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Writing songs for one person is rather hard, Chanyeol realizes.

It’s not that he isn’t used to it, that he hasn’t done it before. He’s been writing music for himself constantly, but he’s been trying harder recently, wanting to finally release something of his own to the world and make music he’d call of his own creation.

He’s proud of the songs he’s made, every one of them, each telling of a story in a moment in his life, all important. But as he looks back and listens to the files on the computer dating back to even before he had debuted, nothing seems right for now. He frowns, the lines of his mouth growing deeper as he listens to each audio file through several folders, several external drives he’s accumulated through the years, trying to see if anything strikes a chord with him now, something that he can say this version of himself would want to let everyone else hear it.

He comes up short, after several days of work. He feels very lost.

“You’ve been here for hours,” Sehun doesn’t bother knocking, settling easily into the worn couch in his studio. “You’re late for dinner again.   Junmyeon’s going to bitch at me tonight because of it.”

“Sorry,” he says, pushing his glasses up and rubbing at his eyes, trying not to let the disappointment seep into his bones. “I was working.”

“Still nothing?” he asks, crossing his legs and his eyebrow raised.

“You’d think there’d be something useable in these,” he mutters, thumbing through the drives on his desk, “but. Nothing.” he sighs, leaning back on his chair and letting his head drop, staring at the ceiling.

“Your songs are good, you know that,” Sehun says, tilting his head, and Chanyeol sighs again.

“It’s not that,” he tries to explain, a little frustrated that he can’t quite word his thoughts properly. “They don’t say what I want to say, none of it expresses who I am now.”

“So you’re back to square one?”

“Guess I am,” he says, breathing deeply. The dread and stress feels tangible on his skin, the need to do well and work hard and try not to fail. “I have to write a good number of new songs. This is much more stressful than I thought it would be.”

“I think you’re overthinking it,” Sehun says, lounging comfortably. He’s too casual. “Not – okay. Don’t get mad, but. Have you considered letting the writing team, other people-“

“No,” he says immediately, shaking his head. “It’s not that I won’t let other people help me. But I want this to be my effort. I want it to be my message, my expression. I want it to come from me.”

“Alright,” Sehun nods, relenting instantly. “I get it. So. What do you intend to do, then?”

“Write a new set. Present it, hope they like it enough to make it into an album,” he sighs, melting into his chair. He blinks at the ceiling light, brain buzzing aimlessly. “Ah. Shit.”

“Hmm,” Sehun hums, quiet for a moment, then he’s standing up, hand pulling Chanyeol up from his seat by the crook of his elbow. “Dinner. I refuse to take the brunt of the rant tonight.”

Chanyeol frowns at him, but goes easily.

.

The suits aren’t quite happy that he’d not been able to find anything from his many drives. They’re even less pleased that he won’t accept help from the writing team they want to provide him with, but he stands his ground as best as he can, knows he and his own team are more than good enough. Knows he can come up with the material himself.

“You’re going to give yourself a headache,” his manager had told him on the way back to the dorm, but he doesn’t say much else, nothing contradicting his support of a few pats against his thigh. It’s stupidly reassuring.

He has dinner alone in his studio that night as he tries to write, and the same happens the next day, then the next. By the end of the week, he’s eating most of his meals there, donuts and mochas in the mornings and sushi and whatever is easy the rest of the day. He eventually only goes back to the dorm to sleep, and even then it’s not even for the whole night.

“You’re working too hard,” Baekhyun comes barging into his studio one day, forgoing a knock like Sehun did. Yixing and Jongin trail behind him, much more quietly.

“Really?” he says, fights not to snap. He glares at the keyboard in front of him, sending an equally threatening look at his guitar settled across from him on the sofa. His dearest friends have betrayed him. “Because it doesn’t feel like it.”

“What’s wrong?” Yixing asks him, eyes blinking blearily. Chanyeol starts, realizes he must have just arrived from the airport, went straight to his studio to see him, and he sees the exhaustion lining his face.

He sighs, frustration deflating and he’s clearing off the other chairs so they can sit. “I’m just. I don’t know. I’m struggling. Nothing is coming out right.”

“Still nothing?” Jongin echoes Sehun from the week before, and the frustration at himself flares back up. He feels like he’s going nowhere.

“What am I doing wrong?” he mutters, and he pouts.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with you,” Baekhyun tells him, pushing aside takeout containers and taking a seat on the sofa. “I think you’re just being too hard on yourself. Working yourself ragged will do that. It might not sound the way you want to now, but maybe. Maybe you just need a fresh ear on it?”

“Maybe, um. Maybe ours?” Yixing yawns between phrases, and Chanyeol flinches, feeling a little guilty for being so whiny, when he’d come straight from the plane to see him.

“I’m embarrassed to let you hear it-“

“I’m sure it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be,” Jongin says, maneuvering around him to get at the mouse, moving it about to get at the rough recordings he’d been doing as he’d gone along.

His rough vocals and instrumentals echo through the room, blaring out of speakers, and he frowns at the sound of it, fights not to visibly wince. Track after track, nothing quite polished. Bits of stanzas and a few pieces that he thinks can be choruses, and he feels as incomplete as they sound. He blinks away the twitching of his eyes, and it’s only when Yixing places a hand on his thigh does he realize he’d been moving his legs restlessly.

“It’s good, all of it,” he’s telling Chanyeol. “Unfinished, but they’re on their way.”

“They’re shit.”

“They’re not,” Baekhyun says. “I know you have high standards for yourself, and I get it. But what you have isn’t shit, stop looking down on yourself.”

“I like this one,” Jongin plays one of the tracks again, and tries humming along. It’s wonderfully melodic when it comes from his mouth, but it still doesn’t sound quite right.

“You’ve worked hard, Chanyeol,” Yixing rubs at his eyes, and he’s standing, taking hold of his hand and gently pulling him up. “You need to rest. Start fresh on a new day.”

“Or at least after having a real meal that doesn’t come out of a takeout box,” Baekhyun says on a breath, giving him a concerned look.

“No, I’m fine,” Chanyeol gives a confused one back, and Baekhyun blinks at him. Then he’s standing up, taking Chanyeol’s and Yixing’s hands in each of his, and he’s physically leading them out of the studio.

Chanyeol squawks, almost tripping over. “Wait, I really do need to-“

“Just rest a bit, it might help,” Jongin says gently as he follows them, and Baekhyun is talking cheerily about barbecue and meat and soju over Yixing’s yawns and Chanyeol’s indignance.

Chanyeol doesn’t remember much after dinner. He’s a strong drinker, but the shots of alcohol kept coming, and he lets them, feeling himself unknot a little.

Next thing he knows, he wakes up to slight rustling, with his head aching, his neck suffering where he’d been laying down on, what he sleepily realizes, his keyboard. Looks up at the black screen of the monitor, and sees his cheek marked with imprints of the keys.

He blinks sleepily. Then he realizes he’s in his studio, and his head thuds when he tries to remember how he’d gotten here.

A hand appears under his nose, a painkiller miraculously placed on the palm. It’s on his hungover state that he blames that he drops his head, lips on the warm palm and he thinks he licks the skin a little bit as he takes the pill into his mouth. He thinks he should maybe be a little embarrassed, but the hand starts threading through his hair soothingly, and he melts.

“Drink up,” someone is saying, tone amused, and he nods warily, obeying diligently, thoughtlessly as a bottle is put to his mouth. “I thought you had higher tolerance than this.”

“They wouldn’t stop buying drinks,” he mumbles, blinking in the soft light. As he wakes up properly, his vision clearing slowly, Minseok is standing over him, petting his hair gently. He almost purrs, leaning into his touch, comforted. “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t come home with the others last night,” Minseok replies, and he blinks, remembers Junmyeon and Sehun relenting and walking him here when he wouldn’t stop whining about having to work and wanting to do well, holding him up on either side. “I wanted to check up on you.”

“Thank you,” he mumbles, sincere and sleepy. He sits up straighter, rolls his neck carefully and wincing at the sounds his body makes in protest. He looks around him, and the place is free of his trash, organized and clean. “You cleaned up.”

“I did, sorry,” Minseok replies. “The place needed it.”

“Thank you,” he hums, rubbing at his eyes. He looks down, realizing he’d been making notes on random takeout napkins in his drunken state the night before, and he frowns, not able to recall much clearly. He sighs, the notes almost useless if he can’t make sense of them.

“Chanyeol?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you alright?” Minseok asks him. He looks up, and his expression is genuine, concerned.

He sighs, feeling a little foolish and flustered for making everyone worry so much over him for something that shouldn’t be so stressful in the first place. “I’m fine. A little tired. Frustrated, kind of worried.”

“Your music shouldn’t make you so stressed,” he says, and he takes the chair next to Chanyeol’s and sits down. “What is it that’s making you so wound up?”

“I think I’m just overthinking it,” Chanyeol says, and Minseok’s eyes are calm, steady as they watch him intently. “I want it to be good, want everyone to like it.”

“Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.”

“That’s a lot simpler to say than to actually do,” he says, and Minseok patiently pats his thigh.

“Will you play something for me?” Minseok asks, and Chanyeol wants to say no, frown already in place. But he breathes, thinks. Knows Minseok is honest with his opinions and means well, always wants the best for all of them, takes care of them as best as he can.

He trusts him, and with that thought he turns the computer on, and they go through the recordings together.

Minseok is quiet throughout, listening intently, and Chanyeol steals glances at him, looking for his reactions.

“They’re beautiful,” he’s told when the last track plays. “Do you not like them?”

“It’s not, I mean. I’m not happy, yet,” he explains. “They don’t sound, they aren’t. They’re not there, it’s not what I want.”

“Maybe, you need to hear it another way?” Minseok says, and he’s moving the chair closer, reaching over for the discarded napkins and a pen, and he plays through the tracks again, humming and making a noise when he stops at one of the latter pieces. Chanyeol blinks, because this one. This one was something he’d been grasping at straws with. One he was sure he liked enough to keep working on, but could not think of ways to improve without wanting to pull his hair out of his head.

They listen to it a few times, repeating it again and again, until Minseok starts singing along, harmonizing softly, making notes as he does so.

Chanyeol looks at him, listening as Minseok plays with the melody a little, and the weight on his chest lifts slightly, a strange sensation making his skin thrum as his brain processes what he’s hearing.

The napkin is slid to him, and as the song plays again, he listens to his recorded voice, Minseok’s soft tone singing in harmony and changing the sound slightly, more poignant and light but he reads the notes, reading over the few changed words in the lyrics Minseok had taken down, and. It sounds, feels like a completely different song, though he knows the changes were minimal. It’s. The song feels like it’s almost there, with Minseok’s voice flitting over his own and making the song live.

“Shit,” he breathes, and he’s leaning forward, blinking away wetness gathering in the corners of his eyes, and he’s not even embarrassed to be so emotional over the relief in his chest.

“Wh- I’m sorry,” Minseok is saying, a little panicked, “I thought – I’m making things worse-“

“You’re not,” Chanyeol says, and he burrows himself in Minseok’s arms, curling up as best as he can, as close as he can without actually climbing into his lap. “What you did, nothing could be further from ‘making things worse.’ Thank you.”

Minseok pauses, then pats his back soothingly, playing with his hair. “I didn’t do much.”

“More than enough,” Chanyeol huffs under his breath, thumping his head against his shoulder, as if it will knock any sense into him and just take his gratitude as is.

Minseok just laughs, but it doesn’t sound mean.

.

“Take a shower,” is the first thing Junmyeon says when he and Minseok get back to the dorm after having breakfast out.

“Good morning, Junmyeon,” he says, and Minseok just snorts, heading straight for the coffee machine.

“Did you get anything done last night?” he asks, tone significantly less blunt, and Chanyeol settles on the table, blinking at the cup slid in front of him. He looks up, and Minseok drinks from his own coffee, nodding his head down at the drink he’d given him.

“It will help, if you’re planning to go back to your studio later,” he says, and it’s rather thoughtful.

Chanyeol nods, thanking him quietly, and takes a small sip, tasting the coffee. Minseok’s made it just the way he likes it, strong but sweet, and he sighs, leaning his head against Minseok’s hip in extended gratitude. His hair is ruffled in turn.

“Not much, just some lyrics I don’t understand, on these,” he answers Junmyeon, bringing out the tissues and placing them on the table. He stares at them forlornly, but he brightens up at Minseok’s handwriting. “But Minnie helped me with a song this morning.”

“I didn’t do much.”

“He helped a lot!” he reiterates, elbows on the table and emphasizing his gestures, eyes wide and beaming at their leader. He’s starting to feel a bit more himself, and it’s doing wonders for his mood, getting even just a little bit right.

“That’s good,” Junmyeon smiles at them both. “But you really should at least take a shower, before you go back.”

“Come with me,” he beams then at Minseok, who gives him an apologetic smile.

“I have make-up classes today,” he says. “And I won’t be able to do much, I won’t be of help.”

He frowns, opens his mouth to refute him strongly with a few choice words, but Minseok pats at his shoulder before he can say anything, smiling at them both as he takes his leave.

“Did he really make that much of a difference?” Junmyeon asks him, and Chanyeol turns to look back at him, eyes blazing.

“He’s a miracle worker.”

“Hmm,” Junmyeon just hums, standing up to clear his dishes, clearly not seeing that Chanyeol is completely serious, and he’s frustrated all over again.

He takes that shower, goes back. Fidgets around with his team in the studio, feeling a sense of accomplishment when they’re getting somewhere finally, and the song is more or less complete by early afternoon, but as he listens back to it, feels like it’s still unfinished. It takes a beat, and he realizes what’s missing.

He sends the refined recording to Minseok, and it takes ten minutes for him to reply with, ‘it’s good. great job yeol.’

He doesn’t bother texting back, hitting the call button instead. “Are your classes done?”

“Not yet. Soon,” he can hear the lecture ongoing on the other line, and he feels a slight sense of guilt for bothering Minseok, but he’s too excited. “What is it?”

“Can you come to the studio?” he’s asking in a rush. “Can you record a bit or two? Or a lot?” he adds in a murmur at the end, but he’s sure it’s heard.

“Huh? Why me?” the confusion coating Minseok’s tone thoroughly. “I’m sure you and your-“

“No, no, hear me out,” he says, standing up and pacing a little, too much energy in his veins. “I’ve tried, we’ve tried. You make a difference, a big one. I can’t, we can’t, get it to sound the way you did this morning. Your voice. It changes it completely. Please, please.”

“I’m not sure, Chanyeol,” his voice is uneasy.

“Minnie, please,” he’s not beyond begging in a cute tone, and the others in the room snort into their coffees. He ignores them promptly.

He hears a sigh on the other end, and he grins. “I still don’t think I’m making that much of a difference, but. Fine, I’ll come by in a few hours.”

“Thank you,” he doesn’t hide his grin, hopes it bleeds through his voice and that Minseok can hear it through the receiver.

“Why him in particular?” one of them asks him once he says his goodbyes. “Couldn’t any of the other members do it, if you were so keen?”

“They can, but it won’t come out the same way,” he says, determined. “You didn’t hear it, you didn’t hear him. Trust me.”

They look reluctant, but they let up and turn their attention to some of the other material in the following few hours. They look all the more reluctant when Minseok shows up like he said, looking soft and tired, but still polite as he bows to greet them all, smiling when Chanyeol grins at him, ushering him in with cuddles.

They don’t look so reluctant when he records the verses, harmonies and backing vocals, and when they record together, they finally hear it.

Chanyeol is so thankful and happy he takes Minseok’s face in his hands, not even bothering to walk out of the booth or remove their recording equipment, before kissing his cheek, not giving him much opportunity to move away.

“Thank you, Minnie,” he says, squeezing him tight. Minseok just makes a tired but content sound, rubbing his back as they hug. “Will you stay? I’ll order in whatever you want for dinner, please.”

Minseok sighs, pinching his side, but he doesn’t say no.

He stays, even when the team leaves after they had eaten, clearly not wanting to leave Chanyeol by himself even though he was dead on his feet.

“You don’t have to stay,” Chanyeol tells him, guilt drowning him full force now as he glances back at Minseok on the sofa, recliner and blinking blearily. “You’ve done so much today, you shouldn’t have to wait for me.”

“Don’t want you to be left here alone,” he answers, fighting a yawn. He’s deceivingly adorable, but sincere and always taking care of them in the ways he can. “It feels like you’ve made a lot of progress. I’m glad.”

“Still quite a lot to go, but we’re getting somewhere,” he says, tapping at the keyboard, playing around with the instrumentals. He frowns at the yawn that escapes Minseok’s mouth, making his face scrunch up and the slow way his eyes flutter open and close is stupidly endearing. “Maybe you should rest-“

“You left this at home,” Minseok cuts him off pointedly, ending the topic, and reaching into his jacket and handing over the napkins from that morning. “I rearranged them, I hope you don’t mind. I, um, might have written some things there, I’m sorry. Had to do something when the lecture was getting too long, a while ago.”

Chanyeol waves him off, taking the tissues, and he looks through them aimlessly, not expecting much, but. As he’s thumbing through each leaf of paper, reading his own shaky, practically scratchwork characters and those added by Minseok with a much cleaner, much steadier and sober hand, the phrases begin to make sense. As if his thoughts were completed, written by another hand, forming his message with seemingly simple efforts.

“How did you,” Chanyeol looks at him, then looks back at their collective efforts, dumbfounded. It had surprised him, earlier, made him emotional. It surprises him now, and he’s still emotional, but more than that, he’s thinking. This isn’t a fluke. He looks back at Minseok, eyes wide and he’s sniffing, “You fixed it.”

“Don’t exaggerate.”

“No,” he says, and he’s putting down the napkins, rolling the chair over and taking Minseok’s hands in his, staring at him solemnly. “I haven’t been able to move forward in days. Then you come in and things are coming into place.”

“I didn’t do anything, Chanyeol,” Minseok is shaking his head, “A few words, another voice isn’t changing anything-“

“But it is,” he says, a little frustrated. He frowns, “Even if you think this isn’t much, it really is.”

“You’re just tired-“

“Help me with this one,” he says immediately, determined to make him see. Minseok rolls his eyes, but listens when Chanyeol plays a recording from earlier that day.

After a few listens familiarizing to the track, he’s singing in second voice to the melody, voice soft, a wonderful foil to Chanyeol’s deep tone and balancing the song the way Chanyeol knew it would. He improvises when he’s prodded incessantly to, and with each line and note, the more smug Chanyeol feels with proving his point.

“Please, please help me,” Chanyeol asks him as soon as the song winds down, eyes wide and pout on his lips. “I know you have your own schedules and this is asking a lot, but I didn’t like the way my sound was turning out to be, until you came in.”

“You sound like you’re about to do a romantic declaration-“

“You complete me, Kim Minseok,” he says in all seriousness, making the statement come to fruition, brightening his expression and taking Minseok’s surprised face in his hands. “I need you. My music needs you.”

“Stop being so dramatic,” Minseok is saying, blushing and his eyes round and shocked.

“Only if you help me.”

“Stop touching my face!”

“Only if you help me.”

“This is supposed to be your album-“

“And I want you in it,” he says, moving closer until they’re almost nose to nose. “I know you know it makes sense.”

“It literally doesn’t-“

“Please, Minnie,” he says, abandoning the cute voice he’d been using and mustering every bit of sincerity he has, the meaningful look and tone overtaking his whole self. “I. I don’t actually know what I’m doing. I need help. Your help. Please.”

Minseok pauses, looks at him. Chanyeol sits still lets him read his face, and hopes he can see how much it means to him.

He must find what he’s looking for, because he sighs, forehead leaning on his, “Okay. I don’t think I’ll be of much help, but-“

Chanyeol is too thankful and relieved to let him finish, and he’s tackling him onto the sofa, sprawling over him and hugging him tightly.

.

“I’ve...never seen this place so fixed,” Kyungsoo blinks as he and Sehun step into the studio, looking around them.

“Minseok,” Chanyeol says as his way of answering, and Minseok just hums out a lovely tune Chanyeol tries to commit to memory, feels strongly it will find its way into a song, as he’s arranging the documents on the far side. “He’s very nice, he doesn’t have to, but he does.”

“You clearly didn’t see the state of this place, then?” Minseok cocks an eyebrow at him.

Chanyeol smiles sheepishly, strumming at his guitar, “It wasn’t that bad.”

Minseok just hums the same tune again, and Chanyeol manages to record it on his phone.

“How much have you got done?” Sehun asks, pulling down Minseok to sit next to him in the sofa and cuddling with him. Minseok barely reacts, unphased and merely angling his body so Sehun is more comfortably tucked into his side, letting him burrow his face in his neck. Kyungsoo is slightly more subtle but no less affectionate, sitting on his other side and holding his hands in both of his.

“I think we almost have enough for a mini album,” Minseok tells them, and Chanyeol huffs at him.

“We have enough for an album and a repackage,” he corrects, bristling. Minseok snickers at him, but he just huffs again, playing the first track they’d finished, just a little less than a week since then, to let them listen to what they’ve been doing.

Kyungsoo tilts his head, Sehun sits up a bit straighter. The production choice he’d made had been to make it simple, a gentle percussive rhythm and clear harmonies, more of an alternative sound than what they usually do as nine, different, something of a risk.

“You fixed it,” Sehun says, directing it to Minseok, who frowns at him.

“Think you should be saying that to Chanyeol-“

“You fixed it,” he just repeats, squeezing at his arm.

“It’s really. Sad,” Kyungsoo says slowly, thoughtfully. “But the tone is bright.”

“It’s personal,” Chanyeol admits quietly, drumming his fingers on the table. “Wanted it to sound that way.”

“Intimate,” Minseok says simply, and. That’s exactly the word.

“You’re in it a lot,” Kyungsoo says to Minseok, who blinks at him, then at Chanyeol.

“I am,” he says slowly, realizing belatedly. He frowns, the expression not suiting his face, “You’re right. That’s not the final cut, is it? You should fix it.”

“What’s to fix?” Chanyeol says, frowning. “This is the way it should be. It needs you there.”

“You gave me full verses,” Minseok says, frowning back at him. “And a lot of the chorus. You can’t release that on a solo album.”

“Your voices sound good together,” Sehun remarks. “It would be a shame to not hear it this way. It’s really very lovely.”

Chanyeol widens his eyes at Minseok, as if the comment would prove his point with the arrangement he’d chosen. He’s just given a long-suffering look that clearly says, ‘don’t start this now.’

They listen to the other pieces they’ve done, and Sehun and Kyungsoo are a good audience, offering comments and the occasional suggestion, but those don’t come as often as the compliments. Minseok is silent, as he is usually, but Chanyeol knows by the look on his face that he doesn’t miss the way his voice and his own contributions to the songs are ever present, in everything that he’s done so far.

He brings it up, “What did you do?”

“What do you mean?” Chanyeol asks in return, knowing full well what he means.

“I thought I was doing harmonies, background vocals. Everything I’m hearing is half me,” he says, his stare blank when directed at him. “What did you do? Fix them. This is your music.”

“It’s ours,” he corrects, beaming. The look he gets back is withering, but he stands his ground. “It sounds good, you can’t deny that, Minnie.”

“You can’t possibly present this for consideration as is,” Minseok says. “You’re making a solo album, Yeol, you have to think.”

“It, well. It does sound pretty good this way,” Kyungsoo says.

“It’s pretty flawless,” Sehun says, almost as an afterthought.

“We’re not making a unit album, Chanyeol, you know that.”

“You’re in it so much, it might as well be,” Sehun says to Minseok, amused and chuckling, Kyungsoo breaking into a reluctant smile as well. Minseok glares at them both, then at Chanyeol, but he doesn’t react, barely even registers the look, his brain reeling in from what they’d just said.

Chanyeol hadn’t known. He didn’t know they could work this well together, just them two. The music is him, it’s them, and he doesn’t want to change it, knows he shouldn’t. Knows that if these songs were to be heard, it should be with them both in it.

It would be very much a waste, if he doesn’t try.

.

“I’d like to release music. In a sub-unit, with Xiumin.”

The suits look up from their documents and phones in the conference room, and Chanyeol breathes hard from where he’s standing near the entrance, his heart hammering against his chest. He feels wide awake and terrified and nervous as hell, horribly underdressed in his holey jeans and even holier sweater, but he tries to look as dignified as he can, hoping the glasses on his face are enough to make him look serious.

He pauses, thinks. Then bows low, feeling very stupid for his outburst. “I’m sorry. Good morning.”

“Good morning, Chanyeol,” they greet him, gesturing to a seat at the table which he walks to slowly, settling down and exhaling a deep breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding.

“Forgive my outburst,” he says, shy and embarrassed. “I’m just nervous.”

“That’s alright,” he looks up and wants to die a little when it’s Lee Sooman who addresses him. He hadn’t been expecting him, here. He stands up again just to bow, to which he’s waved off and told, “No, it’s alright, really.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, blushing and wanting to melt into the ground. “I wasn’t expecting to see you, sir.”

“I just finished a meeting overseeing the new talents,” he says, and he looks at Chanyeol, waiting patiently. “And I’d been aware you were making music. I was under the impression you were hoping for a solo debut, however.”

“Yes, well,” he says, sliding up his glasses up his nose, his skin sweaty from nervousness. “My plans changed.”

“What made them change?”

“Minseok,” he answers, and they’re all surprised.

“Really?” someone else says. “Xiumin? Curious.”

“How so, sir?” he asks.

“Well, you’re undoubtedly popular enough for a solo career,” he answers, and Chanyeol sniffs, biting his lips. “But, if you were to be put in a unit, many of us thought. Sehun, or Kai. Even D.O., but not with a member already in an active sub-unit, much less Xiumin.”

“May I ask, why not him?” he says, keeping his irritation under his skin and hoping it doesn’t show.

“Because Chen, Baekhyun. They may more be suited to your talents,” someone else says, and he bristles. Doesn’t like the way they’re insinuating that Minseok is less talented than any of them, that he wouldn’t be able to shine and hold his own.

“Forgive me, sir, but please don’t underestimate him,” he says, and he brings out a flash drive from his pocket, laying it on the table. “If I may, I’d like for you to listen to what we’ve made together.”

They listen to the demos, quiet and most of their faces void of reactions, and Chanyeol is shaking, breathing hard and trying not to focus on their expressions. He listens to the music instead, feels a certain sense of pride and relief and not quite confidence, but knowing that the music is good. If they don’t, and say no to allowing him to release them with the two of them in it, he’d be at a loss. He knows he doesn’t want to release these songs as a solo artist, and it would be doing them an injustice.

“You wrote and composed everything?” Mr. Lee asks him in the midst of Been Here. The first one, the one that changed everything.

“We did, sir,” he emphasizes. “We collaborate well.”

“You do,” he says in reply thoughtfully. Chanyeol inhales sharply, his heart rate picking up.

“The material is solid,” another one of them says. “It’s good. But, a sub-unit, it doesn’t seem realistic.”

“CBX is due for a comeback later in the next year as well,” someone else is saying, and Chanyeol sits still, waiting for an opportunity to speak. “Maybe, what we can do, is a Station-“

“Sir, with all due respect,” he says, his window closing, “I would be thankful for any chance you give us, or me, if it came to that. But, Xiumin and I, we are different in the ways that gives us just enough contrast, and we balance each other out. Better than I expected. We work well together, and as a unit, I’m sure we will do well because we’re unexpected, and it might not make sense on paper, but you have heard with what I’ve let you listen to. We do. We will work very hard to prove that.”

No one speaks for a long while. Chanyeol feels like every breath he’s making is too loud.

“We will think about it,” Lee Sooman says, and Chanyeol looks at him. “Quite bold of you, to present this. We will discuss it, to be fair to you.”

“That’s all I ask, sir,” he says, standing, bowing. “Thank you for your time. I’m sorry to have disturbed. I’ll take my leave.”

“Thank you, Chanyeol,” is the last thing he hears before he ushers himself out, his legs feeling like lead.

.

It takes two weeks.

Chanyeol loses hope, sullen but trying not to show it, thinking about the prospect of writing new songs, for him alone, and. He dreads it, which is a new sensation.

Then, early in the morning when all of them are in the practice room rehearsing for the end of year shows, Seunghwan beckons him over between songs.

He blinks, but walks over, but then he’s also saying, “Minseok, you too.”

Minseok blinks as well from under his cap, Jongdae and Junmyeon mirroring his confused, curious expression next to him, but does as he’s told, standing next to Chanyeol.

“They want to see the two of you for a meeting, tomorrow. Be ready to leave by 9:30,” they’re told.

They look at each other, then back at him.

“Just us?” Chanyeol asks, feeling like several weights have just dropped to the pit of his stomach. If he’d gotten Minseok in trouble as well for what he’d done, or tried to do.

“Just the two of you,” he confirms, and he’s leaving, leaving them confused, and on Chanyeol’s end, sick with worry.

“What was that about?” Jongdae asks, and Minseok shrugs his shoulders, not looking so bothered or concerned, and Chanyeol feels like sinking into the floor, and he finds himself no speaking the rest of the practice.

He’s quiet as well in the ride going to the company the next morning, but Minseok is quiet as well, looking aimlessly through his phone, and Chanyeol prays silently and staring at the ceiling of the van that he doesn’t get them both in trouble.

“You’re very convincing, Mr. Park,” is the first thing that’s said to them after they’ve greeted everyone and settled in their seats. There are fewer people today than there had been when Chanyeol burst in a few weeks ago, but Lee Sooman is there still, sitting quietly in the corner.

Minseok blinks, looks at him, then back at the table at large, still not saying anything.

The feeling slowly returns to Chanyeol’s limbs as he words sink in, slow it might be.

“The music you’ve presented to us,” someone is saying, and Minseok’s eyes widen, and he looks at Chanyeol, searching, but neither of them say anything. “It is raw, but the sound and the direction it’s taking is clear. We will put it to work, yes? But you will have your final says, we will work together to keep the songs’ integrities.”

“And, after much discussion,” Chanyeol thinks as if with the rate it’s going, his heart will beat right out of his body, “We have come to the same conclusion as you. A sub-unit, with the two of you, would be the best vehicle for this sound.”

“Excuse me?” Minseok says, his eyes round in shocked confusion. He looks at Chanyeol, “I’m sorry. What do you mean?”

“So I see Mr. Park proceeded with the presentation without consulting his writing partner,” Mr. Lee says suddenly, thoughtfully, and Minseok looks even more surprised, before dropping it altogether and his face turns blank. Chanyeol is deathly afraid of the expression. “We were initially under the impression he was looking to make a solo album.”

“So was I,” Minseok says. His voice is scarily neutral.

“Well, we were convinced to consider the two of you, in a unit,” he says further. “After much discussion, and several repeat listens of your material, we’re compelled to agree. It’s a surprise combination, but with much merit. We think you will do well.”

“So do I,” Chanyeol says, getting a grip on himself, feeling happy and relieved, but apprehensive at Minseok’s lack of visible reaction. “I know we can.”

“The opportunity is there, if you want to take it.”

“Thank you very much, but I wish to discuss this with Chanyeol,” Minseok says before he can say anything, straight face still in full effect. “I don’t mean to be rude. I would just like the time to think about this thoroughly.”

“Alright, that’s understood,” they don’t sound surprised, merely nodding when Minseok stands, bowing to them and saying his goodbyes, still ever so polite despite his obvious anger. 

Chanyeol scrambles after him, bowing and rushing his greetings and running to chase him to the elevators.

Minseok is silent, stoic throughout, not looking once at him on the way down, through the lobby, only turns to glare at him once they’re in the car driving back to the dorm.

“Minseok,” he breaks the silence, unable to tolerate it much longer, feeling apologetic and anxious. “Please let me explain-“

“Not only did you not change the song arrangements like I asked you to,” Minseok cuts him off, and he’s mostly always quiet, but hardly ever cold. Chanyeol doesn’t like his odds now. “But you went ahead and asked for a sub-unit without asking me.”

“Do you not want to be in one with me?” he asks, trying not to look hurt, but his mouth points down of its own accord, betraying him.

“That’s not the point,” Minseok huffs out, squeezing the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Chanyeol, I was just supposed to be helping you with your music, because you asked me to. I didn’t agree to this. I wouldn’t, I already have CBX.”

“You can have more than one sub-unit,” he says, failing to keep his hurt out of his voice. “And we work well together.”

“It’s not – do you not understand that I’m angry because you didn’t think to ask me, first?” The driver and Seunghwan are silent in the front, and Chanyeol feels like they’re invading something private. He feels irrationally annoyed at them for being present in the car, but he chastises himself silently a moment later. “And, a unit? With me? Out of all of us?”

“What do you mean by that?” Chanyeol frowns at him, crossing his arms. “What’s wrong with us being a duo?”

“Because it’s me,” he replies, and Chanyeol breathes hard through his nose. “Because why choose me when Sehun or Jongin or literally any of the others are right there?”

“They said the same thing,” he mutters under his breath. It’s not quiet enough.

“Well, I’m inclined to agree with them,” Minseok says, voice clear and devastating. Chanyeol snaps.

“Well, I don’t,” he doesn’t quite yell, but it’s still loud in the confines of the van. “Kyungsoo and Sehun, they’ve heard it too, they said that we would make a good team-“

“That was a joke, Yeol,” Minseok is just as loud in turn, and his eyes are deadly. A handsome face, quiet and kind always but now dangerous, and Chanyeol’s never had it directed at him like this.

“It wasn’t to me!”

“I’m not doing this with you now,” Minseok just huffs out, angling his body towards the window and away from him. “You went behind my back-“

“I’m sorry,” Chanyeol means it with everything he has. “I was excited and I wasn’t thinking straight. But I don’t want to make this music without you. We work so well together, you make me work harder and I want to do this with you.”

Minseok ignores him, staring out the window and crossing his arms across his chest.

His hope falls, but he tries. “Please, Minnie. Please, please think about it.”

The ride back is quiet, and so is the rest of the night. Chanyeol had expected that. He didn’t expect the rest of the week to be the same, though.

.

“Where’s he going?” Chanyeol asks Jongdae, watching as Minseok goes out the door, dressed and quiet and unassuming, paying them no mind.

“Didn’t say,” Jongdae replies, sipping his drink. It’s quiet, most of the other members still asleep, and Chanyeol wonders why he isn’t. “He probably has class today. Why? Is he still not talking to you?”

“No,” he answers, sighing.

“I wouldn’t be so disheartened,” he says. “He’s not really talking to anyone else, either. More than usual.”

“Not even you?” When Jongdae shakes his head, Chanyeol drops his head to the table, groaning. “Is he that angry?”

“Well, what did you do?” he asks casually, “It would depend on that.”

“Wait,” he lifts his head from the table, staring at him. “He didn’t tell you what happened?”

“I told you, he’s not talking to anyone,” he says simply.

Chanyeol blinks. Then, he says slowly, “I presented the cuts we made, all the versions with him in it. And I asked if we could promote the music, as a unit, the two of us. And. I also didn’t tell Minseok before I asked.”

“You shit, I’d be mad too,” Jongdae chastises him, but he’s laughing, clearly amused. “You’re too old to be this impulsive.”

“I know,” he sighs, feeling a little pathetic. “Help, Dae.”

“Help yourself,” Jongdae just snorts at him.

Chanyeol groans again, thumping his head against the table, and he bemoans his present. “You know the worst part of it?”

Jongdae hums, and Chanyeol sets his chin on his crossed arms on the table, pouting. “I still hope he’ll say yes, even though I know it’s a lost cause. I really, truly don’t want want to do this without him. I know it’s selfish, I know I should have talked to him about it. But he’s so talented, and I know we would be a great team. He should be able to see that we would, and that he can shine, show everyone that he‘s so much more than what everyone thinks of him.”

“You want him that bad?” Jongdae raises an eyebrow, and Chanyeol huffs.

“Yes, I do,” he answers seriously, sniffing. “We would have made a great tandem. Fire and ice, you know? Kitten and puppy. Opposites can make great pairs.”

“Fire and ice?”

“We could have named ourselves that,” he says, dreaming a little. “EXO-IcyFire, or. EXO-HotIce, or-“

“Those are awful,” Jongdae says frankly, butting in. Chanyeol sniffs, hiding his face in his arms, feeling terrible. “But I wouldn’t worry. Minseok, you know, he’s not the type to hold a grudge.”

“He hasn’t spoken to me in days.”

“You did something pretty shitty, give him time to stew,” he says, polishing off his drink and standing to clean up after himself. Chanyeol sighs, resting his cheek on the table and whining to himself and his fate.

The rest of the day passes in a blur, and Minseok doesn’t come back until late in the afternoon, and Chanyeol jumps and almost trips over his feet when he walks into the kitchen to treat himself to a pity popsicle and sees Minseok leaning on the counter, drinking deeply from a coffee cup.

“Careful,” Minseok says dryly, and Chanyeol presses his palm to his chest, exhaling and inhaling deeply as he tries to get his breathing back to stability.

“I wasn’t - wasn’t expecting you,” he huffs out, leaning his forehead against the cool metal of the refrigerator door.

“Where’s everyone else?” Minseok asks him, tone airy, but still infuriatingly neutral.

“They went shopping, I opted out,” he replies, and Minseok hums.

It’s quiet, and it’s agonizing, and Chanyeol’s not used to it.

He fidgets, knows he should face the problem but he doesn’t know how to begin. He turns to leave, but Minseok is saying lightly, “I had a meeting today.”

Chanyeol looks back, blinking. “A meeting?”

He nods, takes another sip from his cup. “About the unit. Told them I’d come to a decision.”

Chanyeol’s heart plummets, and he doesn’t hide it. But he swallows his pride, and says, “I’m sorry, Minseok. I should have asked you first.”

“You should have,” Minseok replies, and he’s looking at Chanyeol. He can’t read his expression, and it irks him, makes him feel nervous.

“I’m sorry,” he just repeats.

“And Dae’s been texting me,” he says further, his voice so relaxed and casual and Chanyeol is restless, doesn’t understand why it sounds that way. Can’t figure it out. “Mentioned something about names-“

“Ah, fuck,” he mutters, blush spreading across his cheeks.

“There is no way,” Minseok says, emphasizing each word carefully, “that we will be promoting. As ‘IcyFire.’”

“I know, it’s stupid, I was just daydreaming,” Chanyeol rambles, shaking his head and feeling embarrassed, and then the words Minseok had spoken sink in a little more. He freezes, blinks, and stares at him, his mouth agape and his heart beating hard and fast in his chest. “What? What did you say? ‘We will be promoting?!’ Minnie?!”

“Hmm,” Minseok just hums, closing his eyes and finishing his drink, but the small smile on his face is more than enough to fuel Chanyeol to crash into him and gather him in a gangly-limbed embrace with many kisses across his perfect face.

.

It is wonderfully easy to work with Minseok, and most of the process is seamless, effortless. Re-recording and polishing off the sound they’d created together hardly feels like work, deciding on the concept and visuals are almost fun, easy, and they match so well. Even discussions of choreography aren’t as painful as they usually are, and Chanyeol is excited to get to work.

Funnily enough, it’s the discussions on their name and logo that are the most time-consuming and excruciating.

He watches Minseok doodle aimlessly across him as the managers, the suits try to engage them a little more, but they’ve been in the conference room for hours, brainstormed until their brains were empty, and Chanyeol frankly would rather be practicing their dance routine, which insinuates a lot about the direction the meeting has taken.

“We can’t move forward without a name,” someone is saying, exasperated. Chanyeol barely registers the words, catches his reflection on Minseok's new round, thin-wire glasses, and this album’s styling is a good look on him. With his natural black hair, messy and curly and falling over his forehead softly, Chanyeol thinks he’s never looked better, can stare at him all day. He often finds that he does, now.

“We would have less problems if you just agreed to IcyFire,” Chanyeol mutters at Minseok. The look he gets in turn is dangerous, and also, frankly, attractive as hell.

“No,” Minseok glares at him, tone final, glasses slipping slightly on his nose.

“Literally, no name means no logo, nothing to print on posters and on advertising materials and teasers, nothing. We need a name,” someone else says, tired and desperate. “We can’t leave the mock-ups blank at this point, we can’t promote a group with no name.”

“May we sleep on this, talk about this tomorrow?” Chanyeol asks, and Seunghwan stares at him.

“You said that a few days ago,” someone reminds him, tone bored, “and last week as well, and the week before that.”

“We need a name.”

“Why don’t you decide, sir?”

“You didn’t like anything we’ve suggested,” they remind him, and Chanyeol hums, remembers. ‘IcyFire’ has looked like a dream compared to anything they’d given them, but he’s sure they worked hard.

“What about your initials?”

“Too confusing, since CBX took that idea already,” Minseok says calmly, doodling still.

Chanyeol frowns at him, huffing a little. “Well, what would you suggest?”

He doesn’t say anything, choosing instead to slide out the paper he’d been drawing on. Written all over it-

“160,” he says casually. “99 and 61, equals 160. Our numbers added together. EXO 160.”

Doodles all over the paper are variations of the number, drawn in straight lines and Chanyeol realizes. He’d been deriving it from EXO’s main logo, hiding the numbers within the letters in clean lines and angles, and the drawings are crude, but the idea is clear.

“160,” he echoes, the words leaving his lips, feeling. Appropriate, right, like home, natural. He blinks, and looks at Minseok, “You had this and didn’t think to mention it earlier?”

Minseok shrugs, tapping his pen against the table. “Was just an idea, didn’t seem like much.”

“Why are you like this,” Chanyeol says under his breath, but his tone is light, relieved. Seems to feel a lot of relief and lightness and joy wherever Minseok is concerned, these days. “EXO 160. It sounds about right.”

The rest of the table stares at them for a moment, then there are sighs surrounding them, of relief and of exhaustion, and it’s a whole mountain climbed.

“Thank you for your hard work,” they stand together, bowing to everyone, and they’re greeted in turn, though they don’t miss the murmurs of ‘finally informing the design team-‘

.

“We have something to tell all of you,” Chanyeol clears his throat, projecting his voice over the din of seven men arguing over seats on the couch and whose beer bottle was whose.

Minseok is sat quietly on the drawn up chair from the kitchen a few feet away from him, scrolling on his phone and clearly feeling like he needs to do nothing further, since he’d done his part of the plan and gathered the other members into the lounge area for their announcement.

Chanyeol frowns at him, prodding and kicking at his foot, but Minseok ignores him, looking like a work of art while doing so. He sighs, and looks to the rest of the group, standing straight and clapping his hands together.

“Where’s dinner?” Jongdae says just as he’s opening his mouth to begin, and Chanyeol furrows his eyebrows at him, offended at being interrupted. “Minnie promised us dinner?”

“Marinating in the fridge,” Minseok says, not looking up from his phone. “Let Chanyeol speak, he’s been working himself up over this.”

Chanyeol glares at him reproachfully, pouting, but gets no reaction. He sighs, and turns back to the others, beginning, “Thank you, for gathering so promptly. We just have something to say.”

“Why are you so serious?” Baekhyun pipes up, sandwiched between Junmyeon and Yixing, legs swung over Yixing’s lap. “Seems ominous.”

“Well, I was just. Not feeling very well, a little more than a month ago, you all know this,” he starts, and they straighten up in their seats. “With my music, but it wasn’t just that. I was, I felt weird and I wasn’t eating right and not sleeping properly and everything. Then Minseok came in and helped a lot, but I had a change of plans, some unexpected stuff, and - do you want to jump in?” he pauses, catching the weird look Minseok is giving him.

“I. I’m not sure,” he replies, frowning as he’s watching him, and Chanyeol looks to the rest of the room, suddenly so deadly silent, staring at him and looking pale. Sehun and Junmyeon have grips so tight on their bottles, he feels that just a bit tighter, they’ll shatter in their hands.

Chanyeol gulps, feeling awful all of a sudden, maybe they wouldn’t be so approving of the two of them becoming a unit, had thought they would, because he’d told Jongdae, and Sehun and Kyungsoo had been there the day he’d gotten the idea and it came from their mouths, anyway, that they would work well together. He’s not so sure now.

“I mean, of course I talked to people, got second opinions and everything,” he says, and he sees Minseok’s jaw actually drop, but he powers through, feeling tentative and like he has to be twice as careful moving forward. “And I just wanted to tell you all, because we don’t have much time before – yeah, and we have to do as much as we can, right? And we hope you all will be supportive-“

“Why are you like this,” Minseok groans, standing up, and Chanyeol looks at him, upset that he’d been interrupted again. He stands straight in front of the others, Xiumin mode, starts, “One, two, three; 99-“

“61,” Chanyeol says automatically for their greeting, but still looks at him, confused.

“We are EXO 160, hello to you all,” they do identical thumbs up and bow together, before standing back up.

“We’re a sub-unit, that’s it,” Minseok tells the others directly. “No one is sick, no one is going anywhere. We’re fine.”

“Fucking shit,” Junmyeon releases a breath and a rare curse, sagging into his seat, exhausted and relieved. Kyungsoo throws the pillow he’d been squeezing in a deathly tight grip at Chanyeol, who’s not quick enough to catch it, and he topples to the ground clumsily.

“What was that for?” he yells indignantly, but Kyungsoo just stalks past him to go to the kitchen, muttering about getting another drink, his irritation and diminishing worry visible on his face.

“‘Second opinions,’ ‘don’t have much time,’ ‘change of plans,’” Minseok enumerates, staring down at him, but there is a small hint of a smile on his face, amused at his poor word choices. “‘Not feeling well?’ Why’d you make it sound like you and I were terminally ill? That’s not a nice joke to make.”

“I wasn’t trying to joke, I was being thorough and descriptive!”

“You’re hopeless, Yeol,” Jongin looks a little wrecked, but slowly regaining the glint in his eyes.

“Don’t, don’t scare us like that, ever again,” Junmyeon says on an exhale, and Chanyeol feels bad. Crawls over and cuddles with everyone on the sofa, laying across their laps and letting them feel his love.

“I wasn’t trying to make it sound like I was sick,” he mumbles, and Jongdae snorts, but he’s still rubbing his chest, over where his heart is probably still pounding excessively. “Just wanted your blessing.”

“All this just to tell us you two made a unit,” Baekhyun sighs, but he’s patting at Chanyeol’s hair. “I mean, that was obvious enough, that it would happen. Were you expecting us to be shocked?”

“We’re really not,” Sehun mutters from the other side, looking like he was very much done.

“Congratulations, though,” Yixing offers, “I’m sure you’ll do well.”

“We’ll support you both,” Junmyeon says, every bit a leader, then he’s pausing, before beckoning Minseok to come closer. He’s then reeling them both in for a hug, squeezing and his affection is firm, “We’re all here for you both, for anything. Take care of yourselves always.”

“Of course,” Minseok is saying, then Baekhyun climbs on top of them, wanting in on the cuddle, and the others follow, Kyungsoo sighing as he puts down his new bottle and comes in to join them.

“We have to work a little on your bedside manner,” Minseok tells him later on as the two of them cook dinner, the others loud as they’re settling down at the table.

Chanyeol makes a face as he rolls the egg pancake on his pan carefully. “Did it sound that bad?”

“I don’t know, I’m rather endeared,” Minseok says, and he’s smiling. “But you have to choose your words better.”

“That’s why you’re there,” he says. “To help me and give me the words I’m missing and balance me out, in music and in life. That’s why we make a good team.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“You complete me, Minnie,” he says, pouring every bit of drama in his words and even cupping Minseok’s face in his hands, “There is no 160 if there is no 99 to add to my 61.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Minseok laughs, grinning wide enough for his gums to show and the roundness of his cheeks to become more emphasized, his eyes crinkle into those wonderful crescent moons that everyone is always so endeared with.

Chanyeol finds that he is no exception.

.

The next seven weeks are a bit of a blur.

Making an album in which they had written, composed, produced largely everything was a different, difficult, but ultimately fulfilling experience. They whittle down the number of songs to six from over twenty, after many discussions and almost arguments, and choosing the album name had taken almost as long as the meeting for deciding their unit name.

“You’re barely at the start and yet already bickering like a couple,” Yixing had remarked offhandedly when he visited them in the studio while they had been mid-debate, and Chanyeol watched as Minseok’s eyes widened, knowing he was mirroring the expression on his own face as well.

The Start, printed in plain white in a simple font against the all-black background, had looked very much like it belonged under their logo, Minseok’s actual drawing scanned and printed in silver for the digital album cover. They make note to credit Lay in the acknowledgements in the album, later on.

Choosing the title track, on the other hand, had been painless, thankfully.

“It’s Been Here or nothing,” Chanyeol had said. It didn’t take much, if anything at all, for Minseok to agree with him.

Their choreography is simple, meaningful and a little intimate to reflect the song. The number of times he’d almost accidentally kissed Minseok during dance practice outnumbered his fingers, toes, bones. Minseok is patient and always helping him along, moving with him and they work hard, together.

The styling for their debut is simple, clothes that they would choose for themselves normally. It’s freezing in the field, the empty roads where they’re shooting for the album photobook, the teasers, the trailers, and part of the music video, pretending that the weather is on the verge of spring in their ripped jeans and sweaters and bomber jackets, when they’re actually in the midst of a cold, dry winter.

They huddle together often for warmth, huffing and hugging and holding each other’s hands in between takes. It’s a long few days, but they work hard, pushing each other to be better and make the most of it.

The company announces their unit in the middle of February with the first teaser photo. They’re told in the middle of practice that every search engine, all the social networking sites are crashing, that they’re trending everywhere.

Not everyone is excited, and Minseok stays quiet as he reads through some of the comments on his phone. Chanyeol knows it’s those that go along the lines of, ‘Chanyeol should have a solo debut, not a unit,’ or ‘Why does it have to be Xiumin, there are other members who have more talent.’

“Don’t read those,” he says, tackling Minseok to the floor and holding him. “You’ll prove them all wrong. You’re amazing.”

“It’s alright,” Minseok just says, understanding of the backlash. Chanyeol pouts, hugs him tighter.

They keep practicing every week, rehearsals and the occasional magazine shoot for promotion and they keep working, releasing teasers weekly, then the album trailer and finally.

Finally, March is in full swing and the date of debut looms over them like a shock. They’d been working so much, so tirelessly the past weeks that they hadn’t had the time to really be nervous, or even let the reality of it all sink in. Now that it’s practically there, the nervousness, the pressure to do well is thrumming in their skin, making them jittery, but more than that. Chanyeol is excited, wants to let everyone know what they’ve been working so hard on. He knows, feels, that Minseok feels the same way.

They’re being made to do a livestream event on V LIVE a day before the release, and all the members show up to support them, milling around the set that had been styled as a college dormitory and chatting with the staff as the two of them getting ready, stylists shoving them in jeans with too many holes and Doc Martens and sweaters, jackets and choker necklaces with pendants of their respective numbers, and they let him wear his clear framed glasses to contrast Minseok’s thin frames. He and Minseok look like students in university, and he’s never felt quite so relaxed, comfortable about an album launch before.

There are cameras in every corner, covering all angles as they settle on either twin bed in the set, and they begin.

It pans out to be an hour of him being an idiot, moving around too much during the different corners they had prepared for them to do, eventually abandoning his bed to cuddle with Minseok in his. He plays with Minseok’s hair as they talk about themselves, about the styling, about the concept. Minseok is a little more calculated initially, but not for very long, eventually loosening up with Chanyeol’s prodding, wanting him to be comfortable.

“‘Chanyeol and Xiumin look very handsome together,’ that’s correct,” Chanyeol reads a comment on the phone they’d provided them with, swinging a leg over Minseok’s as they scroll through the hundreds of thousands of comments as quickly as they can, watching as the number of hearts surpass 60 million. It’s a little wild. “We look like roommates in university – oh! Please cheer for our Xiumin, he’s soon to become a doctor!”

“It’s not much,” Minseok bows his head politely, blushing, and Chanyeol cheers for him.

“Our Minnie is so smart, works very hard in everything he does,” he says, “A model student, model idol, model singer, model dancer-“

“That’s enough,” Minseok laughs, and Chanyeol pokes at his dimples, endeared.

“Do I look like a future interior designer, Minnie?” he asks, brightening his eyes and holding his own face cutely, trying to appeal to Minseok.

“You work very hard,” Minseok just says, and Chanyeol whines, still beaming all the same. “‘How was EXO 160 formed?’ Well-“

“Minnie saved me, when I was lost,” Chanyeol says, his tone dramatic to keep things relatively light, but his words are serious, knows Minseok understands by the way he laces their hands together. “He helped me, and we discovered that we work very well together. And I made a big mistake.”

“He’s still making up for it,” Minseok nods solemnly, and Chanyeol bows his head to him, just to be a little difficult.

“Yes, I am, but I’m having a lot of fun, and I’m feeling very fulfilled with the work we’ve done,” he says, answering honestly. “‘What’s the mistake?’ Well, I wouldn’t-“

“He asked for this unit without consulting me first,” Minseok answers simply, and Chanyeol blushes, hiding his face beneath his sweater for a few moments as he whines again. “I was very angry.”

“Xiumin didn't talk to me for several days,” he confirms, nodding, and he’d thought that being this honest, this open about their quarrels would be uncomfortable. It’s rather freeing, in reality. He thinks it might have something to do with the way Minseok makes him feel so happy, so taken care of, and that there are no lies between them. 

“But I’m very thankful he did,” Minseok says. Chanyeol smiles, bending slightly to rest his head on Minseok’s broad shoulder. “This unit has become very precious to me. I’m very happy.”

Chanyeol doesn’t miss the way Baekhyun, Jongdae and Sehun throw finger hearts at them from behind the cameras, making kissy faces. He also doesn’t miss the way Minseok rolls his eyes at them discreetly, instead reading another question from the comments, “‘What is the album about?’ Oh, we’ve been waiting for this one.”

“Yes,” Chanyeol gets comfortable, looks up earnestly at a camera, “Xiumin and I wished to make an album full of sense, meaning. It’s very meaningful to us, to be so involved with the writing, the composing and producing.”

“I helped Chanyeol write about our experiences, our feelings, wishing to share with you our personal insights,” Minseok says, and Chanyeol makes a face at him, ‘helped Chanyeol’ not sounding correct at all.

“What Minnie means is that we worked together to make this kind of music, so that we could get closer to all of you,” Chanyeol says, earning himself a fond-sounding sigh from Minseok, who pats his knee gently. “We made music about being young, but not always being so free. About our anxieties and needing direction, our thoughts, what we want for our futures but still trying to stay in the moment.”

“We thought about how many of our EXO-Ls might be feeling the same way,” Minseok adds, speaking honestly. “We wanted all of you to know that you aren’t alone in what you feel, and that we shouldn’t be shy about sharing our true feelings with each other.”

Chanyeol looks at him, and a rush of admiration and affection surges through his chest, making his chest feel a little tight. He’d worded it much better than he could, completing his thoughts and he thanks himself, not for the first time, that he had pushed for the two of them, for this.

He glances up just when Seunghwan comes up behind the camera, making soundless gestures for him to wrap up. He frowns, not wanting to have to, but he nudges his foot against Minseok’s to get his attention from where he’d been reading another comment.

“Yes?” he looks at Chanyeol, handsome as hell and always so attentive. “What is it?”

Chanyeol blinks, a lapse in his mind forgetting that he’s on live and watched by literal millions as he stares at Minseok, trying to remember what he was supposed to say.

“I,” he tries to start, but he blinks, forgetting everything. “I, I don’t know how to segue into our final ments,” he says, brain hopelessly blank and without a filter.

When Minseok bursts into laughter, that kind that makes his eyes disappear into half circle slits and leaves his mouth wide open and lips quirked with his gums showing, Chanyeol can’t help but mirror it, laughs until his sides hurt. Seeing Minseok smile like that leaves his chest feeling very light, fluttering, and it’s a new feeling. He scoots down the bed a little, burrowing his face into Minseok’s chest and hiding his face under his jacket in his embarrassment. He can just picture the faces the others are making, knows he’ll be teased mercilessly once they’re off air.

“Let me choose a good question to end this livestream,” Minseok takes over, rubbing Chanyeol’s back calmly as he scrolls through the phone. “Hmm, there are so many, ‘No don’t go let’s stay here forever.’”

“Let’s do that.”

“Well, they won’t be able to watch the music video and listen to the song if we do that, so no, we won’t be doing that,” Minseok says rationally, and Chanyeol groans. “Let’s see, ah. ‘Please give each other loving compliments and words of support for your debut.’ From a ‘baekhyunee_exo.’”

“How subtle,” Chanyeol snorts, and he can see the scowl Baekhyun directs at him in the corner of his eye. “So, do I start? Or do you?”

“I can, I’m ready,” Minseok says, making Chanyeol sit up and turning his body slightly so they’re facing each other. His eyes are bright, but soft, and Chanyeol fights the urge to blush.

“You’re red,” and he fails.

“Why do I feel so nervous?” Chanyeol laughs, looking at the cameras and patting his cheeks, feeling very warm all of a sudden. He hears snickering, and Kyungsoo looks too pleased at his flustered state. “Oh, what should I do?”

“Let me say this so it’s over,” Minseok laughs, but he’s turning very pink as well. “Okay, how do I begin? Umm. Yeollie is very talented, very honest, and he likes seeing other people happy.”

“Not loving enough,” they hear Baekhyun direct them, and Chanyeol’s never really felt the urge to throw his shoe at him, but Minseok looks about ready to do so.

“Chanyeol is someone I hold very dear to my heart,” Minseok says, sincerity embedded in every word. “He is a dear friend, someone I’m very lucky to have gotten even closer to, after all this time. Someone who believes in me, more than I deserve, someone I need to thank,  for giving me this chance.”

Chanyeol makes a face, pouting his lips exaggeratedly, just so he can avoid tearing up, the urge frighteningly strong.

“What else can I say?” Minseok says, laughing a little, cheeks very red, his eyes shining. “Yeollie is someone who deserves to be listened to, whose music is perfect in every way. Yeollie is someone I love very much.”

“This affection attack, it’s too much,” Chanyeol says when Minseok doesn’t continue, and his heart is pounding in his chest. He’s overwhelmed. “Ah, so it’s my turn. I feel very pressured.”

“Drown him in affection.”

He ignores Baekhyun, and sniffs. Starts, “Xiumin is very important to me. He works hard, takes care of me, in many aspects. We became unexpectedly very close, and I’m very thankful.”

He sniffs again, and Minseok kisses the tips of fingers, before tapping it on Chanyeol’s cheek. It makes him sniff and turn even redder.

“I’ll be very honest, I was supposed to be making a solo debut, but the music was not coming to me. I felt very lost, and was about to give up, but Minnie came in and gave me what I needed to hear, and - oh no,” he pauses, the overwhelming feeling surging and making him choke all of a sudden. His eyes sting, and he shakes his head, willing it away, but the tears leak and trail down his cheeks.

“Oh, please don’t cry,” Minseok immediately pats gently at his face, sounding a little surprised but soft, ever so steady. “Baekhyun, this is your fault.”

“Ah, I can’t stop crying,” Chanyeol laughs, the sound coming out wet, and he’s using the collar of his sweater to wipe under his glasses. “Ah. I don’t regret anything. Minnie helped me and stayed even when I was difficult. I feel as if he is half of me, now. He is too kind, too thoughtful, too lovely. I don’t regret asking for this unit, I don’t regret not going solo. Been Here would never have become real if not for him. I love Minnie, very much.”

“Why are the both of you like this,” they hear Junmyeon from the side, and it’s surely loud enough for the microphones to pick up. The number of hearts surge on the screen, and they both snort as Minseok comforts him, letting him hide his face on his neck for a moment. .

“We’re sorry, it’s become so serious,” Minseok says, smiling at the cameras, at their fans. “It’s a very heartfelt atmosphere here.”

“It’s the first time it’s been like this. Making an album with our words, our music, it’s really personal,” Chanyeol says, breathing deeply, then pausing. When the staff and the members start making cooing noises, he shakes his head, bringing his hand up, sweater paw and all, and bring his fingers down against his palm, wordlessly asking them to stop. “No, don’t, I’m not crying more. I think, not because it’s our song, but. Been Here is perfect, I am very proud of what we’ve made. We hope you support us.”

“We will be showing you a very personal concept, and it will be very different from what you’ve seen us do. Please support us,” Minseok says, and he’s saying, “and with that. This has been, 99-“

“61.”

“EXO 160,” they say together, bowing. “Thank you very much.”

They wave to the cameras cutely, loudly, until the feed is cut, then Chanyeol’s letting out a little yelled groan, relieved and finally finished, flopping back on the mattress. Minseok, who isn’t selfish with gestures of affection, but isn’t one to usually reach out first, gets down to pull him into his arms, kissing the top of his head sincerely. He feels very complete, in this moment, Minseok somehow quietly, simply filling his soul.

“You babies,” Sehun comes in, rolling his eyes as he climbs into the tiny bed and cuddles them both. They end up in a nine-man dog pile on the tiny twin bed, and they should have expected it, really, when it collapses under their collective weight.

.

They’re told that Been Here was a certified all-kill on all the music sites, sitting comfortably in first place on every chart, and that the album had hit number one on iTunes in over forty countries, over the phone while they’d been out for a dinner of barbecue with the other members.

It’s only the second day of the week, and Chanyeol feels like he’s been through the ringer with how much had already happened.

He lets out a breath he’d been holding the entire day when their manager hangs up the phone, and slumps against Minseok, who is so stable, who holds him up, squeezing his thigh, whispering, “Good job.”

“It’s happening,” Chanyeol murmurs, relieved and excited, but ultimately tired from all the stress he hadn’t been aware he’d been shouldering. Watching the video drop at noon and seeing the final cut of them being broody, handsome idiots on a self-exploration road trip, poignant and quiet but still bright and hopeful, and seeing the immediate reaction. They’d been right with predicting that a number of people would get confused with the concept, but the response had been overwhelming, supportive.

There are many comments of ‘Thank you,’ ‘I really needed this,’ ‘this gives me a lot of strength, and hope.’ Chanyeol feels especially fulfilled.

“Congratulations,” Jongin offers them immediately win a bright grin, “You two have done really well.”

“I think this calls for celebratory soju,” Baekhyun is already raising his hand to order, and Junmyeon gives him a look that’s ignored.

A few bottles each later, Baekhyun is bringing out his phone, fiddling with it a little before he turns the front camera towards himself, trying to fit them all into the frame.

“All of you, get in, I’m trying to go live,” he says, but Junmyeon is muttering about not having permission from the company and getting in trouble, but he’s connected, and there are comments already coming in.

“Ahhh, hello!” he greets, and the others are waving their own greetings to their viewers, “We’re having dinner together right now, have you all eaten?”

“Please eat with us,” Jongdae is saying, grinning at the camera. “Treat yourselves well, as we’re treating Xiumin and Chanyeol!”

“Didn’t you take our cards to pay for the meal?” Minseok is saying, but Sehun is sitting on his lap suddenly, cutting him off.

“Have you all heard Been Here?” Baekhyun asks to the camera, and then he and Yixing are singing the hook together, loudly. Chanyeol and Minseok are very flustered. “Ah, if you haven’t, what are you doing? Please get off Instagram and go listen to perfection, don’t waste your data on such useless things.”

“Please buy and stream the album, they have done their best and more for all of you,” Junmyeon tells their viewers earnestly.

“Give me that,” Sehun reaches over, plucks the phone from Baekhyun’s grasp, and moves it closer to Minseok’s and Chanyeol’s faces. “Say hello.”

“Hello everyone,” they acquiesce, but Sehun frowns, squinting at them.

“You know what I meant,” he says, more of orders.

They sigh together, but Minseok starts after a short beat, “99.”

“61,” Chanyeol adds, blushing already and feeling a little embarrassed.

“We are EXO 160, hello to you all,” they do their greeting and signs, and the other members are immediately yelling, hooting around them excitedly and hitting them playfully, a barrage of noise and teasing. 

“Do you have anything to say to our Eris?” Baekhyun more or less yells at them, and Minseok stares at him for his volume.

“Ahh, of course we must thank our wonderful EXO-Ls for their support,” Chanyeol starts before a playfight can break out. “They’ve been very kind to Minnie and me.”

“Yes, thank you,” Minseok turns to look to the phone screen and bowing politely. “We love you very much. We hope we gave you some strength, even just a small amount, in turn for the great amount you have given us. We will continue to work hard to repay that strength.”

“Let’s continue to grow together,” Chanyeol adds, scooting closer and placing his chin on Minseok’s shoulder. “You’ve done well, our EXO-Ls. We will continue to work harder for all of you.”

“Please give them a heart together!”

“That’s enough.”

“Heart! Heart!”

Chanyeol blushes as he groans loudly, flustered at the attention. Minseok is smiling wide, gums in full display, but the way he’s patting his cheeks show that he’s similarly overwhelmed as he helps Sehun off his lap.

“Ah, come here Yeollie,” he leads, and Chanyeol is very warm very quick. They sit closely together, about to do finger hearts at the screen, but Baekhyun is stepping in, ordering them how to do it.

They complain a lot, but eventually, he has his way. Their elbows touch, arms and hands forming one large heart, their other arms wrapped up around each other’s backs, their cheeks pressed together. Chanyeol hopes Minseok doesn’t notice how warm and sweaty his face had gotten at everything.

“How cute,” Kyungsoo deadpans, smirking slightly, hiding how truly amused he is. Chanyeol squirms, unable to take it, and he hides his face in Minseok’s neck shyly.

“Ah, you’ve worked hard,” Junmyeon claps his hands loudly, his tone light but firm, letting them know that they’ve had enough fun. He’s taking the phone from Sehun, moving over to the front to let all nine of them back into the frame, and he’s saying, “Yes, our Chanyeol and Xiumin will continue to show you their charms and the products of their labor. Please look forward to them and support them. So, with that, 1, 2, 3-“

“We are one, we are EXO. Thank you!”

The rest of the night is spent with more soju, Junmyeon giving Baekhyun a sermon that doesn’t quite fall on the intended recipient’s ears, and Chanyeol leaning against Minseok as they drink in comfortable silence together. He usually finds himself in the middle of the noise, making everyone laugh and keeping things lively, but tonight, he’s content to be sitting quietly with Minseok. Finds that he doesn’t have to be so loud to be heard, when he’s with him.

.

“Please stop moving, we have to finish your makeup.”

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes, but he’s shaking his leg all the same, nerves on end and trying to calm himself down.

“You shouldn’t have had the coffee,” Minseok raises an eyebrow at him, calm as his hair is tousled slightly, highlight being applied to his cheeks carefully, naturally. He’s a dream. It’s also his birthday, and Chanyeol fights the sudden strange urge to lick the icing on the corner of his mouth from the birthday cupcake the members had given him that morning before they’d left. 

He’s much too calm for their debut stage, flipping through the MC script the M Countdown staff had given them as his hair and makeup are fixed, cool as ice. Chanyeol, on the other hand, feels like he’s about to be set on fire.

“It’ll all be okay,” Junmyeon calms him, and he’s very thankful that he’d come along today for their first live performance. He’s a balm. “Do you want me to practice your script with you?”

Chanyeol nods, let’s him distract them as the three of them go through the lines with Junmyeon in place of Mark Tuan, and before they know it, they’re dressed and ready to rehearse.

The rehearsal goes well, Mark quiet and polite and effusive in his praise, sincere in a way that reminds him of Minseok, and he’s blinking to himself at the thought, wondering why he looks for a little bit of him in everything, everyone he sees.

Soon, soon enough that he doesn’t have time to wallow in his nerves, they’re filming for real, and they jump from stage to stage, interviewing and introducing the other artists on the show today, and then they’re being shoved onstage for their own performance.

“You’re nervous,” Minseok remarks quietly, lights going dim around them as the crew sets the cameras up. “So am I.”

“I want to do well,” he admits, and the crowd is being signaled to cheer, growing louder as their introductory VTR begins to play.

Minseok glances at him, considering. “You’re you. You don’t have the ability to not do well.”

“I’m better when I’m with you,” he goes all dramatic to try to irk him, relax themselves somehow with gross one liners. Minseok just stares at him, eyes bright behind the lense of his glasses.

“I’m better with you, too,” he says unironically, simply. Chanyeol swallows.

Then, their fanchants start their song, are filling the room, loud and carrying him through, the multitude of silver lights in the audience making him feel light.

They perform, putting much more than they’d ever put in before, emotions guiding each movement and handhold and step. He sings like he’s never sung before, the music filling him and giving him purpose. He feels stronger with each word he sings, each move he makes.

And Minseok.

Every time he moves with him, sings with him, looks at him, he is strengthened all the more. He relives that morning when Minseok came in and effortlessly completed his thoughts, had somehow known what was missing and helped Chanyeol find it, and he hopes the microphone doesn’t pick up his choked breath.

He relives it all, and exactly before they go into the last chorus, Minseok looks back at him, his eyes shiny and smile gummy, and Chanyeol’s heart soars, wanting out of his chest. Maybe wanting to find a place next to Minseok’s.

The song ends, and he doesn’t want it to. He’s never felt like this, felt so fulfilled and emotional on hearing his words, his music sung back to him. Looks at his partner, and he knows he’s never felt quite so proud of someone, and with the way Minseok looks at him, he can’t help but feel that same kind of pride directed towards him. He feels very whole.

Chanyeol slides his hand into Minseok’s, linking their fingers together, and they bow to their loud, beautiful audience, laughing when they’d begun singing “Happy Birthday!” to Minseok, and they’re grateful.

.

“That was amazing, you two really do make such a wonderful pair-“

Junmyeon doesn’t get to finish his praising, because as soon as the door to the waiting room closes behind them, Chanyeol is taking Minseok’s face in his hands, and kissing him.

There is silence surrounding them, but Chanyeol can’t hear anything anyway. His skin is buzzing, his breaths a little short, and Minseok’s lips are soft against his, thin but yielding under his mouth, and he feels wonderful, heart fluttering.

Then, he remembers where he is, and the gravity of what he’s doing.

Minseok moves first, however. He pushes Chanyeol back gently with a palm on his chest, and he looks up at him, bewildered expression on his face. His eyes are tender, though, pinking cheeks brightening his pale complexion, and his lips, not quite kiss-swollen yet, but very freshly touched.

Chanyeol stares at him, chest aching with how much he wants to do it again, and he puts his hands down. “S-sorry, I was just. Reacting.”

“Is,” they jump, and look to where Junmyeon is standing awkwardly, feet shifting, but his eyes steady on them both. “Is this something that happens regularly?”

“First time,” Chanyeol sounds breathless when he answers, but he supposes he is.

“But I don’t suppose it will be the last,” he says, but he doesn’t sound judgmental or warning, like Chanyeol had expected him to. Just careful, thoughtful.

“That, that would be up to Minnie,” he says, but Minseok won’t meet his eyes. It pains him much more than he thought it would.

“Well, just be careful next time,” he says. “It was lucky that it was just me in here.”

Chanyeol gulps, nods. Tries not to overthink about the fact that he had said “next time.”

“In any case, you two did so well, I’m very proud,” he continues, as if he hadn’t just seen them briefly make out.

“Thank you, Myeon,” Minseok says, and his tone is kind, but Chanyeol knows it well enough by now to know that there is strain in it, even if it is just the smallest amount.

He tries to talk to him, tries to get him to look at him, but Minseok just gives him small smiles that don’t encompass his entire face, as they usually do. He doesn’t speak at all unless it’s for the camera, and even towards the end, when they are announcing GOT7 as the week’s winner, all he does is give Chanyeol a small hand squeeze that he can’t decipher, before disappearing to the back and dressing up in silence.

The car ride back had been painful, in simple terms, and he feels awful, for somehow ruining Minseok’s birthday, and the high they’d gotten from their debut stage. He wallows in it he rest of the night, staying quiet during dinner, the birthday cake, and eventually going to bed without saying much else.

.

He can’t sleep.

He’d gotten a few hours, on and off, before he’d given up altogether and crawled out of bed quietly, doing his best not to disturb Jongin on the other bed. He ambles around the dorm for a long while, before he settles in the kitchen, Toben lazing on his lap as he nurses a warm citron tea.

“Ah, my timing is always wrong,” he sighs, scratching Toben behind his ears, his dog whining softly, leaning towards his touch. “Do you think I should have done that?”

Toben paws at his lap, trying to get comfortable, not caring.

“Ah. But I don’t regret it,” he says, smiling sadly to himself. “I can’t.”

“Good morning.”

Chanyeol jumps, almost spilling his tea and jostling Toben, who jumps out of his lap.

“No, Toben, I’m sorry,” he pleads, but his dog just pads over to their visitor. Minseok smiles, bending to lift him up, cuddling him.

“You’re up early,” Minseok says, looking at him finally after several hours of not doing so. He’s not looking at Chanyeol any differently, and he doesn’t know whether to be relieved, or. Something else.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he says, his hands restless around his cup. Minseok eyes him, but doesn’t say anything.

“I know, I couldn’t either,” he says, and it surprises Chanyeol. “I looked for you in your room, but you weren’t there.”

“I’ve just been. Moving around,” he says lamely, but he can’t think past beyond what Minseok had told him. He couldn’t sleep, either.

“You kissed me,” he goes straight to the point.

“I did,” Chanyeol says, tries to keep his voice as steady as Minseok’s gaze on him, though he feels as if he’s melting.

“May I ask why?”

Chanyeol swallows. “I was overwhelmed with everything. You made me feel like, like I was flying, like you’d given me the world, and you did, actually.”

Minseok keeps looking at him, stare unbroken. Chanyeol’s heart is racing in his chest.

“And it was your birthday. And you’re beautiful,” he adds, because it’s true, and he might as well. He blushes, looks down at his feet.

“You’re beautiful, too,” Minseok says, and Chanyeol feels his ears turn red. “Reckless, and impulsive. Beautiful, still.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?”

“You pushed me away.”

“Because I was thinking of you,” he says. Chanyeol looks up, and his sincerity is visible. “I thought, that you were doing that. Because of the moment, because of the day and your excitement.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true,” he says, his grip tightening. He puts down his tea. “And. It wasn’t just the moment, or just because it was your day. My feelings were true, yesterday. Today. I can’t regret it, because I was honest with my actions. I’m sorry I caught you off guard. It won’t happen again.”

It’s achingly quiet. He feels Minseok staring at him.

“Don’t be dramatic,” he says after some silence. Then, he’s angling Chanyeol’s face slightly, and kissing him.

It’s over before Chanyeol can even react properly, Minseok pulling away, Toben squirming in his arms. Chanyeol stares at him, shocked, his eyes wide, mouth still agape and lightly tingling.

Minseok puts Toben down, who walks away huffing, and looks back at Chanyeol. His cheeks are pink.

Chanyeol wants to kiss him again, so he does. Holds his face in his hands and pulls him in, molding his lips against Minseok’s and he makes this one last, slow and eventually sucking on his bottom lip when he’s allowed.

It’s sweet, Minseok is sweet, and Minseok moves with him, licking into his mouth and Chanyeol melts, his entire body on fire in the best sense.

“Please move, I need to get something.”

They separate, eyes wide, and Sehun staring at them, sleepy and unimpressed and unsurprised. They blink, but move, and Sehun gets at the drawer they’d been in front of, pulling out a teaspoon to mix his coffee with.

“Congratulations,” he says plainly, and they don’t know what he means for. He walks away before they ask, and they just turn to stare back at each other again.

Chanyeol watches as Minseok licks his lips, mirrors him unconsciously.

“We have to leave soon, I’ll get breakfast ready,” Minseok says casually, then he’s kissing him again, short but it leaves Chanyeol feeling full, chest stupidly tight over his too big heart. He’s chasing after Minseok’s lips as they part, and Minseok smiles at him, patting his cheek tenderly, before he goes to the fridge and saying something about eggs.

Chanyeol slumps against the counter, touching his lips, dazed. He swallows the whine in his throat when he catches his reflection on the glass, skin completely red and lips pink and puffy, and he tries not to be too pleased.

.

The promotional cycle is always plenty of work, fulfilling but always exhausting. It’s strange, to be promoting with just one other member, but Minseok is grounding, always looking after him, keeping him tied to each moment. But he’s also freeing, allows him to be silly and trusting him when to stop, lets him be himself and supports him unconditionally.

They go on all the music shows, and the performing never gets old, seeing the faces of their EXO-Ls and their silver lights, hearing them chant back their words and their names is always uplifting, always gives him strength to continue. This song, this music carries a lot of weight, and by the way they’re are supporting him and Minseok, he knows that they know it as well. Even the members know, and by the end of the first week, all of them had come with them to a broadcast at least once, had been there for them and supported them. He’s very touched by it all.

And he’s learned to be more careful, now. He still wasn’t the second time, reeling Minseok in for a kiss back in their waiting room for Music Bank and making Jongdae and Jongin fall off their chairs in shock, but eventually, he learns to content himself with linking fingers, cuddles and full-bodied hugs when they’re not on their own.

Minseok is wonderfully responsive, calming and steady in contrast to his own relentless energy, and he’s not as physical with his affection,  but Chanyeol understands. Feels it anyway, rolling off of him in waves, and in the small thoughtful gestures. Adjusting his glasses, combing his hair with his fingers, fixing his microphone, in the way he softly swipes his thumb across his cheek gently when he thinks no one is looking.

Chanyeol’s heart swells, feels like floating with how happy he feels.

All the members eventually find out, though they hadn’t been making an effort to hide it, at least from them. Some are surprised, some aren’t, but all are supportive, maybe a little wary for what might happen, but still give them a lot of love. Baekhyun had been especially smug, taking pictures of them secretly and drawing hearts and dog and cat ears on them, sending it to the group chat. Yixing is always the first to respond, with many emojis, Jongdae later on whining about him always flooding the messages with too many pictures.

They have a photo shoot in the morning before Inkigayo on Sunday, and when Minseok is styled shirtless with a jacket and body chains, he stares. Minseok rolls his eyes at him, but in wildly unfair with how he gives the camera with what Chanyeol can only identify as bedroom eyes. He swears that Minseok will sometimes look past the lens, right at him, then his lips curl into the most smug, attractive smirk.

To be a dick, for payback, when it’s his turn, he takes the chains they put him in between his teeth, touching his own skin on purpose. Minseok watches, seemingly nonchalant, his face infuriatingly neutral. Chanyeol doesn’t stop trying to get a rise out of him, though.

They’re posing together after his own individual layouts, and they’re styled in mesh shirts and blazers, bodies close and leaning into each other, faces barely inches apart. It’s unapologetically homoerotic and Chanyeol thanks every heaven for this high fashion magazine and their editors.

They bow to everyone as they take their leave, commending everyone on their hard work, and they walk back to the dressing room quietly together. As soon as the stylists leave them to dress, Minseok takes his face into his hands, and kisses him, immediately deep.

Chanyeol makes a surprised noise, not quite leaving his throat, but he wraps his arms around Minseok’s waist and pulls him closer, kissing back as he tries to slot their hips together, but his height poses a problem.

“Idiot, you’re so tall,” Minseok mutters against his lips, biting gently and licking across them before his tongue dives into Chanyeol’s mouth. “Too good-looking. Can’t take my eyes off of you.”

“Minnie,” he whines against him, bending and pulling him in until they’re flush. He fights not to go any louder when teeth are scraping against his neck, his knees almost buckling.

Minseok just hums, kissing him and licking into his mouth, and Chanyeol is helpless under his touch.

A loud bang on the door startles them, and Seunghwan saying through the barrier between them, “If you’re not out here in five minutes, you’ll be late for filming. Fool around in the car if you have to, just get dressed now.”

So. They know as well.

Minseok blinks at him, moving back, but not without running his hand down his torso, exposed if not for the mesh shirt he has on.

“Don’t get any ideas,” he warns Chanyeol, eyes turning into slits.

It’s quite too late. Chanyeol will later climb onto his lap in the van, an effort with his long limbs that he doesn’t quite have full control over, and they will make out on the road on the way to the venue. The driver and Seunghwan just put up the partitions.

.

They’re up for first place on The Show the following week.

Chanyeol is a bit dazed, not expecting it. Wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction to their unit; he had been content enough to promote and perform. He was in no way expecting to even be considered to win.

He’s already feeling stupidly emotional from the possibility, so he’s quiet as he stands next to Minseok onstage, his arm over his shoulder and Minseok’s around his waist, hand squeezing him, grounding him. The audience is loud and the other artists surrounding them are jumping around, and there’s so much energy surrounding them. Usually, he’d be contributing to that cacophony, but right now, his chest is tight, nervous and feeling everything at once.

And they win.

Chanyeol is crying, too tall to be burrowing into Minseok’s shoulder, doing it anyway. Minseok rubs his back, and, in an uncharacteristically public, affectionate gesture, he kisses the top Chanyeol’s head.

Minseok starts off their words of gratitude, and Chanyeol is so overwhelmed. He says thank you to their staff, their managers, their members. Their EXO-Ls, their company. He holds the mic for him to speak, and Chanyeol sniffs, face twisting as he tries to stop himself from crying, failing.

“Thank you to everyone who supports us, who gives us love. We will continue to work hard, we love you very much,” he says, his message short, as he can’t say much else. Minseok hands him the trophy, and he’s sobbing again.

The MCs are doing their final ments, and they’re all bowing to each other as their encore begins, their fans starting them off with their chants. He’s still crying as he sings his verse, Minseok holding his hand tight, not letting go.

“AH, SOJU!” Is the first thing Baekhyun yells at them when they get backstage, Kyungsoo smiling at them warmly. Chanyeol doesn’t even care anymore to be discrete, and he kisses Minseok, hears the click of Baekhyun’s camera, still doesn’t care enough to pull away.

Their notifications go off, and Chanyeol looks, the group chat filled with words of congratulations and pictures of them from quite literally a minute ago, still locked together, doodled on with hearts of different colors.

He looks to Minseok, whose eyes are shining and his mouth quirked in a soft smile, all for him. Chanyeol falls.

“Thank you, Minnie,” he says quietly, pressing their foreheads together.

“I did very little, Yeol,” he says, and Chanyeol wants to argue, because nothing could be less true. He doesn’t get a chance to, because Minseok presses his lips against his, and he’s warmth and light and Chanyeol clings to him.

They pay for the soju and dinner, and considering everything, it’s surprising that he and Minseok are the least drunk, practically almost sober by the end of the night. They’re carrying members into their rooms, and then he’s arm in arm with a hilariously drunk Junmyeon, who keeps grinning at him and wagging his eyebrows.

“Stop looking at me like that,” he huffs, and Junmyeon just grins wider. He’s not used to seeing him like this; it’s disconcerting.

“Someone’s going to get lucky tonight,” he says, and Chanyeol makes a face at him as he’s depositing him on his bed.

“You’re pretty, Myeon, but I’m not interested,” Chanyeol tells him, helping him out of his coat.

“Obviously,” he snorts, flopping back on his bed, “It’s not my dick you’re after.”

“I’m not after anyone’s dick!” he says, almost screeching, his cheeks turning a traitorous pink. Junmyeon just smirks smugly, and Chanyeol throws his covers over his face, leaving the room and releasing a big sigh out in the hallway. He pats his face, suddenly very warm, and he makes his way to his and Jongin’s room, ready to go to bed, but as he twists on the knob, he finds it locked.

“Jongin,” he tries again, but not a stir. He knocks, knocks repeatedly, loudly, “Nini, let me in.”

Nothing. He knocks again, still no one answers him, then there’s knocking a few doors down. He looks to the sound, sees Minseok knocking and glaring at his own room’s door. “Dae, if you don’t wake up and open this door.”

“Locked out?” Chanyeol says when Minseok waits in vain for another minute.

“I think we’re arguing. I’m not sure,” he replies, making a face. He sighs, looks at Chanyeol. “What’s with Jongin?”

“I think he’s asleep, you know how he is,” he gives up on the door. It figures that they’re locked out of their rooms, even though they’d been the ones to help everyone get into bed.

It’s silent for a moment, then Minseok is saying, “You get the sofa.”

“And where will you sleep?”

Minseok shrugs, “I’m not that tired-“

“No, Min,” he frowns, “You need to rest too. Let’s just share.”

Minseok raises an eyebrow at him, and Chanyeol fights not to blush. He clears his throat, says, “I’ll get the blankets and pillows, can you make tea?”

He pauses, then says neutrally, “Alright. You know where to find them?”

He nods, and they separate, and Chanyeol calms himself as he retrieved a few pillows and blankets for the night. It’s not like it would be the first time he’s sharing a sleeping space with another member before. He shared his bed with Sehun for almost a month a few years back when Sehun and Junmyeon had fought and refused to speak to each other. But, considering everything that’s been happening the past few weeks, it causes a little stir in his heart, of excitement and anticipation, but he slaps his face lightly, muttering to himself about not to assume anything.

He walks into the soft light of the lounge area, Minseok helping prop up the cushions already, their tea steaming on the table.

“Here,” he hands over the pillows, and they assemble their makeshift bed for the night. He settles down, and Minseok gives him his tea, sitting next to him. Chanyeol seems him too far, so he scoots closer, until their legs are tangled and they’re sharing body heat. Minseok is barely phased, slides his hand down his thigh comfortingly.

“Do you think they did this on purpose?” Chanyeol wonders aloud.

“Of course,” Minseok snorts, sipping his own tea. “Dae is a bad liar.”

“I think Jongin really might really just be too drunk, though,” Chanyeol notes, and Minseok hums.

They haven’t quite had a moment to themselves the whole day. Even backstage, they’d been decidedly accompanied by Baekhyun and Kyungsoo, and now that they are. It is quiet, comfortable and peaceful. His heart is thrumming, yet it’s steady, strangely calm in his anticipation.

“We won today,” Chanyeol says, the words sinking in, the feeling sinking in properly. It wakes him up all over again.

“We did,” Minseok smiles, then he’s beaming at him, and Chanyeol is so endeared, so fond of him.

“Wouldn’t have won without you,” he says.

“Yes, you would have.”

“You could too,” he challenges, intertwining their fingers together. “But. This means much more, because it’s with you. Because it’s us, as 160.”

Minseok is quiet for a while, then he leans in, kissing him. “Thank you, 61.”

“Minnie,” Chanyeol breathes, “Thank you. I won’t get tired of saying it. Thank you for being with me.”

“I don’t regret anything either,” Minseok tells him. Chanyeol’s mind reels back, and then he remembers his breakdown on the livestream. “I don’t regret saying yes to this. I’m very happy. I’m very thankful for you.”

“Now who’s being dramatic?” Chanyeol teases him, grinning wide, and Minseok rolls his eyes at him, but when Chanyeol puckers his lips, wordlessly asking for a kiss, he’s quick to acquiesce.

It’s a little wild. Around four months ago, he’d been struggling with his music, then Minseok had given him what he needed to hear, then a little later, he’d been trying to convince him that the two of them would be a good idea. Now he’s kissing him, touching him in a way he hadn’t before, his chest incredibly light and kisses pressed on his skin.

“Min,” he breathes, leaning back on the sofa.

“This is different,” Minseok remarks gently, and Chanyeol can’t help but laugh a little. He puts down their teas, and then Minseok is lifting himself up, straddling Chanyeol and he’s kissing him again. His hands are warm from the tea on Chanyeol’s neck, his weight above him grounding.

“Closer,” Chanyeol murmurs, before he’s holding Minseok’s waist and pulling him in closer, not content until their bodies are pressed right up against each other.

He kisses him deep, licking into his mouth and Minseok grabs at his hair, tugging lightly. He groans, hips jolting slightly and making Minseok jump a little in his lap, and he hadn’t quite been expecting that.

“You liked that?” Minseok says against his mouth, nipping at his bottom lip, his voice silky. It makes Chanyeol shiver. “Noted.”

“What do you like, then?” Chanyeol says breathily, and Minseok smirks.

“Why don’t you try and find out?”

Chanyeol’s not proud that he whines, but he’s not one to back down. He slides his hands down his back, trying to get a reaction, and he receives it when he stops at his butt, squeezing.

Minseok gasps a little, rolling his hips forward on instinct, and Chanyeol groans at the pressure on his crotch, trying to keep his voice down belatedly.

“This is happening, alright, everything’s fine,” he’s rambling, breaths short, and he doesn’t even care that Junmyeon has been right.

“Do you want it to happen?” Minseok asks him, leaning back, and Chanyeol whines, tries to get close again, but Minseok’s hold on him is firm. “Chanyeol. I need to know before moving forward.”

“I want it,” he says, his voice low with how much he wants it. “I really, really want it. Please Min.”

“Alright,” he says, latching their lips together and it’s immediately deep, slick. He’s warm and tastes like tea, still sweet as he always is, and he swallows each noise Chanyeol makes easily. His fingers play with his ears, his hair, and Chanyeol doesn’t know where to focus with how overwhelmed with sensation and emotion he is.

He rolls his hips down, and Chanyeol melts, dying a little, trying to get even closer.

He knows Minseok can move his hips, is good with it. All those hours watching him dance and move his body sinuously, effortlessly, his body flexible and movements fluid but still hard, he knows Minseok knows what he’s doing with his body. He didn’t know it could feel like this, against his, grinding down on him and the motions fluid, but hard, with purpose. He loses his mind a little bit.

“Look at me,” Minseok more or less orders him, and Chanyeol’s brain short circuits. He obeys, and they keep their eyes on each other as they move their bodies together, and it’s new and a bit scary but every bit exciting, all of it good.

Minseok teases his mouth, the barest skims of his lips against his, his hands touching him everywhere, sensuous and sure. Chanyeol grips his ass, then his thighs, strong and thick under his touch, almost never falters.

They grind, silence around them and their breaths shared, and Chanyeol is hard in his pants. He blushes when Minseok gives him a look, but when he grinds back down, makes his own hardness known, Chanyeol’s eyes go dark.

“Let me help you with that,” Chanyeol moans, and Minseok looks reluctant, much to his shock.

“You don’t have to,” Minseok says, and Chanyeol wants to yell with his frustration and arousal.

“I’m sure you can tell that I really want to,” he says, and Minseok glares at him, everything on his face saying, ‘Don’t act like such a brat.’ “I’ll take care of you,” he murmurs, pressing their lips together as he brings one hand up to Minseok’s pants, unbuttoning and undoing the fly.

His hand presses down on his length, hard in his underwear, and Minseok groans, and Chanyeol drinks up the sound, savoring it, keeping it. He pulls his cock free, and Chanyeol takes a moment. They’ve been together for a long time, he’s seen Minseok naked before, and it doesn’t shock him, but to be touching him like this, to be with him like this is completely new, groundbreaking. Wonderful.

To be one of the few to be allowed to see Minseok like this, it feels like a privilege.

Minseok is thick, hot and hard in his large hand, and his chest swells when he hears Minseok’s breathing hitch above him, length twitching in his hold and body thrusting forward instinctively. He pulls him off slowly, moving his fist on his cock and catching a bit of the wetness at the top and spreading it around, his grip a little dry, but judging by the moans pouring out of Minseok’s mouth, it’s still good.

He licks his hand to get more slickness, and Minseok watches him with dark eyes, biting his lip, furiously attractive. He quickens his pace on his dick, and Minseok fucks into his fist, his hands now on his shoulders and nails biting through his sweater. Chanyeol fights to keeps his own growls down, not wanting to wake anyone in the dorm up.

“Wait,” Minseok whispers against his mouth, and he’s palming Chanyeol’s own erection through his pants. Chanyeol whimpers, bucking into the teasing touch. “Can I?”

“Please do,” he says, and Minseok doesn’t waste time. Brings him out of the confines of his pants, and licks his hand. Chanyeol’s brain short circuits again. He sets a hard and fast pace almost immediately, his l fist a blur on Chanyeol’s cock, and his movements are sure with nothing wasted, somehow knowing just how to touch him, just how to twist his wrist and swipe his thumb over the head and make him fall apart.

They pull each other off, Minseok leaning down to kiss him and pull his bottom lip into his mouth, sucking. Chanyeol gasps, coming in Minseok’s hand, head dropping forward and his lips glide over Minseok’s neck, over his Adam’s apple.

“Min,” he breathes, breathless and spent, and Minseok is coming, gasping against his lips. He catches most of it in his hand, and he pulls Minseok’s shivering body close, knows he’s trembling himself.

They remain like that for several long moments, breathing each other in and the air is humid around them despite the slight chill still lingering. Then, Minseok is standing, only minimally unbalanced from his orgasm, and he disappears, comes back before Chanyeol can complain, wiping his hand with a few tissues.

He gives him the most chilling, handsome glare when Chanyeol goes to wipe his own mess on the blankets they’d laid out, saying, “Don’t think about it.”

Chanyeol pouts, tired. “Clean me up, please?”

Minseok rolls his eyes at his purposely cute voice, but he comes closer, cleans him up anyway as asked of him, wipes down his hand and his length, and Chanyeol is sated, boneless on the sofa.

“Move over,” Minseok mutters in his ear, before his lips leave a trail along his jaw. Chanyeol’s toes curl in his socks.

He moves, laying down, cuddling with Minseok. There’s hardly any room, but it’s to his advantage, and he’s leaving a long kiss on Minseok’s cheek, sleepy.

“Thank you,” he murmurs.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m very happy,” he answers honestly.

“I’m happy too,” Minseok tells him in turn, pushing his hair back to get a better look at his face. Chanyeol just blinks blearily, the orgasm leaving him tired. “Good night.”

“Night, 99,” he hums, and Minseok lets him tuck his face into his neck as he drifts off.

It’s the best sleep he’s had in a very long time. It’s even worth waking up to Kyungsoo taking pictures of them the next morning and sending it to the group chat, and Junmyeon’s suggestive choice of emojis in his sent reply.

.

He finds himself becoming happier with each day that passes. He didn’t think it would be possible, yet.

They win on Show Champion, then on M Countdown. He refrains from crying, but he still feels every bit as emotional each time, and each day, whenever he looks at Minseok, he feels such a sense of calm and warmth and affection, stronger each day, their bond growing even more, deepening and truly becoming each other’s other halves.

Mostly everyone is afraid to sit on the sofa, not knowing what they’d done on it exactly, but they’d made their assumptions when they’d had breakfast that morning and seen their disheveled state, the pinkness of their cheeks, the swollen lips.

The night after the first time, they lock out Jongdae from Minseok’s room. The night after that, they lock out Jongin. They won’t exactly call it revenge, but it’s satisfying to hear Jongdae’s complaints through the door as they purposely roll around on his bed, making a mess of it and defiling it with intent. Jongin is more easy going, simply just going to room with Yixing for the night, but it’s still quite something to see the blush on his face when they finally unlock the door and Minseok is shirtless still, pulling up his pants, and there are evidences of his mouth being all over Chanyeol’s body.

It’s during a fansign event they’re doing after their fourth win on Music Bank when Chanyeol gets the idea from a fan who’d showed him a drawing she’d made.

“Minnie, look,” he beams, turning in his seat to show it to Minseok.

Minseok tilts his head, infuriatingly adorable, and he looks up at the fan, who is blushing endlessly. “You drew this?”

She nods, suddenly speechless, and Minseok gives her that gummy smile that Chanyeol will always melt over. The fan seems to be of a similar disposition. “It’s beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you,” she says, hiding her face behind her hands, and Chanyeol looks back at it while he tangles his leg with Minseok’s under the table. A realistic watercolor painting of him, seemingly effortless, breezy strokes of paint bringing him to life. He likes the honey brown hair she’d given him. His attention is drawn to his arm, and she’d even gotten his tattoos right. His moon-guitar, his Eris stamp. But there is one he sees, a marking he knows isn’t on his own body.

“You gave me a new tattoo?” he asks her, keeps his tone warm.

She nods shyly, “This unit seems very important to you. I thought it would be a nice detail to add.”

“It is,” he assures her, smiling back. It’s a confirmation for both her assumptions. “May I keep this?”

“Oh, of course, it’s yours,” she tells him, and he grins, thankful.

It’s on the ride back home he says, “I want to get another tattoo.”

“Okay,” Minseok smiles, playing with his hair. “Of what?”

“Look,” he shows him the drawing again, points to the hand. It’s a rather small detail, and it takes Minseok some time, but his eyes widen slightly, and he glances back at him.

“Our sign,” he says, and Chanyeol grins.

“This isn’t a painting, it’s a picture of me from the future,” he declares, and Minseok sighs at him fondly.

“The brown does always look good on your hair,” he relents, and Chanyeol preens.

“It has to be the logo on the album,” he says, and Minseok looks at him, blinking.

“The one, you mean. My handwriting?”

He nods, and Minseok gives him the strangest look.

“You want my handwriting on your body?”

He nods again, grinning still. Minseok backs up away from him slightly, and he misses him immediately.

“That’s, that’s a lot,” he says, and he sounds so soft, very touched. Chanyeol barely keeps himself from cooing out loud.

“It would be a genuine honor, to have you on my skin for life,” he says, dramatic but sincere as always.

Minseok, in a very rare occurrence, pouts, sniffs, his eyes shining.

Chanyeol can’t keep his cooing in anymore, and he crawls into his seat, climbing over his legs and cuddling him.

He and Minseok go together after their taping for another music show broadcast, and they’re a little surprised that the tattoo artist tells them he’s not usually one to listen to idol releases, but “The Start is as perfect as music gets.”

“Thank you, Chanyeol blinks, but the words sink in, and he’s getting emotional again. Minseok squeezes his hand, bowing to him, ever polite.

The artist understands what he’s after immediately, and gets on it without much delay. He disinfects the side of Chanyeol’s wrist, connecting up to his thumb, and lays over a print of Minseok’s 160 logo, tracing over it carefully.

Minseok sits quietly on his other side, knows that even after a few of these, the pain of getting a tattoo had never really diminished over time for Chanyeol. He holds his other hand as the artist gets his tools ready, and Chanyeol looks at him gratefully, gripping tight.

“This particular spot, it will hurt,” the tattoo artist tells him, bracing him, and Chanyeol nods, showing he understands.

The needle touches his skin, and he bites his lips, squeezing tighter around Minseok’s hand. He hardly flinches at Chanyeol’s sudden vice-tight grip on his fingers, instead brushing back the hair that had fallen over Chanyeol’s eyes and he’s a steady, stable support that Chanyeol is always so thankful for.

It’s a small piece, just a little more than an inch in length, of Minseok’s drawing of their logo in black ink. Simple, straight to the point, no less full of meaning.

It’s small enough that the job shouldn’t take more than a few hours, but Chanyeol has a very low threshold for pain. He breathes hard, fighting not to ask for a break, eventually leaning his head on Minseok’s arm to calm himself down.

Minseok doesn’t move much, patiently waits for him, watches when Chanyeol can’t, which is the whole time. He’s unfailingly steady, mostly quiet, and Chanyeol is immensely grateful for him, not for the first time. He thinks he'll never stop being thankful for him, ever.

“This one must mean a lot,” the tattoo artist remarks as he’s drawing over the diamond, their zero.

“It does,” he says, trying not to grit it out. Minseok’s hand tightens around his.

It doesn’t take much longer, and finally, his skin is wiped and cleaned, and he’s allowed a look at the final piece. It looks exactly as he’d wanted it. Minseok’s messy lines marking his wrist, of their logo and everything it entails.

“It’s perfect,” he beams, feels giddy with it, “Thank you.”

“No problem, glad to have done it for you,” he says, smiling as he gets the bandage and cream for healing.

When they get back to the dorm, and they’re in the middle of dinner and he’s peeled back the bandage and showing it to the others, Kyungsoo asks, “Why’d you put it there? Was it on purpose?”

“What do you mean?” Chanyeol blinks. Minseok pauses next to him, his hand tightening on his thigh.

Kyungsoo stares, and in the flattest tone possible, says, “So you really get a tattoo of your unit on your wrist, where you’re sure to see it every time you get yourself off?”

Everyone chokes on their food, and Baekhyun laughs loudly, mischievous glint in his eye. Minseok turns a brilliant shade of red, and Chanyeol’s mouth drops, his chopsticks falling to the table, not knowing what to say.

The thought never cross his mind, and now that the seed is there. He blushes, stutters around his words incoherently.

“It, It wasn’t on purpose,” he says, though his tone is too soft and is drowned out by Baekhyun and Sehun and Jongin’s teasing. The others are decidedly looking down on their food, just as awkward as they are. Junmyeon’s ears are especially red, and he’s no doubt wondering how he’d been assigned to lead a pack of children.

“That is in no way your business in any case, Kyungsoo,” Minseok recovers quicker, giving him a dead stare, his striking features fixed in a scarily neutral expression.

The rest of the dinner passes in a stupid amount of teasing, though much more quiet and less invasive, no doubt due to the glares Minseok would send anyone if they went too far.

It comes as a shock when Jongdae stalks up to the both of them as they’re all getting ready to sleep, saying, “Mess around on his bed this time.” Chanyeol doesn’t the chance to react before he’s walking away, walking up to Baekhyun and muttering about needing the extra bed again.

His eyes widen, and he looks at Minseok. “Did you kick him out?”

“No,” Minseok’s eyebrows furrow close together, “I didn’t say anything.”

They don’t question it much further, however. Chanyeol climbs into bed with Minseok as soon as the lights are out, and they’re pressed right up against each other. He plays with Minseok’s wavy hair, and Minseok makes the softest noises, almost like purring. He’s infuriatingly endearing.

“I’ll never stop thinking about what Kyungsoo had said,” Minseok muses out loud suddenly, and Chanyeol groans.

“I regret choosing this spot.”

“Try saying that again when you pull yourself off next time,” Minseok snorts, and Chanyeol fights to keep his whine contained. “Why there? Seriously.”

Chanyeol blinks, not sure of how to word himself properly. Eventually, he says quietly, “So I can look down and always be inspired. When I write, it will be in a place where I can always see it.”

Minseok watches him, quiet, his eyes tender. He leans in and gives him a soft kiss, saying, “I’m glad that it can comfort you.”

“I promise I wasn’t thinking about getting off,” he mumbles, and Minseok smiles widely, almost laughing.

“I wouldn’t judge you,” he shrugs, rubbing his nose against Chanyeol’s. It makes Chanyeol’s chest tingle.

“I just want to make myself clear,” he says, tries not to sound petulant.

“I bet it can make you come faster, though,” Minseok says casually. Chanyeol chokes on the breath he takes.

“It won’t,” he murmurs, but Minseok is kissing the corner of his mouth, his lips warm. It makes him shiver.

“I bet you’ll last five minutes,” he says, his voice low and smooth, and Chanyeol hates how quickly it gets him going.

“I can last more than five,” he huffs, and Minseok chuckles.

“Alright,” he’s saying, tone neutral, but Chanyeol sucks in a breath when his hand palms the front of his joggers, and his traitorous dick is already half-hard. “Prove it.”

He hates how he whines, pulling his pants down without much of a fight, just enough to bring out his dick, already almost there. His hand tightens around his length, tattoo still covered by the bandage, and he squeezes around the base, because as much as he wants to get off, he’d rather not let Minseok have all the fun.

“I’ll show you, more than five minutes,” he mutters, and Minseok, the complete dick he is, actually brings out his phone and sets a timer. “Fuck you.”

“That sounds lovely,” Minseok smirks at him, and Chanyeol leans in to bite at his bottom lip in his irritation. It disappoints him only slightly when Minseok lets out a melodic moan, decidedly not hating having his mouth attacked.

Minseok takes his hand, pours out a little lube that they’d gotten after the first night together, and it’s a simple gesture, but Chanyeol is touched anyway. The glide through his clock turns slick, easy, and it’s an effort not to fuck into his hand. Minseok’s gaze on him is steady, in breaking, his catlike eyes dark and smug, and Chanyeol wants his mouth on his. His mind seems to be read, because Minseok pulls him into a steaming kiss, full of tongue and a little teeth, and he’s muttering against his lips, “You look exquisite. I could watch you all day.”

He groans, tries to keep his voice to a minimum, but he starts thrusting a little harder, craving a little more pressure around his cock.

Minseok starts murmuring words of praise against his ear, lips skimming the shell and his words don’t stop, filthy but sweet and full of affection.

He gives in, starts fucking his fist, going faster and swiping under the head, pre-come dribbling from the tip.

Minseok reaches down, peels back the bandage, and he tilts Chanyeol’s head down to watch as he pulls himself off, his tattoo dark against his skin and his eyes can’t move, can’t stop staring at the numbers, their sharp angles, the lines Minseok had drawn to represent them, their music, the two of them together.

He gasps when he comes, Minseok covering his hand before he can spill over his tattoo, getting his come all over his fingers instead, and it makes Chanyeol buck into his fist hard, one more time.

The timer goes off a few seconds later as he’s coming down.

“Don't, don’t you dare,” he struggles, breathing deep between words, and Minseok just gives him a cheeky grin. He wipes Chanyeol clean, putting back the bandage, before he turns to his own hand, and Chanyeol watches him quietly, taking him in as he takes care of him.

Minseok guides him gently to lay on his back, then hovers over him, kissing him so tenderly it makes Chanyeol’s chest so stupidly tight, his toes curling on the sheets beneath him.

“You’re lovely,” Minseok swipes his thumb over his cheeks, their mouths barely touching as he looks down on Chanyeol. His smile makes Chanyeol’s heart jump straight to his throat.

“Minnie?”

“Hmm?”

“Please, fuck me.”

Minseok pulls back, his eyes wide, his mouth agape. Chanyeol thinks he can feel the way his heart is pounding against his chest.

“Yeol,” he says after a long beat, and Chanyeol can see his heart in his eyes. “That’s. It’s going to be, be a lot. It’s going to hurt.”

“I trust you,” he tells him, because he does. Can’t think of anyone he trusts more, especially with this.

“You trust me with too much,” he says, and Chanyeol gives him a look.

“Because you’re trustworthy, and you don’t abuse it,” he says, and he rubs his nose against Minseok’s, his heart very full. He’s quite overwhelmed. “Please? Minnie. It’s okay if you don’t want to, but. Please.”

Minseok’s breath leaves his mouth in a shudder at his not-quite-plead, and he hides his face in Chanyeol’s neck, breathing deeply.

Chanyeol waits for him patiently, as Minseok always does for him, rubbing his back in soft motions.

“Okay,” Minseok says finally, leaning back and looking at him. He looks a little scared, but his pupils are blown out, and Chanyeol feels him against his thigh, how much he wants this, too. “Okay, but. Let me get you off again first, so I don’t hurt you so much later.”

“No problem,” Chanyeol swallows, as if it would be an inconvenience for him to get another orgasm, but he doesn’t say anything else. It’s also doing weird things to his heart, that Minseok is so careful with him.

He’s kissed, sweet and long, Minseok’s tongue grazing against his, and he sinks into the pillows as Minseok’s fingers trail under his shirt, pulling it up as he traces over the muscle on his stomach, his chest. He pulls off his shirt, watches as Minseok removes his own as well, eyes committing the broad line of his shoulders, his well defined muscles on his torso, his arms, to memory. The muscles are firm, hard underneath his touch, and Minseok is removing his pants, his cock half-hard and leaking a little bit, and Chanyeol feels himself harden again slowly.

He’s stripped of his joggers, and they’re both naked. They’ve been naked together plenty of times, almost everyday just these past two weeks, but this time, it’s charged, the air flavored with something Chanyeol’s never known before.

“You okay?” Minseok’s voice is strained as they rub against each other, their lengths sliding and the friction is a little rough, a little dry, but it makes them both moan all the same.

“I’m, oh fuck, I-I’m fantastic,” he grunts, gripping on to Minseok’s biceps. They’re unfairly hard under his hands.

“Stay still,” he’s murmuring against his mouth before he slithers down, leaving a trail of kisses on Chanyeol’s body, lips like fire against his already overheated skin. Chanyeol struggles not to squirm, but fails when Minseok kisses the tip of his cock, and he moans, a little louder than what’s probably wise.

Minseok pinches his hip, warning, but he doesn’t tease him, thankfully. Takes his length into his mouth, inch by inch, until he’s almost at the base. What he can’t take, he wraps his hand around, twisting as he bobs his head up and down on his dick.

Chanyeol whines, turning his head and biting at the pillow to shut himself up. His cock hardens fully in Minseok’s mouth, his hips held in place by Minseok’s strong grip, and he loses his mind when his tongue traces along the vein, his lips popping off of his dick.

He’s good at this, too good, and Chanyeol can’t stop making noise. Groans when Minseok kitten licks the slit before sucking down again, and it’s all he can do when he twists his fingers on Minseok’s head, threading through his hair. Pulls slightly, and he feels Minseok moan around his cock, and it makes him moan as well.

He watches him, can’t stop staring, the redness of his lips around his girth, his beautiful features, delicate and striking and sharp. Minseok doesn’t pause, each move thought out to make Chanyeol feel good, careful with nothing wasted.

His orgasm comes out of nowhere, barreling into his and Minseok’s name leaves his lips, breathy and too loud. Minseok swallows everything, licking his lips as he pops off of his dick, and he’s immediately on him, kissing him. Chanyeol tastes himself on his tongue, and he trembles, clinging on to him.

“Are you okay?” Minseok asks him, hands on his face, searching.

“Yeah,” Chanyeol hums, sated, boneless, but still wanting more. Still wanting what he’d asked for. “Please, Minseok.”

“Okay,” he says, kissing him, and he’s uncapping the lube again and spreading it on his fingers, warming it for him. He presses another long kiss on his mouth as he helps him turn over onto his stomach, his clean hand gliding down his back as he inserts the first finger into him, slow, careful. It hurts, been some time since he’d done anything like this, and Chanyeol’s chest shudders with it.

“I’m sorry,” Minseok murmurs against his skin, but Chanyeol shakes his head, turning his head and kissing his cheek. Prods him to continue, and he does, his pace still slow as he opens him up. One finger becomes two after too long, then three much later.

Minseok angles his fingers, and Chanyeol jolts, flinging his arms over as he gasps, his hands balling up Minseok’s covers as pleasure spreads through his entire body. Minseok continues, his free hand on Chanyeol’s hair, pulling his head back slightly and exposing his neck, and he takes full advantage, sucking then soothing with his tongue, avoiding leaving any marks. It’s a shame, Chanyeol thinks, that he can’t leave any, but every thought flies out of his head when Minseok presses a little harder on the nub of nerves, making his legs flail around him.

“Now, now, fuck,” he swears, and Minseok pulls his hand out to grip at his cock, hard again, and Minseok is jostling around, and Chanyeol can barely be focused to figure out that he’s putting on a condom. He whines, whimpers, feeling too empty and he tilts his hips up, a little bit out of his mind.

He hears Minseok groan behind him, almost a growl, and there’s one hand on his shoulder, pushing him down to the bed, and the other on his hip, grip tight and biting.

Minseok is thick, and the first press against his hole is painful despite the thorough preparation. Chanyeol whimpers, bites the pillow to keep quiet, and Minseok waits, patient, the hand on his back moving in slow motions.

“Fuck,” he mutters, and Minseok bends low, covers his back with his chest, kissing his shoulder in apology.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, voice soft. He’s achingly hard, from what Chanyeol can feel. He wants him so much, his own cock hard beneath him, rubbing into the bedding.

“Go on,” he tells him, makes it known in his voice that Minseok shouldn’t hesitate. It takes a moment, but Minseok must understand, because he’s pushing the rest of the way in, filling his ass with his cock, and waiting a moment to let him adjust. Chanyeol is thankful, because fuck it’s a lot. It hurts, and he’d known that, and it uncomfortable, but more than that, it’s full and hot and overwhelmingly good, and it’s wild, that he has Minseok’s dick inside him, splitting him open. It’s wonderful and crazy.

Minseok moves when he tells him to, pulling back, and what he’s not giving him in pacing, he gives him in strength, fucking back in, hard enough that their skin smack together audibly as his hips and his bum meet. He’s jostled up the bed slightly from the force of it, and it shouldn’t be as hot at it is, but he can’t help but get harder.

It’s like that for several minutes, pace slow and hard, Minseok fucking into him carefully, and it’s good. It gets better when he gets at that angle, and Chanyeol hides his face in the pillow, screams, pushing his ass up to meet him sooner, spreading his legs wider, his hole giving way for Minseok, needing more.

It’s given to him, without reserve. The pace quickens, and he’s letting out a never ending stream of “fuck, fuck, fuck,” as Minseok fucks into him, pounding into his ass and making him feel everything, and it’s almost like pure relief.

“Yeol, fuck,” he’s murmuring in his ear, sounding almost as breathless as Chanyeol feels, his hands gripping tight on his hips, and he’s sure it will leave bruises. Chanyeol moans at the possibility.

He fucks in, in, in, then he’s pulling out all of a sudden, making Chanyeol whimper.

“Turn, turn over, I need to see your face,” he says in gasps, out of breath, and it’s an effort, with how tired Chanyeol is after having come twice already, but he’s rock hard and aroused out of his mind and needs to come again.

Minseok helps him wordlessly, and then he’s guiding himself back inside, and establishes his old pace quickly, fucking in and thrusting, pistoning his hips.

“Min,” he moans, feeling himself give way, the heat building up. His cock gets some friction from Minseok’s thrusting, his hard stomach rubbing against his length, and he tries tilting his hips up to get more, and he’s desperate with how much he wants to come.

“I’ve got you,” Minseok breathes against his lips, not quite kissing, just breathing against each other’s mouths as they fuck. He rolls his hips, sinuous and grinding into him hard, and his hand is back in his hair, pulling his head back slightly.

Chanyeol whimpers against his mouth, flinging his arms over Minseok’s shoulders, his nails biting into his skin, hard enough to know he might be leaving some wounds.

Minseok looks unbothered, fucking into him well, and then he gets a hand on his cock, pulling him off in time with his thrusts. It takes hardly any more time, and when Chanyeol comes, it’s a little weak, almost dry from the two previous times, but his whole body jolts with it, and he’s breathing hard, moaning into Minseok’s mouth. Minseok takes it all, kissing him properly to muffle the noise and keep the moment just theirs, slowing his thrusts as he comes down.

“Y-you, you now,” Chanyeol murmurs, and Minseok shivers. Chanyeol kisses him, his touch searing, and he rolls his hips under him, trying to get him going. He’s sensitive, but it’s not painful yet, and Minseok is so careful, even as he fucks faster, harder.

“You, shit. You feel so good, so open for me,” he’s whispering, voice coming out pained, desperate to come, and Chanyeol trembles with the force of his hips pushing in. He can’t come again, but it feels good still as he’s fucked, and he wallows in it.

Chanyeol lifts his legs though they feel like lead and boneless, and wraps them around his waist. Reaches down, thankful his arms are long, and palms Minseok’s ass, squeezing the firm cheek that tenses as he fucks in.

Its effect is almost instantaneous; Minseok gasps, mouth dropping open, lips barely skimming Chanyeol’s as he thrusts minutely, wringing out his climax in his ass.

It’s silent, just their collective labored breathing lingering in the air. It’s a wonderful noise, and Chanyeol drinks it in, suddenly exhausted, and he’s sure it won’t feel as pleasant tomorrow when they’re carrying out their schedules, but the ache left by being split open, being fucked well and good leaves him feeling weightless, floating.

Minseok pulls out of him, and they both wince as he slips out completely, Chanyeol feeling extraordinarily empty. Minseok stands to throw the condom, and returning with towels to clean up with. Chanyeol sighs, satisfied and wistful that the moment is over, but as Minseok climbs back in properly and pulling the covers over them, kissing his shoulder as he holds him close, he hums, content, happy.

“Thank you, Minnie,” he murmurs, doesn’t want anyone but Minseok and the moon, maybe, to hear. “I think I’m in heaven.”

“We have filming tomorrow, you can’t be,” he says, yawning. He looks like a cat, and Chanyeol purrs against him.

“Please let me do that to you tomorrow,” he pouts, “You should feel as good as you just made me feel.”

“Just got fucked and already talking about the next one,” Minseok sighs tiredly, burrowing into the covers. Chanyeol blushes, but Minseok hadn’t said no.

He tangles their legs together, curling up against Minseok’s warmth, and falls into it.

.

He doesn’t have to wait long.

It’s after their next win on Inkigayo when Chanyeol and Minseok do it again, in Chanyeol’s room, on Chanyeol’s bed, with Minseok sinking down on him and Chanyeol leaning against the wall, trying to regulate his breathing.

Minseok is a dream, riding him with sinful rolls of his hips that make Chanyeol’s teeth tingle with how turned on he is, and watching his powerful body as he fucks himself on his cock and making them both feel good, feel amazing. He tries not to be useless, thrusting up and touching him everywhere he can reach, but mostly, he mostly just tries not to fall apart under him, fights to not come before Minseok.

He keeps kissing him, each one rougher than the last, slick and audible in the silence of the room, undisturbed aside from that and the smack of Minseok’s bottom coming down on his hips. Minseok feels perfect around him, tight and hot around him, his body hard but moving so seamlessly, gracefully, as if it were just another dance, and Chanyeol pulses inside him.

Chanyeol gets a hand on him, jerking him off in time with his thrusts, and his other hand comes back round, squeezing at his ass cheek. Minseok moans, setting his forearms on his shoulders and coming down harder, pounding, clenching around his length and leaving his mouth are the prettiest, most toe-curling sounds Chanyeol’s ever heard, wants to record it and never share it with anyone else.

They come within moments of each other, Chanyeol shooting into the condom and biting at Minseok’s shoulder to muffle his yell, and Minseok covering his mouth with his hand, spilling over Chanyeol’s hand.

They breathe hard, chests rising and falling from exertion, and Chanyeol almost feels like laughing with how good it had been. He refrains, barely, instead reaching over to get a few tissues to wipe them off.

“It’s a good thing we don’t have broadcast tomorrow,” Minseok muses, and Chanyeol snorts at him. He’s lucky that he doesn’t have to dance after being fucked, as it had been hell for him when he’d had to perform with the satisfying ache in his lower back, his thighs, his backside. In the very least, Chanyeol could blame it on his less than stellar dancing ability, that he hadn’t been up to snuff. Minseok, dance line as he is, can’t be so reckless without it raising some eyebrows.

He helps him climb off, and they arrange themselves on the bed, getting comfortable, Minseok humming a little tune, something new.

“What’s that?” Chanyeol asks, watching him.

“Just something,” Minseok answers. “It just came to me.”

“Japan album,” Chanyeol mutters at him, and Minseok smiles fondly, rolling his eyes at him.

“Slow down. We’re getting too old to be going at the pace your brain is going,” he says, combing Chanyeol’s hair away from his eyes.

“I’ll start the pencil pushing tomorrow,” he says, and Minseok snorts, but doesn’t refute him. He pauses, watching him. Asks carefully, “You had a meeting yesterday, with Dae and Baekhyun.”

“Yes,” Minseok says. His expression doesn’t change.

“How did that go? What happened?”

“Not much,” Minseok replies. “The CBX comeback might have to wait another year. It’s alright.”

“Wait, why?” he frowns, leaning up on his elbows to look down at him. He looks too relaxed. “I thought the schedules were clear, and – wait. Is it, is it because of 160?”

“They didn’t really say it outright, but. We’re doing much better than expected,” he tells Chanyeol, eyes bright. “The company’s surprised. They didn’t think the song and the album would get as big as it did. So, you know. a Japanese album doesn’t sound so far off, actually.”

“But, weren’t you already practicing?” he says, and the guilt starts setting in. “I wouldn’t want your comeback to have to be delayed because of us.”

“It’s okay,” Minseok tells him, nosing at his cheek, and Chanyeol melts under it, comforted. “We’re all okay. Baek and Dae already had plans of their own too. Those solo releases are long overdue. So is yours.”

Chanyeol waves him off, and Minseok gives him a look. Sighs, before continuing, “And, in any case, 160 is important to me.”

“You mean I’m important to you,” he teases, and Minseok pinches his hip, exasperated.

“Of course you are, you rascal,” he rolls his eyes, and Chanyeol sputters, not expecting such honesty. Minseok pulls him in even closer, and his stare so devastatingly sincere and teasing. Chanyeol can’t look anywhere else, can’t think of any words to speak.

He tells him as much, and Minseok just smirks, but places the softest, gentlest kiss between his eyebrows, making him melt, and.

His chest feels too tight, stretched too tight over his heart, suddenly overwhelmed with emotion he can’t name.

He swallows around it, and Minseok’s embrace amplifies it, but also calms him, comforting him a great deal.

He curls in, and sleeps.

Jongin wakes him the next morning with a gentle shake of his shoulder, and Chanyeol blinks, feeling too cold. Realizes that Minseok is no longer next to him, and his heart clenches, feeling inexplicably sad.

“Minnie told me to tell you that he was going to the gym,” Jongin tells him, respectfully not looking at his nude state. Chanyeol rolls his eyes at him, as if they hadn’t been roommates for years and not seen each other in worse dress, but he knows he’s distracting himself, trying not to pout over being woken up, alone in bed. “He didn’t want to wake you up. He said he’d be going straight to class after, won’t be back until the afternoon.”

“Stupid perfect body,” he mutters, sitting up on the bed and rubbing his eyes. He’s being petulant, and he likes waking up in Minseok’s arms, in his warmth. His stomach rolls around when he tries to think of why.

“Are you alright, Yeol?” Jongin asks him, and Chanyeol shakes himself off from his thoughts, giving him a small smile that he hopes is reassuring.

“I’m fine,” he says, wincing a little as he moves his legs, his thighs aching.

Jongin makes a face, halfway between smug and disgusted, and Chanyeol throws his pillow at him, and he yells about not wanting any of their bodily fluids on him. Chanyeol throws his blankets at him after.

.

The members give them a cake after they their last broadcast show, eight candles representing their eight music show wins. He and Minseok are emotionally grateful, to have done exceptionally well for a debut, and to be blessed so continuously. They do some radio shows together, some fansigns, a few variety shows, never without work, and they work hard, together.

They’re called in for another meeting towards the end of promotions, and Chanyeol’s not-quite-wish had been granted; they’re scheduled for a Japan debut right before the next EXO comeback, and they’re given free reign to write and compose the music, and they’re excited, relieved and happy to have more opportunity to be working together still, though it adds even more to their schedule.

It’s easy to get back into it, to write again and collaborate. Whenever they’re in the studio, words flow easily between them, notes and melodies are hummed and translated to guitar chords, drum beats and percussions.

The problem is time.

Just as their promotional cycle ends, rehearsals and recordings for the summer comeback gets underway. It shouldn’t shock Chanyeol so much, with how long they’ve been doing this as a group, but after the months he’d had with just Minseok and having had a different approach to almost every aspect of the process, it throws him off slightly. Coupled with simultaneously preparing for their Japanese debut, writing songs and recording for the album, and having dance rehearsals for their repertoire, his mind starts going a little haywire.

The rigorous recording of great songs, but songs that he’d had minimal participation in nonetheless, being regulated to mostly rap again when he’d sung so much with the unit, and he realizes he’d been spoiled with 160, with what he thinks is his true voice given more attention. The dancing is harder, now, and he misses Minseok as his sole dance partner, his patience and smiles, his hugs whenever they’d managed to get a break. Yixing is amazing, Yixing makes him work hard and look cool, but he doesn’t want to kiss Yixing when he gets a dance move right.

He withstands the teasing from the others whenever he makes his way over to wherever Minseok is whenever they’re given a reprieve during dance practice, either curling up on his lap for a power nap and for his hair to be played with, or embracing him fully, tucking his face into his neck to breathe him in and let him calm him until it feels like his heart rate is steady again.

“You’re doing well,” Minseok tells him, voice quiet between them as he’s embracing him affectionately, rubbing comforting circles on his back.

“I miss you,” he murmurs, swinging their bodies together. He sees Sehun taking a video, huffs as he turns their backs to him.

“I’m right here,” Minseok tells him, tone amused and endeared.

“But I’m not dancing with you,” he huffs, “We’re the couple dance partners. Why’d they separate us?”

“Variety can be good too, you know,” he says lightly, and Chanyeol pouts, but pulls his head back all the same, bending down and leaning his forehead against Minseok’s.

It’s a little strange, to be so affectionate in front of the others. They obviously know about them, have been supportive and teasing, but they’re in their own world while everyone else are on another, and it’s a new kind of atmosphere they’d never had before in the practice room. He doesn’t care that much, he finds.

Minseok yawns, hiding it in Chanyeol’s shirt. Chanyeol grins, stupidly endeared, kisses his cheek with a long press of his lips, making Minseok hum and lean against the touch.

Their phones go off, and they don’t have to check the notifications to know what it is, what with Seunghwan shouting across the room, “Baekhyun, leave them alone, we’ve talked about this.”

“They are clearly disrespecting my space! I’m sensitive!”

“Weren’t you our number one fan just a few weeks ago?” Minseok raises an eyebrow at him, and Baekhyun glares from where he’s sprawled out on the ground.

“That was before you decided you didn’t give a shit anymore about getting caught being cute and insufferable and started making out in front of us on purpose!”

“Let’s disrespect him a little more,” he grins at Minseok, bouncing a little on his feet.

Minseok smirks back, tilts his head up and puckers his lips, and Chanyeol acquiesces easily, kissing him soundly, sweetly. Makes it sugar sweet and loving, and they hear petulant huffing behind them. It’s stupidly satisfying.

The day is long, as most days are. Recording and dance practice and photo shoots and look tests take a lot of energy, not leaving much for much else. Writing together doesn’t occur as often as it should, but they still tumble into bed together at the end of each day, but nothing else happens aside from actual sleeping, at least cuddled in each other’s arms. They still lock Jongdae out, though.

It’s a few days later that he bleaches and dyes his hair platinum to match the concept of the comeback, and while waiting for the dye to take to his hair, he watches Minseok gets his own hair done beside him, his black locks trimmed slightly, still long enough to mostly cover the shaved off sides, his EXO number carefully sheared off the fuzz.

“Tacky,” Jongdae had remarked. Minseok remained unbothered.

“It will catch on,” was his only reply. He raises an eyebrow, “You’d also said my lemon hair was awful, and yet-“

“It’s in style, now,” he huffs. Minseok just hums, and Chanyeol snickers, amused that he’d been able to somehow reel him in, easily.

.

He gets a song on a rest day, and it floats around in his brain, so clear, sounding polished and complete. It’s so sudden, comes out of nowhere, and Chanyeol is shocked to say the least, chokes on his tea when he hears it in his mind.

It takes him the morning to transcribe it, communicate the song with his guitar, and the lyrics find their way to his notebook, one word after the other with hardly any pause. It hardly takes any time before it’s done, and he sits back, breathes at what he’d written.

His chest is light, his shoulders are light. He feels like there’s a big weight off of his body, strangely enough. Almost how he feels every time he and Minseok finish a song together.

He shows it to him that evening in the lounge area, eager to figure it out with him, what parts will be his and how they can harmonize together, but Minseok gives him a look as he sings, is quiet throughout.

“You don’t need me there at all,” Minseok smiles softly at him a few moments after he’d finished.

Chanyeol blinks, not completely understanding. “What do you mean?”

“You don’t need me, in any part of it,” he says, coming forward slightly to tuck Chanyeol’s hair behind his ear. “It’s done.”

“But, I wrote it for the both of us,” he says, confused.

“I know, but I don’t think you’re really hearing it,” he says, still smiling quietly. “The song doesn’t need anything else. It’s gorgeous.”

“I still want you in it,” Chanyeol murmurs, and Minseok kisses him, endeared.

“Disrespecting my space!”

Minseok ignores Baekhyun, pulls Chanyeol in for a hug. He goes easily, seeking Minseok’s warmth and he sighs when he gets it, breathing him in, an instant balm.

“Save it for the future,” he tells him, “for yourself. I don’t want you using that for us when it’s clearly your song.”

“But,” he murmurs, “I don’t know.”

“Think about it,” he’s telling him gently. “There’ll be other songs. That one’s yours. Okay? Trust me.”

And Chanyeol does, with everything, so he says, “Okay. I’ll save it.”

Minseok smiles at him, sincere and soft, kissing his brow. Baekhyun throws a pillow at them, Minseok kicks it away easily.

.

Chanyeol writes many more songs, many with Minseok, many on his own. Most of them about Minseok, but he doesn’t say so. Whenever Chanyeol is composing, when he’s not in class, Minseok would sit next to him, typing on his laptop and doing his coursework for his PhD. It’s frustratingly attractive, and Chanyeol would often interrupt to climb on his lap and kiss him senseless.

The finish recording the Japan debut album by the time they’re done with filming the music video for the lead single, just as they begin shooting the EXO title with the other members, and Chanyeol is in danger of getting burnt out. Minseok is there, to force him to sit back and breathe, to hold him when he’s on the verge of breaking down. He should be used to this amount of work, and he’s thankful for it, but he’s not quite as energetic as he once was, not as young anymore.

He’s called in for a meeting, just him, and it confuses him when he’s told to be in the company by half past nine, but he’s there when they tell him to be, and he’s met with a room full of higher-ups, and they’re all warm to him.

They want him to finally push through with his solo album.

His heart pounds in his chest, unsure of what to feel. He feels everything instead, confused and happy and excited and nervous and questioning and so much more.

But, they say, 160’s next comeback will be pushed back until after CBX’s, to make way for promotions and schedules.

Chanyeol had never said no so quickly in his life.

Minseok finds out through Seunghwan, and confronts him before dinner.

“Why’d you say no?” he asks him, his eyes wide and his mouth set in a thin line. He’s upset, and Chanyeol doesn’t understand why.

“They said that our unit comeback will be delayed until late next year, if I did it,” he answers, truly confused as to why Minseok looks so hurt.

“And?” he prods, still waiting. “Tell me there’s more, that can’t be the only reason.”

“And why wouldn’t that be enough?” he says, and there’s an unpleasantness rolling around his chest, his stomach. “We’re already building up material for a new album, why should I push it back further?”

“Because it can wait!”

“So can a solo debut!”

“Chanyeol,” he says, holds his waist, eyes imploring, trying to make him understand. “No matter what we do, we will be pushed back at one point or another for this opportunity. It will come.”

“Then let it come, but I don’t want it to be now,” he says, and he fights to stay calm, but Minseok’s words sting, unexpectedly.

“Why don’t you ever talk to me about these things?” Minseok sounds so sad, and it’s a voice Chanyeol doesn’t like immediately. “I would wait, you know I would. But pushing aside opportunities for a unit, you have to think.”

Chanyeol’s face heats up, and he tries, tries with his utmost to not get angry, not to get upset over the fact that Minseok had insinuated that their unit, their team wasn’t as important. “I did think,” he breathes, voice low. “I can decide for myself. I don’t want to go solo. And you said, didn’t you? That you were okay with CBX coming back next year for 160, why are you upset?”

“I was okay with coming back later because it meant Dae and Baek could get their solo debuts going,” he says, gaze hard. “And we already have the Japan album now, we can’t be so greedy. You were supposed to have your debut too. You deserve to have it.”

He takes a breath, pausing, and Chanyeol stares at him, frowning, understanding what he’s saying, but not fully accepting it yet.

“Why do you keep doing this?” Minseok asks him later when he’s quiet for too long, “Chanyeol, it’s. It’s just me, you can do so much more without me dragging you down.”

That’s what sets him off.

“How can you say that?” he breathes hard through his nose, pushing him away. He musters up every bit of courage to not crumble when Minseok’s eyes look at him with a flash of vulnerability. “You, dragging me down? You’ve done nothing but support me, you’re my other half, Min. How can you say that, with as much as we’ve done together? I wouldn’t have gotten anything done this year without you.”

“We can’t be together all the time, Yeol,” Minseok tells him, his voice soft, and Chanyeol knows what he means. Knows this is about their sub-unit, knows that this conversation, this argument shouldn’t be as big a deal as he’s making it.

But he’s not subtle with emotions. He can’t help but think every bad thing, can’t help but making it about something else, something more. Making it about them.

“So you don’t want to work with me, is that what this is about?” he says, angry but panicked and his heart tearing into two, slowly chiseled away with the the way Minseok looks at him, bewildered, sad. “You don’t want to be with me, is that it?”

And there it is.

“Chanyeol, of course that’s not it, when have I showed you that I don’t?” he says, trying to reach out to him, but Chanyeol backs away from his touch, breathing deeply and his eyes begin to sting. He knows he’s right. They’ve been doing so well. They’ve been so happy. He doesn’t know why he’s doing this.

“You’re doing a good show of it now,” he mutters, and he knows that with everything he’s saying, he’s making it worse for himself. He knows Minseok means well, always wants what’s best for him.

“I don’t want to fight, I never do,” he says, tries to stay calm. “I want this, of course I want 160, but I have to try to steer you in the right direction because I’m older and I should know better. Making your own album, like you’ve always wanted to, it would do you so much good.”

Chanyeol gets angrier, his heart pounding painfully in his chest. “This unit has done me so much good. You have done me so much good. I’m so much better and I’ve never been happier, why can’t you see that?” And he is. Never has felt this much joy and affection and many beautiful things, and from one person. He feels like he’s being broken up with, and he’d known Minseok had come into the conversation just wanting to help him. He’s ruining it for himself.

“Chanyeol, please,” Minseok is soft, and Chanyeol chokes with how tired he is. “I promise I’m just trying to help. I don’t ever want to hold you back.”

Chanyeol’s heart breaks. “You don’t hold me back,” he chokes, and he’s crying, wiping at his face and gasping and his chest aches with it. “You, Minnie-“

“Oh, Yeol,” Minseok gathers him in his arms, and Chanyeol falls into him, burrowing his face into his neck and letting the tears leak out and drench his soft shirt, his gasps and soft sobs comforted with gentle touches. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

He shakes his head, but can’t lift it up, just curls in deeper and holds back tighter, fingers curling up around the material of his shirt.

His chest aches, so much and he’s never known that this kind of pain could hurt this much. It clogs his throat, makes it difficult to breathe and he hadn’t realized how deep his feelings have reached.

Minseok didn’t even have to try and Chanyeol would melt under his gaze, his touch, with every word, and the painful thing is that he does. He always tries for Chanyeol and tries to meet him in the middle if they don’t agree, and he does everything he can for him, takes care of him in every way he knows how, even now, when they’re arguing. Chanyeol cries, because he doesn’t know how to deal with his affection, he doesn’t know how to approach any of this.

No one questions why they don’t come for dinner, and it’s because Chanyeol knows they hadn’t exactly been keeping their voices down. Jongdae doesn’t say anything when Minseok brings Chanyeol to their shared room, leaving without another word and even offering Chanyeol a tender pat on his wet cheek as he goes, trying to reassure.

“Please talk to me,” Minseok tells him softly, his thumbs swiping under Chanyeol’s eyes and catching the tears that still flow. Chanyeol trembles under his touch, leaning in, selfishly wanting his warmth. “It doesn’t have to be now. But, please promise me, that you’ll talk to me about this.”

He nods, unable to speak lest he start sobbing again, and he pulls Minseok in close, deciding to not care and be greedy for his proximity.

Minseok goes easily, lowering them on to his bed together and they bury themselves in blankets, covers, taking in each other’s nearness and quietly absorbing it, innocent and soft and tender and so, so vulnerable.

.

They’re not given time to fully recover from that night.

Preparations for the comeback take almost all of their time. If not with EXO, then with 160 and the Japan album.

He and Minseok don’t quite avoid each other; they still hold hands when they sit together during practice breaks, they still sit next to each other during meals, still wordlessly pull one another into each other’s beds to sleep, huddled in their collective warmth. But they don’t talk as much, and when they do, it’s stilted, like Minseok doesn’t know how to approach him, doesn’t want to force him into conversation, and Chanyeol doesn’t know what to say, how to begin what he wants to tell him.

They haven’t talked about their argument.

He thinks, long and hard and looks at the music he’d made on his own, about the work he’d done. With a little prodding and encouragement from the other members, he’d gone back to the company, decided to take up the offer.

They’d all been happy for him, and that night, Minseok had pulled him aside, asked him with a guilty look on his face, “You, you didn’t do that because of me, right? It wasn’t because of what I said, or.”

The sorry is clearly etched on his face as his words trail, and Chanyeol’s heart aches. “No, I did it for me. I thought about it, and. You, you had a point. I think I have the material for it now, and I’m ready for it. You don’t have to worry. I’ll make you proud.”

Minseok blinks, absorbing what he’d said. Chanyeol kisses his cheek, and it breaks him a little, and Minseok gives him the purest, softest smiles, such a gentle look on his face.

He had thought, naively, that it would aid in the resolution of their situation, that after he’d signed the papers and agreed, that they would be completely okay again, that he wouldn’t have to feel like there had been weights pulling down on his chest, making it difficult to breathe.

He’d discover it’s not that simple, as it turns out. They’re still on eggshells around each other, still unsure of how to act around one another. It chokes him.

A few weeks before the comeback, they debut in Japan with a lot of success. The song hits number one, and the music video reaches more than eleven million views by the end of the day. They don’t quite have the time to enjoy it, with practices and preparations for their group release coming into the final few weeks of crunch time, and they work especially hard, the two of them, because they know they don’t have as much time as the others, with the promotional schedules they have for their unit.

The two of them fly to Japan, still awkward around each other despite the fingers intertwined while seated on the plane, silent.

They stay close together as they go through the airport, and Chanyeol knows there are fans everywhere, can practically feel the camera’s zooming in on them. He doesn’t care, keeps holding Minseok’s hand, resting his head on his shoulder a few times. Minseok lets him, holding him back as well, and the managers and staff are quiet, must be feeling the delicate atmosphere between them.

It’s a full schedule, with a few interviews, a magazine shoot, and an awards show to attend, representing EXO.

They get through the other commitments just fine. Minseok is always usually quiet, really thoughtful with his words, and Chanyeol always constantly with something to say, so they even each other out rather well. The interviews breeze through fairly quickly, and the photo shoot is casual, laid back clothes much in the style of their concept, loose but slightly brighter, colorful and very much the opposite of what he feels, but he and Minseok naturally find each other in different poses, comfortable and easy in front of the camera, even if they aren’t quite there yet in reality.

It’s the awards show they have to attend that makes him a little apprehensive, not knowing if he can sit through a few hours with just Minseok for company, surrounded by many thousands watching, and having to perform their songs together. He doesn’t know what to feel, how to act, doesn’t know what will happen.

It doesn’t help that Minseok is unfairly beautiful in the slim suit they’d given him, velvet turtleneck of burgundy under his midnight blue blazer to complement his own ruby turtleneck and black velvet jacket, and his hair carefully set in soft waves lifting up from his head gently, the shaved sides slightly visible. He’s gorgeous, and Chanyeol’s chest aches with how much he misses him, how much he wants him.

“You’re beautiful,” Minseok says of him, right before they leave for the venue. Chanyeol’s heart hurts with the softness of his comment, even more so when his cheek is kissed gently, fondly. He wishes he were as brave right at that moment, wants to say the same of him, but it’s the most he can do to kiss him, their lips meeting for the first time in much too long.

Minseok looks so sad when he ends it, when he separates from him. He tries not to think too much of it.

They’re quiet in the car, but they sit close to each other, and he plays with the seam of Minseok’s pants, just for something to do. They get to the venue and it’s immediately a wall of flashes and camera lens, and he tries to be a little more lively as they walk the line, posing for pictures and engaging with the MCs. It’s hard, but he does it.

They’re surrounded by more familiar faces than he’d expected, sees Wendy and Seulgi approaching Lisa and Jisoo with wide, bright smiles on all their faces, sees Doyoung and Taeil bowing respectfully to Heechul and Leeteuk, and surprisingly even Dara, who’d been chatting animatedly with the members of Winner.

“Don’t you have a crush on her?” Minseok murmurs under his breath, and when Chanyeol looks at him, his eyes are teasing, mouth set in a soft, unsure smile. The ice is chipped, slowly, carefully, and he’s trying, and Chanyeol appreciates him so much.

“Yes, well. I have eyes, so that would be a thing that would happen, naturally,” he says, making Minseok chuckle quietly. “But then again, you’re prettier, to be honest.”

He blushes, and Chanyeol is smug.

It’s a good show, everyone performs well and it’s not difficult for Chanyeol to force himself to have fun, dancing in his seat and making Minseok dab with him when Twice do a mashup of Likey and Signal, and Minseok plays along, humoring him without question.

He can’t quite hold hands with him in this setting, and it upsets him a little more than he thought it would. He settles for leaning in close, pressing their legs together on the shiny sofa they’re sat on.

They’re more than stunned when EXO 160 is announced as the winner for the Global Popularity Award, and they look at each other, eyes wide. As far as they’d known, they were just here to attend as a courtesy, and they’re too new to be receiving this kind of recognition, but they stand up to wild applause from the audience, many silver lights shining and giving him a lot of strength, especially when his chest feels like it’s getting too tight with emotion and his eyes begin to sting.

He takes the small bouquet of flowers from the host, and Minseok receives the trophy for the award, and they both bow quite low, to the MCs and to the audience, who scream for them beautifully.

“One, two, three,” Minseok takes lead, his palm comforting on Chanyeol’s back as he guides him to the mic to speak. “99-“

“61,” Chanyeol says, but his voice chokes at the end, and he sniffs, breathes hard.

“We are EXO 160, hello to you all,” they bow amidst cheers, and Chanyeol bites he inside of his mouth, trying to get a grip on himself.

“Ah, truly, We did not expect this,” Minseok says, patting Chanyeol’s back as he bows his head, rubbing his nose and trying not to cry. “We’re sorry if we aren’t prepared with a speech. But always, we must thank our members, for supporting us and being with us as we made our music. We thank SM, we thank our staff and managers. Mostly, we thank our EXO-LS,” he says, pausing when the great majority of the crowd and their light sticks erupt in screams, waving to them. It’s a beautiful sea of bright silver. “You have been so kind to us, given us so much love. We love you very much.”

He prods Chanyeol to say something, and Chanyeol can’t yet, bending to hide his face in Minseok’s neck, crying quietly. Minseok rubs his back, steady, until he’s encouraged by the audience’s cheering, and he wipes at his face, trying not to pinch his expression so much.

“I’m sorry,” he says, laughing a little to ease the heaviness in his chest. They cheer for him again, louder. “This has been a very good few months for me and Xiumin. We have you to thank for that; we are very, very grateful, and we will always work hard for you. We love you, our EXO-Ls.”

“Thank you,” Minseok smiles into the microphone when he trails off, unable to continue, taking his free hand in his own, and he leads their bow, low and grateful.

Things move quickly after that, getting dressed in their performance outfits backstage and then performing Been Here in front of its largest audience yet of over fifteen thousand strong, and the chants deafen him, strengthen him. Looks over to Minseok, and his heart thuds strongly in his chest when they dance together, sing together. Feels so much, moving with him, and things have been a little strained for some time, but here they are. Each other’s halves, completing each other. The last few days of strain and the tense atmosphere didn’t, wouldn’t change that.

The rest of the show passes much like it had started, and then it’s over. They go back to the hotel, and when they fall into each other, it’s easy, seamless.

He doesn’t know who kisses who first, and it doesn’t matter. Minseok kisses him with such softness, his hands achingly gentle as he removes his clothing, piece by piece. Chanyeol isn’t as careful, his whole body trembling and his hands shaking as he gets Minseok’s clothes off.

He feels a tightness, a sensation that makes it hard to breathe stretching across his chest when he’s stretched out on the bed, Minseok hovering over him, kissing him and kissing him and not stopping, his lips soft, languid on Chanyeol’s, on his skin, unraveling him easily. Minseok’s fingers open him up, carefully, with the utmost attention, and a Chanyeol melts under it. Minseok’s eyes don’t leave his as he stretches him out slowly, fingers slick with lube and one entering after the other, making him fall apart effortlessly.

Minseok fills his body in one slow thrust, his cock feeling bigger than Chanyeol remembers. He squeezes his eyes, throat clogged and his hands clutching Minseok’s arms and he breathes through the ache of being split open, of being filled with all of him. Minseok is patient, staying still and his lips kissing his brow, his eyelids. The corner of his mouth, his jaw, his throat, his clavicle. Chanyeol’s heart hurts with each touch, each kiss feeling like a hammer to his chest, making it ache with every overwhelming feeling.

He lifts his legs, wrapping them around Minseok’s waist, making sure his toes graze his ass as he urges him forward. Minseok goes, pulling out slowly, shoving back in hard. Chanyeol moans at the pressure, no longer painful, lights him up from the inside and he feels perfect.

Feels even more perfect when Minseok finds the angle, making his ass clench around his length and a guttural noise leave his lips, his own hard cock leaking slightly from where it rests between their bodies. Minseok fucks into him using the same position, harder and harder but still slow, mouth leaving a trail of kisses on his skin as he makes him feel good.

Minseok is perfect inside him, his entrance giving way and opening up for him and he’s taking care of him so well, fucking him carefully . He wants more, as he always does with Minseok.

He wordlessly clenches around his cock, squeezing and hoping it feels good for him. It must have, as Minseok gasps on the next pound in, the tightness he gives him around his painfully hard length hopefully as overwhelming for him as the amplified feeling of being split open is for Chanyeol.

The next thrust in hits him deep, and he gasps, flings his arms around Minseok’s shoulders and holds on as he’s fucked, his body filled and his heart overflowing.

He throws his head back on the pillow, completely overwhelmed and needing to come but never wanting it to end. His breathing is shallow, so much filling his chest and every feeling is amplified. Minseok kisses him, his mouth tender in counterpoint to the bruising, almost rough pistoning of his hips against his ass, and Chanyeol revels in it. Lets himself be kissed, his mouth licked into, his skin touched.

There are lips on his cheeks, achingly gentle, Minseok taking his hands and linking their fingers together, keeping him close and it’s then that he realizes he’d been crying, unable to keep his emotions in check.

The air around them is quiet, their breaths and little moans and grunts the only things punctuating the silence asidefrom the audible slap of their bodies coming together intimately, and the emotion between them is palpable, the atmosphere unbearingly soft, unlike anything he’s ever felt before.

Minseok doesn’t say anything, just kissing away the wetness and rolling his hips, the friction of his abs on Chanyeol’s length getting him harder, making him need to come sooner.

Chanyeol arches his body into Minseok’s as he gasps, moans endlessly as he’s fucked and he whines, needing it. Minseok gets a hand on him quietly, pulling him off expertly, his mouth hovering over Chanyeol’s, barely touching, merely breathing into each other a mouths as they get closer, closer to coming.

A few strokes later, he’s coming in Minseok’s hand, spilling over his fingers and fucking through his fist. His ass clenches around Minseok’s cock, and after a few more thrusts, he’s pumping into his body, filling the condom and letting out a wonderfully melodic moan.

He blinks lethargically as his front is carefully wipes down, and he’s asleep before Minseok even gets the blankets over them. The warmth beside him comforts him, fills him with security and fondness and affection.

.

“Chanyeol.”

“Hmm,” he mumbles, burrowing into the soft covers even deeper,  rolling around.

He hears sighing, and someone is climbing on top of him, straddling his lap, then kissing his ears, the side of his neck.

“Chanyeol, Yeol. Wake up,” is whispered in his ear, and he blinks, groaning at the soft light coming through the windows of the room.

Minseok’s eyes are so gentle, quietly amused, and oh.

He would have thought that realizing he was in love would be a massive force on his chest. That he’d be knocked out completely, and it would disorient him, make him gasp for air and his heart would beat out of his chest.

It’s not like that at all.

It’s softness, like a warmth ingested and spreading through his body, encasing his heart and making him feel bright, from the inside out. Like it’s always been there, just a natural, inevitable shift of things.

He also didn’t expect for the feeling, the realization to be so terrifying despite the lightness in his soul. He didn’t know that it would make him so happy, but also so paralyzed.

He stares, unable to say anything. Minseok looks at him, his expression turning confused, then a little worried.

“Chanyeol? Are you okay?” he’s tucking his hair behind his ear, looking like a dream and Chanyeol swallows his words.

“Please get off me,” and those aren’t the words he’d meant to say at all, but he can’t think, can’t breathe because he’s in love with Minseok and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.

He doesn’t miss the flash of hurt in his eyes, but Minseok acquiesces easily, moves away respectfully as Chanyeol sits up, staring down at the bed covers, at his hands, at his toes peeking out from the sheets. Anywhere, everywhere, except at him.

“We, we need to be leaving soon,” Minseok says quietly, and Chanyeol hardly reacts, his stupid heart flopping around in his chest and his brain telling him to stop being an idiot.

“Okay,” he says meekly, still not looking at him, and if he’d chosen to look up then, he’d see Minseok looking upset, genuinely bewildered and sad.

He dresses quickly, leaving him to go to his room, and he locks the door behind himself, his heart pounding and fingers trembling. He misses Minseok already, wants him near, but he doesn’t know what to do. Doesn’t know how he’ll react, doesn’t know if his love will be accepted even though he believes Minseok hasn’t shown him any signs that he wouldn’t, or.

He aches, every part of him, and he can’t, can’t deal with this now. Not with how busy they are, not with the amount he’s dealing with in his life at the moment. He’s at a loss on what to do, on how to approach this.

He switches seats with his manager on the plane, and Minseok doesn’t push, but the deeply dejected expression is clear on his face. Chanyeol breathes deeply, feeling stupid for making him look like that. But he can’t sit next to him, can’t look at him without wanting to cry and hold him and ask to be held. He needs to think, needs to come to terms with it all on his own first.

.

They all work stupidly hard, rehearsing and dancing and singing. Chanyeol throws himself into it, and it’s all a distraction. Everyone knows it, but they’re kind enough to not mention it.

Minseok is more of the same. Working, and when he isn’t, studying. Chanyeol doesn’t so much as avoid him, but he doesn’t seek him out, gages how he feels from afar. It’s hard to be away from him, hard to watch Minseok when all he wants is to hold hands with him and kiss him and be with him.

“Just tell him,” Sehun one day tells him.

He blinks, not understanding, and Sehun rolls his eyes, and Kyungsoo actually slaps the back of his head.

“You’re being an idiot,” he says. “You’re making things hard for the both of you.”

“He’s obviously waiting for you to tell him it’s okay,” Baekhyun just decides to drop in on the conversation, “I mean. None of us know what's happened to make you guys like this, but you two are miserable and it’s clear you want him, and he wants you. You two are idiots.”

He doesn’t even get a word in before they disperse, the choreographer yelling at all of them to get back into position, and it leaves him feeling heavier than before.

He mills around, thinking and coming to terms with himself and how he feels. Watches Minseok from afar and the ache to be beside him doesn’t subside, grows stronger, but the lightness in his chest, the instant warmth and just this overwhelming rush of affection and sincere, genuine love makes him smile, stupidly happy.

He tells himself he’ll tell him, soon. Needs the right place, right time, and they both need to be in the right mindset.

.

He discovers there’s really no such thing.

It’s when he and Seunghwan are discussing their forthcoming trip to Pyeongchang, and the rooming arrangements are brought up.

“Can you put me in with Minnie?” he asks quietly, deciding, thinking that maybe this is the right turn to tell him. Pyeongchang is a lovely place, and Minseok should get nice places.

“Oh, um,” he says, scratching his head as he goes through his notes. He looks nervous. “I’ll, uh, I’ll try my best.”

“You’re not telling me something,” he says, and Seunghwan looks guilty, goes quiet.

“We actually did put you up in a room with Minseok, at first,” he says, sighing. “He, he’s approached me about this. He, well. It’s not important, you two will figure things out.”

“What did he do?” Chanyeol asks, heart already sinking.

Seunghwan doesn’t say anything for a long while. Then, he says, “Don’t overthink this. He’s asked to switch with someone else.”

Chanyeol’s chest goes cold.

He more or less stalks his way back home, the frozen feeling of rejection thawing, and he’s angry, and it’s irrational because Minseok doesn’t know how he feels, doesn’t know what it is he wants and why he stayed away. This was Chanyeol’s doing.

He’s angry still, all the same.

“Why’d you switch rooms?” he says coldly once he gets back to the dorm, not bothering to remove his outerwear and stalking straight into the kitchen where he knows Minseok would be having his routine coffee before dinner.

He’s there, with said drink in his hand and glasses on his nose, looking so confused. Everyone else is there too, preparing for dinner or doing whatever and Chanyeol. He doesn’t care, only has eyes for his other half, and he’s so, so angry, so hurt.

“You switched out rooms so you wouldn’t have to see me unless you had to,” he grits out, and everyone shifts around them uncomfortably, but no one leaves.

Minseok understands, then, puts down his coffee. “That’s not my intention,” he says, tries to sound calm. Chanyeol bristles.

“And what was your intention, then?” he more or less sneers, his hands balled up into fists on his side.

“Chanyeol, calm down,” Junmyeon tries, but Minseok shakes his head minutely at him, giving him a warning look. He gets even more agitated.

“Stay out of this, Myeon,” he bites out.

“Don’t talk to him like that. If you want to take out your frustrations on someone, take it out on me,” Minseok tells him, voice firm, but his eyes are still so quiet towards him, a soft edge in the brightness of his gaze. “I didn’t ask to switch because I didn’t want to see you. I thought, you’d been avoiding me, since. Since Japan, and I thought we were okay. I thought,” he trails off, and he looks so sad. Chanyeol aches. “I thought that you didn’t want to see me, so I asked to room with someone else. To give you that space.”

“That’s not what’s supposed to happen,” he grits out, and he’s so frustrated. Even when Minseok has unintentionally hurt him, he’d done it with the thought that it was what Chanyeol might have wanted. He hurts all over. “I just wanted time to think, I wasn’t trying to avoid you.”

“Weren’t you, though?” Minseok says, and he’s confused and visibly upset. Chanyeol likes himself a little less, for making him look like that. “You haven’t talked to me, even when you promised you would. You haven’t tried to approach me since we got back.”

“Don’t see you trying,” he says under his breath.

“Yeol,” Yixing warns, “he’s trying. Just listen.”

“Why, why does it have to be me? Why do I have to adjust all the time?” Minseok says, and Chanyeol’s heart jumps to his throat when he hears his voice crack. He’s never heard it like that, full of despair, full of confusion, just trying and trying and he’s given scraps.

“Just, fuck, just talk to each other,” Jongdae is saying then, and the atmosphere is palpable, the air so awkward and tense as everyone watches the two of them on bated breath. “Communicate before this gets worse.”

And Chanyeol scoffs, almost laughs, because he can do worse. “Okay. Fine. Sorry, you know what? You want to know why I’ve been avoiding you?” he says, his tone mean and everyone is on edge around him, and he doesn’t care.

He just stares at Minseok, and Minseok keeps his gaze steady on him, unwavering. “Fine. I’ll tell you. it’s because I was trying to get my shit together and come to terms with the fact that I’m in love with you. Sorry,” he mocks, sneers. “Sorry, this is the confession you get. I want it off my chest. Deal with it.”

He breathes deeply when it’s over. Then the words he’d said sink in in the horrible silence that follows them, and.

His heart plummets, straight down to the pit of his stomach, because. Because even though he’s mad at him, even if he can’t return it, Minseok deserved a better ‘I love you’ than that.

“I. I’m sorry,” he chokes out, and his eyes sting and regret fills his whole body. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

He can’t stay there any longer. He walks out of the kitchen, ignoring Minseok’s calls of his name, and he goes to his room. Locks himself in and he cries against the door, feeling empty and awful and he can’t believe he’d just said that the way he did.

“Chanyeol,” Minseok is on the other side, and he hides his face behind his hands, trying to muffle the sounds of him sobbing. “Chanyeol, open the door-“

He shakes his head even though he can’t see him, and he feels cold all over, even though he’s still in his coat.

“Chanyeol, please.”

“No,” he whines, wanting to disappear. He sounds so concerned, sounds like it’s all he wants to do, to comfort him, and he doesn’t deserve it. “Go away.”

“I can’t, I won’t,” he says, and Chanyeol trembles. “And in any case, that’s mine and Jongdae’s room you’ve locked yourself up in.”

Chanyeol looks up, staring at the door he’s leaning against, and he takes a slow look around, and. A fresh wave of tears leak out of his eyes, sobs pouring out of his mouth when he realizes. He’d been so used to going here, so used to walking into this room and laying on Minseok’s bed, the pillows organized and sheets folded neatly and the longer he stares at it, the more painful his chest gets.

“You love me?”

He stares at the door again, and Minseok’s voice is soft, tinged with disbelief.

He breathes hard, wants to break down even more. “I do.”

“You think that I. That I don’t feel the same way?” Minseok is asking him carefully, hurt.

Chanyeol’s heart aches. “You don’t.”

“Don’t speak for me.”

“No, because you don’t,” he says, bites it out and it’s like clawing at his chest. “You don’t feel the same way because you didn’t fight for this, you didn’t bother fighting back or trying and you’re pushing me away.”

“That’s not, That’s not it at all,” Minseok is saying. “I only asked them to do that because I thought it’s what you wanted. I only did it because I thought I was protecting you, and you might not see it that way, but. I thought, I thought you wanted space. Why can’t you see that? And. And I can’t act recklessly, just because I want you too much. I need to do what’s good for you.”

The words don’t sit well with Chanyeol, and he supposed it’s because he’s highly emotional, and that he’s crying too much and there’s a lot happening, but he opens the door, faced with a concerned, crestfallen Minseok with the gentlest look on his eyes.

“Well, that must be awful for you, then?” he’s sneering again, and Minseok stays calm before him, patient, and he’s so sad, just wants this all to be over with. “Can’t be reckless? Be reckless with me? So I’m your reckless phase? It makes sense. You don’t feel the same way about me anyway.”

It’s then that Minseok starts to look truly upset, truly hurt. Almost angry, and he steps into Chanyeol’s space, and there’s a hard, blazing look in his eye.

“Try me,” he says, and his voice is so low, “How can you be a reckless phase? Why would you think of yourself like that? With me? With everything that we have together?”

He’s about to answer back, to get his words in, but Minseok is bringing his hand up, and Chanyeol is confused. He waits, and tilts his head down, gesturing to his hand, and Chanyeol huffs, but he looks down.

It takes a long while, but Minseok is patient. And when he does see it, the punch in his gut, breathless feeling he’d expected before in Japan. It comes in full force now, slamming into his heart, as he looks down on his wrist, the same spot where Chanyeol has their number inked for life on his own body.

61, in discrete red-brown ink, marked like a permanent scar on Minseok.

Chanyeol cries again, completely overwhelmed, his emotions all over the place. His chest hurts, and then it’s all lightness, a bright joy, pure love.

“That’s, that’s me?” he hiccups. Minseok just breathes hard as he nods, and Chanyeol wants him always.

“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice hard but it’s soft. Like he wants to cry, but is keeping himself in control, just barely. “I don’t express things the way you do. I don’t know how. I’m trying.”

“Please, say it, please,” he’s saying through his tears, coming closer and getting his hands on Minseok’s neck, “Please say it, so I know-“

“I love you,” Minseok says on an exhale without even letting him finish, his eyes shining, and his face breaking into the gentlest, most tender expression Chanyeol had ever seen on him, sincere and pure and genuine.

His heart is full, with every good thing he knows, and he feels wholly, utterly complete.

“I love you,” he replies, and it’s the right way, this time, the way it should have been, but it’s all okay.

Minseok leans up and kisses him and Chanyeol smiles into it, crying and getting Minseok all wet and he just kisses him deeper, at peace.

.

Jongdae is locked out of the room again, that night, and they promptly ignore all his whining and incessant knocking on the door.

It’s all very worth it.