Sanha would hear from them within the space of an hour. The issue with that, though, was that Sanha usually needed an answer then and there, and having to wait that long was irritating and – to be frank – utterly pointless. So, it was a sweet relief to have befriended someone as technologically equipped as he was.

The sales assistant rang up his purchase relatively quickly, save for the excessive precision taken to fold the tissue paper around the pants, and although Sanha knew it was rude, he could feel his foot tapping impatiently on the tiled flooring. In a store such as this – Thom Browne – it was to be expected that everything was minimal and sparse, and that the shop keepers have particular rules they have to follow. But at times such as this – where he so very desperately wanted to reach into his pocket and read Rocky’s texts – he found it be so much more inconvenient than normal.

Finally, though, after a few moments, Sanha was able to swipe his card and sign the docket and take the ribbon-handled back from across the counter. Sanha was a regular at this particular Thom Browne, though his sales assistant looked unfamiliar – perhaps he was new, Sanha had thought, or perhaps Sanha had just never noticed him before. It didn’t truthfully matter, and the thought was gone by the time Sanha had exited the store.

He hailed a cab, shying away underneath an awning from the harsh sun rays that peeked around the high-rises. The car in sight, Sanha dashed through the ever-increasing lunch crowd, and into the back street. With a sort of rushed calmness, Sanha told the driver his destination – home to his apartment – and sat his bags on the leather seat beside him. When the driver pulled away from the curb, Sanha then dug his phone from his pocket.

 

12:45pm
Rocky – Mechanic

Yoon Sanha!

12:45pm
Rocky – Mechanic

I thought you said it was casual!

 

He snickered in the back seat, ignoring the set of curious eyes flicker in the mirror at him. 

 

Rocky!

 

It is casual!

 

Despite his reply being somewhat delayed, Rocky’s reply didn’t take long at all to come through.

 

1:02pm
Rocky – Mechanic

Sanha.

 

Sanha was grinning against his hand, could detect the sarcasm laced into the text. If he shut his eyes, Sanha could see the look on Rocky’s face – stern, yet still playful, his boyish features amplified as he pouts across at him. He shakes his head, tapping out his next reply, attaching plentiful amounts of kissy-face emoticons to go with it.

 

That’s my name

 

1:03pm
Rocky – Mechanic

Please, don’t overdress Sanha. You’re going to make me look bad!

 

Sanha snorts at the statement. Impossible, Sanha thinks, and then decides to text him the very same word. There’s no chance that Rocky could ever look bad.  Sanha had looked terribly bad before – that was such the case a few years ago, when fashion was different and Sanha had worn his hair in this colour he can’t quite label apricot nor orange, for it was a vibrant mix of the two, and he hadn’t quite so finesse with his makeup. Things change, and beauty does, too, but Rocky. Sanha thinks Rocky would always be beautiful.

 

1:04pm
Rocky – Mechanic

It doesn’t matter what I wear does it? I’ll always look plain next to you, anyway

 

He blushes furiously, giggling again. He hates how childish Rocky can make him feel – like he’s back in primary school again, with a silly crush with the boy who sits opposite him. Sanha knows Rocky probably means it – Sanha has this horrible sinking feeling that Rocky doesn’t have the greatest self-esteem when it comes to his physical appearance, and that’s painful – and he hates that, hates how it leaves a taste of bile in the back of his throat.

He’s hesitant with his reply. Rocky has made a few comments now about him, about his appearance. Called him gorgeous on numerous accounts, has made comments about his new clothes or an old-season sweater that Sanha had been entirely reluctant to wear, had said he looked perfect once, and now this. God, Sanha doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to – the feeling of a beautiful boy thinking him beautiful, too. It was almost a nauseatingly sweet feeling, being appreciation, even for something so fickle as physical appearance. But that was where Sanha found his confidence, where he found his home – in clothes and makeup, the things that made him undeniably, and pathetically, overjoyed – so to have Rocky admiring it was the spark for roaring pride in his chest. He hopes that one day, that feeling, could also swell in Rocky’s chest. He hopes that maybe, he could start it now. With that, he stops biting his lip, and taps out the reply he had hesitated on.

 

You couldn’t look plain even if you tried. You are so, so handsome Rocky.

 

The cab pulls up to his place, and Sanha hands him a wad of cash and a dismissive wave of his hand at the driver’s splutter. He snatches his bags up and swipes his entry card, before heading towards the elevator. Rocky hadn’t replied, yet Sanha could hesitantly watch the bubbles start and stop with Rocky’s reply. After a moment, they stopped completely, and Sanha wanted to bash his against the mirrored wall of the elevator. In a moment of hesitancy, Sanha quickly tapped out another text, hit send before he could talk himself out of it.

 

I see a lot of beautiful people, but none of them compare to you.

 

By the time Sanha’s unlocked his apartment door, and dumped his new clothes and shoes on the bed, Rocky still hasn’t replied. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, and they’re meeting at six; so Sanha jumps in the shower now. He wants to look better than he has ever looked before, because seeing Rocky in this type of situation is unlike any of the others he had seen him in. Rocky had never been to an event before with him – not one like this, anyway. Not one where there would be journalists and photographers asking to talk to Sanha at every chance they got, not when Rocky, too, would be bombarded with questions.

That was what Sanha feared most about introducing Rocky to his world.

It wasn’t that he didn’t think Rocky was made for it – in fact, quite the opposite. Sanha thinks he’d work this world unfairly well. The issue was that being thrusted upon you in the way it would be tonight is enough to stun anyone into utter silence. The only benefit of Jae, Dongmin’s co-worker, is that he was repulsed by journalists’ antics and their photographer cohorts, and limited the amount who would be allowed access to his events.

For Rocky’s first time to one of their events, Sanha guesses tonight is just as good as any. But the consequences of what would come after would be unavoidable.

The gossip columns would all read about this new figure at Sanha’s side, and the stories would be immediate. Rocky would be Sanha’s new fling, that much is undeniable, and Sanha makes a mental note to tell Rocky about this as he steps into the spray of the warm water. These same columns will request phone interviews for the next week, too, especially if they couldn’t get a hold of him of him at any other event. Sanha scowls into the water, knowing that this wasn’t the case – he had a charity ball to attend this Saturday coming, a mutual friend from the industry extending him an invite over an email the other week. It had been jotted down in his planner, completely forgotten about, until right now – shampoo bubbled in his hair, dripping into his eyes.

Sanha squeals at the intrusion into his eyes, rinsing them quickly, the entire time thinking about how he could introduce Rocky to his world without making him terrified of it. Because as selfish as it was, Sanha didn’t want to scare him away from it. Sanha wanted Rocky to want to keep coming back. Needed him too.

When he emerges from the shower fifteen minutes later, steam billowing and following him out into his room, there’s a single text from Rocky on his phone. There’s no words attached to it, just a simple emoji: red-faced and speechless, much like he’s sure Rocky’s doing right now. He snickers, chucks it aside, and heads towards his vanity.

 

 

Sanha is in the middle of blow-drying his hair when Dongmin pokes his head around the door of his bathroom. Over the whirling noise of the gadget, he hadn’t heard his friend unlock his front door or even announce himself, so his sudden appearance is enough to startle him. Dongmin cackled, cocking a hip and leaning against the doorframe as Sanha continued. Sanha is still wrapped up in a towel from before, his face dewy and red from the humidity that lingered from his shower earlier. He’s holding a comb in one hand, the hair dryer in the other, and greets Dongmin with a curt nod of his head.

“Hey,” Dongmin half-yells back, sauntering further into the room in beat-up loafers and ill-fitting jeans.

Sanha had known Dongmin for long enough to know not to comment on his pre-event fashion; it was often his worst choices, because he wanted the dramatic shift from not made-up to made-up to be as intense and electric as possible. Sanha found it to be relatively childish, if not pointless, but he couldn’t deny the joy that lit up in his friend’s eyes when he saw how much better he looked. Though, to be fair, the loafers were nice despite the years of scuff marks on the toe. He thinks that had they been in better condition, and he didn’t have an eye for old-season designer stock, he wouldn’t have even noticed they were five years old.

Though his shoes and jeans were looking rather sickly, his face most certainly was not. Sanha would never understand the workings of genetics, not so long as he was best friends with Dongmin. It was astounding, actually, how low his self-esteem could get when he was around him, especially when they’re in attendance to the same events. He had always envied Dongmin’s sharp jawline and somewhat petite features, despite being the same height as him; Dongmin had a way of making himself look both masculine and feminine at the very same time, owning it in such a way that was irresistibly attractive.

Dongmin was alluring, and Sanha was cute.

Cute, and on occasion, handsome. His facial features were not as sharp as Dongmin’s; they were softer. More childlike, the articles would always write. It had been okay at first, because Sanha had been a child – but he’s twenty-one soon, and the idea of still being compared to his sixteen-year-old self is somewhat degrading. He would, at least, hopefully age better than most. That alone though is a painful reminder of how often he was compared to his friends, who were more mature and masculine than he was, and how there were some things he could control – his clothes, his makeup, his hair – but his genetics were just not one of them. Most days, Sanha could handle it; but right now, at this point in his life, where everything feels sharper and edgier, rather than smooth lines and gentle curves, he’s not quite sure how much longer his façade will hold. And with Rocky in the picture now, masculine in ways Sanha could only dream of being, the insecurity had only worsened. Rocky had never made him inadequate, and the day he does, Sanha will be truly surprised. But it’s just…It’s just that Sanha wants to be whatever it is Rocky wants, and he’s not sure what that is anymore.

So, on the topic of unjust genetic, Sanha couldn’t understand the problem with his own.

Sure, like the next person, he wanted to be desirable; wanted to be desired. He wanted to look a certain way so that people would see him in the way he wanted, not the other way around. At the end of the day, though, Sanha did possess some confidence in his appearance, whether the articles wrote about it or not. People in his industry – or his line of work – had to hold themselves with some confidence, or they’d suffer endlessly. He held himself a certain way in his clothes, more so when the outfit was particularly abstract, or couture, or avant-garde. He’d hold his head a little higher than he normally would, and it would show, too. The contrast between his candid shots and the shots he’d been prepared for at events is astounding. In his unsuspecting shots, he looked smaller – younger, even. At events, he had time to morph his face into a particular expression to which the magazines and journalists alike were interested in. He was able to construct an image of himself which often differed very much to his truest form. And he was usually fine with it. Just some days – today – he wasn’t.

“Where have you disappeared to?” That’s Dongmin’s voice, Sanha realises. Recognises the slight lilt, the delicate brush of words. Sanha is snapped out of his own head, and his eyes flicker to Dongmin’s in the mirror. He’s sitting on the closed toilet lid, a worried frown moulded around his pursed lips.

“Hmm?” He switches off the hair dryer now, satisfied the dryness of his brown layers.

Dongmin smiles lightly. “You look a little lost.”

Sanha’s smile is apologetic as he throws it over his shoulder to his friend, “sorry.” He turns back to the frizzy mess of his hair. He snatches at the heat protectant he’s sat beside the sink, lathers some in his hand before spreading it through his locks. He hears Dongmin push himself up off the toilet seat and over towards him. He’s unplugging his hair dryer from the socket, replacing it with his straightening iron, and trying his best to fight back tears. He was lucky, as he had yet to his makeup, so if they did threaten to spill over he at least wouldn’t ruin his face. Though, he would have to deal with red, puffy eyes and blotchy red cheeks.

“What are you thinking about?”

Dongmin’s voice is so gentle, so thoughtful, that Sanha’s heart breaks a little. He doesn’t let it show, though. He wants to avoid this conversation all together before it turns into something more, something he isn’t entirely ready for. “Nah, nothing in particular.” He goes to pick up the iron when it beeps at the right temperature, but Dongmin snatches at it from under him.

“You can talk to me you know? I shouldn’t have to remind you of that anymore.” Sanha hums in understanding, melting into Dongmin’s gentle touches as he straightens his hair.

Dongmin would do this sometimes, albeit rarely, as he more often than not had to get ready himself. Tonight, though, Dongmin only had to change his outfit so he realised he could possibly spoil his friend a little by doing this for him. Sanha liked others doing his hair for him; loved going to the hairdresser, probably went more than he should. He’s still considering a drastic colour change, perhaps back to his pinky-blonde, and finds himself – for one – truly not caring what the reporters would think if he went back in time with his hair.

“Dongmin,” he says, voice thicker in his relaxation. “What’s happening with your new book?”

Dongmin doesn’t stop his ministrations with Sanha’s hair, just hums around the comb he’s stuck between his teeth as he separates some layers. Sanha watches him patiently in the mirror, and then a moment later the comb is removed from between his clenched jaw. “The novel?”

Sanha shakes his head, “no, no. Your children’s one.”

Dongmin nods, shrugging one-sidedly. “They pushed the publication date back for me, after, well, you know,” Sanha nods. He did know. After Woo Jin cheated. “They’ve basically got it all ready for print. They adored your art work,” Sanha blushes at the little shove Dongmin gives him. “What else is new, though, really?”

Dongmin continues a little while longer on his hair, finishing the left side and the back, and turning to work on his right side when he talks again. “I think it should be released in a month or so.”

Sanha’s eyebrows shoot upwards on his face, underneath his un-straightened fringe. He had known Dongmin had pushed for it to be put on hold, and then pushed forward again as he wanted to get the ball moving, but he hadn’t expected it to be rolling quite so quickly. He was terrified on behalf of his friend, that it would see become too much, and then again, at the same time, he was melting with excitement that his friend would soon be able to hold another title to his name.

“That soon?” He asks.

Dongmin shrugs, an embarrassed kind of grin finding his lips. It reminds him somewhat sadly of when they were younger, when Dongmin told him that Woo Jin had asked him to be his official boyfriend. Sanha liked seeing it again now, this time being completely disassociated with him. Sanha was slowly but surely getting his friend back, and if it meant one publication at a time, he’d take it – no matter how long that would theoretically take.

“I think I’m ready. But speaking of…”

His tone is cheeky, questioning, even; and Sanha recognises it as the voice he uses when he’s about to ask Sanha something questionable. In the mirror, their gazes meet, and for effect, Sanha narrows his eyes. “What do you want?”

Dongmin chuckles, nervous. He’s almost finished with the straightening now, but Sanha can tell he’s taking his time so he has something to do with his hands as he speaks. “I was thinking we could maybe, y’know, have a, um,” Dongmin stops, shrugs, and then shrugs another time, unsure where his words had gone.

“Actually, I don’t know Dongmin. Tell me. What do you want?” Sanha wanted to cross his harms, but his hands were supporting him against the basin. He clenched his fingers instead.

“A boat party?”

Sanha groaned, dropping his head between his shoulders. The hair straightener was pulled away from him, and he hissed when it nicked against his ear just the slightest. Dongmin was apologising profusely, over and over, and Sanha assumed it was more for suggesting using Sanha’s boat more than it was for burning him.

When Sanha had first split with his parents, his first purchase was his current apartment. His second purchase was a boat – a yacht, to be exact. Truthfully, he had hardly ever used it, and let it out to different event planners for weddings and parties alike. It was outrageously lavish, and Sanha felt sick whenever he really thought about how cliché it was for him – a billionaire – to own a yacht he hardly ever used. It was so wasteful, too; but he didn’t really have the heart to sell or donate it, because to have a boat at all was always a good retreat when things got too intense on the mainland. But…

“Do you remember what happened last time we had a boat party?”

Dongmin cringes, smiling grimly around the memory. “Y-yes?”

Sanha purses his lips. “And do you remember what we said after we managed to haul Jinwoo back onto the boat after he plunged off the side?”

“That we would never have another boat party.”

Sanha spreads his hands out in front him in a well, well motion, and Dongmin frowned. “Sanha, please? We never use your boat anymore!”

The hands out around him were thrown up in the air now, “because Jinwoo thought swimming with the sharks was a good idea!”

“He was drunk, Sanha!”

“And he’ll be drunk again!”

They stared at each other using the mirror in front of them, straightener well and truly forgotten from where it sat limp in Dongmin’s hand. His bottom lip quivered, and his eyes dancing with the tears springing there, and Sanha could feel his resolve beginning to crumble. He was a sucker for the puppy-eyed look Dongmin could muster up in a matter of seconds, no matter how well-trained he was at whipping it at out; no matter how well equipped Sanha should be to stop it affecting him. But alas, here he was, his eyes softening out in the mirror as he takes in Dongmin’s pleading expression.

“Okay, fine—” Dongmin squealed, went to clap his hands together, stopped before his hand collided with the hot instrument still sitting there. “—but!” Sanha continued, voice stern. Dongmin’s smile faltered, dropping only the tiniest bit. When he saw the traces of amusement laced in Sanha’s eyes, though, it returned. “You’re looking after Jinwoo.”

To Sanha’s surprise, Dongmin agrees wholeheartedly and with no protesting whatsoever. Sanha had at least expected some kind of argument, no matter how fickle, but was met pleasantly with no resistance from his elder friend. Smirking, he unplugged the hair straightener from the wall, and after taking it from Dongmin’s grasp, placed it on the basin to cool. Dongmin takes his place back on the closed toilet lid, and Sanha has just begun to dab primer over his face when he starts to speak again.

“You should bring Rocky to the party.”

This time, he falters. His hand misses his face, and he’s left feeling silly as he swipes at mid-air with his fingers. Dongmin hadn’t noticed, or he decided against mentioning it. “We’ll see how tonight goes first.”

Although Sanha is more focused on his makeup right now, he can feel Dongmin narrowing his eyes at him from across the room. “Why wouldn’t it go well?”

Sanha thinks back to his earlier thoughts, the fears he had that this experience would end all their communication together. He tried to think of the best way to verbalise this without sounding unreasonably pathetic, or whimper-y, but he realises now that he’s going to no matter what. Because it’s Rocky, it’s someone he cares very deeply about; and just how he’d sound pathetic whining about Dongmin or Jinwoo, he was going to sound pathetic whining about Rocky, too. It was just the way it was now. The only benefit of telling Dongmin, Sanha guesses, is that there could be no “I told you so.”

“I’m scared, Dongmin.”

His friend’s expression doesn’t change from where it’s looking at him in the mirror. “Of what?”

Sanha rinses his fingers under the tap, relishing the cold sensation against his overheated skin. “I’m scared he’ll never want to talk to me again.”

Dongmin snorts, kicking a leg up so his ankle was resting against his thigh. “And why would he do that?”

Sanha twists, leaning his lower back against the sink, eyes fixating themselves on Dongmin’s casual position. “Because what if he realises that being friends with me is too much of a hassle? Look at his life compared to mine, Dongmin. Really look. I can’t even go buy some shoes without being written about; there’s photos of me everywhere, I don’t have a private life outside of the mechanics workshop. Hell, that won’t be lasting much longer either now Rocky’s coming tonight,” during his rant, Dongmin remains staunch and silent, of which Sanha is thankful, because he knows as soon as he’s done, his friend will spit wisdom and sanity back at him. 

“they’re going to get his identity, Dongmin, and they’re going to bother him. They’ll find out where he works and they’ll question him and they’ll take photos of him against his will – he’s going to not want to talk to me anymore because I’ll have ruined his life! He’s a simple guy, and I’m selfish enough to want to take that all away from him!”

When he’s done, his chest is heaving, and his panting is the loudest sound in the room. His eyes are blurry with tears, and his throat feels tight as he thinks over his own words once more. He doesn’t want to lose Rocky, but at the same time, perhaps it was for the best. They came from different worlds, and while Sanha had no problem being a part of Rocky’s, there was no way Rocky wanted to be a part of any of his. Out of the corner of his eye, Sanha looks at his too-large bathtub and scowls.

“Sanha,” Dongmin says with a click of his tongue. “Rocky knows all about your life already, and he hasn’t left you.”

Sanha shrugs, “yet. This could be the thing that ruins it.”

“I find that so, so unlikely. Rocky is literally…God, that boy is head-over-heels for you.”

Blushing furiously, Sanha grabs the first thing he sees on his basin and throws it at his friend. Sadly, the makeup wipe doesn’t go far. He watches it flutter to the floor lamely, and Sanha kind of wants to curl up into a ball and cry. Instead, he spits out a “shut up” at his friend.

Dongmin, chuckling and arms crossed against his chest, throws his head back against the wall behind him. His eyes slip shut, his chuckle fading out and replaced with a delicate smile.

“Make sure he brings Moon Bin.” His voice is slow and sleepy, and Sanha’s insides curl in understanding. A knowing smirk finds itself along his face when Dongmin hastily adds, “and MJ! Makes sure he brings them both!” His posture is taught and stiff now, nothing like the relaxed position he had been in just moments before.

Sanha just keeps grinning over at him, arms crossing around his torso. “Oooh,” he sounds, raising one eyebrow. “Moon Bin.

Dongmin cocks his head to the side, jaw slack. “Sanha, don’t.”

Sanha’s nodding his head with pursed lips, trying to maintain an image of seriousness. He held out for five seconds before he could no longer stop the giggle slipping between his teeth. He presses a hand against his mouth, the humiliated expression on Dongmin’s face only adding fuel to the fire. He keeps laughing, because it makes him feel nice, because the nauseating feeling in his stomach begins to dissipate, because Dongmin starts to laugh along with him.

“He’s hot, okay?”

It only makes Sanha laugher harder, the sound billowing from deeper within his chest, spilling out into the room. Dongmin’s laugh – when it gets like this – is soundless, just all exhausted breath out of a widened mouth, eyes clenched tightly together. Sanha is able to contain himself sooner than Dongmin, and he’s wiping at his eyes, not caring if the primer has smudged, when Dongmin has stopped laughing quite so hard.

“You’d better not tell Rocky,” he manages, still breathing fairly heavy, hand bracing himself on his own knee.

Sanha shakes his head, “why would I tell Rocky?”

Dongmin snorts, standing up from the toilet again, coming to stand beside Sanha against the basin. “Some days, I feel like Rocky is your new best friend.”

Sanha flinches, then shoves him. “That’s not true!”

Dongmin laughs again, picking up Sanha’s half-empty foundation bottle and pressing it into his hand. “I know, I know. Your…whatever with him is really different to us anyway.”

Using his fingertips, Sanha pats lines of the foundation onto his skin, ready for smoothing and blending. His face scrunches up at Dongmin’s choice of words. “What do you mean?”

Dongmin sighs exasperatedly, over-dramatizing it. “Where I do begin…you zone out a lot. I know, that’s kinda normal for you, but you do it more now. It’s freaky. You’re also staring at your phone all the time, even when no one is texting you. It’s like…you’re waiting for him to think about you enough to text you first, even though I know you want to be the one to text him. And I don’t even think you’ve noticed it, but you scowl at your bath tub a lot, too.” Sanha frowns at that in the mirror, blending the foundation softly around his eyes. “You hate it, because it’s a reminder of how single you are. I remember when you had this place renovated, you said you wanted a bath big enough for you and your future boyfriend. You were so excited by it, but I don’t think you’ve ever even used it.”

Sanha goes to argue, but Dongmin holds his hand up, stopping him. “It’s nice, Sanha. It’s nice to see you in raptures about someone like this. I’ve never seen it like this before…you seem so young again. Reminds me of you in high school.”

Sanha swallows, “how?”

Dongmin shrugs, brushing down a wispy piece of hair. “You’re red-cheeked and dorky, with a crush on a boy who’s the total opposite of you.”

Sanha dips his head, hoping to hide some of his shame which comes in the form of those very red cheeks Dongmin speaks of now. “Also,” Dongmin says, clearing his throat. “You’re so much more caught up in the press now. You never used to care this much, but now, it’s as if you actually care what’s said about you because you think Rocky is going to judge you from it.”

Sanha’s bottom lip quivers, and the wobbly sensation makes him think he might start crying, but Dongmin is talking again, interrupting him. “But shit, Sanha. I don’t know Rocky. I’ve met him once, and very briefly. But he watched you like you hung all the stars, and I can assure you that that man isn’t reading any magazines to learn about you. He’s reading you. He wants to know the real you, Sanha. You’ve just got to give him that.”

Sanha finishes smoothing his foundation on his face, and when he’s satisfied, he grabs one of his eyeshadow palettes. He hands it to Dongmin, along with a handful of brushes, and shuts his lids. Dongmin was always better at eyeshadow, no matter how much it had bothered Sanha over the years. Dongmin works slowly, carefully, with a steady, sure hand, never once faltering.

When he’s finished one eye, Sanha already feels incredibly relaxed and calm. “Do you like him?”

Sanha freezes, muscles tense. “W-what?” He tries to sound genuinely confused, or as if he had actually misheard him, but his stutter gives him away.

“Sanha, do you like Rocky?”

Sanha swallows, throat painfully dry all of a sudden. “I mean, sure,” he says, trying to make himself sound blasé. “He’s a great friend—”

Yoon Sanha,” Dongmin cuts him off with a stern voice and narrowed eyes.

He huffs, “I think so.”

“You think so?”

Sanha winces, “I’m scared, remember?”

Dongmin groans, “we’ve been over this, Sanha. Rocky likes you. He isn’t going to be scared off by a few photographers, alright? I promise.”

The reassurance in his voice was almost enough to expel him of his nerves. Almost.

“But,” Sanha starts, forehead creasing as he surrenders to his thoughts. “What if he’s only interested in my money? What if he doesn’t even like me?”

His words earn him a light slap on the upper arm that he hadn’t been expecting, and he yelps. “Yoon Sanha!”

“What?” He whines back.

“You told me he made you dinner from scratch. You told me he said you were perfect. You told me that he’s constantly kissing your damn cheeks and calling you gorgeous. What more do you want, Sanha?”

Dongmin grips his shoulders in his hands, shaking slightly, getting him to open his eyes. When Sanha does open them a moment later, he’s met with Dongmin’s anguished ones, the deep brown there searching desperately for answers. “What more do you need, Sanha?”

Sanha considers this, swallows down the lump in his throat. “Time, Dongmin. I need time.”

 

“Sanha?”

Sanha lifts his head from where he’s pulling his arms through his cashmere sweater, and cocks a brow at Dongmin. “Yes?”

From where Dongmin is perched on the end of his bed, he has a clear view of his walk-in wardrobe, and at the ensemble he had sat aside earlier to wear. “Are those new pants?”

Sanha, looking down at the pink trousers dawning his legs, grins. “Yes. Thank you for noticing.”

His friend shrugs, kicking off his loafers. “I notice these things. You’re addicted, by the way,” he adds nonchalantly, undoing the zipper on his jeans.

“Addicted?” Sanha urgers, pulling the collar of his shirt out from underneath the cream sweater.

Dongmin kicks his legs out from his jeans, and joins Sanha in the wardrobe, where he’s hung his own outfit for the evening. It’s jeans – the really tight black ones that he rarely ever wears, because he claims they cut off his circulation to very vital body parts – and a simple white button-up shirt, but the fabric is silky and the tiniest bit sheer. Sanha nods in appreciation when Dongmin holds the two items up to himself, pointing with his head to the boots on the floor.

As Dongmin starts to tug his legs through the jeans, he starts to explain himself. “You’re addicted to shopping, my friend. I mean, look at me,” he explains, directing to his half-naked self. “I’m reusing jeans. When was the last time you did that?”

Sanha stares at him open-mouthed, ludicrous. “How dare you! I reuse clothes all the time!”

Dongmin scoffs, closing the button and zipping the fly. Sanha will admit that they’re very, very tight, but they look good wrapped around his thigh’s like that, even if Dongmin can’t sit in them or move very fast. Moon Bin would appreciate them a lot, Sanha decides, so he makes a mental note to make sure Dongmin wears them to the boat party, too.

“I told you that tonight was super casual, and yet here you are, in new pants and from what I can tell – new shoes, too.” He points with his head to Sanha’s own shoes perched in the corner, shiny and silver and encrusted with diamantes. They’re lavish, ridiculously so, but they’re his new favourites and when he had seen them in the store there was no way he was leaving without them.

Sanha turns his nose up, tugging the hem of sweater down further. “Yes, well,” he says, opting to tuck the sweater and shirt into the pants instead. The pants were relatively high-waisted, and it looked better like that, anyway. “I’m wearing an old shirt and this sweater is three years old, Mr Lee.”

Dongmin shakes his head as he chuckles, “yes, Sanha, I noticed.” He’s buttoning up his white shirt while Sanha scowls at his reflection in the mirror. “I’m impressed by that actually,” he adds.

“By what?”

His friend shakes his head again, “by you. You willingly chose to wear something a few years old. It’s not like you.”

It’s Sanha’s turn to shrug now. “This is a beautiful sweater.”

“You’re right, it is. But then I never said it wasn’t.”

Sanha sighs, turns to him. “What are you getting at then?”

“What I’m getting at is that Rocky has a way of making you both care way too much, but also not at all.” Sanha presses his lips together, his foot drawing random patters on the carpet. “Months ago, you would never wear this sweater out, no matter how much you loved it. Since meeting Rocky, you care about the press more, but at the same time, you’re taking more time and care with your outfit choices. You’re wearing more of the things you love. You’re being more adventurous,” he explains, eyes full of admiration and laced with wonder, and it’s enough to make Sanha feel self-conscious.

Dongmin sighs, “it’s a good thing, Sanha. A really, really good thing.”

Sanha nods once, fiddles with the cuff of his sleeve before letting his hands fall to his sides. He turns back to Dongmin, arms outstretched. “Well then,” he queries, eyebrows perched up near his hairline. “How do I look?”

Dongmin reaches out to pinch his cheek, but Sanha slaps his hand away. “You look fantastic,” Dongmin says, stepping away to snatch at his shoes, undoing the laces from the last time he had worn them. As he’s lacing one boot, he lifts his head to look at Sanha. “Have you seen Rocky outside of his work clothes before?” Sanha goes to say yes, but Dongmin waves his hand. “I mean, when he’s actually prepared for it more. Like, actually gone out of his way.”

Sanha thinks back to the times they’ve spent together. The first time they met, when Rocky had brought the tow-truck, he’d been in oil-stained jeans and a baggy shirt, and had just come from dance practice. Every other time, he’d been in his work clothes, save for the time they went to the pub together after Rocky finished work. Yet, even then, Rocky was wearing greasy clothes and still smelt like the rubber and oil. So, no, Sanha hadn’t seen Rocky in anything outside of his work clothes.

He shakes his head at Dongmin, mouth slightly ajar at the realisation. He doesn’t need Dongmin to verbalise this epiphany, but knows by the glint in his eyes he will anyway. Sanha hangs his head in fear, in shame, in humiliation before he even opens his mouth to speak.

Yoon Sanha,” he begins, words falling this side of amused. “You’re screwed.

 

 

It turns out that Dongmin is right about a few things. He’s right that he does look fantastic – the outfit he had created in his mind actually looked just as good on his body – but he doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Rocky does. He’s also right about him being screwed, because the moment he opened the door and saw Rocky standing there, his whole will to live was shot.

Thankfully, as Sanha was pulling on his flats, Dongmin had slipped away to use the restroom. At that same moment, Sanha’s phone dinged. It was Rocky, and as per usual, Sanha’s heart rate elevated and his hands became clammy in anticipation. He was requesting to be buzzed in, and Sanha hurried over to the buzzer and let him in. Sanha was able to catch a brief glimpse of the older man from the security monitor, and although it wasn’t much, his breath still hitched that much higher.

Sanha could hear the toilet flush in the other room when Rocky knocked on the door. He knew that at any moment Dongmin would return, and tease him mercilessly for the red of his cheeks and the sweat on his hairline, at the way his fingers with twitching against his legs. So, hurriedly, and in a more panicked fashion than he’d thought possible, he scurried over to the door and yanked it open.

Sanha had thought Rocky attractive – outrageously so, in fact. He was so handsome, in fact, that it often left Sanha feeling bewildered at how the man wasn’t an internationally renowned model yet. Sure, he was a little on the short side, especially in the modelling industry, but his face made up for whatever his height didn’t. And his body. Shit, Sanha thinks, his body. His body alone is a piece of art, and deserves to be acknowledged as such. He wants to tell Rocky this, and maybe one day when he has the courage he will, but for now, he just lets his eyes trail oh-so very blatantly over him now.

Sanha had thought Rocky attractive – he still does, but right now. Right now, he was more than any words could describe. His jeans were tight like Dongmin’s – if not tighter – and there were wide rips in the thighs that exposed his honey-like skin underneath. Sanha had felt those thighs before, underneath his fingertips, knew how muscular they truly were, and these jeans did nothing to hide that. Sanha’s mouth suddenly felt very dry as he appreciated the boots adorning his feet, the soft fall of his hair into his eyes, artfully styled and looking fashionably slick. His arms and torso was wrapped up in a black leather jacket Sanha didn’t know he needed to see Rocky wear until this very moment, and it was pleasing to see the way it fit snugly around his biceps, cut flatteringly at his hips. Underneath the jacket he had a light blue denim button up, tucked into his jeans and unbuttoned nearly all the way down. Beneath that, Sanha could see a white t-shirt covering his chest, too, though it sat tightly enough that Sanha could appreciate his muscles underneath.

Sanha wanted to say something, anything, but his tongue was numb, and heavy, in his mouth, and he didn’t even know what words were anymore. Rocky beat him to it, anyway, plump, pink lips turning upward into a pretty curve of a smile. “Wow,” he said, voice breathy and wonderful. “Sanha, you look…” he trails off, shaking his head in what Sanha thinks its disbelief, and it’s because of that very look that Sanha drops his eyes to the floor, kicking his foot along the carpet, hands deep in his pocket.

Any compliment is taken relatively badly by Sanha, but from Rocky, it’s as if it holds more meaning. The opinion Rocky holds is more important to Sanha now, because he cares more for him, wants him to think him beautiful and gorgeous and handsome – the whole lot. Sanha lifts his head, ready to hand out compliments to Rocky of his own, but before he can do so, soft lips are against his cheek.

Rocky usually kisses the apple of his cheek, higher up, closer to his eye, but this time around his lips are low, nearer to his ear. His lips meet the line of his jaw, so very close to his neck, even, and Sanha can’t stop the audible hitch of his breath in his throat. It gets stuck there, and he tries to swallow it down when Rocky starts to trail his lips along the edge of his jawline, but it’s useless, really. Rocky’s hands have found Sanha’s sides, sitting firmly on his waist and overtop of his sweater. Mindlessly, Sanha wonders if Rocky thinks it’s as soft as he thinks it is. That thought it long gone, though, when Rocky’s lips meet his chin, and more pressure is met there. Sanha finds himself sinking downwards, his shoulders slumping in utter contentment as Rocky trails his lips up along the other side, hands tightening around his body. He presses another firm kiss to the edge of his jaw, before resting them on the apple of his cheek like usual. His lips linger there far longer than normal, and Sanha finds himself pressing into them, hoping to extend their visit a little longer, too, but Rocky’s pulling away before he can make it happen.

Rocky’s lips leave him, but his hands stay wrapped around his waist, and the fire on Sanha’s skin still burns away from where his lips had left their fiery trail. When he opens his eyes – slowly, fluttery like butterfly wings – he meets Rocky’s own. The pupils are expanded and the brown of his iris’ are lost by the dark mess of it, but he’s still so beautiful. Sanha doesn’t think that could ever, would ever, change. Sanha doesn’t have any words anymore, his brain turned to mush. At this stage, he isn’t entirely sure his brain is still inside his skull – it could have very easily slipped out his ears at how gooey Rocky makes him feel. Stupidly, he checks the floor around him, before returning his eyes to Rocky’s face.

He’s smiling now, the lusty sort of expression from earlier vanishing in its entirety. Sanha wonders if maybe he had imagined it, but his hands on his waist just tighten even more, acting as a subtle reminder. At the pressure, Sanha is forced to step closer to him – not that he really minds. He likes being able to tuck his head into the junction of Rocky’s neck; likes being able to smell his usual undertones of burnt sugar and the rubber that has made home in his pores, but now, there’s something else too. Sanha vaguely recollects his thoughts enough to know that its cologne or aftershave or something of the like, and he boldly lets his nose drag along Rocky’s throat, inhaling loudly.

“Mm,” he mumbles, words lost against his leather jacket. “Smells good,” he says, stopping his antics when he feels Rocky shiver underneath him. Sanha’s hands have worked their way around Rocky’s neck, itching along the expanse of his leather-clad back and spine.

“Yeah?” Rocky asks, head tucked over Sanha’s own shoulder. His voice is thick and sounds dazed, much like Sanha’s own. “’tis my favourite one,” he adds, nosing his way into Sanha’s own neck, pressing a feather-light kiss to the very edge of his shirt collar.

Sanha is in the middle of wondering if Rocky was like this with all his friends – holding them in his arms, inhaling along his throat, pressing his lips against their jugular and humming at the same of their heartbeat; hopes he isn’t, because Sanha wants him to himself, doesn’t want Rocky to touch or hold or kiss anyone the way he does with Sanha – when Dongmin walks into the room.

“Hey Rock—oh shit, sorry,” he stumbles a little over his own feet, and Sanha snickers against Rocky’s neck. He’s embarrassed to be caught like this, but he’s too calm and warm in Rocky’s hold to care too much about it. Dongmin’s cheeks are flushed when Rocky begins to pull away, and Sanha bites back his whine at the loss of contact.

“Hey Dongmin,” Rocky says, voice still sounding deeper than normal. Sanha feels an obnoxious swell of pride inside of him at the fact that he had done that to Rocky. Sanha likes being able to physically affect him, but at the same time, it’s a jab to the heart at the fear of possibly losing it all together.

Dongmin nods and throws him a little wave, “are you ready to go? Shall I call for the car?”

Rocky nods, looks to Sanha expectantly. Sanha nods, too, “yeah, we’re good. Go ahead.” Dongmin lifts his phone in answer, scurrying into the living room to give the two more privacy. Sanha reminds himself to thank Dongmin later for not making a fuss whilst Rocky was within earshot; he easily could have done, and Sanha has no doubt in his mind that Jinwoo would have said something if he had been in Dongmin’s place.

“Thank you for coming tonight,” Sanha says, dropping one of the arms around Rocky’s neck, but keeping the other there firmly.

Rocky smiles, eyes droopy with content. “Anything for you.”

Sanha squirms, cheeks carrying the weight of embarrassment, his red cheeks the exertion. “I really hope you have a good night.”

“I will,” he says, simply.

Sanha shakes his head, huffs a little. “We’ll see.”

Rocky uses one of the hands that was on his waist to cup his cheek, to stop it moving, to make him stare down at him and into his eyes. “I’m with you, Sanha. There’s no chance I won’t have a good night if I’m with you.”

Sanha grins, tucking his chin again, but Rocky just lifts it straight back up. “I just,” he starts, voice wavering as he gets a little lost in Rocky’s searching eyes. “I’m sorry, okay?”

“For what?”

Sanha pauses, contemplates every single choice in life he’s ever made that had led him to this moment. “For whatever they’re going to write about you.”

 

 

From inside the car, Sanha could see four, maybe five, different groups of journalists and photographers pressing against the wall to the bar’s entrance. It was one of the many places Sanha found himself frequenting on events such as this, because there was a large hireable space to the rear of the building suitable for such large gatherings. It wasn’t the newest, nor was it the flashiest, but it held a sort of vintage charm that Sanha had yet to find anywhere else in Seoul. Jae, Dongmin’s co-worker and event host, wasn’t his most favourable person in the world, but he did have to admit he had good taste in bars.

Beside him, Rocky’s knee was bouncing up and down. The rhythmic jittering motion meant that side of Sanha’s pants were beginning to warm up at the friction, though he was so infatuated the feeling of being pressed so close to the other man that he couldn’t bring himself to care. This close, Sanha could smell his cologne again; blissful with tones of lavender and lemon and orange, and not forgetting his usual smell, too. Sanha found the smell enticing; so much so, that his hand was itching along the seam of his pants, desperate to link their little fingers together.

Sanha didn’t often find himself nervous when faced with journalists, especially not in such a small crowd. He did, of course, still experience the flutter of butterflies in his stomach at the prospect of being photographed and have said photos plastered all across the web and in print, because it all felt a little comical and all too surreal, but he had gotten used to it over time. It no longer felt unrealistic, but rather his life; something he had come to terms with, no matter how long that had actually taken. He was only twenty years old, and yet somehow, the age beneath his skin felt much higher.

The stress of the industry surely could not compare to those who are far less privileged, but there is something utterly exhausting about being in the spotlight continuously. Sanha could never, and would never, have a hair out of place if he knew that he was going to be photographed. These days, Sanha could leave his apartment and head to Rocky’s garage without so much as being noticed, though if he was to potter around the city or the shopping centres for a reasonable amount of time, within the next few hours candid snapshots of himself would be found anywhere.

Sanha, truthfully, didn’t get the hype.

Usually the photographs were accompanied by spiels about his clothing choices, where to find dupes, and, if they were feeling particularly luxurious, where to get the actual items. Sanha didn’t mind. It was a little frustrating, because he wasn’t exactly prepared for the photos, so sometimes his facial expressions were rather questionable, but these people were doing their jobs; and it was because of those jobs that allowed Sanha to live the life he did.

Despite this, however, the intensity of the industry can be all too demanding. Days where Sanha feels overwhelming exhausted, he can’t be bothered dealing with their presence, and he can come off as rude and snobbish, and being in the public eye as often as he was, that never has good results. It’s because of this very reason that the acid sitting in his stomach feels as though it’s beginning to boil, and pushing against his throat, because he was dragging Rocky into this.

Rocky, who had been nothing but kind and supportive and open with him, was going to be tormented by journalists and photographers alike. No matter how persistent Sanha was at keeping them away from his personal life, Rocky’s identity would be released in just a matter of days. Sanha hadn’t really taken the time to warn Rocky of this, terrified of the consequences – terrified Rocky wouldn’t want to be seen with him anymore. It was ridiculous, the fact that Sanha’s life led him to this very moment, trying to bite back the nausea licking its way around the insides of his throat.

His pinky finger, which had been pressing into his skin through his trousers, as if to ground himself some way, was suddenly hooked between another. With the taxi hovering outside the bar, Rocky had slipped their hands together, as if reading Sanha’s mind, as if reading the expression on his face as nervousness and not regret.

Although, regret doesn’t seem fitting, either. Sanha couldn’t – wouldn’t – ever regret inviting Rocky. Sanha was certain that the mechanic would thrive in this sort of environment, and was excited to see what he thought of it all. Sanha just regretted that he would surely lose him to it. Not to it in the sense that Rocky would be brainwashed into a lifestyle of luxury and deceit, but that it would be too much for him, and he’d decide he no longer wanted anything to do with him. Sanha was terrified to leave the taxi, because he wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to him just yet. But with his hand in his own, the radiating warmth that licked through his veins because of the touch made him think that Rocky wasn’t planning on going anywhere just yet.

Rocky could clearly see the crowd outside, the humming of people talking back and forth professionally, wildness and excitement catching fire in their eyes. They were already snapping photos, and the glare of the flash was bright in the dark taxi. Sanha watched Rocky’s Adam’s apple bob as he gulped, nerves in his own eyes, hand tightening in his own. His skin was the faintest bit clammy, though underneath his artfully dishevelled hair, Sanha couldn’t notice any cold sweats or red cheeks. He was certain, though, that that would change.

They climbed their way out of the car after Dongmin, and despite the small number of photographers gathered, the flashing of cameras intensifies. Sanha is used to it at this point, but he’s more than aware that Rocky isn’t. He tries not to think about what will be written tonight and tomorrow when he lets his hand rest on Rocky’s lower back, guiding him forwards, making sure he’s tucked safely between Dongmin’s and his own bodies. The hand is supportive – or at least Sanha hopes it is – and he leads him towards both the entrance to the bar, and the swarm of the media. Sanha catches a glimpse of Rocky’s expression, and whilst it looks bewildered, it doesn’t look terrified.

At the door, the volume of the journalists seems louder. Sanha also thinks they sound angry – perhaps because they were only given a small period of time to stand here, out in the cold, and Sanha wasn’t being at all tolerable tonight as he usually was – though he couldn’t really bring himself to care. They’re shouting questions at Dongmin – about his book, about his breakup – and Dongmin choses to answer none of them, opting to just smile at the cameras instead. Sanha decides to follow in his footsteps, lifting a hand to stop their questions, but allowing them to take as many photos as they wished.

There were multiple scenarios. Sometimes, they were Sanha and Dongmin separately, sometimes together, more often than not though, tonight, the photos were primarily focused on Sanha and Rocky. Rocky remained calm and surprisingly stoic during the entire ordeal, and Sanha’s hand didn’t leave his hand once during it. Sanha hoped it would ground him, just the tiniest bit, to know that Sanha wasn’t running off anywhere – wasn’t going to feed him off to the starving journalists in front of them.

After about ten minutes, however, Dongmin nods his head to Sanha, and they turn to head inside. There’s a grumble of protest, and a hand shoots out to snatch at Rocky’s arm, but it stops midway when they catch sight of the possessive expression on Sanha’s face. The journalists hand drops back to her side, and Sanha would worry about the consequences of a such an act would have for him in the morning, but when it came to Rocky, things were different.

 

Inside the bar there are no journalists. Jae didn’t grant any of them access, of which Sanha was exceedingly grateful for, but people were – as usual – after Sanha. Even those outside of the press were interested in finding out who the handsome man was attached at his hip. Sanha isn’t at all surprised by this; Rocky was unfamiliar in this circle – never before had they seen Sanha turn up with anyone before, nor had they seen Rocky before, either.

But Rocky was gracious, as he always is. His voice is light and gentle, this deepness of it that was exclusively reserved for him was replaced by a higher pitched politeness that Sanha found far too endearing. When guests would approach, they’d greet Rocky before they would Sanha, and whilst it was comforting knowing people were taking a liking to him, it was also relatively sickening how some of them acted. Sure, Sanha flirted – was renowned for it – but ever since meeting Rocky he had well and truly stopped. As Sanha witnesses guest after guest flirt shamelessly with Rocky – right in front of him – Sanha wonders if this is what he used to be like. He feels disgusted with himself, and makes a promise with himself to never fall back into his old ways.

Rocky either doesn’t notice their flirting, or choses to make it known that he has. He continues to shake their hands, introducing himself with a shy nod, and standing beside Sanha the entire time. Sanha smiles smugly to himself when Rocky ignores every single advance made by the rich socialites, and that smile only enlarges when Rocky’s own arm wraps tightly around Sanha’s waist in return.

They escape the initial swarm of people, and Sanha drags them over to the bar. He leans down, pressing his mouth to Rocky’s ear. Sanha smiles in delight when Rocky shivers at the contact. “What would you like to drink?”

Overtop of the music playing, Sanha can barely hear his own voice, but what with the way Rocky leans back into his touch, and mumbles a “whatever you’re having” to him, there’s no doubt he had heard him. Sanha orders to Champagne’s, and presses closer to Rocky, so that his chest is against the shorter man’s back.

Sanha finds that he likes Rocky like this. He likes Rocky in any way, really, but like this, soft and delicate despite the hardness of his clothing, of his jawline and cheekbones, he seems so much more like the Rocky he knows from the late-night dinners in the garage. Sanha has his arm thrown over Rocky’s shoulder, and Rocky’s head is resting against him. The elder man’s eyes flutter closed when Sanha starts to draw aimless patterns up the side of his arm, overtop of the leather, and he nudges him just the slightest when the bartender sets their drinks in front of them. Rocky takes it gingerly, and they clink the drinks together with cheers before heading off in the direction of the artwork display.

They’re strung up on large room dividers, and as they make their way around the showing, their drinks are refilled just as quickly as they’re emptied. Rocky is touchy the entire night, but Sanha is just as clingy as he is, and Sanha would normally never disappear for this long without saying something to Dongmin, but he’s too far gone for the tipsy man beside him to do anything about it. Sanha still has a hand around his waist, a flute of champagne in the other, and Rocky it’s the same, except his spare hand is spent pointing at different pieces of art. Rocky likes the pieces of art Sanha had expected him to hate.

He likes the bright, colourful ones – the ones which are more abstract than they are scenic. Sanha thinks one of them is supposed to be a depiction of a beach, but then Rocky says it’s actually a forest, and Sanha gives up entirely with his guessing game. Whenever Rocky falls in love with one of the pieces of art, Sanha etches the painting into his mind for later, making sure to bid on them when the auction rolls around in a few weeks’ time.

For Sanha though, he has no interest in the pieces hanging from the wall, because in a room full of art, Rocky is the only piece Sanha is interested in looking at.

Rocky is smiling wide and giddily, and he’s chuckling behind his hand so much that sometimes he lets out a little squeak of excitement. Sanha is right there along with him, head thrown back when the elder says something particularly amusing, making the arm around his waist tighten, the affection for him in his heart increasing minute-by-minute. Sanha is fully aware that they’re in their own little world, probably receiving curious glances the entire night from sober bystanders. Sanha guesses they’ll make statements for the magazines, too, but Sanha doesn’t care anymore. Maybe it’s the alcohol, or maybe it’s the occasional kiss Rocky presses to the underside of his jaw, or maybe it’s the irrational fear finally leaving his body, but the thoughts he had earlier about Rocky never wanting to see him again seem ridiculous to him now. Once again, Sanha thinks, Dongmin was right.

When they reach the end of the showing, Sanha and Rocky are more than tipsy – falling steadily into drunken blackout territory. Sanha guides Rocky over to a blank wall, taking their empty flutes and sitting them on a nearby table.

“Stay here,” he mumbles, shutting one eye so there’s only one Rocky in front of him instead of two.

Rocky smiles toothily, nodding his head, and Sanha can feel his eyes on him as he manages to find his way to the bathroom. He does his business quickly, albeit half-asleep as he rests his head against the filthy bathroom wall. He’d regret it later, he knows he will, but then he’s tugged out of his intoxicated state when something is slammed against the wall of the stall beside him. Sanha’s face contorts into disgust when he starts hearing questionable noises coming over the top of the space, and he hurriedly exits after washing his hands.

The issue he finds now is that Rocky is nowhere to be found; Sanha waits by the table he left Rocky at for a few moments, eyes scanning the crowd, eyes frantic. His hands are starting to sweat with panic at the idea that perhaps Rocky really had left him, and that he had done it without even saying goodbye. Sanha’s shoulders slump at the fact that he wasn’t even surprised he had done so; he had spent the entire day preparing, expecting this to happen, but now that it had, it didn’t hurt any less.

Suddenly, from where his back is to the bar, eyes stinging with regretful tears, a warm leather-clad arm weaves its way around Sanha’s middle. He jumps, ready to slap the arm away, but then the leather feels familiar under his hold, and the comforting smell of burnt sugar and rubber and cologne that was starting to wear off filled his senses, and he smiled.

“I thought you had left me,” Sanha mutters, not really to Rocky, but to the void, to himself.

He feels Rocky’s lips rubbing against the back of his neck as he shakes his head, “never leave you,” he mumbles against his skin, “are you crazy?” It’s rhetoric, and it makes Sanha’s skin flare up and the hairs on his arms stick up underneath all his layers. Suddenly, the cashmere sweater is too thick and hot for this situation.

He goes to pull away from Rocky, so he can take it off, but then a new flute of champagne is being handed to him. Sanha wants to say no; he knows he’s had more than enough, but then again, so has Rocky. His eyes are enough evidence of that. But then, at the same time, he rarely gets to come to these events with someone as special as Rocky is to him. It’s not the same as having Dongmin and Jinwoo, because they’re aware of the consequences in the magazines the next morning if they were to behave this way. With Rocky, though, he has no reason to be thinking about it – and that concept washes over onto Sanha in gentle, harmless waves, and the thoughts of regret and fear are dragged away with the retreating tides.

They stay in that spot for a little while longer, drinking more slowly this time, savouring it and limiting themselves, instead of free-balling. They sit down, too, and Rocky hands him a napkin and a pen he had conjured up from somewhere, and Sanha spends far too much time drawing little sketches of the two of them of the brittle napkin paper. Each time Sanha finishes one, Rocky pockets it, and tells him to start another.

I really want to kiss him, Sanha remembers thinking at one point. But he doesn’t. He takes another drink instead.

 

Sanha can’t remember which one of them had suggested it, but he’s thankful either way. They left the bar fifteen minutes ago, hand-in-hand, blind to the photographers still hovering outside. They were pushing for questions, Sanha recalls, but he was too caught up in Rocky to pay them any attention. In the morning, he knows there will be photos of him and Rocky everywhere, knows they’ll report about his mystery boyfriend, will place bets on how long the relationship would last given Sanha’s past. Sanha’s well aware of it, but the alcohol in his blood and the warm hand in his own tells him not to be so bothered by it.

They stumble up to the ice-cream bar they had been searching for, and Sanha passes the cash over in return for two chocolate gelatos. Rocky mumbles a distracted thank you as he licks at the dripping side of the chocolate, and Sanha has to force himself to look away before he did anything stupid. They walk in silence at first, just mindlessly eating, and Sanha is mostly watching the way the streetlights flicker prettily against the alcohol-induced sheen of sweat on Rocky’s face when they stop on the outside of a park.

Rocky snaps his head up to him, eyes wide and resembling that of a child, and he needn’t even ask because Sanha is already nodding his head, dragging him along behind him with the hand still linked with his. Sanha doesn’t know what the hell is going on between the two of them – their stares last longer, their kisses linger, arms hold each other tighter, and hands are now being held – but he loves it more than he’s ever loved anything else, and the carelessness that he’s been responsible for tonight will come back to bite him in the ass tomorrow, but listening to Rocky’s giggling now makes up for it. Makes it all worth it.

They throw away the remains of their ice-cream when they get to the swing-set, and Rocky pushes Sanha down into one of the black plastic seats. Rocky goes to stand behind him, dragging the sides of the chains with him as he steps backwards.

Squealing, Sanha jerks his hands out, clutching at the chain-link handles. “Rocky!” His scream is shrill in the dimly lit park, and whilst it’s late at night, there’s still a few people mingling. Sanha assumes its nearing midnight, and although there are no small children, Sanha is still vaguely aware that he should be keeping his voice down, and their touches to a minimum.

“Yes?” Rocky asks behind him, breath fanning over the back of his head.

Sanha gulps, hands tightening. “Don’t let me fall,” he commands, though his voice is a little weak, giving away his mildly terrified state.

Rocky’s voice sounds from behind him again, though this time there’s no humour behind it. “Never, darling,” he mumbles, dragging Sanha a little higher. “Never let you fall.”

And then drops his hands. Sanha doesn’t fall, not like he had thought; but instead, he just swings

He squeals again, and then he’s soaring backwards, and Rocky’s hands are pushing him forwards again. It’s a system, Sanha realises, a cliché one at that. Sanha feels stuck in an Americanised teen movie where the couple go to the park for their first date. Sanha would be annoyed had he not been enjoying himself so much.

When the pushing stops, Rocky comes around to the front, and Sanha is – not for the first time that evening – left breathless by how beautiful he is. Soft, pouty lips spread wide and pretty across his face as he smiles down at Sanha, his eyes nearly shut at the intensity of it. His cheeks are nearly the same colour as his lips now, too, and Sanha so very desperately wants to kiss them. When Rocky stills the swing with his hands, guiding Sanha to a standstill, he presses in between his spread legs – and Sanha takes the opportunity to do so. He has to crane his neck a fair bit to reach, but eventually Rocky must understand what he’s wanting, and he dips his knees so Sanha’s lips can press messily against his cheek. It would’ve been gross had they both been sober.

“My Sanha,” he breaths as Sanha’s lips press another kiss to his cheek. Sanha likes watching Rocky’s eyes flutter closed as he says his name, wants to imprint that image into his mind forever. “You’re so pretty,” he whispers, breathy and wispy and disappearing into the breeze. But Sanha catches it, though, before its lost forever.

He presses another kiss to Rocky’s cheek because of it, very close to the corner of his mouth, and Sanha contemplates moving just a few centimetres to the right, just the tiniest bit, so he could kiss him. Really kiss him. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t because he wants their first kiss to be more than a drunken antic, wants it to be something they’ll both definitely remember come morning, something they’re both fully consensual about sharing. It’s a hunger he so desperately wants to satisfy, but he won’t; he can’t. Not yet.

I need time, Sanha remembers saying to Dongmin earlier in the day. Time, he thinks again now. Give myself time.  

“Can I ask you something?” Sanha hadn’t realised it was him asking it, but when he did, Rocky’s got a hand in one of his, yanking him from the seat of the swing set.

“Of course,” he says, fingers playing with his hair as they walk towards a bench on the other side of the playground. They’re both relatively dizzy, and they’re most definitely not walking in a straight line, but the seat isn’t so far, and Sanha is confident they’ll make it just fine.

“What is it about dance?” Sanha’s voice is a little slurred, though it’s understandable, he thinks, because Rocky stiffens just the tiniest bit in his hand.

Rocky doesn’t say anything at first. Sanha thinks he’s messed up, stepped over a boundary of some kind, and he wants to blame his drunken intuition, but realistically, he’s been wanting to ask it even when he’s sober since Rocky brushed over the topic the other night. Sanha goes to apologise, but Rocky’s free hand is lifting, silencing him.

“It’s okay, I’m just…finding my words,” his voice is slurred too, but far better than it had been back at the bar. Sanha thinks the cool breeze and night air is sobering them up far quicker than anything else could right now. Sanha still wants to kiss him, though, and he knows that that most definitely isn’t a thing of his drunken imagination.

“When I was young, in school still…my family struggled a lot financially. My parents both had two jobs, sometimes three, and we still had difficulty making ends meet. I worked when I was old enough, but my parents would never accept any of the money I offered…they always wanted to me save it, put it aside for something I really wanted or needed one day. But, you know. The place I live is far different from yours, our crime rate’s higher and our gangs are more common and I could have been so easily lost to the drug ring, or something but dance?” He stopped, turning to look at Sanha with wide eyes, not really looking at him, lost in the memory he was retelling. “Dance gave me purpose when I was given nothing else.”

He guides Sanha with a hand to the bench, sits him down, and places a hand on his thigh. “I saw a lot of my friends lose themselves to the horrors of the downtown streets – I’m sure you’ve heard about them?” Sanha nods, but let’s Rocky continue. “I didn’t want to become one of those people you hear about on the news, y’know? I wanted to make something of myself. So, I danced. I danced in high school, and outside of school, and I made a name for myself from that. Rocky,” he pointed to himself, and Sanha is reminded that Rocky is just a nickname, and that he doesn’t actually know his real name. Sanha wants to ask him now more than ever, but waits his turn, let’s the beautiful with big eyes and a soothing voice say his part.

“But,” he continues, “when I was sixteen, I used that saved up money, and bought myself an old beat-up Mustang. Best decision I had ever made. I mean, I was already really interested in cars, but that car…God,” he says, shaking his head, a long stretch of a smile grazing his lips. “That car completely changed my life.”

Sanha nudges his shoulder with his own, “do you still have it?”

Rocky nods, “she’s my baby. Drives like a dream.”

Sanha snickers, “you’ll have to show me.”

“Yeah?” Sanha nods, cheeks red. “Okay, Mr Yoon,” he says, standing up from the bench, hand extended to him. “Shall I show you, then?”

Sanha looks from Rocky’s face to his hand with confusion. “Show me what, exactly?”

Rocky snorts, “my dancing.”

Sanha shakes his head, “oh, no, no. I mean, can you do a solo performance for me?”

“There’s no fun in that, though,” there’s a pout in Rocky’s voice that is so powerful it puts Dongmin’s to shame.

“No, Rocky,” Sanha protests, “really. I cannot dance.”

Rocky makes a disbelieving expression. “I seriously doubt that. You’re a billionaire, you definitely know a box-step.”

Sanha’s face turns red, as well as the tips of his ears, his neck, all the way down to his navel, he thinks. “Y-you want to ball room dance?” Rocky nods, grin widening, cheekiness filling up his eyes. He wiggles his eyebrows down at him as Sanha eyes the hand warily. “I thought you were like…freestyle? Or contemporary?”

Rocky shrugs, “I am, but I can dance anything.” Sanha bites his lip, hesitant. “C’mon,” Rocky whines, stamping one foot, mimicking that of a toddler throwing a tantrum in a grocery store aisle. Sanha can’t help but snicker at that.

“There’s no music?” Sanha says, sounding more like a question than a suggestion, but he’s already placing his hand into Rocky’s, allowing himself to helped up from the seat.

“Don’t need music,” Rocky mumbles, placing two directive hands on Sanha’s shoulders. He pushes and pulls him into position easily and with a refined precision, and Sanha feels somewhat reminded of the movie Dirty Dancing and the scene in the dance studio, and he wants to laugh at the idiocy of it all.

How did I get into this situation? Sanha asks himself, considering the world around him, and how he of all people managed to meet and befriend the magical Rocky, who was placing his hand in his own, the other on his shoulder, and ball room dancing with him in a park in the middle of the night.

Suddenly, Sanha hears Rocky humming a tacky, yet unfamiliar tune, and he’s guiding Sanha through a relatively easily box step that Sanha has down to a precision. Rocky was right – Sanha did know how to ballroom dance, though not with the same finesse and expertise he’s certain Rocky has. He learnt it out of obligation, not from desire or passion; so, there’s no chance of him maintaining any sense of pride after tonight. Rocky twirls him once, and Sanha falls into steps easily with Rocky’s firm and guiding hand. Sanha suddenly realise why the kids he teaches must love him so much; he’s a fantastic teacher, even now, with no music and no instructions.

The steps keep flowing, never once following – save for once incident where Sanha steps too widely, stepping on Rocky’s toe, earning a giggle from the elder man – and soon, Sanha has his head resting in the crook of Rocky’s neck. Nestled there, he can press his lips against his neck easily, like he had done earlier in the night, when they were both completely sober. It’s a gentle reminder that Sanha does have the same desires sober as when he’s drunk, and any thoughts he was having about his actions being fuelled by champagne are, once again, thrown out the window. He snuggles in deeper to his neck, and then hums when Rocky’s hand weaves tighter around his waist, drawing him in even closer.

Shit, Sanha really wants to kiss him. Wants to know what those lips feel like against his own ones, knows he’d surely become far too addicted to their taste. Deep down he knows Rocky wants to kiss him too, can tell by the way his eyes are always flickering down to watch them, yet Sanha can’t tell if that’s natural or liquor based. Sanha wishes they were both sober right now, so he could understand what was going on between them, could see if this was mutual or a big misunderstanding. He hopes it’s the former, but he’s partially inclined to believe the latter.

Rocky extends his neck to press his lips into Sanha’s hair, where it’s covering his temple. His nose grazes along the side of his face, eyes shut from what Sanha can tell at this angle, and his close to panting into his skin.

He really wants to kiss him, but Rocky does not want to kiss Yoon Sanha – he’s sure of it.

Somewhere along the line, their movements stop. They keep holding each other the same way, though, much to Sanha’s delight. The night is beginning to get crisp, and Sanha’s thankful for his sweater otherwise he’d surely be frozen by now. Sanha mumbles into his throat, and Rocky draws his head back a little.

“What was that?” His voice is deeper again, languid at the contact.

Sanha clears his throat, projects his voice more. “This is our place now.”

Rocky smiles against his face. “Our place?”

“Yeah. It’s ours.”

Sanha feels Rocky glance around the park, probably watching the other couples just like them mingling, and says “ours, plus everyone else who’s here?”

Sanha shakes his head. He’d anticipated this response. He presses himself closer, lips back against his jugular. “Just ours.”

 

 

Sanha’s apartment isn’t far from the park, so they opt out of taking a taxi, and walk the short distance instead.

Sanha’s hand is still entwined with Rocky’s, and they’re kicking a stone between each other on the sidewalk with tipsy giggles. The full state of their intoxication had well and truly worn off, but Sanha still knows he’ll have a headache come morning. When the stone is kicked too haphazardly by Sanha, and ends up falling down a drain, they both yell – Sanha, annoyed at losing, Rocky, far too excited about winning.

They walk slowly, no real desire to get to Sanha’s place quickly. It’s silent, too, albeit the bypassing cars and occasional toot of a horn. Despite the hour of the early morning – nearing half past one now, he thinks – the city is still relatively booming. There are night markets and the smell of street food is intoxicating; there are stalls bursting with colour and life out of small alleyways, and now, more than ever, he wished he could adventure deep into them. He knows better not to, though, especially not at this hour.

“Can I ask,” Rocky begins, tugging Sanha’s attention back to him, “about your parents?”

Sanha feels himself tense up, but then the question washes over him. Rocky had provided Sanha with private information about himself this evening, and Sanha could very easily do the same.

He nodded, squeezing Rocky’s hand. “What would you like to know?”

Rocky shrugged, trying to stay blasé about it. “I only know that your Mum’s been trying to contact you, and that that really upsets you. I’d like to know why, I guess.”

Sanha nods, coughs once to clear an imaginary tickle. “I don’t want you to think I’m selfish…or greedy, or a brat, okay?”

Rocky looks scandalised, “I’d never!”

Sanha knocks their shoulders together. “I know, I know. I’m just…nervous,” he explains.

“You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to,” he says, voice far softer now in the early hours.

Shaking his head, Sanha huffs. “No, it’s okay. I want to tell you. I’m just finding my words,” he says with a smile, copying Rocky’s own words from earlier. He gets a smile in response, and another squeeze to his hand.

With a deep breath, Sanha starts. “My parents didn’t have a whole lot of time for me when I was young, so I pretty much raised myself. It was fine, because I had lots of things to amuse myself with,” he explains, indicating down to his clothes, as if to say ‘I had money’.

Rocky nods in understanding, urging him to continue. “It got harder though, when I was in high school. I was teased a lot and Dongmin was my only friend, so when we both came out at similar times…my parents didn’t take it all that well. There was never that much in the media about it, because they made a statement that our loss of contact was because of me being spoiled and bratty and because I lost my senses when I went abroad. They were never fully accepting of my sexuality, though they did send me an email at one point saying they wanted to make amends. But the damage was already done,” Sanha explains, shrugging at Rocky, who’s eyes were stinging with anguish and empathy. “They can insult me all they like, but not Dongmin – not anyone else.”

Rocky doesn’t say anything for a long while. In fact, they cross an entire block before he speaks. “You don’t get to choose your blood, Sanha. But you do get to choose your family.”

Sanha smiles across at him, then fixates his eyes on the footpath. “What if I choose you? What if I said you were my family?”

Rocky stops walking, and Sanha turns to face him, heart heavy. He thinks he’ll find guilt there, followed by a simple sentence of I’m sorry, but I don’t feel the same way, but instead, he’s met with a sheepish grin. Rocky’s eyes are full of something Sanha can’t quite place, but he’s seen that same expression there before.

Rocky’s pressing his lips against his forehead, lightly, full of affection, and all too soon he’s pulling away. “I’d say, what if you were mine?”

 

At Sanha’s apartment, they stumble into his bedroom, both of them collapsing onto his bed in a fit of giggles. Their hands are still holding on to each other’s, and they’re both a little clammy, but neither of them make a move to separate them. Sanha’s eyes have slipped closed, and he thinks he’s on the edge of sleep when he hears a shutter sound of a phone camera.

His eyes snap open to find Rocky leaning up over him, propped up on one elbow. He’s just taken a photo of him, and Sanha grumbles. Rocky snickers, taking another one now, and Sanha throws his arm to knock him off balance. He tumbles off his arm and onto the pillow beside Sanha’s head with a cackle. Their noses are brushing together now, they’re that close, but Sanha has come to realise that that was normal behaviour for them. This closeness that would be seen as something far different to a bystander, was entirely different for them. Sanha wished it would be something more, but there was still liquor in his veins, still a bitter taste on his tongue despite all the sweetness of the night, so he knew not to pursue anything – no matter how many positive signals Rocky had been throwing his way.

Sanha scrambles around in his pocket for his own phone, and plays photographer for a little bit himself – snapping photos Rocky in various positions with over-dramatic expression mocking models on billboards and in magazines. Sanha is laughing the entire time, harder than he had all night, and he’s sure all the photos will be blurry with how much his hand is shaking, but they’re precious all the same.

After a particularly dramatic ‘photoshoot’ out on Sanha’s balcony, the two of them stumble back inside Sanha’s bedroom, and back onto his bed. They’re still laughing, but it’s more just panting breaths now as their chests rise and fall with exertion. Sanha lets his eyes drift shut again, succumbing to that sleepy feeling from before. Beside him, the weight on the bed shifts, and he can sense Rocky leaning over him again.

“Sanha,” he slurs, “don’t fall asleeeeep!” His voice is whiny and way too cute, and even though his eyes stay closed, he can’t help but smile toothily up at him. “You need to change,” Rocky explains, and Sanha can feel him tug on the hem of his sweater. He’s right – of course, he’s right, he usually is – but Sanha just doesn’t have the energy anymore.

He grunts, rolls onto his side and pretends he didn’t hear him. Rocky tuts, then clicks his tongue. Sanha feels him slip his shoes off, the new expensive ones, and giggles into his palm as he hears Rocky place them oh-so delicately on the floor by the bed.

Sanha’s eyes snap open the tiniest bit as he watches Rocky struggle out of his own shoes, and Sanha just groans. He struggles with the zip of his pants, his eyes drifting closed again as he fumbles with the clasp. He hears Rocky snicker as his poor attempt, and suddenly his hands are being knocked out of the way. Sanha vaguely recollects Rocky doing this for him before, back when he had been drunk and Rocky most definitely had not been, but now it seems more intimate, because the two of them are now soberer than ever. Sanha could easily do it himself if he just sat up a little, actually paid attention to the task at hand, but Rocky wasn’t having a bar of it.

He had Sanha’s pants off in minutes, and Sanha didn’t have time to be embarrassed because Rocky was already tugging his sweater up and over his head. Sanha pushed Rocky’s fingers away from the buttons of his shirt, though, and worked at those himself. As he did this, Rocky kicked his legs free from his jeans, and Sanha started to have trouble breathing as he disappeared into the bathroom. Sanha felt nauseous, because Rocky’s legs were far more beautiful out of jeans than they were in them, and Sanha didn’t know that they were at the point in their friendship where sitting around in their underwear was acceptable.

Sanha did it all the time with Dongmin and Jinwoo – heck, had done it with Dongmin just earlier that day – but now, with Rocky, it was different. It was different because Sanha was not attracted to either of his friends, at least, not in the way he was attracted to Rocky, and things could go very wrong very quickly given this situation now.

When Rocky returns from the bathroom, his shirt has been discarded, too, and Sanha whines at the sight of his eight fucking abs and wants to curl up and die. He hates the fact that Rocky just throws his head back and laughs at his reaction, and Sanha’s clutching at his face in his hands when Rocky kneels by his face on the floor.

Rocky’s hands tug at Sanha’s wrists, heaving them away from his face. “What’s wrong?” He asks, voice amused.

Sanha scoffs, “you ass,” he slaps at him. “You know why!”

Rocky just laughs again, pulling one of his wrists up to his mouth and kissing the inside of it. Sanha’s free hand is busy spent sprawling over his chest, trying to cover himself, or achieve some kind of modesty, but Rocky snatches at that one, too. Sanha whines, tries to roll on his stomach. He presses another kiss to his wrist, the other one this time, and whispers, “you are so, so beautiful, my darling.”

Sanha just curls in on himself, yanking his wrists free from Rocky’s death grip, and shoving them between his thighs. He doesn’t try cover himself, because he knows Rocky will scold him, so he opts to close his eyes instead. He had no idea what was going on between the two of them, and as much as this nakedness bothered him – because Rocky was all muscles and sharp edges, Sanha a bit squishy around the middle, on his cheeks – it also felt overwhelming natural and comforting, like they had done it a hundred times before.

Sanha knows he doesn’t really have to ask, given Rocky’s state of undress, but he does so anyway. “Stay?” It’s a mumble that gets partially lost in his pillow.

“Of course,” he says back instantly, a hand brushing his hair back off his face. There’s a rustling from down on the floor, and Sanha’s brows furrow in confusion. Rocky lifts his hands back up to reveal a makeup wipe from the packet, and Sanha shoots upwards.

“N-no!”

Rocky cocks his head in confusion. “Why not?”

Sanha tries hiding his face. “I’ll look bad.”

“Impossible,” Rocky scoffs, but his voice is airy, light.

Sanha whimpers at every brush of the makeup wipe along his face, but each time it does, Rocky is whispering a barely audible beautiful against his skin. It takes longer than it normally would, because Rocky is taking his time, his movements slow and gentle. He uses a few wipes, where Sanha would normally only need to use one, but he doesn’t mind. He likes how long it’s taking, because it feels strangely intimate, allowing Rocky to see him like this – open and bare and naked.  

Sanha knows the moment that his face is completely free from makeup, because his pores start to tingle from the tea tree oil in the wipes, and his skin feels lighter. His eyes are watery, because the endless little beautiful’s that were etched into his skin from Rocky’s lips left him light headed and emotional. He closes his eyes around the tears, and feels the bed dip behind him where Rocky had climbed onto it again. Blindly, Sanha snakes his hand out behind him, sighing when their hands reconnect.

“Stay,” he mumbles again.

 “Always,” he gets back.

 

The first time Sanha wakes up, his head isn’t pounding as much as he thought it was going to be. He’s overheated, but he likes it, because Rocky’s chest is pressed hot and flush against his back, his strong arms around his waist and drawing him near in his sleep. Sanha smiles because for once, his too-large bed is being rightfully used, their scents mingling together on his bedsheets. It shouldn’t have shocked him, but it did. Rocky had stayed. Sanha falls back asleep smiling.

 

The second time he wakes up its to Rocky tugging his shoes on, sitting on the edge of his bed, back to Sanha. Sanha sits up groggily, head spinning with a faint hangover, but otherwise, he felt relatively sane.

From where he’s sitting up in bed now, he drags a hand down Rocky’s back, over his t-shirt. He jumps the tiniest bit, throwing a glance over his shoulder. “Good morning,” he whispers. “Sorry I woke you,” he adds, launching himself up into Sanha’s space, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek.

Sanha waves his apology off, “it’s fine…where are you going?”

Rocky pushes up off the bed, grabbing his leather jacket from the ottoman in the corner. He frowns, “I’ve got to work. It’s a hectic day.” He must see Sanha’s face fall, because he’s quick to add, “I’m sorry darling.”

He’s leaning over him then, one hand on the bed head, the other cupping Sanha’s cheek. “Stay,” Sanha whispers before Rocky’s kissing his cheek again.

Rocky pulls away, whining, trying to detangle Sanha’s fingers from his shirt collar. “I can’t.”

Sanha whines again, lips searching along the skin he can reach, which so happens to be Rocky’s throat. “Stay,” he tries again, but Rocky is clutching at his wrists, and yanking his head back so rapidly Sanha feared it would snap.

“Don’t pout,” he says, “it won’t work.”

Sanha lets his hands fall flat to the bed, defeated, and huffs. “When will I see you next?”

Rocky grins down at him, hopeful. “How about…I make you dinner tonight?”

Sanha freezes, looking up at him. “Really?”

He nods. “I really want to use that oven.”

“My fridge isn’t even plugged in,” Sanha explains.

Rocky shrugs, “that’s okay. I’ll bring everything after work. You just pick a movie, alright?’

Sanha nods, feeling a little delirious now, desperate to go to back to sleep, but very much wanting to convince Rocky to stay.

He knows it’ll never work, but he reaches his lips out again, and Rocky tilts his cheek into the kiss. “Sanha…I had a lot of fun last night.” His voice is half-breath, half-words, and it sounds sleepy and warm.

“Me too,” Sanha whispers, gently falling back against the bed. “Would you like to do it again sometime?”

Sanha is hopeful, and Rocky is always willing to give in to him. “I’d love to.”

Rocky leaves with a final kiss, and Sanha is asleep by the time he’s out the front door.

 

  

 

"am i defined by the way they look at me?

will i be tried?

will they take what i believe?"

- years & years, 'gold'

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"we're formless in the low light -

in the warmth of your flow i'm alright,

though i wish i could claw back some time;

i could breathe in the colours so bright."

- yoste, 'arc'

 

 

Sanha had been avoiding the articles all morning.

He dragged himself out of bed a few hours after Rocky left, only to find he had a huge number of emails that were no doubt requesting interviews and phone conferences regarding the art showing last night – but he refused to open any of them. There were texts, too, from Dongmin and Jinwoo with links attached to articles with laughing emoticons, so he knew that they must be relatively harmless. Even so, Sanha made no move to relieve his curious itch.

He hadn’t heard from Rocky since he left that morning either, which was a quiet relief all in itself. No news from Rocky meant that nothing was out of the ordinary – no news trucks or journalist swarms forcing statements from the mechanic.

Thinking about Rocky now, though, was enough to make his cheeks flush. This was normal, and in fact, Sanha embraced it – liked that Rocky could have this effect on him even when he wasn’t around, made everything feel more real, more substantial.

Though Sanha had been avoiding the articles, he hadn’t been avoiding his phone – more specifically, his camera roll.

He remembers taking silly photos of Rocky last night, but in his semi-drunken state he doesn’t recall glancing over them. Looking at them now as he locked the spider and crossed the parking garage towards the elevator, Sanha giggles to himself at the fond memories. They both look ridiculous with their clothes and hair awry, eyes blurry and glazed over with what can only be described as alcohol-induced mischief, and while most of the photos are of Rocky lonesome, there are few stray photos near the end of the two of them together.

They’re awful. Undeniably so. But they’re absolutely perfect, too. Dongmin and Jinwoo and him always took silly photos, but this felt different. It felt different because it was different; because when Sanha looked at photos of him and his friends, his heart didn’t beat erratically and his palms didn’t sweat and his breath didn’t get stuck in his throat and his tongue didn’t sting numb and heavy in his mouth. It was different because the admiration and love he felt for Dongmin and Jinwoo was entirely different to what he felt for Rocky, and while Sanha was by no means in love with Rocky, the affectionate swirl of emotions he had for him ran on a whole new wavelength to his friends.

The other thing, Sanha realised, was that whenever he drove, he was instantly reminded of Rocky – not that Sanha had ever forgotten about him, though. It was a kick in the teeth that Sanha found himself enjoying, because whenever he touched the leather steering wheel or heard the engine roar to life, he was filled with nostalgia. It made sense, given that they were brought together because of the car in the first place.

Smirking to himself, he pocketed the phone and stepped into the awaiting elevator.

Dongmin and Jinwoo’s offices are nearly on the topmost floor, and Sanha hates the prolonged elevator ride up. Like everyone, the awkwardness is enough to make his skin crawl. Today, more than ever, with the slight thumping behind his eyelids from last night’s adventures, Sanha wants it to be over and done with – but the twinkly music seems louder and the lights brighter, and not even the memory of Rocky could make it seem worthwhile.

The elevator stops at the ground level, presumably to allow workers to enter, and one of the five lawyers looks uncomfortably familiar. “Sanha?” Sanha’s attempt at slinking against the wall of the elevator hadn’t worked, because Jae – last night’s even host – still spotted him. 

“Jae,” he greets, feigning surprise. “How are you?”

Jae nods, “fine, fine. Clan meeting?”

Sanha nods back, hating small talk but preferring this to the heavy weight of uncomfortable silence. “Yeah, lunch with Dongmin and Jinwoo,” Sanha turns his body towards him more, resting his weight against the mirrored wall. “You just back from lunch?”

“Annoyingly,” he musters up a huge, over-dramatized sigh. “Did some reading though,” he adds, lifting up the magazine that had been under his arm. He doesn’t hold it up for long, given the small space is relatively crowded, but long enough for Sanha to sight of his own face on the cover. It’s one of the more popular gossip magazines, though it’s known to hold absolutely no credibility whatsoever. Its market is mindless readers who take nothing to heart and yet for some reason, it irks Sanha more than anything. And to see Jae, a well-educated divorce lawyer holding it up to him now just makes the whole thing a lot worse.

“I see,” Sanha says once he’s lowered the offending object back away from him. “Anything good?”

Jae smirks, shrugging. “Bits and pieces. But you of all people should know not to believe anything these people write.” It was a statement, but it sounded somewhat questioning to Sanha, or as though it were insinuating something much deeper and darker, less friendly than he was being at face value.

Sanha doesn’t respond, just eyes the sliver of glossy paper he can see peeking out from under a suit-clad arm. Jae follows this movement and grins. “Would you like to read it?”

Snapping his eyes up from the magazine and onto the man beside him, Sanha shakes his head. “N-no, I’m alright,” he says. “Thank you,” he adds as an afterthought, very much wanting to avoid putting a sour taste in Jae’s mouth. He knew the full extent of Jae’s fiery tongue, had heard stories from Dongmin, had experienced it himself when Jae wouldn’t really take Sanha’s no to his advances seriously.

Jae snorts, dragging the magazine back out from under his arm, and opening to the first few pages. Sanha cowers against the wall for support, his legs feeling surprisingly weak in his jeans. He knew what Jae was doing. It was the kind of man he was. Deep down, Sanha knew he was kind hearted and relatively easy going – he did care enough about others to sponsor several charities, many of which were often overlooked or which received less annual donations – but sometimes he didn’t know where to stop. His teasing was gentle and playful at first, but it could very easily cross into dangerous territories where it was more insulting than anything else.

He clears his throat obnoxiously loud, and although Sanha doesn’t recognise any of the other passengers in the lift, they are all focused on either him or Jae. “I’m not going to read it,” he clarifies, and whilst it should relieve some tension from his muscles, it doesn’t.

“I’ll summarise it, though. Give you the good parts.” Inwardly, Sanha can feel himself groan – it bounces around his abdomen and chest and shudders down his spine and tingles around his toes in hisboots; his hairs stand on end along his arms under his thick coat and on his legs under the tight black denim. Sanha doesn’t want a summary. Doesn’t want to know the good parts. Sanha knows from the tone in Jae’s voice that they aren’t good parts – they’re no doubt embarrassing and sickening and made up of lies. Sanha wants to curl away and sink into the floor, but he can’t, and he feels like he’s drowning yet at the same like his head is being tugged upwards and out of the water.

Sanha tries to melt away, shut it all out, because he doesn’t want to hear what Jae – or the magazine – has to say. Doesn’t care if they slander him anymore, just not Rocky. Please, Sanha thinks, anything but Rocky.

It works to some extent, but not entirely. He catches bits and pieces of what he’s saying, and it’s more or less the usual content: what and who he was wearing and where and how to find it; what his makeup was like and whether or not the eyeshadow was at all complimentary to the pink of his pants; the shoes; the hair; the old sweater. Sanha caught it but he didn’t care for it, because his focus was relatively lost to the swirls of the elevator carpet, to the fingerprints on the metal sliding doors. His head feels heavy – not because of what has been said about him, but because of what he knows is coming next. Jae would never have made such a comment or a big deal over a magazine had it just printed the same thing it always did. There had a be reason he wanted to share it with him and the occupants of the elevator. There had to be some content that was amusing to him, scandalous to others.

Sanha wasn’t entirely sure what he was expecting. He knew there had to be a comment made about Rocky, though they hadn’t spoken to him, nor had the journalists spoken to Dongmin. Because of this, Sanha knew that there was only so much they were able to write about him. What Sanha didn’t expect, though, was for them to have already found out his name.

“Sanha’s date for the evening, Rocky—” Sanha’s attention is recaptured by this very sentence, because whilst accusations are always made about who Sanha is seeing and who he isn’t, never once had they written about one that had any importance to him. 

Sanha cuts him off, “wait, what?”

Jae looks surprised by the interruption. Cocking his head to the side, he considers Sanha for a brief moment, before his knowing smirk returns to his lips. “What’s wrong?”

Sanha’s gaze transfers from Jae’s face to the open magazine in his hands. There, he can see a photo of him and Dongmin walking into the bar, and a mosaic of others on the opposite page, smaller and messier, but all of him and Rocky later than night when they left the bar hand-in-hand. Sanha can’t help but smile the tiniest bit at the photos and recollection of memories associated with them, because Sanha very clearly remembers thinking about the photo’s that would be taken as they left. Remembers thinking that he would feel somewhat regretful in the morning when the same photos were plastered everywhere.

It wasn’t so much regret that he felt now as it was shame, because not only had he given magazines fuel for weeks now, they had also gotten Rocky’s identity much quicker than he had ever thought. He knew they would get it somehow: they always would, they had insiders and outsiders and eyes all over the city. He just hadn’t expected it happen quite this fast, as usually, in the past, it takes them days, not mere hours. The fact that they were able to find it quickly enough for it to put front-cover news on the magazines is a concern in itself, but not as concerning as he realised Rocky’s identity was out there, yet he hadn’t heard from Rocky.

He goes to snatch at the magazine, but Jae tugs it further away and out of his reach. “Jae, c’mon,” he pleads, voice desperate, hands antsy.

Jae is unforgiving, though, and just grins wider. “What is it?”

Sanha shakes his head, “what have they said?”

Jae is chuckling a little and shaking his head right back to him. “About Rocky? Didn’t realise it was such a sensitive topic.”

Sanha doesn’t care for his attitude right now, his teasing tone, nor does he care that there are at least six sets of eyes fixated on him now. He doesn’t care, because his hands are shaking at his sides, and his eyes are a little bleary as they scan the magazines pages from a distance for answers he knows he won’t find.

The elevator is nearing Dongmin’s and Jinwoo’s floor though, and the tension in his arms started to soften just knowing he’ll be away from Jae sooner rather than later. But not soon enough, apparently, because Jae is talking – reading – again from the magazine.

Sanha, it seems, has taking a particular shining to a downtowner, the elusive ‘Rocky’. Our sources say that his reputation precedes him in the no-go zone of Seoul’s gang-ridden streets, and that his positioning in the crime hierarchy is profound. According to our anonymous source, ‘Rocky’ is the man’s chosen pseudonym for his drug dealings.” He stops reading, closing the magazine, and turns to the man beside him.

“Really, Sanha? You know, I didn’t take you to be a recreational drug user.” Jae shrugs, but it’s fake and laced with sarcasm. “Guess you can’t really trust these journalists these day, can you?”

Sanha wants to shake his head, wants to scream at him, wants to snatch the magazine from under his arm and tear it to shreds. He doesn’t care that they think he’s a drug user; doesn’t care that they think his eyeshadow looked bad; doesn’t care that they didn’t like his shoes. He doesn’t care about any of that – he only cares that they’ve slandered Rocky before they even got the chance to know him. They slandered him, and Rocky probably knows, and Sanha hadn’t said anything to him yet.

The elevator comes to a standstill and the doors hiss open a second later. The crowd rushes out, pulling Sanha along with them in their hurry. They go their separate ways, leaving just Sanha and Jae by the entranceway.

Jae still has that cocky smirk on his face, the one he thinks makes him look attractive or more intelligent than the other he’s speaking to. Sanha doesn’t want to fall victim to it, but it’s a challenge when he’s already feeling so low. His hangover has been long forgotten about, his head still pounding but from a different type of headache now – his anxiety was coursing through his veins, the fear of where Rocky was and what he was thinking and what he was doing all he could focus on.

“If I assume that what these magazines are writing is bogus, as you socialites like to say—” the comment is bitter and weighty and in any other circumstance Sanha would feel repulsed but right he can’t even find it offensive. “—then is it safe for me to assume you’re keeping close company with a downtowner for a different reason altogether then?”

Sanha didn’t like where he felt this was going. Didn’t like his tone. Didn’t like the way his smug smirk just only grew when he saw the expression on his own face. “There must be special about him. Yeah,” he shrugs. “He’s got a pretty face. Very pretty, if I do say so myself,” Sanha feels ready to keel over, “but there are plenty of pretty people with money so, it must be something else.”

He steps a little closer to Sanha now, and Sanha wants to step back, put a greater distance between them, but he can’t seem to find his legs.

“So, what is it then? If he’s not your dealer then maybe…maybe he really is your boyfriend, Yoon Sanha.”

Sanha’s felt dizzy, and with the way his bottom lip had started to wobble, he’s not sure how much longer he can starve off his tears, especially not when his emotions are heightened by the frustration of a hangover and the nerves of tonight’s dinner with Rocky.

Jae huffs out a heavy sigh, “but no, you don’t date, do you Sanha? You’re too indecisive to actually be committed. He your lover then? Who would’ve thought a pretty rich boy like you would go for a poor boy just because he was a good—”

“Jae!”

The man’s words stung.

They were a sharp-edged knife which had, at first, sliced – but by the end, had started to hack. Sanha wanted to throw up, wanted to curl into ball, wanted to slink back to bed and pretend this day hadn’t even happened. The only saviour was another lawyer calling for Jae down the hall, telling him that his meeting was about to start and that he was needed.

Before he could say anything more, Jae was shoving the magazine into Sanha’s hands, and wordlessly walking away with the same smirk etched into the curve of his lips.

The man’s words stung because they slandered Rocky. Rocky, who was an innocent bystander in this entire thing. Rocky, whose reputation he cared for more than his own. Rocky, who Sanha adored more than anything else. Rocky.

Sanha’s bottom lip had stopped wobbling, but the shakes had travelled down and into his hands. He struggled to remove his phone from his pocket, struggled to unlock it, struggled to find some sense of cohesion as he fumbled with the device. He went straight to his contact list and didn’t hesitate to dial Rocky’s number. As it rang out, he gnawed on his thumb nail, mind uncaring for the germs that were there, uncaring about anything else, really, aside from hearing Rocky’s voice.

When it went to voice mail, Sanha’s hands shook faster.

He tried again, and again; called a total of five times before he was scurrying down the hall and towards Jinwoo’s office where he knew his two friends would be. His friends, his voice of reason, no doubt, would reassure him somehow – he knows it, they always do, and now, more than ever, he needed to be told that everything was going to be alright.

 

Dongmin and Jinwoo knew the instant Sanha walked in that something was wrong. When unguarded, Sanha knew that his face became more expressive; the ability to control his emotions failing completely. There were often certain things that Sanha felt which could not be contained: absolute sheer glee, the sweetness of relief, and, in this instance, pure anger. Or not anger, per se, but anger and anxiety and concern all rolled into one. Sanha couldn’t see his own reflection, but he knew if he could, it would be one conveying nothing short of terror.

Sanha had broken protocol upon entering the office. Even if he was being expected, he was supposed to knock– there could be, at any point, a client present and the professionalism of the firm could be lost very, very quickly should any protocol be breached. But right now, with his heart hammering in his ears, and his calls and texts to Rocky going unanswered, Sanha doesn’t care about the protocol Jinwoo had set in place.

They jumped in surprise as he swung the door open, nearly right off its hinges, and it slammed back against the wall and rattling the glass inset. Jinwoo’s eyes were wide with alarm, and Dongmin was already across the room towards him. His arms outstretched when he got in front of him, and Sanha felt them wrap around his shoulders in a tight, supportive grip, but couldn’t comprehend the action.

His vision was as blurry as his mind felt, and soon, Jinwoo was coming around to his other side and guiding him towards the couch. Somewhere during the vague transition from standing to sitting, Sanha felt the magazine being pulled from between his fingers. He wants to cry out, to speak, to do anything, but his hand is tightening its grip on his phone so much that his knuckles turn white. His head is spinning and his mouth is dry, and suddenly there’s a body kneeling in front of him, eyes big and brown and searching. Jinwoo’s hands stretch up to his cheeks, cradling his face in his warm hands, pinching just the tiniest bit – not to hurt him or to alarm, but to try drag him back down to earth, back to reality.

It must work, Sanha thinks, because the clock above the desk doesn’t look so blurry, and he can make out his own dishevelled reflection in Jinwoo’s glasses. His eyes are red and wide and bulging out of his skull, and his mouth is moving in time to the words racing through his head, though he can’t hear or make out what he’s actually saying.

He doesn’t know what this is – he’s never felt quite so disorientated before. He assumes it partly shock, though predominantly the anxiety taking control of his body, relinquishing him of his basic functioning and reasoning skills. He feels nauseated, but not in a familiar kind of way – this time, he actually feels like it’s deeper down, like if his bones were able to project emotion, they would be, and they’d spewing them out left, right and centre.

It takes a little while longer for the rest of Sanha’s body to follow his head back down to earth, to settle his feet back comfortably on the ground. He feels dizzy and dehydrated, but Jinwoo’s hands are holding firm on his keens, anchoring him. In that same moment of realisation, Sanha becomes aware of the words slipping between his teeth.

They found him, they found him, they found him.” He’s saying them over and over, like a mantra inside his head, stinging like venom on his tongue.

Sanha can feel his hands starting to shake again as he becomes more aware of the situation, and he watches Jinwoo spring to his feet, hands returning to his shoulders with a gentle, guiding touch. He pushes him softly backward, so his back is flush with the brown leather. His head falls back against the headrest, the cool touch of the chair easing some of the fire running along the curve of his body. 

Jinwoo then moves to put a hand over his eyes, shrouding him in muted darkness, slivers of light cascading between his fingers. It’s starting to hurt his head, focusing on something so detailed so closely, so he lets his eyes flutter shut against the deepening roar in his head. He tries to focus on his breathing instead, because deep know he knows he just had a panic attack – albeit, a mild one, but still intense enough to leave him breathless and disoriented and overwhelmingly dizzy. He inhales long and deep; holds it for as long as he can before letting it all go, willing the discomforting thoughts and feelings to vacate his body along with it.

He repeats this process several times, surrendering to the heavy weight clawing at his eyes, hitching them closed. Surrenders himself to the fact that sleep would come whether he wanted it to or not. His body sinks into relaxation, his muscles unclenching and tendons releasing their tension; every part of him unfolds. Every part of him, except his right hand, which still clutches at his phone.

He lets himself dive and sink and drown in it, aware that Dongmin and Jinwoo were talking above him, anxiously across at each other as one of them began tearing through the magazine furiously, another hammering away on the keyboard. Sanha wanted to tell them to quieten down, to let him sleep, but his tongue wasn’t cooperating, wasn’t obeying him.

He groans – or at least he thinks he does, he isn’t sure what’s real and what not anymore – and lets that final string of resistance snap.

 

It wasn’t quite sleep – more just a relaxation of the mind, Sanha notes, in the middle of his subconsciousness. He’s coaxed out of it, consciousness luring him out in a matter of seconds. His eyes open the same way they closed – fluttering, defiant, protesting a little – and although they don’t feel anywhere near as heavy, they’re still noticeably weighty and holding him down. His head still feels below water, but it’s easier to see now, easier to breathe, too, like there’s more oxygen flowing to his brain.

Lethargic and exhausted, he drags himself up the couch, straightening his back out enough to make it crack just the slightest. He winces despite being absent pain, and both Dongmin and Jinwoo snap their heads up towards him from where they had resumed their positions at the desk.

There’s something loud and irritating off to the side, and with his eyes blurring out as they try to retain focus on his friends, his hands scrabble out around him, feeling the leather. His right-hand latches onto a cold rectangle, releasing gentle vibrations against his palm. Suddenly, the noise makes a little more sense, and he drags his head above water.

He isn’t gasping out, per se, as if he couldn’t breathe – but now he feels like he has the purpose back, because his phone was ringing, and the caller ID was all too familiar.

Rocky!” He doesn’t greet him, unable to stop the enthusiasm and relief oozing from his voice. He sits up straighter again, back removing itself from its relatively slouched position.

The line is crackly as usual, and Sanha can hear drill bits and welding equipment in the background. “Afternoon Darling,” Rocky greets, and Sanha imagines him leaning against his workbench, imagines him with grease-covered hands and sweaty shoulders, skin glowing in the afternoon haze. On instinct, Sanha melts back into the leather, eyes drifting shut and letting his head sink back into the couch.

There’s a brief pause where Sanha can only hear Rocky’s breathing, and he distantly thinks it sounds a little breathless, like his own. “Are you busy?”

Sanha snorts, though it sounds awkward in the atmosphere shared between them. “Never for you.” It was a line, Sanha thinks, that they said to each other often on the phone. There’s more noise in the background now, louder, sounding like several more people in the workshop than usual. He hums down the line, “are you busy?”

There’s a hesitancy in Rocky’s silence that Sanha can detect even from on the other side of the city. Sanha sits up when hears MJ swearing in the background, because instead of his usual amused tone, its laced with actual meaning now. “Rocky?”

Sanha’s tone must sound as alarming as it did in his head, because Dongmin’s eyes snap back over to him, and Jinwoo’s fingers stop typing on the keyboard. Sanha is sitting completely upright now, because Rocky’s breathing is heavier than it was before, audible overtop of the yelling that was arising from down the line.

“Rocky, talk to me – what’s going on?”

Deep down, Sanha knew what was going on. Of course, he did. He had subconsciously known that the magazines would print about him, just hadn’t known they’d get his identity so quickly. His panic attack from earlier was elicited because of this fact, and knowing that the possibility of Rocky being in some kind of danger or experiencing overwhelming huge invasions of privacy had been enough to send him into a downward spiral of fear.

“Rocky?”

Sanha begins to stand now, walking anxiously towards the window with his bottom lip between his teeth, worrying it over and over. Sanha thinks he might even pierce the skin there, but pays no mind. Rocky’s breathing hitches down the line, and Sanha’s heart is hammering in his ears again.

“Nothing’s wrong,” the mechanic explains, but Sanha can hear the lie. “It’s just…” He trails off in time for Sanha to hear MJ swearing again, and another voice, too, deeper – Moon Bin, he thinks. “There’s just some people here, is all.”

He tries to make it sound nonchalant, like it isn’t a big deal – but Sanha hear the hesitancy in this voice, the way he tries to keep it low, as if to stop those people from hearing it.

“People?” Sanha questions, pressing.

He hears him gulp. “Yeah,” he says. “People from the magazines.”

Shit,” Sanha says, though he isn’t surprised by the confession. Dongmin and Jinwoo’s attention is completely fixed on him now, though he hasn’t the energy to explain. He’s fumbling around with the couch again, grabbing his coat and his bag, digging out his keys from the depth of his pocket and twisting them hastily into his grip.

“I’m on my way,” Sanha pants, and Rocky must go to protest, because there’s a little ‘but’ that Sanha speaks overtop of. “Go out back. Don’t let any of them in, okay? I’ll be there in ten.”

Rocky splutters, “it’s nearly a thirty-minute drive from the city this time of day!”

He’s right, of course, the lunch and after school rush combining together to create city-wide mayhem. Sanha has his ways though.

“I said I’ll be there in ten,” he says, sounding hard in his head, but the words delicate and soft on his tongue. “And I will be.”

 

He makes it in eleven.

He doesn’t have time to feel bad about his semi-lie, because when he pulls into the driveway of the garage, he nearly knocks down a large group of journalists. He slams his breaks, jolting against the wheel a little, but in the next instant he’s out of his car, feet slamming heavily against the bitumen. Behind him, he hears his door fall shut angrily, but he can’t recall closing it – can’t recall pushing through the yelling crowds with their snatching and their tugging; can feel them latch onto his coat but he shoves right on through.

Their yelling is increasing in volume now that he’s here, and although he recognises many of the faces from writers he sees frequently at events, there are many here that he’s never seen before. It isn’t the large crowd he’s ever seen, but it’s getting close – there has to be at least eighteen different sources here, swarming around the roller doors to the garage. Inside, the workers are huddled by one of the cars – someone had closed two of the three doors, leaving one half open. When Sanha ducks under and enters, MJ is quick to roll it down the rest of the way. They had been expecting him.

Bin is standing back in front of the rest of the workers. None of them look petrified – not in the way Sanha had first looked when encountered with a swarm – but they don’t look settled, either. Sanha can’t see Rocky in amongst them, and he smiles just the tiniest bit at the fact Rocky had listened to him. Bin tilts his head in the direction of the staff room, and Sanha turns to move, but stops.

He turns back to them, to MJ latching up the door. He goes to speak, but MJ beats him to it. “What happened?”

Sanha sighs, deep and long and doesn’t stop until his chest is aching for air. When he inhales again, it sounds strangled. “They wrote about him. Normally,” he stops, eyes wavering, heart hammering as he hears the journalists’ yelling die down outside. “Normally it takes days for them to find out people’s identities, but they had an anonymous source.”

Bin steps forward, “anonymous? Like, a spy?” In any other situation, Sanha would have chuckled at the depth of Bin’s speculation; but it was actually a realistic assumption.

Sanha, shaking his head, eyes the doorway leading out to the staff room where Rocky awaits him. “Not really. It could have been anyone who just happened to recognise him. I mean,” he shrugs. “If he’s as popular in the industry as everyone says he is, it’s not that big of a leap to think one of the journalists has encountered him before.”

Bin mods, eyes falling to the ground, losing their fire. MJ nudges him with his shoulder. “He’s okay. Just a little…surprised, I guess. He was worried about you.”

Sanha scoffs, pointing to himself with a limp wrist. “He was worried about me?”

Snorting, MJ shrugs. “He’s always worried about you.” It shouldn’t, but Sanha’s heart flutters at that, and he can feel a shiver of giddiness tingle down his arms and into his fingertips.

Bin speaks up, “he missed eight calls from you, and like, twenty texts. He thought something had happened.” He’s shaking his head now, recalling the memory. Sanha isn’t sure Rocky would like them sharing this, but right now, Sanha can’t bring himself to stop them. “He looked close to tears when he saw.”

MJ cackles back at him, “the one time he has his phone on silent.” The group of mechanics laugh amongst each other, buzzing with conversation and chatter about Rocky when the voices pick up outside. Then, MJ is nudging him again, and Sanha is thankful for the friendly gesture, dragging him back down and out of his headspace.

“Go on, take him away. He doesn’t need to be back here today.” He tugs his head away, “he’s cooking for you tonight, isn’t he?” Sanha nods, eyes bleary, thinking about how Rocky had told his friends about their plans, how Rocky talked about him, thinking about Rocky.

He takes his leave, nods to the workers and mutters a weak, little sorry, to which he earns several dismissive waves in return for. He clutches his phone in his pocket to give himself something to focus on as his heart keeping hammering away in his ears. He’s getting closer now, the world ringing heavy and loud and yet kind of like its echoing in his ears.

When he pushes through to the staff room, all his senses clear – Rocky’s standing with his back to him, hands tight around his body. Sanha thinks he’s been passing, and the way he’s tapping his foot impatiently, he’s questioning Sanha’s ability to actually arrive in the time given. At first, Sanha doesn’t make his presence known. Instead, he just watches the boy, takes in the sight of him, basking in the satisfaction of him being unharmed and safe. Sanha has a small smile on his face as Rocky shifts in his spot, turning his head. He jumps a little at seeing Sanha there, and in the next instant, his cheeks have a pretty shade of pink adorning them. All at once, Sanha is letting out a breath he didn’t know he was holding in, and Rocky’s startled expression transforms into one of relief; and face Sanha has grown to adore is coming towards him.

Sanha makes contact first, he thinks; or perhaps it’s the other way around, or both at the same time. Whatever way, it didn’t matter – because finally, finally, Rocky was here, in his hold, his arms, where Sanha knew he was safe and out of harm’s way. Rocky melts into him in the same way Sanha melts into him, too – languidly, because it’s as though time itself as stopped, but it’s all a blur to him. Time moves slowly, but it passes quickly; because in the next instant, MJ is bursting through the door with Bin trailing behind him.

They’re both grinning at the sight before them. Sanha’s back is to them, so they can only see where Rocky’s arms are clutching around his waist; can see where the top of his head is resting in the junction of Sanha’s neck, lips pressing idly to the exposed skin underneath the collar of his coat; can see the way Sanha had pressed his cheek into Rocky’s hair, his hands trailing idly up and down their co-workers back. Sanha blushed a deep crimson, one he was sure matched Rocky’s now had his face not been tucked away and hidden.

MJ speaks, and his voice is laced with humour, like a laugh he’s forcing downwards is beginning to peek through. “The crowds are getting bigger; you should try get away now before they block your car in.”

Sanha is hit with a new flare – a new roaring fire along his body – when Rocky sighs, breath fanning over his neck. Before he pulls away, Sanha feels him surge a little forward, back into his original position, and press a kiss against his jugular. Sanha thinks he feels teeth, too, but surely, he’s just imagining it, because then Rocky’s face is gone from his, and his hands have slipped from where they were wound around Sanha’s waist.

MJ slips out of the room, dragging Bin along with him, and they’re reacquainted with silence. Their eyes meet again in the small distance between them, and Sanha sighs. He has so much to say to him, so much he wants to do; but he has to wait till later, when they’re far away from here, in the safety of his apartment. “You ready?”

Rocky nods once, curtly. “If you are.”

Sanha smiles, ears pink, and lets his hand slip into Rocky’s. Giving it a tight squeeze, he follows MJ and Bin out of the room. They grab Rocky’s things from the workbench, Rocky muttering something about leaving his car here and getting it later. Sanha doesn’t respond, just squeezes his hand again. Rocky squeezes it back too, in thanks, or in agreement, or in something, and before they reopen the roller door, Rocky is suddenly in his space again.

It’s quick, and it makes a few of the mechanics in the garage gag – makes MJ splutter out a laugh and whack Bin with a haphazard throw of his hand – but Rocky is dragging his collar down and kissing the same spot his teeth had nipped at earlier, the curve of his neck, where it aligns with his shoulder. Sanha yelps at the suddenness, but doesn’t go to move Rocky, because the elder just laughs against his skin, and the sound of it is too beautiful to want to make it end.

In the next moment, he’s gone again, his fingers still laced with his own. Sanha shakes his head, clearing away the fog and shooing the butterflies back down into his tummy, before nodding to MJ by the roller door. He winds it up, but only part way, enough for Rocky and Sanha to duck under it comfortably. With the door up, the yelling and the pressing of questions is louder. It rings in Sanha’s ears, but doesn’t affect him like it used to. The arm around Rocky’s waist tightens, though, because this was far different to the press he had experienced the night before.

At the art showing it had been tame, gentle, four or five different magazines asking for questions politely. Now, though, news had gotten out about Rocky, and every gossip and tabloid magazine, newspaper and website wanted statements. Right now, they shove phones and recorders and microphones into both of their faces, but the hands that had been snatching at him before we secured by their sides. Sanha thinks it’s because of the way Rocky somewhat cowers defencelessly at his side, or perhaps it’s due to the curt and sour expression on Sanha’s face, that they refrain themselves. They’re at his car now, and Sanha is thankful that they don’t dare go close enough near it to touch; they’re all well aware of how much it costs by now, given how many articles he had seen about it lately. He had even, at one stage, been requested by a car magazine for a photoshoot with it.

Sanha thinks they’re about to get out find and unscathed, but then out the corner of his eyes, he sees her. She’s vaguely familiar, but he can’t place where he’s seen her before and for what platform – doesn’t care, really, not right now – and the expression adorning her face is as sour as he assumes his own is, and her nails long and outstretched. That same hand, Sanha realises, he grabbing out for Rocky, and Sanha feels him flinch against his side.

Sanha, hissing in the direction of the woman, straightens his back out and curls his hand tighter around Rocky’s waist and in his hand. He spits his words – laced with venom –at not only her, back at everyone else, too.

“If you even think about laying a hand on him I will personally introduce you to the best lawyers South Korea has to offer.”

Rocky whimpers a little at his side, and the woman – and her hand – draws back.

He rounds the car with Rocky, opens the passenger side far too roughly, but then gently guides Rocky inside. He doesn’t want to startle the man more than he most likely already has, and as he makes the short walk around to the drives seat, he eyes as many journalists as he can, etching their faces into his recognition. Never again would he be so polite to them.

They had taken hundreds of photos, and this would be everywhere tonight, tomorrow, and no doubt the next week, too. Sanha doesn’t care, just hopes Rocky doesn’t care, too, but knows it’s a high chance he will. He opens the door and slams it shut behind him, avoiding letting too much noise in. Sanha was thankful he had the sunroof up, as it offered some shelter from the volume outside; but it was still unsightly and Sanha’s head hammered behind his eyes.

Sanha reverses out fast enough for the tires to squeal, and he knows he’ll cop it later from Rocky, but for now, he just wants to get them both away from here. He drives quickly, but retains the safety – had he been alone in the car, he wouldn’t have taken so much care, but Rocky was with him, and his safety came first now. Sanha doesn’t know when this revelation happened: when Rocky’s life came more meaningful and precious and of value to him than his own. It’s nice, he guesses, to be that selfless for someone. But at the same time, it’s terrifying – because Sanha can’t fathom how his own life means nothing now, when the boy beside him means more than anything else. Sanha hates the fact that he probably knows the answers; knows that it’s because the boy is his life now, as pathetic and as surreal as those words sound as he utters them to himself inwardly now.

He doesn’t know where he’s going, doesn’t know these streets well, but just turns and turns and drives until suddenly there’s a warm hand pressed against his cheek. The thumb attached to it drags down his cheek, hovering over his bottom lip, before adding some pressure there. Sanha whimpers, though he’s not sure why, and he can feel himself starting to slow his car down.

“Pull over,” Rocky mumbles beside him, dragging his thumb away, but letting hand stay resting against his face. Sanha shakes his head, tightening his hand on the gearstick. He doesn’t know where he is; doesn’t know how to anywhere vaguely familiar. He’ll either have to have Rocky give him directions or search out for his phone. Right now, though, his vision is too murky with tears to consider either of those things; his head too fuzzy with the impending onslaught of tears.

“Sanha,” Rocky says, voice a little louder now, more commanding. “Pull over.”

This time, Sanha does. Because Rocky asked him to and because his vision was too risky to keep going. The moment the engine cuts off, Rocky has his belt off, unhitching Sanha’s too, and has his arms around his hips and lifting. Sanha yelps, but then in the very next moment Rocky has him in his lap, legs around his own, making him slouch so Sanha had no choice but to rest his head against Rocky’s chest. Not that he minded; in fact, he liked hearing his heart beat, liked how it seemed to ground him, make him feel whole. Rocky’s hand mimicked his motions from earlier, drawing cursive patterns along his back, through the material of his coat.

Sanha allows himself to cry. They’re not big, ugly tears – they’re silent and move down his face slowly. It’s pent up exhaustion and frustration and guilt all rolled into one, starting from his bad morning with Jae, to the fear of Rocky being hurt, to the experience with the crowds just now. It was all hitting him, and given Sanha’s already anxious state from his panic attack earlier, he isn’t at all surprised by his lack of tears now. Rocky was humming against him, feeling his nose rub against his hair, leans down and kisses the side of his forehead, along his temple. Time passes slowly, but beautifully, even like this. 

When Sanha feels the tears dry old and crackly on his face, he whispers, “I’m sorry.”

Rocky’s arms around him tighten, and he receives another kiss. “Darling” he sighs. “Whatever for?”

Sanha shrugs, but the movement seems jolted, so he mumbles the word again unintelligibly. “Just…for all of that.”

Rocky doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t loosen his hold or to go pull away either, so Sanha takes that as a win. “I understand Rocky if you want to…stop all of this.”

This, though, made his arms drop, then tighten all over again; a vicious cycle met with a sharp intake of breath. “What?” He doesn’t quite spit it, but he may as well have given the utter disgust he hears there. “Sanha! N-no!”

Rocky’s hands slip from his back up to his face against Rocky’s chest, and pulls it backward so their eyes can meet. Rocky’s own are filled with their own tears now, and Sanha’s bottle lip trembles at the sight of it. He had never seen Rocky cry, and didn’t want to see it now, when they were both vulnerable and rather shaken up. Sanha shakes his head, stops Rocky speaking next. “All of what just happened Rocky is because of me. Don’t deny that. This is my fault.”

Rocky’s copying his movement, shaking his head, lips dragging back and forth along his forehead. Sanha hates the way he melts into the sensation, cooing just the tiniest bit as the pressure increases against his frown lines there. “This will never be your fault.”

“It is though!” Sanha cries. “I asked you to the showing!”

“And I said yes!”

Sanha groans, “but you weren’t to know this would happen!”

“But I do Sanha!” Rocky fires back, but their exchange of words is far from being an argument. Sanha’s stomach gurgles because it’s all anticipation, all him waiting for Rocky to push him away and never speak to him again. Rocky doesn’t though; or at least, hasn’t yet.

“I do know,” Rocky says, voice lower this time. “The boys tease me about it all the time. Me, a greasy mechanic, hanging out with you, a fashion God,” Sanha can’t stop the shy giggle, the rise of pink on his cheeks. Rocky squeezes his cheeks, “my Darling Yoon Sanha, this would never be your fault. And I will never, ever leave you because of something like this. I know that all this is part of it…but I don’t care.”

Sanha snorts, albeit humourlessly. “You were just terrified Rocky! That situation terrified you!”

Rocky shakes his head, hands dropping from his face and back to his hips. “No, not like that. I was terrified for you. Did you not hear what they were saying?”

This time, Sanha shakes his head. “I’ve learned to tune it out.”

“Well,” Rocky says, one hand trailing up under his coat to rest on his lower back. Sanha flushes when the hand eases under his shirt, the skin-to-skin contact jolting him with electricity. Underneath his coat, the hairs on his arms stand to attention, and he feels overheated. “Well,” he says again, clearing his throat. Sanha wonders briefly if the skin contact is making him dizzy, too. “What they said wasn’t true, anyway. Just hearing it…it made me scared for you. That maybe you’d believe them.”

Sanha sniffles, “you’d never let me believe them anyway.” Rocky chuckles, but nods seriously. Sanha coughs once, straightens up on Rocky’s lap. “Don’t think all this gets you out of making me dinner tonight.”

Rocky’s hand moves out from under his shirt, and Sanha frowns at the loss of contact. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Someone’s got to feed you,” he adds as an afterthought, getting a slap from Sanha. “What! You’re so little!”

Sanha crawls back over to the driver’s seat, “you’re shorter than me!”

Rocky, boldly, slaps his backside, and Sanha squawks. “Oh, shush up, Yoon Sanha. Now drive. Take a left.”

 

Rocky gives him directions to a grocery store. It’s a small, privately-owned place right on the cusp of being just this side of the city line. Sanha can’t tell if they’re in Rocky’s territory now, or in his own, but he finds that he likes the welcoming atmosphere it gives off as they enter through the sliding doors.

He must come here often, Sanha realises, because he has a trolley within seconds and is heading off in search of ingredients for tonight’s meal – Sundubu Jjigae,” Rocky had said in the car. Sanha’s mouth was foaming a little at the thought of it; it was rare that Sanha ever ate home-cooked meals, and somehow knowing it was going to be made at Rocky’s hand made it that much better.

Admittedly, Sanha hated how domestic this felt. Rocky pushing the trolley along slowly, reading off a mental bullet list of the things he needed; Sanha standing at his side, moving along at his slower pace. He can’t help it – Rocky is far too enticing with his navy overalls tired around his waist, the grey singlet underneath well-loved and visibly overworn – and he reaches out and lets one arm circle around Rocky’s back, resting on his hip. Sanha smiles shyly to himself when Rocky doesn’t even react, just continues to scan the shelves of different mushrooms, grabbing shitake, shimeji, and enoki, before continuing on his quest.

Sanha knows that there would be no press here, normally wouldn’t mind if there was, but tonight of all nights it the last thing he wants. He wants silence and peace, and wants to be able to spend the rest of the night in solitude with Rocky. He knows once he gets to his apartment they’ll be fine; they just had to make it through this last tiny step. Sanha keeps his hand around Rocky’s waist for the entirety of their shop. To others, he guesses its cute, but Sanha didn’t care much for that – all he was thinking about was how toned his abdomen felt as he brushed his fingertips across it; how much heat he radiated. Sanha felt that familiar fire burning along him; could feel how it ran deeper now, too, bone-deep, even.

He hates the domesticity of it all, but that doesn’t stop him turning his head into Rocky’s hair, inhaling the scent that was becoming more familiar to him than his own, and humming a nameless tune into his skin. Rocky was chuckling about something as he reached over to the shelves, and Sanha could feel it grumble in his chest, the vibrations rolling up and into Sanha. At the sound of his giggle, Sanha’s smile stretched wider; admiring for not the first time how Rocky’s happiness made way for his own to shine on through. He was forever thankful for him. Thankful because despite what had just happened – the articles, the photos, the swarm at his workplace – Rocky was still here, leaning into the comforting touch Sanha sought to provide him with. His thumb was still rubbing small patterns against his side, as if on instinct now, and he shifted a little to allow an even smaller distance to separate them, and Rocky was still here.

Rocky brought them to another standstill, and then another, and another, until Sanha lost count. He wasn’t paying much attention, feeling more tired than anything else. Holding Rocky the way he was, being with him like this, was languid and warm and relaxing, more so than anything else he’s ever experienced, and would very much like Rocky’s arms wrapped around him in bed, falling asleep to the sound of each other’s steady breathing. It makes Sanha feel giddy thinking about it; makes him feel things he’s never before felt.

He drags his head away enough to notice that Rocky’s contemplating two different brands of chili flakes. Sanha can’t understand how there would be any difficulty choosing one, as they both look identical, but then again Sanha’s knowledge of food is very limited, so he keeps his mouth shut. He glances into the trolley, and for how long they’ve spent here – just over an hour now, Sanha notes – he had expected it to be fuller. Sanha smirks when he sees a stack of magazines in amongst the ingredients.

“Rocky?” The man hums from where he’s weighing his two options of chilli, but doesn’t lift his head. “Since when do you read magazines?”

Rocky lifts his head just enough to glance at him, then follows Sanha’s eyes down to the stack in the trolley. Rocky must have put them there when Sanha had been preoccupied with his face buried in his hair. There had to be at least seven of them; all of these the trashy kind – tabloid and gossipy and released every week.

Rocky shrugs, nonchalant. ‘Since my face is on the cover of them,” he says, turning back to the spices. Sanha snorts as Rocky places one of the jars in the trolley, and Rocky reaches out to slap him playfully, but Sanha snatches at his hand instead.

He claps it tightly, not missing the rush of red onto Rocky’s cheek when he lifts to press a gentle kiss to his knuckles. It’s cute and romantic, Sanha thinks, and he doesn’t understand why he’s doing it to Rocky – doing any of the shit they do anymore, really – considering they’re just friends. That word friends had been starting to bother Sanha more and more, becoming less realistic, and running into something a lot more complicated. This wasn’t friendship. Or at least, not on its lonesome. There was more to whatever this was between them; Sanha was just too terrified to try figure out what.

“You know what they write is rubbish, right?” As he speaks, his lips brush against Rocky’s knuckles, and at the loudness of his own head at the softness of it, he nearly misses the shorter man’s sharp intake of breath.

Rocky shivers, voice a little huskier, deeper. “I know.”

Sanha nods, “good.” He presses one last kiss against his knuckles before letting their hands drop, swinging by their sides. “Now, are you nearly done? I’m getting hungry.”

Rocky snorts, but leads them towards the check out.

 

From where he’s sitting atop the kitchen bench, Sanha can watch Rocky with ease. He works methodically, shifting from one side of the bench to the other, depending on what equipment he was needing. When he moves over to the stove top Sanha’s skin crawls because the heat makes his hair fluffy and turns his skin shiny.

Like a child, his legs kick out in front of him, bouncing off the cupboard doors below. At first, Rocky had scolded him, told him off for the possibility of leaving marks. Sanha didn’t listen though, because he was far too distracted by the man in the room and the smells he was producing. Spread out on the bench, the ingredients looked enticing. Reds and greens and yellows mixed with beiges and browns. Sanha felt warm and the sleepiness he had felt earlier at the store was well and truly gone, having been rapidly replaced with excitement and anticipation.

To Sanha’s side, the stack of magazines sat unopened and unread. Rocky had wanted him to recall the best bits to him, the silliest highlights he could find, but Sanha hadn’t bothered yet. Rocky looked somewhat flustered as he worked, and Sanha thinks he might be a bit of a perfectionist. He had offered to help, but Rocky gave him this deadpanned look that seemed far too well trained to have been the first time he’s used it. Sanha giggles, holding his hands up in defence, before shuffling his bum back further on the bench to avoid slipping off.

Sanha continues to watch him work. Watches him scurry around the kitchen as if he had always been there, opening cupboards and drawers, knowing not to bother asking Sanha where anything is kept, because Dongmin and Jinwoo had been the ones to stock it for him when he first bought the place. He seems to find what he’s after, and then proceeds to pour the remaining ingredients into the bowl for the soup.

He works silently, face narrowed in concentration. It’s one Sanha recognises – he sees it often, whenever he’s at the garage watching Rocky work. He makes the same face then, bent over cars or when he’s underneath the hydraulic automotive lift. Sanha loves him like this more, though, he thinks; loves seeing him potter around his kitchen with his shoes kicked off by the front door, wearing a borrowed pair of Sanha’s sweat pants and a t-shirt (“Sanha, I swear to God, if these are like, three thousand dollars, I’m going to kill you”), looking like he’s always been there, like he belongs.

Sanha almost giggles out loud at the absurdity of it all; how this had even come to be. He can barely remember when the transition from client to friendship to whatever this was had even happened; all he knows is that it happened quickly, and in such a way that Sanha doesn’t think it could have ever happened to anyone else quite like this before. It was unique and new and different, and Sanha felt both nervous and excited to see where it would all go – if it would even go.

Sanha knew the signs were all there, really. He wasn’t stupid, wasn’t clueless. But he was doubtful, because sometimes his mind ran away with him and he got lost in his imagination, in his fantasies.

“Okay,” Rocky’s voice tugs him out of his own head, back into the kitchen, where Rocky is wiping his hand on the tea towel. “Hit me with it.” He cocks his head to the side in confusion, causing Rocky to roll his eyes. He points to the magazines beside Sanha on the bench.

Rocky leans his back against the far away bench, out of reach of Sanha, much to his disappointment.

Sanha blushes, snatches the first one from the top of the stack. The main picture on the front is a photo of Sanha, Rocky’s face visible just behind him, thrown back in a laugh. Sanha can’t remember what they were talking about, but it makes his stomach flutter nonetheless. He flicks through the pages till he gets to the spread, and skim reads the predictable content.

Blushing, he says, “you’re my lover, apparently.”

Rocky juts his bottom lip, then it splits and widens into a cheeky grin. Sanha drops it, grabs the next one, which conveys almost the identical information as the first, although this one touches more on Sanha’s rich status and the undeniable likelihood of Rocky’s, which makes Sanha feel sick to read. They both snicker at the third magazine, which relays the same information Jae had read to him this morning, albeit less forwardly as the one he had read from originally.

“They think you’re my drug dealer.”

Rocky, dead-panned, walks around from the kitchen bench and holds his hand out to him. Resting in his palm is some parsley he had just chopped up. “Want some weed, Sanha?”

Sanha snorts, pushing him away with his free hand, and snapping his leg out to kick Rocky’s side. He dodges it, but doesn’t return to his other spot. Instead, he leans against the bench beside him, curving into the side of Sanha’s body.

It makes his breath hitch in his throat a little, dries it, and forces him to concentrate harder on the words in front of him. The rest of the stack are more or less the same; accusations supported by an ‘anonymous source’, the statements they claim to be true making no sense. It isn’t until Sanha picks up the final magazine that things change.

He stops mid-sentence, eyes widening at the words he read. In all honesty, they weren’t that far different from the others they had just been laughing at, but the words they used were different, their arrangement different, their words taking more meaning and leaving a greater impact on him.

Rocky notices, because he’s putting a hand on his thigh, squeezing lightly. “What is it? What does it say?”

With a gulp, and a shrug of his shoulders, Sanha replies. “It’s just…this is the first one to use the word boyfriend.

He feels Rocky stiffen beside him, though his warmth is still there, tingling up Sanha’s arms. The hand on his thigh is as gentle as ever, though it still offers plenty of support and structure, seeming to be one of the only things keeping Sanha upright, from keeping his emotions from oozing out all around them.

“Tell me,” Rocky urges.

Sanha sighs, shifts on the bench awkwardly. He tightens his grip on the glossy pages, before clearing his throat. He’d rather not read it, rather not face the severe discomfort the words would no doubt produce, but Rocky’s gaze was piercing on the side of his face, and it couldn’t be avoided.

Yoon Sanha and the elusive mechanic going by the name Rocky haven’t made a statement regarding the nature of their relationship, or for how long they have been together – but this much is clear: the two of them have clearly been together for a very long time if the way they watch each other in the photographs has anything to say about it. We guess it’s time to say good bye to Single Sanha!”

It’s silent for a moment as the words burn and fizzle out into the heat of the kitchen. Rocky’s eyes are glued on the refrigerator – which Rocky had plugged in and turned on for him – and Sanha was focused on him. He didn’t seem disgusted or repulsed or concerned in any way to be associated with him like that. Sanha takes it as a win that Rocky is pulling away from him now, that he isn’t gagging over the kitchen sink.

He watches Rocky snap back to reality, shaking his head a little as if to clear away whatever thoughts he had been lost in. He shifts to rest his hip against the bench, so his body was angled to Sanha. His words are slow, deliberate. “Well, I mean…they’re not that far off.”

Sanha’s heart skips several beats, or perhaps it’s just stopped beating all together. HE isn’t sure, but he isn’t breathing, and his head is thumping in his skull. “W-what?”

Rocky shrugs, “look at us, Sanha. Really look at us. We do the exact same things that couples do.” Sanha’s cheeks are on fire, and Rocky reaches out and pokes one with his index finger. “C’mon, Sanha. Surely you’ve realised.”

He swallows dryly. “Not ‘exactly’.” Rocky eyes him, uncertain, calculating. Sanha’s shaking his head, though he’s not sure why, not sure why his body is shutting down, but can make several guesses.

“We don’t kiss,” he says, and regrets it the second the words are out of his lips.

He squeezes his eyes tightly shut, hoping that tears won’t build up there, that the painful blow of rejection wouldn’t hurt so bad if Rocky did it the same way he did everything: gentle and calming and kind. He hates this feeling, this anticipation for disgust, for something. The hand on his thigh tightens though, and then suddenly, there’s another on his other thigh. They sit side-by-side, squeezing, coaxing his eyes open. When he does, Rocky is right in front of him, eyes bearing into his own.

“Do you want us to?” His voice is thick and it is honey and caramel and it is the chili he’s added to the soup and the fire in his veins. Sanha wants to weep, laugh, wants to do something, anything, but can’t decide, can’t stop the nervous shakes in his hands. Rocky takes a step towards him, putting them impossibly closer. Sanha’s lets separate apart so he can stand between them, and Sanha’s breathing is becoming more erratic by the second, head thumping away in time to his still-beating heart.

“Sanha,” he asks, swallowing. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

Sanha knows he has no words left. Has no cognitive function left. Couldn’t say yes even if he wanted too. So, instead, he nods. He nods and he drops his eyes from Rocky’s owns, allows them to sit on Rocky’s lips. They’re pink and plump and curved upward into a small smile at the corners.

They’re already close together, but they look so far apart now. Rocky’s hands tighten on his legs, pressing himself nearer, lips inching closer and closer. Sanha’s tilting his head and letting his eyes flutter shut, preparing himself for the one thing he had been waiting weeks for; the one thing he had thought about, had dreamt about. It was happening; it was finally, finally, happening.

Their lips were barely touching, more just breath fanning across each other’s skin, and all Sanha had to do was push forwards the tiniest bit and they’d be kissing. He partly wants to open his eyes, to see what Rocky looked like when he was like this, but he fears that if he does, he’ll realise this was all just a dream.

And perhaps it was, because the moment he decides to surge forward, he can hear a rattling of keys. They’re not his own, nor is the sound coming from Rocky in front of him – it’s coming from in through to the entranceway.

The front door unlocks and opens, and Sanha can hear familiar footsteps barging through the apartment. Rocky jerks his head away from him, eyes wide and pupils blown, but doesn’t remove his hands from Sanha’s thighs. Sanha hands had sat limply by his side, but he now moves them to cover Rocky’s hands. He’s scared that when Dongmin walks into the kitchen, he’ll lash out.

When he comes through, he stops short, eyeing their closeness. Sanha’s heart is still pounding erratically in his ears, can feel the throb of his jugular, of the veins in his wrists standing out on edge. Dongmin’s eyes are unsuspecting, though, and Sanha’s glad he’s a little clueless because explaining themselves out of this one would be difficult. Sanha loved Dongmin, but right now, he hated him.

“Rocky, hi!” He greets with a huge smile, dropping his bag on the floor by the counter. Rocky throws him a lame wave, wrist falling limp back onto his leg.

“Sorry for barging in like this, I know today must have been crap. Gotta’ get out of my apartment for a few hours, though; they’re fixing the power board and I really want a hot shower.”

He doesn’t stay and chat; just turns on his heel and heads towards Sanha’s master bathroom. Sanha couldn’t care less right now – only cared that he had just missed out on kissing Rocky for the first time because Dongmin wanted to shower. Dongmin wanted to shower, and Sanha wanted to kiss Rocky – and Rocky, for some reason unbeknownst to him, wanted to kiss him back.

He lets his head fall forward onto Rocky’s chest with an almighty groan, hands reaching up to latch onto his shoulders. There’s a chuckle resounding from deep within Rocky’s chest, and Sanha relishes the way it warms him up all over again. But it’s not the same; the moments gone and Sanha isn’t sure when it was returning.

Rocky kisses his cheek, but it’s not where he wants it. “We’ll get there,” he whispers the first time, lips dragging across his skin, down under his jaw, below his ear. Sanha’s hands tighten as he nips the skin with his teeth again, like he’d done in the garage just hours before.

We’ll get there.”

 

  

"wanting you more and more,

i can't help but think of what we could be.

'cause baby if i find a way,

i'm sure of it this love won't stray,

just give me chance."

- finding hope, '3 am

Chapter Text

 

"i look at you now and i want this forever,

i might not deserve it but there's nothing better,

don't know how i ever did it all without you.

(people may be watching, i don't mind)."

- LAUV 'paris in the rain'

 

From somewhere lost within the bedsheets comes a blaring horn that is as irritating as it is repetitive.

Sanha groans, arm flying out to the occupied space beside him, slapping around in a poor attempt at silencing it. The usually-vacated space groans back at him, and the arms around him, strong and firm, tighten at his ministrations. The movement causes Sanha to be dragged further backwards, pulled flush against their chest. With a fond huff, Sanha tries to wriggle an arm free, but Rocky just grumbles something into the back of his neck and leaves a tingly line of fire along the expanse of his back.

Sanha ran colder than Rocky did. Sanha wasn’t necessarily cold – no one ever commented on it if he was – but he definitely colder than Rocky was. Not only did Rocky radiate warmth, but heat, too; so much so, that Sanha felt clammy and sticky with sweat just now. His senses were beginning to become more alter; his eyes didn’t feel as heavy as they did just moments ago. He puts it down to the alarm still blaring off in the near distance, somewhat muffled by the layers of linen between them.

Sanha feels Rocky shift beside him, the legs tangled with his own extracting themselves, and the arm not underneath his body fumbles around in the quilts. There’s a vulgar curse, sounding deep and husky, and Sanha presses his smile into the pillow. A moment later, and the alarm cuts off, and they’re thrown into undisturbed silence once again.

Neither of them move at first, although Rocky does return his arm to drape over his waist again. His grip isn’t quite so tight as it was before; simply just dangling there, fingertips itching up and underneath his t-shirt and dancing along his stomach, lips brushing against the nape of his neck, his hairline. It feels like a lullaby – or at least, it works the same as one – because within a few short moments Sanha’s senses are being pulled back into unconsciousness. 

Sanha thinks back to the night before, Rocky standing right in front of him, hands on his thighs, grip tight. The grip reminded him of many moons ago, at the pub, when Rocky had grounded Sanha by the same motion. Thinks about how Rocky was this close to kissing him, to giving him the one thing Sanha had been wanting for weeks; the one thing occupying his mind the same way Rocky was occupying his bed just now. Sanha’s mind drifts to thoughts of him at the same time his body drifts to sleep, but then there’s a chuckle resonating from behind him, and the moment is lost.

“Noooo,” Sanha whines out, pushing back against Rocky, who was detangling himself again.

Rocky presses a hasty kiss to his hairline before dragging himself out from under the sheets. “I have to work,” he explains, the same excuse as last time. Sanha wants to drag him back to bed and hold him there all day and night, never wants him to leave. But knows he does.

He pouts, but he lets his hands drop from where they had latched onto one of Rocky’s own. 

Chuckling again, Rocky ruffles his hair as though he were a child, dropping his hand down to tap the tip of his nose. “I’ll make you some breakfast before I leave, okay?”

Sanha curls back onto his side, facing Rocky. He leaves one eye shut against the pillow, allows the other one to concertante the best it can in its half-delirious state on the shirtless man standing over him. He’s unfairly beautiful; it’s unrealistic, actually, and it makes Sanha’s stomach curdle a little at the sight of the ridiculously defined abdominal muscles, and further down, even more ridiculous. He had seen Rocky’s thighs before, had felt them under his touch, but each time he sees them he is reacquainted with the feeling of pure disbelief that someone as unreasonably beautiful as Rocky could actually exist. Although, he’s still not entirely sure he does. Sanha thinks, to some extent, that Rocky isn’t even real.

He must be though, because when he comes back into the room fifteen minutes later wearing the same clothes as yesterday – which Sanha had washed and hang out of him before they went to bed last night – he sits on the edge by his hip. One of his hands – calloused from his profession, but still soft somehow – rests on his waist, over his shirt, but the heat store burns through. Sanha just watches him watch him for a while. It’s silent aside from their breathing, but even still, it’s steady and even and blends in to the air around them. Sanha feels utterly content, despite the ache that’s already brewing at the thought of Rocky leaving him.

They’d seen each other for some time now, but it’s harder now that Rocky’s identity is out there. He doesn’t want Rocky to go because it’s likely the journalists will return to bother him and his co-workers again. Over dinner, Sanha had suggested getting a hold of Jinwoo or Dongmin for the business and settling an agreement with the press. Rocky had been grateful, but had raised a hand and turned the offer down.

“Why not, Rocky?” He sat his fork down on the plate, face serious, but concerned. “They’re just going to keep coming back until they get something from you.”

Rocky had continued to eat with a blasé shrug. “It’s fine. I can put up with it.” Sanha goes to say something more, but he raises his hand to silence him. “No more. It’s fine. Now keep eating, or it will go cold.”

Now, though, Rocky’s hand drags up his side, unintentionally tickling him as he neared his neck. Sanha’s eyes flutter closed as his fingers drag along his bottom lip, tracing a line around the edges of them. He can feel the distance between them shift, too. Even with his eyes closed he can tell Rocky’s face is nearing his, and he doesn’t bother opening them again to see what he’s doing, because Sanha knows. Knows that when Rocky presses a kiss to his cheek that that is his farewell, that he’s leaving and that he’ll walk out that door and not return for several hours. It was bitter, but it was also sweet, because Sanha got to get a kiss from him – albeit, not where he most wanted it, but it was still enough – and he got to inhale his scent when he got close enough.

Goodbyes were always hard, but now, more than ever, these seem to be the hardest.

 

 

Sanha couldn’t stay away long.

By the time lunch rolled around, he had done nothing but mope about his apartment. He had been expecting a call from Rocky to tell him to come get him; tell him that the swarms of journalists had returned and that they really were too overwhelming for him. But the call never came.

That hadn’t stopped Sanha, though.

He showered and dressed quickly but artfully. He knew it was probably a silly thing to do – petty, even – but Sanha took extra care with his choice of outfit and his makeup that afternoon. He did want it to look semi-natural, as though he had just gone for something a little different, rather than purposefully looking like he was trying to tempt Rocky into kissing him. It was a matter of desperation, Sanha thinks. That, and the fact he knew Rocky would never judge him for his quirkier looks. Something about Rocky made him feel more comfortable in his skin, as though it were the right size for him, like he was definitely meant to be there.

He settles for black trousers and a Kenzo blouse he had never even worn, never had the confidence nor occasion to, and pulls on boots and throws a coat over his arm before darting out the door. He calls ahead and places an order at a takeaway Italian place in the city, picks it up on his way past and throws a wave to the familiar chef out back. The drive takes longer than it did yesterday, because Sanha isn’t being as risky; knew that Rocky hadn’t asked him to come so the desperation wasn’t quite so severe.

Surprisingly, there’s very few journalists crowded outside the mechanic’s garage, and Sanha finds he recognises all of them. They don’t yell as he arrives, nor do they shove microphones or paper in his face; not even a camera. With a guiding hand, Sanha enters through the roller door which the journalists thankfully steer clear of. He throws them a relatively dismissive wave over his shoulder when he does, hopefully try to get them to understand that they wouldn’t ever be giving a statement; at least, not here, and not now.

He doesn’t wait to see their reactions, but assumes that they’d be polite enough to take their leave; he reminds himself that next time he sees them at an event, he’ll pay them some extra time and answer a few more questions than normal.

Rocky isn’t at his workbench, nor is he hunched over a car anywhere he can see. A frown tugs the corners of his lips downward as he fumbles with the bags of takeaways. He’s not sure why, but he feels particularly silly standing there is his see-through blouse and maroon boots.

He spots MJ out of the corner of his eye, and his smile is as wide and welcoming as ever. There’s that, at least, Sanha thinks. MJ stops what he’s doing and makes his way over, throwing him a little wave as he approaches. It isn’t until he gets right in front of him that Sanha watches MJ’s eyes cast themselves downwards. He lets out a low whistle, which makes Sanha’s cheeks flare red and dangerous.

“You look good,” his face looks shocked, and Sanha can’t decide if that’s an insult or not. MJ’s eyes dance back up his body, settling on his face again. “Rocky’s gonna’ freak when he’s sees you!”

Sanha can’t see them, but he knows his cheeks are fire engine red; can tell by the burning heat coming off them. Even still, MJ must recognise the look on his face as disappointment, or embarrassment, or whatever else he was actually feeling, because his expression softens and his shoulders don’t look quite so staunch.

“He is here. He’s just taking a customer to their car out back.”

At his words, Sanha’s whole body deflates. His shoulders sag and his muscles unclench, the swirl of disappointment bubbling around his head fizzling away into nothing. He can’t find his words, so instead he nods, and points himself over to Rocky’s workbench with a jolt of his head.

MJ smiles, “he won’t be long!” He heads back to his own station with Bin and a few other workers Sanha has grown to recognise and call his friends, loud boisterous laugh filling the room again.

Sanha drops his bag on the workbench, not caring about the stray traces of scrap metal and the build-up of dust. His attention was immediately drawn to the bulletin board above Rocky’s work station.

Once, when Sanha had only just first started visiting him, it had been practically empty aside from a few photos and Sanha’s rough sketch of Rocky that he had pinned up for him. Sanha smiles at those same memories, finger reaching out and brushing along the pencil grooves. Now, though, the bulletin board was crowded with photographs. Many of them were cut outs from magazines or newspapers, some even printed from online articles. All of them were variants of the same photo; the evening they went to the art showing together, stumbling out of the bar with their hands locked and not caring for anything else but each other. Sanha’s smile morphs from a fond one to an overly dopey one when he sees other photos too, of just Sanha by himself.

Some of them are from well before they had met, when Sanha had attended events alone or with Dongmin and Jinwoo by his side. In some of them, it’s obvious that they had purposefully cut his two friends from the pictures, and Sanha can’t help but snort at that. It’s a random selection, more often than not they’re photos close of his face, rather than showing off what he was wearing. Sanha thinks it should be creepy, but it’s the total opposite. He feels himself swell with some foreign feeling, but it’s a nice one, warm and soft and gentle, and kind of sways inside of him like a boat on a calm ocean.

He feels lost for a moment, too, as he sinks into Rocky’s habits.

As he fingers over one of the photographs of the two of them, two arms are suddenly snaking their way around his waist, and lips are being pressed to the back of his neck. They leave a chaste kiss there, and then another one as their hands spread wide over his stomach. Sanha expects him to pull away, to put space between them, but instead, Rocky tucks his head over Sanha’s shoulder so that he can stare at the photos along with him.

He’s humming an unfamiliar tune and its loud where Rocky’s mouth is right against his ear. He’s all heat again, with Sanha’s back against his chest, and his arms are clammy around him but Sanha finds he doesn’t care, doesn’t care about the designer blouse or pants or how much time he spent on his makeup that morning.

“I didn’t know you were coming to see me,” he mumbles, pressing a third kiss against his clothed shoulder. It’s still enough to make Sanha shiver. He leans back into his arms, but doesn’t let his eyes close. He fixates them on another photo now, one that looks torn roughly from a magazine.

Sanha shrugs, though the movement is impaired by Rocky’s closeness. “I missed you,” he says lowly, hoping to avoid some of the embarrassment attached to it, the neediness. His cheeks are pink again, but Rocky doesn’t comment on it, just tightens his arms around him like he had done in bed earlier that day.

“You only saw me this morning,” his words are cheeky, but Sanha can detect fondness there, too. He knows not to worry: Rocky is as glad to see Sanha as Sanha is to see him. 

He shrugs again, albeit it still being pointless. “I can take this pasta and leave?”

He means it as a joke, but Rocky lets out an offended sounding gasp and suddenly his arms are gone from around him. Sanha is hit with a wave of whiplash at the suddenness of it all, stumbles forward and has to brace his hand on the workbench. In the next moment, Rocky is clutching at the bags of Italian food from the workbench, and backing away with them. He’s cradling the containers in his arms as though they were a child, and it makes Sanha both snicker and roll his eyes.

“I knew it,” Sanha spits playfully. “You only like me for the food I bring you!”

Rocky shrugs, playing only with him. “I keep you around for lots of reasons.”

Sanha snorts, crossing his arms across his chest. “Like what?”

With his eyes turned to the ceiling, Rocky pretends to read of a bulleted list in his head. “I get to be driven around in fancy cars, my face gets put in magazines, and the girls,” Sanha scoffs, stepping forward and lashing his arms out in a whack, but Rocky sidesteps and avoids it.

At the last minute, he snatches one of his hands back out, curling it around Sanha’s wrist. With a gentle tug, Sanha is pulled closer to him again, chest brushing lightly against his. The takeaways in his other arm are against his side, and the plastic pinches his skin, but he doesn’t dare move. Not when they’re this close, not when Sanha can feel his breath against his face like this. Not when they’re lips are millimetres away from each other.

“I like you, Yoon Sanha,” Rocky’s says, voice low and deep, and Sanha stops breathing.

Sanha knows this, of course, but they had never outright said it to each other. He assumed from the fact that by wanting Rocky to kiss him that the elder knew of his feelings for him. Sanha also assumed that because Rocky wanted to kiss him back that those feelings were mutual.

He hoped so, at least. Standing in Rocky’s arms now, with the warmth of him filling him up from the inside out, it’s easy to think he does.

“I like you, too.”

 

They don’t kiss. Of course, they don’t, because Rocky wants it to be perfect, or something, and standing in the middle of a mechanic workshop most definitely isn’t romantic. Sanha thinks it could be, if they just tried, but Rocky appears adamant that he isn’t interested yet. Or rather, he’s interested, but wants it done differently.

He doesn’t get kissed, but he does get complimented.

When Rocky leads them into the staff room to eat, he goes to grab plates and utensils, but Sanha takes the bags from his hands. “Go,” he says, pushing his back away from the bench and towards the table. “Let me get it.” Rocky goes to protest, hands outstretched, but Sanha kicks a leg out at him.

“Go!” He says again, voice stuck somewhere between a cry and giggle. 

Surrendering, Rocky takes a step back, but doesn’t slink over to the table like Sanha had wanted him too. Instead, he stays standing in front of where Sanha is leaning against the bench, dishing out their food onto the plates. Sanha can feel him watching him flutter around the kitchen, and it brings a pink dust over his cheeks.

He turns, ready to take the plates over to the table for them, but finds Rocky standing closer than he had expected. He stumbles into his chest just slightly, hands on either side of his body. They’re wobbling a little in his hands, and Sanha fears he’ll drop them, because with Rocky’s body pressed this flush against his own, his senses begin to shut down.

Understandably, too, because this close up his eyes are so dark, like chocolate, and his skin is so smooth and so much like caramel. There’s a bead of sweat up by his hairline that makes him look far too tempting, and had Sanha not been holding anything, he’d reach up and brush his hair back further off his face.

It had been getting longer, Sanha noted. His hair, already relatively long on top, had started to grow shaggy and curly. It would fall in his eyes more, and a cute part down the middle seemed to form naturally. He liked it, knots and all. Loved it, even. It had a way of making Rocky seem even softer somehow, like the little wispy curls atop his head made him look younger, or made of more curves than edges.

Sanha takes a deep breath, finds that it sounds strangled to his own ears, so fears what it must sound like to Rocky’s. He doesn’t comment though, just reaches one hand out to the blouse he’s wearing, and traces a finger over one of the black branches printed there. It’s not the most risqué thing he has ever worn – far from it, actually – but it is the most see through thing he’s worn outside of an event. Normally, he’d reserve this part of his closet for galas or fashion shows or interviews, not for visiting a mechanic, but things were different now. Sanha was different now.

His fingers drop from the branch near his collarbone to the outer layer of the blouse, sitting across his shoulders much like a cardigan. He could have buttoned it, could have fastened it together with the single black button in the centre, but had decided against it, leaving it open against the opaque layer beneath. His fingers latch onto that single button now, twiddling it aimlessly between his fingertips. He’s humming again, Sanha notices, but he doesn’t try catch the tune.

Rocky’s head is bent in concentration as he plays with the button, and Sanha’s hands are starting to strain against the desire to touch Rocky. With his hands full, he knows it’s an impossible task, but all he wants to do right now is drop the plates and take Rocky’s face between his hands and kiss him.

Just, kiss him, because it’s all he wants, cares about, in this very moment. Has wanted – and still wants – to feel that close to him, wants to feel intimate with him like that. Sure, the kisses on the cheek and forehead and neck were always sweet, always welcomed, but it wasn’t the same.

Sanha wanted to feel cherished, wanted to make Rocky feel adored, and he knows he can’t fully do that until he can kiss the stupid boy silly. Being this close to him and still unable to do it makes his chest hurt, makes it hammer in his chest in protest of being suppressed for so long.

“You are so beautiful,” Rocky whispers, breath fanning across his own.

Sanha whines, hitching his face closer to Rocky’s in hopeless experimentation, wanting to steal a kiss. When he does though, Rocky’s hands drop to his hips and forces him against the kitchen bench, and yanks his face out of reaching distance.

“Sanha,” he warns, though his face doesn’t match the taunting tone in his voice. His eyes were soft, fond, even, and are watching his own lips now.

When Rocky’s hands slide up from his hips and to his waist, tugging him closer again, Sanha thinks he might have won. But then, he’s twisting Sanha in his arms so he can press a hand between his shoulder blades and give him a guiding shove.

“C’mon,” he says, snickering at what Sanha assumes is his perplexed expression. “Let’s eat, I have to get back to work soon.”

 

Sanha returns the next day, too, though it’s later in the day. He had come from a meeting with Jinwoo and Dongmin about the party on his boat in a few weeks’ time for the book launch, and although he was already dreading it, he knew he had to give Rocky some notice for the event.

Perched up on the workbench, forgoing his usual position on the stool, Sanha is waiting for Rocky to stop talking to a customer and pay him some attention. He’s swinging his legs again, something he’s found himself doing a lot, and watching the way Rocky interacts with the young woman.

She’s flirty, Sanha thinks, and he has to bite his lip around his smile at the way she reaches out with a hand and touches his forearm.

Her hair is long and dark, similar in colour to Sanha’s, and her eyes big and wide and even from here Sanha can tell her pupils are fully blown. He doesn’t blame her, really, considering Rocky really is a sight to look at.

Sanha isn’t jealous by rule. On occasion, he gets that sickening feeling in his chest that he can put down to nothing else but jealousy. He had almost expected to feel a surge of it now, but Rocky wasn’t reciprocating anything all. The attention he gave her back was nothing but pure respect, and subtly had shifted his arm from under her hand. He smiles politely, but it’s nothing like the smile he gives Sanha; and he goes to shake her hand once the conversation dies off, but he knows the grip feels nothing like the grip against his hip or waist or hand or back.

Sanha feels smug sitting on top of his workbench, and he can’t help but giggle when the girl looks his way on her departure, but giggles more when Rocky does, too. Finally, finally, she’s getting in her car and driving away, and Rocky’s attention is back on him again. It wasn’t that he needed attention twenty-four-seven, but he preferred it that way from Rocky, because he was the kind of person that made his insides curdle in a good way, and made him feel bubbly and warm and like nothing else really mattered.

Rocky strolls over to him, leisurely, but his eyes are staring into his, and Sanha is biting his lip and unable to stop the smile from before. Rocky’s smiling back at him, and then his hands are on his knees, curling around the back of them, and he’s leaning forward, gently, to press his head against the centre of Sanha’s chest. It’s weirdly intimate, Sanha thinks, and different from their other touches. With the way his head is pressed there, eyes drifting shut, Sanha can tell he’s listening to his heart beat.

He’s not sure why, but his eyes start to sting, threatening tears, and he has to scramble with his hands to wipe them hastily away. Rocky catches the movement, eyes snapping open and focusing on his hands.

He grabs one of his wrists, and much like he had done many nights ago, presses a kiss to the inside of it. Against the feeling, Sanha shivers, dancing along his spine from his toes, to the back of his neck. The hairs on his body stand to attention, and he lets his other hand fall from his face to Rocky’s hair.

Lazily, he drags his fingers through his hair, loves how soft and fluffy it feels against his skin. He shuffles on the workbench slightly, and then resumes his movements.

“She was pretty,” he comments, hoping Rocky couldn’t detect the humour in his voice.

He grunts, “was she?” He doesn’t open his eyes, but his eyebrows furrow when Sanha’s hand slows down. At the sight of that, Sanha quickens his pace again.

“Yeah, good hair,” he explains. “Big eyes.”

Rocky is silent, but he lets out a sigh, warm air running along his exposed neck, only adding to his shivers from before. He drags his head away from Sanha’s chest just enough that his words don’t sound slurred or muffled. “So what? Nowhere near as pretty as you.”

With that, he presses his head back into Sanha’s chest, and Sanha’s heart catches on fire. Over Rocky’s head, he can see MJ and Bin looking over at them and smiling, laughing a little too loudly to be inconspicuous. Sanha blushes, ducking his head so he can bury his nose and mouth in Rocky’s hair. Rocky hums at the feeling, looking far too sedated leaning between his legs and resting his weight against Sanha’s chest.

Sanha wants to ask him how much sleep he got the night before, but if he’s anything like Sanha, it was next to none. The entire night before, Sanha had missed the feeling of Rocky’s arms around his, hated himself for not asking Rocky to stay over again, but feeling silly when there was no reason for him to.

Even though they had told each other that they liked each other, it still felt like something was left unspoken between them; as though their confession wasn’t solid enough. And perhaps it wasn’t. It wasn’t a flurry of flowers or chocolates or music playing in the background, it was a simple confession over laughter and food, but to Sanha it was absolutely perfect.

Perhaps though, to Rocky, it wasn’t.

The man who Sanha was starting to learn wore his heart on his sleeve and was a sucker for old-school romance. Sanha has the word courting in his head, and he wants to laugh at it, but it’s strangely realistic given their circumstances. In any other situation, people would be jumping to kiss each other if they knew their feelings were reciprocated, but for Sanha and Rocky, it didn’t feel like it was time, or if it was right.

Sure, Sanha wanted to kiss him – badly, desperately, even, it was somewhat embarrassing how badly he wanted too – but he respected Rocky’s wishes of not, and waiting for the right time.

Sanha just kept finding himself wishing, praying, that that time would come soon. That night, when they say goodnight, Rocky kisses his cheek, not his mouth, and he’s left wondering when they’ll get there.

 

Sanha had missed calls from his Mum again, but it didn’t hurt quite so bad seeing them anymore. He wants to know when that happened, but the moment he thinks about it, all he can see is Rocky’s face, hear Rocky’s voice telling him that they’re family. He finds himself doing that a lot: thinking back to the time they spent in the park together after they had slipped out of the art showing, wonders if that was technically a date or not. The more he thinks about it, the more he’s inclined to say yes, but then again, perhaps it wasn’t.

At that point, neither of them had shared anything explicit about their feelings for each other, so realistically, both of them would have thought it was a friendship thing.

Sanha feels his stomach twist at the thought of that. Now that their feelings were relatively out in the open – though still feeling somewhat like a taboo – it felt clearer, easier to see what was happening. Sanha knows now that the kisses and handholding and general touching wasn’t a friendly thing, but more than that, something they both realised they could get away with doing because they assumed the other was just as touchy as them. Neither of them had really taken the time to consider that they had mutual feelings for each other; just continued to wallow away in the idea of it being unrequited.

Even so, Sanha still has doubts. Doubts because it’s been days since the incident in the kitchen, since their confession in the garage staff room, and Rocky has made no move to kiss him, no attempt to ask him out. That thought alone makes Sanha think maybe Rocky’s waiting for him to do it.

He’s about to start stressing about it when Rocky resurfaces from the undercarriage of a pink beetle. He’s wiping his hands with a clean rag and rubbing at his temple, groaning a little, before making his way over to the work bench. Sanha’s sitting a top of it again, which means when Rocky gets close enough, he lets his head sink into Sanha’s lap.

Automatically, Sanha sinks one of his hands into Rocky’s hair, scratching at his scalp the way he now knows he likes. Rocky almost sounds like he’s purring from the ministrations, but Sanha can’t be sure overtop of the different machinery in the workshop. Either way, Rocky has fallen pliant and soft in his arms, and Sanha feels a surge of bravery he hadn’t had before.

“Come to my boat party?”

It wasn’t exactly the way he had worded it in his head, but it would do, he thinks. Rocky lifts his head from Sanha’s lap, let’s himself be handled into a position where his back is leaning against Sanha’s chest, head resting in the curve of his neck.

“Your what?”

Sanha, snickering against his hairline, presses a chaste kiss to his temple, inhaling the smell the rubber and oil there. “My boat party. It’s in a few weeks, for Dongmin’s book launch.”

Sanha wishes he could see Rocky’s face, to gage his reaction, but with the way they’re positioned Sanha can’t crane his neck that way. One of Rocky’s hands stretches up to the side of Sanha’s neck his face isn’t pressed in to, and tickles along the skin there with the gentlest touch. “Mmkay,” he mumbles, voice muffled by the collar of Sanha’s shirt and the curve of his throat.

Sanha hums, glad, but then feels Rocky stiffen in his arms. “Wait,” he says, voice more alert. “Your boat party?” Sanha nods, confused, unsure of what Rocky was getting at. His head is pulled out of his neck now, and Sanha can make out the perplexed expression of his eyes. Sanha cocks an eyebrow at him in question. “Your boat? You have a boat?”

Ah. “Yes, I do,” he states matter-of-factly.

Rocky stares him dumb-founded for a moment. “Like, a yacht?” Sanha nods, and Rocky swears under his breath.

Sanha nudges him, “what?”

Shrugging, Rocky sinks his head back into Sanha’s neck, and throws a hand out in front him. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me you have?”

There’s one thing, Sanha thinks, that he hopes he has, but can’t be sure. He wishes he was, wishes he had the bravery to ask him, to say it, to claim it. But it’s not his to claim; it’s more a thing he can take care of, that they share. Sanha asks himself why he isn’t brave, why he doesn’t have the confidence to ask him, when Rocky’s willingly in his arms like this, delicate and warm and happy. When he’s unable to answers his own questions, he swallows his fear, his pride, and asks Rocky.

“Well, that depends.”

“On what?”

Sanha swallows, and he knows Rocky can probably feel it from where his face is pressed to his throat. “Do I have you?”

There’s silence, and whilst this happens a lot, this is the first time it’s felt uncomfortable. Not for long though, Sanha relishes, because Rocky is pulling away and straightening his spine out. Then he’s knocking their temples together, twisting so his forehead is against his face. Sanha knows his answer just from this, but his words are nice too, it’s nice hearing the addition in his lazy tongue, his deep yet still high somehow voice.

“Only if I can have you.”

 

The doubts he was having the day before evaporate completely when he walks into the garage one night, knowing that Rocky would still be there. It was well past closing time, single digits drifting into two, and the ten o’clock sky was different here than it was in the city. Sanha wants to just sit and admire it one day, because it’s like a different world out here, but then he hears Rocky humming to himself and the thought is gone.

He ducks under the roller door, and his eyes take a moment to adjust to the bright, white light. The rest of the lights are off, but the lamp is nestled atop a trolley beside the car Rocky’s working on, and blaring straight down onto the opened hood. He’s humming, like always, and hips hip wriggle just the tiniest bit, but enough to make Sanha snicker behind his hand.

It’s louder than he thought, because Rocky’s head snaps up, and his eyes are immediately on him. The look of concentration he always wore when he worked eased away and slipped into his familiar toothy smile, eyes wide with excitement as he steps away from the car. From the back pocket of his overalls he brings a clean rag, wiping his hands before allowing them to rest on Sanha’s elbows, pressing himself up on his tip-toes and kissing his cheek in greeting.

“This is a nice surprise,” he mumbles against his skin, dropping back down. “You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” he comments, taking Sanha’s bag for him and wheeling the stool over to the car he’s working on.

Sanha plops down into when Rocky digs around on the trolley.

“I like surprising you,” Sanha explains. “I like you.”

Sanha finds pleasure in the way Rocky drops a tool on the floor at his words, the way his head snaps back up to him, and his cheeks turn red. He doesn’t hesitate to reply though, much to Sanha’s glee. “I-I like you too, Sanha.”

The doubts still swirl though, despite his words, as he watches Rocky work.

They swirl because he doubts someone as beautiful – inside and out – as Rocky could like someone like him, someone who’s relatively superficial and comes with a lot of baggage and has next to no private life. Rocky is physically overwhelming, sure, but it’s his soul that makes Sanha uneasy, as if he’s unworthy to know it. Unworthy to hold the hand of the body it inhabits, like hearing it speak is too glorious for him. Sanha feels so privileged in moments like these, because he gets to witness Rocky in his element, where he does the things he enjoys most, fixing and loving and restoring.

Sanha’s not sure for how long he sits there and watches him, but at some point, Rocky steps back to take a break. From where he’s seated, Sanha can see his eyes get lose in the mayhem of what is the car’s bonnet, the engine easy to find but all the rest looking a like a confusing mess to him. Rocky’s hand on the back of his neck makes him jump, head craning up to press against the kiss that Rocky puts to the crown of his head.

“Sanha, I love having you come to visit me, you know that right?”

Sanha nods, though the tone is Rocky’s voice leads him to believe this is going somewhere serious, so he narrows his eyes in concentration.

Rocky’s eyes are on him, but his hands are fumbling around on the trolley. “I love seeing you walk in here; makes my whole day better.” Sanha finds the compliment unnecessary but he blushes away anyway, wants to return the gesture, too, tell him that the reason he comes so often is because he hates being away from him. But he doesn’t, because Rocky is putting a newspaper in front of him, and Sanha’s eyes blur at the sudden intrusion.

“I want you to come visit me, but I also need you to be safe. Please, please, don’t come here alone okay? At least,” he stops, scratching at his head. Sanha hasn’t read anything yet, just changed his attention to Rocky in front of him, position nervous and voice wavering. “At least if you are going to come, let me know first, alright?”

Sanha nods, couldn’t not, because the seriousness in Rocky’s stance was so intense he knew it wasn’t something he could take lightly. “I’ll let you know first. I promise, Rocky,” he adds for good measure, making sure their eyes meet and the message is fully conveyed. Rocky, after a moment, nods his head.

Sanha returns his eyes to the newspaper in his hands, and although he doesn’t read them often, he’s aware enough to know about the sudden influx in crime in the downtown streets of Seoul; knows enough that the gang wars were getting more violent and more frequent, and that they were even considering putting a curfew in place for the younger residents. What Sanha didn’t know, however, was that just the night before there had been a gang shooting, resulting in three fatalities and four people in serious condition.

As he reads, he finds himself shuddering, because the idea of being caught in that kind of situation is enough to give him nightmares. It was the reason Sanha had avoided this area of the city altogether, and for so long, and although he had regretted it because it meant he didn’t meet Rocky sooner, it was also something he had to do for his safety. Someone like him didn’t fend well on these streets, especially not lately, with how in the public eye he’s been.

He folds the newspaper back up when he’s finished reading, and the bile sitting in the back of his throat starts to burn. He tries to swallow it away, but struggles, because the image of Rocky getting hurt or caught up in one of those gang wars is enough to keep it coming back. He can feel his hands beginning to shake at the thought of it, at the tiny chance that Rocky could be involved in something like that one day because of him, or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The shaking of his hand flows through the rest of his body, until suddenly, Rocky’s got a jacket thrown over his shoulders and tugging him in close.

“Darling,” he says breathily, hugging his leather jacket tighter around Sanha’s shoulders. “I didn’t tell you to scare you,” he explains, taking a step closer. “I told you because I can’t have you getting hurt, okay? Just take extra care.”

Sanha nods, and nuzzles his face against Rocky’s own. Their noses brush, and he thinks maybe their lips do too, or maybe it had just been their breath passing over each other like last time, but either way, it makes Sanha’s heart lurch. Rocky cared; truly, truly cared. Enough to sit him down and explain to him that these streets were dangerous, that being here alone at night wasn’t a good idea. His own desires aside – his desire to see Sanha every day, loving his surprise visits – he wanted Sanha safe more than anything.

He mumbles against Rocky’s cheek, “looking out for me?”

“Someone’s got to,” he hums back cheekily, nose dragging along the edge of his cheekbone. Sanha likes this; loves this. Loves having him here, being this close; loves being held in Rocky’s arms.

“I’ll look after you, too, yeah?” It sounds like a question, as if he needs permission to take care of him. It sounds silly now that he’s said it, but he hopes the message is clear, hopes Rocky understands.

He must, because he’s nodding, and makes a choked-up sound in the back of his throat. “We’ll take care of each other. We’ll make each other happy.” When Rocky says it, it doesn’t sound like a question. Sanha couldn’t speak even if he wanted to, so he just nods, lips curled up into a grin.

It’s at that very moment, when Rocky pulls away and resumes his work on the car, that all of Sanha’s doubts disappeared.

 

With the week drawing to its close, Sanha knows he and Rocky will have the weekend to spend together. It still seems so far away now, even though it’s midday Thursday. He’s in the middle of making a round of coffee for Rocky and him when MJ strolls into the staff room. The mechanic doesn’t even bat an eye at him, and that’s how Sanha knows he’s effortlessly become part of their workplace system, or family as Rocky had once referred to it as.

“Tell me,” MJ suddenly blurts as he pulls out a container from the fridge, kicking it shut with his foot. Sanha grins, waves his hand at the man, urging him to continue.

“What are your intentions with my best friend?”

Sanha snorts, leaning back further against the bench as the kettle continues to boil. MJ raises his eyebrows, “do you think I’m joking?”

Sanha swallows, because all of a sudden MJ’s usually teasing tone is gone, and is replaced with a seriousness that Sanha’s never heard from him before. His eyes are stern looking, too, and even though he’s so much smaller than Sanha is, he feels a prickle of fear. He’s not entirely sure what MJ is capable of, but he doesn’t to find out, either.

“N-no?” He says, uncertain, voice wavering against the sound of the kettle and the hum of the fridge. MJ’s eyebrows have dropped, but he raises another one now, looking relatively demeaning. “I don’t think you’re joking. But I think you know my intentions?”

MJ crosses his arms over his chest, mimicking the hand movement Sanha had made earlier, and spread his legs in his stand. Sanha assumes it’s to convey some kind of power or authority over him, and in all truthfulness, it’s working for him.

Sanha swallows, “I want to…be with him. Exclusively?” MJ’s expression doesn’t change. “I want to date him,” Sanha clarifies. “I want to be his boyfriend.” Sanha’s cheeks are well and truly on fire now, can feel the heat drifting across to his ears, and downwards, to his neck and chest.

MJ purses his lips and nods, “alright. Well. As you know, Rocky is my best friend. At work and at home. So, you don’t get to steal all his time, you got that?” Sanha nods, not wanting that anyway. “Also, there’s no breaking his heart business, either. This is the first time he’s ever been so…whatever this is, before, and I don’t want you wasting all the love he’s got to give.”

Sanha’s heart is thrumming uncommonly loud in his ears at MJ’s use of the word love. Sanha knew, realistically, that Rocky was a strongly loving person – gave out love to everyone he could through his small acts of kindness. But it was a different kind of love, Sanha realises, that MJ spoke of now. A love that Sanha hopes he can one day caress in his hands with nimble, gentle fingers, hopes that Rocky would want to hold his, too.

They’re not there yet, though – at least, he doesn’t think they are. He’s never been in love before, and from what he’s gathered, nor has Rocky, so he guesses they’re both as clueless as each other. Sanha doesn’t mind inexperience; doesn’t mind that Rocky is stumbling through all this as blindly as he is.

Sanha’s gaze is still fixated on MJ in front of him, which means he catches the moment his seriousness bubbles away and his usual bubbly self emerges again. He smiles widely, and Sanha goes to say something, but then MJ is clearing his throat and a hand is resting between his shoulder blades. He jumps, but then stills when he feels breath ghost over the back of his neck, and the calming and familiar smell of rubber and oil and burnt sugar reacquaints itself with his senses.

“Leave him alone, MJ,” Rocky groans behind him, letting his head fall to the space his hand had just been on his back. Sanha giggles at the teasing glint in MJ’s eyes.

“Shut up, Rocky. You know I had to do this. I told you I was going to do it!”

Rocky lifts his head again, stepping around Sanha to glare at his friend, but he leaves a hand on the small of his back as he does so. “I thought you were joking!”

MJ splutters, “I’d never joke about this!”

“You joke about everything else!”

As they bicker back and forth, fondly, Sanha notes, he can’t but feel a warm, tingly sensation in his chest. He can’t exactly place the feeling, but he narrows it down to a few things. The first, watching two friends interact the way they are is enough to make anyone exceptionally fond; the second is the way Rocky and MJ had clearly talked about him before; and the third, which Sanha thinks is the most likely, is that MJ thinks the two of them will one day fall in love.

Sanha watches on, giddy and excited and unsure of most things except this: he hopes he can one day love Rocky the way he truly deserves.

 

 

Each time Sanha returns to the garage, he’s met with a worrisome fear that the hordes of journalists will have returned. But, over the past couple of days, every time he pulls his car into the driveway, he finds it empty. Rocky will greet him by the door now, knowing to expect him around the similar time each day, and having come to fully recognise the loud growl of the Spider’s engine.

And, as always, Rocky will greet him with a kiss on the cheek, and his hand will either find its way around his waist or slip into his own before leading him over to his work space. The more he comes here, the more Sanha had started to notice how much cleaner the bench had started to become. Sanha will always find himself smiling fondly at that, knowing full-well that Rocky would tidy it for his sake, rather than for his own personal convenience.

The bulletin board above his work bench – now overcrowded with photographs – was bursting at the seams with vibrant colours and different textures. From glossy magazines to matte printer paper and browning newspaper clippings, the board was alive with pictures of Sanha. There were more now than there had been the other day, Sanha notes, though he doesn’t find it any less endearing. They’re all fairly recent of him, albeit the odd one where his hair is stark white and pink. Instinctively, Sanha raises a hand to his head, tracing over the slight curls around his ear, finding himself questioning whether or not he should dye it back again.

He can feel Rocky’s presence behind him, warm and cosy and so very easy to lean back into, sink into. Sanha doesn’t think he will ever tire of the way he smells; finds the burnt sugar and rubber and oil to be strangely comforting to him now. At night, when he tries to sleep, bed far too big and empty and cold, he thinks of the same very smell, wonders how much easier it would be to sleep had it been really filling his senses. Rocky’s arms find their way around him easily, his chin resting on his shoulder, like he had done many times before. Sanha legs his body relax, shoulders sagging downward, feeling Rocky snicker breathlessly against the exposed part of his neck.

Sanha, reaching out, touches one of the newspaper clippings of his face, the true colours of the outfit the was wearing obscured by the printed ink and pixelated quality. Frowning, he eases his finger downwards, running his thumb over the roughly-cut edge of the picture. He feels Rocky snicker again before he’s taking a step back, dropping one arm, but keeping the other secured around his waist.

“MJ and Bin,” Rocky says, voice low against the machinery in the work shop. That explains it, Sanha thinks. “One of their most recent hobbies,” he explains.

Sanha smiles, voice teasing, “you sure you’re not just stalking me?”

Rocky pinches his side, smiling fondly at Sanha’s yelp. “None of that, I get enough cheek from those two already, don’t need you to join in as well.”

Rocky pushes away from the workbench, arm slipping from his waist and heading towards to the pink beetle from the night before. Sanha drops his bag on the floor and follows after him, hooking his thumbs into the back of his pants. As always, he watches Rocky work in silence, biting his lip and staring over his shoulder as the elder man pulls the car to bits and pieces. It’s entrancing, Sanha thinks, watching him work. He gets lost in it, lost in him, lost in the bits of metal framework which seem so flimsy stretched thin and bare like this.

Sanha isn’t entirely sure how much time passes like this, but knows that he wants more of it, more of it forever, never ending. It isn’t till later, after they’ve eaten, and Rocky’s putting the Beetle back together, that they speak.

“Not that I mind,” Rocky says, voice muffled from where he leant over the hood of the Beetle. “But why are you here so often?”

Sanha scoffs. “Can’t I spend time with one of my favourite people?”

Rocky grins, and throws the rag from his back pocket at him. “Of course, you can. That’s not what I meant.” He leans back, rubbing at the sweat forming along his hairline. Sanha tries not to stare at the way his skin glistens golden beneath it, but it’s getting more and more difficult. “I just…I dunno, don’t you have other things do to?”

“Nope,” Sanha says, popping the ‘p’, but his cheeks flush a bright red.

Sanha doesn’t want Rocky to know the real reason he sticks around for much longer these days. Sure, it’s partly because he loves to spend time with the elder man; loves hearing his stupidly cute stories and jokes, watching his even stupider smile spread wide and gummy across his face. He’s a sucker for Rocky’s happiness, it seems, even this early on. It’s that, but mostly it’s because he’s terrified that Rocky will get swarmed again. The thought of Rocky being so crowded to the point where he’s terrified is enough to keep Sanha awake at night, and even though Rocky swore it hadn’t bothered him, Sanha can’t be too sure.

Sanha thinks he’s managed to sound nonchalant enough that he’d brush right over it, but Sanha is constantly forgetting that Rocky is far more observant than the average person – because his eyes narrow at him in suspicion, and his arms fold across his chest. The movement does nice things to his biceps, and Sanha can’t help but stare at the honey-like skin curving around the muscles there.

“You’re protecting me.”

Sanha’s head snaps up from his arms to his face, which holds the very same expression as before, though he can detect traces of surprise there now, too. “N-no,” he stutters, cursing to himself inwardly at his inability to lie under pressure. He wants to come as cool and collected to Rocky, because then maybe he’d believe him. But Rocky can see right through him.

His whole exterior changes. It wasn’t necessarily hard, but it wasn’t as soft as it was now, either. His eyes lose their suspect glint, leaving behind only a fondness Sanha was becoming far too familiar with; and his lop-sided smirk turns upwards and stretches wider and more toothily.

“You really don’t need to,” he says, stepping closer to Sanha, movements slow and careful, as if trying not to startle him.

Sanha shrugs, breath hitching in his throat. “You’re always looking out for me.”

Rocky’s stepping closer again, and the rest of the workshop melts away into the background. Suddenly, Sanha is no longer mindful that journalists could come around the corner at any moment; doesn’t care that there are at least five other mechanics in the same room as them; doesn’t care that Rocky is sweaty and covered in grease and that the shirt his dirty hands cling to now is worth over three thousand dollars; doesn’t care that he probably looks dumbfounded and blank and completely overwhelmed. Doesn’t care, isn’t mindful, because Rocky’s hands slide from where they rest on his shoulders to cup his cheeks, and Sanha thinks he’s starting to feel too lightheaded to be normal, and tries to get himself to breathe.

His brain isn't cooperating fully though, so when he does heave in oxygen, its ragged-sounding and he almost feels like he’s choking. It’s loud in his ears, but mustn’t be to Rocky, because he keeps moving, slowly and languidly, as though time itself has slowed down.

Sanha thinks this is it, thinks back to Rocky’s words in the kitchen earlier in the week, his we’ll get there whispered into his skin with faint brushes of his lips. Sanha recalls having red cheeks for the rest of the evening, eyeing each other fondly across the dinner table, curling up against him on the couch as Sanha put a movie on. He tries to remember every single moment at once that led him to this one right here, but his mind is clouded by images of Rocky smiling down at him now, replaying it over and over and over again. His hands are trembling, can feel them shake where they’re clenched against his knees. His eyes are blurry and unfocused, not because he’s crying or anything of the kind, but because he can’t seem to function properly around the elder man.

His lips are so close to his, breath prickly against his, but then, much to his disappointment, they move upwards. They settle at his forehead, where Rocky daintily brushes away the hair that falls down his face. His fingers are gentle when they card though his hair like this, and Sanha’s eyes flutter shut on instinct. He doesn’t know what he’s expecting next; doesn’t know if he’s getting kissed or not, doesn’t know what time it is, what day; doesn’t know who he is anymore.

Sanha wants. Sanha wants Rocky to kiss him so badly. The eagerness he feels surges through him like electricity; like lightning ready to strike. On his thighs, Sanha feels his hands unclench, and his knuckles pop at the release. He boldly settles them on Rocky’s hips, tugging him a little closer, so he’s forced to stand between his legs. Their heights almost match from the way Sanha is sitting, though Rocky half a head taller than he is. Sanha likes it like this, he realises, being able to press himself forward, rest his head against his heart if he wants to.

And he does want, but he wants his lips more. And Sanha is tired of waiting.

Rocky’s lips are still brushing breathily against his forehead, fingers still combing through his hair. Sanha, on any other occasion, would scold him – he had taken a long time to style it the way he had, and brushing through it like that was doing nothing but frizzing it up beyond repair. Now, though, it felt too good to question.

Tilting his neck forwards and cocked a little to the side, Sanha is able to push against Rocky’s resistance and attach his lips to the exposed curve of his neck. It’s the first time he’s done it quite so purposefully, and his skin is salty and warm, and the way Rocky’s breath gets caught in his throat can be felt from where he’s pressed so close. One of his hands on his hip drags up his side, palming along his muscles, the choked-off gasp not going unheard. Sanha smirks against his neck, trails his lips along the underside of his jaw, itching close to the destination he wants them to settle most.

Rocky has made him wait long enough, so Sanha was going after what he wanted.

But maybe Rocky didn’t want it; or maybe, he wanted more, because he’s suddenly pulling his head back as far as he can extend it, and trying to take a step out from between his spread legs. Sanha whines, a detached sound, missing the envelopment of heat he had been getting lost in just now. Rocky’s biting his bottom lip, pupils expanded and blown fully black, covering almost the entirety of Rocky’s deep chocolate iris’.

“Sanha,” he croaks out, voice sounding as debauched as he looked. “Please.”

Sanha whines, stretching his arms out, reaching for him. Rocky, as though on instinct, links one of their hands together. “I should be the one saying please,” Sanha explains, eyes focused on the elaborate display between them.

Sanha doesn’t think things could be clearer. All he wants is for Rocky to kiss him, to make whatever this is between them official. He’s not sure why, but he feels like by Rocky kissing him on the lips, like he wants, needs, will finally seal the deal between them. Right now, even though they’re both fully aware of the others feelings, Sanha feels like he’s drifting through some kind of dreamland, neither here nor there, neither asleep nor awake. It’s starting to ache, that need he has for Rocky to call him his own, to cradle him close and keep him safe, keep him happy. It’s because of this intensity, this fire in his veins, that Sanha throws away all remaining self-respect and dignity.

“Please, Rocky,” Sanha pleads, voice whiny and high in pitch. Rocky, unable to speak, it seems, just violently shakes his head. Despite the rapid motion, Sanha can see how his eyes are screwed tightly shut. The hand that had been resting in Sanha’s is now clinging to it for dear life, as though it were the only thing keeping him from lifting off the ground.

With a gentle tug, Sanha hauls Rocky closer. The elder man groans when Sanha says 'please' again, letting his head drop against Sanha’s shoulder. A few stray pieces of Rocky’s rapidly growing hair tickles at the bottom of his nose, but Sanha makes no move to rearrange the man in his arms.

Rocky,” he cries out, loud enough that the other mechanics were sure to have heard it if they were paying them any attention. Sanha’s not sure if they are, finds he doesn’t care, because he’s far too focused on Rocky shaking his head against his shoulder, muffling the deep groan he lets out.

“Sanha, stop, please,” he lets out, breathy and sounding more like a gasp than words.

Sanha’s hands, which had slipped around to the small of his back, fall away from his body. “S-sorry, Rocky,” he stutters, heart sinking. Rocky doesn’t want to kiss me, he thinks, his once soaring heart settling still and low in his gut, nauseating him instantly. “I shouldn’t be…” he trails off, shaking his head at his own stupidity.

Rocky liked him, sure; he liked him just fine. Just not enough to kiss him. At least, not yet. Sanha wanted to kiss him now and forever, show him how much he adores him, but Rocky didn’t want that. And that should be okay; and it was okay, but the self-conscious part of Sanha’s mind kicks into overdrive, telling him that Rocky had never been interested anyways.

Rocky’s sighing, a hand tucking some of his hair behind his ear. “Sanha…shouldn’t be what?”

Sanha shrugs, not trusting his voice, not daring to raise his eyes, either, fearing they’d immediately fill with tears.

“Sanha.” This time, it wasn’t a question, but a command. One that, no matter how hard he tried, Sanha knows he wouldn’t be able to ignore.

Out the corner of his eye, he can see Bin and MJ talking to each other animatedly over mugs of steaming coffee, and in the remote distance of his mind he finds himself craving a coffee, too. Or, perhaps, something a little stronger.

“I shouldn’t be forcing you into doing things with me.” Once the words are out, he feels them hand around his head stupidly and pathetically, exposing him for who he truly is.

It’s silent, and Sanha’s eyes are pinched so tightly shut it’s beginning to hurt, but he pushes through it, keeps them closed. He’s terrified of what sits in Rocky’s eyes. Maybe he’s scared he’d see relief.

There’s a heavy sigh, and suddenly Rocky’s is pressing himself back into Sanha’s personal space. A finger slips under his chin, tilting his head back up to look at him, and Sanha’s eyes open blearily.

“You aren’t forcing me into doing anything, Sanha,” he explains, voice deep, eyes even deeper. “I want to kiss you. So bad, shit – I’ve wanted to kiss you since I saw you in the carpark of the bloody liquor store.”

Sanha pushes his head forward, “then, why haven’t you? Haven’t I made it clear that I want you to?”

Rocky shakes his head again, hands resting on Sanha’s shoulders. “I want to do it right, Sanha. I want it to be perfect.”

It’s Sanha’s turn to shake his head. “But this is perfect. Right here. Right in the place we learnt everything there is about each other. Right here, where you’re doing your favourite thing, and where I get to sit and watch my favourite person. It would be perfect, wouldn’t it? You and I.”

Rocky’s head is dropping back against his shoulder, tilting his head sharply so he can press a chaste kiss to the side of his neck, teeth nipping at the same spot again. Before Sanha can properly react, his head is being withdraw, and arms detangling from Sanha again. His eyes are wide though, nowhere near as withdraw as his body is from Sanha’s grasp, and his lips are pink and swollen from being gnawed on from worry and habit.

“Date me.”

Sanha jolts, “what?” It had come from nowhere, out of nowhere. It made Sanha’s skin feel tingly.

“Date me,” he says again, eyes hopeful. He takes both of Sanha’s hands in his own, giving them a squeeze. “Let me take you to a movie and dinner, or, shit, to the zoo, or something, anything. I don’t care what. We can do whatever you want. Just…let me spoil you Sanha.”

Sanha’s weepy, he thinks, because Rocky’s words leave him in a pool of goo. 

“You deserve to be spoiled, Sanha. And not in the way people say you already are. But in the way I can. I mean, I can’t give you diamonds or a big house or an around the world holiday, but,” he pauses, swallowing around his words.

Sanha’s skin is aflame, his heart, too, and he can hear it thump, thump, thump erratically in his ears. Rocky eases himself the tiniest bit closer to Sanha, but Sanha can only focus on Rocky’s face and words right now, his tantalizing voice singing to him in his ear.

“But,” he starts again, “I can give you my heart, Sanha. I want to give you my heart. All of it, any of it; any bit of it you’ll take. Just—”

Sanha cuts him off with a loud whimper and wet kiss to the corner of his mouth, then another to his cheek, under his eye. His hands squeeze at Rocky’s again in what he assumes is a painful grip, but all Rocky does is squeeze back. Tears are prickling at the corners of his eyes, but he makes no move to erase them, let’s them spill over in time to Rocky’s words.

“Just date me, Sanha. Let me do this right. Let me spoil the shit out of you, treat you the way you deserve. Just, God, you get me so nervous, Sanha,” he giggles, and Sanha urges him to continue with clench of his hand.

“Date me, Sanha. Please. Let me…just,” he trails off, shakes his head around a smile, as though realising his nerves were pointless. “My darling Yoon Sanha,” Sanha’s breath hitches, “will you please be mine?”

Sanha didn’t say anything at first, just let himself press another kiss to Rocky’s cheek, and then another on the other one.

He draws his head back, watches Rocky’s eyelids flutter open again before he’s whispering into the tiny space between them, “I’m already yours.”

 

 

 

"yes,

i want to be your friend. 

 i want to be the friend you fall hopelessly in love with.

the one you take into your arms and into your bed,

and into the private world you keep trapped in your head.

i want to be that kind of friend."

- tahereh mafi

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"if you ever ask me how many time you've crossed my mind,

i would say once.

because you came,

and never left."

- ritu ghatourey

 

Forgoing his usual eclectic and quirkier tastes, Sanha had styled his apartment contemporarily after the renovations were complete. Deciding against bright pink and green velvets matched with bold wallpaper prints and vintage furnishings, he chose delicate pendant lights and expensive vases to rest on the glass cocktail tables. The walls were painted an off-white grey, and were adorned with bronzed mirrors and abstract art pieces. Sanha remembers thinking, when he hung the last piece of art in the living room, that it was perfect – it was exactly what he had envisioned.

But now, standing in the entranceway to the open-plan living space, he had started to doubt himself.

He finds himself questioning his choice of couch – a plain charcoal L-shape lounge with earth toned cushions and blankets – and wishes he had chosen the pink velvet one instead. He questions his choice of wallpaper, thinking he should have gone for a statement piece; perhaps a floral print, or one with metallic inlays. He knows he should have chosen against the glass-topped coffee table and gone for the circular turquoise one, now knows that it would have livened up the entire space. He thinks he could have gone without all of the minimalist pieces pottered around the apartment, because no matter how he furnished it, the back wall of living room would always be the feature.

Curved along the wall in a semi-circle design, the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the city centre of Seoul, and while it was an impeccable sight during the day, it wasn’t until nightfall that it truly served its purpose.

Sanha could sit on one the armchairs he despised so much and watch the city bloom to life, because whilst it was lively during the day, he found that as soon as the moon hung high and bright in the sky, that Seoul was as beautiful as she’d ever be.

He could just sit there, and admire the way lights would turn on and off in the nearby high rises, the fanfare of colour dancing into the night. He could watch the specks of people far down below, make out their sequined dresses and the satin lapels of their jackets from underneath the yellow glow of the streetlights. He couldn’t see them smiling, or laughing, or even if they were crying; but he like to think they were always doing the former, because it would make the city feel that much brighter.

Not once during these times did he ever extend his eyes far into the distance, where the high-rises dropped off, flattening out into run-down suburbia, adding very little to the light show Sanha frequently watched. He wonders, if he had, if he’d catch sight of a beam of sunlight protrude up from the darkened rooftops, because even in total darkness, Rocky would always shine through.

Behind him, there’s a loud huff. “Are we going inside any time soon, or are we just going to hang out in the doorway?”

Someone – Dongmin, Sanha scowls – snickers when Jinwoo speaks. “I mean, I don’t mind, but I’m going to need food at some point.”

Sanha turns and goes to smack him with one of his bag-filled hands, but it’s slow moving and Jinwoo dodges it easily. He slips around him and darts through the living space and out into the hallway.

Sanha follows along behind him, and while his two friends collapse onto his bed when they get inside, Sanha heads straight to his wardrobe. He rummages around in the bags, and although they weren’t necessarily heavy, they had left angry red indents along his wrists and fingers from where he carried them. He hisses at them once, before kicking his shoes off and aiming them at the back wall of the wardrobe.

He’s in the middle of yanking his trousers off from around his ankles when Dongmin yells out to him from the other room. “Did he tell you where he’s taking you yet?”

“No,” he yells back over his shoulder, finally stepping free of his pants. “Just said dress ‘casual.’”

He thinks he hears Dongmin snort, but from the way his walk-in wardrobe is curved around the corner of his bedroom out of their line of sight, he can’t be certain. “Casual?”

Jinwoo hollers, “Yoon Sanha? Casual?

Sanha groans, tugging on the new trousers he had bought that day. “Can we go over how he asked you out again?” Jinwoo hollers again, and Sanha can make out him slapping Dongmin’s chest with the back of his hand.

“I’ve told you this already,” he yells out from the wardrobe, fastening the fly of the pants before reaching for his new shirt.

“We know. We just like making you suffer.”

Dongmin hollers this time, and Sanha is tempted to smother them both with the shirt in his hands. He opts for throwing a shoe out the door towards them instead, but their laughter only intensifies.

With a sigh of defeat, Sanha yells out the door after the shoe. “I begged him to kiss me.”

Sanha pulls the shirt over his head, hearing Jinwoo yell back to him. “And what did he do? Or, should I say, what didn’t he do?”

Dongmin and Jinwoo are still cackling when he leaves the wardrobe, entering into the bedroom. Jinwoo’s laughter, however, dies off entirely when he spots him.

“No.”

Dongmin’s head draws back the same time Sanha’s does. “No?”

Jinwoo gestures to the pants, the expression on his face one he reserves for when he’s truly disgusted. “I hate it,” he spits.

Sanha huffs. “Why?”

“They’re yellow. You never wear yellow,” he explains. Dongmin looks like he’s about to but in when Jinwoo continues. “Have you ever seen him wear yellow?”

Dongmin looks like he’s thinking about it, but Sanha is already turning on his heel to go change. He emerges a few moments later in a similar style, but in black and white. Jinwoo’s smile returns, and Dongmin’s looks more genuine. Sanha takes that as a win, and allows himself to slip beside his two friends on the bed.

They lie on their backs simultaneously, hands climbing along the bedsheets and tangling together. They’re silent for a long while, but Sanha can sense Dongmin is itching to speak, so he nudges him with his elbow in encouragement.

“I don’t get it,” he says, causing Sanha’s eyebrows to furrow.

“Get what?”

Dongmin shrugs, the movement restricted from the way they were so closely pressed together. “I mean, it’s just a kiss. You kiss each other’s cheeks all the time, and God knows where else—”

Jinwoo snorts.

“—so why make such a big deal of it?”

Sanha ignores Dongmin’s suggestive tone, opting for the truth instead of something sly and sarcastic. “He wants it to be perfect, or something. And like, it’s different. Because, oh, God, I don’t know. Because we’ve left it this long. We both just want it to be perfect and not rushed.” He ends his spiel with a shrug, and they fall back into silence.

It’s comfortable, one he’s used to, and he watches the clock above his doorway nervously. It was nine am, and after having dragged himself out of bed at an hour far too early for his liking to pick up the clothes he had ordered online, Dongmin and Jinwoo had asked to come over to make sure he looked suitable. Rocky was picking him up at eleven am, a time Sanha himself wasn’t used to when it came to life in general, let alone a date.

“Sanha,” Jinwoo says, voice breaking into the silence. Sanha hums in acknowledgement, but doesn’t turn his head to face him. “Remember that talk we had weeks ago? About your flirting?”

Sanha groans, releasing the hands of his friends and raising them to cover his face. “Jinwoo!” He exclaims, hands falling from his face and sitting up rapidly on the bed. Dongmin is startled by the sudden movement, and Jinwoo sits up beside him, eyes wide and alarmed at Sanha’s outburst.

“I tried, Jinwoo! I did! I tried not to be too flirty, but shit, I really like him – I know you’re going to try tell me that I just think he’s hot, or something, but I know what I feel Jin, and what I feel is real!”

He’s panting by the end of it, and he feels surprisingly angry because Jinwoo has this small smirk on his lips, and he isn’t retaliating the way he had wanted him to. “I was going to say,” he says, voice calm and relaxed, laced with amusement. Sanha sees him glance over his shoulder at Dongmin. “That I give you my blessing.”

Sanha draws back, mouth falling open slightly. “W-what? Really?”

Jinwoo shrugs, “you listened to me. You stuck it out. You got to know him. It’s been like, a month, and you two are the most handsy people in the universe. And yet, you didn’t kiss him? Shit, Sanha, even I would have kissed him by now.”

Sanha feels and hears Dongmin snicker behind him, shifting closer to him on the bed. Out of nowhere, Sanha loses track of his filter, and—

“I really, really like him.”

Jinwoo and Dongmin snort in sync. “We know. Now, go shower, you don’t to scare off by smelling like that.”

What? I don’t smell!”

“Yeah, okay sunshine. Whatever you say.”

Sanha throws another shoe at them, this time he doesn’t miss, and relishes in the sound of Jinwoo yelping.

 

 

When eleven am comes, Dongmin and Jinwoo already far from sight, Sanha opens the door to Rocky’s gentle knocking with his heart lurching and his breath stuck in his throat.

The man’s smile – bright and glowing and a head lower than his own – is so distracting at first that he doesn’t notice the well-loved white Nike’s on his feet, or how his blue wash jeans wrap tightly around his legs, or even the bouquet of roses in his hand. Sanha is much too focused on the way his smile creates little wrinkles around the edges of his lips; two little dimples appearing in each corner; how his eyes light up like the city skyline of Seoul at night. Those same eyes are focused on his own face, his own smile, though Sanha doubts it’s anywhere near as bright as Rocky’s.

“Hi,” he greets breathlessly, smile tugging up higher on the right side of his mouth.

Sanha notices – but doesn’t comment – on the way the flowers shake a little in Rocky’s grip. He’s nervous, Sanha realises, and although it may sound a little awful, he’s glad. He’s not alone in that respect then, because the nerves Sanha has crawling around on – and beneath – his skin is crippling.

“Hi,” he says back, voice sounding just as breathless as Rocky’s had. “You look amazing.”

And he did, Sanha thinks. Rocky was the true meaning of the word casual, and yet despite the sneakers and jeans and t-shirt and plain black jacket, he still looked effortless and cool and put together in ways Sanha could only dream about. Rocky was more street, whereas Sanha preferred wearing the pearl derby shoes he wore now over his own Nike’s, which sat at the back of his wardrobe, tags still attached.

“I thought I told you to dress casual.” His voice is dry, but he’s still smiling and his eyes are still bright, so Sanha knows that it’s a harmless jab, rather than one with actual intent.

He shrugs, “I am casual.”

Rocky rolls his eyes, then as he shakes his head fondly at him, steps forward through the threshold. With his spare hand, he reaches out and takes one of Sanha’s own. Sanha has grown comfortable with the touch; understands the intent behind it now; knows that underneath the soft caress of fingertips it’s Rocky’s way of saying I like you, and when Sanha reaches back, squeezes his own fingers into the lifeline of his palm, it’s his way of saying it back.

Rocky has one of those small smiles on his lips now, where it only just reaches his eyes, only slightly dulling the blazing fire of fondness found there. Sanha wishes he could capture this moment forever, the way his hand feels heavy in his own, but in a way that Sanha finds he never wants to lose; how Rocky smells the way he always does, but fresher, crisper, like frost, or like the first morning of Spring; how his thumb drags lazily up his index finger where their hands are entwined; how the pink pout of his lips draws closer to his face, a movement so familiar to Sanha now that he knows to expect the racing of his heart beat, the clamminess of his palms, the echoing sensation in his ears.

Rocky’s lips press against his cheek, right by the corner of his mouth, and they’re as soft as ever. Sanha’s eyes flutter shut at the movement, as they always do, and the sigh he lets out is one of pure relaxation. He feels calm, serene, as though not a thing in the universe could divide him from this moment. Rocky’s breath is fanning across his face, minty and warm, and Sanha’s teeth peek out from between his lips as the trail of lips against his jaw increases.

The line of fire that is always there blazes on, burning deep beneath his skin and into his bones. He’d think it concerning had this fire not been the thing to spark his motivation, the thing to drag himself out of bed early and back into it late, the thing to keep his mind flourishing and expanding and yearning. Sanha knew that whatever this feeling was, was not something he’d ever had before; it was unfamiliar and warmer than anything else he’d ever encountered, but my God, did he want to find out more about it.

Rocky’s lips stop moving when they reach his ear, and Sanha feels him chuckle against it. The sound is gravelly and husky, like Rocky had only just woken up, and it sends a shiver down his spine that he hopes the elder doesn’t pick up on. Knows he does, though, when Rocky only laughs louder, lips brushing against his skin as he does so. The air against him is hot and comforting, and Rocky drops his hand from his, only for it to reacquaint itself with Sanha’s waist.

These are for you,” he whispers, lifting the bouquet in his hands with a small shake. Sanha’s cheeks turn as red as the buds in the blossom.

The little noise he makes as he takes the flowers from Rocky’s hands is caught somewhere between a gasp and a sigh, stuck right in the middle, neither here nor there, not one or the other, but an accumulation of both. They feel weighty in his hand, as though they were so much more than just flowers; like the twelve red blooms held the weight of all words left unspoken between them. Sanha didn’t mind; just buried his nose into the pretty red petals and inhaled, long and deep.

Never before had a date ever brought him flowers; but, then again, never had one of his dates even slightly compared to Rocky.

“Thank you,” he says, voice low and embarrassed. “They’re beautiful.”

Rocky’s cheeks tinge the colour of baby pink roses, not quite as red as Sanha’s, but getting there. Pink enough for Sanha to think how beautifully they match Rocky’s lips, plump and tempting, and so very far from his own. Rocky ducks his head, trying to hide is flushed cheeks, the embarrassed smile adorning his lips. The hand on his waist tightens, but Sanha can still feel the way it shakes against him.

Sanha nudges him with his hip, placing his hand over Rocky’s own. “Come on, let’s get them some water.”

Rocky follows him in from the doorway through to the kitchen, hand laced with Sanha’s again. They only let go when Sanha rummages around the cupboards of his kitchen in search for a vase, and even then, Sanha can feel Rocky’s eyes on him the entire time. Can feel them follow him from cupboard to cupboard, watch him stretch the tiniest bit to snatch one from the top shelf.

As he fills the vase with water, he hears Rocky walk from where he’s leant against the bench over to the sink. Even though he’s anticipating him, he still jumps when Rocky’s lips meet the skin below his hairline, at the nape of his neck. He shivers when Rocky’s fingers dance up his side, curling around the neckline of his t-shirt, tugging it downwards at the back. It allows Rocky to drag his lips downwards, too, so he can kiss the very top of Sanha’s spine, where the skin is paler and softer and much less seen by anyone but Rocky or Sanha himself. The feeling makes the hair on Sanha’s arms stand on edge, makes his toes curl in his shoes, makes him press back into the touch.

When Sanha feels traces of a tongue against his skin, he’s turning the tap off hastily, before spinning against the bench to face Rocky. The elder is smiling smugly, lips pressed together to stop himself laughing. Sanha slaps his chest playfully, cursing him under his breath.

“Hi,” Sanha says, smiling to himself. He’s already said it once to him already, but it felt right, like they’d been lost before, and now that they were this close they had finally found each other again. Hi felt right.

Rocky laughs through his nose, “hello, darling.”

He allows Sanha to step by him, to reach over and grab the roses from where they sat on the bench. Sanha feels his eyes on him again as he arranges them in the water, letting them lean delicately against the walls of the vase. Once satisfied, Sanha turns on his heel, proudly holding the vase up between his hands towards his date.

His date, Sanha thinks, liking how it sounds in his head. He’d wanted this since the moment he met him, and now that it was finally here, it felt surreal – as though this were just a dream, and Sanha was due to wake up at any moment now. But then that moment passed, and he was still here, and Rocky was smiling across at him and nothing felt more real than the way Rocky eased himself into Sanha’s life as though he had always been there, as if time itself meant nothing because it didn’t hold any value of significance until Rocky entered his life, as if life itself didn’t start until this very moment.

This moment, where Rocky stepped closer to him, taking the vase from his hands and placing it on the corner of the kitchen bench, where it would be visible from all areas in the open plan space. This moment, where Sanha realised the most beautiful part of his apartment wasn’t the curvature of the wall windows overlooking the city. This moment, where Sanha realised Rocky would always be the most beautiful thing in it, even when he wasn’t there, the small traces and memories of him living right on through his vacancy.

“I can’t believe I finally get to take you on a date,” Rocky says, piercing the silence.

Sanha giggles, eyes still fixated on the roses on the bench. “Took you long enough to ask me,” he says teasingly.

Rocky gasps, mockingly. “You could have asked me, you know?”

Cheeks red, Sanha screeches, “I thought you’d say no!”

Rocky shakes his head, as if the words Sanha had just spoken were so disbelieving, so ludicrous, that he thought him joking. He closes the distance between them, snatching at Sanha’s hand and tugging him along with him out of the kitchen.

“What on earth gave you that idea?”

He drops his hand long enough for Sanha to grab his bag and lock the door behind the two of them, but as they make their way to the elevator, Rocky laces their hands together again. When the doors of the elevator hiss shut after them, Sanha turns to face him.

“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I thought that maybe you were like this with all your friends.”

Rocky giggles, surges forward and presses a kiss to his temple. Sanha blushes, and when Rocky removes his lips, Sanha chases after it, dropping his head onto Rocky’s shoulder at the last minute.

“I’ve never,” he starts, then stops, biting on his bottom lip in contemplation. Sanha eyes him carefully, watching the flurry of nerves in his eyes smooth over and soften as he looks back at him. “I’ve never been like this with anyone else before. Ever. You’re the first one I’ve ever…felt anything like this for.”

Sanha’s cheeks are ablaze as he steps a little closer into Rocky’s space, hiding his smile into the curl of Rocky’s shoulder. “You’re the first for me, too,” he confesses, eyes glancing up at Rocky from underneath his lashes. He’s happy to see that his cheeks are as red as his own.

Rocky shakes his head, drawing his eyes away. “You know,” he starts, voice laced with amusement. “The boys at the garage thought we were already dating for a long time.”

Sanha snorts, pressing a chaste kiss to Rocky’s tanned neck. “Why?”

He feels Rocky shrug against him, the movement restricted from the way Sanha has himself draped across him. “They’ve known me for years. I guess they were just surprised by the way we acted.”

Sanha hummed against his neck, eyes fixated on a spot on the underside of his jaw. “Why?” He asks again, reaching his spare hand out and trailing a finger down the jawline he studied so intently now. Rocky shivers under the touch, but Sanha doesn’t mention it

“I already told you,” he says, voice soft, hand reaching out and pinching his side. “I’ve never felt like this for anyone before.”

“But,” Sanha says, titling his head up so he can stare directly at Rocky’s face, into his eyes. “But surely, I don’t know, you’ve flirted with clients before?”

Rocky smiles down at him fondly, giving his temple another kiss as the elevator delivers them down smoothly and rapidly to the carpark. “Never, Sanha. Never.” He pauses, bites his lip again. “Not like this. Not like anything with you.”

Sanha finds he likes that more than he should, and he has to hide the proud, smug look he has into the junction of Rocky’s neck. His back is starting to ache at the way he has to bend over to lay his head on Rocky’s shoulder, but he doesn’t dare move until the elevator comes to a halt and the doors hiss open. It isn’t until he steps out that Sanha remembers he hasn’t ever seen Rocky’s car before. He’s talked about it briefly – a Ford Mustang – but didn’t know anything more about it. With their hands still laced together, Rocky leads them over to the visitors parking area, scanning the parked cars for the vintage car.

“What did they say when you told them that you actually asked me out?”

Rocky giggles, a high-pitched sound of pure happiness that makes Sanha giggle back. Their eyes meet as they stand in a concrete jungle, smiles warm enough, bright enough, that even the dull grey asphalt beneath their feet seems glorious. “They said, ‘thank God’, and proceeded to tell me how they were going to give you a stern talking to.”

Sanha laughs, hiding the loud noise behind his hand. Rocky groans, head thrown back, but snatches for his other hand. Now having stolen both his hands – willingly, Sanha thinks – he walks Sanha backwards. It’s slightly disorientating, not knowing where he’s stepping or what he’s going to walk into, but he trusts Rocky, trusts the look in his eyes, trusts that he won’t let him stumble or fall.

He huffs when his back meets the side of a car, Rocky’s one, he assumes, but he can’t bring himself to detach his eyes from Rocky’s intense ones now. The look there is one he’s seen a few times – the first, when they were dancing at the park that one time, a few from the week Sanha spent the majority of his time at the garage – and its blood curdling in a good way. It’s good, because it burns him from the inside out, but it doesn’t hurt the way he thought it would. Its tingly and gentle and buzzes around his body like a flock of wild butterflies, the fluttering of their wings the pounding of their heart beats joining as one. It’s cheesy and its cliché, but Sanha want’s nothing more than to sink into the feeling.

Rocky has both of his hands pinned down by his side, against the cool exterior of the car. Out of his peripheral vision, he can see the glossy black finish of the car, the silver trimmings, the immaculate condition of the vintage piece. Rocky is even more immaculate though, what with the way he grins toothily up at him; the way he’s smaller than him, but has a way of commanding his attention with something as simple as a smile.

As usual, Rocky steals his breath away by peppering kisses across his face, and he barely has time to consider the possibility of other people seeing them like this, because then Rocky is biting at his jaw again, at the sensitive skin of his neck, below his ear, and he’s gasping out in surprise. He’s chuckling, deep and throaty, when he drags his mouth away from his skin, dropping his hands so they fall flat and limp against the car. Rocky clears his throat, and flutters a hand at the car he’s pressed against.

It takes Sanha a couple of moments to realise what had happened, and what had just stopped happening, before he’s stepping off from the car and turning to look at it.

It was gorgeous, to say the least. The glossy black finish he caught sight of earlier seemed even more beautiful now, with the way he reflected back a distorted image of the two of them side by side; the way the silver trimmings were smudge-free and shiny and reminding him far too much of his Spider. The classic shape, the one that even Sanha himself knew was Ford’s iconic design, stood out amongst the other cars parked around it, new sedans and hatchbacks and SUV’s, all of them gorgeous and sleek, but nothing like the boxy and hard-shelled Mustang before him.

It was so very Rocky, too. It was beautiful and soft, but at the same time, sharply edged and curvaceous. Sanha steps forward, gingerly running a finger across one of the yellow stripes that contrasted with the black body. He releases a rush of air he didn’t realise he had been holding in, head snapping back around to Rocky, who seemed to watch him nervously.

“1966,” he says, stepping up beside Sanha, reaching for his hand again. Sanha lets him take it, not bothered by his nerves anymore, the flutter of butterfly wings on his lips. “GT 350 H…she’s in far better condition now than she was when I got her.”

Turning back to the car, Sanha drags his finger along the yellow stripe again, hoping he doesn’t leave smudgy finger marks, but unable to help himself. It was cool and sleek beneath his fingertips, and his tongue sits heavy in his mouth.

“I hope you know,” Sanha starts, turning back to face him, back pressed against the car. He squeezes Rocky’s hand in his own, drawing his attention nearer. “—that you’re completely unfair.”

Rocky snorts, stepping closer into Sanha’s space, leaving no gap between them as their chests press flush. “And why is that?”

He’s smirking, knowingly, almost, and it reminds Sanha of the cocky smile he’d had when Sanha had first seen him shirtless. Sanha wants to kiss it off his face, knows he can’t, not yet, at least. He’s stuck out for this long, he can surely stick it out for a few hours more.

“You’re too hot for your own good.”

Rocky shakes his head around a barely-there laugh, but it’s not enough to hide the pink of his cheeks, the bubbly look swelling up in his eyes. Sanha pinches his side with his other hand, making Rocky’s head snap upwards to look at him again.

“I’m glad,” he says, voice softer than it had sounded in his head. “I’m glad that you asked me on a date.”

He shakes his head again, but stops sooner than he did before, so he can press a third and final kiss to Sanha’s temple. “I’m glad you said yes,” he returns, leaning around him to open the passenger door. “Now, after you.”

 

Sanha thought the route Rocky was taking looked familiar at first, but then he took a series of twists and turns that put them out on the side of the city neither of them inhabited. It was less the industrial area, and more middle-class suburbia, with small cafes spotted in between refurbished corner shops and locally owned boutique stores.

The Mustang was just as noisy as the Spider, if not nosier, but Rocky drove with far more confidence than Sanha ever could. The way his hand sat with a practiced ease around the stick shift, the way his other hand sat lax, yet still perceptively, on the wheel, it made him ooze of confidence. It made Sanha feel safe, even if Rocky did drive a little faster than necessary down the wider, quieter streets of the city’s outskirts. It made Sanha flush and giggle against the music emitting from the radio, because he most definitely shouldn’t find Rocky driving as attractive as he does. It’s not like he’s never seen him drive before – he’s seen him drive the truck, and his Spider – but this felt different, looked different. Rocky was in his element here, the car he had restored by himself when he was just a teenager.

This was as much his home as his body was.

When Sanha notices Rocky starting to slow the car, indicating off to the left, he glances up at the two-storied warehouse that looked a little worse for wear in curiosity. At first, he didn’t know what it was, but then as Rocky pulled into the carpark he was able to make out the words of the sign clearer.

“A second-hand store?” He asks, turning in his seat to eye Rocky curiously.

Grinning over at him, Rocky nods, before reaching over to him – face unnecessarily close to his own – and unbuckles his belt for him. He undoes his own, and while Sanha sits there and stares out the windshield at the unexpected location, Rocky is opening the car door and stepping out into the almost-vacant lot.

Sanha sits in his seat for a moment longer, dazed by the turn of events. He had never been on a date during the day before. All the dates he’d been asked on – which, honestly, wasn’t all that many – all took place at night, and consisted of dinner and a movie and an awkward “I’ll call you” by the front door; a call that, unsurprisingly, never came. Despite knowing that Rocky was different – far, far different – to any of the other people he had gone on dates with, he had still been expecting perhaps lunch followed by a movie, rather than whatever this was he had planned.

All of a sudden, he was met with a rush of cold air against his cheek as Rocky opens the passenger door for him. His hand is outstretched, and out the corner of his eye, he can see the glint of amusement in Rocky’s eyes. He snaps himself out of his daze, however, when Rocky wiggles his fingers at him. “C’mon, Yoon Sanha, don’t be scared.”

Sanha scoffs as he places his hand in Rocky’s own, letting the mechanic hoist him out of his seat. “I’m not scared,” he defends. “I’m confused.”

Rocky snickers, shakes his head, before letting their fingers hang between each other and locking the doors to the Mustang. Inside the store, the smell is unusual. Not bad, Sanha thinks, just unlike anything he’s familiar with. The space is larger than he had thought, too, with a register in the middle of the store and clothes to one side, and bric-a-brac and furniture to the other. There are two workers behind the counter who throw them a friendly-faced smile and wave in greeting, before returning to their tasks in front of them.

Casting a look over at Rocky, he finds the elder already staring at him. He looks comfortable in this environment, Sanha thinks, what with the way his stance is lax and soft, unlike Sanha’s own, which is relatively stiff and wary. It wasn’t that he was uncomfortable in the store – not as though he was repulsed by it, or disgusted – it was just that he had no idea what protocol was; didn’t know how to act. Every store he’s used to sells nothing short of luxury items, so things were done very differently than they were here. More often than not, there was only one of two of each item, the shelves bare and minimal and actually seeing a shop assistant smile was so rare it was actually concerning when they did. It was a different experience, a different situation, but it was one Sanha was familiar with, comfortable with. This situation, a bold and cluttered and aged space, with loud music and bubbly shop assistants, was so far from what Sanha was used to that he wasn’t quite sure how to function.

Rocky seemed to suspect his hesitation, and tighten the grip on his hand. “We can leave, if you want.”

Instantly, Sanha’s face contorts into one just short of horror. “No! No, I don’t want that. It’s just,” he stops, lips tugging downwards.

Rocky reaches over to him with his free hand, finger dipping into one of the frown lines he no doubt had across his forehead. “What is it?”

Sanha shrugs, letting out a rush of air. “I’ve never been to a second-hand store before.”

He sees the moment Rocky’s stance relaxes, realising that Sanha wasn’t against the date so far, but just unsure of it. “I didn’t think you had,” he says, smile playing with the corners of his mouth.

“Welcome,” he says, gesturing broadly with his hands to the wide space. “To a second-hand store, Yoon Sanha.”

With a chuckle, Sanha jabs Rocky’s side with his elbow. “What are we doing here, Rocky?”

The mechanic shrugs, nonchalant, before walking off in the direction of the clothes, Sanha following after. “We’re going shopping,” he says, stating the very obvious, but Sanha not making any move to comment on it.

Rocky weaves him through the rows of clothes, before stopping suddenly, without warning. Sanha stumbles slightly, running into his back, causing Rocky to giggle. His arms shoot out to steady him, followed by a, “sorry, Darl,” so obviously laced with mischief that Sanha knows he had done it purposefully.

Sanha playfully slaps his shoulder, but Rocky doesn’t even flinch, just nods his head up to the wall they stood in front of now.  It was lined with row after row of hats – all of them old and dated, and so very unfashionable that Sanha wanted to cry just looking at them. But, at the same time, he felt so nostalgic looking at them. Many years ago, some of the hats styles would have featured on runway shows Sanha had no doubt watched before, perhaps had even watched live, in the front row, but looking at them now, all he wanted to do was snicker and take a long hot shower.

He can make out Rocky laughing at him from where he stood pressed up against him, but Sanha paid no mind. Instead, he reached out, and ran his finger along the series of hooks holding the hats in place. “Why hats?”

He removes his eyes from the hooks, and back to Rocky, who was watching his finger trace patterns along the wall. He looked flustered, a little embarrassed, Sanha notices, so he squeezes his hand once in comfort. As he does so, a smile begins to dance with the corners of his lips again.

“Because, Sanha, you’ve never been to a second-hand store before.”

Sanha cocks his head to the side, Rocky’s words only adding to his confusion. “I…I know this?”

Rocky shoves his arm, and Sanha cackles, hand over his mouth to stop is resounding throughout the store. “No, I mean,” he stops, huffing. “Listen,” he says.

“Listening.”

Rocky rolls his eyes fondly. “You’re able to do anything you want. Whenever you want. I could have taken you to a restaurant and a movie, but I feel like you’ve eaten everywhere, and seen everything already.” He stops, swallows, and his next words are said more slowly, more calculated. “So, I wanted to do something with you that you’ve never done before…which means, if we want that to happen, you can’t look like you.”

Sanha fiddles with one of the clothes racks to the other side of them. “What do you mean?”

“I read one of your interviews. One from years ago, I hope you don’t mind.”

Rocky is biting his lip nervously, and Sanha brushes him off. “Of course, it’s fine. They’re there for a reason. Which one? What did it say?”

Rocky shrugs one shoulder. “You said you hadn’t ever been to the tourist hot spots in Seoul. Never seen the must-see things.” He shrugs again, fiddling with the same clothing rack now, their fingers dancing across one another’s. “I thought, hey, I could change that. So, here we are.”

Sanha can feel his bottom lip wobble at the realisation of what date Rocky had planned, at the thought put behind it; how he had actually gone out of his way to research Sanha a bit more to see what he liked, didn’t like, had done, hadn’t done. The fact that he cared this much to put together a unique date specialised just for him was enough to make his eyes start to sting, and through the swell of tears he can see the look of absolute horror grow on Rocky’s face.

“Sanha? No, no, no, no,” he repeats like a mantra, hands coming up to cradle his cheeks between his hands, thumbs brushing away the tears spilling from his eyes.

Sanha chuckles, but it comes out like a sob, and he hates that he can’t find his voice right now because he wants to console Rocky, tell him that it’s fine and okay, and they’re tears of happiness, not sadness, but he can’t move his damn tongue. Rocky is suddenly pressing himself closer, a hand on the back of Sanha’s head pulling him down, so his cheek is pressed against the hollow of his throat. Rocky presses his own chin against the side of Sanha’s head, against his hair, and Sanha can make out his little, pleading “don’t cry, please, don’t cry”.

Sanha gasps out against Rocky’s chest, hands pushing against his shoulders, trying to shove him backwards. Rocky takes the hint, but perhaps a little too literally, because he’s yanking himself away from Sanha has if he had been burned. There’s a look close to betrayal on his face, but is then replaced with confusion, then hurt, then utter dismay when Sanha feels himself starting to laugh.

It starts lowly, a barely-there chuckle at the back of his throat, but as seconds pass, it gets louder and a few of the shop assistants cast a few looks their way. Soon enough, Rocky is laughing along with him – or rather, at him, because he’s crying all over again, but this time because the situation was so humiliating and obscure and sudden that he’s most likely in shock.

Sanha steps closer as he laughs, hands resting on Rocky’s neck, and through a laugh he presses a kiss – probably too wetly – against Rocky’s cheek, holding that position a few seconds longer than normal. He hopes that from the movement Rocky realises Sanha hadn’t meant the shove maliciously, and judging by the blush on his cheeks and ears, he does, or, at least, knows Sanha’s genuinely sorry for it.

When Sanha removes his hands from his neck, he guides them down into Rocky’s own, clutching at them tightly as both his laugh and tears dissipate away. “I’m sorry,” he says, voice sounding thick to his own ears. “I’m sorry, I just.” He stops, watches the way confusion and anticipation flickers in Rocky’s eyes, the deep brown mesmerising this close up. “I got overwhelmed by how much I like you.”

The reaction is instantaneous. Rocky’s face caught fire, red flaring from his cheeks up to his ears, and down his neck, no doubt running underneath his shirt to his navel. His smile is wide and toothy, and it’s so intense and genuine that his eyes slip closed, forehead dropping forwards and resting across Sanha’s collarbones. He giggles into the clothed skin there, lips quivering against the sound. Sanha laughs along with them, vaguely thinking that the other shoppers and shop assistants must be thinking they’re crazy. He doesn’t ponder on that thought for long though, not when Rocky is dragging his head away again, and staring into his eyes with the same intensity as before, in the car park.

“I like you so, so much Sanha. I…I really hope you have a good time today.”

Sanha thinks back to the art showing they went to, where they were having a similar conversation; Sanha doubting that Rocky wouldn’t have a good time, Rocky adamant that he would. And, much like that night, Sanha uses Rocky’s words here, uses them against him. When he does, Rocky grins again, snatches one of the hats off the hook and shoving it over his head.

“I’m with you, Rocky. There’s no chance I won’t have a good day if I’m with you.”

 

“How about this?”

Sanha turns from where’s looking through a row of t-shirts to where Rocky stands over by the scarves. Around his neck is a hideous purple number, with a yellow stripe hand-stitched down the centre at uneven divisions. Sanha’s face contorts into one of disgust, but still, his heart lurches in his throat.

“How do you make something so ugly look so cute?

Rocky snorts, unravelling the scarf and proceeding to whip it at him in Sanha’s direction. Sanha yelps when it collides with his clothed thigh, a laugh slipping between his teeth as he skips down the aisle away from him. Rocky chases after him though, and he must know the store better than Sanha does, because soon enough he has him cornered. Sanha finds that he doesn’t mind that, though, because as Rocky presses him flat against a wall, his lips dangerously close to his own, that getting lost with him is his new favourite thing. Sanha should, however, know that Rocky likes to tease him. He should know that by now, given how often Rocky does it, but still – it comes as a surprise when Rocky is suddenly wrapping the scarf around his throat, throwing one end over his shoulder, dangling down his back.

“Just for that comment, Darl, I think you should wear the scarf.”

Sanha groans, yanking at the ugly accessory around his neck. “But it’s hideous,” he whines, hoping his pouty bottom lip will get him out of it.

Rocky was immune to his pouts, however, because he just shakes his head and steps away from him. “Nope. Not a chance. It suits you, anyway,” he adds for good measure, and dodges the fist Sanha throws in his direction.

 

“I hate them.”

“I think they’re cute.”

“You wear them then.”

“No, no, I don’t look good in red.”

“Oh bull, Rocky.”

“Sanha. You’re wearing the shoes. Now shut up.”

 

When Sanha steps out of the change room, Rocky hums. “You know,” he says, voice inquisitive. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you wear yellow.”

Sanha cocks his head to the side. “You’re the second person to say that to me today.”

Rocky goes to ask, but then shakes his head, clearly deciding against what would be a wordy discussion. He smiles across at him though, reaching out and fixing the collar on the yellow polo shirt. It was possibly a size too big, Sanha thinks, but at least it wasn’t too short on his long body, and didn’t restrict his movements.

“Touristy enough for you?” Sanha asks, knowing by the amused smirk on Rocky’s lips that it was definitely a yes.

But, Rocky wasn’t satisfied, because he shakes his head. “Almost,” he declares, voice giddy as his smile, before snatching at Sanha’s hand and dragging him back into the rows of clothing. When Sanha emerges from the racks fifteen minutes later, he has an armful of ugly, decade old cargo shorts in his arms, and he’s being shoved into the change room by a chortling Rocky – who, at this point, was still wearing his normal clothes.

 

Clad in a baggy polo shirt and even baggier shorts, Sanha grumbled as he fixed the scarf around his neck. “These outfits don’t even make sense, Rocky,” he says, voice annoyed. “Why am I wearing a scarf if it’s warm enough for shorts?”

Rocky cackles from where he walks behind Sanha, scanning the shelves of sunglasses and other assorted items. Sanha flickers his gaze over to Rocky, who now wore similar clothes as he did, and it does bring a small smile of satisfaction to his lips.

Sanha had decided that wearing nearly identical clothes would make the experience even better, because with Rocky in the same style of shorts, and a purple polo, they almost looked like a married couple. Sanha could barely contain himself when Rocky had stepped out of the change room in the outfit Sanha had picked for him, because if the clothes looked big on Sanha, they were swimming on Rocky’s petite frame.

Rocky had, similarly to him, opted to whacking him with the hand that wasn’t holding his normal clothes, before dumping his clothes on the pile of their belongings the shop keeper had set up for them by the counter.

From where they scan the shelves of sunglasses, they make their way back to the rows of hats. Sanha plucks one of the floppy fedoras off the topmost shelf, spins it around in his hand, before placing it delicately on the back of Rocky’s head. Rocky pulls a silly face, making Sanha snort, before putting his hands on his hips and contorting his back much like a stereotypical model would do.

Sanha wiggles the hat on Rocky’s head. “I think you should get this. Not for today, but just in general. It suits you surprisingly well.”

Rocky gasps, “what do you mean surprisingly well? I look great in everything!”

“Say that to me when you’re not wearing cargo shorts from 2003.”

“I hate you, Yoon Sanha.”

 

In the end, Rocky did get the fedora, but they also left the second-hand store with a matching set of sun visors atop of their heads, too. Rocky had nearly lost his mind when he saw them tucked away on the back shelf, because he thought it too funny to not wear them. Sanha lost his mind as well, but for a different reason. He had this horrible feeling he would still be recognised in this get up, and then the magazines would slander him like never before.

The likelihood of that happening, he realises, as he catches sight of his reflection in the paint job of Rocky’s car, is very slim. No one would ever think to look at him and go, that’s Yoon Sanha, especially not in these shorts, with these shoes.  

As Rocky unlocks the door, opening it up for him to climb in, he’s chortling at the red shoes and the yellow shirt and ugly as all hell cargo shorts, before walking his way around the car to the driver’s side. Sanha had every intention of burning these clothes when the date was done, but at the same time, Sanha feels already very fond of them.

 

Rocky had said there was a total of five destinations on his list of tourist must-sees, and although Sanha had heard of every single one, and had lived in Seoul his entire life, he’d never been to any of them.

He’d driven past them, sure, once or twice, but had never made the effort to pull off and see the sights. Many of the sights were of historical significance, Sanha realises, when Rocky lists them off as he drives. This makes Sanha feel relatively guilty, considering his country’s history should have been of more importance to him by now. Rocky doesn’t make him feel bad for it though, which Sanha finds solace in, sinking down further in the black leather seats of Rocky’s Ford.

It’s a smooth drive to their first destination, The Banpo Bridge.

Rocky said that they should make it just in time for the afternoon rainbow fountain light show. Sanha found himself giddy with anticipation and excitement; he’d heard many wondrous things about the bridge, had seen it, had read about it, seen images of it on the news every year, but knowing now that he’d get to stand there and be part of its wonder was overwhelming.

It didn’t let him down, either.

“The colours aren’t as vibrant now as they would be later, but given our schedule,” he says, trailing off with a shrug.

Sanha just shakes his head, eyes lighting up the same colour as the bridge as the water dances around the rainbow. Sanha felt mesmerised, both by the bridge and the show before him, and by the way he seemed to forget about his ridiculous appearance, about the possibility of being recognised, and just sunk deeper into Rocky’s side. The arm that was wound around him just tightened, humming against the side of his face, watching the show along with him.

Halfway through, and Rocky insisted upon photos. Sanha would rather not have photographic evidence of him looking like this, but when Rocky steps back to get him and the bridge in frame, Sanha just grins widely and toothily, and it feels genuine and true. Rocky giggles as he snaps him at different angles, Sanha pulling ridiculous poses, feeling free and wild in the makeshift costume. Before they leave, Sanha makes sure they take a photo together with the bridge, even though the show was well and truly over, and Rocky gives him a big kiss on the cheek for impact before tugging him back towards his car.

 

The second destination was Jongmyo Shrine, and although they were met with heavy crowds, Sanha no longer feared being recognised. If he was, it wouldn’t matter; it was worth it. Being here, seeing and experiencing things for the first time with him, with his Rocky, it made him feel floaty, like he was on another planet, like nothing else truly mattered.

There were kisses here, too, and hand holding and silly photos and selfies and although the atmosphere felt different, more serious than the bridge had, Sanha loved it just the same. It wasn’t until Rocky was walking them out, back to his car, that Sanha spotted the makeshift stall by the carpark entrance. Sanha snorted, pointing it out to Rocky, who shook his head in disbelief. Sanha turned to head back towards Rocky’s car, but a hand on his waist stopped him.

“Do you want one?”

Sanha drew his head back. Yes, he thought. “No,” he says.

Rocky narrowed his eyes at him. “Yes, you do.” Sanha goes to protest when Rocky pulls his wallet from his back pocket, but Rocky’s insistent, and doesn’t take no for answer.

Five minutes later, Rocky is climbing into the driver’s seat, throwing a glance over at him. “Think of me when you wear it?”

Sanha giggles, pressing his face into the tacky I heart Seoul t-shirt. “I think of you all the time anyway.” Rocky doesn’t say anything to that, but he does smile brighter than he had all day.

 

Their third and fourth destinations, Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palace, went by quickly as the afternoon sun began to set, and by the time they finished a quick loop of their final destination, Namsan Park, the two of them were famished, exhausted from the amount of excitement they had shared together, their cheeks and jaws aching from smiling and laughing so much. Sanha’s feet ached, too, the horrid red sandals not offering much support through their treks.

But, despite it all, despite the blister on his left toes and the ache in his calves, Sanha wouldn’t want it any other way.

The memories and laughs he had shared today with Rocky were some he’d never forget, never want to share with anyone else. Sanha knew that had he done the same very thing with anyone else, he wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much. It was just because Rocky himself was the one taking him to these places, experiencing these things with him, that it was as special as it was.

Rocky takes one last photo of Sanha leaning against a tree, before pocketing it. “Shall we get some food then?”

Sanha nods, ravenous. “We shall.”

 

The abandoned warehouse stood tall and somewhat menacing against the night sky, but with Rocky at his side, he didn’t feel as terrified as he would had been alone. Given the neighbourhood, he never would come here alone, but it was the thought itself that brought comfort to his bones. The climb to the rooftop is a long one, and they do so wordlessly. Occasionally, there will be a window, and Sanha will cast a curious glance outside at the world below.

When they reach the top of the stairs, they’re both out of breath. Sanha’s cheeks are flushed, but he thinks that’s more from the way Rocky looks at him now rather than the steady climb to the rooftop. When Rocky opens the door, it creaks open without much resistance, and steps aside, allowing Sanha to step through first. He hadn’t needed to though, because even from where he stood at the threshold he could see the view.

It overlooked the neighbourhood in which Rocky lived, and Sanha’s certain if he looked hard enough, he’d be able to find the workshop. The lights were duller here, and as he extended his gaze out to the horizon, he could clearly see the city skyline. A queasy feeling enters him, knowing that he’s looking in the direction of his apartment, and from his apartment, he could maybe see this building. He thinks back to the nights he had spent on his balcony, looking out across the city, but never to this part of Seoul.

He steps through the threshold, eyes never leaving the view. The wind whips around him, and he feels Rocky’s arm slide around his waist when he reaches the very edge. His other arm snakes around with it, hands overlapping along his stomach, head thrown over his shoulder. He reaches around and kisses his cheek chastely, and Sanha leans back into Rocky’s arms, finding comfort in the warmth and hard muscles.

“Look,” Rocky says, and turns him in his arm. Sanha follows Rocky’s line of sight, to the back corner, where a small bowl of fairy lights sits in the centre of a picnic blanket. Sanha gasps at the pretty, well thought-out display, plates and bowls of food spread out on the blanket, a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket off to the side.

Sanha snaps his head back to him. “H-how?”

Rocky shrugs, hiding his embarrassed smile by leading him towards the blanket. “MJ has his uses.”

Sanha giggles, sinking down onto the picnic blanket beside him. “Now,” Rocky says, “champagne?”

 

“What is this place?” Sanha asks, voice breaking the undisturbed silence. It’s later, and Sanha’s stomach is full of noodles and rice and sweet treats Rocky swears he didn’t spend too long making. They’re leaning against the railing of the rooftop, hips brushing against each other.

The wind whips around them, but it isn’t unpleasant. It’s warm and stirs up his hair in the best kind of way, curls in around the polo shirt, across his stomach, cooling the overheated skin beneath. Sanha’s sure it messes his hair completely, but it messes with Rocky’s too, so he doesn’t linger on the thought for long.

“This is where I was born,” Rocky says, voice nearly lost to the wind.

Sanha startles. “W-what?”

The look on his face must be that of quiet disgust, because Rocky huffs out a laugh. “Not like that. I mean,” he says, stepping forward, in front of Sanha. His hands rest of the concrete wall of the roof, peering over it, down at the suburbia of his neighbourhood. Sanha follows the movements of his eyes as he steps up beside him, watches them dance along the battered rooftops. Beside him, Sanha rests a hand atop of Rocky’s own.

“I mean,” he repeats, turning his head to face Sanha. “This is the place I decided to create myself. The place I decided that I wouldn’t let the world decide who I am for me. This rooftop, Yoon Sanha, is where I decided to let myself chose.”

Sanha smiles at him, eyes stinging in the same way they stung at the second-hand store, but this time, it felt different, heavier. Sanha knew the basics of Rocky’s upbringing, knew that it was difficult, much like many of the people in this part of Seoul, knew that life was more a challenge than a thing to be excited for. He didn’t know much, but he knew some; knew that most of Rocky’s friends lost themselves to the corruption of drugs and alcohol and gang wars from a very early age.

Sanha squeezes his hand where they rest together, and Rocky turns it around so they can lace their fingers together. The wind howls on, but Sanha barely notices it, because he doesn’t think he’s ever seen Rocky look so beautiful as he does right now. They’re in matching outfits, ugly and old and so far from anything Sanha would ever be caught dead in normally, but Rocky’s hand is in his, and he’s pointing up at the sky, where a single star can be seen amidst all the light pollution.

“That star,” Rocky says, “that star is always shining through the darkness.” Sanha rests his head against his shoulder, glancing up at that single, glowing speck of power. “I mean, truthfully, I don’t know much about space…I don’t know if it’s the same star each time I come here, or a different one, but there’s always only one I can see with all the lights.”

Sanha smiles against his shoulder, bathing himself in the soft vibrations of Rocky’s voice. “When I came here for the first time, I considered throwing myself over the edge.” His voice is croaky and thick, and Sanha loses his voice for a moment, but draws his head back off his shoulder, eyes wide and alert. “No, shush,” he says, holding a finger up to Sanha’s lip, pressing it softly against it, silencing him. “Let me explain first, okay?”

Reluctantly, Sanha nods, but nestles his head back into Rocky’s shoulder, eyes peering over the edge of the rooftop, across to the skyline in the distance where his dark apartment sits. As much as he wants to, he doesn’t let himself interrupt Rocky; doesn’t give him his two-cents. He remains silent and composed, and even though his eyes well up at parts, he refuses to cry the tears that are Rocky’s own.

“I considered throwing myself off the edge because life hadn’t worked out the way I had planned. I told you about our financial situation, about how we struggled. My parents were arguing a lot because of it, and I heard the word divorce thrown back and forth a few times. That same week, my…my best friend was found dead, a drug overdose. Accidental, apparently, but I’m still inclined to think that he took his life. I so badly wanted to take my own, because I wanted so much of the things I couldn’t have, and life just kept reminding me that I’d never, ever get to have it. Life had already planned out what would happen to me; the story of my life already written up, my name etched into the pages, even against my will. I was cast as a character I had never wanted to play, and I didn’t think there was any way I could dig myself out of it.”

“But then, as I stood as I am now, right here, hands against the railing, I looked up and saw that single bloody star and knew that there was no chance of me going through with it. I saw that star, I took it as a sign, or something, and told myself that it was my best friend looking down at me and telling me to stop. To take charge. To take back whatever control I could of my life, and steer it in whatever direction I wanted it to go.”

“That first year was hard after losing him. Afterwards, I drifted further and further from my friends, losing them to the life I steadily chose to avoid. Most days, I’d come here. This came my home away from home, and eventually, I brought dance here with me. I found solace here. I recreated myself here. I became me here. Things were still hard, still difficult, but my parents worked their problems out and were still very much in love; I went to my guidance counsellor at school for my own dark thoughts and focused on my dancing and studies; I bought my car and rebuilt her from the inside out. I focused my mind and focused my hands and soon, over time, I found that I had rebuilt myself the same way I rebuilt my bloody Mustang.”

“I learnt, though, Sanha, that that star was never my best friend. It wasn’t. It was me. Or, future me, or something. It was me all along. Because yes, my friend…he pushed me, pushed me to do better, to be better, to live, but it was me that did it Sanha. At the end of the day, I walked away from the edge, I went home, I got myself out of bed every morning, I forced myself to eat even when I wanted nothing more than to curl up and die. Life had it out for me, that much is true…and Seoul acted like a prison to me. Seoul is a prison to me.”

He stops talking, and Sanha can feel the way his chest heaves out a final breath, an ongoing sigh that sounds pained and strangled. Sanha doesn’t have to lift his head to know that Rocky was fighting back tears, much like he was doing himself. He drags his fingers over his face, but decides against lifting his head to look into his eyes. Instead, he shifts his head on Rocky’s shoulder, so that he can press his lips against the hollow of his throat, and can kiss a steady, sure line up his neck, the underside of his jaw, up his cheek and down beside his ear. He breathes out, rugged and choked-up, before pressing one last kiss to his cheek, feeling the wet tears against his lips. He lets his head drop back down to his shoulder, arms lacing themselves around his waist, the other around Rocky’s front.

He lets them stand together in silence for a moment longer before he breaks the silence. “Why did you bring me here?”

Rocky inhales, loud and painful, and Sanha cringes at his sniffle. “Because,” he says, voice thick. “Because if this city is my prison, Sanha, then you’re the one setting me free from it.”

 

When Saturday rolls over into Sunday, Sanha is lying on the picnic blanket again with Rocky at his side. Rocky is lying on his back, and while he stares up at that single star, Sanha stares at him. With the hand he has resting on Rocky’s stomach, he works his fingertips up his chest, trailing them along his clothed sternum, tapping delicately along his collarbones peeking out from the collar of the polo. Sanha hums a nameless tune under his breath, hearing it get lost to time and space, to the still-howling winds above them. The walls of the rooftop offer some protection from the way they’re increasing in speed and intensity, but it’s still warm despite the early hour.

When Sanha drags his fingertips up Rocky’s neck, they stop at his lips, tracing a line around them. When he finishes his loop, Rocky’s own hand snatches out to clasp it in his own. He swoops his lips forward, pressing a gentle kiss to the centre of Sanha’s palm, before tangling them together and letting them fall to his chest. From the way they sprawled there, Sanha can feel Rocky’s heart beating, the sound – no, the song – of life. The life that could have very easily been taken away had Rocky not found himself that night.

Sanha glances up at the star now, and shoots it another thank you, as another gust of wind whips around them. Sanha’s eyes feel droopy and heavy with sleep as he presses closer into Rocky’s warmth. He knows, if they keep this up, relaxed and unmoving, he would easily fall asleep in minutes. Rocky must read his mind, because in the next moment, he’s breaking the comfortable silence.

“I chose Rocky,” he says, voice nearly lost to the sky, “because stone is unbreakable. I wanted to be something that couldn’t be broken, or torn apart, or lost forever. I chose Rocky because I wanted to be dependable, strong; I wanted to be alive.”

Sanha smiles over at him, despite Rocky still staring up at the star. “I could never be a star. I knew that. So, I chose the next best thing.”

Sanha presses their hands down against his heart with a little more pressure, not enough to hurt, or cause discomfort, but enough that Rocky knew he was thanking him for everything. “You chose life,” Sanha states, turning his head on his arm to stare up at the little star. “You chose life when you could have chosen death.”

There are tears back in his eyes, and Sanha leans over him and presses a too-wet kiss to his cheek, a painful sob emitting from his throat when Rocky takes his face in his hands, and returns the kiss to him, right under his eye, kissing away the tears.

“And now,” he begins, “and now I chose you, Yoon Sanha. Who needs a star when I have you?”

Sanha breathes in, ragged and choppy, and his eyes settle on Rocky’s unmoving lips. They’re parted slightly, and even in the utter darkness, he can tell how soft they are, how pink. They had been dancing around it for far too long, but now that he had every opportunity, it felt too sudden, too real, and yet, at the same time, not enough.

It felt wrong to claim a kiss now, when the words that hung heavy around them were so without love, so without beauty, of Rocky’s past and his depression and the loss he had experienced. Yes, the story ends happy, but Sanha didn’t want to use his vulnerability for his own intentions. And thing is. The thing is, Sanha didn’t want to kiss Rocky. He didn’t. He wanted to kiss the real man he was, the one he was born as, because yes, Rocky was him and the one he had fallen for, but it was a façade, a wall he hid behind. Sanha wanted to know every fold and every bend and every contour of the man in his arms, and that meant knowing—

“Rocky, what’s your real name?”

He breathes in, but doesn’t look surprised. Sanha thinks Rocky’s been expecting this for a while now, especially tonight. He remains silent for a long time, though, and Sanha thinks he isn’t going to tell him when he finally opens his mouth.

“Park Minhyuk,” he says, and the name hangs in the air as heavy as Rocky’s – Minhyuk’s – seemed to.

Minhyuk.

Park Minhyuk. Minhyuk. Minhyuk. Minhyuk.

Sanha sobs, tears that he’s surprised he still has leaking out from the corners of his eyes, and then Rocky’s face is in between his hands, and he’s moving on instinct, on the pent-up emotions and desires he’s kept suppressed for far too long, and he’s finally, finally, pressing his lips against his.

And it is everything all at once.

It is a warm spring morning, the birds singing in the near distance outside the bedroom window, making him think of rebirth and of life; it is strawberries in melted chocolate, sweet and creamy and thick against his tongue; it is a warm body pressed underneath his own, warming him from the inside out; it is the heart wrenching sob during a sad movie and bringing you that feeling you can only get when you pour your heart out; it is the feeling of drinking water after a long day’s labour, the sweetest feeling of them all; it is a tongue pressing against his own, a sigh of comfort and of relief and of gratitude following along after it; it is the comfort of your own bed when you’re sick; it is the feeling of complete safety in a world filled with danger; it is soft hands cupping the back of his head and tilting it so the angle fits bitter, so the puzzle pieces click into shape; it is dancing lips and tongues and clanking teeth; it is breathy laughter against each other’s skin, against each other’s lips; it is a body rolling him over, hands either side of his head; it is surging up from beneath the waves when you’ve been under for too long; it is lips leaving his but not leaving his skin; it is lips against his cheeks and his neck and everywhere they can reach; it is spring; it is winter; it is every season within the grooves of his fingers; it is Minhyuk; it is Minhyuk; it is Minhyuk.

It is everything all at once, but finally, everything actually makes sense.

 

 

 "i'm fond of you as i've ever been of anyone or thing in this world."

- leonard woolf

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"Pull me down if you want to;

and i hope that you want to.

'Cause i want to be your man,

and I wanna' say it loud."

- Mikky Ekko, 'Pull me Down'

 

At peace and in tranquil, Sanha had not, at first, noticed the sound of the bedroom door opening and closing.

The bed in which he lies is plush and dipped at the centre, as though it were many years old, well-loved and favorited over time. Sanha knew, without having to open his eyes, that this was Rocky’s – Minhyuk’s – bed. The smell of residue oil and rubber lingered into the pillow case, in the duvet settled low around his hips, mixing with the crisp smell of fresh linen and laundry detergent. He had originally thought, that after spending so much time with Minhyuk, that the smell would become dizzying and intoxicating in all the worst ways, much like it had upon his first steps at the mechanics garage all those weeks ago. Nausea had twisted and churned in his stomach to the point where he had found it difficult to concentrate on the words Bin had been uttering to him. He had wanted nothing more than to get out of there, to breathe in fresh air, and detoxify his lungs.

Now, though, caught between the lucid state of being half-asleep and half-awake, he chases after the smell, snuggles his body deeper under the blankets, face pressing into the pillow at a more satisfying angle. He forgets for a short moment that something had woken him up, and judging by the way his eyes don’t flicker or sting against any harsh lights, natural or otherwise, it was still relatively early. It was a Sunday, after all; it meant Minhyuk didn’t have to go to work, meant they could lie here all day if they wished. And Sanha wished.

His sleep lingers for a short while, much like Minhyuk’s scent does, but he can feel it rapidly slipping between his fingers, retreating back into the darkness Sanha wants to follow it into. He tries to chase after it. Tries to focus on the barely audible slap of the venetian blinds against the window frame as the fan whirls above him; tries to focus on the laboured breathing coming from the body behind him; tries to focus on their arms around him, loose and limp, but still warm and comforting just the same. But, it seemed Sanha wasn’t a very good runner, because it shot far away ahead of him until he knew he’d never catch up.

He sighs, long and heavy, before turning his head again, up towards the ceiling fan. He doesn’t feel overheated, though he relishes the feeling of the cool air directly on against his cheeks. He surrenders to the feeling of consciousness, welcomes it, let’s his eyes flicker open on their own accord seconds later. He finds, right then and there, that the tranquil he was basking in had long since departed. Above him, he finds what – or rather, who – had woken him up. MJ, glassy-eyed and rumpled in his mechanic overalls, is staring down at him with a sly, knowing smirk.

Sanha grunts, voice croaky in the early hours, head still spinning from the lack of sleep. If MJ was getting ready to leave for work, and if he was as punctual as Minhyuk himself was, then it was around six am. Sanha recalls still being on the rooftop with Minhyuk at two.

“MJ,” he says, surprised by the roughness of his own voice for a second. “What the hell?”

Behind him, Minhyuk stirs, and Sanha winces when he feels his breathing pattern start to change. He was waking up, too. In an attempt to reverse the irreversible, Sanha presses back against his chest, so they were more in line. Sanha’s eyes flicker shut on instinct at the heat radiating off of him, and Minhyuk’s arm tightens where it’s settled around his waist. In his sleep, Minhyuk mumbles something into the skin at the top of his spine, hair standing to attention as MJ gags above them.

“You two are disgusting.”

Sanha smirks into the pillow, feeling his cheeks burn a little red, and he can almost hear the way MJ rolls his eyes exaggeratedly at the two of them. “What time did you get home last night anyway? You weren’t here when I woke up at three.”

Sanha grunts, eyes snapping open again. “What?”

Truthfully, Sanha wasn’t paying all that much attention, because Minhyuk’s lips were still mumbling against his spine, the nape of his neck, tiny, barely-there and half-asleep kisses pressed against his shoulder blades. He can’t stop the giggle from slipping between his lips when Rocky bites the top of his shoulder, where it meets his neck, and he kicks his leg back in retaliation.

Sanha didn’t mind, per se, but not in front of MJ – who was, already, staring at them as though they were a sickening sight to behold. Sanha doesn’t blame him, though, given the way Minhyuk tightens his arms again, but then twists him at the last second, so Sanha is on his back. Sanha gasps out at the sudden movement, eyes locked onto the curve of Minhyuk’s throat, the way his body jolts upright momentarily before gently falling down onto Sanha’s chest, head tucked into the crook of his neck. Sanha presses his lips together when Minhyuk huffs into his collarbone, eyelashes fluttering against his skin. It’s not uncomfortable, Minhyuk’s weight pressing him down into the mattress, but his cheeks burn a dangerous shade of red as MJ’s face contorts into one of pure disgust.

Sanha lets one free hand nestle into his hair, carding his fingers through the sleep-induced tangled mess; the other rests on his bare back, tickling up his spine and back down again. He keeps his eyes shut against MJ’s stare, but can still feeling it burning into him.

Minhyuk must feel it too, because he’s mumbling against his collarbone a moment later, voice thick with sleep. “Leave us alone, MJ.”

Sanha, full of sleepy fondness, leans down to press a kiss to the crown of his head. He feels Minhyuk smile against his throat, feels the tiny kiss he presses there in return. “Good morning, my darling,” he whispers, loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, but only caring for one of them to hear it. His head lifts up from his chest, reaching upward, searching, and Sanha knows what he’s seeking.

Craning his neck down, Sanha meets his lips halfway, morning breath and all. It’s as soft as he remembers, if not softer than last night, and the small movements of their lips together feels nostalgic, even now, with the blinds drawn closed and being half-asleep, with Sanha’s hand cradling the side of his face, with Minhyuk’s gripping tightly at his skin, thumbs pressing incessantly against his hip bones. It’s slow and it’s languid, and it’s just as perfect as last night had been. He doesn’t care for MJ in the room; doesn’t care that he hears the gagging noise, the slam of the door behind him as he scurries from the room. Doesn’t care for anything else, really, except for the boy in his arms right now, his hands dancing up his sides, making him squirm. Doesn’t care for the way there are birds outside the window, doesn’t care for the traffic in the distance, doesn’t care for the way his heart is thumping loud and heavy in his ears. Doesn’t care for any of it; cares only for Minhyuk, for the way his dancing fingers take Sanha’s own in his hands, tangling their fingers together where they’re holding Minhyuk’s cheeks. He drags them downwards, away from his face, and presses them out around them, against the pillows. Sanha smirks into Minhyuk’s kiss, giggles when he feels Minhyuk smile back, and draws his lips away.

“Good morning, my star,” he whispers back to him, reminiscent of their night before. Minhyuk drops his head back down onto his chest, resting his chin there, staring up at Sanha with his now-open eyes. They’re deep brown and beautiful, much like Sanha had always remembered them to be, and he shivers at the burning attention.

Minhyuk drags their joined hands down to him, pressing a chaste kiss the inside of Sanha’s wrist, before releasing them all together. He rolls of his chest – Sanha whines at the sudden loss of contact – and lies on his side beside him, eyes never leaving his. Sanha copies him, repositions himself so they’re lying side by side, face to face, noses dragging against each other’s across the small distance separating them. The hand that had been in his just moments early rests itself back on his waist, finding a home there more often than not, and Sanha’ winds around Minhyuk’s neck, curling into the hair at the back of his head, at the base of his neck. Sanha shivers in his arms when warm fingers trace patterns across his chest, in the divots of his ribcage, the jut of his hips, the soft, pale skin of his stomach. Sanha kisses the tip of his nose, snickering when Minhyuk scrunches his face up.

“So,” he says, finger curling along his sternum. “You stayed over.”

Sanha snorts at the tone he uses, tugging playfully on his hair. “Yeah. How many times does this make it now?”

Minhyuk presses his own kiss to his nose in return. “I meant in my bed, at my place. This is the first time you’ve been here.” His fingers tickle down his ribs, back to his waist, where they settle for the time being.

Blushing, Sanha tucks his chin. “I don’t even remember getting here,” he says truthfully, feeling the blood rush to his cheeks again at his confession.

In front of him, he hears Minhyuk chuckle throatily. “That’s because you deliriously begged me to carry you inside from the car. By the time I got you in bed you were in a deep sleep.” Minhyuk huffs dramatically, pinching Sanha’s side, causing him to yelp. “I didn’t even get a goodnight kiss!”

“A travesty,” Sanha mumbles, smirking, inching their faces closer again. Sanha enjoys the way Minhyuk’s hand starts to shake as they draw closer in proximity; enjoys the way it then grips him tightly, as though he were moments away from disappearing into dust around them.

Minhyuk lets out a breathy mhmm, rubbing their noses together, before letting their lips find each other again. The room is light and full of new air, the sun rising in the world outside, slivers of its shine cutting into the room whenever the blind shifts. The open window lets in the morning song the birds are chanting, and the cars have already started to build on the motorway. The two of them are oblivious, though, distracted only by each other.

Nothing else, Sanha thinks, could tear his attention away from this; from the way he so willingly falls to putty in Minhyuk’s hands, the way those said hands hold him as though we were made from glass, the most beautiful glass, venetian and blue and pink and red, a fragile vase worth treasuring. Sanha felt beautiful in his hands, the way one travels from his waist to his back, pressing him closer to his chest, and how the other dances along the sheets behind him, twisting and grabbing Sanha’s hand from his neck. Having been so starved of kissing him, Sanha thinks, and now being able to satisfy that craving whenever he wants, he was never going to go hungry again.

Minhyuk was soft beneath his fingers, well beneath his skin and down into his bones; and the way he kissed him was as though the tectonic plates of his heart had shifted, and the earthquake resonating around his body was so entirely opposite to the gentle headspace he found himself swimming in. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t wrong; it was just so entirely different to anything Sanha had ever experienced that he was left in a whirlwind of emotions that he was unable to fully process. He felt both suffocated and like he was breathing freely; like he was both swimming and drowning at the very same time, and as though the world had both lost and gained its meaning all at once. Because Minhyuk was soft and gentle against his fingers, and he just hoped Minhyuk found him soft and gentle against his, too.

Minhyuk’s lips are pink and a little swollen when he pulls away, from last night, from the early hours, from now. They’re pretty and match the colour of his cheeks, the tips of his ears, matches Sanha’s own, no doubt. He presses in again, Minhyuk far too irresistible to him like this, unguarded and soft and gentle and kind and warm and feeling so much like a home he had been deprived of for his entire life. Home, beneath his fingers; home, beneath his bones – no, home in his bones, built from his bones; home in Minhyuk, in everything he does.

Sanha’s eyes are stinging when he pulls away again, their lips popping as they part. He laughs airily when Minhyuk chases after him, eyes still shut, whines when Sanha tugs his head further back. “More later,” he explains, not missing Minhyuk’s frown. “I want food. And a shower.”

Minhyuk’s frown evolves into a very convincing pout. “But I want more kisses.”

Sanha tuts, pushing Minhyuk’s roaming hands from his waist. “I went a week knowing you wanted to kiss me without you actually doing it. I think you can wait fifteen minutes.”

Minhyuk whines, but let’s Sanha ease out from around his arms, his hands slapping down on the empty, warm space Sanha had just been occupying. Sanha feels exposed, suddenly hit with the cold air that sits outside of the protection of the blankets, in just a pair of what must be Minhyuk’s shorts. When Sanha turns back to him, Minhyuk’s smile is dopey and sleepy, and only one of his eyes is open.

He watches Sanha fumble around the room in search of his phone, before his voice is perking up from beneath the bed sheets. “Bathroom is at the end of the hall, you can’t miss it if you walk in a straight line.” He snorts at the look Sanha throws him, at his implication of Sanha’s morning stupidity. “Towels in the cupboard, toothbrush in there somewhere, too.” He rolls onto his other side, voice pouty and stubborn.

Sanha giggles, hand pressing to his mouth to stop the sound travelling across to him. On his tip toes, he sneaks back over to the bed, one hand dipping onto the mattress, the other on Minhyuk’s waist, turning him. Minhyuk moves easily under his touch, jumping a little at the press of cold fingers, turns and stares up at him curiously. Sanha shakes his head, dazed, lost in the depth of Minhyuk’s eyes. “You’re way too cute,” he mutters, voice not sounding like his own. “Can’t believe I get to be yours.” Without another word, Sanha leans down and connects their lips, keeps the kiss short and chaste, barley letting Minhyuk react either his words or his kiss. When he pulls away, Sanha is already halfway out the door before he hears Minhyuk’s splutter, his cry of “Yoon Sanha! What the hell! You can’t just—” before he’s closing the bathroom door behind himself.

The bathroom is small. Just a shower and a toilet and a washbasin, the cupboard hidden behind the squeaky door, but its endearing just the same. MJ and Minhyuk must share it, because there’s a mix and obscure variety of soaps and shampoos lining the shelves, and a pink and a red loofa hanging from the shower taps. Sanha grabs one of the towels from inside the cupboard, and eases the new toothbrush from its packaging. He brushes first, and as he does, tries to detangle his hair from where Minhyuk’s fingers had been running through it earlier.

Sanha blushes from the memory, from last night, as he steps into the hot spray of the shower. He remembers the way Minhyuk had cried, the way it made his heart clench, the way he cried back to him, for him, with him. The way he uttered his real name to him across the tiny distance separating them, underneath the hidden stars, underneath that one star that continued to shine right on through all the brighter lights that polluted it. Remembers how he realised Minhyuk would always be brighter than all the rest, because he lights not only the night sky, but every other one, too. Remembers how Minhyuk would always be that singular star, to himself, to him, to everyone else he’d ever met.

Sanha lifts one bottle of soap, drawing his face back in repulsion at the smell. As he sits it back down, he prays it’s not Minhyuk’s. The next one is much nicer, sweeter, and as Sanha lathers his body in it, he finds himself grinning in familiarity. He recognises it, that sugary smell that often etched itself into Minhyuk’s skin amidst the oil and rubber, the one Sanha could never quite place. He lets himself seep into the comfort of it, knowing that Minhyuk was not far from him anymore.

Sanha rinses his skin, watches the suds disappear down the drain. When the water runs clear and soap-free, Sanha lets his face fall into the direct spray of the showerhead, thinking about how Minhyuk had pressed him into the picnic blanket with his hands either side of his head, and kissed him soft and slow; how he had tangled their hands together and kept them close to his chest, against his rapidly beating heart; how when the urgency of it, the excitement of their first kiss, died away, the kisses still remained, but just slowly, gentler; how they danced away into the night, those very kisses, easing into pecks and chaste kisses to cheeks, to jawlines, to cheekbones, to finger tips; how everything was lost to him before that very moment he found himself in Minhyuk, in everything he radiated, and everything he lived by.

He lets his heart swell, his smile widens, for just a moment, basking in the memory. He only shuts the water of when he reminds himself that the memory was a reality now, too; that he could leave the spray of the water and kiss Minhyuk for as long as he liked, could hold him for as long Minhyuk wanted him, too. He dries himself down as best he can before wrapping the towel around his waist, wiping the moisture from the mirror. He glances at himself, fingers rushing the side of his neck to the purpling mark on the side of his throat, where it meets the curve of his shoulder, tucked underneath his ear. He presses it, hisses a little at the sudden flare of pain, but finds he doesn’t mind. He blushes as he steps away, leaving the bathroom with a billowing cloud of steam following after him. The bruise on his neck pulses as he steps, and Sanha tries to recall when he had gotten – was it last night, in their flurry of quick kisses in the rapid succession? Or was it this morning, in his hazy, half-asleep state? He doesn’t remember, finds he doesn’t need to remember, but makes a note to cover it up later, not wanting to explain himself to the media just yet.

Pattering down the hall quickly, back towards Minhyuk’s room, Sanha hears a grunt of frustration from MJ’s room. His door is wide open, the small mechanic hovering in the doorway with an open letter in his hand. Sanha hesitates, stopping in his movement. He watches MJ’s eyes dance across the paper, before suddenly his hands are tightening on them, scrunching the paper, throwing into the waste bin by the door. Sanha goes to leave, feeling though as he had intruded on something private, but MJ’s already lifting his head, gaze falling on him.

Instead of looking angered at the audience, he just smirks, eyes flittering down to his chest blatantly. “Rock’ left some clothes for you on his bed, but,” he says, trailing off, purposefully raking his eyes down his body slowly, with purpose, before settling back on his face, “I’m guessing he wouldn’t find you like this, either.”

Sanha grunts, scurrying down the hall and away before he blushed too much, giving MJ something more to tease him about. He moved too slowly, it seemed, because MJ was yelling down to him, “nice hickey, by the way!”

Sanha slammed the door shut behind him with a gasp, finding the room empty. His cheeks felt as though they were on fire as he stepped into the clothes Minhyuk had laid out of him – a comfy pair of sweats and a baggy shirt he vaguely recognises as one Minhyuk had worn before. Sanha shamelessly inhales the collar, eyes fluttering shut against the scent he loves so much resting there. Once dressed, he patters out of the room and towards the smell of frying bacon and eggs, his stomach gurgling in hunger. The kitchen is small and compact, though appears to have everything it needs, and looks far more well-loved and used than Sanha’s ever would.

Sanha vaguely remembers being carried inside the apartment, but can’t recall any words, any images, and the apartment seems so unfamiliar. No part of it is recognisable, but there’s no denying that it is Minhyuk’s – Minhyuk’s and MJ’s, yes, but much like that single star, Minhyuk shines on through.

His bedroom is large compared to the proportions of the other rooms in the apartment, with a long window seat and bi-fold windows. The wardrobe is large, though Sanha doubts there’s much in it; at least, not compared to his own, a walk-in wardrobe which is already overflowing. The bed is large and soft, billowing with blankets and excess pillows, mismatched patterns and textures. The theme flows out into the lounge room, where the brown couch is practically smothered in check and plaid cushions, the occasional velvet one, suede one, sequined one, along with them. The small kitchen table doesn’t match the six different seats, all from a different time, a different era, but it’s quirky and its vibrant, and the artwork on the walls encompasses everything Sanha could ever think of Minhyuk being. It is small and its boxy and there’s barely any space to breathe, but Sanha feels more at home here than he has anywhere else in his life.  

Minhyuk stands by the stove, two plates beside him, dishing up the breakfast food with a practised ease. Sanha sort of gets the indication that Minhyuk cooks breakfast a lot for MJ and himself, and Sanha smiles to himself because of it. It’s an endearing thought, Minhyuk providing, Minhyuk caring even though MJ is several years older than he is. It’s not an unrealistic thought, though, given how kind and gentle Sanha already knows him to be.

Sanha cocks his hip against the bench beside Minhyuk, who grins down at the stovetop, but doesn’t move to meet his eyes. He’s seen him, though, Sanha knows that much, because the rise of red on his cheeks can’t be from the heat of the stove alone, given that it curls down his neck, down to his bare torso, stopping at his navel. Sanha grins, leaning forward, so he can rest his chin on the edge of his shoulder. He watches the way Minhyuk swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing, before turning his attention to the plate of food. He licks his lips at the sight – a hefty pile of bacon and eggs and two slices of toast – and reaches his hand out.

Minhyuk slaps it with the hand not holding the spatula, and Sanha draws his hand away with a surprised yelp, holding it to his chest. When Sanha glances up at him, the expression he wears is expectant, lips a little pouty, much like he had left them in bed earlier. Sanha’s head cocks to the side in realisation, before surging forwards into him again, hands holding his cheeks between his hands. Their lips meet, not for the first time that day, and surely not for the last, and it is as mesmerising as every other time.  

Sanha doesn’t know how many kisses they’ve shared now. Knows the number is already quite high, given the amount of kissing they did last night, how long kisses drifted into short kisses, short kisses into incessant pecking. How those kisses drifted well into hours, and they woke up that way, too, wrapped up in each other and in this moment, these moments passed back and forth between, soft and delicate and warm and leaving him almost unbearably breathless each and every time. He felt giddy and his bones felt jittery, as though he had been spiked by something, only to realise that he was spiked by Minhyuk, a drug all on his own. And he’s a drug that Sanha finds himself addicted to, unable to stop, unable to tear himself from. He tries to see his life without this drug, this addiction, and finds that he can’t picture himself smiling in that life. Tries to think what it would feel like, to be alone right now, and not in his arms, and finds that it makes his head ache, his chest throb painfully in his chest.

He drifts from the thought, surging closer still, focusing more on the sound of Minhyuk setting the spatula and plate back onto the benchtop, hurriedly clicking off the stove as his hands fumble up to Sanha’s shoulders. Their height difference is more noticeable like this, standing up, Minhyuk on his tip-toes, and Sanha finds he likes the way Minhyuk reaches out to him, desperate and hurriedly, lips soft and supple against his own. They’re smiling into it, as always, and Minhyuk’s hands travel up the column of his throat to his still-wet hair, giggling when a spray of water fizzes around them.

Sanha’s own hands dance along the line of his body, one staying against the curve of his face, thumb rubbing along the jut of his cheekbone, but the other curls around his waist, the skin warm and familiar beneath his fingertips. He tugs then, drawing himself backwards, hauling Minhyuk’s body with him. He walks them backwards, in the direction of the other bench, forces himself against it with a loud huff, breathing heavy and rough between them. Sanha, with reluctance, drops his hands so he can press them against the bench, raise himself up on it. His legs swing, knocking back gently on the doors, eyes fluttering open to watch Minhyuk chase after him, hands on his knees as he leans forward.

They’ve been in a similar position before, but things were different now, this was different now. Sanha’s chest is heaving in time with Minhyuk’s own, and he knows he looks dishevelled, much like Minhyuk does himself – lips pink and pupils blown.

When their lips meet again, it’s slower, not as rushed, yet its languid and hot and just as breathtaking as all the others. Sanha’s hands reacquaint themselves with Minhyuk’s hair, titling his head up, the angle working better, noses brushing against cheeks and eyelashes tickling skin and hands dancing along shoulders and spines and cheeks and necks and ribs and anywhere they can reach.

Between kisses, Sanha can hear a groan of protest, but it’s lost to the sound of their lips meeting and separating, the undeniable sound of lips smacking. Minhyuk presses himself closer, closer than Sanha thought possible given their position, and he melts into putty. Then there’s a coughing sound, a forced one, unnecessary, and Sanha yanks his lips from Minhyuk’s. MJ is standing in the doorway, wearing a similar disgusted expression as before, work bag thrown over his shoulder, empty thermos in hand. Sanha splutters, tries to force Minhyuk back, but instead, the elder drops his face to the curve of Sanha’s neck, pecking the skin there in quick successions. His eyes don’t open, but he knows why Sanha is hesitant.

“If we just ignore it, it’ll go away,” he mumbles against his skin, but Sanha cries out when his teeth nip against his jawline, hands scrabbling with his shoulders.

“This is my worst nightmare,” MJ says, voice sounding bored, finishing with an almighty sigh.

Minhyuk groans when Sanha shuffles further back on the bench, away from him, tucking his socked feet up. His hands drop from his legs, falling to his sides, and Sanha bites his lip as he focuses on the kitchen tiles. God knows what the two of them look like, given that Minhyuk’s hair is sticking up at odd angles from where Sanha played with it, and his lips pink and swollen from the attention. Sanha doesn’t mind so much, but hates knowing that MJ is bound to talk of the encounter with the boys at work.

Your nightmare?” Minhyuk says, voice louder than it had been all morning. “This is my nightmare. You, interrupting me, while kissing my boyfriend!”

Boyfriend.

Sanha turns red where he’s sitting on the bench, redder than he’s ever felt before, matching that of his blood, he thinks. His heart is beating so loudly in his ears, can feel it hammer against his chest, feel it pulsating in his wrist and throat. Can feel his entire body tingle, the swell of pride and of joy down his arms, tingling his toes, the backs of his eyes. He doesn’t recognise the feeling straight away, it takes him a moment, a few seconds in actuality, to know that this is pure, undulated joy. Happiness, in its simplest form; the most genuine version of itself.

Boyfriend. Boyfriend. Boyfriend.

Minhyuk was Sanha’s boyfriend.

He knew this; of course, he did, but it felt different, sat different, when the words themselves were uttered between them casually. He didn’t know much about relationships, didn’t know much about the swell of his heart just now, but knew that it was beautiful and desirable and everything he could ever want. Minhyuk was everything he could ever want. He can’t imagine life getting any better than this, this feeling right here and right now, his chest pounding so outrageously for the man in front of him.

Not caring for the audience, Sanha leans forward, allows his hands to snatch at Minhyuk’s shoulders. He hauls him close again, lips meeting, colliding, hearts tethered together and fusing into one. Minhyuk is grinning into it, soft lips matching the soft kiss, thumb brushing along Sanha’s cheek with a feather-light touch.

MJ groans again, but this time Sanha doesn’t get embarrassed, just keeps smiling into the kiss. Sanha hears him swear, before the front door by the kitchen is opening and shutting, locking it behind himself.

Sanha loses track of time; unsure how long he stays on the bench for, how long Minhyuk stands between his legs and presses soft kisses to his mouth; finds himself uncaring, uncaring for the breakfast going cold, uncaring for the way time moves so quickly when they’re together. There’s not enough time, but Sanha thinks they’ll always make time for this, for each other.

When they draw apart, their breathing is as heavy as it was before, but it’s different now, though Sanha can’t quite place why. Sanha presses their foreheads together, eyes lidded, watching Minhyuk’s own flutter open from underneath his lashes. Their eyes meet, dopey and soft, and Sanha smiles.

Rocky’s hand tightens where it’s pressed against his hip, and he drops his head, and his nose draws a line up the side of his throat, the underside of his jaw, along his cheekbone, until he’s pressing another small kiss to his lips. “Good morning, boyfriend,” he says, the whisper almost lost to the sound of kettle MJ had left boiling, to the rain he hadn’t noticed hammering against the window.

Sanha still catches it though, and stores the words and the feelings deep within his chest for safe keeping. He kisses him again, quick and chaste, and tasting like peppermint toothpaste and something a little deeper. “Good morning, boyfriend,” he whispers right back.

  

Sanha leaves, still wearing Minhyuk’s clothes, and finds that he doesn’t care who sees him like this. He doesn’t care because they smell like home, like his boyfriend, like the life had been so very much deprived of, but had now been blessed with. His mind drifts airily as he makes his way back to his apartment with heavy reluctance, dreading having to separate from Minhyuk so soon, but knowing that he had to see Jinwoo and Dongmin at some point. They had made him promise to text or call, and he had done neither, far too wrapped up in Minhyuk to even remember what he had sworn. He’d have to relay the past twenty-four hours to them at some point, no matter how much he detested the idea.

His apartment is still bland and still dull when he goes inside, one that truly lacks character now that he’s seen the inner workings of Minhyuk’s and MJ’s. He recalls the colour of it, the awkwardly painted walls, ones that the two of them hadn’t done, but had to work with due to their landlord’s insistence against repainting; the vibrancy that came from the way they had styled it, knick-knacks and retro and one-off pieces that made no sense but somehow made it all work and tie together; the eclectic state of it making Sanha’s insides curdle with jealousy, but more so with pride. Their household, eclectic with life, as boisterous as MJ’s laugh, as familiar and as comforting as Minhyuk’s voice and arms and kisses.

He’s out of his apartment almost as quickly as he came, showered and makeup on, bag slung over his shoulder. He’d much rather go without the makeup given the humidity outside, but knows that the carelessness is only feigned, and he’d regret it when the magazines published tomorrow. He’d forgone mascara as per usual, but now knowing that Minhyuk read the magazines he was in, kept the pictures, he applied just the tiniest bit of pink to his lips, just flirting with the idea of lipstick.

He meets Jinwoo and Dongmin in the city, opting against taking his car, and grabbing a cab instead given the time of day. They were meeting for lunch and a quick wander around the shops, and they could do so relatively leisurely, as it was a Sunday, and neither lawyer was expected into the office this weekend.

Sanha’s fiddling with the green piping of a coat that caught his eye when Jinwoo steps up behind him. “It’s horrible.”

“Really?”

Jinwoo nods. “Really. It looks like my grandmother’s bed quilt. No, scratch that. It looks like my grandmother’s, grandmothers bed quilt.”

Sanha frowns, fiddling with the sleeve. It was pink, and was of a quilted style, though Sanha thought it would look fantastic over a fully-black suit – perhaps for the boat party. He turned to Dongmin, to seek affirmation, but his face said it all: he agreed with Jinwoo.

Two against one, and Sanha knows he had lost. With a sigh, blowing his lips out, he steps away from the Gucci coat and follows his friends from the store, throwing a polite nod to the far-too familiar security guard. Outside, the city skyline offers very little protection from the sun this time of day, so they huddle into the shade of the store awnings as they make their way deeper into high street district.

Dongmin’s voice perks up beside him as they walk. “Are you going to the art auction?”

Sanha snorts, thinking back to a week ago, when Jae – the host of the art showing – had made suggestive and rude comments in the elevator about Minhyuk. He shakes his head at his friend. “Absolutely not.” He had informed Dongmin and Jinwoo about what he had done, and they had avoided the topic in its entirety ever since. Sanha was grateful, because the thought of him alone was enough to make his blood boil. “I’m sending someone to buy the art for me, though.”

They pause at the street corner, waiting for the street lights to change to allow them to cross. “Really? Didn’t realise you liked art that much.”

Sanha shrugs, Jinwoo appearing on his other side, hands deep in his pockets. “I don’t. But Minhyuk does.”

Dongmin’s eyebrows raise, and Jinwoo grunts. “Minhyuk?”

There’s a line of sweat forming along his hairline, under his fringe, and Sanha desperately wants to get out from underneath the sun. He’s itching to get home, too, after having been bombarded by questions already. He couldn’t though, not when they were heading towards their lunch reservation now, where the real questioning would begin.

Sanha sighs. “Yes, Minhyuk. Or Rocky, whatever.”

The green man buzzes, and Sanha shoots out in front of them. He hears Jinwoo and Dongmin snickering as they scurry up beside him. “So, you finally found out his real name?”

Kicking at a stray pebble on the footpath, Sanha groans. “Can’t I just explain over lunch?”

Dongmin has other plans, however. “Is he a good kisser?”

Red-cheeked and spluttering, Sanha tries to scurry away again, only to be held back by Jinwoo’s arms snaking around his hips. Dongmin jabs his side, tickling him, and by-passers watched them curiously as he squeals against their relentless teasing. They make it to the restaurant unscathed by journalists, of which Sanha is thankful, given there are tears in his eyes from the tickling, cheeks far too red to be natural, and looking far more dishevelled than can be deemed normal.

Afterwards, when Sanha’s voice is dry from all the talking, head spinning at all the questions, he suddenly jerks to a stop, eyes fixated on a store front he rarely ever enters. Dongmin and Jinwoo follow his gaze, where it’s resting on a jacket slung around the shoulders of a mannequin.

“That’s not your usual style?” He says, but it sounds more like a question.

Sanha turns to him, and gives him his smuggest smirk he can muster. “Who said it was for me?” He ducks into the store before either friend can utter a word.

  

Lying in bed that night, Sanha knew there wasn’t much point in trying to sleep. He twisted and turned, more restless now than he had ever felt in his life, head rushing with thoughts of the past days gone by. As it nears midnight, and his eyes still bore straight ahead at the ceiling, unwavering, barely blinking, he gives in. He scrambles around in his bedsheets for his phone, yanking it free from the charger, and opening his most recent text conversation.

Are you awake? Can’t sleep.

He sends, with a sad face, fingers hovering over the screen, crossing even his toes in his socks in anticipation. He glances up at the contact name, wincing at the staleness of it. Calling Minhyuk his mechanic now made very little sense to him. It felt foreign, fake, like the entire thing was he was unwillingly playing a part in. Rocky felt forced, too, finding more comfort in Minhyuk than anything else. He knows it's a silly concept, given they're the same person; but Sanha wants to know more about Minhyuk, because behind Rocky, that was who remained, who stood there, bare-faced and unguarded, ready to pour his heart out. Sanha wanted to know that. Wanted to know more of that. So, Sanha makes a mental note to change his contact name at a better time; making it something tacky and cute, show it to Minhyuk, watch the pink of his cheeks rise higher and higher, until it rapidly became scarlet. 

It’s only a few moments later that the bubbles appear, indicating that Minhyuk was typing. The bubble of excited that slips through his lips is embarrassing, though unsurprising, given how far gone he is for Minhyuk already.

Rocky – Mechanic
11: 49pm

Doors unlocked

He sends a love heart along with it, and a kissing face, and Sanha’s heart swells as he pushes himself out of bed. The drive to Minhyuk’s from his own takes the same amount of time it takes to the garage, if not less, and Sanha doesn’t bother changing out of his pyjamas. No one is going to see him anyway, and this late at night, when all he’s craving is sleep and Minhyuk, he truly finds he doesn’t mind if they do.

He sneaks inside, mindful of MJ sleeping, and of neighbours, but his heart is already hammering far too loudly in his ears, can hear it in each breath he takes, in every single one of his steps. Minhyuk’s bedroom door is already open, awaiting Sanha's arrival, and he closes it gently behind him as he shucks off his shoes, throwing his jacket to the floor along within them. Minhyuk's eyes are closed, but his breathing hasn't evened out, and his eyes dance rapidly behind his closed lids, so Sanha knows he's still awake.

He gently eases himself down onto the mattress, shifting under the blankets, stirring Minhyuk’s eyes open for just a brief moment. In the darkness of his room, he can’t make out the expression in his eyes, but can see the wide stretch of his mouth, can feel his lips pressing against the corner of his mouth in greeting. Minhyuk huffs, sounding the tiniest bit frustrated, annoyed, as he pushes himself up on his elbow. His lips move to the right, finally meeting his own, and in the darkness, and in the silence, Sanha lets their lips dance in tune to the fan above them. Minhyuk hums into it, lips going a little slack when Sanha curls his fingers into his hair. Sanha grins when Minhyuk drops down off his elbow, forcing them both down on the mattress with a too-loud sequel slipping between his lips. 

Minhyuk tugs at the collar of Sanha's shirt, huffing again, croaky voice disturbing the silence. "What is this? Get this off," he says, already tugging the offending material up his torso. Sanha hears himself laughing, but sleep is quickly encroaching, so he's barely processing his actions, his movements, but can feel the moment the material is free from his body; can feel the moment his bare chest meets Minhyuk's bare chest. Can feel the moment their hearts beat against each other, unrestricted. 

Minhyuk's arms open around him, and Sanha snuggles close, into the circle of his arms. He rests his head against his chest, eyes fluttering as Minhyuk shifts them into a more comfortable position. Sleep hits him quickly, weighing down his eyelids the moment Minhyuk presses a kiss to the side of his head, against his temple, the edge of his hairline.

As he falls asleep with his ear pressed to Minhyuk’s heartbeat, Sanha wonders how he ever lived without this.

 

"I don't just want to take your breath away.

I want to rip it from your mouth and keep it locked away between my teeth.

You can only have it back if you kiss me again."

- Meggie Royer 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"I'd climb every mountain,

and swim every ocean,

just to be with you."

- Calum Scott, 'you are the reason'

 

In the passenger seat, Sanha is fidgeting. The loud hum of the Mustang’s engine is enough to keep him in silence for the most part, but not quite loud enough to silence his drifting mind, either. He’s got one thumbnail hooked into his mouth, uncaring about the germs there, about the mocking scoff of disgust Minhyuk was sure to give him for it later, and was terrorising the nail until it nicked and then tore. His other hand is resting on the side of the chair, grip so tight that his knuckles had already turned white. The forceful grasp didn’t relent even at stop lights, when the car idles and the humming softened, because Sanha needed it there to ground him, anchor him to the seat or he’d shoot upward, lost to his own nervous state.

Across the console, Minhyuk glances at him from the corner of his eye, a tiny smirk adorning his lips. Sanha can feel the curious rake of his eyes as he idles the car at the red light, catches the moment he recognises what Sanha is expressing. Sanha, hating how obvious his emotions sometimes are – or rather, how obvious they are to Minhyuk – turns his face away to hide the rising flush on his cheeks.

His boyfriend hums, a curious sound, inquisitive on both the tongue and to the ear, though he remains silent as the light changes. His hand wraps around the stick shift, changing gear, and the loud drawl of the engine returns.  For the most part, the ride is peaceful – aside from the nauseatingly foul feeling in his stomach – and even though the engine was far louder than he was used to, his Spider lacking the exhaust modifications Minhyuk had added to his Mustang, it was still enough to make his head fall back against the chair, eyes lidded, breathing smooth and even.

It was the entire opposite of what was running through his mind, though.

He was nervous. Of course, he was; Minhyuk meant more to him than most other things in his life right now – or ever – and to be introduced to a part of him that he had kept relatively separate, secluded, was overwhelming Sanha in more ways than one. The nerves wracking him had kept him awake last night, head resting in the crook of Minhyuk’s neck, not even the warm furl of his arms around him enough to drag him into unconsciousness. Minhyuk had woken a few times when Sanha had shifted, whining – high in pitch and child-like, albeit a little raspy given the hour – and would snatch at his hand, like he always does, and kiss the innermost section of his wrist where the skin is paler and smoother, the section of skin Minhyuk always said tasted fruity, like his residue perfume had permanently etched itself directly into his skin.

Sanha would feel guilty the moment he realised Minhyuk had woken, but the feeling was tugged out of him every time Minhyuk’s lips met his own. It was sloppy and there was no coherency, because it was two o’clock, three o’clock, four o’clock in the morning, and Minhyuk’s grip on his cheek was loose and soft, and Sanha’s hands rested daintily on Minhyuk’s hips, fiddling with the elasticated hem of his pyjama shorts. Minhyuk would work his lips over Sanha’s with a little too much saliva, though Sanha didn’t mind – would never mind – because it was his boyfriend’s way of saving I’m here and I’ve got you , even if Sanha had decided against telling him why he was having an insomniatic episode.

In fact, Sanha would forget his nerves for a few minutes while Minhyuk kissed him, fingers slipping from his cheek to his neck, tickling the curve of his throat before Sanha had to pull away with a squeal too loud for the hour. Minhyuk would smile through the next kiss he gave him, before mumbling something inaudible against his cheek, face lowering back to its makeshift home in the curve of his neck.

That lack of sleep had done nothing to help him now. His eyes were drooping from where he was leant back against the seat, sinking deeper and deeper into the comfortable black leather, Downtown Seoul rushing through the window. His finger drops from his mouth, moving to stifle a yawn he has no control over, when Minhyuk snickers.

Sanha’s eyes drift slowly over to him, reaction time delayed given his exhaustion. Minhyuk is staring straight ahead, eyes focused on the road through a large pair of black framed sunglasses, and his lips are pursed into a playful pout.

“Tired, darling?” Sanha hums, leaning his head back against the window so he can stare at his boyfriend instead. “Poor baby,” he says, half-joking, and Sanha whines, curls in on himself against the glass.

Minhyuk chuckles – deep and throaty, like the engine – and reaches over to take Sanha’s hand off the seat. The moment he does, it feels like the tendons in his arms pop, the muscles loosening and softening and thanking him for letting go. Minhyuk laces their fingers together, tangled much like their bodies are at night, warm and familiar and grip so tight Sanha felt grounded all over again, felt silly he hadn’t tried that in the first place. It’s a little awkward when Minhyuk has to change gear, given the way their hands are entwined, but he makes no move to drop it, either.

He opts for the awkward sideways grip, making do, before lifting his hand to his mouth and peppering kisses from the jolt of his wrist, up the soft, most bouncy, skin of his forearm, exposed from where his sleeve has pushed upward. The sensation itself made Sanha’s arm hair stand to attention, which Minhyuk must have noticed, because his eyes dance along his face with a smirk when Sanha breathes out raggedly. Sanha tries to drag his hand away, to hide the rising blush on his face, but Minhyuk just tugs his hand tighter, closer to his chest.

“Talk to me, Darling,” he says, muffled from where they’re resting against Sanha’s wrist. “What’s the matter?”

Sanha shrugs, eyes more focused on Minhyuk’s pillowy lips than anything else, though the twisting feeling in his gut still had yet to ease. Minhyuk squeezes his fingers. “ Sanha .” He shakes his hand. “Tell me.”

Sighing, Sanha shrugs again. Minhyuk’s eyebrow raises, ready to scold, but Sanha huffs. “I’m nervous.”

Minhyuk tuts, though doesn’t mean it seriously, eyes softening and grip tightening on his hand. “ Darling ,” he mutters, breathy and airy. “Baby, why?” Sanha’s cheeks are hot at the use of the nickname. He was used to Darling by now, it was one of Minhyuk’s most common words, but Baby was new. He liked it more than he should, and by the looks of it, Minhyuk knew it too. His smirk was slight, though he sucked his bottom lip into his mouth to hide it.

Sanha rolls his eyes, endeared. “This is your dance , Minhyuk. These kids you teach—”

“Are going to love you,” he but’s in, lips curled upwards, but teeth still hidden, eyes glinting.

Sanha deflates, “but—

“No ‘buts’ , Sanha. These kids are important to me, yes ; but you’re the most valuable thing I’ve got. I need you happy; I need you to enjoy this.” His eyes were intense, though couldn’t rest on him long, turning back to the road. Sanha whimpers, tries to muffle it, but his hand is squeezed even tighter within Minhyuk’s own, so he knows it wasn’t as quiet as he had hoped. Minhyuk keeps kissing along his wrist when he can, and it calms him, calms the nerves still eating him alive. The kisses work in conjunction with his words, which Minhyuk keeps uttering over and over into his skin, a feathery whisper.

Sanha whimpers again when Minhyuk loosens his grip, effectively dropping his hand, but catching it last minute. Then, eyes still fixated on the road, dancing across the asphalt, he presses a firm kiss to the palm of his hand. “Please, Darling,” he mumbles against his palm. “Try not to be so nervous, okay? They’re going to love you. I promise .”

Sanha’s head drops back against the window, “you don’t know that!”

Minhyuk scoffs, lacing their fingers back together over the stick shift. “Of course, I do. I know everything.”

 

The car park Minhyuk pulls into belongs to an old warehouse, similar in style to the abandoned one he’d taken Sanha to on their first date, although this time, it was obviously not abandoned. It was still very much in use. Bodies were spilling into and out of the door, small children running across the gravel by the entranceway, slipping past their parents and into the wide, open space past the wooden doors. The same parents were waving and snickering before turning back to their cars, or heading across the quiet street to the bus shelter.

Minhyuk parked on the farthest side of the lot, waving to a few eager kids that recognised his car. Sanha glances out curiously. The building is red – or, a flirtation with red, the sun having obviously bleached it into a dull pink over time – and a few windows cracked, but it still looked relatively tidy and well cared for. Minhyuk’s doing, Sanha assumes, judging by how passionate he is about the community project.

He doesn’t cut the engine straight away, lets it hum in its idle for a little while longer, the air conditioning furling Sanha’s hair at the nape of his neck. A hand – calloused and warm – curls around his neck, tugging him, twisting his head back towards them. He has the briefest opportunity to notice how pretty Minhyuk looked today – grey workout shorts and a white t-shirt, lips pink and pouty, still a little swollen from their good morning kisses – and how dreamy his eyes were, before he has Sanha tugged halfway across the console.

When their lips meet, the stick shift digging into his side uncomfortably, Minhyuk knocking his elbow on the steering wheel with a pained grunt, Sanha sighs. His head is instantly hazy, feeling delirious, overdosed on whatever drug Minhyuk had come to be. The hand not on his neck is pinching at his waist, underneath his jacket but atop his shirt, teasing fingers running along to his stomach, upwards, along his chest, until both hands are resting on his throat.

Sanha melts, and he knows this isn’t a good idea when Minhyuk tilts his head to the side, deepens the kiss with a gasp, because they’re in a car park, and there are children around, their parents . But Sanha was a slave to his instincts, and his hands merely wound themselves around Minhyuk’s neck in return, pressing closer across the console. Minhyuk is smiling into it, laughing when Sanha yelps, arm catching on the steering wheel much like his had done earlier, slipping just the tiniest bit and—
The horn that blares tugs them apart.

Sanha screeches and Minhyuk swears when his head collides with the window. They’re panting into the space between them, wide-eyed and surprised, Minhyuk’s tongue laving over his bottom lip from where Sanha must have bitten it. Sanha groans, and turns away with cheeks red – both from the kissing, and from the way Minhyuk looks at him now – but Minhyuk is swooping back over to kiss him once, twice, three times until he’s cutting the engine fully and unlocking the doors.  

Minhyuk takes his hand after locking the car behind him, looking up at him with fond eyes, still a little lusty, which makes Sanha lose his footing. Minhyuk snorts, the expression fizzing away, replaced with amusement and endearment. He reaches over and pinches his cheek, earning him a yelp and a scowl, Sanha’s hand – on instinct – reaching out himself and slapping him playfully. Minhyuk, as usual, dodges it, dragging Sanha along behind him with a bit too much force, slamming the younger into his chest with an oof !

Sanha, peering downwards, sees the swirl of life in Minhyuk’s eyes, the soft hand within his own rubbing soothing, mindless circles to the back of his hand. Sanha itches forwards, lips against Minhyuk’s forehead, a reverse of roles.

Sanha likes to use his height against him sometimes. Likes being able to kiss his forehead like this, knowing Minhyuk can’t do it in return unless he stretches to a certain extent; and even then, Sanha likes to stand on his tiptoes teasingly. Minhyuk would mutter a ‘you’re a tease ’, before stalking off in the opposite direction. Sanha would scurry after him with a laugh and a smile in his step, arms lacing around his shorter boyfriend’s waist, pulling him flush against him. Sanha would then pepper kisses across his face – his lips, mainly, but his nose, too, his closed eyes, his cheeks – and would beg for forgiveness he knows he’d always get.

Drawing away, Minhyuk stretches to kiss his chin. “Are you ready?”

Sanha, humming, nods his head, though he doesn’t really believe it. Minhyuk catches it, though says nothing of it, opting to kiss his chin again, move northward, brush them teasingly across his lips.

“MJ warned me about this.”

Sanha knew that voice – Bin – but Minhyuk moved a hand to press against the back of his head, not letting him pull away. Sanha knew, that from first glance, the kiss was innocent, and the car park had flittered empty, so it wasn’t as if any kids were watching them, but still, it felt wrong; risky, too risky, even. Minhyuk didn’t care, though, just pressed against him more. When Sanha felt his hand flap around off to the side, Sanha caught sight of him flipping Bin the bird. Unable to stop himself, Sanha started to laugh. Minhyuk kissed him through it, but when he heard Bin’s exasperated sigh, saw him put his hands on his hips, the laughing only got stronger, effectively ending their kiss.

Minhyuk scowls at Bin, who merely shakes his head. “You two are gross.”

Minhyuk scoffs, “you’re gross.”

Smirking, Sanha shrugs. “I think we’re cute.”

Minhyuk turns back to him, wearing one of his high-wattage smiles, all his teeth showing and his eyes sparkling. “Aw, Darling,” he says, voice warm and thick like honey. “I think we’re cute, too!”

He goes to kiss him again, he thinks, but Bin steps between them. “Nope. No more. The kids are waiting.” Minhyuk pouts, but nods his head once. He drops Sanha’s hand and Sanha hates how cold it suddenly feels. “C’mon,” Bin says, knocking their shoulders together. “MJ’s inside, too. We’ll get you a seat to watch.”

 

There is a sense of community inside the warehouse that Sanha finds strangely familiar. Perhaps it was the way the willing students gathered eagerly at the front, all twelve of them, smiles as wide and as toothy and MJ’s often was; or perhaps it was Minhyuk himself, the most familiar thing to him of all, standing in front of them with his hands on his waist, chatting aimlessly to the small gathering of children. Whatever the reason, Sanha couldn’t quite place it, but despite the paint peeling off the walls and the floor tiles having seen better days, he had never felt more welcomed anywhere in his life.

Seeing Minhyuk in this element, his element, where his love for structure and repair collided with the fluditiy and creativity of contemporary dance,  Sanha felt his muscles relax, his tendons ease, and the nervousness he felt almost instantly transforms into excitement. He had seen Minhyuk dance once - the time they slow-danced in the park well into midnight, drunken and ditsy on too much champagne - and it had been mesmerising in the way that dancing close to someone like that always is. The dancing he was to teach today, though, was far different to that experience. Minhyuk had explained the dancing he taught to the kids was more contemporary than anything else; perhaps a little abstract, too, borderlining on obscure , even. Sanha hadn’t minded either way, would think Minhyuk cool and talented if he merely bowed on the stage and walked off.

Sanha realises now that he might be the tiniest bit whipped, given the circumstances, and how everytime Minhyuk beckons him over, he does. He had been nervous, stupidly so, because as he stands beside Minhyuk now at the front of the room, he realises the kids did love him. Or, at least, liked him to some exent. They grinned up at him with the same callibre they reserved for Minhyuk, making Sanha’s insides flutter. The kids looked endeared as Minhyuk turned to him, hand resting on his lower back, eyes uncommonly fond.

“Kids, this is Yoon Sanha,” he says, voice drawling the words out slowly, as if to make more of a statement. Sanha tucks his chin, hating the way his cheeks flush just from hearing Minhyuk say his name. His boyfriend snickers breathlessly, “Yoon Sanha, this is the best up and coming dance team the world has ever seen.” He gestures to the cackling group of kids with a dramatic flap of his hand, as though beckoning royalty, and Sanha joins in on the fun with his own over-exaggerated bow. The group is chortling, the kind of sound that makes it impossible not to laugh along with them.

Soon, Sanha finds hismself hunched over on the floor beside a small girl no older than eight, who was giggling behind her hand with red-cheeks and hair cropped short against her neck. Her eyes were big and wide, and watched Minhyuk adoringly as he spoke about the new routine he had put together. Sanha watched her watch him; watched the rest of the kids, too, saw the way they looked up at him as though he were more than just a teacher, but a coach, a figure of guidance, of hope. Someone who could set them free .

They were young, none of them appearing older than thirteen, but it was at these ages that Sanha thinks they’re the most influenced. The ages wherein decisons can be made within split seconds, whether they be right or wrong; where things are not thought out and carelessness is more common than cautiousness. Minhyuk stood before them as a guiding figure that they looked up to, saw as someone to admire, to be like, rather than to fear. Minhyuk was not a figure of authority to them, but rather a friend . In the midst of his discussion with them, high-fiving the little ones, tickling at their sides as he slid around them in his socks, Sanha felt his eyes sting, tears forming behind his fluttering lids.

Immediately, he stood, pushing himself back out of the gathering and retreating to the back wall. He sinks down into the chair Bin has conjured up for him, MJ cocking a raised eyebrow at him as he huffs. He’s whiping at his eyes drastically, fanning them just the slightest, hoping to dry the nearing onslaught he so very much wished to avoid.

He thinks MJ goes to speak, but then Minhyuk is clapping his hands together and his attention is drawn elsewhere. Sanha is thankful for this timing, because having to explain the admiration and affection he feels towards Minhyuk for doing what he does was surely going to be sappy and tear-driven, something MJ himself made very clear he hated knowing about.

Minhyuk is turning away to the phone attached to the speakers at the front while the kids all stand excitedly. They’re bouncing their toes and their hands are jittery and swinging between them, often knocking into the kid beside them with a squeal. Sanha finds himself sucking his bottom lip into his mouth to stop the tears brewing again when Minhyuk turns away from the phone and back to them, hands on his waist, smile toothy and wide and warm.

The music starts and Sanha quickly learns that Minhyuk moves the way a wild sea does. Fluid, all at once; one wave in a whole ocean. An interconnected system of highs and lows, where tides reel in and reel out, drags and deposits.

He’s wild in the sense that his limbs no longer belong to him, but rather he belongs to them. They move the same way a rolling wave does, climbing rapidly to shore, tension building and building until it breaks , reaches the climax upon the shorefront. Minhyuk spins the way an ocean current does, the way a rip in the waves sucks in and drags out, like a heavy chest, like heaving lungs. His arms and legs just fall short of being a tidal wave, what with the way they command attention, demand attention, both dangerous but magnificent as it plunders into the earth. The eyes of the students watch his waves surge and retreat, only to climb back up into the beach of their senses, showering them in fresh water, his movements and his motions and his routine collecting like seashells and seaweed on the shorefront.

He is a powerful wave in one entire motion; a wave belonging to one entire body of water. That body, his body, belonging to no one and everyone all at once. His body, an ocean all in itself, colliding and rupturing and breaking into something much softer, more tender, but no less beautiful. Minhyuk moves the way a wild sea does: powerful and deep, and with such a crushing force. He is of an immense and a wondorous blue, daring and brave, ever-changing, yet ever-lasting.

He is fearful; he is tranquil; he is a sapphire paradise in a hazy world of drifting boats and limitless horizons; he is as vast as he is deep, as calm as he is turbulent. He is a wild sea, and Sanha finds himself drowning.

Sanha finds himself stunned into silence when the routine ends, Minhyuk’s breathing relatively laboured from the front of the room. He’s smiling, too, had been throughout the entire routine as the kids mimicked his movements. He meets Minhyuk’s eyes from across the space between them, Sanha’s leg jumping up and down from where he’s seated, hands clasped together in front of his chest in delight. Sanha throws him a small wave with one of those jittering hands, seeing the curl of Minhyuk’s lips spread wider, tug up higher, into one of those full-blown smiles reserved just for him.

The sight alone is enough to make his stomach bubble, churn with glee and affection, but then he’s replaying the song and repeating segments of the routine to the kids over and over, until they all grasp it knowledgeably. It’s a fascinating sight, watching the kids grow from not understanding to fully comprehending; watching the way Minhyuk’s guiding hands and slow, repetitive motions allow the kids teach themselves the footwork. Minhyuk’s attention is fully on them, so enamoured and engrossed, but Sanha can’t bring himself to feel relatively disappointed by the lack of attention on him. This is better.

It’s like watching Minhyuk work way on the undercarriage of a vintage car in the garage; his attention is entirely focused on the task at hand, rarely getting distracted - unless Sanha presses kisses up the side of his neck, or curls his arms around his waist - because his love for the art right in front of him outweighs all else.

When he plays the music again, telling them to work away at it together, he makes his way around to the back of crowd towards him. Sanha dips his chin when Minhyuk winks at him from afar, the distance between them growing smaller and smaller, until Minhyuk stands right in front of him. His hand is outstretched, and Sanha, without fault, places his own within it, eyes fluttering closed at the feeling of Minhyuk’s fingers entangling with his own, pulling him to his feet, lips pressing to his cheek during the motion. Sanha hums agaisnt him, head falling down onto his shoulder as Minhyuk wraps his arms around him.

“What did you think?” He mumbles, voice lost in the mess of Sanha’s hair. It’s a reminder to get it cut, he thinks; dyed, even.

Sanha shrugs against him, the movement a little restricted but obvious all the same. “Beautiful, of course. I expected no less.”

Minhyuk snickers against him, lips finding a home against his temple. “I am so glad you came,” he whispers, pressing another kiss there, then another, and another.

Sanha shakes in his arms, that stinging sensation back behind his eyes again. He lifts his head from the crook of Minhyuk’s shoulder, stretching back to his full, comfortable height, back sighing in relief. He can barely notice it now, though, given how often he leans down to kiss his shorter boyfriend; in fact, he somewhat likes the feeling, as it acts as a reminder that this life of his is actually real, and not just a figment of his imagination.

When their gazes meet now, their noses are brushing together, closer together than they had been all day. Sanha smiles at the same time Minhyuk does, feels his eyes flutter closed against him, his eyelashes tickling along his cheekbones. He thinks he vaguely hears MJ or Bin scoff beside them in mocking disgust, a sound far too common now that he doesn’t even hestitate in his movement forward. Their lips meet in a gentle, soft sigh; the tiniest of pecks, chaste and as light as a feather. Their lips separate a second later, but it’s long enough for the group of kids behind them to start screaming, to start making dramatised kissing noises into their hands. Minhyuk laughs against him where he has their foreheads pressed together, still propped up on his tiptoes to reach. Sanha hunches down slighty, grabbing at Minhyuk’s hands from behind his back, tangling their fingers together and stretching them out beside them both.

“I am so glad you’re alive, Minhyuk,” he whispers, ignoring the squeals and the rise in laughter, choosing only to focus on the hitch in his boyfriends breathing, the way his eyes feel with adoration and something more, the way he surges forward against to kiss him, a little deeper, head titled, but still just as chaste. The squeals start up all over again, some of younger ones covering their eyes with their hands, making spitting noises and sounding reasonably disgusted. Sanha and Minhyuk giggle into the tiny space between them, missing him even now.

My Darling” he mumbles, head settling on Sanha’s shoulder.

Sanha hides his smile into his hair. “My star.”

 

A few hours later, and the kids start flowing out of the warehouse and back to their respective parents’ cars and arms. Sanha blushes and stumbles over his words when many of the kids come up to him with big smiles and dainty waves, claiming that he “ must be Rocky’s pretty boyfriend! He talks about you all the time! ” Sanha grins and waves back, telling them he’d be seeing them again shortly, and the young girl he sat with earlier stretches her arms up for a tiny cuddle before darting off to a black sedan in the partking lot.

Bin and MJ head off not much later, with a gentle smack to the back of Minhyuk’s head, and a push to Sanha’s shoulder. They both earn a yelp back, rubbing the sides of their arms in defeat. When the warehouse is empty, Sanha waving goodbye to the last car as it pulls out of the drive, he feels Minhyuk arms wrap tenderly around his waist, tugging him back against his chest. Minhyuk hums against him again, a habit, it seems; or a comfort. Sanha doesn’t mind, would never - could never mind - as it brought a tingle up his spine and down again, curling his toes and making his arm hair stand to attention, prickling the skin at the nape of his neck.

“You’re amazing,” Sanha mutters, eyes closed, feeling the afternoon sun warm his face. “Thank you.”

Minhyuk kisses his clothed shoulder, lips brushing delicately along the silk. He hums, though doesn’t say much more, proceeds to stretch around to kiss his other shoulder, the sharp jut of where it curves down into his bicep. “For what?” He murmurs, as he takes Sanha’s hand in his own, flattening them against his stomach, head resting against his shoulder much like he had done before.

Sanha leans his head back against his, feels the curl of Minhyuk’s lips against the junction of his throat. “For everything. For letting me be apart of this.” Sanha coughs, clearly his throat, suddenly met with unsolicited nerves. “For letting be a part of your life.”

Minhyuk’s smile against him doesn’t falter; if anything, it only grows bigger, but then he’s being spun around in his arms, strong hands gripping his shoulders firmly, lips forceful against his own, but soft all the same. The lips leave him dizzy and gasping for breath when they break away from him, Minhyuk’s lips pink and puffy, grining and stretched wide over pearly white teeth. “I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he gasps, wrapping his arms around him again, hand pressed tenderly overtop his beating heart.

They tidy the warehouse quickly, Minhyuk insisting that Sanha needn’t raise a finger, but Sanha insisting he does right back. He wins the battle by threatening to remove kissing priviledges, which is a bonefied winner in any case with Minhyuk. His boyfriend who had, at one point, many moons ago, teased him for his love of cheek-kisses, had now become the player in the game. Minhyuk would mope and whine if he didn’t meet his threshold of kisses, hated the mornings that Sanha had to disappear to a meeting with a charity council, or when Minhyuk himself had an early start and couldn’t stay wrapped up in Sanha’s arms for as long as he’d like.

When the chairs are stacked against the back wall, the same way they had been when they entered, and Minhyuk had unplugged the stereo and returned it to its designated cupboard, their hands reacquainted themselves. Minhyuk reached out to him first, Sanha undeniably willing, reaching back eagerly, sighing in content when their fingers intertwine so easily. The feeling is so accomodating, so warm ; a feeling Sanha isn’t quite sure could ever be matched.

Minhyuk hauls his head down for a quick peck, before tugging him out behind him. Sanha wants to say something more, say anything, really, but Minhyuk is switching off the lights and slamming the door locked behind them. The afternoon sun is rapidly disappearing as they head towards the Mustang, arms swinging lesuirely between them, child-like and giddy, still very much in what everyone calls their honeymoon stage.

Sanha smirks when Minhyuk opens the door for him, kisses his cheeks wetly as he slips by him. Sanha yelps, but doesn’t have time to react because Minhyuk already has the door shut, making his way around to the drivers seat with a subtle laugh in his step, across his lips. When he slinks inside, own door slamming behind him, he doesn’t start the engine at first. Instead, Minhyuk shifts in his seat, shaking his keys in one hand, tapping his lips in the other.

Smirking, Sanha shakes his head. “You’re getting addicted, Mr Park.”

Minhyuk smirks, leaning forwards across the console. Sanha doesn’t draw back, but doesn’t lean forward, either. “I’m not denying anything,” he mumbles, lips furling further up his face.

Sanha shakes his head again. “You’re insaitable.”

There’s a rush of air released from Minhyuk’s nose before Sanha allows their lips to meet, Minhyuk’s free hand - not holding the keys - cupping his cheek with the gentlest of touches. The kiss is different to their first one from this afternoon, which was hurried and rushed and a little too intense given the circumstances. This is one much softer, gentler, reminding him much more like the delicate lap of water of a lagoon than a fully-blown ocean storm. Minhyuk is making little noises as they kiss, caught somewhere between a sigh and a flurry of unintelligble words, something Sanha himself relishes and swallows down.

The kiss doesn’t last long, but it’s satisfying just the same. Sanha doesn’t think he’ll ever get sick of the feeling of Minhyuk’s lips against his own; hopes he never has to miss them, either, because know that he’s had a taste, he’s not sure he could ever live without it.

 

They end up at their park again.

After having claimed it weeks ago, drunken and somewhat disorderly, they hadn’t actually been back to return. It looks different in daylight, Sanha thinks, as they head towards the swingset. This time of day it’s busier than it had been those weeks ago, but the swings remain unoccupied much to their delight. They swing side-by-side, hands still connected between them, feet tracing patterns into the safety bark beneath their toes.

The silence that hangs between them is comfortable. They find solace in it regularly, Sanha having never minded the quiet, and Minhyuk feeling much the same. He’s the first to break it though, forehead resting against the chain holding up the swing. “Sanha?”

Sanha turns to him, smiles toothlessly, but with what he hopes are warm eyes. “Yes?”

Minhyuk squeezes his hand, “are we...are we out ?”

Timidly, Sanha’s grip on Minhyuk’s hand loosens. Minhyuk suspects this, snatching it back into his grip tighter. “I mean, are we together openly. Do the magazines know that officially now?”

Sanha, sighing, drops their hands and stands from the swing. He comes around to the front of Minhyuk’s, hands either side of his head, curling around the chainlink. “Yes, Minhyuk,” he mumbles, lips spreading into a wider grin. “No way you’re getting rid from me now,” he adds, giggling and curling in on himself when Minhyuk jabs his hands out to his sides, tickling him along his waist.

Sanha squeals, lurching backwards as Minhyuk rises from the swing, arms continuing to tickle along his abdonmen as his arms wrap around him. As he tickles, he kicks Sanha up in his arms, laughing in Sanha’s ear as he screams through a laugh of his own. Minhyuk spins him, not enough to make him dizzy, but enough that Sanha feels relatively breathless from the clench of laughter in his chest. With the way Minhyuk has his body contorted, Sanha is able to reach around and smack at his back, groaning at the way his boyfriend merely laughs harder, back muscles tensing, rippling under his weakly delivered blows. Sanha groans again when Minhyuk tickles him closer up near his neck, along the dip of his spine, below his arms, and thrashes harder and more desperately in his arms. He’s pleading, too, between his laughter, and the tears that edge their way out can’t be stopped any longer.

Eventually, Minhyuk relents, twisting him back around and upright in his arms, back on his feet, and automatically positioning them in a slow-dance step that they had taken up those weeks ago. Sanha realises they were over by the park bench again, in nearly the exact same position they had been in last time, though everything feels different now.

Back then, they hadn’t been together. Thinking about it now, it could have been considered a date, but he’s unsure of what Minhyuk’s thoughts were on the matter, wonders if Minhyuk felt anything for him then like he does now. Minhyuk’s hand is gentle, but firm, on his waist, and the grip in his hand very much the same. Sanha rests his hand on his shoulder easily, loving the strong feeling of msucle there, the muscle he’s traced with his own fingertips, bare flesh on bare flesh, but seeing and feeling it like this , tense from the passion of dance, it feels different. A good different, really, all those feelings together.

Back then, they hadn’t been together. He couldn’t swoop forward like he could now and kiss him right on the lips, whisper sweet nothings against the supple pink and hear them uttered right back to him. Weeks ago, that night had been tantalising and a flirtation with romance, and was everything Sanha had ever wanted from a relationship. Sanha doesn’t miss it, per se, because now he has the real thing - Minhyuk’s hand in his own, arm curled around his waist, chest-to-chest, lips brushing against each other before each twirl - but he craves that innoncence, that fickle flirtation with what if.

Minhyuk must sense some of this, must partially read his mind, because he slows their movements down to a nearly complete stop, and is whispering into the space between them, “I wanted to kiss you so badly that night.”

Sanha’s eyes flutter closed, brushing their noses together. “Why didn’t you?”

Minhyuk shrugs, smiling, and Sanha feels his eyes close against his cheeks, too. “Was scared you only saw me as a friend,” he mumbles, inching his face a little closer.

Cheekily, Sanha draws back, turns his head to the side so Minhyuk’s lips meet his cheek, not his lips like he had intended. Sanha opens his eyes just in time to see Minhyuk’s eyebrows furrow in confusion, before Sanha turns his face to capture his boyfriends lip with his own, unable to resist.

He pulls back, Minhyuk chasing him, but Sanha drops his shoulders down to rest his face in the smooth bend of his neck. Sanha shamelessly inhales there, running his nose along the column of his throat, humming when he starts to feel his heartbeat against his lips.

Minhyuk has slowed their movements to a complete stop now, Sanha, at first, barely noticing what with the way he’s distracted by the warm embrace of him. With the hand that rests in Minhyuk’s own, he draws it upward, spreading Minhyuk’s palm wide and open in front of him. Much like Minhyuk had done earlier that day, Sanha kisses the very centre of his palm, hearing the ragged gasp Minhyuk lets out because of it. Sanha then moves to kiss each fingertip lightly, just a delicate press of his lips there, as though they were made of the most fragile China.

Out the corner of his eye, he can see the wavering expression building in his boyfriends eyes, smiles against his pinky before pressing a final kiss to his palm. “You had me then,” he mumbles, words almost lost to the sky, to the invisble stars, lips not moving from his hand, “and you have me now.”

Minhyuk huffs out, ragged again, watery, even. “Promise you’ll always stay,” he says, though it sounds like a question, like he’s begging, even.

Sanha feels his walls crumble, and a few of his own stray tears seep out at the edges. “I promise,” he mumbles, curling into Minhyuk’s open embrace.

 

Minhyuk drives them back, back to his apartment, holding Sanha’s hand the entire way home. Again, it makes driving awkward, but Sanha felt too clingy and far too fond to even offer letting go. The thought of it alone made his gut twist uncomfortably, and he even leant against the console to rest his head against Minhyuk’s arm. At red lights Minhyuk would turn his head and press a kiss to the top of his head, hum against him, muttering out little endearments and whispers of affection.

Sanha would feel himself curl against Minhyuk’s side tighter, with more pressure, when he mumbles out a weak little, “tired, baby ?” The pet name again makes him jittery inside, like this relationship they’ve built solidifies in his mind more, because more than just an elusive dream but a fortifiable reality.  

Sanha hums into his arm, eyes driting shut against the harsh city lights, a dull throb echoing behind his eyelids. “Headache,” he mumbles, pinching his eyes shut.

Minhyuk makes a sympathetic noise, a cooing noise, followed by another kiss to the top of his head before he’s hearing the familiar slide of his parking garage’s doors open, Minhyuk driving through to the park Sanha had claimed for him. He cuts the engine quickly, and moves around the car within seconds to take Sanha’s hand and help him towards the elevator.

It’s all very domestic, Sanha thinks, as Minhyuk gets him into the bathroom and into the shower, gets him a clean pair of pyjamas ready for him when he emerges. There’s a tall glass of iced water on the bathroom sink, with two white pills nestled beside it, and, as a nice touch, a few cubes of chocolate. Sanha smirks as he swallows down the painkillers, wrapped up in the fluffy towel, nibbles on the chocolate he hadn’t known was in his fridge.

As he’s finishing his nightly routine, patting moisturiser onto his face, he hears Minhyuk call out to him from the other room. “What’s taking you so long? I want my cuddles,” his voice is pouty and a little whiny, and Sanha smirks to himself in the mirror.

“I’m coming now,” he yells back, hearing Minhyuk gleeful giggle, turning his cheeks red with endearment. When Sanha goes to turn the bathroom light off, his eyes linger for the tiniest second on his bathtub.

For the first time since he'd had it installed, he doesn’t feel quite so disgusted by it.




"like a lost astronaut,

looking at you like a star."

-Jaymes Young, 'moondust'

 

Chapter Text

"you look like yourself,

but you're somebody else,

only it ain't on the surface.

No - I hear someone else,

though you're making my nervous."

- flora cash, 'you're somebody else'

 

"I've been working on myself,

and on my patience.

but sometimes that shit doesn't come easy."

- shy martin, 'good together'

 

Sanha wasn’t sure when he had started to notice it, but soon there were soft whispers being shared between Minhyuk and MJ in the hallways and in the garage. Soon, Bin joined in - the whispering increasing and the looks they exchanged starting to get suspicious.

It had started slowly, as though it were something all too secretive to share with even him. From then on in, Sanha thought that perhaps it were just something work-related, something that would have possibly bored Sanha in any other situation. But, a week after the first time Sanha had seen MJ scowling at the letter he had opened in his bedroom that day, Sanha had been seeing it more and more. And not just with MJ.

One day, when Sanha was swivelling on the stool in the mechanics garage, elbows pressed back on Minhyuk’s workbench, MJ called out to his boyfriend where he was working over the hood of a BMW. Sanha, on instinct, turned towards MJ standing in the office doorway, one hand on his hip, a half-bent envelope in the other. It had already been opened, the top-half torn away and ragged where someone had ripped into it, and the stern yet worrisome look on both men’s faces was a clear indication to Sanha that the contents hadn’t been well received. That’s where Sanha’s suspicion had really taken shape.

Possibilities ran through Sanha’s mind, though none of them made any sense - held neither probability nor credibility - and Sanha hadn’t the guts to bring any of them up just yet. It did make his stomach twist when he heard Minhyuk swear in MJ’s direction, eyes latched onto the envelope as though it would catch fire. With the hatred flaring there, in the usually-soft sea of brown, Sanha wouldn’t be surprised if it had caught flames. The twist in his stomach churned deeper, more painfully, as time went on and more letters were received, because not once had Minhyuk brought it up himself, or taken the time to explain it to him.

More often than not, they were sent to MJ and Minhyuk’s apartment; other times, direct to the garage. Sanha assumed that perhaps because of that matter it was work related, but given that, wouldn’t Minhyuk tell him about it? If it were something as general and simple as his work, wouldn’t that be something his boyfriend would feel comfortable sharing?

Sanha, stretched out on Minhyuk’s couch, kicks his legs up when Minhyuk walks back into the room. He slides in beside him, one hand wrapping around one of his ankles when he drops his legs back down into Minhyuk’s lap. Sanha’s eyes flutter closed as his boyfriend runs hand and up and down his calf muscle aimlessly, tickling along his flesh, as he sorts through the stack of mail. Many of it is advertisements and circulars, a few letters here and there, mostly for MJ, but there’s one at the bottom of the stack addressed to Minhyuk himself.

Sanha notices the way Minhyuk’s grip falters on the letter, fingering over the opening but hesitating nonetheless. It didn’t look outright intimidating or important, but even Sanha understood how looks could be deceiving, especially when it came to handwritten mail. No one wrote handwritten letters these days, only ever did if it was serious business. That thought alone made Sanha’s muscles twitch under Minhyuk’s hand, which rested just above his knee now. Minhyuk’s eyes flicker up to him curiously, the concern eating away at his expression dissipating when he sees Sanha worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

He stretches his hand out, cupping Sanha’s chin between his forefinger and his thumb, tugging just slightly. His lip pops out from between his teeth, and Minhyuk watches him closely for a moment before leaning forward. He keeps the kiss soft and short, though Sanha still feels his heart race in his chest because of it. Sanha thinks Minhyuk will always have this power over him - but Sanha also doesn’t think he minds that much.

“What are you thinking about?” He asks, words mumbled across Sanha’s lips.

With his eyes still closed, Sanha shrugs; a weak, one-shouldered sort of movement, restricted by the way Minhyuk’s hand rest by his head just now. “Thinking ‘bout you.”

He feels Minhyuk smiling against his cheek, and Sanha can’t help but press into him further, curling his knees up further, off Minhyuk’s lap and onto the couch cushions. “Always thinking ‘bout you, Minhyuk,” he explains, voice just short of a whisper.

Minhyuk, with a hum, takes one of his hand in his own, working their fingers together until they’re a tangled mess. “What about me?”

Again, Sanha shrugs. “Nothing in particular.” It was half-true. Sanha did, in fact, have one thing occupying his thoughts: the letter in which Minhyuk was currently hesitant about opening. Sanha didn’t want to mention that now, though, given it was his private information, his personal documentation; but still. Sanha was his boyfriend, and Sanha wanted to be there for him through times of stress and worry just as much as he wanted to be there through the good and happy times, too. That was what a relationship was about, anyway. It hurt the tiniest bit that Minhyuk didn’t feel the need to tell him, despite the fact that whatever content remained inside the envelope clearly disturbed him. He doesn’t want to speculate, but Sanha being how he is - relatively lowly self-esteemed and all-round self conscious in his relationship - he can’t help it.

Minhyuk senses his own hesitation, wraps his other hand around his calf again, giving it a light squeeze. “Tell me,” he says, reminiscent of the other day in his car.

Unable to help himself, Sanha opens his eyes, propping himself up on the couch more. “What’s bothering you and MJ?”

Minhyuk looks taken aback, as though the words Sanha had just uttered were in a language he didn’t understand. “What do you mean?” His voice sounds controlled, in-charge.

Sanha bites his lip again. “You both keep getting these letters,” he says, indicating to the one in Minhyuk’s hand now with his head. “And you seem stressed about them. Really stressed.”

Minhyuk sighs, leans over his body just a little so he can rest their foreheads together. When he speaks, his voice is honey and ginger, but it’s distant. It’s lying . “Everything's fine, my Darling.”

“But-”

“Really, Sanha,” he cuts in, not letting Sanha finish. “It’s fine. Everything’s fine.

Sanha swallows down whatever else he has to say. Minhyuk would tell him in due time. He’s sure of it.

 

Sanha is fiddling with a stray thread on the hem of his sweater, picking it beyond repair. It’s brand new, worn only once before this, and normally he’d be annoyed that it had torn so quickly, but his mind is otherwise occupied. For the past week he had been caught up in the mess that was Minhyuk’s persistent dismissal of the truth. The letters didn’t stop coming; the phone calls had started increasing, and had started at weird times, too. Minhyuk wasn’t exactly secretive, but he wasn’t open about what was happening, either, choosing to continue ignoring Sanha’s curious glances across at him when he ignores yet another call; when he tears up the unopened envelope from the same sender as the last.

“Sanha,” Jinwoo starts, taking another long sip of his coffee. He’s dragged from his reverie, the tangled mess of threads in his hands collecting on the leg of his trousers. Jinwoo is hunched over his computer, an open casefile resting on the keyboard in front of him. Dongmin sits beside him on the couch, half-eaten salad sitting on the side table, tea having gone cold as he reads through his own casefile. “If he says it’s nothing, then maybe it is nothing.”

Sanha groans, forehead resting against the palm of his hand. “If it’s nothing, then he should tell me!” Dongmin shifts beside him, reaching out and resting a hand on his knee, giving it a comforting squeeze.

Jinwoo grunts, closing the casefile and pushing it aside. “He probably doesn’t want to bother you with something mundane,” he says with a distinctly bored shrug.

Sanha lifts his head from his hand, eyes meeting Jinwoo’s across the room. “But I want him to bother me with something mundane,” he explains, watching Jinwoo’s expression drop from one of matter-of-fact to a sympathetic one. “And I can tell he’s lying, Jinwoo. I’ve spent enough time with him to know when he’s lying by now.” He returns to fiddling with the pulling threads. “He doesn’t do it much, but when he does,” he trails off, eyes losing their focus again. Dongmin’s hand on his knee gives tightens in another supportive squeeze. “When he does ,” he continues, swallowing around his dry mouth. “It’s so obvious. He’s not a good liar,” he adds with a humourless chuckle, one that doesn’t sound at all convincing.

Dongmin hums, placing his casefile on the table. “Have you told him that you know he’s lying?”

Sanha’s head snaps up to Jinwoo again when he hears him snort. He’s got his arms crossed against his chest, keyboard pushed away from him and to the side. “He’d better not have!”

“What?” Dongmin asks, attention shifting to Jinwoo now instead of Sanha, hand slipping from his knee. “Why not?”

Jinwoo shrugs, throwing them both an incredulous look, as though his reasoning were blatantly obvious before them. He sighs a moment later when neither Sanha nor Dongmin make a move to speak. “Relationships are built on trust. You of all people know that to be true, Dongmin,” Sanha felt Dongmin shiver at those words. Sanha would go to scold Jinwoo at the cold cruelty of them,  but Dongmin nods once, curtly, in agreement. Jinwoo was right, of course. After Dongmin’s separation with Woo Jin, the topic had been somewhat of a taboo; but, when it was brought up in conversation, it was usually done so as a case of evidence, supporting a theory or idea wholeheartedly. Sanha, one not entirely inclined to think like a lawyer, finds the act brash and hostile, but Dongmin seems to find it fitting now, rather than rude.

“Relationships,” Jinwoo continues, voice a little less assertive now, softer around the edges. He was speaking as a friend now, not a lawyer. “-Can only survive on trust. If you question him on this; if you imply that he’s lying, he’s going to think you don’t trust him.”

Sanha swallows again, hands fidgeting in his lap, shifting away from his withering sweater.

“You do trust him, don’t you?” Jinwoo asks, voice laced with a strange, yet surprised, skepticism.

Sanha’s head, shifting from his lap to Jinwoo in an instant, nearly cracks. “Of course!” He exclaims. “It’s just,” he says, shrugging one shoulder. He sinks further back into the couch with a defeated sigh. “If he’s lying to me, then doesn’t that mean he doesn’t trust me ?”

Jinwoo’s lip tugs to the side, but remains silent. Beside him, Dongmin shifts uncomfortably. “He has a point, Jin.”

Pushing his seat back, Jinwoo stands from his desk and makes his way around to the couch. He spins one of the chairs reserved for his clients so that it faces towards them, dragging it a few paces closer. He sits down with a sigh, throwing an ankle over his thigh, fingers wrapping around the curve of his brogue-enclosed foot.

“Sanha, are you sure he’s lying?” Sanha nods, unable to find his tongue. “You’re one-hundred percent confident in your accusation?”

Sanha hesitates in nodding this time, feeling the lingers trails of doubt - or was it hope? - in his bloodstream, clouding his judgement. He doesn’t have to verbalise such doubts, because Jinwoo has known him long enough to detect the hesitancy. “ Shit , Sanha. You can’t do this to yourself.”

Deflating back against the couch, Sanha’s head rests on the headrest, eyes fixated on the ceiling, though they remain unfocused. “Jinwoo, it’s not that easy. I have doubts ,” he says, catching the surprise in Jinwoo’s expression, and immediately correcting himself. “Not in my feelings for Minhyuk,” he says, “but of his feelings for me.” He ends it with sad little shrug.

Beside him, Dongmin tuts. “Sanha, how many times have we gone over this? Minhyuk is head-over-heels in love with you!”

Sanha can’t help the heat rising to his cheeks at the word - love. Minhyuk and he had yet to say those very words; Sanha himself not even sure if he loved Minhyuk yet. He knows he could, one day - but now, with these doubts surging back up again, much like they had before they expressed their feelings to each other, he wonders if he’ll ever get the chance of it being requited. He thinks loving Minhyuk would be the easiest thing in the world, for everything about him was full of love itself. It was just...Sanha doubted that Minhyuk could ever love someone as corrupted as himself, someone so poisoned by media and opinions and reputation.

“We aren’t...I mean, we haven’t said that yet,” he mutters, words dancing with unintelligibility. He lifts his eyes in time to catch Dongmin’s eyebrows lowering back down from his hairline, witnessing the aftermath of a surprised expression.

“You haven’t told him you love him?”

Sanha’s cheeks turn a darker shade of red. “I’m not sure I do.”

Jinwoo snorts, and Dongmin’s lips spread across his face. “I know we’ve said this before, Sanha, but you’d make a terrible lawyer.”

Spluttering, Sanha chokes out, “why?!”

Jinwoo shrugs, tilting his head to Dongmin, instructing him to elaborate. Dongmin licks his lips, rolling them together in consideration. “Well, you’re a terrible liar.”

Sanha’s hands slap against the leather of the seats. “I’m not lying! I don’t love him yet!”

Dongmin’s eyebrows furrow. “Are you sure?”

Sanha nods, exasperated. “I’m not saying I never will love him. It’s just, too soon?”

Jinwoo rolls his eyes, “no such thing as too soon for love, Sanha.”

Dongmin hums in agreement, “it’s a choice, Sanha, not a feeling; I mean it starts as a feeling, but you have to choose to love him. You have to choose to want to spend your life with him. You have choose to want him the way he wants you.”

Sanha swallows, sucking his bottom lip into his mouth as he looks between his two friends. “What are you saying?”

“We’re saying that do you choose Minhyuk?” Dongmin shakes his head when he sees Sanha’s hesitation, “fine. Will you choose Minhyuk, one day?”

At this, Sanha nods. “I’ll always choose Minhyuk. Always .”

Jinwoo’s hands spread out in front of him in the air. “Okay. Good. So, you don’t love him-”

Yet !” Sanha buts in, clarifying.

“Yes,” Jinwoo nods again. “Not yet. But when you do , you can’t doubt him, Sanha. If you doubt him, that’s when everything else begins to slip into the cracks. If he thinks you need to know, he’ll tell you. If not, then try your best to not let it plague you - or it will end badly.”

“We know you’re not the most confident person around, Sanha,” Dongmin adds, hand settling back on his knee gently. “But you need to try and realise that Minhyuk - whether or not he’s said it yet - loves you a whole lot, and would fight for you. He’d fight for you and him to work out. It’s obvious - in the way he looks at you, the way he stands by the media shit storm, and the way you talk about him , Sanha. You love each other; or, at least, you’re close to.”

“But,” Sanha starts, shaking his head in disbelief. “That’s not how relationships work! You’re supposed to tell each other things!”

In what was meant to be a joke in his behalf, came out a line that crushed Sanha’s soul a little, made his eyes sting more than they should. “Yeah, and you’re so educated on relationships, Sanha.” Dongmin’s head snaps up to Jinwoo, wide with disbelief. “How many have you been in again?”

“Jinwoo,” Dongmin warns, voice stern and as cold as Jinwoo’s intention had been. His words, cruel and lacking in thought, makes his head turn away in order to hide the glassy look he know wore.

Sanha hears Jinwoo sigh a moment later, slipping up off his chair and onto the couch beside him, the space tight and squashed, but uncaring nonetheless. “Sorry, Sanha. That was...”

“A dick move?” Sanha offers,

Jinwoo nods, “yeah. A dick move. I just don’t want you to overthink all of this...and mess it up for yourself.”

There’s a silence that spreads out around them like a morning sky; fresh and bright, yet glary and burning his eyes a little as he tries to adjust. To an extent, Sanha knows that Jinwoo is right. Minhyuk had told him everything was fine; it’s likely that everything is fine, and that Sanha’s own self-doubt is what is preventing him from accepting it. Sanha might have money and an overflowing wardrobe and half-decent looks, but he still struggles to accept that someone like Minhyuk could fall for someone like him.

“What do I do?” Sanha asks a moment later, the morning sky shifting into noon, bleary and hot and strangely overcast.

“Well,” Dongmin says, slapping his hands down on his thighs. “First, you support him. You take his words, and you accept them, no matter how much you want to fight against them. You make him feel like he could tell you about any problems he has.”

Jinwoo’s voice perks back up to his left. “Second, the moment you know you love him, you tell him.” Sanha’s cheeks burn a dangerous shade of red, but nods nonetheless.

“And third,” Dongmin says. “You make sure he knows how serious you are about him.”

Sanha’s lips tug down sadly at the corners, but he nods shyly still. “And how do I do that more than I already am?”

“Simple,” Jinwoo says. Sanha turns to him, eyes wide, eagerly awaiting his next words. When they come, they’re soft and they’re final.

“You believe him.”

 

Sanha, for the most part, likes to think himself good at obeying orders. Advice Jinwoo and Dongmin offer him is usually taken seriously and wholeheartedly, and he will live by their wisdom with every breath he has. When it comes to Minhyuk, though, that changes everything. Minhyuk has a way of making him feel like nothing else actually matters; that wisdom and reasoning and meaning itself is thrown out the window; that time itself only has meaning because he shares a speck of his with Sanha himself. Sanha, embracing the warmth and gentle touches Minhyuk gives him, would do just about anything to have more time with his boyfriend.

He likes to think himself good at obeying orders, but maybe what he thinks and what is true are two separate things, because as he sits beside him in the car now, Minhyuk fingers tapping on his thighs nervously, Sanha can’t help but think he’s hiding something.

Maybe it’s that pesky self-doubt again, his lack of a fortified self esteem, or perhaps it’s his gut speaking to him, but Minhyuk doesn’t look at all thrilled when the driver pulls the car up to the building entrance. Neither of them move at first, waiting for Jinwoo to open the door and for the others to file out. Jinwoo, Dongmin and Sanha call this week the Annual Charity Week , because the same week every year is swamped with galas and balls and parties raising money for the organisations in which they support. Sanha has always enjoyed these weeks, despite how tiring they can be, but right now, all he wants to do is curl up in bed at home with Minhyuk’s arms around him. Nothing has even happened, yet Sanha feels like everything between them is breaking.

MJ and Bin tagged along after Jinwoo’s insistence, his eyes lighting up with excitement when Minhyuk confirmed they’d both be there. Dongmin stumbled in his step a little when Minhyuk said ‘ Bin’s excited to see you, Dongmin ’, and Sanha had to press his lips together to mask the knowing smirk that danced across his lips. Beside him, Minhyuk’s hand pinches at his waist. Sanha had told Minhyuk that Dongmin found Bin handsome, despite his friends earlier protests; Minhyuk had, in return, told him Bin thought Dongmin handsome, too. Sanha could have told him that, though - everyone finds Dongmin handsome.

In fact, Sanha had brought this up on one occasion, to which Minhyuk responded with furrowed brows. “Uh, sure? He’s very handsome Sanha, but guess what?”

“What?” Sanha had asked, lips pursed.

Minhyuk smiles, hand reaching out and dragging their lips together in a forceful collision, deep and heavy straight from the start; heavy enough that Sanha was panting within seconds, fingers latched onto his neck, gasping and red-cheeked when Minhyuk pulled away seconds later, tongue running over his lips. “He’s no Yoon Sanha ,” he says, smirking, running his thumb along Sanha’s bottom lip. “He’s no you ,” he says again, whispering it the second time.

He had leaned in a second time, too, though it's a mess of wandering hands and urgent lips to Sanha now, one of their deeper kisses, one that was laced with affection and a romance that reminded him of their first. Minhyuk had pulled away and kissed each one of his hands, both cheeks, his shoulders, mumbled little endearments into the curvature of his neck, kissing the singular bruise that Minhyuk ensured stayed tucked below his ear. During the day, that bruise would be covered by Sanha’s foundation, but the moment he stepped through the threshold for the last time, Minhyuk would be wiping his face clean with a warm cloth, showing it off proudly.

Now, though, with Minhyuk’s jittering hands and legs beside him, Sanha’s isn’t so sure Minhyuk is quite as proud of him as he had been a few weeks ago. He knows it’s stupid to think, considering just minutes before Minhyuk had kissed him on his doorstep with his usual passion, had called him beautiful, as always, and sounded breathless when Sanha had smiled at him. It was stupid - he knows that - but he muted Dogmin’s and Jinwoo’s advice in his head, forgoing his sanity, and accepting his miserable fate instead. He was certain that this would not last; that, at some point, Minhyuk would tire of his lifestyle, would tire of the bright lights and the pressing crowds, the suffocation of stigma and reputation choking him far beyond comfort. Sometimes, Sanha feels like he’s already stopped breathing. That this life he occupies is so ingrained in him that the people and the lifestyle no longer phases him, sources his energy from the liveliness of the man beside him.

The others file out the car before them, and when Sanha goes to push the seat in front of them down, Minhyuk snatches at his wrist. Turning slowly, Sanha wills the butterflies in his throat to flutter back down. Minhyuk, as always, looked unreasonably good. The requirements of the event was to wear all-white, given that it was a paint party, organised by the children’s orphanage, so that the glow-in-the-dark colours would stand out when the lights went out. The event was being held in one of the nightclubs in the city, one which was easily cleaned and often hosted mess-parties just like this one.

“What’s wrong?” Sanha hates how wobbly his voice sounds.

Minhyuk smiles, thumb brushing up the side of his wrist. “I’m excited,” he says, smile faltering just the tiniest bit when he leans forward to kiss him. It’s short and sweet, but does nothing to ease Sanha’s nerves. Sanha presses back against him, chasing after his lips when he draws away. Minhyuk snickers against him, breath fanning across his face. Minhyuk nods to the open door, and Sanha takes his leave.

Sanha and Minhyuk are getting good at ignoring the press by now, given how often they’re attached to their hip, writing articles about the two of them - together or separately, much to Sanha’s distaste for the former. They slip past the bustle of cameras and phones and interviewers easily, stepping inside to walls decorated by white sheets hanging from the ceiling, tables pushed against many of the walls, with opened buckets of paint on top and a series of brushes. Sanha passes over their tickets to the security guard in the doorway, before leading Minhyuk over to one of the tables, hand sitting clammy in his own.

Dongmin, Jinwoo, Bin and MJ are already by the table, paint tins in hand. Dongmin squeals when Bin drags a line of red across his forehead, drawing his head back in surprise. He swears, slapping his hand out - but the movement is gentle, affectionate, and Bin grabs his outstretched hand and drags Dongmin closer. Sanha smirks at the way Dongmin’s expression drops, faltering at the sudden proximity, but then Bin is slamming a hand-print of paint into his hair. Mouth wide and eyes alert, Dongmin yelps, proceeding to empty half his tin of yellow paint on Bin’s front.

Minhyuk is shamelessly laughing at MJ, who’s top-half is already saturated in green and pink and yellow paints, hair matted and clumped together by a dashing shade of electric blue. Sanha smirks as Jinwoo shivers, a reaction to the slap of paint MJ runs up the side of his waist, curling around under his arm, up onto his shoulder.

They’re all wearing white t-shirts and white trousers, and old white sneakers no one minded getting destroyed. Around them, everyone wore something similar, but soon it would mean nothing, as the lights would switch off and everything would suddenly come alive.

Sanha’s appreciating the way Dongmin steps closer into Bin’s personal space, bottom lip between his teeth, a sort of look that Sanha would call seductive had it not been for the cheeky and coy tickle in his eyes, and for the bucket of pink paint in his hands. Just as Dongmin empties it over Bin’s legs, a rush of cold is falling down and over Sanha’s hair and face. He gasps out, hands reaching up to touch at the paint dripping down his face, wiping it quickly to avoid it entering his mouth.

“Min-Minhyuk!” He exclaims, turning to a far-too amused looking Minhyuk. Sanha shoves past him, snatching up his own bucket of paint, not caring for whatever colour it is, emptying it over his boyfriends head without further ado. Minhyuk sputters at the cold, but doesn’t jump the way Sanha had - he’d been expecting it, but the horrified look on his face is satisfying to Sanha all the same.

Sanha and Minhyuk listen to how behind them, Dongmin cackles loudly - a laugh he reserves for when he’s truly happy, when he finds something outrageously enjoyable and amusing; a sound very rarely heard since his separation. As Minhyuk draws lines of pink up his arms, and as Sanha cheekily outlines Minhyuk’s abs with green, they listen to Jinwoo cursing at MJ as he empties yet another bucket of paint over his head, creating a disgusting shade of olive green. Through the exchange of paint, Sanha’s heart begins to thaw, and the smile on Minhyuk’s face makes the doubt in his mind empty out like the pain itself does; and when the lights overhead switch off with a purposeful thud , the glow of the paint shines only half as bright as that same very smile.

The night is much of the same. Time moves slowly, but passes quickly - paint exchanged back and forth at a rapid pace, colours blending together in vibrant lashings, music in the speakers overhead making the walls and the floors vibrate in time to Sanha’s racing heart. When Sanha bends down to run paint up Minhyuk’s legs, hands are wrapping around his head, dragging him back up, towards the surface of whatever waves lap overtop of them. Minhyuk’s eyes are dark in the low lighting, but they’re beautiful all the same. They’re staring deep into his own, and the look there is one he recognises, one he’s seen so many times - one he wakes up to nearly every morning now.

Sanha barely registers his own gasp, the paint brush slipping between his fingers and crashing to the floor, splattering colour up both of their legs. He doesn’t register much at all, aside from the rush of air between them, Minhyuk dragging his head down to him, lips meeting somewhere in the middle of this ocean that divides them. Sanha can taste paint on Minhyuk’s tongue and can feel his racing pulse under his fingers where they rest against his neck, the slip of wet paint mimicking the movement of their lips.

Between them, everything that sits unspoken is like a violent current separating them, drawing them closer, then apart, and Sanha can’t decide if he likes this or hates this feeling of Minhyuk’s hands on his lower back, the other threading through his hair in an desperate grip; not sure if he likes the way Minhyuk’s chest is heaving out against his own, heavier than it’s ever been; not sure if he likes the way his name sounds as Minhyuk pants it out when they separate; not sure if he likes the way he surrenders fully to him, lets his hands fall from his neck down to his hips, dragging him closer still - and like waves meeting in the middle, the rip they form in the centre is tearing them further and further apart.

Sanha doesn’t know if he likes this, but the part of him that is sinking is telling him that he has grown to love it.

 

Sanha doesn’t know what the time is, but knows the night is still relatively young. The music is loud and disorientating, but Minhyuk dancing behind him is enough to keep him grounded. He spins him, head thrown back in laughter, the sound itself lost to the heavy bass. In their veins the alcohol sits heavy and strong and bitter; it’s potent and overwhelming their senses, though Sanha finds he doesn’t mind, the liquid courage making him uncaring for the way photographers snap pictures of them all night, kissing and embracing and dancing and falling for each other a little more and more. The doubt is still there, undeniably so, but Sanha is able to push it down beneath his feet, to the black billowing depths of ignorance and neglect, knowing that one day they will resurface, but that for now, he’s going to enjoy the way Minhyuk’s hands hold his waist, hold him close, how his lips drag over his with a practiced ease, how everything spread out before them - paint and all - is a masterpiece. Minhyuk is a masterpiece, and Sanha is the admirer standing by and watching it light up.

When Minhyuk quickly kisses him again now, lips urgent and searching and reaching for something to satisfy their craving, he mumbles my darling, my darling, my darling over and over again, and back to him, Sanha will tangle his fingers in his hair, paint slipping through the wild tendrils as Sanha harmonises back, my star, my star, my star.

Bin and Dongmin are long gone, lost to the sea of people around them. Jinwoo has MJ pressed against a wall, lips together feverishly, and Sanha has to look away, feeling as though he’s invading some intimate moment that had been building for however long. Though, Sanha knows that isn’t the case. Minhyuk had followed his gaze, falling on the sight that had baffled Sanha with an identical expression. He shakes his head, mouthing the word desperate, making Sanha grin wide and open down at him.

He’s about to bend down and kiss him again, fingers running from his scalp down his back, where lines of paint are drawn, when Dongmin is suddenly at his side. Bin is beside him, worrying his lip between his teeth, eyes conveying something far too close to worry to be considered drunkenly induced. Sanha drops his hands when Dongmin taps Minhyuk’s shoulder.

Minhyuk whips around, searching eyes landing on Bin, who now raises his phone to him. The number is unfamiliar to him, but it mustn't be to neither Bin or Minhyuk, as their expressions are mimicking one anothers now. Sanha tenses when Minhyuk’s grip on him falls cold and vacant, stepping out of his personal space to head closer to Bin. Sanha feels his heart sink lower and lower and the two of them slip outside, MJ slipping out from Jinwoo’s grip and chasing after them.

Sanha doesn’t need to step any closer to the window to see the way Minhyuk answers the call hurriedly; doesn’t need to turn back to Jinwoo or Dongmin to see the way they’re watching him now: sympathetic, and as doubtful as he had been feeling not four hours ago.

Once or twice since meeting Minhyuk, Sanha had wondered what heaven looks like, because Minhyuk is nothing short of an angel. He wonders what heaven looks like , and is scared that it looks something like Minhyuk laughing on the phone, and is scared that the hell Sanha is doomed for is him standing here, watching Minhyuk laugh without him.

Before he can cry, Sanha turns away. He drinks the rest of the night away, knows that Minhyuk returns, because he can feel his arms around his waist, feel his lips against the back of his neck, where his t-shirt slips down off his shoulder. Minhyuk returns to him, smelling like outside, but the way he presses himself up the expanse of Sanha’s back doesn’t feel quite the same as it did before.

He doesn’t remember much the next morning, but remembers enough to know that his heart is a little bit broken.

 

Late that same morning, hangover still pounding behind his eyes, the pieces Minhyuk had pointed out at the art showing weeks ago arrive at Sanha’s apartment. Hand delivered by first class couriers and leant delicately against his living room wall, tucked away behind the table in brown paper and bubble wrap, the stack of six paintings look large and daunting to him now. They had once been a thing of excitement. The idea hanging new art in his apartment - art that Minhyuk himself had chosen - was thrilling. But now, as last night sits between them, he’s lost that rush of adrenaline.

As Sanha cuts along the edges of the packing materials carefully, mindful of the canvas beneath, Minhyuk is in the bedroom hammering a nail above his bed. Minhyuk had said one of the paintings - the horizontal and thin abstractual ocean scene - would look perfect hanging there, with its pastel blues and greens and dainty pinks brushed in the sand. Somewhere along the line, he had also connected his phone in to the speaker system, and the music that plays throughout his apartment is familiar, Sanha recognising it immediately as the playlist that runs from time to time at Minhyuk’s work.

“Shit,” Sanha suddenly yelps, spine snapping upright. Behind him, Minhyuk chuckles, but doesn’t remove his hand from where it’s resting at the base of his spine. “You scared me,” Sanha whines, swatting at Minhyuk’s straying hand. Minhyuk kisses his forehead fondly, smile on his lips dopey and his eyes sleepy.

He hadn’t been as hungover as Sanha had been this morning when the intercom had gone off, announcing the delivery company’s arrival, and Sanha remembers hearing himself groan into Minhyuk’s chest when he slipped out from under the covers. He heard Minhyuk buzz them in, coming back into the room quickly and heading straight into Sanha’s wardrobe. He comes out with an oversized sweater, tugging it hastily over his head to hide his bare chest, much to Sanha’s distaste. Though, to be fair, he didn’t want anyone else seeing it, either, and was immediately thankful for Minhyuk’s modesty. As he turns to leave, closing the bedroom door so that they couldn’t peer in at Sanha’s half-naked, half-asleep form, Sanha sees a few splatters of paint still in Minhyuk’s hair from where he had missed it during their shower last night, and he presses his giggle into the pillow.

“You’re jumpy today,” Minhyuk mumbles as Sanha tugs away the last of the bubble wrap, exposing the beach scene in all its glory. It’s gorgeous, Sanha agrees; though he hardly recognises it from the viewing all those weeks ago now. The lighting is different here, or perhaps it was Sanha’s mood making the colours less bright; whatever it was, Sanha didn’t love it as much as he had hoped. He didn’t express this to Minhyuk, though, who takes it from him with eager hands and scurries away to the bedroom with it.

Sanha can’t help but smile, though, as he watches Minhyuk clamber up onto the bed in his odd-socked feet, grin wide and goofy, hair astray and laced with pink and green. It’s still long, having forgone cutting it, and he’s tangled a ratty old hair tie into the hair usually overhanging his eyes. Sanha doesn’t think it’s fair how attractive he looks even when he claims to be at his worst. Sanha, on the other hand, looks far from cute right now - though Minhyuk was sure to say otherwise if he dared uttered such a statement.

Minhyuk’s head snaps around to him when he hangs it on the hook. “Straight?”

Unable to help himself, Sanha cocks his hip. “Not since I was thirteen, no.”

“Yoon Sanha!”

Sanha giggles where he leans back against the doorframe. “A tiny bit to the right,” he says, motioning with his finger. With a roll of his eyes, Minhyuk shifts the painting downward just an inch, casting a look over his shoulder to which Sanha returns with a thumbs-up motion. Satisfied, Minhyuk drops off the bed with a thump , coming over to stand by Sanha in the doorway.

He rests his head against Sanha’s shoulder, sighing deeply. “I like it,” he declares, voice loud in the large room. Sanha smiles, even though Minhyuk can’t see it. He feels Minhyuk head shift on his shoulder, “do you like it, Sanha?”

Sanha shrugs, though the movement is restricted by the way Minhyuk leans against him. “Not as much as I like you-”

“Gross.”

“-But it’s nice, I guess.”

Minhyuk shoves him playfully as they head out of the room to collect another one of the paintings. Minhyuk had already decided where he wanted them, after Sanha had given him free reign of both his apartment and the hammer and nails the couriers had supplied. He had mostly decided on hanging them in open-plan space of the living room, on the opposite wall of the floor-to-ceiling glass structure. This meant removing most of the pieces already hanging, and adding nails so that Minhyuk could place them the way he liked. Sanha didn’t fully understand the haphazardous placement of the nails, and the way the paintings sat together in clumps rather than stretched across the entire wall, but as Minhyuk stepped back after hanging all of them, Sanha couldn’t deny him when he was smiling so proudly, with such satisfaction. Sanha was sure he’d grow to love the display, felt himself already halfway there when Minhyuk asks him as such.

He’s about to say something more when from across the room, Minhyuk’s phone starts ringing on the table. It makes the music cut out, the ringtone resonating around his apartment in its place. Sanha flinches against the harshness of it, against it’s piercing shrill, but Minhyuk scurries across the room to hastily answer it. He disconnects it from the speakers, which shut off immediately with finalised, drawn-out beep , and Minhyuk covers the mouthpiece with his hand.

“Sorry, Darling - it’s Mum. I won’t be long,” he explains, before darting out onto Sanha’s balcony. He’s gone before Sanha can properly react, or even say anything - couldn’t even nod in agreement or understanding. The look in Minhyuk’s eyes had been enough. That brief flicker of recognition as he glanced down at the caller ID - supposedly his mother, but Sanha finds this unlikely, given the way strict and reserved way he speaks down the line outside now, lacking any of that usual Minhyuk animation - was enough for Sanha to realise that Minhyuk had lied. That the caller definitely wasn’t his mother, but, in fact, the same caller from the club last night. Although this time Minhyuk isn’t laughing, head isn’t thrown back, the tempting curve of his neck exposed to every onlooker, Sanha can tell it’s the same. The same caller Minhyuk feels the need to protect, to keep a secret, to lie to Sanha about.

Sanha, with a resigned sigh, slips into his bedroom, shucking off his cardigan and yanking back the rumpled, hastily-made sheets. He tugs them up high over his head, barely any part of his hair showing from underneath the duvet, and he hopes they would silence his racing mind, but not surprised when it doesn’t.

His mind is alive with thoughts of is he cheating on me? and is he only with me for my money? and, even more stupidly, is he a spy? The thoughts race and run and tumble and spin, formulate from one thing and morph into another; it’s wild and it’s unrealistic, but it’s Sanha’s doubt eating away at him the same way it ate at him last night, the night before that, and before that. It’s self doubt and it’s anxiety and it’s a wedge of self depreciation, the idea that he doesn’t deserve this, that he’ll mess it all up eventually.

Ten minutes later, Minhyuk steps back inside, and Sanha’s mind is running at the very same pace, if not faster. Minhyuk coos from the other side of the room, before slipping under the blankets behind him. They hadn’t been awake all that long, but the hangover was an easy excuse. Minhyuk kisses the purple bruise on the side of his neck, colour renewed after last night, but Sanha doesn’t lean back into it like he normally would.

Instead, Sanha feigns sleep.

 

When morning broke, so did Sanha’s impatience.

With the rising sound of traffic from the city below, and with Minhyuk’s deep even breathing fanning across the hollow of his throat, he realised that his lack of trust was as silly as it was nonsensical. His mouth is buried in amongst Minhyuk’s tangled hair, long and unruly, and it feels as soft and as smooth as the expensive cotton bed sheets which drape over their bodies now. It smells familiar, like home , like something he had known his whole life. It smelt like something he had known longer than just a few months; the time he had known Minhyuk; the amount of time it took for him to grow from his mechanic to his friend to his lover .

In the morning light, Minhyuk looks as angelic as ever. He’s a rarity; a picturesque landscape unfolded before him. With gentle fingers, Sanha brushes the hair from his face, showing off more of his smooth, tanned skin. His eyelids are fluttering as he dreams, and for a while Sanha just lies there, watching him sleep. He’d find it strange had it not been something Minhyuk did to him in return. There’s something incredibly peaceful about the way your other half sleeps so willingly, so calmly, beside you, Sanha thinks. The way they drop their defenses and their many protective walls, laying themselves bare and open beside you under your shared sheets. Sanha thinks Minhyuk is his safety net, his safety blanket, even; so it's unreasonable for Sanha to not trust him.

It’s when Minhyuk sighs in his sleep, nose scrunching up; it’s when he curls deeper into Sanha’s chest, a stray hand wandering across Sanha’s stomach, tightening it’s hold on his waist; it’s when his eyes flutter open and closed as he gets used to the morning light; it’s when he kisses all the places of Sanha’s body he can reach - his throat, his collarbones, his left shoulder, his pecs, his sternum; it’s when he presses his thumb against the hickey on the side of his neck; it’s when Minhyuk falls into him, slipping his soul into the hand of Sanha’s own soul, that Sanha realises Minhyuk means too much to him to let something like a letter or a phone call destroy what they have.

Gratified, and smiling widely, Sanha rolls and pins Minhyuk beneath him. “Good morning, my star,” he mumbles, leaning down to kiss him.

Minhyuk grins into the kiss with him, neither of them caring that the kiss tastes a bit sour, and rests his sleep-numb hands on Sanha’s naked back. As they kiss, his hands dance up and down his spine, eliciting shivers that run after the path of his roaming fingers. “Good morning, my Darling,” he says when they pull apart a few minutes later, breathing a little heavy, minds dizzy.

Sanha eases his weight off Minhyuk’s chest so he can push down the bed further, aligning their bodies at a better angle so he can rest his head against his shoulder. Minhyuk hums into him, letting his arm wrap around him with a comforting grip. “We slept late,” he mumbles against Sanha’s temple, thumb rubbing back and forth on his waist.

Once, Sanha would have found his lack of dress humiliating. Weeks ago, Sanha would flinch and curl in on himself in attempt to hide himself, but gradually, Minhyuk had made Sanha feel more beautiful than he would ever deserve. And it wasn’t just his physical form that Minhyuk had made Sanha find beautiful - now, Sanha could look and notice his own self, his personality, his morals and everything else in between, and see that he was beautiful on the inside, too. Flawed, imperfect, but beautiful just the same. So now, Sanha didn’t fear lying shirtless beside Minhyuk, didn’t mind walking around each other's respective apartments in just his underwear, didn’t mind Minhyuk seeing him bare, inside and out, because he knew he wasn’t going to be shamed for it.

Which was why he didn’t mind the way Minhyuk would shamelessly ogle his body at times like this. Sanha had no qualms , for he did the very same thing - would run his fingers along the grooves of Minhyuk’s chest, his abdominal muscles, the hard muscle of his biceps, before resting on the junction where his neck meets his shoulder. Minhyuk would always lean in and kiss him, slow and soft, again and again until Sanha’s lips feel dry and a little swollen.

“Mhm,” he mumbles, brushing his nose along his neck. “You don’t have to work today.”

Minhyuk breathes out against the side of his face. “No work all week, ‘cause of you.”

Sanha smiles against his collarbone. “No complaining.”

He snickers, “I never said it was a bad thing, Darling.” He kisses his cheek, head falling back onto the pillow. “I like it.”

“I like you .”

Sanha can’t see his face, but can feel the way he tenses, and then releases; a sign that Minhyuk was somewhat stunned, but glad nonetheless. The comment earns him three more kisses and a tighter cuddle. “I like you, too.”

It’s because of the way that Minhyuk kisses him and holds him like this, the way he makes his heart swell up and up and up in his chest, bigger and bigger after each passing moment, that Sanha decides to trust him fully. Knows that it’s a risky move, to hand one's heart over so daftly, so carelessly, even, but God, if he can’t trust Minhyuk now, when will he ever? He doesn’t bring up the phone calls or the letters, opts to wait until Minhyuk tells him - if he tells him. Sanha knows that should Minhyuk ever defy him, or let him down, his decision he’s made now will come back and bite him in the ass, make it all hurt so much more than at first glance. The imminent pain that awaits him isn’t certain, though, and even though he knows its unforeseeable, he still finds it unlikely, because Minhyuk kisses him like he’s a lost piece of treasure, now found; like the most delicate and most priceless thing in the universe. Sanha grasps that feeling, holds onto it, because the cynical side of him isn’t entirely sure how long it’s going to last.

 

“Minhyuk,” Sanha says, stepping warily back into the bedroom from his wardrobe. He has his hands hidden behind his back, the jacket he had purchased last week with Jinwoo and Dongmin secured inside the gift box.

The man in question is standing in the living room, staring outside his wall of windows, watching the sun drop lower and lower in the distance. Sanha wonders if he’s trying to find his abandoned warehouse in the distance when he turns to him, eyebrows raised in acknowledgement. When Minhyuk’s eyes fall on him, he immediately tenses, drawing his head back. His hands drop to his sides, fiddling nervously with the hem of the trousers he wore. He must see the expression in Sanha’s eyes - though Sanha himself can’t quite place what it is he’s feeling: a mix of excitement and anticipation, he supposes, but something more too, tasting a bit like pride - and steps closer to him, wary.

“S-Sanha?” He asks, stuttering, bottom lip drooping down just a tad. Mouth now ajar, Sanha can see the way he swallows around his tongue nervously. “What’s wrong?”

Sanha shrugs, letting his smirk shine through, and steps closer to him. As if it were on instinct, Minhyuk steps backward.

“What’s behind your back?”

Again, Sanha shrugs.

“Sanha.”

Sanha giggles, “it’s a gift.”

He swallows again, eyeing the way Sanha drifts his hands around, holding the box, around to his front. Minhyuk may not be a fashionista, or brand-inclined, but everyone had heard of Gucci , and Sanha didn’t miss the way Minhyuk’s expression fell into one of shock when his mind registered what was happening. “San--No way. No. This isn’t a gift, this is a deposit on a house .”

“Oh, please. Stop it,” he says with a roll of his eyes. He hands the box out to him. “Take it.”

Minhyuk holds his hands up in front of him defensively. “No, no! No way, not happening!”

Sanha steps forward again, a smaller step this time, but it’s more purposeful than all the others. “Minhyuk.” He follows the line of his boyfriends throat, watches the way his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows harshly around a dry tongue. In a moment of cheekiness, or some shade of longing he’s kept suppressed for too long, he drops the pet name Minhyuk had used on him early last week. “ Baby .”

A whine gets caught in Minhyuk’s throat. “D-don’t,” he half-begs, back flush with the windows now, but his hands are half-outstretched, ready to take the gift box. “This is Gucci , Sanha.”

Sanha nods, shrugs with one shoulder. “I know. I did buy it, remember?”

Minhyuk, with nimble fingers, takes the box from Sanha’s hands. It’s weighty, though not overly so, but Minhyuk still looks surprised by it. “How much was this?” He asks after much deliberation, eyeing the brown sturdy box as though it were solid gold.

Over one-hundred-and-sixty million won, he recalls.

Sanha coughs once, clearing his throat, his own nerves starting to soar. Or not nerves, but rather a hesitancy; he was hesitant it telling Minhyuk the price because he knows that the moment he does, his boyfriend would surely collapse on him. Sanha didn’t want to be responsible for something like that. So, instead, he just shrugs, and says, “not much.”

Minhyuk fingers over the ribbon securing the lid in place. “Sanha, tell me.”

He shakes his head. “No, it’s not important.”

“It is to me.”

“Minhyuk, it’s not. Really. You know money is something I have enough of. It didn’t put me out of pocket, I promise.”

Minhyuk whines again. “I know you have money, Sanha. That’s not the problem.”

“Then what is the problem?”

The way he half stamps his foot shouldn’t be as adorable as Sanha finds it, given the scowl on his face, and the redness of his cheeks. “The problem is that I don’t have this kind of money.”

Sanha steps closer to him, eyes softening, lips curling upwards into a less-cheeky and coy smile, and one that is much more genuine. “Why is why,” he says, hand lifting up to cup Minhyuk’s cheke. “I bought it for you.” Minhyuk goes to complain again, Sanha thinks, but Sanha beats it to him and steals the words right from between his lips. Sanha kisses him chastely, but keeps it as cheeky as he can, the hand on his boyfriend's cheek letting him run a finger along his chiseled cheekbone, lets Minhyuk taste him just briefly on his tongue before he’s drawing away.

“Please,” he says, panting a little, willing himself not to laugh at Minhyuk’s dazed expression. “I bought it with you in mind. I saw it and...I immediately thought of you.”

His words soften him up, and maybe Sanha cheated a little by using that tone of voice, the flirty one, the verbal personification of puppy dog eyes. Minhyuk succumbs to it, eventually, though Sanha can tell he’s trying to hold on to that last branch of sanity he has, that last pull of strength. He fails, though, and Sanha can tell he doesn’t fully mind, because the way his eyes light up as he pulls the ribbon free it’s anything but bothered .

Sanha wasn’t entirely sure what it was about the jacket that had made him think of Minhyuk straight away. It was off-white, a milky and patent creamy coloured leather, that was so incredibly soft to the touch that Sanha though it resembled that of cotton candy, or of Minhyuk’s hair, his hands, or, as sappily as it was, his heart. It was hand-painted, with blue and pink roses, and a collection of studs were attached to the biker style jacket, too. It was both soft and hard, durable and delicate, and it was so very much Minhyuk that Sanha couldn’t even place a finger on it. It was beautiful, lined with red, and the zippers clinked as Minhyuk lifts it from the now.

His jaw is slack, mouth hanging open, as Sanha moves to take the box from underneath him, leaving just the jacket in his hold. Minhyuk swallows a total of four times before he says anything, and when he does, it’s just a breathy gasp that resembles Sanha’s name.

Sanha grins, resting his forehead against Minhyuk’s temple. “Do you like it?”

In his arms, Sanha can feel him shake, and for a moment he’s worried he’s upset him, and that the shakes were the side effect of him crying. But when he pulls his head away, scanning his face worriedly, he finds his boyfriend is shaking through laughs. Though, Sanha will point out, his eyes were watery as he turned the jacket over and over in his hands. “Sanha,” he gasps out again, eyes moving from the leather jacket to his eyes very briefly. He gasps out, “it’s gorgeous ,” before turning his attention back onto it. He admires it from different angles, examining the way the paints used were slightly metallic, casting rainbows when it caught the light a particular way.

“Come on,” Sanha says, nudging him with his head. “Try it on.”

Minhyuk immediately looks panicked. “What if doesn’t fit? Oh God, ” he exclaims, eyes worrisome. “What if I look bad in it?” Sanha goes to retort, but Minhyuk is already mumbling out, “I hope you kept the receipt.”

Sanha snorts, nudging him again. This time, Minhyuk obeys. He carefully unzips the leather, pulling out the tissue paper with shaky hands that sits inside the body of the jacket’s lining. He hands it over to Sanha, who chucks it back in to the box on the floor. Then, with a final sigh, Minhyuk slides his arms into the leather.

Sanha has to admit, he did well this time around. Sometimes, the outfits he plans in his head don’t always turn out as well in person - this was not one of those times. When he’d asked Minhyuk to tonight's event - a charity-run fashion show, wherein notable designers donated their designs for an evening of fundraising - he already had an outfit for him in mind. After Minhyuk had confirmed, all Sanha had to do was get Minhyuk to try it on, have his tailor pin it and alter it to perfection. The entire time, Minhyuk had blushed and stuttered, only calming down when Sanha would lean over and give him little kisses. Seeing him in it now, though, with the jacket, just made it that much better.”

“Shit, Minhyuk,” he says, unable to help how breathless he sounds.

“What?” He asks, worried. “Does it look bad?”

Sanha shakes his head violently. “You look hot .”

Minhyuk’s cheeks immediately turn red, even the tips of his ears. “Stop,” he mumbles.

Sanha snatches at his wrist. “No, you stop. You look so bloody hot, Minhyuk!”

“Stoooop!” He whines, using his free hand to hide his face.

“Never,” Sanha declares triumphantly. “Now let me appreciate my sexy boyfriend and go stand by the wall. I want to take photos.”

Minhyuk groans, but knows he’s lost this fight already, so he does as he’s told. He doesn’t smile in a lot of them, which only makes Sanha’s tummy feel funny, because it’s hotter than he thought it would be.

Minhyuk was unfair in his looks; he was more of a model than all the models themselves were. Sure, he wasn’t six foot four, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in bone structure and body shape. He was outrageous. He was gorgeous. He was delicious. And with his body in the high-neck animal print shirt and in the black tightly-fitted trousers with studs embossed on the sides, with his feet tucked into the black brogues, it only confirmed this, strengthened his hypothesis. Minhyuk was decked out in full John Galliano, Sanha in Tom Ford - though, as Sanha was asked to be a guest model for the runway show, that was sure to change multiple times during the evening. Sanha smiled over at Minhyuk when he beckoned him over, pressing him against the wall and kissing him deep, deep, deep, swallowing down all his squeals and sighs and, much to Sanha’s delight, got to swallow down some of his own.

It is in the moments like this that Sanha is reminded of how much he does trust Minhyuk. How much he trusts him with the little things - where to hang the paintings, what lipstick colour looked better - but also the big things - like his heart, for instance. Minhyuk had his heart since the very moment they met, all those months ago, when Minhyuk had come and rescued him from the 24 hour liquor store. Back then, Sanha had no idea how drastically his life would change after meeting the mechanic, and whilst it has been a journey so far that he could never predicted, or even wished for, he’s so glad he’s gotten to experience it, still gets to experience it, because Minhyuk makes him better, changes him in the best kind of ways. So why would Sanha ever doubt him?

He’s reminded again , just briefly, why he had started to doubt him.

When Minhyuk drops one hand down from his neck to his hip, tugging him closer, yet still keeping him pressed against the wall, Sanha can hear his phone starting to ring on the table. Minhyuk doesn’t stop kissing him, though he does slow down, lips starting to still against his. Sanha, already knowing it would be the same caller again, surges forward off the wall and twists, so he can be the one to hold Minhyuk against the wall.

“Ignore it,” he breathes out, kissing both of his cheeks softly, the side of his face, before returning his lips to Minhyuk’s. His grip is firm on his shoulders, though not hard enough to elicit any kind of pain, and the leather is soft beneath his fingers. He knows they should be more mindful of the fact that their hair and makeup had just been done, that they’re probably wrinkling their clothes, but with the feverish way Minhyuk kisses him back, lets out breathy little sighs against his skin when they part, Sanha knows he’s won this round.



Sanha and Minhyuk are photographed upon entry to the fashion show, where they stop and stand for several minutes in different positions for the press. Minhyuk, as always, stands by his side diligently, has a hand on his waist, and raises the other to wave at the pressing crowd when they call his name. There’s familiar faces everywhere, famous and non-famous alike, and because of the designer pieces inside, there’s a swarming bustle of them that’s louder than usual. Even still, Minhyuk is as assertive with his space and privacy as he normally is; he doesn’t let his fear or surprise eat away at him like Sanha’s once had.

Just inside the door Jinwoo waits for them. Dongmin is backstage, as he too was asked to model for the charity show, and tucked just behind Jinwoo, almost out of sight, Bin and MJ are standing chatting to a small group of lawyers Sanha recognises from the firm. Pressing his lips together knowingly at the way Jinwoo tenses when he follows Sanha’s line of sight, Sanha throws him a sly wink, and shoves Minhyuk’s side. Minhyuk, startled, lowers his eyes from the billowing white garlands hanging from the roof, and over to where Sanha stares pointedly at his friends. Minhyuk’s reaction is instantaneous: he smiles broadly, meeting his eyes, and it warms Sanha’s heart to know that Minhyuk would at least feel comfortable sitting in the front row with his friends by his side.

“I’ve got to head backstage,” Sanha says, leaning down to kiss Minhyuk once on the lips, another on the tip of his nose.

Scrunching his face up in mock disgust, Jinwoo grunts. “Dongmin’s waiting for you.” He nods his head in the direction of the side door tucked around the corner. He shifts his attention back to Minhyuk, “come on. Let’s go to our seats.”

The show starts an hour later, and had Sanha not done these types of fashion shows many times before, he would have lost control and burst out into a laugh right as he stepped out onto the catwalk. In the front row, Minhyuk watches him intently, smile wide and adorning his face in the way that’s usually reserved for just the two of them, and Sanha thinks he shines brighter than any light in the room. He watches him in his peripheral vision as he saunters past, not ignoring the way he mouths around a curse, phone raised in front of his face.

The first line is Givenchy, Sanha wrapped in sheer, black silk, tucked loosely into slim trousers. They have him in glasses and black sneakers, a bag tucked under his arm, and had the music not been so loud, he’s sure the sound of his heels colliding with the glossy runway would resonate throughout the hall. Minhyuk would, no doubt, sit Sanha down and force him to watch the videos he’s taking later - but, for now, Sanha tries to refocus his attention on finishing his piece without succumbing to Minhyuk’s cuteness and affections.

The second line is Saint Laurent, and it’s a white, billowing tunic tucked into wide-legged trousers, and it’s a techno-coloured jacket thrown over one shoulder, and a tote over the other. It’s Sanha avoiding looking at the area of his boyfriend and his friends, knowing that this outfit was a questionable one, knew that his will power was slipping as he hears a distance whoop as he struts past.

The third is Takahiromiyashita TheSoloist , one of Sanha’s all-time favourites to look at, but never wear . The outfit is entirely black and heavy and oversize, there are glasses perched atop his head and rings adorning his fingers; its clanky and overdone, but it’s thrilling to see catch the way Minhyuk’s hand slips as he scrambles to get his phone camera in line. Sanha cheekily winks to him when he goes past, not missing the way Bin has to slap him on the side of the head when Minhyuk looks close to drooling.

On his return, he surreptitiously turns his eyes that way, seeing how Bin’s expression is dopey as Dongmin comes out in a vibrant red Vivienne Westwood   piece, and how MJ is laughing behind his hand at something Jinwoo has said. Balmain   comes next, followed by Versace , and an exquisite, yet eccentric, outfit by Bless .

When Sanha emerges in Prada , it’s at the same time Dongmin is turning back to go backstage again, and the look he gives Sanha is one that he has feared. It’s a look of sympathy. His gut sinks, curdles and rolls around inside of him, nestles itself somewhere at the back of his throat, nauseating and heavy and sour. He can see the vacant seats, can see Jinwoo sitting there motionless and without any other expression on his face aside from the same vile sympathy Dongmin himself wore. Sanha’s poker face dropped, but for just a second.

Minhyuk doesn’t return for the rest of the show, and only when he collapses into the makeup chair at the end of the show does he let himself cry.

 

Sanha doesn’t hear from Minhyuk until a day later, when his tears have run dry and the ice cream carton empty on the bedside table. Huffing, Sanha chucks the remote away, shutting off the TV with a resigned click . He’s about to rollover in bed when he hears the buzz of the intercom. He doesn’t need to check to know that it’s Minhyuk, but hauls himself out of bed and over to the camera screen anyway.

Sanha hates feeling so hopeful - hates that swell of admiration and affection that rises in his chest when he sees Minhyuk’s face on the screen. He hates it, but he can’t stop it - can’t stop the way his chest rises and falls in anticipation after he buzzes him through, when he hears the elevator door ding, when Minhyuk’s steps sound outside his front door. He hesitates before knocking, but when he does, it sounds as final as that had click of his television remote had.

The look on Minhyuk’s face almost confirms that solidifying regret and doubt in his stomach when he opens the door. Sanha isn’t mad at him, he suddenly realises. Sanha isn’t mad at all. Sanha is sad. He’s sad because the look on Minhyuk’s face is one he’s never seen before, and it’s hooded eyes and black bags underneath them, and its shaky hands around a bouquet of red roses, and it’s parting gift that Sanha wishes he never had to accept. He can’t control anything when he’s around Minhyuk, it seemed, because before he can recognise what’s happening, there are big fat tears rolling down his cheeks, and Minhyuk’s expression is unchanging.

“Just,” Sanha mumbles, sniffing. His eyes are hurting as they dry up. Minhyuk’s expression is stone-cold. “Just make it quick, yeah? Don’t sugar coat it.”

Minhyuk frowns, and Sanha doesn’t know who he is anymore. “What do you mean?”

Sanha shrugs, another wet sob wrenching through his chest. Minhyuk’s hands falter where they’re grasping the roses. “If you’re here to break up with me, just do it , and leave.”

Suddenly, Minhyuk is chucking the roses to the floor, and stepping past the threshold to his apartment uninvited. His hands find their place on either side of his face, their lips returning home against his, rough and chaste and a little too wet as Minhyuk’s own eyes glimmer in the low lighting. “I-,” he starts, but stops, throat closing up around his words.

He pushes Sanha backwards, further inside the door, and Sanha - a dutiful follower, one who has always been unable to resist the man in his arms - lets him. Lets him push him against the entryway wall, lets him put his hands either side of his head, crowd him against the space. Between them, there is very little distance, but Sanha can’t feel as though they were worlds apart, reaching out to each other from different planets. “I am not here to break up with you, Yoon Sanha,” he manages, croaky and thick, eyes not as red or wet as Sanha’s, but face looking just as anguished at the idea. The nauseous feeling returns to Sanha’s gut, to the back of his throat.

“Then why are you here? Don’t you have a phone call or something that’s more important?” His words are bitter, and as calloused as Minhyuk’s mechanic’s hands. He doesn’t miss the way he flinches at their cruelty.

“That’s why I’m here. I have a lot of explaining to do,” he says, voice low like the lighting, the colour of honey, more glow from the city lights shining in from the windows against the back wall. Without a word, Sanha leads him towards the couch, which is stiff and uncomfortable, mimicking the way Sanha’s feeling. It’s fitting, he thinks, given how Minhyuk is the only comfortable thing in the entire apartment, in his entire life.

Minhyuk sits beside him, but leaves a considerable distance between them. Sanha doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or not - not sure if he likes the space there; not sure he likes being unable to take his hand in his own. But, at the same time, Minhyuk had been nothing but mysterious and suspicious for the past week, having opted to leave an event without even saying goodbye. Sanha cowers inside his own head as Minhyuk shifts uncomfortably against the couch cushions beside him.

“I’ll explain everything, okay? I didn’t...want to concern you with any of this but, yesterday,” he says, trailing off, shaking his head as he recalls the fashion show. “The way I just left like that, Sanha - I’ll never forgive myself for that. Shit , Sanha, I am so, so sorry.” It’s not that Sanha doesn’t want to say something, it’s more that he can’t. His tongue sits both heavy and numb in his mouth, stunned into silence, into dismay. His brain doesn’t feel much better - sloshing and thumping behind his eyes, around his temples, and his mouth is dry as he swallows around nothing.

“The owner of the garage, he uh,” he starts again, aimlessly scratching at his wrist, the skin turning red. Sanha watches his nail scratch white lines into the surface as he speaks. “He owns a lot of the Downtown streets. I guess, back when he bought them all, he thought that maybe they’d be a good investment,” he adds with a one-shouldered shrug. “How wrong was he , huh?”

Sanha stays silent. His eyes slip up from his wrist to his eyes, but Minhyuk isn’t looking at him. Instead, his eyes are focused on one of the pieces they had hung a few days before.

“No one really knows who he is. He uses an alias, or something, and our correspondence is never directly through him, but the real estate. The letters you’ve seen us get, and the phone calls, they’re from landlords workers. He’s-”

Minhyuk stops, eyes finally drifting across to Sanha. They’re big and watery, and Sanha’s heart breaks, anticipating what words come next.

“He’s closing it down.” He swallows. “The garage,” he clarifies, hands twitching in his lap as they rub up and down the thighs of his jeans. “He’s shutting it down, and he’s shutting down so many other investment sites too. He-he’s shutting the dance warehouse, Sanha. I mean, he can shut the garage, I don’t give a crap about my job. I just. The kids. I-”

Sanha can’t take it anymore, not when Minhyuk’s heart is breaking right in front of him, not when his boyfriend is shedding tears that roll endlessly down his face, not when he’s shaking and breathing erratic. Sanha closes the distance between them on the couch cushions, taking Minhyuk’s hands in his own, and pressing them against his chest, overtop his heartbeat.

Sanha still doesn’t speak, not until his boyfriend’s wails have quietened, when the tears don’t fall quite so heavy. He speaks only when Minhyuk’s breathing has evened out just enough that he isn’t panting and gasping out for oxygen. “Why didn’t you come to me? I could have helped-”

Minhyuk is shaking his head against him, where it’s resting on his chest. “No, Sanha. I didn’t want...I didn’t want you to do anything.” He tugs his head up, eyes boring into his. “All I want from you, Sanha. All I’m ever going to want is for you to just love me. Sanha. It’s all I want.”

Sanha isn’t breathing, can’t be, not when the man in front of him is pouring out so much all at once; unfiltered, uncontrolled. Both sets of hands reach out to each other shakily, and Sanha can’t speak, doesn’t speak, just lets his lips find their home against Minhyuk’s, already missing this after just one day. Minhyuk’s hands are frantically grabbing at his shoulders, hauling Sanha closer to him, letting him lay back on the couch. Sanha keeps kissing him - a mix of long and short, hard and soft, taking and giving. Minhyuk is a star, lighting up the entire galaxy, and Sanha is merely an observer that Minhyuk gives all that shine to.

Minhyuk is whimpering when he pulls away, pants against him, a breathy plea. “Please don’t break up with me, Sanha.” He’s shaking in his arms, and Sanha’s sees the way his eyes are like glitter under the midnight moon. “Please,” he begs, voice cracking.

Sanha’s shaking his head against him, a loud sob slipping past his lips. “Never,” he croaks out, hands cupping Minhyuk’s face as he kneels over him. “ Shit, Minhyuk. Never. Never .”

They kiss until the sun greets them over the horizon, until their faces are dry and red, lips a puffy pink to match, until they can barely breathe, till their hearts soar and soar until suddenly, finally, Sanha knows he’ll never be able to let go.

 

 

"'cause when i'm seeing double,

it's your lullaby love that keeps me from trouble;

it's your lullaby love that's keeping me level;

it's your lullaby love that keeps me awake."

- roo panes, 'lullaby love'

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"i will keep you safe for all of my life,

and you will have my heart for all of time.

even on your darkest days, 

you know that i will never change.

oh, i will love you the same."

- WILD, 'all my life'

 

"don't give up on me, baby,

when i stumble along,

when i act a little crazy.

remember:

my love for you wont fade,

you keep it blazing."

- barcelona, 'fall in love'

 

 

The topic of money often went unspoken between them.

Minhyuk knew, to some extent, that the magazines were right – the amount of money Sanha possessed was more than he’d ever see in his lifetime – but he often told Sanha that he didn’t act like it. Minhyuk had said many times, over and over, that the overtly wealthy people he had encountered were often obnoxious, ignorant: acting as though they were much more deserving than him. He had finished his spiel with a gentle kiss to his knuckles, a mumble of breathy words he couldn’t quite grasp.

At first, Sanha had been hesitant to relay to his boyfriend just how accurate the magazines were when it came to how much money he had, because, in the past, Sanha had feared that money was the only reason people would stand by him. Minhyuk had proven, time and time again, that he was here with him for more than that. That, in fact, there was no part of him that was very remotely interested in the money.

Though the topic did not come up between them all that often, Sanha also knew that Minhyuk was not in possession of very much of it at all. He’s halfway convinced that outside Minhyuk’s rapidly expanding skillset, and his deep, brightly-burning heart, he isn’t in possession of that much at all. And it was tacky, that’s for sure, that the closer and closer the two of them got, the more Sanha could see the wealth within Minhyuk. Not monetary – but different, richer, something worth so much more than money could ever give value to. While Sanha had billions in monetary possessions to his name, and Minhyuk sure to have next to none, it still hadn’t stopped the accumulation of love and other wealth from overflowing from his chest, and spilling between them. Minhyuk had taken the opportunities given to him, the life offered, and hadn’t let any of the negligence and the difficulties he faced get in the way of his dreams.

But it was in Sanha’s nature to doubt.

A week after their semi-argument – a week of misconceptions and miscommunication – things were different. Things were still tough, sure, but they also seemed to get easier between them. Minhyuk was far more open and honest about things happening at work – or rather, not happening at work – and Sanha felt more at ease with both himself and with life than he ever had before. The situation Minhyuk and his co-workers – who had steadily and rapidly become some of Sanha’s closest friends – found themselves in, is one Sanha could so very easily fix, but knew that he couldn’t. At least, not without Minhyuk’s permission.

But even still, whilst the topic of money wasn’t brought up often, Sanha knew that it needed to be. And, as much as the thought of making Minhyuk uncomfortable made him dreadfully anxious, he couldn’t avoid it for any longer. This was the man who owned his heart – willingly, gently, caressing it so delicately, like fragile glass, in both of his palms – and for Sanha to stand back and watch half of his world fall to pieces was beyond inhumane.

“Minhyuk?

The man in question raises his head from where he was adjusting his collar and suit against his throat. “Yeah, babe?”

Sanha’s cheeks darken to a cherry red, and he finds himself biting his lip around a smile. He’s standing in the adjoining bathroom, face to the mirror, eyebrow pencil in hand. His makeup was half done, Minhyuk having already showered and dressed himself for the evening. Sanha was, once again, lagging behind his boyfriend. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to it, either. The way that Minhyuk could so easily transform him into a pile of mush, of goo, make him forget what he had even planned on asking him, make his usually steady-hand shake as he lines his brow. He had to, though. He had to remember.

“Can I—” he says, stops. Hesitates.

Minhyuk turns his head to stare in at Sanha with a curious flicker. “Can you…?” He prompts, flattening his tie against his chest. Sanha bites back a smirk at the way his hands shake nervously as he does so.

Minhyuk still wasn’t entirely confident within himself going to events; given that he still, more often than not, felt very much like an unwanted outsider. Sanha had made it very clear to him – through kisses and cuddles, through a possessive hand on his lower back – that even if no one else wanted him around, Sanha always would. Minhyuk would press a finger to the bruise on Sanha’s neck, hidden by thick layers of foundation, but would smirk triumphantly when Sanha hisses from the contact, snapping his head back with a “tease,” muttered under his breath.

Sanha lowers his hand, resting the eyebrow pencil on the edge of the basin. He turns to face Minhyuk instead of eyeing him in the reflection of the mirror. “Can I help in any way with the real estate problems?”

Minhyuk opens his mouth, but Sanha quickly intervenes. “I mean – will you let me help you with the real estate problems?”

He lets out a heavy sigh, eyes half lidded as he regards him across the space between them. “Sanha,” he mumbles, trailing off, head pushing back between his shoulders. It wasn’t that he sounded annoyed, but rather reluctant, dancing on the edge of impatience, as though they had had this conversations hundreds of times before. The weight of it, perhaps, was what made it feel like they had.

“Minhyuk,” Sanha starts again, feeling a little unsteady on his feet as he eyes Minhyuk’s suit. “You know I can help you. We both know that. It’s just you who has to let me.” As he speaks, he moves closer to him, until he can stop directly in front of him and feel the mingling of their breath.

With a final step, he takes Minhyuk’s face in between both hands. His bottom lip is trembling, and his shoulders shrug upward twice before he manages to speak. “I don’t want you caught up in this,” he explains, lifting one of his hands and flattening it against Sanha’s hand on his face.

Sanha lets out a rush of air, “Minhyuk, I want to be caught up in this. I l—” He sucks in another deep breath, processing the words he had been just about to say, swallows them deep down and changes course. “You’re my boyfriend, and I want you to be in my life. And for that to happen, I need to be in yours…I want to be in yours, Minhyuk.”

The little whimper Minhyuk lets out is confirmation enough that he feels the same way. He tightens his hand, nudges his head forward so that it rests against Sanha’s chin. Tilting his head back, Sanha surges forward and presses their lips together in a rough collision. He keeps it chaste, drawing away with a loud pop, and smiling fondly at the way Minhyuk chases after him, eyes fluttering open a moment later. His eyes are watery, glassy and shimmering underneath the white lights of his bathroom, as he takes another step closer to him. Their chests press together now, and Sanha thinks if he were to focus hard enough, he’d be able to hear Minhyuk’s heart beating against him.

“Minhyuk,” Sanha breathes out, air fanning across Minhyuk’s face. “Will you let me help you?”

His boyfriend whimpers again, this time more dejectedly, and Sanha can feel the weight of the universe pressing down on his shoulders when his head falls down against his chest. “No,” he mumbles, shaking his head against him.

One of Minhyuk’s hands is shaking as he winds it around his waist, clutching at it with a tight, almost painful grip; and his right hand, shakier than the left, clutching at the back of his neck, fingers tangling with the hair at the nape. Then, after a gentle tug, he shakes his head again. The movement, more determined this time than the last, makes the silk of Sanha’s shirt ruffle in the heavy silence between them, and intersects with the way his own hand curls and tethers with Minhyuk’s long hair.

“Why not?” Sanha hates how desperate his voice sounds, how pleading. He’s close to begging at this point.

Minhyuk, shaking his head one last time, shifts himself upward, onto his toes, and rests his face in the crook of his neck. His nose brushes along the line of his collarbones, the hollow of his throat, before he darts in and kisses the covered hickey quickly. “Because,” he starts, a croaky mumble, thickening with tears. “It’s not just me you’d be helping.”

Sanha hums, fingers scratching along the shorter man’s scalp in a motion he hopes is soothing. “Is that a bad thing?”

Minhyuk doesn’t answer straight away, just continues to kiss along his neck – small and soft movements, kisses so gentle Sanha isn’t sure he’s really do it at all – and kissing up his jaw, to the corner of his mouth. He kisses him once, twice, lets him taste his toothpaste on the third, before falling back down off his toes, and hiding himself back in the warmth of Sanha’s neck. “We want to feel like…we want to save ourselves, you know?” Sanha hums. He understands to some extent, but wants to know more, understand more. “It’s just – our whole lives have been riddled with difficulty, and these…challenges, that we’ve overcome and faced. The turmoil and strife, we’ve all fought it alongside each other and we’ve grown from it. It’s not that we aren’t thankful, Sanha,” he spits out, hurried, and in a rush of breath, hands tightening where they wrap around his body. Sanha hums again, let’s his lips sit against the side of Minhyuk’s face in understanding. “We’re so thankful,” he lets out, kissing the covered bruise again. “We all thank you…but we want to fight this one on our own.”

Sanha nods, throat thickening as his own tears spring up at the corners of his eyes, at the very edges, itchy and puffy. He squeezes them together tightly, trying to push the evidence of his dispair away. “I understand,” he croaks, his voice giving him away.

He does understand, though. It’s not lie. He gets it – gets that money was something he was born into, something he’s always had, so much so that he couldn’t imagine facing a problem that money couldn’t fix. Gets that to take money from someone offering it to you so willingly, so readily, so easily, as though it were nothing, would be difficult when it had never been something you yourself had had – but, more so, and possibly even harder than accepting it, Sanha thinks, would be turning that offer down. And that’s exactly what Minhyuk had done. It wasn’t like he had turned him down – the gentle kisses on his neck and cheeks were a strong reminder of that – but Sanha wanted nothing more than to wrap Minhyuk’s life up in his arms, keep him safe, make him feel at home. Because to Sanha, Minhyuk was his home, and Sanha just wanted his boyfriend to feel at ease; wanted him to feel comfortable. Seeing him lose his job, the place where his friends were, the place he had somewhat discovered himself, it was enough to break his heart.

“Come on,” Minhyuk’s voice perks up. “You need to finish your makeup, and then I need to take photos of you looking all sexy and handsome in pink velvet,” he finishes cheekily, grinning widely now, past conversation forgotten.

When Minhyuk reaches down and pinches his side teasingly, Sanha squeals, cheeks turning as pink as the suit he’s wearing. He turns back to the basin, pushing a giggling Minhyuk off of him, and snatches the eyebrow pencil back up. It hovers in the air, though, by his brow, motionless, because when Minhyuk turns away from him, back to the mirror, his smile drops a little too soon. He’s adjusting his tie again in the reflection, frown lines creasing deeply along his forehead, and Sanha feels it again. That feeling of nauseating guilt low in his gut, like something acidic eating away his insides. He’s been feeling it more and more often lately, though that hasn’t made it any easier. He can’t quite place the feeling; not sure he even wants to – but knows it can’t be something good.

 

 

“You know,” Sanha says, reaching over and taking Minhyuk’s hand in his. “If you don’t feel up to it, we can go home.”

Home, Sanha thinks. A silly word, really, considering there’s nothing that homely about his penthouse apartment. It’s not a word to throw about lightly; but rather, a word that is earned. Home isn’t a given – it’s not a choice, nor is it an entitlement: it’s a reward. A reward that, in Sanha’s opinion, would always be far more precious and fulfilling than any lucky lottery ticket would ever be. Home, a simple word, just four characters, but acts as the foundations in which carry the weight of life itself. What is life, what is the purpose of all of it, should you not have a place to come home to? And not physically, either. A home does not have to be four walls, and as cliché as it is, home can be found in a person, too. Some may claim it unhealthy, or unsafe to do so; that finding happiness and safety and warmth in other people leads only to personal destruction in the end. And perhaps they’re right to some extent. But Sanha can’t help but depend on Minhyuk right now – to be his home, his final semblance of happiness etching its way so deeply and curvaceously into his bony architecture, softening the grooves in which had hardened during the years of public exposure. And this home he speaks of, that Sanha offers to return to, is merely wherever Minhyuk himself goes. Together, Sanha thinks, is where, and what, home is.

Beside him, Minhyuk laces their fingers together, and draws their hands closer to his chest. He squeezes once, reassuring, before dragging them upwards, pressing a feather-light kiss to Sanha’s knuckle – old-fashioned, even – before letting them swing between them. The night air is crisp and cool, and Sanha’s thankful for the protective layers of his suit, though he knows it’ll be colder up on the decks of the yacht.

“I’m fine, Sanha, really,” he offers, cocking his hip against Sanha’s as they head in the direction of the port. “I’m sticking by you.” A soft smile is playing with the edges of his mouth, resembling that of the one that had fallen from his lips a few hours earlier. It tugs at that familiar feeling deep in Sanha’s chest, like an implement of torture attempting to coax out some kind of dramatic reaction; one that he refuses to dance with.

Minhyuk’s words were simple, much like the word home itself is, but much like home, it leaves a cavern full of affection and adoration in his chest. It plays on the edge of his mind, too, leaves him slightly lightheaded, a little breathless. He can’t say much else, other than a vague hum of acknowledgement, and a tightening of their interlaced hands.

From here, the yacht is the centrepiece of the port – the reasonably sized jetty domineered by the expensive vehicle. Sanha had only used it a handful of times himself, and looking at it now, he’s reminded of why. His friends turned somewhat delirious on its deck, as though it were under some kind of curse, and although he knew the purpose of the party – to celebrate Dongmin’s illustrated book launch – he was still dreading it. Sanha had taken the time earlier in the evening to warn Minhyuk about the curse of his yacht, a mix of stories that had left the elder shaking his head, eyes filled with affection, and leaning over the bench and stealing his words right from under him with a single, searing kiss.

The boat, mostly empty now, as Sanha and Minhyuk – the hosts – had arrived first. It was a tantalizing display of white and grey and Perspex, and waves lapped at the point in which it met the surface. It was calming, in a way, with the yellow lights reflecting onto the river, and the string of colourful pendant lights on the open deck illuminating the handrails. Sanha had employed a handful of party planners for the evening, of whom had consolidated entirely with Dongmin for the decorations.

“Wow,” Minhyuk breathes out beside him, eyes widened in awe at the floating structure before him. “It’s…bigger than I expected.”

Sanha snorts. “I hate it.”

Minhyuk shakes his head, turning in his stance to face Sanha head-on. His eyes are dreamy and sort of aloof, and the way that he stands so elegantly with his suit and tie, he looks undeniably picturesque. “I love it,” he whispers, the hand in his slipping free, much to Sanha’s displeasure, which Minhyuk smirks at, before both hands rest on his waist. He tugs him forward gently, and Sanha stumbles into the kiss with a gasp – his own hands pressing flatly against the lapels of Minhyuk’s suit. Surprised, Sanha makes an unintelligible noise, one that Minhyuk swallows. He hums back, tilting his head so when he pulls away, another kiss can be placed easily on his cheek.

“Just,” Minhyuk starts, nose running a line across his jaw, and Sanha feel the way he smirks against his throat when he gasps at the feeling. “—How much money do you have, Mr Yoon?”

Sanha chuckles, though its without humour, and his eyes are filled with something very different to amusement. Minhyuk presses a soft kiss to the hidden bruise on his neck, nipped at the night before in an attempt to darken it, of which Minhyuk had been so pleased about when it had. Sanha shoves his shoulder now, knowing there was a time and place, knowing that on the port of the Han river wasn’t either of those things.

“Please,” Sanha tries to say with confidence, fails as his voice sounds ragged, strangled, even, and Minhyuk resists his shove. His lips curl down the tight collar of his shirt, before back up, along his jaw. “Don’t call me that.”

Lips against his jugular, Minhyuk snorts, and his hands on his waist tighten. “Just how much money do you have, Sanha?”

“Does it matter?” He queries, swallowing roughly. He’s sure Minhyuk could feel the bob of his Adam’s apple against his mouth.

Minhyuk draws his face away without warning, and Sanha blinks in confusion when his eyes are suddenly back in front of his own. “Just curious,” he shrugs.

“You’ve read the number before.”

Minhyuk shrugs again. “You told me not to trust the magazines. I want to hear it from you.”

Sanha coughs, neck still tingling from Minhyuk’s onslaught of kisses, and hand yearning to be held by his again. To satisfy himself, he reaches to his waist, and unfurls one of Minhyuk’s hands and snatches it in his own. Minhyuk, with a shy sort of smile, leans forward and kisses the tip of his nose.

“They’re fairly accurate,” Sanha explains, cheeks red from the admission.

Minhyuk’s eyebrows raise, bites his bottom lip. “They say you have three-point-two billion dollars,” he says, though it sounds very much like a question.

Shrugging himself, Sanha drags Minhyuk closer to him, so that the elder is forced to press his face into the crook of his neck. “Give or take,” he pauses, humming around his words as he considers. “Give or take a few million,” he finishes.

Minhyuk freezes in his arms, and when he goes to pull away – possibly to scold, or exclaim in disbelief – Sanha merely tightens his grasp, stopping him from doing so. When the mechanic yelps, and lets out a muffled Yoon Sanha against his neck, he just smirks and lets his lips press apologetic kisses to his temple.

 

The inside of the boat is immaculately decorated, with tables adorned with candles of the scented variety – citrus, Sanha thinks, as the duo pass by the drinks stand. There’s billowy white walls and ceiling throws, draping down at the edges, eluding to an ethereal time and place. There’s an ice fountain, too, which Sanha thinks is a little tacky and out-dated, but Dongmin loved clichés, and was shameless with his addiction to them. Minhyuk is still watching with awe at the yacht, the easy flow from exterior to the interior, and how the decorations did not falter.

Music was flowing now, too, given that guests were soon to arrive, and the fairy lights inside were switched on by the catering staff. Sanha throws them a gratuitous wave in passing, which they reply to easily, eager to please the high-paying client. Sanha smirks at that, though brushes it aside when there’s a tap on his shoulder.

“It looks amazing, doesn’t it?” Dongmin says without so much of a greeting.

Sanha smiles, nodding his head in agreement, before his friend is suddenly drawing him close in a tight embrace. “You did well,” he adds, head hooked over Dongmin’s shoulder.

“Well, well, well,” Dongmin tuts when he draws away, voice amused, shamelessly raking his eyes over Minhyuk. The mechanic turns a dangerous shade of red at Dongmin’s almost penetrative gaze, and eases himself closer into Sanha’s side in retaliation. Dongmin merely smirks at the movement. “You look absolutely ravishing, Rocky,” he says, and the name catches both of the off guard, Sanha especially. It was very rare of him to hear the word Rocky anymore, and Sanha finds he’s divided his life into two separate categories.

There’s a time before Minhyuk, and a time after. The before sits in the slow burn of feelings from the first moment the two of them spoke, up until their shared kiss on the rooftop of the abandoned warehouse; the second, from that point onwards, up until now. Realistically, Sanha knows there’s a third segment, too – the part of his life before Minhyuk or Rocky. But, truthfully, Sanha isn’t at all interested – or invested – in that part of his life anymore. Not if Minhyuk doesn’t have a part in it.

It is because of these segments – all of which are interconnected, yes, but still very different – that the name takes Sanha off guard. He was so used to Minhyuk now that the nickname Rocky had almost been lost to him now. It’s like an electric spark has soured through him, reminding him that the warmth of Minhyuk’s hand in his now hadn’t always been there, and that, in fact, they had only been together for just over a month. 

It felt like far more than that, though. Because the time they spent before their exclusivity, where the term boyfriend finally came into play, Sanha felt as though the character building which had taken place during this time was invaluable. Back then, when they were dancing around their feelings, ignoring the obvious and thinking they were just friends, Sanha learnt nearly all there was about both Rocky and Minhyuk, even without knowing. It’s because of those moments, those memories and shared stories, that Sanha can say now, with newfound confidence, that he had been exclusive to Minhyuk for almost five months.

That thought alone makes him take a stand back. He had known Minhyuk for five whole months. Nearly half a year; half a year of his life. It was never going to be long enough, even with forever on the horizon. They would soon be celebrating relationship milestones, and the sparse traces of awkwardness they share now would be gone completely in no time.

“Eyes off,” Sanha spits venomously, without bite. Dongmin chuckles, nodding his head off to the side to the barman.

“Where’s Jinwoo?”

Dongmin shrugs, thanking the bartender as he hands him the champagne. “Said he was going to be a few minutes late, I think,” he shrugs again, unbothered. “He tried to play it off cool, but I’m fairly certain he’s picking up MJ.”

Sanha smirks, nudging Minhyuk’s side, who snorts. “Sounds about right. MJ was acting strange when I left. I asked him about it, but he just said he was nervous for the dress code.”

Snorting, Dongmin shakes his head around a mouthful of wine. “I’m not surprised. Jinwoo is trying to come across as nonchalant, but we all know he hasn’t just got ‘the hots’ for MJ.”

Minhyuk cackles, and Sanha wants to coo at how pleasant the sound is. He settles for kissing the side of his head instead, though, and while Dongmin doesn’t say anything, he does screw up with mock disgust. 

“I bloody hope so. MJ doesn’t shut up about him. Jinwoo this, and Jinwoo that. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Hey,” Dongmin says, a coy smirk finding its way to his lips. Sanha narrows his eyes in suspicion. “That sounds just like Sanha when he’s talking about you, Rocky.”

Dongmin yelps when Sanha reaches out and smacks his arm, a little rougher than he intended, but he had no plans to apologise. Minhyuk continues to laugh loudly beside him, arm looped through his, and when Bin appears out from nowhere, Sanha joins in with him.

 

It’s when the party is in full swing that it happens.

Dongmin had drawn the attention of the bustling crowd of guests out onto the open deck. He’d produced a sheet of white paper from his breast pocket and proceeded to give one of his most heart-wrenching speeches to date. Sanha had tried his best to fight back tears, but to no avail; although he didn’t sob like Jinwoo had - having turned up with a red-cheeked MJ by his side a few moments before – he couldn’t avoid the few stray tears that did escape. He wiped them away hastily, not wanting to ruin his makeup, but also not wanting red, puffy eyes for photos. Although this was gathering more of friends than media, word still got out; and Dongmin had proceeded to allow the access of one or two of the nicest, and kindest, journalists in. They were favorited by Sanha himself, too, as they were respectful of boundaries, and did not approach for questioning, and always, always, asked permission to take photos first. They were respectful during the time of Minhyuk’s identity exposure, too, so Sanha allows a few extra photos, and allows them to ask a few questions about Dongmin’s book progress.

It happens after Minhyuk nudges Sanha’s side, pointing across to a couple leaning against one of the railings. The yacht moves slowly, though with determination, and is smooth across the surface of the river. The mingling of music with the bustle and hum of collective conversation eases up into the night sky as they bypass through the city and its outskirts, and the cool breeze is calming against his flamed cheeks. It takes a moment, but Sanha recognises the couple as Jinwoo and MJ, leaning in against each other.

The last time they had been together like this, Sanha only recalls witnessing their vicious kind of make out session at the paint party, and Jinwoo had denied all accusations of a relationship when Sanha asked him about it. Minhyuk had done some of his own investigating, too, but MJ was more secretive than Jinwoo was, at first. Later, as a few days past, according to Minhyuk, MJ became less reluctant to admit his attraction and feelings for the lawyer friend.

The duo, clearly kissing, have their arms embracing the other tightly, though this time it’s different to the way in which they kissed at the charity event. It’s softer this time, the movements not so hurried or rushed. Sanha thinks it even looks gentle, the way they hold each other, the way they embrace. It makes him feel a rush of butterflies on Jinwoo’s behalf, and makes a note to question him on it later, hopes that his friend would be more willingly to share his feelings now than he was before.

Minhyuk and Sanha can’t help but take a few photos, knowing it was worthy blackmail material; he also hoped, deep down, that the journalists obeyed their usual respectful law, so that photos of the two of them necking on didn’t end up on the front covers tomorrow morning.

It also happens after Bin and Dongmin slow dance on the open deck to a party anthem. It’s silly and amusing, the way Dongmin stumbles a little drunkenly as Bin leads him out onto the deck. Around him, their friends laugh, though they join in a few moments later with their own partners. Dongmin hadn’t been as reluctant as Jinwoo had with expressing his feelings. Dongmin made it very clear to Bin, apparently, that he wasn’t looking for anything entirely serious right now – just wanted to spend time with him, get to know him, because it was still too soon. Bin had been amicable about it, taking Dongmin’s hand and kissing it delicately, apparently, and declaring that he wanted to take the elder on dates and spoil him. The retelling of words reminded Sanha of the way Minhyuk had approached him about the topic, and the thought of it now makes him lean down and kiss his shorter boyfriend in the middle of the dancefloor.

It happens after Minhyuk disappears to the bathroom, but before he comes back.

He’s standing off to the side, leaning against the wall where he said he’d wait for Minhyuk to return, when there’s a cough to his side. It was a forced one; one of those coughs people force out between their lips when they’re wanting your attention, and find it too bothersome or rude to tap your shoulder, or say ‘excuse me’. The moment Sanha turns his head to the left, he regrets it. In fact, he decides, right then and there, that the movement itself, the consequences of it, made this the worst decision of his life.

He had not seen her for many years in person. He had seen her face plastered in magazines, alongside a much older man with wrinkled skin and grey hair – hair that had, according to reports, turned prematurely grey due to stress. Sanha remembers reading that article and laughing, throwing it in the recycling bin before he could even read why.

The woman, shorter than he was, was not looking much better. Despite her wealth, it was obvious she hadn’t had her hair done in a while. Or perhaps, she had, but her own stress had meant her grey hair had started to seep into the artificial brown. She’s formally dressed, fit for the occasion, though its mundane and doesn’t draw attention. It’s a black skirt with a matching blouse, a shawl of black silk thrown over her exposed arms in an effort of both modesty and warmth from the howling winds. Her eyes are framed with red glasses, burgundy and deep, and behind them, brown eyes searching, wordlessly pleading, and identical to his own.

Mother?”

She gulps, and nods once – a jerky movement, as though she were a puppet being controlled by a master. He needn’t bother asking, because he knew it was her straight away, and he doesn’t want to think about how she bypassed the guest list and got aboard right now; in fact, all he can think about is keeping himself upright, because his legs felt wobbly and his blood had run cold. There’s a ringing in his ears that sounds like his own screaming, though he knows it’s from a distant memory, from a lifetime ago, and not something he does now. The churning feeling in his stomach is intensifying each passing second – how much time had passed now? – and there’s a whirring settling in his hands that leaves him breathless and cold.

“Sanha,” his mother says, stepping closer once. Sanha flinches, eyes wide and alert. For a second, he lets them lift off from her face and behind her, in the direction of the bathroom where Minhyuk had just retreated to, and pleads with the universe for him to be quick. His eyes then skitter across the deck, to where Jinwoo and MJ had once been, but were now no longer; and across to the front of the boat, where Bin and Dongmin were in their own little world. Sanha didn’t need a mirror to know he looked panicked, and when he felt a cold hand on his wrist, he jumped.

“Don’t touch me,” he spits, snapping his hand away hurriedly, eyes burning a furious fire in her direction as they return to her form before him.

She frowns, but lets her hands grip her purse with both hands, fingers pressing forcefully against the black satin. “Sanha, please,” she begs, and he imagines himself as a teenager, begging her to stay home and keep him company, instead of disappearing on another business trip with his father. She never gave in though, and Sanha makes it his mission to follow in her footsteps just this once.

“How did you get on board?” He spits, ignoring her, hoping the fire in his eyes burns out the remains of his hesitancy, his obvious fear.

She shakes her head, “we need to talk. You keep ignoring me.”

Sanha lifts his hands up by his head in disbelief. “I wonder why that is, Mother!” It’s her turn to flinch at the way his voice has raised, and Sanha quietens down in hopes that it won’t draw attention to the two of them. The last thing he wants is a brawl to start out on the boat, one that, without a doubt, Jinwoo would definitely start if he knew his Mother was here.

“It’s not that nice, is it? Being fed nothing but silence.”

She looks stern suddenly, as though she was fed up with him – she had no right, really, considering she was trespassing. He should – would – have her removed, but there was just something about her eyes, dark and full of something Sanha couldn’t quite place, but it looked dangerous, though not at him. Dangerous for another reason; dangerous because they looked sympathetic, lonesome, and, much to displeasure, ill.

“It’s your father, Sanha,” she says, voice lower than it had been all evening, in the space of their short conversation thus far. It was expressionless, too, as though all life had been sucked out of her. Sanha knows that feeling, but perhaps he’s just projecting.

“Why would I care?” He says, shoving his hands into his pockets so that his mother can’t see them shaking.

She swallows, pauses, and he recognises it as hesitancy. He counts to five in his head, and above her hairline, he sees Minhyuk returning from around the corner of the bathrooms. He smiles at him, but then stops mid-walk when he sees his reflection. Sanha watches the way his boyfriend’s eyes drop from his face down to the back of the woman’s head in front of him. His head cocks to the side in confusion, and it looks like he goes to mouth something to him, but Sanha returns his gaze to his mother.

“Hurry up,” he spits, tugging his hands from his pockets and crossing them in front of his cheset.

She swallows again, and he feels himself ready to snap, his blood boiling, when she finally opens her mouth to speak. “Sanha, your father is caught up in some bad business.”

He waits, eyeing Minhyuk somewhat discretely, who’s at the bar now, ordering two drinks. Sanha can feel his eyes boring into him, but he ignores it – for once – in favour of the shaking woman in front of him. “So?”

She swallows again, stepping a little closer, eyes a strong brew of terror and humiliation. Sanha swallows, too, in anticipation. “He’s caught up in bad business in the downtown, Sanha.” The words sink in, the determination behind them, the way in which she says them with careful annunciation. “He made some bad choices and—”

“Father’s the owner of the mechanic workshop.”

The words, upon leaving his mouth, drown out everything else around him. His mother nods, though he barely registers it, eyes fixated on what he thinks is the general area of the bar. Everything is a muted mess, eyes blurry, ears ringing around white noise. He can hear himself screaming and crying again in his head, but this time he can’t be certain if it’s a memory or if it’s real life. He hopes it the former, because he doesn’t want to deal with the repercussions of screaming in public right now, and all he can focus on is the fact he can’t breathe. He can’t fucking breathe—

There are hands on him, around both shoulders, and suddenly all the noises come back to him in an almighty rush – his ears ring at the same time they take in everything else around him, the loud music, the shrill laughter of the guests, the clinking of glasses, champagne bottles popping on the lower decks, the distant furl of the city; it’s all back to him, though there’s more, too. There’s a chanting mantra of his name, high-pitched and panicked, though it doesn’t belong to a woman. It’s a familiar voice, but the fear resonating within it is unfamiliar to him. He’s never heard such terror before, and can’t distinguish much at all between the tears in his eyes, but knows there are calloused hands cupping his face, thumbs rubbing along his cheeks and around the skin they can reach.

He hears himself panting, or at least, he thinks its him – he can’t be sure he’s even breathing at this point, not with the way his heads a swirling mess, distorted images flashing front of his eyes, confusing him with what is real and what isn’t. He feels defenceless, like the child his mother had made him be, and Sanha feels himself slipping, drowning, in something much deeper than water.

That muffled mantra of his name is clearer now, and he feels himself moving, the image of the woman in front of him getting smaller and smaller. She doesn’t chase him, though, doesn’t come after him – and for some reason, his heart aches because of it. It’s just in her nature, he hears himself think amidst everything else in his head, to pretend to care and then to just leave again.

Sanha? Sanha? Sanha – can you hear me?

He’s not sure he’s hearing correctly, but Sanha thinks its Minhyuk chanting in his ear, and then there are another set of hands on him, and something cold pressed to his lips. He swallows down the water given to him, relishing in the chill of it against the burn of his insides, hand reaching out, searching. He tries to speak, but thinks it’s just a murmur, a mumble of a sound, disoriented.

A hand snatches his own – the same calloused one as before, and Sanha manages a weak smile as he recognises the pattern of it. He swallows down, and tries to speak up again; it still sounds weak, vaguely unrecognisable, but knows they’ve understood him when he feels their hand in his tighten.

“Minhyuk?

“Sanha,” his boyfriends voice comes, pressed right against his ear, thumb rubbing soothing circles on the back of his hand where it rests in his own. “Sanha,” he says again, sounding more desperate now.

Sanha swallows again, turns his head, vision clearing. Their eyes meet, and Sanha recognises Jinwoo’s outline in his peripheral vision. “Get me off this boat,” he commands.

Minhyuk opens his mouth, eyes questioning, but Sanha shakes his head, whimpering. “Please, Minhyuk. Get me off this boat.”

 

Minhyuk guides him into the bathroom, one hand around his waist, the other holding one hand. He sits him on the closed toilet lid, hands moving to his shoulders to lean him back against the cool porcelain. Minhyuk hadn’t said anything since getting him out of the taxi downstairs, but Sanha could see he was biting his tongue.

Minhyuk turns to the bath Sanha had never even used, pushes in the plug and turns the taps. He checks the temperature and squirts in soap before turning back to him. Sanha doesn’t want to know what he looks like, so he avoids the mirror above the basin, and decides on watching Minhyuk instead. He kicks his shoes off in the direction of the bathroom door, and kneels down in front of Sanha to undo his own. Sanha doesn’t stop his movements, because Minhyuk has this determination in his eyes that he knows not to disturb. His movements are fluid, practiced, and Sanha smiles weakly at the fond memories of how many times Minhyuk has had to undress him due to his drunken states. The amount of times Minhyuk had seem him unintentionally naked by now should be shameful, but it was just another reminded of how comfortable Sanha was with him. Even now, when he’s fully sober, and Minhyuk reaches up to undo the buckle of his trousers, Sanha feels no shame or embarrassment.

His cheeks are red, though for a different reason, his head still caught up in what had happened on the boat. He hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye to anyone else other than Jinwoo, who had said he’d pass it onto Dongmin, MJ and Bin, and Sanha knew that Jinwoo would get his mother off that boat, too, one way or another.

Fully undressed, Minhyuk strips himself of his own clothes – and now Sanha does blush because of their nudity. This was different, new; something they hadn’t done yet, at least, not with both of them sober. Minhyuk remains wordless, though, not breaking the silence around them as he reaches for Sanha’s hand. Sanha, diverting his eyes to Minhyuk’s face alone, allows him to take it and lift him from the toilet.

He helps him into the bath, the water hot and bubbly against his skin. He hisses once, but sinks into it, relishing the way it scalds against his skin, nipping at his senses. Minhyuk slips in behind him, and just moments later, he’s being spun in the bath, handled like a child, even, before being tugged down onto Minhyuk’s chest. His head falls against his shoulder, nose brushing along the column of his throat with a hum, and one of Minhyuk’s hand rests on his lower back beneath the water. Minhyuk presses his cheek to crown of his head, and with his free hand, he finds Sanha’s own in the water.

Sanha, limp and drained of energy, finds the strength to push himself the tiniest bit closer, so he can press his lips to Minhyuk’s neck in a small kiss. “’hank you,” he mumbles against the skin there, feeling his boyfriend’s arms tighten around him.

He shouldn’t be embarrassed, he thinks, with the way their bodies press against each other like this, considering Minhyuk had just witnessed him going through a somewhat mental breakdown, but he can’t help it. It’s far more intimate than anything else they had done, anything Sanha’s ever done in his life ever, and it makes his toes curl in the water.

He doesn’t know how much time passes in silence, but finds himself half-asleep when Minhyuk raises his voice, fingers tickling up his spine, to rest against the back of his neck. “Jinwoo said that was your Mum,” he states, and it isn’t a question.

Sanha doesn’t know what to say, so he grumbles in confirmation, nodding his head against the crook of his neck. Sanha drags his free hand to hook over his shoulder, so he can play with the wet hair at the nape of Minhyuk’s neck.

He feels Minhyuk swallow. “I’m sorry I didn’t come over.”

Sanha slaps him lightly. “Don’t be sorry. You didn’t know.”

Minhyuk tightens his arms again, forcing Sanha to flatten himself against him, legs tangling with his own. “But I should have, Sanha. I thought you looked distressed, I should have known something was wrong.”

Sanha, hating the way Minhyuk doubts himself, hates the way it sounds disappointed, nips at his throat. “Stop it, Minhyuk – seriously. It’s fine. It’s okay. You didn’t know, and I didn’t expect you to.”

Darling,” he mumbles, and Sanha hears himself hum, missing the affectionate term after having not heard it for several hours. He tightens the arm around Minhyuk neck in response, and the mechanic turns his head and kisses his exposed temple. “What did…can I ask what she wanted?”

Sanha hesitates, freezes where his body had once been lax against Minhyuk. He hadn’t thought of what he’d tell him – in fact, hadn’t even thought if he should tell him. Deep down, he knows he should – he knows that he shouldn’t keep this information from him, but shit, what if his Mother was lying? It was in her nature, after all, to keep things from him, to disappoint him over and over, so for her to lie was not an uncommon gesture from his past. He knows it’s idiotic the moment he says it, because once he’s dived into this lie, he knows he can’t really return from it – or at least, not easily. Not the way both he and Minhyuk would like.

“Just…,” he starts, trailing off, second guessing himself. Should I? He asks himself, biting his tongue. He swallows down all his hesitancy, knowing that this is for the best. “She said they were losing a lot of money,” he explains, avoiding the word bankrupt, like Minhyuk himself had used when explaining the situation with the landlord of the garage and dance studio. “Asked for some money,” he adds, forcing the lie out between gritted teeth.

Minhyuk hums, “I’m so sorry, baby, that must have been tough to see her again, like that,” he says, voice soft and thick and warm, like honey. “I asked Jinwoo to investigate the security guard on the dock—”

“No!” Sanha exclaims, lifts his head from Minhyuk’s chest, only for it to be pushed back down.

No, Sanha. Jinwoo’s doing it. What he did was wrong, and led to this situation now. If he had done his job correctly, you wouldn’t have had to see her.”

Sanha whimpers against his neck, letting Minhyuk’s hand tangle with his dampening hair. The way his fingers scratch along his scalp is far too soothing, and all too soon, Sanha finds himself on the edge of sleep. Before he can doze off, though, he mumbles out, “she’s going to ruin my name.”

He doesn’t say anything, and Sanha thinks that maybe Minhyuk has fallen asleep, but when he goes to check, Minhyuk smirks. “You should just take mine then,” he says, coy, and Sanha knows he’s teasing but the words coil in his gut like a warm hug. The words, full of his amused tone, make his toes curl and his heart flutter at the concept of taking his name.

Park Sanha,” he tries, the name rolling off his tongue easily. Underneath him, Sanha feels Minhyuk freeze, hand stilling its movements in his hair. “It sounds nice, don’t you think?”

He’s quiet again, and Sanha smiles against his neck when he lets out a strangled, ragged sounding breath. He swallows, and Sanha kisses against the hollow of his throat as he does so, hears his intake of breath as he moves his hand from his hair back down to his waist.

“I really like the sound of that,” he says, voice croaky and thick, a little gritty like butter and sugar. Sanha continues pressing little kisses along the column of his throat, up the sensitive strip of skin just below his ear, smiling when Minhyuk tightens his arm around him and gasps. He kisses upward, little smiling pecks against his cheeks and forehead, propping himself up with both hands on Minhyuk’s chest. When he kisses his lips, long and deep, but unmoving, Minhyuk’s hands travel from his back up to his face, holding his cheeks between both palms much like earlier in the evening.

“Sanha,” he says, voice thick, eyes losing their playful dance and becoming far more serious. It isn’t a worrisome serious, but more of a determined serious, one where Sanha knows Minhyuk has something important to say.

“Y-yeah?” He settles back down on Minhyuk’s chest, though his hands don’t leave his face, and Sanha’s neck aches a little at the odd angle.

“I don’t want you to think…I’m not saying this just because you’re upset, or vulnerable right now,” he explains, hands feeling a little shaky against him, and Sanha realises he’s nervous.

For what reason, Sanha isn’t sure, but the way his eyes settle on his lips and then back to his eyes, and the way he swallows harshly, Sanha had a sudden inkling. And, because of this, is filled with his own douse of nerves.

“M-Minhyuk, what—”

“Sanha,” his hands tighten on his face, eyes boring into his own, and Sanha knows what comes next, he knows, but he’s not prepared for the—

“Sanha, I’m in love with you.”

The sob that is torn from him is one of pure joy; the tears that follow of the same origin. It is an overwhelming feeling, Sanha realises, to have a love returned. He had thought of the word before, always in association to his boyfriend, to the man pliant beneath his fingers now, but had never though that perhaps he’d ever return the sentiment to the same extent. And for him to say it first, Sanha is overcome with the intensity of te moment, of the emotion he has felt but has pushed aside, because he’s feared he’d never have, as though he’s never deserved it, deserved him.

“Minhyuk,” he says, choking out the word. He leans up on his chest again, and he knows he looks a mess – makeup was surely all over his face, his eyes red and puffy and lips swollen from how much he’s gnawed at them with his teeth. But even still, Minhyuk loves him. Minhyuk is in love with him.

He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.

“Minhyuk,” he says again, lips brushing against his, one hand coming up to hold Minhyuk’s cheek, the same way Minhyuk holds his own. “I love you, too,” he says, before letting their lips meet. It’s as hot as a fever, as warm as budding romance, he thinks, the way that Minhyuk’s hands dance across his skin and the way that Sanha’s tears mingle with their kiss. IT should be gross, how wet and messy it is, but it’s not – it’s the complete opposite. Sanha thinks it’s beautiful, feels beautiful, and he forgets everything else but this.  Forgets the fact that his mother had tracked him down and snuck into his event; forgets that he had lied to Minhyuk, forgets the repercussions, forgets he’s broken his trust; forgets the embarrassment of being pressed so openly and nakedly against him; forgets it all, everything, all the little two’s and three’s in between he’s skipped over and missed – he cares for none of it. None of it at all. He cares for only one thing. Maybe two. He cares only for Minhyuk and the love he has for him, but perhaps, they’re one in the same.

I love you,” Minhyuk mumbles between kisses, ragged and imploring, sung out in those tiny spaces between milliseconds.

I love you,” Sanha will mumble back, just as softly, just as deeply, as meaningful.

They will kiss again, and again, and again. They kiss until the water around them turns cold – and even then.

 

 

"kiss me until i forget how terrified i am of everything wrong with my life"

- beau taplin

 

"it never was about the money or the drugs,

for you there's only love.

it never was about the party or the clubs,

for you there's only love."

'cause you're my religion;

you're how i'm living.

when all my friends say i should take some space,

well i can't envision that for a minute. 

when i'm down on my knees you're how i pray.

hallelujah - i need your love."

lana del rey, 'religion'

 

 

Chapter Text

"I'm tired-

can't think of anything and want only to lay my face in your lap,

feel your hand on my head,

and remain like that through all eternity."

- Franz Kafka

 

Minhyuk takes him to breakfast.

It’s one of those high-traffic cafes, frequented so often than its unlikely anyone would stick around long enough to recognise either of them; but still, even if they had, Sanha was beyond caring at this point. Minhyuk had adapted to ‘fame’ well enough – if that was even what is was – though, sometimes, even if it were rare, he’d shrivel back in on himself if someone got too close with a camera or a microphone.

Sanha had asked him about it, but he’d said that it was just a semi-unpleasant reminder of when his name had gotten out that first time, and the garage had gotten swamped with the press. Sanha shivers at the memory of the angry paparazzi and journalists, and takes Minhyuk’s hand in his as they step into the heating.

The café is small for a chain of its popularity, but its tucked on the less busy side of the city centre, a few streets back from the main shopping stretch, so they can slip into line easily without too long of a wait.

Sanha’s been quiet all morning, and he knows Minhyuk has started to notice – has even started to worry his bottom lip between his teeth, turning them a delectable shade of cherry red when Sanha pulls the lip free with a small smile – and merely tightens his arm where it’s around his waist. Sanha’s own arms is around his waist, too, though he settles his hand up by the nape of his neck, letting his fingers play with long strands of hair there. Minhyuk has work in a few hours, so the morning has started uncommonly early, but Sanha had insisted on tagging along despite the five am start.

In the line, Sanha drops his head on Minhyuk’s shoulder, cheek against his broadness, the material of his grey t-shirt soft against his skin. Minhyuk’s hand, which traces patterns up and down his spine from its position on his waist, slips downward, and into the back pocket of Sanha’s jeans. Slapping him playfully, Minhyuk snickers, but makes no move to reposition his hand; and, truthfully, Sanha doesn’t either. He shuffles inside his own t-shirt, tugging the sleeves of his over shirt down over his hands. 

“What do you want?” His voice is a low rumble in his ears, like sandpaper, Sanha thinks, though still soft somehow. He rests his cheek against the top of Sanha’s head when he hums in contemplation.

“Tea,” he mumbles, tagging on Minhyuk’s sleeve, “and to go back to bed.”

Minhyuk giggles cutely, twisting his head to kiss his temple. “I told you that you’d be too tired, but you didn’t want to listen.”

Sanha whines, moving forward in time with Minhyuk when the line shifts forwards. “I want to spend time with you,” he explains, though the entire line is distorted by an unexpected yawn. “I don’t like it when you leave,” he adds as a bit of an afterthought, and though keeping his eyes open against the harsh LED lights is painful, he’s glad he’s resisting the strong tug of sleep, because he gets to see the way his words dust Minhyuk’s cheek with pink.

Sanha presses his smile into Minhyuk’s shoulder when he grunts, arm on his waist pinching cheekily. “You’re so cute,” he says, words mostly lost to the material of his t-shirt, but Minhyuk drags him closer to his chest, so that instead of being side-by-side, they’re chest to chest now. Sanha shrieks a little too loudly for the early hour, though no one really pays them any mind, too lost in the delirium to notice. Sanha snuggles into his chest deeper, and though the angle puts a twinge in his neck, there’s no chance of him actually moving.

“What do you want to eat?”

Sanha shrugs against him, mumbling out, “whatever you’re having,” which makes Minhyuk giggle again. The sound, though he hears it often, is as calming and beautiful as the first time he had ever heard it, way back when Minhyuk had come to his rescue and towed his vandalised car away from the liquor store parking lot.

“I’m going to have the fruit—”

With his arms around his torso the way they are, Sanha can easily slap Minhyuk’s back, between his shoulder blades. “I want eggs,” he says, voice laced with mock annoyance. “And bacon. Something with grease.”

Minhyuk weaves one of his arms around Sanha’s shoulder instead, gently guiding him back into his side, where he tucks easily as Minhyuk steps up to the counter. He places their order with a low, calm voice, one that reminds Sanha far too much of the way he sounds when he first wakes up, and then takes their number place card – number eight – and over to one of the booths free along the back wall. Sanha slides in first, closest to the wall, with Minhyuk slipping in beside him easily. Though they have the whole booth to themselves, and there’s plenty of room, Minhyuk still presses up against him. With their bodies flush against like this, and the heating humming out around them, Sanha’s eyes start to droop. The white lights swaying overhead don’t bother him, nor does the dull drone of music from the speakers standing in the corners.

Minhyuk has always been better in the mornings than him, that much evident by how Minhyuk is alert right now, able to scroll through his phone and focus on the fine print of the news articles; able to scan the room without so much of a squint of the eye; able to kiss the exposed side of his face repeatedly without getting drowsy. Sanha hadn’t ever had that luxury – of being able to drag himself out of bed before the sun had risen, and having more time of the day to enjoy. For Minhyuk, though, he supposes he could sacrifice that much loved sleep.

Their drinks arrive soon after, and Minhyuk presses a longer kiss against his hairline, hand shaking his shoulder gently. “Wake up, baby,” he mutters, nuzzling his nose against his messy hair, and Sanha can feel him smiling against his forehead when he grunts.

Sanha feels more awake with tea in him, and by the time their plates of food are brought out not five minutes later, Sanha is sitting with his back straight and eyes wide open, pot of tea half empty. They eat mostly in silence, save for their brief exclaims at the flavours, and Minhyuk’s yelp when Sanha leans over and kisses him, stealing the piece of watermelon that sat right between his teeth. When both their plates are empty, Minhyuk reclines further back in the booth, letting Sanha drop his head to nestle against his collarbones.

“You’re not going to let me go easily, are you?” Minhyuk asks, and despite the humour evident in this tone, Sanha knows he’s being mostly serious.

Had he been at home, Sanha would snake his leg through Minhyuk, kick their feet together with a giggle and drag him into a cuddle; but, in public, they were restricted to more socially accepted actions, and lying down in a café booth and going to sleep definitely wasn’t one of them. Instead, he pulls his head back, and props his elbow up on Minhyuk’s shoulder so that he can watch him carefully. Minhyuk continues staring straight ahead, but Sanha is biting his lip in amusement as every few seconds his eyes waver, dart sideways towards him, before flickering away just as quickly once being caught. On the fifth or sixth time of this happening, Sanha darts his free hand out, catching Minhyuk’s jaw to hold him still, and bending around him, slotting their lips together. He makes sure the hand on his jaw, though restricting his movements, is soft; makes sure the grasp is firm but not painful, enough that Minhyuk knows where Sanha wants him, but aware that escape is easy. The kisses they share now are like most – if not all – of their morning kisses. They’re a collection of small pecks, some a little longer than others, but mostly a symphony of chaste ones, peppering repeatedly against each other’s lips, smiling and giggling when Minhyuk cheekily licks at his bottom lip when Sanha pulls away.

“Can I come with you?” He asks, and Minhyuk squeezes him closer.

“Like you even have to ask.”

 

The thing is, Sanha was struggling to get rid of the bitter and sour taste in his mouth. At first, when he woke up the first morning after the boat party, and the confrontation with his mother, he hadn’t been sure what it was. Now, though, a few days later and sitting himself up on Minhyuk’s workbench at the garage, he’s well aware of what it is.

Deceit. Betrayal. Deception. Whatever one wanted to call it, the fact that Sanha was suppressing important information from Minhyuk was detrimental in that, should he ever find out, their relationship would be severely battered.

See, Sanha wanted to tell Minhyuk about his mother and father, and the truth of their situation, but that would mean being partly responsible for the loss of Minhyuk’s – and his friends – livelihood, and surely, there had to be another way. Sanha wasn’t sure of what it was just yet, though he had a few ideas starting to blossom inside his head from mere seedlings, though he was sure the repercussions of those decisions would be fatal. As such, he suppressed those down further than the truth itself, hating himself for even conjuring up such ridiculous ideas, and forcing a smile onto his lips instead when Minhyuk spares him a glance across the workshop.

It was nearing lunch time now, Sanha having hung around the garage all morning, answering calls in the office when things got too busy, and making excessive amounts of tea and coffee for the workers when he got bored. Boredom was scarce though, in an environment like this, where Minhyuk was sweaty and hard at work, giving Sanha plenty to look at, but still offering up lots of conversation topics for Sanha to ramble on. He’d joke around with Bin, too, and a few of the other workers, who would constantly tease him with how close he and Minhyuk had become lately. It was strange, however, hearing them refer to him as Rocky, and see them smirking when he called him Minhyuk right back in the same conversation.

MJ had disappeared thirty minutes ago, returning now with a loud kick to one of the metal roller doors that they kept down against the offending weather. Rain was falling diagonally, and MJ’s hair was drenched despite the umbrella covering him. He throws the umbrella in the direction of the office, which would, no doubt, earn him a scolding from Bin later, though MJ obviously didn’t mind as he saunters over to different workers, handing them off different takeaway containers of lunch.

He stops at Sanha’s side, leaning against the bench, his eyes follow Sanha’s gaze. His gaze is, as always, on Minhyuk, who’s bent at the waist now as he works under the hood of a purple Chevrolet. The car itself is darker on the sides than on top, as the sun had burned the deep colour to a lifeless lavender over time. Minhyuk had, at some point, muttered something about the alternator and timing belt under his breath, before shucking up the sleeves of his jumpsuit and getting his extra tool bag from the bench.

“You know,” MJ starts beside him, and Sanha shifts his gaze from his boyfriend to the shorter man.

“Yeah?”

MJ smirks, nods his head once in contemplation. “If I stared so blatantly at Rock’s ass like you are just now, I’d get clobbered.” With that, he darts away, though not before dropping two takeaway containers of noodle soup beside him on the bench, and a maniacal cackle slipping between his teeth when Sanha shrieks in embarrassment.

At the sound, Minhyuk lifts his head, smirking knowingly when he catches sight of Sanha’s reddening cheeks. “You alright over there, Darl?”

Sanha, unable to find his words, just grunts again, forcing his head into a motion that he hopes resembles a nod. Minhyuk’s smirk morphs into a much wider smile now, straightening up from where he works in the car. He wipes his hand on a rag before crossing the room towards him, stepping between his legs and taking both cheeks in his hands, lips pressing together mere seconds later. Sanha hums, though Minhyuk sighs into it, and he relishes the way his calloused hands spread warmth along the expanse of his back as they run up his spine, curving around his shoulders and resting there. Sanha pulls away, knocking their foreheads together.

“What was that for?” He asks, breathless from the unexpected kiss.

Against him, he feels Minhyuk shrug. “’Cause I love you.”

Sanha’s shoulders lift in glee, a shudder running through him before he tangles both hands in Minhyuk’s long hair – hair that he had, despite Sanha’s initial insistence, refused to cut; something Sanha was grateful for now – and drags his lips up to his again. He keeps it chaste, and when he pulls away, he kisses both of his cheeks before muttering out, “I love you, too.”

Minhyuk blushes, thumb running along his bottom lip. “You are so beautiful, Sanha,” he says, making him drop his head down against his chest, forehead long the jut of his collarbone. “I’m so lucky,” he adds, and Sanha slaps at his arm.

“Why’re you so gross today,” he asks, though only half-heartedly pinches his side in amusement, not-so-secretly loving the gooey attention and compliments Minhyuk gives him.

Minhyuk kisses his cheek, drawing his hands away and taking a step backwards. “I want to try something,” he says, holding up a finger in waiting before darting out back, into the staff room. He returns moments later, holding out a long-sleeve button up flannel, one Sanha recognises as a work shirt he often wears if it gets bit cold out, and Sanha eyes it curiously.

Minhyuk shrugs. “You won’t admit it, and that’s fine – but I know you well enough to see that your mind’s been fairly occupied since the party. For good reason, too,” he explains, dangling the shirt in his hands, making the sleeves dance. Sanha goes to interrupt, but Minhyuk shakes his head, kissing the air at him. “It’s alright, Darling, I understand, and it’s okay. I thought, to keep you a little…distracted, I’d get you to help me put this car back together.” When he finishes, he stretches his arms out a little farther, clearly holding the shirt out of him to take. Sanha takes it gingerly. “So you don’t get covered in grease,” he says, taking Sanha’s spare hand and helping him off the bench. “We’ll do a bit and then have lunch, okay?” He asks, nodding to the soup MJ had brought them, smiling when Sanha nods in agreement.

Sanha follows him, slipping his arms through the shirt which fits surprisingly well; albeit the arms, which had fit snugly around Minhyuk’s biceps when Sanha had seen him wearing it, which are baggy around his slender arms. Minhyuk snorts, and helps him button it up to the neck, before leaning around and kissing the bruise under his ear. When he turns back, he tries to surreptitiously smell the collar, loving the seeped in smell of rubber and oil and burnt sugar and day-old cologne, all mixed in with the laundry powder Sanha recognises as his own. Sanha blushes at that, hiding his nose in the shirt, only to look up again when Minhyuk grabs his hand.

“Who’s the gross one now, huh?” He asks cheekily, cocking their hips together before pulling him closer to the car.

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Sanha states, though he’s sure Minhyuk’s well aware of that, but he’s suddenly overcome with nerves.

Minhyuk, as he expected, snorts. “I know, babe,” he says, smirking when Sanha blushes a darker shade of red at the pet name. “That’s why,” he explains, voice low in Sanha’s ear, his hand snaking around his waist, the other latching onto his wrist, lips brushing along his skin as he speaks, “I’m going to teach you.” 

And he does – with a guiding hand, strong and calloused, but gentle all the same, directs him where to screw a bolt right, or where to connect the battery, or how the belt is meant to sit. Sanha listens diligently, albeit for the times he ducks sneakily across to steal a kiss, leaving the elder flustered at the unexpected robbery. When they’re working away, Sanha barely helping, in all honestly, just admiring Minhyuk’s arms moving and straining against his t-shirt, he hears him grumble under his breath, shoving his hair back with his hand. Sanha smirks, reaching over and running his hands through it.

Minhyuk freezes, “I know,” he sighs. “I need to cut it.”

“No, don’t,” Sanha says, shrugging when Minhyuk’s eyes dart up to him. “It’s starting to grow on me,” he explains, then stops, pursing his lips and cocking his head to the side. “I mean, not literally, but—” Minhyuk snorts, brushes his hair back once more before shoving Sanha playfully.

It grows dark outside, because the sun gets shrouded in what Sanha perceives to be the same sort of cloud inside his head. It hides the sunlight, makes the co-worker’s turn on more lights than they’re used to, makes them huddle back into their jumpsuits and a few grab their coats when the wind picks up. It is the same darkness, Sanha thinks, that makes the cup of tea Minhyuk passes to him over lunch that much more welcoming, and the warmth of the soup they’ve reheated sends shivers up both his arms, and down his spine. It is a comforting sort of feeling, a kind of reconciliation with that has been passed to him. Though, he will be honest – the darkness can scare away lots of things, but not the smile on Minhyuk’s face.

It’s when they’re halfway through lunch that Sanha is reminded of the bitter and sour taste in his mouth. Sanha is a liar, he realises, much like Minhyuk had been not a few weeks back, keeping secrets and sneaking out. Worse than that, though, Sanha was a hypocrite.

The worst thing of all, though?

Sanha isn’t even sure he feels guilty about it anymore.   

  

Minhyuk walks him up to his apartment door, hands in his pockets, looking as nervous as the day of their first date. Sanha smirks as he leans back against his front door, hands reaching out and wrapping around Minhyuk’s wrists. He tugs them free from his pocket so he can lace their fingers together, an action that draws Minhyuk closer to him, chests brushing against each other. Minhyuk reaches up to brush a bit of hair out of Sanha’s eyes, and before he moves it away again, Sanha turns his head to the side to press a kiss to the inside of his wrist.

“You sure you don’t want me to just hang around?”

Sanha shakes his head, swinging their joined hands together at his side. “No,” he says. “It’s alright. I’ve got some bits and pieces to do, and then I’ll meet you the park.”

Minhyuk nods, stepping a tiny bit closer so he can kiss him good bye. Sanha hums into it, adding a little more pressure than he had all day, because it felt a lot like a goodbye otherwise. Sanha hated that. Hated that he was responsible for making himself feel this way; hated that he could so very easily make it all go away, but that he’s continually choosing not to. His phone is heavy in his back pocket, several unread texts sitting there, and he begs himself to reconsider but he knows what’s done is done.

“I’ll see you soon,” Minhyuk breathes, kissing his cheek, before stepping back into the waiting elevator. “Love you,” he adds, just as the doors start to close. Sanha waves, whispering the same words right back, but waits for the elevator doors to fully close before pulling out his phone.

The unread messages that sit unread there, all three from his Mother, alert him that she’s already arrived. She’s parked in the underground car park, and he replies hurriedly, telling her to wait another ten more minutes before using the elevator to his floor. He had sent her the address and apartment number earlier that day, when he had confirmed if their plans were still going ahead, and whilst the guilt had somewhat started to eat away at him, it had dissipated the moment her reply came through, a simple ‘ok.’ He changes quickly, before she arrives, into shorts and layered blouse, so afterwards he can head out to Minhyuk quicker. 

When she knocks on his door ten minutes later, he isn’t expecting her appearance – she looks worn down, similar to the way she had appeared on the boat, even, but this time without makeup and the glamourous clothing, she definitely looked her age. In fact, more than her age; more like a grandmother Sanha had never met than a mother he refused to speak to. He guessed that was about to change, considering he steps aside, lets the woman who had stopped raising him, stopped loving him, many years before, inside his house.

Suddenly, it feels like it’s no longer his own – like he’s a ghost drifting in and out of someone else’s life, an onlooker for whatever is about to go down, and not like he’s going to be the victim of it.

“Do you want something to drink?” He asks. He might have been raised poorly, but he still had manners – something the family chefs who lived in their home had taught him, rather than his own parents.

His Mother shakes her head, eyes widening as she steps further into the open plan living space, eyes settling on the vibrant artwork, the random and mismatched décor items and throw rugs, the shoes by the door that are definitely not his size nor style. She turns back to him, a smile on her mouth – small and more out of politeness than honesty – and gestures with a flap of her hand to the room. “It’s beautiful, Sanha,” she says, the fake smile expanding into something a little more real.

Sanha’s hesitant, though, weary of why she’s hear, and what her situation is. She had only come to him in the first place because she wanted something – the reason Sanha had invited her here was to find out what.

“Thank you,” he says, sitting down in the armchair by the window. That left no option for her to sit by him, and gave him the opportunity to look down at the city if her eyes got to be too much. She sits on the couch, purse on the seat beside her, eyes resting on the large artwork on the back wall – the one that Minhyuk had chosen.

His eyes follow hers, unable to stop the soft smile adorning his lips at the memories connected to it. “It’s lovely,” she says suddenly, shaking voice drawing his attention back to her.

“Min—Rocky chose it,” he catches himself, as though the sentence itself explains just why it’s so lovely, and why it takes up the entire wall of his apartment. When he turns his head back to her, her eyes are still situated on the painting, and her fingers are threaded nervously together.

Sanha, for a reason unbeknownst to him, feels guilty watching her this way. “Why are you so nervous?”

Her head snaps up to look at him, eyes wide and alarmed, as though surprised he had even noticed. She shrugs one shoulder, the t-shirt dress she wears rippling against the movement. “I’m in the home of my son, who I haven’t properly seen in years and who, for good reason, hates me more than anything else in the world. Who wouldn’t be nervous about that?”

Sanha swallows, choosing to ignore her words, in favour of asking another question. “Why are you here?”

She opens her mouth to say something, though her eyes say enough – she’s confused, to say the least, and Sanha gets it, really. It wasn’t the right kind of question, because he had been the one to invite her here. He shakes his head, holding his hand up to stop her attempt at speaking. “I mean,” he starts, shakes his head again. “I mean why did you want to see me so badly in the first place? This is your mess, not mine.”

She nods, shifting her hands on her lap. “I wasn’t going to bother you with it…but then, I saw the articles about you and Rocky. You two were hanging out more and going places and I could tell that he wasn’t going anywhere soon so I…we looked into his story, well before they published anything, and found out where he worked and what he did,” Sanha wants to scream at her, his fingers tightening their grip around his knees to stop himself lashing out. He knew that they still had money, but they were losing it fast – wasting it on things like stalking his boyfriend.

She must see the horrified look on his face, because she lifts both hands in front of her body, as though directing traffic to a halt. “We didn’t do it to expose him or, or—or to identify him to anyone. We did it because…”

“Because you’re homophobic,” he states, unclenching his fingers and crossing his arms across his chest instead.

“No!” She exclaims, sitting up straighter on the couch, and Sanha thinks she’s ready to stand and make her claim before she settles back down into the cushions. “No, Sanha. That’s not it. We did it because we knew he was from the area, and I mean, the chances of him actually having anything to do with this mess was so slim, but—”

Sanha scoffs, shaking his head. “He just so happened to be right in the centre of it all.” She says nothing, but her eyes say it all: guilt; regret; sympathy. The latter, however, confused him more than the former, because for whom was she trying to sympathise with.

“When we found out who he was, and where he worked,” she starts again, clearing her throat, the sound rough and haggard. “I knew then that I had to get a hold of you. I couldn’t just…stand back and watch that part of the boy’s life fall apart, when I knew that he meant something to you.” Sanha hates that he softens a little at that, that his shoulders fall apart. “I knew it was none of my business who you were with or what you were doing, and I know you think we never thought about you but…Sanha, I would read every article there was about you. I still do, and I know, I know that doesn’t solve anything, or alleviate any of the pain that I – we – had, have, caused you but—”

“You’re right,” Sanha interjects, laughing once, curtly, humorously. “It doesn’t. So, get on with it.”

She swallows again, nodding once – a jerky, dejected sort of movement. “Right, yes, well. I read the articles, so did your father, and believe it or not he was more nervous than I was – but you know what he’s like with words, he’s no good at them, and he’d only make matters far worse than they are—”

“Mother. Stop trying to excuse yourself and Father and get on with it.

“Your father bought the mechanics garage a year after you were born. Back then, it was fairly new – the original owners invested too much money into it and they weren’t getting anything back, so, they put the business up for sale. Your father didn’t really discuss the option of purchasing it with me, he just went ahead and bought it – truthfully, Sanha, I didn’t care what he did with the money, because I’d just given birth to you and I was still learning how to be a good Mother.” She scoffs, laughs once at herself, before lifting her wet eyes to Sanha. “Guess I did learn much, huh?” She asks, but Sanha diverts his eyes out the window, looking down at the city.

“Right,” she says, taking the hint. “Anyway, he bought it, rehired the same workers, and handed over the management rights to the real estate: they dealt with employment and whatever else. Then your Father invested in more, thinking that one day the Downtown would pick up like the south side counterparts – but, as you’ve probably gathered by now, it never quite took off the way he had planned. We’ve tried and tried, but dirty business is dirty business, and your Father…we can’t buy our way out of this one.”

Sanha is struck again with the absurdity of the situation he finds himself in.  He had willingly contacted a woman who had claimed to be his Mother, but who had also practically abandoned him as a child and had, for some reason, invited her into his home, offered her a drink, and was letting her chew his ear of with mindless ramblings. He had heard this before, on the boat, and honestly didn’t care for hearing it again. He wanted to know more, the specifics, why she had wanted to contact Sanha originally – but she just wouldn’t relent, wouldn’t give up, on the backstory.

“Just…” he starts, lets himself trail off, shaking his head. “Please,” he tries again, taking a different approach. “—Just tell me why you thought I needed to know all of this.”

She pauses, chewing on her bottom lip for a second before letting it fall out from between her teeth. Once white, it was now red, though is simmers away again to a lifeless brown shade beneath almost-dry lip gloss. She raises her hand to scratch behind her ear, and her eyes become as lifeless as her lips, her skin, the grey shimmer to her hair.

“I didn’t think you would want him to suffer,” she explains, and he’s about to argue, hating that she had come here to accuse him of such a thing, to guilt trip him, but then she’s speaking over top of him. “We need your help.”

Sanha waits before scoffing, unfolding his arms and returning his hands back to his knees. “And why would I help you?”

“Because you’re a better person than me and your Father will ever be,” she says instantly, and Sanha would think it was rehearsed had it not been for the sincerity in her eyes, for the wobble of her bottom lip, the clench of her hands as she bites back tears.

“You must know, Sanha, how humiliating it is to come to you like this. For any parent, really, to come to their child and ask for h-help…ask for money. But to ask you of all, after we’ve done nothing to support you back…it is the most horrifying thing I have ever had to do.”

Sanha sits silently, processing her words until they boil over and disappear into the room around him. “What do you want from me? Money to solve all this? Because even I don’t have that much – I can take away your pain for a little while, but then what? You’re still stuck with all these properties that you can’t sell or gain profit from, so—”

He stops when he sees it. She’s opening her purse and pulling a thick stack of papers, stapled in the top left-hand corner, and folded down the centre to fit into her bag. It looks mangled, as though handled often, tossed and turned in her clenched hands as though contemplating whether or not she should have brought them forth. He isn’t a lawyer by any means, but he’s spent enough time around Jinwoo and Dongmin to know what those papers were from a first glance – doesn’t even need to take them from her hands to know what she’s asking him.

“You…you want me to buy them from you.” It isn’t even a question, the words that roll from his tongue, but rather a statement. And the way she flinches back in on herself, he knows the words are the full truth. 

“I know that it is a lot to ask, Sanha, especially coming from people that…that are barely even your family. But I just thought,” she stops, looks him in the eye. “I thought that you’d maybe want to do it for Rocky.”

And it is those words, simple and straight to the point, that leave Sanha feeling as conflicted as he ever has before. Gingerly, he takes the papers that are outstretched to him, though he fingers them in his hands as though they were merely seconds away from exploding in his touch. Perhaps they were, that is how little he trusted his Mother’s opinion or ideas right now, but at the same time, he knew not to deny her words – because she made a valid statement. Money, no matter how little or much of it you had, would eternally be an awkward conversation – and so for her to come to her only child, of whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, and as for financial assistance was far beyond anything Sanha thought her capable. In all honesty, he is surprised she had even thought this much into it, given that the majority of the decisions she had made up until this point had been in light of Sanha and Rocky themselves, and less concerned with her own fate.

It is these qualities, Sanha thinks, that would – could – make her redeemable one day. But not for now, when the fate of what is in his hands still brews vicious over a burning, hot flame; when the outcome of both his parents and his boyfriend lays in his hands; where he can be kind and forgiving towards the parents who had neglected him, and betray Minhyuk; or turn away the begging hand, and live with the shame of knowing he had been the cause of his parents economic and social downfall. It was a ying and a yang; it was a tossing and a turning, one in which he had no facts for anymore; one where, no matter what angle he examined it, would end badly.

“I’ll…I’ll think about it.” He says, folding the papers in his hands, and shoving himself up from the seat. “I’ll show you out,” he adds, walking briskly across the large space into the entranceway, where he waits with the door already opened for her to leave. When she gets to the door, she hesitantly rests her hand on his forearm, but he doesn’t dare meet her eyes – instead, he keeps them fixated on the tiles by her feet, watches the way her small feet sway against the marble.

“Sanha,” she says, sounding resigned, words laced with nothing more than a sigh. It sounds contemplative, as though she’s questioning whether or not she’ll bother saying what she had planned. She must agree with herself, finally, because then the hand on his arm drifts upwards, under his chin, lifting it and bending it so he’s looking down at her, eyes meeting her own ones. They contain that aged sort of worry, the one that has built up over years and years, rather than just from their conversation. Sanha feels worried, too, perhaps for the same reasons but just in a different light, and he wonders briefly is such accumulations are genetic. He also thinks to Minhyuk, waiting for him at their park in the city, probably swinging, lonesome, at the swing set, eyeing off different couples and the ice cream van for later, kicking at loose bark and stones beneath his dangling feet. He thinks about how he’s going to get himself out of this one, how he’s ever going to come to a decision without Minhyuk’s input, wonders if he should tell Jinwoo and Dongmin about this at all, when his Mother is speaking again.

“Whatever you choose, Sanha, I will support you in that. It may not seem like it, but I am your Mother and…and I love you, Sanha. I always have, and I always will. And back then, I didn’t support you in the way real Mother’s should; and, by every definition, I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t care for you like one, the support system was poor and non-existent; you got on better with the cleaners and cooks more than you did your own parents. By the time you were sixteen I already knew you were lost to me…so whatever it is you decide, Sanha, know that I am going to support you in it. Because this is me, learning to be a Mother, long after I became one, yes, but this time I am determined to leave a good memory of me in your head.”

She turns to leave, and she presses the button to the elevator. Sanha goes to close the door, but hesitates. “You’re wrong, you know?” He says, before he can second quess himself.

She turns back to him, eyes wide and curious, hands shaking from where they hold her purse. “About what?”

He doesn’t speak straight away, just lets his eyes fill with whatever emotion they fill with; he can’t see what it is, but it feels like remorse, like sympathy, like an accepting of an apology he never really got. “I don’t hate you,” he explains with a small shake of his head. “I just hate what you did. Or, what you didn’t do…so, first lesson,” he says, and ignores her small smile. “Your first lesson as a Mother is to know that hate doesn’t last forever.”

He hears the elevator ding then, and he closes the door before he can hear what she has to say, a dry sob leaving him the moment it shuts between them.

Had he known, he would’ve also told her that just because hate doesn’t last forever, doesn’t mean that love does. In fact, if Sanha had known, he wouldn’t have been having this conversation with her in the first place.  

 

Sanha hurries across the street to Minhyuk, sinking easily into his warm embrace and pressing their lips together in greeting. “Sorry,” he says when they pull apart, Minhyuk running his hands through Sanha’s windswept hair. “Took longer than I planned.”

Minhyuk’s smile is as soft as his eyes are, and he shrugs. “That’s okay,” he says, one hand clutching at his waist and hauling him closer to him, the other still playing with his feathered fringe. “Missed you,” he mumbles, kissing his temple, then the other.

Sanha smiles, eyes half-closed. “Me, too,” he whispers, shifting his lips in the direction of Minhyuk’s own.  He sighs when Minhyuk joins them again, and Sanha lets his hands weave around his neck. “Love you,” he says against his neck, smirking into the skin at the way Minhyuk jolts.

“I love you, too, baby,” he says a moment later, before stepping away and lacing their hands together. “Ice cream, swing, home?” He suggests with a raised brow. Sanha, pretending to think about it, nods once in agreement, hands swinging between each other.

Much later that night, after ice cream and after spending a few hours in the park, Minhyuk drives them both home to his place in the Downtown. MJ isn’t home, and Minhyuk turns the radio on loudly to an upbeat dance track once they’ve both showered and changed. Sanha knows this routine by now: Sanha will slip into bed and prop himself up on his side, watch Minhyuk roll and contort his body this way and that as he rehearses a new routine to show the kids later that same week. Then, after an hour or so, he’d stop, kiss Sanha before taking another shower. Sanha would always be asleep before he returned, but he’d always be there when he woke up the next morning.

Lately, though, the dancing had become more strenuous, more frequent, as Minhyuk had less clients and more free time; spending more and more time perfecting already perfect routines. Sanha would have been concerned had it not been for how much love and passion it brought Minhyuk, and how evident his love for it was.

Tonight, feels different, too, because Sanha is drifting to sleep far sooner than usual. Minhyuk’s been dancing for only fifteen minutes when Sanha feels his eyes start to droop. He tries to fight it, too, wants to keep the routine going, wants to watch Minhyuk roll with passion and enthusiasm like always – but he can only hold off for so long. Minhyuk must notice, too, because soon he’s kneeling by the bed and drawing the blankets up around him. Sanha thinks he hears him mumble a sleep, baby, and an I love you so much, which Sanha mumbles back half-heartedly, through a sleepy tongue and weighty eyes. There’s a soft kiss on his cheek, too, though he could have imagined it, because in the next moment there is absolutely nothing.

Nothing but him, asleep, and the weight of Minhyuk’s happiness folded in the back pocket of his shorts on his boyfriend's bedroom floor.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

"4am and I cannot say goodbye;

crawling back home,

i'd do anything for you"

- Said the Sky, Kwesi, 'All I Got

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"hush now,

you don't know how i would sacrifice my world for you.

rest here,

bring your head near,

you won't find your fears inside these arms.

 

- michael schulte, 'heard you crying'

 

The taste of bile that Sanha wakes up to is far too strong to be imaginary, and he barely makes it to Minhyuk’s bathroom before he’s throwing up into the toilet bowl. Minhyuk appears behind him not long after, a guiding hand resting on his shoulder as he hunches over. He flinches at the icy touch against his blisteringly hot skin, and drops his head with a groan against the wall.

“Sanha,” Minhyuk whispers, dropping down into a crouch behind him. “Are you—” He goes to say more, Sanha thinks, but he must realise mid-sentence that Sanha most definitely isn’t alright, given the way his body contracts a second time, curls in on itself, and Sanha launches himself over the bowl again.

Briefly, Sanha thinks back to last night, back to what he had eaten. After a moment of dazed contemplation, he decides that nothing he had eaten was that questionable; and put the feeling down to the unresolved deception constantly playing on the back of his mind. Ever since the boat incident – or rather, the boat confrontation – the idea of settling the issues that Minhyuk and his friends faced had been gnawing at him, eating him alive, and the lunch with his Mother yesterday had only solidified his intentions.

The prospect of settling the qualms between his family made him anxious, more nervous than anything else, he thinks, but the possibility of losing Minhyuk’s happiness all together was a far more terrifying prospect to him. He could live without his family –he’d done alright without them thus far – but to live without Minhyuk, the utmost love of his life, the one who, if Sanha was being entirely honest, made his day worth waking up for. Hell, Sanha had willingly woken up and gotten breakfast with him at five o’clock in the morning, something he had not even bothered to do with Jinwoo nor Dongmin in the past. He had known the latter two far longer than he had known Minhyuk, and while their intimacy possibly ran to the same depth, it was at a different angle to what he had with Minhyuk – their relationship ran in endless companionship, a trust only ever developed between the closest of friends; whereas what he had with Minhyuk was far more heart-bound, the tingling in his toes and resonating around his skull reminiscent of an angel’s singing, something he was so sure hadn’t existed before he had met Minhyuk those many months ago.

When all that comes out of him is painful groans and empty gasps, Sanha slouches backwards again, off his toes and onto his backside. He sinks back even farther, expecting his back to fall against the cold tiles, but instead he finds himself leaning into Minhyuk’s chest. He sat patiently, silently, behind him, keeping a steady hand on his shoulder the entire time, and another on his waist, thumb stroking underneath the oversized t-shirt he wore. A t-shirt which, coincidentally, had belonged to Minhyuk himself – one Sanha had scooped up off his floor the night before after shucking out of his jeans, tossed somewhere amidst the mess already settled on his worn-down carpet – loving the way the scent filled his nose, that same very scent that calmed him now. His shivers at the contact, but only because his body feels perpetually weak around the elder, and because his body was in state of what he could only describe as semi-shock, given the way his shoulders tremble and his eyes glaze over as he stares at the bubbles of air underneath the wallpaper.

The hand on his waist shifts upwards, till it rests on his other shoulder, on the other side, and Minhyuk starts to run his hands back and forth in a soothing motion. As he does so, he hums something unfamiliar under his breath, toying with the still-drowsy sector of his brain. He ever so gently tugs his body back further, till he sinks deeper and deeper into his chest, suffocated, nearly, by his overwhelming scent and presence. Sanha feels, though always at a loss of words around him, speechless. The breath gets caught in his throat and the remnant traces of acid that lingers there burns the abused column. With another groan, Sanha feels himself slapping at the tiles around him, though his eyes have – unbeknownst to him – slipped shut, and he feels like he has no control over his limbs anymore.

Minhyuk must understand, because in the next moment, Sanha is being pulled upward to his feet, two strong, calloused hands hauling him upright from underneath his arms. Sanha whines a little, but only because the resonating feeling of warmth up the length of his back is gone, and not because he’s in any more pain.

He turns in Minhyuk’s arms, avoiding his eyes, knowing full well how atrocious he must look right now. He avoids his reflection in the mirror, too, though he can feel it burning into his back, resting on the way his thighs tremble underneath the weight of his own body. He feels weakened by unplanned morning activities, and can hear, in the distance, the sound of MJ’s door opening and closing behind him. There’s a muted voice by the door as Sanha snatches as his toothbrush in the vanity cupboard – cringing when he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror – that he vaguely recognises as MJ’s deep, croaky morning voice, and a hum of acknowledgement from the man behind him.

Minhyuk’s arms weave around his waist when MJ disappears in the direction of the kitchen, presumably to conjure up tea or coffee or something to settle Sanha’s stomach – his favourite soup, no doubt – as he brushes his teeth, and Sanha can’t help but lean back into the touch. The movements of the toothbrush are slow and lazily, as he finds himself far more riddled with sleep now than before, as throwing up would always be an emotional event; always exhaustive, dragging him down in unconsciousness far too quickly to be deemed normal. As he brushes, Minhyuk’s hands settling on his hips, and though he’s shorter, he feels bigger around him like this. Like his whole presence swallows Sanha’s own right up, leaving no trace of him behind. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Sanha finds. Sanha is better with Minhyuk, not without, so it makes sense that his body falls so pliant against him. Minhyuk makes Sanha feel entirely malleable – as though he moulded just for him, crafted just right for his hands, for his warmth. Sanha would find it unhealthy, maybe, to think that his entire life is centred around Minhyuk’s own, but he also thinks that that is just love in action.

Minhyuk presses a slow, lazy kiss – matching Sanha’s own movements – against the back of his neck, and then a second one, longer than the first, but no less gentle. He pulls away, starts to unravel his arms from around him, and lets his lips brush against his ear. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen, okay? MJ’s making tea.” He hesitates behind him, and Sanha grunts around the toothbrush in acknowledgement, of which must satisfy Minhyuk enough to feel comfortable slipping out of the room from behind him, and pad down the hallway to the kitchen door.

Sanha feels squeamish from where he stands at the basin, avoiding glaring at himself in the vanity mirror. He recalls the reflection he’d caught of himself before, and how he had flinched. He hadn’t done so because his hair was a mess, or because his eyes were red and his cheeks puffy. He flinched because he was both all of these things, and none of these things; and the issue with that was that Sanha could no longer recognise the man who stared back at him in the mirror.

He splashes his face with cold water before slipping out of the room.

 

 

Lunch with Dongmin and Jinwoo is long overdue. He had been meaning to catch up with them since the outcome of the boat party, but time moved both quickly and slowly and it had slipped by them far sooner than intended. Dongmin called him later that same morning and had suggested a get together, a thought that had, truthfully, made Sanha’s gut twist anxiously, mimicking the feeling he had woken up to not long earlier.

He tells Minhyuk of this, who frowns worriedly, but lets him go without so much of an argument; merely just kisses the side of his head repeatedly when he gets out of the shower twenty minutes later, tells him to take care, baby, and locks the door behind him. Sanha doesn’t know whether to be relieved or annoyed or not by the fact Minhyuk had ignored the bulge of folded paper in his back pocket.

Though Minhyuk had offered to drive him, Sanha turns it down and opts for a taxi instead. Minhyuk had whined at this, had even jutted his bottom lip out in an almost irresistible pout. Almost, Sanha reflects, smiling at the memory of leaning across the doorway and kissing it right from his mouth, as he hails down the first vacant cab he sees. It screeches to a halt outside the complex when it spots him last minute, and though Sanha is usually politer than this, he practically spits the address of the lunch bar Dongmin had sent him to the driver and sinks down into the faux leather seats.

Sanha wears the same shorts as yesterday, though abandons the silk blouse in favour of one of Minhyuk’s shirts instead. It’s much too long on him, and he has to tuck the front of it into the waistline of the shorts, and it’s a little messier and less put together than he’s used to, but he finds himself liking the look nonetheless. Minhyuk had liked it, too, when Sanha had emerged from a billow of steam of the bathroom – red-cheeked and damp-haired – in his shirt hanging around the tops of his thighs, ignoring Sanha’s cheeky comment about buying him some clothes in his actual size.

The driver remains silent, which Sanha appreciates. At one point during the trip, he turns the music up slightly, drowning out the seething attitude Sanha is surely radiating. The anger he feels, though, is purely his fault: he can’t blame it one anyone, or anything, else. That meant he could also very easily take that anger away, if he just told the driver to turn around now and go back, where Minhyuk was most likely washing dishes or making his bed, and Sanha could just grab him by the cheeks and confess the truth about his mother’s business on the boat that night but—

But Sanha couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He finds himself preferring desolation rather than seeing Minhyuk’s lifeline – his work, his passion for dancing, the two things which had stopped him from taking his own life those many years ago – disappear between his fingers, slipping into ashes and cascading into the night sky and oceans below. He couldn’t bring himself to be the one to willingly stand back and watch his only source of happiness be taken away from him. Because Minhyuk did not have wealth; or at least, not in the currency that would buy him out of this mess. But it seemed, right now, as Sanha shoves money into the waiting hand of the cab driver as they pull up to his stop, that Sanha might have money, but it’s still not the right kind. Sanha is rich, sure, but no amount of money will buy him out of his own mess, either.

The restaurant is small and not overly crowded, and has an outdoor indoor flow which is lined with fairy lights. The entire layout, from where Sanha stands, seems quaint and eccentric, but the pleasantness the place brings him is quickly replaced with nausea, as it reminds him far too much of Minhyuk’s apartment – mismatched furniture and blankets and cushions, different potted plants on each table, much like they line Minhyuk’s windowsills in nearly every room; a record collection along the back wall becoming visible to him when he steps inside, rivalling even MJ’s vast collection, and hand-painted lanterns sitting atop stacks of vintage books, almost identical to the ones on Minhyuk’s coffee table.

Sanha spots his friends along the back wall near the juke box, which looks out place, but still very much fitting somehow resting on a slightly raised pedestal, amidst what looks like a halo of hanging miniature palms. Sanha isn’t entirely sure if they’re real or not – inclined to believe the latter – but either way, they make it look both tropical and homely at the same time, and it softens his insides just the tiniest bit as he throws a wave to his two friends when they spot him. They’re dressed casually, though snug in coats, the complete opposite to Sanha’s exposed legs in shorts, which Jinwoo eyes now with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Sanha slides into one of the spare chairs around the tile-topped table and spreads his legs out around him, bag dropping down between his shoes.

“Hey,” he greets a moment later, when only silence dangles around them like the palms overhead, and he can see the curiosity eating away behind both of their eyes. With a resigned and defeated sigh, Sanha rests his elbows on the table, and then his chin in his hands, before waving his wrist in half-hearted gesture.

“What happened, Sanha?” Dongmin asks, eyebrows furrowed in concern, hands wrapped around the half-empty mug in his hands.

Jinwoo sighs around his own mug, before setting it down on the table with a light clank. “MJ said your Mother…what did she want, Sanha?”

And truthfully, Sanha didn’t know what to say, because back then, on the boat, he hadn’t been exactly sure what it was she did want. Now though, following their discussion yesterday, he was well and truly brought up to speed on the matter at hand. One of the many issues that remained now, though, was whether or not Sanha told Jinwoo and Dongmin about what had come to light. The issue with telling them, though, meant they could very easily steer him off his pre-planned path, guide him elsewhere, and into a direction which meant Minhyuk’s livelihood would shatter and crumble.

Though Sanha knew, realistically, that they would support him no matter what; he still was, nevertheless, quaking in anticipation for their thoughts of what information would soon – might soon – surpass between them. The hesitancy he was experience was made clear to them by not only his prolonged silence, but also by the way he was wringing his hands underneath the table, fingers sweaty and slick, and the movement – though hidden by the tabletop – making his shoulders roll far too obviously and repetitively to be a basic, nonchalant movement. To put it simply: Sanha didn’t look relaxed. And around his friends, his best friends, he should be relaxed – had been, up until the confrontation of truth with his Mother, who had removed almost all of his instincts from his body, rearranged their coordination codes, or something, and then shoved them straight back in – all in the wrong order, in the wrong kind of code, and his body wasn’t outputting the right information and reactions anymore.

He spared them a look, biting his lip when he does at the way Jinwoo looks as concerned as Dongmin now, mug pushed to the side in forgetfulness. “Sanha?” Jinwoo asks this time, though it sounds clouded and hazy in Sanha’s ears.

A hand reaches out and touches his wrist, and Sanha watches the pale fingers curl around his skin before he follows the fingers up to the wrist, to the forearm and bicep, to the body in which it was attached. Dongmin, eyes wide and alarmed, shuffling his chair closer to his side. “What’s happened?”

Sanha feels himself shake his head, though he has no control over it. He tries to stop it, take back some semblance of control and authority over his own damn body, but repeatedly fails. He feels himself trembling, too, though it must be minuscule and undetectable, because neither Dongmin nor Jinwoo react any differently. Jinwoo shuffles closer now, his chair making a horrible scraping sound against the timber floorboards, but he appears to pay no mind. The sound is louder than it probably actually is in his ears, and Sanha feels distant, floaty, and he can’t pin point the exact reason why.

He supposes it’s because of the situation in its origins: the reason they were having lunch in the first place was to discuss what had happened at the boat party with Sanha’s Mother turning up and Sanha’s subsequent panic attack. In turn, though, it meant bringing up the truth: why he had snuck on board, rather than how. How wasn’t something that mattered anymore, and Sanha knew that the two of them were supposedly working on the case of the security guard who had succumbed to whatever tempting she had offered him, but Sanha was beyond caring for that now. He had too many other things occupying his mind to worry about a failed security guard at a boat party he didn’t even want to have, because, in all honesty, he was right. His boat was cursed.

The first time an event had occurred, Jinwoo had been nearly lost at sea, or eaten alive by sharks, or both. The second, just gone, ended up with Sanha being confronted by the one person he had wished to never see again. It was a night he would surely never forget, though it was likely to be for all the wrong reasons. The nausea in his gut twists again, though nowhere near as bad as this morning, and when Jinwoo reaches out and runs his fingers across the tops of his cheeks, Sanha realises he’s started crying.  

Sanha,” Jinwoo breathes, the sound of his name on his tongue sounding defeated before the war had even begun. Sanha wonders if Jinwoo can tell what this is about, wonders if he can read his mind; hopes he can, so he doesn’t have to say any of it out loud. Speak it a loud just solidifies it more; makes the concrete of truth dry inside his mind, spanning out into reality, the real world.

“She—” He starts but then immediately stops upon hearing how croaky and dry his voice sounds. He’s not sure if it’s because of his crying, or from the throwing up from this morning – possibly a combination of both – but it aches slightly, and he gestures to a waiter. He orders a tea and iced water, turning his attention back to his worried and startled – albeit, patient – friends.

“Her and Father, they’re the owners,” he explains, leaning back in his chair after clearing his throat once, twice, wiping the back of his mouth on his arm.

Jinwoo shakes his head in confusion, though something fizzles into recognition in Dongmin’s. “The owners…the owners of what, Sanha?” Sanha slows, throat still dry, and opens his mouth to speak – stopping only when the recognition morphs and expands inside Dongmin’s deep brown, before disappearing completely, and being replaced with something much softer, calmer; sweet, even.

“They own the garage,” he states simply, without emotion, and Jinwoo stills across from him. “And the studio. And all the other buildings in the Downtown Minhyuk told you about.”

Sanha shrinks back in his seat, ankles tucking and folding around the legs of the chair. “Does…Does Minhyuk know, Sanha?” Jinwoo asks, leaning over the table more. In his peripheral vision, Sanha can see the waiter head in his direction with his tea and water, and Sanha buts on a forcibly bright smile in their arrival. He mutters a thank-you and smiles with all his teeth, before turning back to his friends while fiddling with the bamboo straw in his water.

“No,” Sanha says, “and he won’t find out, either.”

Dongmin half chokes on a gasp, and Jinwoo suddenly looks far paler. “Sanha! You have to tell him!”

Sanha shakes his head again. “No. If I tell him, he won’t let me—” Sanha stops, already having said too much, but hoping they hadn’t noticed. He knows better than that though, and Jinwoo and Dongmin are far smarter than he is, so they pick up on his mistake instantly.

“Won’t let you what, Sanha?” Jinwoo asks, thick and accented, and a rolling of words rather than a spit.

Sanha isn’t sure how to proceed. His words don’t make sense inside his head; they won’t formulate or string themselves into intelligible sentences, and he scratches the back of his head aimlessly in consideration. Before he can second guess himself, he’s reaching into his back pocket and yanking out the paperwork his Mother had given him the day before, folded and wrinkled and a little water stained in one corner; but eligible all the same. Just as he had recognised the documents on first sight when they were removed from his Mother’s handbag yesterday, Sanha catches the exact moment both Jinwoo and Dongmin recognise it, too.

Dongmin inhales sharply, “Sanha, no.

“Sanha, I won’t let you,” Jinwoo says, tongue sharp and voice alarmed. Their expressions are similar in that they both share a look of utter disgust; not at him, exactly, but at what Sanha was actually considering.

“You don’t get to decide that, Jinwoo,” Sanha says a moment later, taking back the paperwork that sits limply, numb, between the eldest’ fingers. “You can decide a lot of things, but not this.” Sanha refolds the documents, shoves them back into his shorts before turning his attention back to them. “I...I ask for your advice on everything, and you know I ask because I want it. But I haven’t asked this time, Jinwoo. I don’t want your advice. I’m doing this because I want to.” Dongmin’s eyes are trained on the pot of cooling tea in front of Sanha, and Jinwoo just stares at his own hands.

Sighing, Sanha straightens up in his chair. “Minhyuk was suicidal,” he announces, voice low in the atmospheric hum of the restaurant. A waiter comes near them, but Jinwoo – eyes alarmed, just as they had been the entire time Sanha had been with them at the table – motions for another five minutes with a smile that is far too forced to be really polite. Sanha doesn’t think they would notice that, though. When the waiter disappears with a slight bow, both Jinwoo and Dongmin turn slightly in their seats to Sanha, giving him their full attention.

“Minhyuk…you don’t repeat this to anyone, not Bin, not MJ, okay?” The two of them nod, though they say nothing.

“He was suicidal, years ago, in his teens – the socio-economic lifestyle is different there, if you haven’t noticed that already, and it meant Minhyuk saw violence and drugs and gang activity before he even knew how to walk. For a depressed, influential teenager living amidst financial struggles and his friends dying…I’m not surprised that Minhyuk considered jumping.” Dongmin’s hand reaches up and overs his mouth, and Jinwoo reaches across to him, fingers wrapping around his wrist. Jinwoo’s other hand, which had been holding his mug, slides across to Sanha, takes his hand in his own. It’s heavy and warm and grounding in his grasp, and Sanha squeezes it in reassurance.

“It was dancing, and it was his love for cars that got him through. It gave him purpose. He could get up in the morning and work towards something, rather than just feeling like he was losing over, and over, and over again. So, when I found out this was happening, that he was losing those passions… I knew I had to try and do something.”

“My Mother approached me and informed me that they were the owners of the property, and were selling due to their foreseeable bankruptcy—” Sanha opts to ignore Jinwoo’s shocked gasp in order to continue his story. “I…I didn’t get much else out of her before I—before I panicked, I guess, but then we arranged to see each other yesterday and she gave me these papers,” he says, shrugging one shoulder.

Neither Dongmin nor Jinwoo say anything, and Sanha takes their extended silence as both disagreement and reluctant understanding. As such, he straightens in his chair even further, clears his throat once more, and takes a sip of his tea. “Yoon Sanha won’t be buying these properties,” he announces, watching both their heads snap over to him. “But,” he says, noticing the way they both flinch in anticipation, but choosing to not comment on it. “I know someone that will.”

 

Sanha had wished, to some extent, that the look on Minhyuk’s face had been because of him. The anguish that nestled there, the emptiness in his eyes but the torment on his lips, was something he had never wanted to see – but if he did have to see it, like he is now, Sanha wanted it to be done by his hand. Not because he wanted to hurt Minhyuk; not because he craved being a monster of emotion, but rather if it had been his fault, then at least he’d have someone to blame.

Now, stepping through the threshold of Minhyuk’s bedroom, and catching sight of his boyfriend’s reclined body on his mattress, Sanha isn’t so sure who he can blame. He could blame his father, he supposes, for the silent tears that fall from Minhyuk’s eyes now. Or he could blame his Mother, for she had been the one to force him into this world in the first place; she had been the one to make the uneasy feeling in Sanha’s stomach regurgitate upward whenever he thought about it too much.

Minhyuk lets out a dry, painful-sounding sob when Sanha slinks over to the bed. The mattress dips around him, and when Sanha presses up behind Minhyuk’s body, chest to his back, he can feel the way Minhyuk’s body shakes through the tears. The same tears, not so silent anymore, that fall down from the tip of his chin and onto Sanha’s hands that wrap around his torso. Sanha presses his forehead to the nape of his neck, unsure of what to say, what to do, as the love of his life sobs into the bed linen.

In his arms, Minhyuk felt different. Different because even though the weight of him felt the same, that the skin he had grown to know and love, felt very much the same – the distance between them felt greater. The expanse of time and contrasts that lay between them on Minhyuk’s sheets was far too large to ignore now, and Sanha felt that these differences were, to some extent, non-existent.

But, real or not, Sanha felt them – they curled up from the bottom of his spine, to the very top of his head, projecting nauseating waves of something he couldn’t quite place at every corner of his gut, his heart, and everywhere else it could reach. The torment of time and deceit and that infallible twisting of regret haunted Sanha’s mind and soul. But it was the lack of guilt that haunted him most.

Because these differences, ones that Sanha had thought to be detrimental to them, were nothing as such. But these differences made the guilt he didn’t feel worse. Who’d have ever thought that the absence of guilt would hurt far more than guilt itself?

And what differences – the fact that Sanha had money and Minhyuk did not? The fact that Minhyuk had a real job and Sanha didn’t? The fact that Sanha had lied, far worse than Minhyuk ever did? The differences were those of morals, of values, of promises Sanha had made and said he’d keep, only to break them the very next day. Sanha was a liar, and to think he wasn’t even remorseful because of it.  

In his arms, Minhyuk shuffles, twisting so that their chests are flush together. Minhyuk’s eyes are red and puffy, and his bottom lip is red and gnawed raw. A bubble of blood pools in the corner, and Sanha gently catches it with his thumb and brushes it aside. Minhyuk, movements lethargic and timid, grabs his hand, blood forgotten and lost to the collision of palms, and entwines their fingers together.

“Today was my last day,” Minhyuk croaks out, voice broken and dry and cracking on the last word. He sounded exhausted, worn out from the crying and the sobbing. Sanha knows that feeling, so he tightens his arms and drags his head closer to his chest. Minhyuk’s sighs against the top of his head when Minhyuk kisses his neck, a top of the bruise – never fading, constantly purple. Minhyuk hums against it, pressing another kiss, another, and another, before tucking down further, so his cheek rests on Sanha’s chest instead.

“Minhyuk…I’m so sorry,” Sanha breathes, though, he isn’t sure what for. For all of it, or for just part of it? Or sorry for what was yet to come?

Against him, Minhyuk shrugs, though the movement is restricted what with the way they’re tangled up in each other. He stretches his head upwards, lips searching along his throat, till Sanha understands what he’s after, loosening his hold on him. Immediately, Minhyuk pushes up on the mattress, lips meeting Sanha’s under the glow of the afternoon sun.

Like this, it is easy to forget the truth that haunts him. Like this, with Minhyuk’s hands working their way underneath the collar of his shirt, to sprawl flat between his shoulder blades, and the taste of salt on his lips, Sanha can pretend that his world hadn’t been torn in two. Like this, with Minhyuk pressed this close to him, heart beating rapidly against his own, Sanha’s hands clutching gently at his hips, Sanha can act as though he hadn’t gone behind Minhyuk’s back and betrayed him. Like this, Sanha can pretend they’re just in love, and nothing more, nothing less. And it because of this that Sanha is reminded why he did what he did.

Like this, like this, like this.

 

But this doesn’t last forever, because later, when Minhyuk is dozing on his chest, and Sanha has his hands threaded through his hair, MJ barges into the room unannounced. Minhyuk startles, pushing against his chest again, though more hurriedly. Sanha can’t help the small smile that tugs at his lips as Minhyuk, on instinct, drags the sheet up to cover Sanha’s bare chest.

Normally, MJ would make some kind of sarcastic remark, but the look on his face is different now than it usually is. His hair is wild, as though he had torn his hands through it over and over again, the same hands that held a half-scrunched piece of paper now. His mouth was agape, fish-mouthing, opening and closing in time to his harsh breathing. He was panting, as though he had run all the way here from the garage, which, judging by the sweat that poured off him, Sanha wouldn’t be surprised if he had.

In the next moment, Minhyuk was rubbing at his eyes, rising to full awareness as he took in MJ’s startled appearance. “What’s the matter?”

At first, MJ just swallows, using his free hand to wipe at his forehead, and brush his back and out of his eyes. Sanha follows the movement, before directing his gaze back to the paper. It was familiar in the way that Sanha had seen that letter head before; had seen that signature at the bottom, too, and it was this moment of realisation that Sanha’s mind spiralling.

“Minhyuk...” MJ starts, trailing off, words made more of breath than voice. He shakes the letter in his hand, but Minhyuk makes no move to grab for it. MJ senses his hesitancy, watches the way his hand reaches out blindly for Sanha’s own. Without hesitation, Sanha grabs at it, let’s Minhyuk haul him closer, so that Sanha sat behind him, chest to his back. Minhyuk sinks back into him, and Sanha presses a kiss to his bare shoulder, on the point that meets the curve of his neck.

“Someone bought them,” MJ says now, breathing a little steadier, words clearer and easier to understand. Sanha freezes at the same moment Minhyuk does, feels his muscle tense against him.

“MJ…w-what?” Minhyuk voice isn’t as dry as before, but now it sounded startled into coarseness.

MJ swallows loudly around his tongue, stepping further into the room. “The garage, Minhyuk. The studio, too. They bought them. They’ve been sold.

Instantly, Minhyuk snatches the letter from MJ’s hands, and the paper shakes as his eyes dances, frantic and wide, across the paper. “But,” he says, eyes lifting from the paper and up to his friend. “This says…”

MJ nods, smiling through his tears. “I know,” he manages through a sob. “I know.”

Minhyuk turns to Sanha next, eyes brimmed with tears, but he’s smiling now – the anguish and torment is long gone, and it’s as though they had never been there. Minhyuk tells him, but Sanha already knows. Of course, he does. Sanha’s always known what that letters said. But the words that Minhyuk reads to him now make it that much more real, substantial, even; as though before it had been fabricated into ink on paper, it was non-existent.

“They’re keeping it, Sanha.” Minhyuk says, voice wavering through excitement. “The new owners, they’re—they’re going to keep the business going. We can still work, Sanha. I can still dance,” he breaks on the last word, letter dropping on the bed in front of him, crumpling underneath the weight of Minhyuk’s body when he throws himself back to Sanha. His arms haul Sanha closer, lips against his in a hurried, wet mess of tears and salt, and Sanha kisses back, of course, he does, but it’s hesitant and shocked and—

—And there it is. There it is.

Guilt, Sanha thinks, really is far worse than the absence of it.

 

Someone ended up being Min Jun, a twenty-two-year-old with brown hair that matched the colour of his eyes, and who had billions to his name; a name which was, ironically, not even his own. It had belonged to his father, a man of great name and status, and of equal wealth. One who, much to Sanha’s surprise, was vacant for most of the young man’s life, though still left such an impact that he continued to live on the same way as he had.

Sanha, although having never met Min Jun face-to-face – and, frankly, never would – knew him intimately; closer than anyone else ever could.

And Min Jun had just, quite possibly, made the stupidest decision of his life. It was so stupid that not even Sanha himself had made any move to stop him from making it.

So stupid, in fact, that it was brilliant.

Because, see – Min Jun just wasn’t anyone. Min Jun also had another name he went by. Some may call him Min Jun, but most people called him Yoon Sanha.

 

 

"cause i wanna give you all that i got,

and i wanna believe we'll defy all the odds.

and i hope you don't hurt me,

but if you do,

it would be worth getting hurt by you."

- emily warren, 'hurt by you'

 

"swallowed by your dark brown eyes,

i am lost again.

you're all i need,

just your company and the start of a smile.

i will stay all night but just don't go anywhere.

don't you go anywhere

please don't go anywhere." 

- gracie abrams, 'edge'

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"all your damn money don't mean much to me,

won't you lead me 'cause i keep falling behind. 

i know that we will be okay,

we'll be okay honey..."

- Flora Cash, 'Old School Japan'

 

"your words are bullets now,

your finger on the trigger trying to take me down.

i thought i told you that i'm going to love you through the storm.

all i ever long for now is to keep you safe and sound.

take out all your weapons baby and lay them on the ground.

don't fire."

- Mark Diamond, 'Weapons'

 

It had been Dongmin who had suggested throwing the dinner party in celebration. He had said that the boys had worked hard for years, had their happiness nearly taken from them, and then someone had come in and bought the property right from underneath their feet. Since their last meeting, wherein Sanha had implied handing it off to someone else to purchase, neither Dongmin or Jinwoo had brought it up. It had been Sanha who had, in passing, solidified his lie further by saying that he hadn’t had the chance to show it to his friend yet, and that the mysterious Min Jun really was an enigma to them all. Dongmin had pressed this though, saying it was uncommon for someone of a similar wealth status to Sanha to go unheard of; but Sanha was good at lying, even if they had always said he wasn’t.


They were lawyers, who could read the truth from the cover of a book detailing a lie; they were lawyers who, as well as fixing corruption, were his best friends, and had known him for so many years that they could usually see right through him. The only different between those times and this time, is that Sanha feels right in his lie. The lie feels true in the sense that he’s doing it for the right reasons; because it’s not a lie to hide embarrassment or disaster or fraudulence. It’s a lie to hide affection.

He knows that to some extent that doesn’t make it okay to lie; the lie itself isn’t eradicated just because he has good intentions. But, from his understanding, his morals and his values and whatever else make him up, tell him that it’s something he would be forgiven for. Or rather, they would understand why he had done it. He had no intention, however, of Minhyuk ever finding out the truth.

Upon Dongmin’s suggestion, Sanha had immediately offered up his place to host the dinner – his kitchen was the largest of everyone’s, and the most decked out; as was his living space and dining table. Though it would only be the six of them – Dongmin, Jinwoo, Bin, MJ, Minhyuk, and Sanha himself – this was appealing given the way they had all acted together in the past when intoxicated. At this comment, Dongmin had merely snorted, before shoving Sanha out the door of his office and towards the elevator.

In the car waiting for him downstairs, Sanha rehearses the address to garage as though it were second nature, and, to some degree, it was. He hadn’t been in a few weeks, given the property had been neglected and the boys were forced to remove their belongings. Now that Min Jun – he – had come in and purchased the property, Sanha could rightfully return to the place that almost felt like his second home with ease. There was no judgement here, though he could feel the fizz and pop and burn of his nerves in his stomach as he reclines deeper into the faux leather seats of the taxi. As the car weaves its way through the midday traffic to the Downtown, Sanha plays with the two new sets of keys in his bag – there are seven keys all up for the garage; some repeats, others for back doors and for the indoor walkways. He felt the teeth of the keys pinch at his skin as he clenches them in his palm, but doesn’t loosen his hold on the offending item until he’s forced to. He passes the money across the seats to the driver, not bothering to stick around for change, and hurries up the driveway to the roller doors quickly, against the strong wind outside.

The ‘for sale’ sign that had taken up residency out the front of the shop a few weeks back, now had an alarmingly red sticker plastered across the front: sold.

Sanha scurries past it, pulling on the lapels of his jacket, tugging on the scarf around his neck. The Winter chill had come early, and out of nowhere; Sanha having woken up in the middle of the night just before, Minhyuk’s arms loose around his body, warm, but not warm enough. He had struggled out of the sheets, and against the same arms that were tightening into a death grip around him, to turn up the heating in the room. Then, he had sunk back into the mattress, into Minhyuk’s awaiting arms, and recalls – in his half-delirious state – pressing a kiss to his pout before sinking back into the pillow. Minhyuk had easily dragged his body closer to him again, and, with one hand still around Sanha’s hip, and the other dragging the duvet up around his neck more, the two of them had fallen asleep with their breathing in time. They had woken up in the same position, albeit Minhyuk’s face having shifted downwards, tucked into hollow of his throat. Sanha smiles at the memory of feeling his little puffs of air tickle along his skin, and runs a hand underneath his scarf now to feel along the lines of his memory.

Sanha pauses in the doorway, leaning back against the roller door and glancing through the foggy interior of the workshop. After having seen the building adorned with random assortment of items, both car related and otherwise, all of which had brought personality to the workshop, seeing it bare and vacant felt obscure to him now. Minhyuk’s work bench in particular looked odd, given that not long before it had been decorated with Sanha’s drawings and photos of him and newspaper clippings of the two of them together. They had, over time, accumulated exponentially, resulting in Minhyuk having to tac them directly to the wall around the pin board instead.

There was a group of them sitting around one of the work benches in the middle of the room, looking far larger than Sanha had ever remembered without any cars in it. The concrete floor was more obviously oil-stained now, and the walls looking a little worse for wear; but all in all, it was the same place Sanha knew and loved. The same bones, just with a little different flesh.

He slinks over to them, where they’re hunching over and laughing at something Bin keeps passing around in front of them. Sanha finds Minhyuk easily, his hair dark and messy and tangled at the nape of his neck, growing longer and shabbier and, frankly, hotter, with each passing day. His backs facing him, so he can sneak up easily behind him; Bin and a few others who spot him act like they hadn’t, though they do bite back a few knowing smiles.

When close enough, Sanha loops his arms around his shoulders, so his hands are clasped around the hollow of Minhyuk’s throat, and immediately reaches around and presses a kiss to his temple. He snickers when Minhyuk jolts in his arms, but he relaxes immediately against him, sinking back from the stool into his chest.

“Hi, baby,” he mumbles into Sanha’s arms. “Didn’t know you were coming to stop by.”

Sanha shrugs around him, pressing another kiss to his temple, ignoring the complaints around him. “Missed your pretty face,” he says, mumbling against his hairline, grinning into his skin when Bin snorts.

Sanha goes to drag his hands away, but Minhyuk reaches out determinedly, snatching at his face so he can drag him back down. Instead of a kiss to his temple or cheek this time, their lips meet in a collision that tastes safe and familiar, though the taste of rubber and oil is heightened. Sanha smiles into it, upon reconciliation with the taste, but separates them when MJ slaps the side of his head.

The boys separate, scattering around the room to finishing unpacking. Sanha sits down into one of the vacated seats beside Minhyuk, taking one of his hands in his own, and pressing a quick kiss to the knuckles. Minhyuk has his elbow propped up on the table, chin resting on his hand. Sanha blushes under the fond, endeared look Minhyuk is casting his way, and tucks his chin against the attention.

“Dongmin wants to throw you a celebratory dinner,” Sanha says, clenching his hand tighter in Minhyuk’s.

Minhyuk’s expression barely changes, though the tiniest of smiles spreads along his pink lips. “Only Dongmin? Not you?”

Sanha shoves him, “don’t be cheeky.”

Minhyuk catches his elbow, hand wrapping around the inside of his arm, and dragging him closer. Sanha moves easily, let’s the elder slot their lips together in a soft kiss. It’s gentle and slow moving, but it still sends Sanha’s heart soaring in his chest, up his throat, lashing at his tongue. Minhyuk is smiling into it, as always; and Sanha giggles against his lips before pulling apart.

“What are you looking at?” Sanha asks, turning away from Minhyuk’s irresistible gaze. His eyes are chocolate brown and voice honey thick, and he’s far too tempting like this: soft and warm and inviting.

Minhyuk snickers, shoving part of the pile to Sanha. It’s a stack of polaroid photos, from the original kind of camera, not one of those new ones. There’s a stack of at least fifty big squares, blurry and dim with age, and as Sanha scans through them, he can recognise Minhyuk within them.

“This…is you?” Minhyuk nods, cheeks a delicate shade of pink. “You look so young,” Sanha comments, unable to believe the picture to be him.

Minhyuk’s cheeks redden further, “I know. That was during my dancing years. I’d just bought the car a few weeks before that.” Sanha scans the stack, stopping on another photo, where Minhyuk’s hair is pushed back and wrapped up in a red beanie, skin smooth and smile wide. It doesn’t look that old, perhaps only a year or two. Sanha holds it up to Minhyuk in questioning.

Minhyuk’s eyes soften at the picture, taking it from Sanha’s fingers gently. “Bin took this,” he explains, eyes never straying from the photographed. “This was the day our application was accepted; we got so drunk that night,” he adds, a huff of laughter rushing from his nose at the memory.

Another photo, Sanha lifts up, is Bin and Minhyuk at a location Sanha recognises, although having only been there a few times himself. “The studio?”

Minhyuk nods, taking that photo from Sanha’s grasp, too. As he speaks, the smile never disappears from his face. “Yeah. That was the day of our first lesson.”

Sanha’s own expression softens, the hand that had slipped free from Minhyuk’s seeking his hold again. The calloused grip inside his own feels like home, and Sanha’s heart swells and surges like the tide. “God,” he sighs, propping his head up on his hand just as Minhyuk had done earlier.

Minhyuk glances up from the stack of photos to eye him. “What?” He asks, when he doesn’t find any answers in Sanha’s expression. Sanha doesn’t miss the way his already red cheeks darken, though, much to his pleasure. He squeezes his hand in retaliation.

“You’re amazing,” he sighs out, and he knows how fond his eyes must look, given the way his heart jolts in his chest and hammers loudly in his ears. “You know that, right?”

Minhyuk ducks his head, cheeks a dangerous shade of red now. Sanha thinks if he were to reach out and touch them, his entire body would catch fire. Tempted now, Sanha does just that; index finger poking the centre of his cheek, squishing it cutely underneath the pressure, before he lets the rest of his fingertips graze the smooth, tanned surface. Minhyuk shivers underneath the caress, though Sanha doesn’t comment on it.

He shifts his head slightly to the right, so he can press a kiss to the inside of his exposed wrist, where the sleeve of his coat as fallen down his forearm. Sanha blushes at the action, relishing how Minhyuk pressures another, higher up; and then a third, right on top of his pulse point. Then, Minhyuk takes that hand in his, holds it close to his chest, and another hand. Sanha moves closer on his seat, extending his legs out so they tangle with Minhyuk’s underneath the bench.

“I’ll never be as amazing as you,” Minhyuk mumbles, kissing him when Sanha opens his mouth to retort. His mouth is gone as quick as it gets there, and Sanha pouts when the lips are gone. He chases after them, but only meets Minhyuk’s cheek inside. He sighs, dropping his head down onto his boyfriend’s shoulder instead. He casts his eyes downward as he snuggles closer, so he can watch him shuffle through the stack of photos. Some of them are from a time before Minhyuk, apparently, and Sanha greedily wonders if such a time would even be important – but what with the way Minhyuk eagerly explains each photo makes him bite his tongue on every retort, focuses on listening instead. He listens to the way Minhyuk’s voice rumbles and vibrates across to him from where his head is pressed in by his throat, and his hands are nestled in the material of Minhyuk’s oversized shirt.

As Minhyuk flicks through the photos, Sanha finds himself drowning – in what, he isn’t so sure, but he feels it getting harder and harder to breathe. It’s not a suffocation; not a stifling kind of sensation, but rather it’s feeling of being filled up all at once, without warning, and without preparation. He tries to compare it to that of a wild ocean with currents that you can’t swim out of, no matter your experience and knowledge of the waters ways; though no comparison will ever be just right enough for him.

His brain feels fuzzy, and the intoxication of his senses makes him feel vulnerable in a way that is unjust. He has no reason to feel as such, given he’s the one who had done this to himself, and continued to do it, too. It’s not like he had taken any time to resolve the issues at hand, given it was the sacrifice he had made. Sanha had sacrificed his own happiness for the sake of Minhyuk’s own, with the hopes that one day, hopefully soon, that happiness would then become his.

Watching the memories fly past him, the stack of them, Sanha feels sickened, but at the same time— he’s reminded of why he had done this in the first place. These memories—the ones Minhyuk holds dear, are resurrected and saved because of what Sanha had done. Because of what Sanha had done, whether it was dominated by a vicious lie or not, would mean those memories would never have a bitter taste in his mouth. That bitter taste was Sanha’s own; and Sanha’s only. It was an unpleasant taste, but it was one Sanha could get used to if it meant getting to hold this man in his arms forever, and see him smile that smile he has now and every day afterwards.

When Minhyuk gets to the last photo – a picture of Bin, MJ and himself – his fingers seem to hesitate setting it back down with the others. They all look incredibly young, and Sanha doesn’t have to ask to know that this was one of their first photos together; that this photo was during their younger years, when they had all met through dance. Sanha thinks back to their first date, when Minhyuk had taken him up to the rooftop, where he had confessed to him his back story – his origins, of sorts. Sanha thinks about that evening often, not because of the way Minhyuk had pressed him into the rooftop and kissed him back with fervour, but because that was the night Sanha met Minhyuk for the first time.

Before Minhyuk, he had known Rocky, and whilst their love and passion and fasciation for life was one and the same, it was Minhyuk that Sanha devoted himself to. Minhyuk was unguarded; he lacked the mask that Rocky possessively wore each day with accustomed intimacy. Sanha loved them both, but he loved Minhyuk in the way the dry earth loves the rain. Dry earth had grown used to the dryness, but welcomed back the rain with glee; and once wet, life was reborn.

Sanha doesn’t think he was the one who had rejuvenated Minhyuk; but he was just glad he had the opportunity to bear witness to it happening, Minhyuk was wondrous, a spectacle Sanha would never forget. He didn’t know what direction life was heading, but knew he’d tag along whichever way Minhyuk took him. Without question; without fault. Sanha would follow, and he hopes, prays, that Minhyuk would always let him.

“This dinner,” Minhyuk says a few moments later, cutting through Sanha’s reverie with the low grumble. “Is it at your place?” Sanha nods against his shoulder. Minhyuk squeezes his hand. “Should I bring anything?”

“Just you and your lovely self,” Sanha says, turning his head to press a kiss to Minhyuk’s clothed shoulder. Against him, Minhyuk hums out in understanding, and Sanha’s eyes snap open, remembering. “Oh, and also,” he says, sparking Minhyuk’s full attention again. “Bring MJ and Bin. Dongmin’s orders.”

Minhyuk snorts, leaning his head down where Sanha’s was nestled against his shoulder and into his neck. “Of course, of course. Jinwoo not interested then?”

Sanha giggles, presses another kiss where he can reach to the spot underneath Minhyuk’s ear. “We both know he is, but he’ll never admit it. I don’t know what’s wrong with him, honestly. He’s always texting him and he doesn’t shut up at our dinners anymore.”

Minhyuk nods against him, feels one of his hands wrap around his waist, drawing him closer into his side. “I’m glad we’re not dancing around each other anymore.”

Sanha smiles against the earnest tone in his voice. “Me, too.”

A silence spreads out around them, though it isn’t empty. It’s filled with the sounds of boxes being reopened, the radio playing familiar music in the distance, the hum of the fridge being plugged in and turned back on. There’s sounds of clanking metal, tools sorted across the hooks in the walls that had never been pulled out, tires already being stack up against the back wall. Sanha finds comfort in these noises, because they’re ones that filled his ears when he had fallen in love with Minhyuk. Others may find the noises a nuisance, an irritation of the senses, but not Sanha. Sanha coheres these sounds to love itself; to peace and tranquil, to acceptance, and to human triumph.

I love you, my star,” Sanha whispers, to Minhyuk, and to the universe that holds them here in this moment.

I love you, my darling,” Minhyuk whispers right back, lips brushing against his with every word.

 

 

“I’ve been thinking,” Minhyuk says later that night, already lying in bed.

Sanha makes a noise in acknowledgement, ignoring the pinch on the back of his thigh as he steps out of his shorts. He walks over to Minhyuk’s drawers, opening the second one from the top, and feels around the shirts in the drawer. When his fingers brush a long a particularly soft white one, he hauls it out, sliding the door shut and yanking it down over his bare body. Minhyuk hums appreciatively, and Sanha’s cheeks flare up red and tingly, slapping away his boyfriends straying hands as he slips under the sheets beside him.

Minhyuk snickers, kissing his forehead before Sanha rolls onto his back. As always, Minhyuk jostles them around on the bed until he’s comfortable, with half of his body a top of Sanha’s own, using him as a pillow; and his head resting on the centre of Sanha’s chest, looking up at him through lidded, sleepy eyes. It was late, and they had gone to a charity dinner that night after Minhyuk was finished for the day setting things back up at the garage. Minhyuk had been, as always, a victim of personal questions; asked about the lifestyle and about intrusive parts of Sanha’s life he had yet to ever reveal details about. Minhyuk remained head strong, though; this had never surprised Sanha, though, given his boyfriends resilience.

“How would you feel,” he says, and Sanha can feel him swallow nervously from where his head rests on his chest. “—About meeting my parents?”

Sanha stops breathing, but only for three seconds. He shifts his head downward, so their eyes are more in line, and the nervousness that eats away at the usual softness in his boyfriend’s eyes is enough to stir something deep within him. It’s a silly question, really; because Minhyuk already knows how serious he is about this relationship, he knows how much something like that means to him. Sanha lifts his arms from the bed sheets and up around Minhyuk’s body, dragging him further up his chest so that Sanha can kiss his nose.

“I’d love to,” he confesses earnestly, eyes not leaving Minhyuk’s for a second. Against him, Sanha feels Minhyuk relax; can see it in his eyes, too, the moment the nerves disappeared and were replaced with sweet relief. “O-okay, good,” he says, pressing his lips together in a poor attempt to hide his smile. “They…asked about you, the other day. They’ve seen us in the magazines, and I obviously can’t shut up about you, so…” he trails off, shrugging one shoulder nonchalantly, but Sanha can see the way he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and gnaws on it, a habit that Sanha had learnt meant the poor was stifling his pride and his true depth of affection.

Sanha reaches a hand down and pops his lip free. “You can’t shut up about me, eh?”

Minhyuk groans, burying his face into his neck. He’s silent for a moment, before mumbling something into the curve of his neck that Sanha can’t quite catch. He draws his head back with gentle fingers against his temple. “What was that?”

Minhyuk shrugs again, cheeks darkening as he shakes his head. “Just…I’m a bit obsessed with you, Yoon Sanha.”

Sanha giggles, kissing his forehead once, twice, three times, before pressing another to his nose and each cheek. “And I you, my love.”

Truthfully, Sanha was nervous to meet his parents; they meant a lot to his boyfriend, and Sanha didn’t want to mess anything up by giving them the wrong impression. He had money and status on his side in this one, which he could bring forth as proof as being capable of being able to care for their son – at least financially. Sanha didn’t know a lot about his parents, but knew enough to know that respect Minhyuk held for them was unmatched with anything else in his life, and Sanha wanted to desperately know what that felt like. Meeting Minhyuk’s parents would be a great honour: one he didn’t want to miss out on, or mess up.

He didn’t say any of this to Minhyuk, though, deciding against making him unnecessarily nervous. He had cleared been trying to ease the topic into conversation for a while, and after failing, had decided to take the plunge and just bluntly ask. Even though they hadn’t been together long, they were close; they had been friends first, best friends, even, and so Sanha felt a twinge of sadness at the thought of Minhyuk being unable to ask him. But, alas; he understood, and was glad that he could provide Minhyuk with a sense of sweet relief.

He tightens his grip on Minhyuk now, but lets him slide back down his chest into a more comfortable position. “They’re excited to meet you,” Minhyuk says, voice soft, sleepy.

Sanha smiles. “I’m excited to meet them. I’m ‘gonna thank them.”

Minhyuk’s face contorts into one of confusion, though his eyes don’t open. “For what?”

“For makin’ you,” he says, voice low and a barely-there whisper.

Minhyuk snorts, kissing against Sanha’s – Minhyuk’s – shirt, right where his heart beats. “Shit, I love you,” he says, though most of it is wrapped up in an exasperated groan. “Let’s get through this dinner first, yeah? Then you can come around for that dinner. Okay?”

Sanha nods. “Okay.”

 

Dongmin had gotten into contact with Minhyuk regarding the dinner and after organising a suitable date, had hauled Jinwoo over to Sanha’s apartment early on the Saturday to prepare. They slaved in the kitchen all morning and into the mid-afternoon, spending the few spare hours they had left before Minhyuk, Bin and MJ arrived to hang the streamers and balloons he had bought.

Sanha snorts at this.

Dongmin always had been one to over-prepare, and it was only more obvious now as he went overboard. There was only going to be six of them but Dongmin planned the event as though he were a host of sixty or more. To some degree, it was relatively flattering, especially for their guests. When Sanha had asked Dongmin about his persistence, he’d merely just shrugged, claiming that they had well and truly deserved a spectacular evening. Sanha had cooed when relaying this information to Minhyuk over the phone, and when the trio had arrived, Minhyuk went straight to Dongmin after kissing Sanha hello, and wrapped him up in his arms in a thankful hug.

There was music playing through the speakers in the ceiling, and Sanha smiles in comfort at the fact it was the same playlist that would play at the garage. The conversation that filled the room jumped from one topic to the next; starting with the garage itself, slipping easily into the ominous Min Jun, before jumping backwards and forth from childhood stories to broken bones and to first kisses. The food was delicious, with an array of side dishes and sweet treats and wine flowing throughout the evening; they were tipsy, but - as cliché as it were – they were tipsier on love. But, love runs out sometimes; or, maybe, not run out, but oozes out, like a weeping wound, a gaping gash along one’s chest. Because the moment Sanha thought all was going well, it suddenly wasn’t anymore.

“Sanha,” Minhyuk shakes his arm beside him. “Where’s your phone? I want to show everyone the photos we took from that cute café the other day.”

Sanha smiles, jerks his head to where his bedroom door is slightly ajar. “On the charger.” Minhyuk disappears from the table and across into his bedroom, and the conversation falters slightly, but Jinwoo continues with his retelling of the time a waiter had spilled a ten-thousand-dollar bottle of whisky on top of him where he had been seated. Sanha narrows his eyes when Minhyuk seems to take a while longer than he had expected, but when he slips out of the bedroom, head lowered to his hands, feet moving slowly – stumbling once, not watching where he was going – Sanha immediately knows why.

Because in Minhyuk’s hands in a very familiar stack of paperwork – fresh from the printer a few days ago, creased from where Sanha had folded it repetitively in hiding. Minhyuk stopped walking, eyes never lifting from the paper in his hands, and when Sanha pushes back his chair and stands, only then does he lift his face.

There are tears in his eyes; they shine underneath the moody string lights Dongmin had set up, and suddenly the party balloons and tacky rainbow streamers seemed gaudy and laughable but for a whole different reason. Sanha swallows dryly, and as much as his body is protesting, he knows not to bother fighting back or arguing or trying to formulate some kind of excuse. It was stupidity that had gotten him here. Stupidity, and whole lot of carelessness. The tears that were shimmering in his eyes were suddenly wiped away, and Sanha eases his way around the table, flinching when Minhyuk takes a hesitant step back away from him.

Sanha swallows again, raising his hands in front of his body defensively, or as though he were attempting to guide traffic. Sanha’s blood boils, heart hammering in his ears; the anxiety coursing through his veins was making him dizzy, and that thought alone made him consider what Minhyuk must been feeling – betrayal printed right in his very hands.

“Sanha?” He breathes, though it’s a pained, strangled, choked-up kind of sound, as though it had taken all his might to utter the singular word. Perhaps it had.

Sanha’s, although throat and tongue dry, manages to produce words. “Minhyuk—let me explain.”

Minhyuk shakes his head, takes another few retreating steps backwards when Sanha tries to get closer. “You don’t need to explain,” he says, and something in his tone makes Sanha’s gut lurch. “It’s all here,” he continues, holding up the offending documentation as though it were on fire. “It’s all here,” he repeats the words, though this time his eyes are glassy and unfocused, and Sanha thinks he says it not for the proof of Sanha’s purchasing of the properties – not because of the proof that Sanha was Min Jun – but because everything that had led up to this meant something completely different to Minhyuk now.

Before Sanha can say anything more, Minhyuk has already dropped the paperwork to the floor, and was out the apartment door before anyone could ask him why.

Sanha goes to move, but there are arms around him suddenly, holding him bag, dragging him towards the table. He’s down in his seat before he knows what’s happening, the sound of the door slamming rebounding inside his skull. The arms around his loosen until Sanha can no longer feel them, only feeling aware of anything when he hears his name being repeated over and over again, followed by Min Jun and a flurry of curses. When sanity flows back to him – or perhaps not sanity, but something that vaguely recognises it – Sanha finds he’s able to lift his eyes from the silk table cloth, white with silver threading, and into the eyes of four others. Each set of eyes held the same expression, one Sanha had known for almost all his life; one that he was surprised he hadn’t seen earlier from these very people.

In the eyes of those that he’d ever only seen love, now all he saw was judgement.

 

Sanha didn’t hear from Minhyuk for three days.

It was agonising – Sanha called and called; texted when the calls no longer went through, and, when the third day came along and having heard nothing, Sanha collapsed against his bedroom wall in exhaustion. He hadn’t been sleeping, he knew that much; though time had started to lose its purpose and Dongmin and Jinwoo were reluctant in talking to him.

They had stayed with him after Minhyuk had stormed out at the dinner party, though upon seeing the documentation for themselves, they were quick to leave him be. They kissed him once on the cheek before they departed, following after an expressionless Bin and MJ, who had left without saying anything at all. Sanha had messed up, more so now than ever; but not because of what he did, but because he had gotten caught. The guilt was still there, as it had arrived only days before, and it was worse now; because Minhyuk knew now, and knew just how severely he had lied, too.

When the sun rose on the third day, Minhyuk felt lost to him, and on the same day, as the sun began to set, Sanha was jerked awake by his phone ringing.

He scrambled with his phone – the battery almost dead – and gasps out when he’s sees that it’s Minhyuk calling. When he answers it, he says nothing at first. He inhales sharply when he hears what resembles a teary sniffle on the other end, and his heart aches, pleads, but he knows what with the way that bond of trust is broken, he’s better to say nothing at all than make things worse.

Then, in the next moment, Minhyuk is mumbling down the line. “Come to the garage,” and before Sanha can reply or agree or apologise, he’s hanging up.

 

Sanha hadn’t been sure what to expect when he walked into the garage that night, but seeing Minhyuk packing all his belongings back up hadn’t been on his list. His breath catches in his throat when he sees him at his workbench, and Minhyuk must sense him entering because he stiffens, hand paused mid-air where it’s reaching to lift a box from the top shelf.

Sanha hovers in the doorway, much like he had done the other day, but this time there’s no music playing, and there’s no photos on the table, and there’s no smile on Minhyuk’s face.

This time, there’s silence, and the drowning weight that accompanies it.

Minhyuk looks exhausted, more than him, even – though Sanha isn’t surprised. What Minhyuk was going through was far worse: betrayal, in the worst kind of way. His eyes are glassy and shimmering, and although all that sits there is hatred and a sickening sight of remorse, he was still unbearably beautiful.

He goes to open his mouth, but Minhyuk lifts his hand. “No.” His voice cuts through him like broken glass, and sounds as heartbroken as he feels. “You’ve done enough. It’s my turn.” Sanha hesitates, but then nods, steps closer into the room. He hates how angry Minhyuk sounds, having never heard such emotion in his voice like this before. But when Minhyuk speaks again, there is no anger there. The vicious tone that had scorned his throat was now replaced with the smallest voice Sanha had heard emitted from him; it was small in that it barely sounded like him, all traces of Minhyuk’s confidence lost to the height of the room around them.

“Do you even love me?”  

Sanha’s spine straightens. “What? Yes! Of course, I love you, Minhyuk!”

Minhyuk holds his gaze for three inhales – one, two, three – but then he turns away, back to the cardboard box he was loading up with bits and bobs from his desk. “Do you really?” Sanha goes to speak, but Minhyuk shakes his head. “Because I don’t actually think you do. Want to know what I think, Sanha?” He asks, voice filled with specks of sarcasm as he slams the box back on the table, turning to Sanha with a rage in his stance. Sanha doesn’t respond.

“I think you love the idea of me. You loved helping the poor boy, right? Right from the very start, all I ever was to you was another charity case. Was it fun?” Sanha gulps, Minhyuk’s expression flares. “Was it fun, Sanha?”

It comes out as a yell, and Sanha flinches against it, stepping back once. “M-Minhyuk, don’t. I love you. You were never a charity case to me! You know that!”

Minhyuk splutters, “do I, Sanha??”

Sanha rushes forwards, “yes! You know me! You always have!”

An incredulous laugh slips between his lips as he shakes his head, but the amusement doesn’t reach his eyes. Sanha finds himself forgetting what that had ever even looked like. “I don’t know you, Sanha. Or maybe,” he says, shaking his head again in thought, eyes lowered to the floor. “Maybe I did know you, back then, but I don’t know you anymore. Who are you Sanha?” Minhyuk sighs and leans back against the workbench, eyes trained on the ceiling.

“I...” Sanha’s voice sounds distant, bubbly; like it’s not really there, or like he’s hearing himself speak from a different room. “I did it…because this place makes you happy. I know what this all means to you. This job and your dancing, those kids, Minhyuk. You nearly…” Sanha shivers, imagining Minhyuk standing on the ledge of the rooftop, ready to jump, for it to be over. “I didn’t want to lose you.”

Minhyuk shakes his head again. “I wasn’t going anywhere.”

Sanha shrugs, “yeah. Well.” He stares pointedly at the box he had just been packing up. It earns him a scoff, before Minhyuk turns around again, grabbing the roll of tape from the bench and closing the box up – the harsh sound of the tape tearing and sealing the lid down doing nothing to drown out the screaming in his head.

“I am not your play thing, Sanha. I might be poor. I might live on the wrong side of the tracks, and I might make you feel good when you buy me things and take me on your arms places, but I am not your play thing!

“I know that, Minhyuk! You think I don’t know how badly I’ve messed up?”

Minhyuk is kicking away the stool, till it falls onto its side and the metal collides with the concrete floor with a raging clang. “Then why did you do it?”

Sanha whimpers, though he fights back his tears, refusing to let Minhyuk see them. “Like I said,” he hears himself mutter, though his tongue feels numb and heavy in his mouth. “You love this place.”

When Minhyuk speaks again, his voice is softer than before, and almost resembles his early morning voice, when he mumbles against his skin, before kissing the side of his neck. “I loved you more.” Sanha eyes snap closed as the tears fall now, unable to contain it. Minhyuk had used past tense. “And it’s a place. You said it yourself. This place,” he gestures wildly around him, eyes red and puffy and bottom lip trembling. Sanha wanted to wrap him up in his arms, but that didn’t belong to him anymore. “This is a building. It is four walls. My job made me happy, yes, and so did dancing. But Jesus Christ, Yoon Sanha! You made me happier than any of it! What had ever made you think I wasn’t happy?”

He’s panting, chest heaving, and Sanha’s heart has turned to dust, and sinks to the ground with the oil spills on the concrete, and the tire tracks etched into the asphalt.

“You never needed to buy my love, Sanha. I was yours. I was always yours. But shit, I think back now—were you ever even mine?” Sanha wants to argue back, but he had lost this war before it had even begun. “You’re a hypocrite Sanha. And you’re a liar. And you broke my heart.” He sounds tired, Sanha thinks; not from lack of sleep, but from everything else. From this. From him.

Minhyuk was tired of him.

Sanha wants to say something, anything, but everything feels lost to him now. Words hold no value, and his heart feels raw and bruised; and his love, the one that soars and hammers in his chest, that he had held just three days prior, feels lost to him now. Sanha chokes out what he thinks is an I’m sorry, but Minhyuk is shaking his head at him, and Sanha watches the way the movement flings tears from the end of his chin to the floor around him.

“Minhyuk, Minhyuk,” the name tastes like acid on his tongue, burning him from the inside out. “Please,” he begs, a sob eating away at him. “I love you. I love you. Don’t— don’t do this, please. Don’t do this.” Sanha knows what comes next, but he refuses to admit it. It can’t be real. Can it?

“You know what’s worse? The worst thing of all? The worst thing is I’m look at you right now and I’m so painfully in love with you still. It’s like, what you’ve done – your lies, your audacity to force things from me, when you kept all this to yourself; the fact that you knew right from the start that it was your father’s properties, and had kept that from me…the fact that you didn’t trust me. Despite all of that, all that I want to do is kiss you right now, and let you hold me and tell me everything’s going to be okay. I want you to tell me again that we’ll make each other happy. I want you to tell me that I’m yours and your mine. I want you to tell me that you love me.”

He wipes at his cheeks furiously.

“I was going to introduce you to my parents, Sanha. How could you? How…how did you live with yourself these past weeks? How could you hold me and tell me you love me, how could you—how could you kiss me and, what did you call it? That’s right! How could you make love to me and then hold my hand and walk around like nothing’s wrong? Did you feel guilty? Did you regret it?”

Sanha is numb. More than numb. Whatever is beyond numb, that is what Sanha is. Non-existent, perhaps.

“I don’t know what’s real anymore. Are you even real? I don’t know. You’ve ruined that. You’ve ruined me.”

He kicks the stool again, and lets out an agonised cry. “What’s the truth, Sanha? What’s the damn truth?”

He reaches and grabs a stack of papers from the workbench, and Sanha feels his heart clench when he realises it’s the newspaper clippings of the two of them, of the drawings Sanha had done for him, of the photos MJ and Bin had cut out of Sanha before they were dating. Minhyuk comes close enough to him to thrust the stack into his hands, but not close enough for Sanha to inhale his scent one last time.

“I can tell you the truth, Sanha.” Minhyuk grabs his keys from the bench, pockets his wallet, and shuts off his lamp before turning back to him. “The truth is you didn’t lose me. You lost yourself.”

When Minhyuk shuts down the main lights, and closes the roller door, he hears him mutter, “come see me when you find yourself again,” and then he’s gone. Sanha doesn’t know how long he stands there for, but when he moves, the sky is ink-black and the wind is crisp against his cheeks.

 

He gets inside his 1961 California Spider, drives himself home, and hangs his keys on the hook by the front door— where they remain, untouched, for the next seven months.

 

 

 

 

" It's like you're halfway through the chorus,

and you think the song is done. 

but baby take a minute,

so maybe we can try this time and make it past the bridge."

- Luca Fogale, 'I Don't Want to Lose You Now'

 

"take me with you,

take me with you,

take me with you,

take me with you."

- Fleurie, 'Take me With You'

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

"everything i want i have:

money, notoriety, and rivieras;

i even think i found god in the flashbulbs of the pretty cameras.

they all think i have it all,

but i've nothing without you.

all my dreams and all the lights mean nothing without you."

Lana Del Rey, 'Without You'

 

"drowned my blood in 90 proof,

forgot who i was,

but remembered you."

- Laila, '90 Proof'

 

 

Month One

 

Sad, Single and Solitary: The Rise and Fall of Yoon Sanha.

It can be understood that perhaps, amidst it all, Yoon Sanha is not doing good. Best friends of the reclusive socialite – lawyers Park Jinwoo and Lee Dongmin – have refused to make statements regarding the whereabouts of the hermitical billionaire. Whether this was done by raising a flattened hand to photographers and journalists alike at the past three charity events (all of which, Yoon Sanha had not made an appearance at, nor making a comment as to why not); or by simply telling our interviewers yesterday evening that they were ‘not in any position to speak on his [Yoon Sanha’s] behalf’ but that he is ‘doing good