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This is Devotion (I’m lost)

Chapter Text

You leave me room for my imperfections
When I’m a mess and you jump right in
If I drift in the wrong direction
You turn the tide and you calm the wind

You will Find Me - Alex & Sierra

:::

His meeting with Xuxi itself wasn’t a mistake, but it started from a mistake.

Mark is young, foolish. He hurt someone he shouldn’t, but he did, hurt him. And Taeyong was unfeelingly kind as ever, just like how he had let Mark use him to blow off some steam .

Taeyong always told him, “it’s okay,” but this time, he hadn’t been looking at Mark, hiding his ever-so-guarded eyes.

His voice was shaking, and Mark was too terrified to acknowledge what he’d done to say anything.

He got his things and ran.

And that’s how he finds himself here, sitting at the bottom of the stairs, crying himself silly with empty cans of beer rolling by his feet. He’s too knackered to know where he is, too intoxicated with alcohol in his blood to notice his surroundings.

His nose runs, like his tears. He tries to clean it with his sleeves except he’s wearing a t-shirt now. Snot and tears smeared all around his skin, it feels gross, like himself. Like Mark. He shouldn't be here wasting oxygen, he belongs in trash can like the other garbage.

He hurt Taeyong. Guilt feasts upon his broken heart, it doesn’t kill, it tortures him alive. Mark drowns himself in that pain of shame, in the alcohol that burns his throat. Another tear spills forth from his eyes, another sob.

He is stupid, disgusting. He should have died, run over by truck or something. But it’s not a vehicle that runs over him’ it’s a human, who accidentally tripped on Mark’s stretched out feet.

He falls, thankfully not face first, but it’s still painful  because he lets out a loud yelp of pain as his knees hit the asphalt. Mark watches, dazed, through tear-clouded eyes, with alcohol-blurred mind, as the person continues stringing colorful words of expletives while attempting to gather himself into a sitting position.

He fails, long limbs tangled and twisted, and he ends up laying flat on the asphalt, Mark’s feet stuck awkwardly under his legs. He is heavy, he’s huge. Mark is too drunk to tell, apparently, the guy is equally gone as he is because he continues lying there, face-planted on the ground.

Time ticks, people come then go.. They’re probably laughing at him, at them, at Mark and the guy on his feet. But Mark is too drunk to care, and the guy, when he eventually turns his face to take a proper look at the culprit behind his fall, seems to be as frazzled too.

“You,” he slurs. Had Mark been sober enough, he’d have noticed the accent caressing his vowels. “Are you okay?”

Mark isn’t. Okay. He blinks, slow, like making certain the guy was real or if he was just a product of his buzzed mind.

But the warmth on his slowly dying feet is real, and so is the weight and the creeping cramp. Mark tries to wiggle his toes, but he can barely feel them. The guy still stares at him, brows knitted together.

He reminds Mark of Taeyong except Taeyong is obviously not here, there’s no way he would let Mark come close to him anymore.

Mark isn’t okay so he breaks down, crying.

:::

Beneath him, the ground shakes. Or maybe he’s flying, he can barely feel his feet, only aware of the grip around his torso and the feel of another body pressed against his. There’s also voices. Accented. Mark blinks, and the grey asphalt beneath him twinkles.

The stranger. Who tripped on his feet.

Are you okay?

Mark blinks again, trying to shake his head but he’s too far gone to tell whether he’s really shaking his head or if the ground just decided on its own to swirl into spiral of black and grey, then colliding into colorful stars.

The stranger gasps, tightening his grip to stop Mark from falling. Falling. Why is he falling? His head spins. Is it the ground? The floor? Can you call asphalt ‘floor?’ Fingers are pressing onto his ribs. Voices hailing rain into his ears. It’s so noisy. Shut up. Shut up.

Mark may or may not  have moaned out, “shut up,” but he cannot be too sure, not when he’s inebriated and he can barely tell whether the dancing horses he sees before him are real or not. Chances are they’re not real. Chances are he is too intoxicated to arrange his words properly.

Chances are he won’t remember any of this in the morning, but that guilt gouging deep between his ribs, hungrily out for his heart, will remain vivid and clear.

:::

Mark doesn’t remember anything except warm hands, large eyes, and hot skin.

Mark wakes up in stranger’s room, in the stranger’s bed, with the very stranger snoring loudly beside him. Naked. Legs tangled with Mark’s own, and his arm heavily resting on Mark’s stomach.

Fingers leaving prints. It feels vaguely familiar.

There’s also warm breath tickling his skin, lips pressed against his brows, and prickling pain on his hips.

Before Mark can assess the situation, nausea hits him like freight-train. He jolts up awake, startling the stranger, then he throws up.

:::

The stranger is Xuxi. Huang Xuxi. He said he goes by Wong Yukhei as well, and Mark can call him anything.

Mark introduces himself as ‘Minhyung’. Mark also apologizes and promises he’ll pay the laundry for Xuxi’s spoiled sheet, and hospitality. And the eggs because the egg he cooked for Mark is his last egg, same goes with the bread and the milk.

Xuxi said it’s fine, it’s nice to have a guest after living alone for so long. Mark has cleaned himself up, is wearing the smallest t-shirt Xuxi owns because is the guy is built tall like a fucking tower and he has the broadest shoulders Mark has ever seen; his cousin, Johnny, pales in comparison. The sleeves hang awkwardly over Mark’s elbow, he feels like he’s 5 years old all over again, drowning in his father’s clothes.

The dulling ache in his head tells him he’s not 5 years old for no 5 year old can get a hangover, but with how foolish he has been, he probably is still, mental-age wise.

He is stupid. That’s what he blurts out, and it catches Xuxi’s attention. He’s sitting across Mark, the table and plates half empty with eggs the only thing separating them, physically. Psychologically, they’re distanced by many; twenty years and couple of months existing without knowing each other, the baggage Mark carries and the ones Xuxi has on his own.

“How so?” Xuxi - the stranger - gets nothing but silence in return. Xuxi plays around with his eggs before taking a bite of them, munching through as he adds, “because you’re not trying to find out what happened between us yesterday and unsuspectingly eating whatever I feed you? If so, then, yeah. You’re stupid. You’re lucky I’m a good person, though, I didn’t poison any of this.”

“Because you’re eating this, too,” Mark points out, pretending he’s not hearing the first part. He’s not trying to remember what happened. His mind has supplied images, some flashes of skin and hot breath caressing it. A touch. Too close to home.

A voice, currently talking to him again. Mark pulls his lips into straight line, keeping any unnecessary words from escaping. Keeping his mind from remembering.

Xuxi’s not having any of it, it seems. Either he is a sadist or it’s his guilty conscience speaking, but he insists on telling Mark of what happened between them last night, when Mark was too drunk to remember and Xuxi was almost as gone as he was. Fortunately, he had enough of lucidity to remember. Or for Mark, it’s more on the unfortunate side.

It speaks to his character. Mark assumes Xuxi is a good person. Although it could be called into question when you consider the fact that he took a total stranger home, and, and -

Mark doesn’t remember. Doesn’t want to. He shoves it to the back of his mind. Too scared, too afraid. He had fucked up enough yesterday, he doesn’t want to know how he took horrible into worse in less than 24 hours. He loathes himself enough as it is now; knowing what happened between them last night is just rubbing salt into his fresh, open wound.

“I took you home, we crashed to my bed, and-"

Whatever happened between him and Xuxi. Whatever he might have said to Xuxi- “I don’t wanna know.”

“You don’t,” Xuxi does double take on him. “What?”

Mark is stubborn. They always said it brings him as much good as it brings him bad. “I don’t wanna know. Remember. Whatever happened, it’s a mistake. It’s done. Can’t we leave it at that?”

Like him leaving Taeyong, on the floor. Upper buttons ripped from his shirt. Lips bleeding. Glassy eyed.

It’s okay.

It’s not. It’s never, and it’s not going to be. Nothing is.

“Just.” Mark resolutely avoids looking at Xuxi. Xuxi who has been so kind as to provide not only his bed for Mark to sleep, but also the last of his food to eat. He’s ungrateful. He’s disgusting. He doesn’t deserve any of this; this delicious breakfast. The clean clothes Xuxi lent him. This gentleness that Xuxi is treating him with.

This,

“Can we just leave it like that?”

Xuxi startles him with an easy, “Okay.”

Mark automatically looks at him, gaze wavering, afraid. Hesitant. He expects contempt. He expects despisal.

He doesn’t expect a smile, small as it is, disappointed as it is, the edge is soft, curled up with understanding. Xuxi says again, a little bit louder, a little bit stronger. “Okay.”

His acceptance sends a wave of relief through Mark’s body, thrumming pleasantly under his skin. Mark knows it’s foolish of him after everything he had done, but his heart yearns - begs - for release. And Xuxi is practically dangling it before his nose; his understanding, his acceptance. It’s like a silent invitation, and Mark is too powerless to do anything but take it.

Xuxi could be mocking him, belittling how gullible he is, but Mark wants to believe, so desperately, that his smile, it spells something that starts with f and ends with two s . Something he’s not allowed to have but is dying for. All he wants is to keep his heart out of danger, and if believing something unguaranteed is the only way to save himself, then believe he will.

It’s stupid. He is stupid. He hurt someone, and he deserves to be punished. But here, Xuxi is giving him anything but that. He is giving him kindness, hospitality. Giving him delicious omelettes rich with cheese and the last of his milk.

Mark owes him. Something. Everything. He wants to repay this debt , except he doesn’t know how. He is not capable of thinking properly now with the dull ache drumming in the back of his head, his heart bleeding profusely with the knife of guilt still embedded deeply between his ribs. He can only smile, weak, and Xuxi replies with the widening of his own.

His heart skitters, scrambles for the drop of brilliance Xuxi’s grin radiates, anything to save his pathetic self from being lost in the dark. “Thank you,” Mark murmurs. His voice was quiet, Xuxi’s wordless kindness a thousand times louder. Swallowing, Mark repeats himself, “thank you, Xuxi.”

Xuxi doesn’t only say, “you’re welcome!” He also goes around the table to give Mark a hug. Mark holds him back. A stranger. He remembers he had been held the night before, with rougher hands but same tenderness.

There’s a gentle yet reassuring pat on his back. Mark inhales, deep, a scent that peeks inside his jumbled memory.

He doesn’t hate it.

:::

Mark doesn’t know if it was him or it was Xuxi who started it, or maybe he knew, but all he cares about right now is that they’re kissing and Xuxi’s large hands are all over him. His touch, it burns. It feesl like punishment.

Mark had hurt Taeyong.

He deserves this .

He doesn’t even know if Xuxi is his real name. Sure, he said he goes by with at least two names, but whether any of them is real or not, he doesn’t know.

Xuxi did call him stupid. Xuxi did say Mark is lucky since Xuxi is kind. But Mark is left with no means to tell how much truth there was in those statements. Xuxi could be a leader of drug cartel, and Mark wouldn't even know. Like he doesn’t know how this started. When Xuxi started undressing him and why Mark even consented to this.

Consent?

Yes, he did. He said, “yes,” when Xuxi asked, “is this okay?” He said, “yes,” when Xuxi asked him, “can I kiss you?”

He remembers hugging Xuxi, remembers the moment he started crying to the point there was barely any difference between his sobbing and his talking. Xuxi held him through, Xuxi said nothing and listened. The pats changed into long fingers caressing his hair, then somehow they ended up cupping Mark’s face with Xuxi’s large obsidian eyes boring into him.

“Last night.”

“You said you don’t wanna remember.” Deep voice. He sounded like Taeyong, looked like Taeyong, but he is not Taeyong. His shoulders are broader, his height is incredibly taller, his palms are larger, and he can easily pin Mark down without even trying.

Taeyong couldn’t pin him down any longer since Mark entered 3rd year of high school, puberty hitting him like freight train, adding more inches to his height and some to his shoulders.

Taeyong often looked at him with wistfulness akin to nostalgia.

Taeyong would look at him that way no longer. Nothing but rejection, contempt.

Fear .

“I-" don't want to remember. Want to forget. Want to be punished. Want to just breathe and be. Want to sleep. Forever. Want to run. Want nothing but peace of mind. Want to be forgiven. Want to forget. Want to apologize. Want to forget. Want to- “I-"

“You don’t know,” Xuxi murmured. His eyes were searching Mark’s face, thumb caressing his cheek. “You don’t know what you want.”

He fucking knew. “I didn’t-"

The taller boy continued. “It’s okay, if you don’t want to tell me, or if you don’t want to remember, or if you don’t know anything. Everyone gets lost sometimes. It’s totally okay, you know?”

Mark wanted to say it isn’t; okay. He also wanted to say that he didn’t know what to want nor what to do. At the moment, all he wanted was to forget because it’s easier that way, it’s convenient. He doesn’t have to try, doesn't have to make an effort to set things right. His friendship with Taeyong is a castle falling into ruin but when Mark barely has enough to keep himself together, how’s he supposed to keep that one upright?

Everything’s too much for Mark, he doesn’t want to think, he doesn’t want to speak, he doesn’t want to know nor do anything. He’s left with question marks and was left to stumble in the dark. He just wanted to sleep and forget, and hope that when he wakes up, everything will be fine again. It’s easier that way. It’s fucking easy.

He knew it won’t; nothing ’s going to be alright, nothing’s going to be easy, at least as far as Taeyong’s concerned.

But him? “Minhyung-ah?”

“I don’t wanna,” he started sobbing again, throat growing slick, words were slipping. His eyes got wetter and wetter, he furiously tried to scrub them away but Xuxi stopped him, replacing Mark’s rough hands with his big, gentle ones.

He’s tired, too tired. The day had barely begun, he didn’t even remember half the things he did before he passed out yesterday, he still had class this afternoon, but Mark’s already too weary, rusting chains called sin shackled to his ankle. He didn’t have the strength to stand up, let alone walk, dragging the dead weight behind his tracks.

Xuxi gathered Mark into his arms once again, sweet nothings were whispered to his ears. A prayer rather than a lullaby, a way out rather than forgiveness, and Mark needed the latter but he knew right now, all he’s privy to was the former.

So, he took it.

It happened, like everything else in the world just tumbled into being and everything slotted into place. His eyes met Xuxi’s, there was a thumb near the corner of his lips, his own fingers digging into Xuxi’s bare shoulder.

He didn’t say, “ help ,” at least not verbally, but Xuxi heard it anyway. He asked Mark if it’s okay to kiss him, voice wavering with uncertainty but resolution to help like steel in his midnight eyes.

Kind, kind stranger, Xuxi. Mark smiled, timid, nodded just as uncertain but he closed his eyes, a sign of trust, then dug his fingers deeper into the taller boy’s skin upon feeling his lips on his own.

The simple contact burned, hot with shame and salvation. Xuxi deepened the kiss, Xuxi, a total stranger, Mark’s whole body screamed with fear and trepidation, he was about to flinch until a voice cackled in his head;

you deserve this.

Fire. They said fire not only burns but heals, purifies. And if Xuxi’s touch is fire, one to cleanse and absolve the grimes called sin, then Mark is more than willing to have it scorch him, singe him inside out until he got himself all refined and clarified.

Any wounds from the burns, he can sustain. “Please.” Later. “Xuxi, please .”

He didn’t even know what he’s asking. The way his body trembles was for a reason he refused to acknowledge. The fear of having someone foreign touching - claiming - his body was the fear he kept on denying.

“Take me.”

And now, as Xuxi lowers him to the mattress, his knees straddling Mark’s hips, eyes blown dark with anticipation, Mark thinks he deserves this.

The image of Taeyong, shaking with fear and disbelief at him the night before flashing red in his mind. Mark swallows, doesn’t flinch when Xuxi reaches between his legs.

Closing his eyes, Mark thinks; I deserve this.

:::

Xuxi’s meant to be the fire, his touch fiery licks of shame to penalize Mark for his sin. But none of this, none of this gentle touch , none of this affectionate caress, felt chastising.

It’s Mark’s first time, he cries a lot, both from the volcano of emotion rattling under his bones and the pain of, well, the first time. With a stranger, a stranger who’s kind enough to take Mark into his home, feed him, and sort of teach him how two men can have sex.

It’s awkward as hell, lots of bumping, umm-ing,and ahh-ing, and Mark swears Xuxi laughed a lot at the bumbling mess they’re being. Yet, he stays.

He doesn’t ask why when Mark told him not to hold back. He stops when Mark told him to go on despite how painful it is to have a finger inside of him for the first time. He stays still when Mark told him to move after he’s fully buried in Mark. Instead, he kisses him slow and sweet until Mark is relaxed enough and the sting gradually subsides.

He wipes every single tear that falls, he licks them even, kisses the trail of faint silver with heart-breaking tenderness. He doesn’t treat Mark like he’s made of glass, certainly, he doesn’t rush the first time, but once they go, he’s merciless. He’s fast, barely giving Mark time to catch his breath.

His kisses are as bruising as his grips. His touch is foreign. Alien. He’s unknown and humans fear the unfamiliar.

Mark fears too, not Xuxi, himself. This boy who willingly have sex with a stranger. This boy who’s too blinded with lust that he accidentally hurt someone precious to him.

He doesn’t know himself, maybe this boy, with stranger’s cock deep inside of him isn’t even himself. Not Mark Lee. There’s no way Mark Lee can sleep with someone whose identity is obscure. There’s no way Mark Lee can hurt his friends.

Xuxi hooks Mark’s legs on his shoulder, going faster until Mark is practically half-folded beneath him, crushed under his weight. Mark cries harder, his muscles ache everywhere, the burn of Xuxi’s cock sliding in and out of him in a maddening speed that sends him delirious.

He cannot form any coherent sentences, just grapples for Xuxi’s back, anything to keep him grounded despite the floating of his mind. Or maybe he’s just seeking for purchase because he can feel it; the way everything that he has come to learn and know is falling apart all around him.

It’s a scary, scary feeling; falling, not knowing what lies ahead, not knowing how painful it can get. And compared to bracing for the potentially fatal impact, he’d rather not know; of himself, of this boy panting like animal as his body was being pleasured by practically unknown hands.

“Minhyung. Minhyung-ah,” Xuxi pants heavily beside his ear, his hips moving relentlessly, chasing after his release with need, angling his thrust so he keeps on driving into Mark’s sweet spot. “Are you?”

Mark doesn’t know what he’s asking, what kind of answer he’s expecting. What would be appropriate. Everything is beyond him, even thinking. Everything feels so good when should be ashamed, all thoughts desert him immediately every single time Xuxi hits that bundle of nerves inside of him.

It’s getting even scarier, he’s terrified. He cannot think. He doesn’t know what happening aside from how good it is; having Xuxi ramming into him, it gets even better once he gets his hand around Mark’s cock, stroking it in time with his thrusts.

Xuxi’s groan is animalistic, shaking Mark to his very core and the smaller boy can feel it too, Xuxi turning him into one; an animal, driven by instinct, strung by a need so primal. He claws on Xuxi’s back, mouthing along his shoulder. Xuxi moves faster, chasing his release. He’s gone, so far gone, taken by the wave of their desire.

But it’s better, Mark thinks, than being whisked away by despair. He’d rather not know himself if it was him shrouded with guilt and remorse. He’d rather cast away that shell crusted with the crime of his greed than rotting inside of it.

He’d rather be born anew, purged with this fire of Xuxi’s caresses until his skeleton is bleached white. His flesh will flee back to him, latching onto his sanitized cartilage to create a new him, rebirth celebrated by the contracting of his lungs and the flowing of his blood. By the pulsating of his heart, he is back alive, a new person. A child reborn.

“Minhyung-ah.”

And Minhyung , that shall be his name.

Chapter Text

Lost in you, lost in me
Afraid of love in too deep, so we just run and hide
Lightening fast, felt the crash
We only know goodbye

Holding on for Life - Ellie Goulding

:::

A pipe dream. Living a nice, straight life without having to know how the world can stoop so low is nothing but a pipe dream. For him, abandoned by his alcoholic father and losing his mother at the tender age of eight, it’s nothing more than a dream. It even sounds like a joke, actually. He had seen too much blood, too much violence to believe that world could be anything but cruel.

Yukhei was lucky enough that even if his father is a failure of a husband, he’s a fully functioning businessman who comes from a quiet reputable family. They never had financial problems, true, but the tears his mother spilled every night was clearly a sign. He wasn't fit to be a husband, let alone a father.

But his mother had loved him too much, with too much trust and naivety. She ignored the lavender scent on his skin even if her collection consisted of none of that flower. Pretended it’s a smidge of red pen on his white shirt instead of lipstick.

When his father accidentally spilled out about his affairs with the many women, some of whom his mother knew, in one of his drunken rages, his mother broke.

It had never been the same after that. Her. Yukhei. His brother, David. His lovely brother who had been barely four years old. Chubby limbs and red cheeks. His brother who always questioned his father’s absence but was naive enough to believe the lies Yukhei’s father fed him.

“Papa’s busy, but Papa bought everything you wanted for your birthday, happy birthday, Dear.” Same words. Every year. Spoken through the same method: phone. On rare occasions, it’s a video call.

The man never once made time for his sons. Yukhei was lucky enough that he attended his birthday until he was three, but he never once attended his brother’s. David is sweet, unlike Yukhei, and he didn’t ask much. Thankful enough with the abundant presents and the presence of his mother and elder brother.

Yukhei learned to be strong, for David. For his mother. He watched gag programs on TV just to make them laugh. He started being unnecessarily loud, because David loves it. His father was never around much to care. His mother, it’s more difficult with her.

When her sky was bright, she’d laugh at Yukhei’s jokes to the point of tears. When dull clouds rolled grey, she barely reacted, she didn’t even look at Yukhei.

Were they too similar, his father and Yukhei. Was that why her mother eventually stopped looking at him anymore. At her sons. The children born out of love between her and the man she had given all her life for.

She’s not a Hong Kong native: she was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, until she went to Hong Kong to study. That’s where his parents met. She fell to his charming wit, and him to, to... to whatever she had but clearly, it didn’t interest him anymore. Or she had simply lost it, with age, with the less attention she gave him in exchange for their children.

So, was it his fault indeed that his parents ended up this way?

Yukhei had been nothing but a child. A child who knew too little to think too much. His mother stopped smiling and talking to him, and the small Yukhei thought that clearly, he was the problem.

He tried everything; bigger smile, funnier jokes. Ate more, cleaned his mess by himself. He even learned how to make his own bread and cereal. Helped his brother’s bath and potty training.

But nothing worked. His mother, the beautiful woman who used to sing him to sleep and wake him up with kisses, eyes shining brighter than the sky outside, had gone. She only stared into the distance. His father stopped coming home. It’s as if the horizon beyond that she’d always vacantly stared at had taken her away.

It just happened one day. One unsuspecting morning. Yukhei had woken up first, David’s small body curled in his arms, sleeping soundly while sucking his thumb. Cute, adorable David. Grown with only his brother and mother’s love, foreign to that of the neglectful father he still dreamt about so much.

Yukhei kissed his brother on the cheek and the toddler’s face scrunched up, ticklish. He left his room to make a breakfast,  a habit. Breakfast for three people because the fourth person is never home. By Yukhei, because he wanted to make his mother proud, wanted to see that her Big Boy has finally lived up to his name.

Added extra cheese on the toast, because Yukhei liked it. So did David, and his mother. It’s okay even if it’s only the three of them. They’re happy this way. There’s only enough food for three people’s breakfast anyway.

After he’s done, he walked to his mother’s room to wake her up, or just check on her, see if she has already awake or still deep in her sleep (although none of it really mattered as of late; she barely spoke to him. She still acknowledged David because David looked less like their father. It hurt Yukhei but it’s fine.  This way, it’s fine. At least David wasn’t being neglected by his mother, too. He’s still so young).

Yukhei didn’t knock. His mother never locks the door. “Mum?” Yukhei called, pressing the door open. Her bed was empty, but Yukhei could hear the sound of water running.

The bathroom , he thought. From the shower, falling, like rain. Pit a patter . The sound of rain,the  sound of his feet making way on carpeted floor. Yukhei opened the bathroom door, the sound of rain getting louder, everything else feel into ignorant silence.

But rain wasn’t red, water couldn’t be red, unless.

Unless.

:::

His father didn’t even come to her funeral. David continued crying. Yukhei didn’t shed a single tear, just held his brother mutely.

He’s got to be strong. For his brother.  For both of them. For her .

She never despised David. Yukhei couldn’t tell if his mother even despised his father. She had loved him, too much, and it killed her.

She died everyday knowing that his father wasn’t there. Died knowing that there was somebody else who could bring him joy. Died everyday he looked at Yukhei who carried his blood, his eyes, his nose. His lips had been from her mother, and now those red lips can never kiss him goodnight anymore. He can no longer hear those lips utter his name anymore.

Why would she? Even if she was still alive, she wouldn’t call his name. She wouldn't even look at him. She hated him, for she couldn’t hate his father. She loved him, and his father’s love to her paled in comparison.

Maybe he didn’t love her anymore; he wasn’t even there.

Still, there’s no way she could hate him. It’s always his name she called. It’s always his name she cried.

She loved his father. She loved David. She hated Yukhei, because she cannot hate the man Yukhei reminded her of. That man was her sole reason for living. Without him, she’s nothing.

She’s no more. She’s not here anymore.

:::

Yukhei and David was taken in by their father’s younger brother. Their uncle. He’s as successful as his father, but he didn’t marry. He lived alone in his condo until he took in Yukhei and David. He didn’t adopted them as his sons; the surname was the same anyway.

The suggestion to tell David that his father has died too had been Yukhei’s. He asked it before they moved in, the night of her funeral. David had fallen asleep and his uncle stayed behind, for a reason Yukhei never dared asking at all.

He didn’t say that it’s ridiculous idea. He only asked a simple, “Why?”

“David never really knew enough about father to care. He, unlike me, he had, umm, good memories about father. If he knew that father’s still alive but he-" abandoned us , “is not here, it will...I don’t know, I don’t want him to live knowing-"

“And you?”

Yukhei looked at him, bottom lips trembling, “I."

“You are okay living with that?”

Okay, living with knowing his father had abandoned him, and his mother died without ever looking at his face because he reminded her too much of the only man she had ever loved.

At his silence, his uncle said, “Okay.” Yukhei found himself breathing easier even if his throat was still tight.

He gave his uncle a terse, grateful smile. “Thank you, Sir. I-"

“You’re just a child,” he continued, eyes locking on Yukhei’s. “Don’t think too much and let the adults handle everything, okay? Just, take care of your brother.”

Yukhei thanked him once again/ His uncle didn't say anything anymore except telling Yukhei to go to sleep. Yukhei obeyed him and disappeared to his bedroom was David was sleeping soundly, not without another thank you that his uncle probably ignored.

The next day, they told David about his father. He didn’t cry, didn’t remember much about his father either to be sad about him. He just clung on Yukhei and asked him, “ ‘khei, stay?”

Yukhei hugged him, holding back his tears as much as he can. His voice didn’t shake when he said, “of course, David. I’ll never leave you alone.”

They moved into their uncle’s home the very same day. The beginning of their life together was awkward. Three men. The only adult had never lived with anyone else since he left home and the two children were too young; eight and four respectively.

His uncle hired a maid to do chores, but Yukhei started helping her out. He got friendly with her, a kind elderly lady named Jingjyu. She took care of David when Yukhei had to go to school, played with him until he came home, cooked them delicious meals to eat and  stayed until his uncle got home.

His uncle. He’s worse than his father in showing his attention. His father was a jerk but at least he could pretend to care with smiles, with laughters.

But the more days he spent under the man’s roof, Yukhei realized that although his uncle wasn’t spectacularly affectionate, he’d make a better father than Yukhei’s will ever be.

He worked, as much as his father, maybe even more. He fed them, he bought them clothes and toys. He didn’t play with them but he said, “thank you for the breakfast,” to Yukhei who had taken the habit of making breakfast for his family even if his was not complete anymore.

He never did it while looking at him. He barely smile either. But for Yukhei, for Yukhei who never once received it even from his own mother, it was everything.

:::

Yukhei grew up to be someone his father was and wasn’t at the same time. It’s a complicated thing.

He didn’t want to, obviously, because his father had taken the most important person in his life. But the very same person had left because she saw Yukhei as his father. Had he not looked anything like his father, reminding her every time she looked at him that his father no longer loved her, maybe she didn’t have to go.

That’s where things got complicated. Even if he didn’t want to be his father, something was telling him that he had to be. Something. Someone , sounded nothing like his mother, closer to his own voice, actually, telling him; it’s you. It’s you. Its’ you .

Becoming someone else was running away from his responsibility. Becoming someone else was running away from the blame. Becoming someone else but what his mother had seen him to be was disrespecting her.

It’s complicated. He didn't think he wanted to understand it either. It’s complex. The blackening threads of guilt strangling him. It’s a prison he’d die to escape from. The only thing holding him back was this twisted sense of love he had for his mother. If he could call it love at all.

Yukhei got better at faking a smile, pretending to be fine. He’s got David after all, he’s got to be strong for him. For both of them. Suppressing emotion became easier; feigning that he’s not lonely was barely a chore. By the time he entered junior high, he’s getting better at lying.

At school, he’s famous. Loud, funny, handsome, and obnoxious. He’s also popular enough around the teachers. For a clown he played himself as, he’s smart, studied hard enough to make sure he stayed at least in the top 10 of his year.

People flocked around him. People envied him. People gossiped about him but they’re the least of Yukhei’s concern. At some point, rumors that he slept with older girls even got around. He never paid them any mind. He never accepted any confessions nor love letter given to him either, always making sure he turned them down politely enough that they didn’t hold a grudge against him. Some did because teenage girls were mostly hormonal and petty, but the others were mature enough to accept his rejection.

He broke hearts. Many, but he was kind enough. That’s where he and his father differed, or maybe they’re the same too, there. Maybe the only heart his father broke was  his mother’s. Maybe, Yukhei did grow up to be his father after all.

He never asked his uncle, he’s never been around that much either, growing busier by days. Sometimes, the three of them would talk on a rare Sunday morning when his uncle didn’t have meeting to attend. David would ask, sweet little David who was as gullible and naive as ever, “what have you been doing, Uncle?” or “How was your work?”

His uncle was fond of David, even, Yukhei dared saying, of him . He always answered whatever they asked, well, most of them. Some that he didn’t was always followed by, “you two are too young to understand. Business,” complete with an eye roll that never failed to make David giggle.

Yukhei found out that his Uncle had been promoted, he didn’t understand the fancy title he carried, but he understood it’s huge enough to consume more of the already little time he had. He worked in the Hong Kong branch of internationally renowned model agency: that’s where all the lavish clothings came from.

Let alone home, nowadays, he’s even barely in Hong Kong anymore, as he’s working for a project overseas. China. Korea. Sometimes Europe, even America. He’s not around much to be able to tell whether Yukhei had grown into a clone of his brother or not. In the looks department he’s probably positive, but personality-wise, his uncle hadn’t said much about it.

Well, it’s not like he ever talked about Yukhei’s growth at all, to be honest. As long as Yukhei didn’t cause trouble, his uncle wouldn’t say anything.

After all, it’d be him who introduced Yukhei into the world of trouble later.

:::

When it happened, Yukhei was sixteen, fresh out of middle school, waiting for his high school to start. One unsuspecting Sunday morning, he was cooking breakfast for three of them; himself, David, and his uncle.

His uncle who was watching Yukhei flutter around the kitchen, alternating between checking the rosemary chicken breast and his mashed potato. It’s a rare morning when his uncle stayed home at all, so he felt this obligation to give him his best.

“How tall are you?” He asked.

Yukhei checked his potato. Too bland. He sprinkled more salt. “175cm. Why?”

“And still growing?”

Stir. Strong stir with wooden spoon. Another taste. “Probably. I’m still sixteen.”

“How’s the potato?” Abrupt change of topic kind of startled him. Yukhei stirred the yellow dough.

“Err. Wanna try it for yourself?”

He heard a rustle of movement, the soft shuffling of bare feet over the floor. Yukhei’s heart slammed against his breastbone: he’s nervous for no reason at all. He’s not sure why he should be, it’s just his uncle tasting his cooking.

He never did it in almost ten years of living together, only said Yukhei’s good at cooking, and listened when Yukhei babbled about it, cheeks slightly pink. In excitement. In giddiness. Being appreciated, by the closest person he could call a parent .

“Spoon?” The man asked, looking around the kitchen. He looked lost, it’s funny if you considered this is his kitchen. But considering the little time Yukhei had seen him step in there, and how many adjustments Yukhei had made to make himself comfortable here, he supposed it wasn’t as funny.

Yukhei reached for his left, while his uncle to his right. Certainly, that was where he used to store them. Yukhei handed him the silverware, “here.”

His uncle accepted it with a small ‘thank you’. Yukhei’s chest fluttered. He watched while biting his lips as the elder man dipped his spoon inside the pot and scooped up a rather generous amount of it.

Yukhei refused to see his expression as he tasted the d potato, too scared. He kept his eyes resolutely on the yellow goo. His heart was still doing funny things, and did even sillier things when he heard his uncle say,

“It’s perfect.”

His heart leaped to his throat. Yukhei pushed through his fretting and whipped his head to see his uncle’s reaction. “Really?”

He’s greeted by a small smile, calculating gaze. “Really. It’s perfect. No need to add more salt, or pepper,” he added tastily, “except David likes it salty. Does he?”

Yukhei didn't bother hiding his emotion, too elated by the acknowledgement. He grinned so wide his cheeks ache, even laughter slipped to his words when he told his uncle, “no. No, David likes this exactly like, well, this.” Supposed his nervousness also jumbled his brain. “Not salty. You and David, actually have similar taste.”

His uncle looked genuinely astonished at the revelation. “Really?”

Yukhei nodded enthusiastically. He gave the potato one more stir before turning off the stove. “Yeah. Yeah. Really. I was worried, in the very, very, beginning. I didn’t know what you like, Uncle, what if I made something inedible for you, but you ate better when David did too, so I kind of figured out.” He’s babbling, he knows.

But he couldn’t help it, could he? He’s happy. Too happy. He didn’t know what having a father felt like.

“For starter, you don’t eat asparagus. You ate, but not all of them, but you wiped the plate clean when I served you broccoli. David does that too, more so with cheese, and you-"

“You’re just good at cooking, Yukhei.”

The simple compliment put an end to his nervous tirade. Yukhei was positively blushing, he ducked his chin to his chest. “Thank you, Uncle.”

“Think you’ll make a good model, too?”

Oh .

The blushing died down, his uncle was probably watching him, Yukhei couldn’t know; he was staring again to his pot, suddenly feeling, lost .

Was his uncle praising his cooking just, just for this ? “Model?”

“You have the height,” he put the spoon down in the sink, so gentle, it barely made a sound. “And the look.”

“The-"

“I’ll have you know my brother was never scouted,”

Yukhei’s heart slipped through his bones, down to his stomach. Hollowness bloomed where it used to be, along with pricking pain. “My-"

“The potato’s good,” he switched topic again. The speed was making Yukhei dizzy. Before walking away, he said with quiet voice, “think about it.”

:::

Yukhei thought about it. A lot.

The modelling offer, the bold, “how’s it?” his uncle never failed to give him whenever they meet.

Yukhei always replied with, “let me think a little more,” and the man never pressed further. He didn’t look impatient at all, so Yukhei took his sweet time.

Yukhei thought about it. He even told David, about the modeling part, not about the comment his uncle made about their father . Yukhei didn’t think David could understand either, he was so young when it happened, the image he had about their father was still clean as opposed to Yukhei’s dirty canvas of black.

“You should take it, bro,” David’s been using it a lot, bro . Everyone in his school been using it a lot, apparently. Kids.

Considering he’s still sixteen, he didn’t think he had right to say anything about it, actually. He’s just as green as they’re. “You think?”

“Yep!” his brother nodder, popping the p . Eyes brilliant with pride. “It’s gonna be cool. Yukhei, my brother, a model,” he spread his hands wide, enthralled. “You will be famous!”

Famous. Popular. Every kid’s dreams. Having lots of money, buying everything they want, lots of toys, cakes, cars.

Girls. Many of them. The thought of his father came unbidden.

He shook them away, grinning nervously at his brother, because this is his brother and he can let his guard down, although not as much as he’d like. Like he couldn’t be honest about the complex he had toward his father. The guilt over his mother. “You really think so?

David hopped off the bed, he started to walk with shoulders pulled back, chin held high, and a wide smile on his face. “You’ll be walking, like this, with fancy clothes.” He swung his arms beside him, and in his pajamas, he looked ridiculously funny.

Endearingly lovely. Warmth crept to Yukhei’s heart. “You’ll make better model than me, bro,” he giggled, and David beamed at his words.

“You really think so?” He’s practically mimicking Yukhei.

The affection doubled, only getting bigger in his heart. Yukhei fucking loved his brother. He’s all he ever had. “Yeah, really. You should teach me, bro.”

David looked proud at himself, holding his chin higher, he patted his chest with his tiny fist. “Leave it to me! Now you come here, walk behind me.”

Yukhei humored his brother, slid off the bed, and pretending to follow David’s walk, puffing out his chest and holding his chin high.

“Smile!” David instructed and Yukhei followed suit, earning an approving nod from his younger brother. “Brilliant!”

They played around like that for a while until David fell asleep, snoring while hugging his giraffe plushie that he named ‘Kei’, because apparently, his friends at school called Yukhei a giraffe. David didn't like it at first, but then his friends made him read and watched cool videos about said animal, and one day, he triumphantly exclaimed that Yukhei is a giraffe, therefore, the name.

David’s really fond of the stuffed animal. Yukhei found him talking to it sometimes. It’s adorable, really. He ruffled his brother’s hair a few times, pressing a good night kiss, praying no nightmares would claim his sleep, covering his small body with the blanket, before he climbed to his own bed.

There, Yukhei stared at the ceiling, thinking. Of the offer. Of his uncle’s remark.

The remark was more out of the blue than the offer. He supposed he had it coming. His uncle’s working managing a model agency, of course he had an eye for this sort of thing. A surge of pride overcame him at the thought that his uncle deemed Yukhei worthy to be a model.

Another one pushed down the wave of excitement with the thought of the remark.

Why did his uncle even mention it at all? Did he know about Yukhei’s plight? If he did, how could he? They did talk but never about their feelings or Yukhei’s father or his uncle’s sentiment about him.

His mind trekked back to the only time they ever had a conversation about his father. The night of his mother’s funeral. Then again, they didn’t talk much either. Just one two sentences about how better it was for David to grow up without knowing how his father had abandoned him.

Maybe his uncle had his own complex toward his father. Maybe his uncle saw how much Yukhei grew up to be resembling his father. Maybe his mother had once talked to him about it.

Oh God, that’s possible. His uncle might have pulled his own conclusion from there. Yukhei didn’t exactly hide how unfond he’s of his father, and despite the stoicicism he projected, his uncle was anything but unkind. Maybe it’s his way of cheering him up or making Yukhei feel better about himself.

Or, he simply needed another model in his collection and give no flying fuck about Yukhei’s well-being at all.

That didn't explain the remark at all, not that Yukhei’s theory actually explained it either, but it’s plausible, and Yukhei would rather believe it for the sake of his peace of mind than trying to be realistic and be left grasping at straws.

Anything given to him, he’ll take. Opportunity presented itself not to be passed, and buying his own make-believe tale certainly reassured his anxious mind.

Yukhei fell asleep clinging to that thought; that his uncle offered the job both because he approved of Yukhei and wanted to help him getting out from the black hole of the complex he had about his father.

The next day, he woke up feeling refreshed, feeling better and somewhat confident. His hair was still nestled wildly on top of his head, he didn’t bother making himself presentable. He walked out of the room, feeling the confidence rise higher and higher the closer he got the living room where he knew his uncle was enjoying his morning coffee. It’s seven fourteen, Saturday.

His voice was loud, sure, when he said, “I’ll take it.” The man looked puzzled for a moment. Yukhei helped him, “modelling. I wanna try. I’ll take the offer.” When he didn’t say anything, Yukhei added, “if it still stands, of course.”

Oh no. What if he fucked up? What if it’s too late? What if his uncle had found someone else more suitable for the job than Yukhei? What if- “Okay,” his uncle nodded, took delicate sip of his coffee.

“Okay?” Yukhei asked again, tentative. The confidence had seemingly deserted him.

“Okay,” he put the mug down, crossed his arms, and with face that spoke of business, he said, “take my laptop. I’ll cover the basics with you.”

Yukhei beamed at him. He didn’t miss the barely-there smile perking up on his uncle’s face before he scrambled to get his laptop as requested.

He didn’t remember when was the last time he ever felt any happier.

:::

Modeling was, for the lack of better term, crazy .

It came with good, came with bad. Came with a new name he’s identified with; Lucas. The name sounded foreign but as time went by, it became more familiar. It became himself.

Came with ups and downs. Came with free clothes, free shoes, free drinks, and yeah, Yukhei wasn’t sure about the last part. Whether it’s good or bad.

When it was offered to him for the first time, the man who offered to him, one of the assistant photographers, had given him a funny look when Yukhei said, “I’m sixteen.”

“And?” The man asked, kept pushing the can to Yukhei’s direction as if he didn’t get the message.

“Uhh. I’m not, old enough?” Yukhei tried because the man looked honest to God lost at his rejection.

At his answer, he boomed a thunderous laughter. He laughed so hard his head was tipped back, showing Yukhei the tattoo of dragon sliding up the side of his neck. “You heard him, the kid said he’s sixteen?”

The man two seats beside him piped up, “leave him, he’s Guīxián’s nephew. You don't wanna get on his bad side.”

At the mention of his uncle's name - Guīxián - the man stopped laughing. He squinted at Yukhei so hard, his eyes were almost completely straight lines. “You didn't look like him.”

Yukhei praised himself for sounding as cheerful as he meant himself to be. “They said I look more like his brother.”

“His brother?”

“My father, obviously.” It didn't hurt. It didn't hurt at all. It’s true. He resembled his father. His mother hated him for it.

“Huh, obviously,” he pulled the can away from Yukhei’s face and opened it for himself. “Don’t think Guīxián would mind if you drink one or two, though. Everybody drinks here.”

Yukhei looked around. But he was the only minor here. There was the female model, Cynthia, but she’s seventeen turning eighteen in couple of months, she’s pretty much legal already. “Yeah, but,” Yukhei plucked around his brain for a reason. “I think he’d like it better if he taught me how to first. You know, less chance of me ruining his reputation.”

“His reputation,” the man snorted. “Why Guīxián though, you can ask your dad?”

A stab. Hot iron. Scorching, right between his ribs, bull’s eyes on his heart. Yukhei smiled them away. “He’s dead, I was seven.”

Judging from the panic and sympathy that flashed through his face, Yukhei assumed that his uncle never went around talking about his family at all. Yukhei included. “Sorry, kid.”

“No problem,” Yukhei shrugged. “Was too young to remember anyways,” lies, lies, lies. “Uncle took great care of me.”

“He did, you’re a nice fella. We worked together earlier, you’re brilliant. Huanglu there is really fond of you,” he motioned to the table across from them. Huanglu, the head photographer.

Yukhei’s cheeks went pink with elation. “Yeah, thank you. He’s amazing, too. Of course you too, Sir-"

“Andy, they called me Andy,” he patted Yukhei on the shoulder. “Ask Guīxián to teach you, alright, next time we meet, I better not get any more no .”

Yukhei promised him. Yukhei silently prayed they won’t meet anytime soon because he wasn’t sure if he could work up the courage to ask his uncle that fast.

:::

Actually, the opportunity came faster than expected.

It’s just three nights away. Yukhei woke up at oblivion time past midnight, needing to use the loo. Only when he’s done and was on his way back, he spotted his uncle, sitting alone in the living room, wearing silky blue pajamas, tablet on his lap, and bottle of wine on the table.

He didn’t realize Yukhei was there, hanging in the hallway, watching him, until he looked up from the tablet to refill his empty glass. He looked startled but he didn’t jump.

“Yukhei?”

“Wine,” Yukhei found himself saying.

His uncle looked at his drink, then back to Yukhei. “Wine?”

“How’s,” Yukhei licked his lips, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “How’s it taste? Is it good?”

He regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth. Idiot. What are the odds his uncle will approve of him drinking? Andy might have said so, and his uncle might be working in the field long enough to know the shadiest part of it, but it didn’t mean-

“Forget it. I-"

“It’s good.”

Yukhei rubbed his eyes, ashamed. This was stupid idea. Of course the wine’s good, his uncle wouldn't be drinking it  if it’s bad. “Yeah, figures. Sorry, I will just-"

go back to sleep, he wanted to say, but his uncle beat him to it. “Wanna try?”

Yukhei gaped at him, any lingering drowsiness escaped his body at once. With his throat suddenly feeling dry, he asked, “really?”

His uncle looked to the kitchen, and Yukhei followed his gaze. “Figure it’s time anyways. You’re gonna meet more people, you gotta know how to handle them. Might as well teach you how. Take your own.”

“Teach me?” Yukhei just asked dumbly.

“Drink. Even smoke, maybe. One day. Tonight it’s the alcohol."

Yukhei just stood there, staring at the kitchen, not quite processing his uncle’s words. Smoke. Holy shit, his uncle’s gonna teach him how to smoke. How to drink.

“Yukhei, are you still asleep? Should we do it tomorrow?” It was barely audible but it was there, so tiny, yet so loud for Yukhei’s affection-starved heart. Worry. Concern.

Yukhei didn’t let it go. Refused to. This is the closest man he had for a father. “No. I’m awake. 100%. Brilliant. I’ll get my,” he jerked his head toward the kitchen. “My own. Glass. Yeah. Let’s do it today.”

Without any more words, Yukhei dashed to the kitchen, reaching for the exact place tall glasses were stored. He remembered, but he was nervous, and maybe he wasn’t ready.

A drink. His uncle was going to teach him how to drink.

He also heard his uncle chuckled, “boys, always excited at the booze and the smokes,” with amusement, so much amusement and maybe, maybe, Yukhei dared hoping; affection.

He found the glass, immediately plopped down beside his uncle, didn’t hide his impossibly big grin.

When his uncle spoke, Yukhei deluded himself into believing that there was laughter, there in every vowel and every word.

:::

The modeling world is crazy, but at least Yukhei knows how to navigate around it now.

In his opinion, it’s impressively stupid that the adults won't take you seriously unless you have either a cig dangling from your mouth, or a drink in your hand. Once you do, sixteen or eighteen, it didn’t make a difference. They started treating Yukhei like a grown up now, including him in talks that they used to discount him from.

He told his uncle just that, in one of their late night drinking sessions which he never missed whenever his uncle got the chance to. His uncle agreed, followed it with a flat, “that’s world for you, kiddo.”

It felt nice. To be called Kiddo . The alcohol. To have a little of his uncle’s time.

It’s nice.  It’s like having something he knew he could have but was never given the chance to.

It’s like having a father. He never said as much to his uncle even if the questions always buzzed under his skin, in his blood, with the alcohol;

do you like this? Do you like me? Do you feel like a father and I’m your son?

He’s been given more than his fair share already, he shouldn’t ask for more. Let greed win over, and you’ll lose everything. Yukhei smartly kept his mouth shut about that particular issue, not keen at the thought of losing the little time he had with his uncle.

Modelling also comes with sex. Like, lots of it. Yukhei swore there were more offers to warm someone’s bed than the actual work at all.

He’s okay with making out, has had a couple of girls plopping down on his lap at the bar and kissing him. Most of them were older than him, models, make up artists. Most of them tried to seduce Yukhei into doing something beyond hands in pants and under the bra. Legal age of consent there was sixteen after all, but Yukhei always declined, making sure he did it as politely as possible, working his charm through his smile and grin, and the puppy eyes he worked so hard to polish.

They always worked. They liked him; their Sugar Boy Lucas. They kissed him like a man but treated him like younger brother. Some of them suggested that maybe he’s into men, but Yukhei admitted to being approached by men, on top of kissing them, but he declined them as well.

Sex. It just terrified him, to be honest.

He never discussed sex with his uncle. It’s fucking awkward. He’s not sure how his uncle would react either. Perhaps he could try the, “do you think I’ll get more work if I accepted the sex offer?” but figured out it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, asking his uncle who’s also technically his boss about the merit of sex in their field of profession.

Yukhei simply avoided it all together until he was eighteen. He got an offer not only to walk and model for, but also to become the face of a highly regarded brand of clothing. He got another male model with the same contract,  two years older, and his name was Can-Lie.

He’s bloody fit, has the most beautiful brown eyes Yukhei had ever seen, and a wicked smile that made Yukhei’s legs feel like jello. Can-Lie had his own car and he drove Yukhei around on Saturdays. Took him to Shun Kee just to watch the boats, and stars, and stars, they danced in his eyes as his face got closer and closer to Yukhei’s.

They kissed, they kissed, and kissed, and Yukhei’s just gotta say, “ yes, ” when Can-Lie asked him to come to his place.

They had sex, in Can-Lie’s apartment, on his bed, Yukhei’s dick deep in his ass. The elder had volunteered after Yukhei confessed it’s his first time. A genial smile on his face, “an honor,” he had said, and the same went for him. An honor, to have someone as gorgeous as Can-Lie as his first.

He woke up the next morning feeling refreshed, but upon realizing the empty bed beside him, the coldness of the air conditioner quickly registered around his skin.

Pulling his jeans to his hips, Yukhei walked to the kitchen, finding Can-Lie brewing coffee, the purple Yukhei painted last night still vivid on his neck.

“Can-Lie?”

“Hey,” Can-Lie said, not looking up from his coffee machine, back still turned to Yukhei. He didn’t look tense. He’s relaxed. He’s gonna - “Got a photoshoot in an hour. I gotta go soon.”

He was gonna, “yeah.” Yukhei looked back in the direction of Can-Lie’s room. He didn't need to be told, the message was there, clear. He’d heard enough stories anyways. “I’ll just get my things, and...”

“Okay, be careful, Lucas.” Can-Lie didn’t look at him. At all. It’s casual. All too casual.

Yukhei squashed down the awakening hurt. He continued, “leave, yeah. See you on, umm, when’s our schedule again?”

“Monday,” Can-Lie poured his coffee into a mug. Only one mug on the counter. None for Yukhei. Of course, he’s gotta leave soon. Probably didn't have enough time. “See you on Monday, Lucas.”

This time, Can-Lie looked at him. The water stopped pressing around Yukhei’s lungs. He smiled, not without biting the corner of his lips. He started feeling the warmth back, climbing up from his naked toes. “Yeah. Monday, see you.”

Yukhei got dressed as fast as he could, got his things which only included his wallet, then left Can-Lie’s place not without stealing a kiss on his cheeks.

Can-Lie kissed back, that’s his only reassurance.

Except he didn’t feel it at all, reassured.

:::

He didn’t tell his uncle about what happened with Can-Lie and if his uncle suspected anything, he didn’t show it. Yukhei slept over a lot since he started living with him ten years ago anyways, he never once said anything about it.

He met Can-Lie again on Monday, as per their schedule. It was casual, all too casual like their first morning after, and Can-Lie did kiss his cheek, but something was missing. Something Yukhei wasn’t sure ever belonged to him at all.

The meeting was quick, they were briefed about their schedule in the first quarter of next year. March. They’re going to walk Seoul Fashion Week in March, and Yukhei even got the honor of  becoming their first face.

In the midst of his giddiness, he was asked about university, and Yukhei easily answered it with, “I postponed it.”

The brand manager raised her impeccably drawn eyebrows. “And Mr. Guīxián let you?”

“Technically, I’m his employee,” Yukhei shrugged. He’s not sure why people were so surprised at hearing his uncle agreed to let him postpone his higher education.

Maybe they’re under the impression that his uncle wanted him to take over the agency after him. Well, they’re not wrong, except the part where his uncle said Yukhei’s the the type who learns better by practicing in the field. Yukhei had grinned like a fool the whole day after hearing that, and even David was worried about his brother’s wellbeing.

“We discussed it and he said I should do what I wanna do,” and  wasn’t the exact phrasing but wasn’t that far from it either. “And this, I wanna do it. It’s an honor for me as much it is for him, Ma’am. Rest assured, I’m all yours.”

Yukhek didn’t forget to give her his charming, boyish smile. The lady coughed, slightly pink on the ears. Her cheeks too heavy with cosmetics to be any indication at all. “Glad to hear that, Lucas. It’s an honor to have you, too. I assure you we’ll give you the best experience.”

“And I will give you the best model in return,” Yukhei beamed at her, turning her ears even darker. He could hear Can-Lie chuckling quietly beside him.

Lucas ignored him. He didn't pay Can-Lie any attention at all unless it’s related to the job. Which meant not that much since Can-Lie was rather quiet, in contrast to Yukhei’s loudness and enthusiasm.

He was surprised that it was Can-Lie who approached him first after the meeting. Hand friendly and hot on Yukhei’s shoulder.

“Hey. Lucas.” Yukhei - Lucas, blinked at him.

“Hey.” There was no pricking pain. There was no irritating itch.

Can-Lie gave him a look, similar look he had given Lucas last Saturday, his eyes flitted down to his lips for a second.

Lucas knew what it meant, but he felt sick. He refused to acknowledge what he knew. “Anything wrong? Anything you need?”

He gave Can-Lie his most believable confused yet friendly smile. It always worked on everyone except those who know him better.

Nobody did know him better, save for his uncle maybe, but he’s too emotionally constipated to admit that he had feelings.

Can-Lie’s face fell; he had difficulties maintaining his smile. It’s obvious,  many questions written in his eyes, searching Yukhei’s face - Lucas ’. “Nothing wrong. I’m just wondering if we could grab dinner, maybe?”

Lucas did his best to sound as sorry as possible when he’s actually feeling anything but. He felt miserable all the same anyway. “Actually, sorry, I can’t. I’ve still got school tomorrow, high school student, remember?”

High school student who fucked you last Friday and you sort of ditched on Saturday, he wanted to add, but Can-Lie’s smile was completely wiped out from his face as if he’d heard the unspoken bite. He quickly replaced his smile, albeit with one that wasn’t as genuine anymore. “No. Yeah, I forgot you’re still,”

“High school student,” Lucas nodded, grinning. It’s so easy, laughably easy. He didn’t know why it was so hard for Can-Lie to do the same. Pretending. “Taller than you, bigger too, but, sadly, I’m still a student.”

“You are,” Can-Lie said, dejected. He’s looking at anything but Yukhei, looking like he wanted to run away.

Why? He was the one who had unceremoniously kicked Yukhei out of his place two days ago. Why was he the one looking like he’s been abandoned?

“I guess, see you?”

Lucas kept his million watts grin on, and he pushed the door open, throwing a, “next time!” over his shoulder to a stunned Can-Lie, and then he’s gone.

He knew all too well about being abandoned. This time, he will make sure it’s not going to happen to him again.

:::

The contract granted him a working visa to Seoul, South Korea. He’d been there once in his middle school for a summer course, sent by his uncle. He still remembered the language a little, but just for safety, he decided to enroll himself in language class. It would do him more good than bad, and his uncle also approved.

It’s going to be three months, 90 days. With Can-Lie who can finally talk to him without looking like Lucas had ditched him in a trash bin. Without David who had clung to him the whole night after Yukhei told him he’s going away for a while. Without his uncle who had hired, handpicked a man to be his manager in his duration of stay in Korea.

The guy is Chinese, his name was Qian Kun and he has a killer smile which Yukhei was sure had metaphorically killed some ladies before.

Yukhei only hoped the man never actually killed people because manager was only his professional title. The other one that went unsaid was Yukhei’s babysitter.

He had been unhappy, expressed it as much with a pout and grumble and another pour of his uncle’s expensive wine. The elder man had dismissed his tantrum, reminded Yukhei he had cleared his schedule until summer break so Yukhei can enjoy a holiday in Seoul after his work there was over in April.

Almost 2 months in Korea, in a room his uncle had rented for him, all for Yukhei to use to his heart content. It’s the closest thing to a present the man had ever given him, he even somehow admitted it himself with a short, “you graduated High school, anyway, might as well.”

It was only that. So short. So simple, leaving too much room to elaborate and Yukhei took his liberty to interpret it as he wanted, just like how he always did when it came to his uncle’s ambiguous attention.

With a smile, dopey, Yukhei poured his uncle a wine. His glass was still half-full, and Yukhei was, well, half-drunk . He giggled causing his uncle to flinch in surprise. He rarely showed such reactions, was he drunk as well? He had started drinking earlier than Yukhei, but Yukhei doubted it; his uncle was a lot heavier than him.

Or maybe, he’d just softened up. To Yukhei. Because he’s going to leave in five days, and his uncle was going to miss him. The thought sent excited butterflies all around his body, fluttering their sparkly pollen to made Yukhei even more giddy. ”I’ll be good, Uncle. I promise.”

His uncle took his full-glass carefully, mindful as to not spill it. He did an impressive enough job of it that Yukhei had Ooh -ed when he managed to take a sip without spilling even a drop of it. A small smile meandered to his face, and his gaze on Yukhei was soft, or maybe he’s just imagining it.

One thing for sure was Yukhei didn’t imagine them, his words. The clarity of his messages in them. They were loud and clear, they will ring, last for eternity in Yukhei’s ears.

“You will. You always are.”

Yukhei beamed at him, and there might be tears in his eyes, he couldn't really tell. There was also pride in his uncle’s smile, but he couldn’t really tell that either.

But the happiness, the elation, the feeling of belonging that he felt. He can tell as much; they’re real .

:::

And certainly, this boy whose legs he just tripped over continues crying like someone just gouged his heart out from his ribs, is just as real.

Yukhei had been drinking with his colleagues, the other models, the staff. Kun had been there, too, but he lost Kun somewhere in the crowd and the thought of his chaperone just disappeared altogether from his mind after one of the female models, Korean, ample breasts, long, blonde locks, blew him in the toilet.

It was not that spectacular a blowjob, just the alcohol heightened his senses and made what’s ordinary to be extraordinary. The girl tried to go further than just blowing him, ready to take off her already skimpy clothing, but Yukhei pushed her away. “Thirsty,” he told her, but when he failed to get her off his back, pressing her bosom against him, Yukhei played his ace card. “I’m into boys, sorry, sweetheart.”

The girl gasped, scandalised. Yukhei ignored her and left of the toilet. He didn’t know what fucking time it was, but he knew he wanted to go home. He didn’t intend to linger around long anyway, just want to get some booze and, yeah, a quick something so he can crash into his bed, sated and satisfied.

He didn’t look around for Kun, just left the bar and walked to, to... somewhere . Oh, bloody hell, he might be more more drunk than he intended. He wasn’t watching where he was going, did he even know the right way home? He didn’t fucking know.

All he knows was that he was walking then suddenly there was something in his way, then he tripped, fell to the hard asphalt knee first. He fell so hard the impact actually jolted some of the alcohol-induced buzz out of his mind. The effect wasn’t immediate though, because he spent a while planting his head on the floor, worrying about the well-being of his kneecaps. He fell so hard, what if he shattered them?

When he eventually looked up, it was to inquire about the boy’s well being. Yukhei felt stupid for even asking because the of  the boy’s state; red faced, red eyes, the silvery trail of tears on his cheeks, the snot running out of his nose.

He looked like a disaster . There’s no other word his alcohol-induced mind could supply.

At Yukhei’s well-meant question, the boy broke down crying. He continued doing so; cried, cried, and cried until it was the only thing Yukhei could hear.

And here he is now. Yukhei scrambled to his feet, hovers unsurely around the weeping boy before settling to sit down beside him. His hands do the same, the hovering unsurely around the boy before he bit the bullet and sort of gathers him into a pseudo hug.

Yukhei is being careful, very, very careful. He doesn’t want to upset the boy further. He sounds heartbroken enough as he is now, squeezing fresh tears after tears. His cry is loud, hollow, he isn’t ashamed to let his feelings out at all, and even with his intoxicated mind, Yukhei finds himself feeling jealous of this wretched stranger.

He doesn’t remember the last time he cried this much. It was probably the day of his mother’s funeral, or even before.

Yukhei starts rubbing comforting circles on the stranger’s back, completely oblivious that he’s even doing that. The simple touch makes the boy in his arms cry even louder, and Yukhei holds him through his tears. Holds him still.

He might have forgotten when he last cried this much, but he’s certain about one thing; surely, when he did, he was alone.

And this boy, he had been alone, crying his heart out as if wailing could help whatever wounds he had to heal. But Yukhei had found him, found him with all the unseen bruises on his skin, found him as he bled all his anguish out of his system with his tears.

He found him. He’s not going to leave him alone.

:::

The boy eventually falls asleep. Yukhei calls Kun, tells him to pick him up, and sends the man his location via his phone. He waits for Kun with the boy sleeping on his lap, snoring quietly.

Yukhei runs his hair through the silken brown hair. Looking at him like this, he looks almost peaceful. The illusion is shattered by the redness of his face and swelling of his eyes.

Yukhei continues petting the boy’s head, hoping they can at least ease whatever demon that knits that impressive knot of his brows.

“Please don’t tell me you murdered him,” he hears Kun gasp.

Yukhei snorts, and he looks up to Kun’s aghast face without stopping his ministrations. “My first kill here, actually.”

The Chinese man frowns, “That’s not funny, Lucas.”

“You started it!”

The boy on Yukhei’s laps groans, and Yukhei covered his ear on instinct, hissing, “ssssh!” to Kun who yelps and quickly covers his mouth with both palms.

“If you woke him up, I’m gonna kill you,” he mouths to Kun who looks at him incredulously.

“You’re drunk,” Kun points out as if it’s supposed to change anything. “Who’s this , he?”

Yukhei resumes his petting, he  coos to the boy, and he can almost hear Kun gawp at him. It’s ridiculous, he knows. But he’s drunk, too, as both he and Kun already know. “I don’t know. I’m taking him home.”

“What?”

The boy stirs again, and Yukhei shoots Kun a glare. hHe’d later confessed to Yukhei about how much it reminded him so much of their boss aka. his uncle. “I said I’m taking him home. I cannot just leave him here.”

Kun ponders for a moment. “Check his wallet, don’t you think we can take him home? He must have an ID card or something.”

Actually, it’s the most logical and reasonable thing to do. Check his ID, his address, his home. His family is probably dead worried about him. However, something about returning the boy to his home doesn’t sit well with Yukhei at all.

He feels almost angry at the thought even. He’s being irrational, might as well be the alcohol in his mind that’s thinking for him, but the boy is clearly running away from something. Anything. He could’ve just ran to his home, but the fact that he wasn’t there, stranded here in the - well, not technically a middle of nowhere, but might as well be - gives Yukhei an inclination that the boy doesn’t wanna be home at all.

There’s no guarantee that he’s right. He’s probably delusional with the alcohol playing tricks on his mind. Yukhei is exceptional at make-believe stories, and he’s as good at buying them and making them his own version of truth.

He’s not taking the boy home, and he tells Kun as much. He insists. Kun tries to argue back, keeps repeating he’s drunk and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but Yukhei doesn’t back down, keeps refuting him to the point Kun doubts his inebriation at all.

In the end, Yukhei’s stubbornness emerges triumphant. They’re taking the boy to his place.

Very carefully, Yukhei shifts the boy until his upper body is leaning on him. He doesn’t want to wake him up, afraid the boy will only wail again. It’s better like this, at least when he’s asleep, he’s given temporary escape from his plight.

That is, if they don’t haunt him in his nightmares. Judging from his current expression, however, he looks like he’s safe from that. For now.

He hates the idea of the boy being terrorized by his nightmares. He hates the idea of the boy being in any kind of bad situation at all. Protectiveness surges in his blood, fortifying his bones. Yukhei holds his shoulder tight, slipping his other hand underneath the boy’s ankles. He cradles the boy carefully, tucking his head under his chin, before hoisting him up in his arms.

His head spins a little when he stands. Kun’s hand is right on his back, steadying him, his expression a dark shade of concern.

“You’re drunk,” he says, somewhat sounding in awe. He looks at the sleeping boy in Yukhei’s arms, then flicks his gaze toward Yukhei. “Totally drunk.”

Yukhei shrugs. “Hurry, before he wakes up.” He takes a step forward, wobbling. Kun catches him again. “Fuck. Shit.”

“Easy, Yukhei. Easy. My car’s just around that corner,” Kun points. Yukhei follows his guide; he’s not completely lucid but he’s not 100% drunk either - not anymore.

He’s got this boy, this stranger. Asleep, but he’s probably far away from the actual peace he sought. He doesn’t know him, doesn’t know his story. He doesn’t know his mystery and misery, but Yukhei swears, and it’s not the alcohol talking; it’s him. Wong Yukhei. Huang Xuxi.

He’s going to protect him from whatever tragedy it was.

:::

Yukhei manages spectacularly to bring the boy to his room. Safe and sound.

He woke up once in their way to his apartment stairs, only to tell Yukhei to shut up when Yukhei wasn’t even saying anything. Clearly, it’s the voice in his head. The protective lion roared again in his head, encouraging him to move faster.

Yukhei is half-asleep himself; the alcohol has finally worked its way to delude his mind. Even then when Kun offered to help, Yukhei had adamantly refused. If Kun helped them, he’d have to touch the boy.

And Yukhei doesn’t like it. Not at all.

He didn't have much difficulty in finding his keys, amazingly. Unfortunately, he got in his room with a hitch; he accidentally walked the two of them over the kitchen counter, the boy’s hips bumping it rather hard.

Yukhei winced, afraid he’s waking him up, but the boy just slept on, completely unaware. Breathing in relief, Yukhei dragged him further into the room, gently lowered the boy onto his bed, went back to lock the door, and then back to plopped down beside the bed, staring at the sleeping boy.

Yukhei is drunk now, but even more back then. He didn’t take a proper look at the boy, plus, he had been crying too, hard. Now, Yukhei realizes how young he is. He certainly looks too young to drunk himself silly, but considering the guy actually went and inebriated himself, he’s probably older than he looks. Around Yukhei’s age, maybe?

Yukhei just stares at him, consciousness slipping away little by little. He brushes those curly brown locks away, revealing his forehead and seagull-like brows.

He finds himself giggling. He’s positively drunk, he should sleep; tt’s a warning itself that Yukhei cannot stop giggling and continues staring at the sleeping boy.

In wonder. In awe. He cannot stop thinking about how cute the boy is; his pink lips, his soft cheeks. Yukhei wants to see him open his eyes, wants to see the caramel orbs he could only take a quick glimpse at before the boy broke down crying.

He wants to see himself reflected in them. Wants to see them shine, preferably not from tears, but emotion. Elation. Happiness. Yukhei wants to make him happy. Wants to see him smile. Wants to tickle him until he’s a giggling mess.

He is drunk but he knows he wants to protect the boy. His cry of anguish had pulled on something in Yukhei’s heart. Something tender. Something delicate. A string, but it’s colder. Heavier.

A chain, maybe, bounded tightly around something. Yukhei cannot remember what exactly, he only knows it did. They came loose with every wail that escaped the boy’s lips, but they’re not undone, still wrapping themselves around that part of him, keeping it under arrest.

Yukhei brushes back his hair once more, but the boy doesn’t stir. He looks so deep in his sleep, probably the alcohol knocking his system out. He’s going to have horrible headache tomorrow, and Yukhei suspects he’s going to have one too. He should sleep. Soon. Preferably now.

Yukhei strips from his clothes because that’s how he sleeps; naked. There’s a stranger sleeping in his bed but he doesn’t care. He is sleepy, his head is starting to pound, his eyelids are heavy.

He climbs into his bed, pushing the stranger, of course very, very carefully until his side is hitting the wall. Yukhei murmurs an apology, not sure why.

Not sure why he’s undressing the stranger either, but, hey, he looks so full and stuffy in his flannel and shirt and jeans and corduroy jacket. How could one sleep fitfully like this? He’ll probably dream of being burned alive.

Yukhei takes the boy’s clothes off until he’s left with only his jeans on. He is so, so, sleepy. The pain from falling had sobered him up earlier, but now he’s in his room, on his bed, he is all cosy and comfortable, ready to sleep.

He’s also got the boy beside him, the boy he irrationally wants to keep safe. The boy he irrationally wants to protect.

So, Yukhei protects him, at least his body registered his intention as a hug. He hugs the boy, tucks his head under his chin, and wraps his hands around his smaller frame, tangling their legs.

The boy smells like alcohol, Yukhei also smells like it. He thinks that’s good, that makes the two of them. Knackered. Silly. He hugs the boy closer; the appropriate word is cuddling . If anyone saw them like this, they’d call it cuddling .

Doesn’t matter. Yukhei likes this. Yukhei likes it. Cuddling the stranger, hugging him. He’s so small in Yukhei’s arms, and like this, Yukhei is confident he can keep the boy away from harm.

He will do it. He swears he will do it. He will keep him safe, he will not let the boy cry anymore. He will fix him when the boy breaks. He will be the white when the boy is black.

Yukhei will be there for him, because he didn’t have anyone back then when it was him needing anyone, any ears to hear his screams.

He heard the boy’s shout. He will take them all in.

:::

Yukhei is jostled awake by horrible retching sound.

The stranger is puking all over the sheets but his poor blanket is the last thing on his mind. He pushes the stranger’s hair back, massaging his back. “Easy, easy. I got you.”

The smaller boy continues retching, emptying the contents of his stomach. The sound’s horrible but it's nothing compared to his wail last night, that one pierced straight through Yukhei’s heart.

“Okay?” Yukhei asks once the stranger stops, still rubbing his back in a comforting manner.

He takes a huge gulp of air, panting, then slowly turns his face to Yukhei’s direction. Yukhei holds his breath, watching the stranger blink his huge, dark caramel eyes.

He is cute , Yukhei thinks. Unconsciously, he pets the stranger’s hair.

The boy gapes at him.

“Uhh. Fuck. Sorry,” Yukhei retracts his hand away as if he’s burnt. Regretfully. So much regret, from not being able to touch him.

The stranger’s eyes linger on his hand, awkwardly hanging in the air. Then he flicks his gaze to Yukhei’s face before practically sizing him; head to toe.

Yukhei suddenly feels really conscious about his body. He’s usually confident, if not shameless, about his body. His skin is tan, bronzed up by the kisses of the sun. He’s also bloody fit, six pack, adonis line, and all that. Add his wide shoulders, long legs, and impressive thighs.

He has nothing to be embarrassed about for a nineteen year old but for some reason, the way the stranger, this really, really cute stranger is raking his gaze down his body makes him feel like he has left so much to be desired.

Yukhei squirms, trying to uselessly hide his nakedness by pulling up his soiled blanket, at least enough to cover his hips down. The stranger’s eyes happened to stop there, his mouth is still hanging open but if possible, they hang even lower.

Yukhei can almost hear his silent, ‘ fuck, ’ his big ears going impossibly pink as his eyes practically zeroed in on Yukhei’s crotch. For some inexplicable reason, Yukhei feels proud.

“Umm.” Yukhei’s awkwardly floating hand moves to scratch behind his ears, and he tries to give the furiously blushing stranger (whose eyes seem to be permanently glued to Yukhei’s lap) the friendliest smile as possible. “Are you okay?”

The stranger stares unblinkingly still. Yukhei’s bizarre pride dissolves into concern. What if the alcohol gave him permanent brain damage? What if the stranger suddenly drops dead? Had it been a bad idea after all to bring him here instead of his actual home?

Panicked, Yukhei reaches out for his shoulder, squeezing it hard, giving him a light shake. “Hey, hey. Can you hear me? Are you okay?”

Finally, the stranger shows him a reaction. Not just any reaction but an honest to God screech , complete with jumping back until his head hits the wall behind him with a loud bang .

“Fuck!” Both of them swear at same time. Both of them also cradle the poor boy’s head the same time. Yukhei is too panicked to mind how close they are now, with his hands on either side of his face, stroking his temple with his thumbs. It’s too late for that anyway, they slept naked last night.

“Oww. Oww. Oww. Fucking oww,” the boy moans, cupping the back of his head. One of Yukhei’s hand automatically pries his hands away, trying to massage the sore spot.

“It’s okay,” Yukhei murmurs. He can feel a slight bump there but nothing serious. He sighs in relief, “it’s okay. You’re gonna be fine. Sorry for startling you.”

The stranger keeps silent, letting Yukhei work on his head. He hangs it low, giving Yukhei full view of his nape and his darkening ears.

They just stay like that for awhile. Yukhei’s blinds are still tightly shut; the heat simmering under his skin must not come from the usually streaming sunlight then. His fingers don’t stop moving, pressing and rubbing on the tender spot, occasionally brushing off tangled knots. It feels good. This feels fine.

“Your sheet.”

“Huh?”

The stranger repeats, “your sheet. I’m sorry.”

“Oh,” Yukhei looks at his sheet, stained by drying puke. Actually, it smells really gross in here but he barely realized, too preoccupied with alleviating the stranger’s pain. “No probs. Really, hangover, it happens.”

He wants to add ‘all the time,’ but then the stranger looks up at him. His gaze is wet, probably tears from the pain, but they’re steady on Yukhei’s face, like his voice when he speaks, “No. I’m sorry, I shouldn't have. I’m sorry.”

His guilt is rich in his voice; he sounds so sad, so regretful. Yukhei hates it, he will do everything as long as he can erase that mellow blue from his voice. If forgiveness is what he wants, then that’s what Yukhei will give. “Okay.”

“It’s not-"

“Apology accepted, only if you clean yourself up, drink the hangover medicine, and gets back here to eat with me.”

“But-"

Yukhei’s finger slides down to his nape, and the boy shivers, eyes go comically wide. “No but . Go now, I’ll take care of this, it’s laundry day anyways.”

He doesn’t look happy at all, actually, he pouts, and Yukhei just needs to fucking kiss him.

“Do you want my apology or not?”

The boy opens his mouth. Yukhei rises his brows. The boy closes his mouth, sighing dejectedly.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” he gives up with another sigh.

Yukhei beams at him, giving his nape a light squeeze that makes the boy flinch, as he says, “off you go.”

He practically crawls over Yukhei to get off the bed since he’s on the side of the wall. He scurries off so quickly that Yukhei barely catches a glimpse of his ass.

Yukhei doesn’t even know why he wants to see a glimpse of it at all.

:::

Yukhei dumps his bedsheets in the laundry basket, slips into yesterday’s jeans, doesn't bother putting on a  shirt, and proceeds to make him - them , breakfast.

It’s a habit, he reasons with himself. It’s in his system, there’s no changing it. He loves making people breakfast, loves to think they start the day with his cooking giving them energy. It makes him feel meaningful, makes him feel useful.

There’s only four eggs on the fridge, barely any milk, and plenty of cheese. It’s fine, it’s perfectly enough for two.

He is pouring the omelette to the plate when the stranger emerges from the bathroom, wearing Yukhei’s smallest t-shirt that he had prepared for him.

Still, the boy drowns in it. He is very, very cute. Yukhei doesn’t know how many times he’d thought it already.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t you know how to say anything else but I’m sorry?” Yukhei puts the pan in the sink.

“Your sheet, I will pay the laundry,” he offers.

Yukhei waves the spatula in his direction, dismissive. “Nah. I said don’t worry, right? It’s laundry day anyways.”

“But-"

“I made us breakfast,” Yukhei uses the spatula to point at the breakfast; two plates. Omelettes. Bread. Two glasses of milk, two of water. One pill. “Drink up. Eat.”

“But-"

Another spatula refusal, the boy pouts. “If you want my apology.”

He glares at him, and Yukhei stares back, unaffected, just arching one brow high. In the end, the boy seems to realise that Yukhei isn’t going to back down. He casts his gaze down, a small reticent smile forming on his face.

When he speaks, there’s gratitude lilting up his voice, and it tickles Yukhei’s heart, bubbles elation under his skin.

“Thank you.”

The bubbles pop. Yukhei grins. Really, that’s all he ever wanted to hear.

:::

Yukhei introduces himself as Wong Yukhei. Huang Xuxi. Tells the boy he can call him whatever he wants and there’s this relief flooding through his system when the stranger calls him ‘Xuxi’ instead.

Xuxi . Nobody really calls him that, not even his uncle or his brother. He goes by ‘Lucas’ at work and mostly ‘Yukhei’ at school. He doesn’t use that name much either.

Xuxi. He likes it. Likes the way it slips from the stranger’s lips. Likes the sound of it spoken in the stranger’s voice.

Xuxi. Huang Xuxi. Not Yukhei, his mother called him Yukhei, so did his father. Everyone called him that. But this stranger calls him Xuxi , and it’s as if something - someone , explodes, breaks free from the confines of his bones.

Xuxi.

“What’s your name?” Yukhei - Xuxi asks, leaning forward a little, strange excitement feathering up his spine.

The boy looks hesitant, staring down on his plate of omelette. Untouched. He had drank the medicine, a little milk, but not yet his food. He simply pushes it around, not eating, not answering.

Yukhei quirks his brows; he’s just asking his name. Why is it so difficult? Unless, unless -

“Minhyung,” his voice trembles. “It’s...Lee Minhyung.”

Minhyung .

Not his name. Obviously not his name. Like Xuxi isn’t except it is actually Yukhei’s, just the matter of character. But this name, Minhyung , it’s not his name, totally not his name. For whatever reason, the boy, Minhyung , refuses to identify himself with his actual name. For whatever reason, he’s lying to Yukhei, who has not only helped him, but treated him with utmost hospitality.

For whatever reason, he drunk himself silly. For whatever reason, he cried his heart out last night. For whatever reason, he wept, wept, and wept, as if someone had ripped his heart away from his chest and left the void consuming him. As if someone skinned all his emotions away until he’s left with nothing but miserable flesh and bones.

From whatever reason, he bled, and if he thinks using another name can hide his open wounds, well, he’s mistaken. Yukhei can see them; red welts and bruises blue. And this boy, this stranger, is desperately trying to hide them from view, using a bandaid called ‘ Minhyung’.

For whatever reason. For any reason at all.

Yukhei is caught, Xuxi is. In his game of pretense, another piece on his board. He doesn’t think he cares, like the boy doesn’t realize how Yukhei had seen through his lies.

He thinks it’s okay, inexplicable reason, unnecessary reason. Any reason at all.

At least, at least he is.

“Minhyung,” Yukhei says, and the boy flinches, his grip on the fork tightens. Yukhei longs to run his fingers past his knuckle, circle them around his wrist, pull him close, tells him it’s okay, it’s okay, “Minhyung.”

The stranger, fear in his eyes, lies a failing mask, looks up. His eyes are bright under the streaming sunlight. He has opened the blinds, and to this fiction Minhyung spun, Yukhei is willing to be blind.

“It’s a good name, I like it.”

Yukhei just complimented him, but Minhyung doesn’t look happy, not at all. If anything, his face falls. In his voice, Yukhei recognizes, that heaviness, it’s familiar, he knows it all too well. “Thank you.”

Guilt, he can even call it a friend.

:::

To say things are going fast is understatement.

It’s going too fast. Like a rollercoaster, his stomach jumps everywhere, his heart leaps to his throat.

“Fuck,” he swears, nipping the skin under Minhyung’s ears.

Minhyung moans out his name, “Xuxi,” after another “Xuxi.”

Yukhei - Xuxi is drunk. Intoxicated. Lust a rusting scarlet in his veins, he’s dizzy. He’s lost. Minhyung. Hot around him. Clinging to him, rivulet of sweats beading under his bangs. Minhyung. Minhyung .

Minhyung is all he knows, all he can tell. His fingers scale that map of his body, remember every plain and slope, marks the hardness of his bones and softness of his skin. Under the witness of golden sunlight, Minhyung is beautiful. He is not perfect, with those lines of old scars along his elbow, on his thigh. He is not flawless, but like ancient ruins, he’s mythically beautiful. His body is a temple Xuxi has to worship, and Xuxi casts his prayer on him, along the side of his neck down to his chest.

Minhyung had been crying, and Xuxi had held him. There’s no fucking way he can leave Minhyung alone, not when the sight of the boy, weeping unspoken pleas of help, reminded Xuxi too much of himself.

Xuxi knows how it feels; to be left alone, to be abandoned, left behind. To cry out for help until your voice is raw, only for it to fall on deaf ears. Only for the dark of loneliness to drink it and mock you as it enjoys more and more of your exquisite pain.

Xuxi knows. How it felt. How it feel s. So much. Too much. He cannot let Minhyung feel the same way, not when Xuxi can stop him from feeling the same. He had looked at Xuxi, hazel eyes gleaming with tears. His eyes were rimmed red, wet, his lips were as red. Minhyung still had his guard up; Xuxi can tell from the trembling of his fingers on his shoulder. He can tell as much by the wavering of his voice when Xuxi asked him, “can I kiss you?”

The answer had been, “yes.”

He’s giving Xuxi his everything. He didn’t say he needed Xuxi but the way he closed his eyes, the way he dug his fingers deeper into Xuxi’s skin, said it all the same, and Xuxi felt like he’s breathing anew.

He’s wanted. He’s needed . He’s terrified but he summoned all his courage, all that wonderful feeling of being sought after, then pressed his lips onto Minhyung’s.

They’re smaller than his own, softer, but they fit perfectly.

The way Minhyung slightly pulled back but stopped himself, the way he froze when Xuxi deepened the kiss, nibbled his bottom lip, asking for entrance, spoke enough for him.

Minhyung was just as terrified as himself if not even more.

But Xuxi doesn’t care, it’s too late now, he’s too far gone. Minhyung’s lips trembled when he granted Xuxi access. Xuxi didn’t waste his chance, his tongue slipping into his mouth. Minhyung moaned, his fingers slipping off from Xuxi’s shoulder, but Xuxi caught them, held them between their bodies as his other hand grabbed him by the back of his neck, angling his head so he could kiss him better.

They kissed, kissed, and kissed, and then Xuxi had undressed Minhyung with impatient yet careful hands before attacking his neck, leaving marks on his skin. Minhyung clung to him, continuously moaning beside his ear. He’s mostly passive the whole time, probably his first time, Xuxi didn’t need to ask to know, the boy basically confirmed it with how awkward he was. He also cried a lot even if he urged Xuxi to, practically, treat him rough like it’s not his first time.

There’s no fucking way he can do it. It’s his first time, at least even if it’s with a stranger, Xuxi wanted to make it as painless as possible. He treated Minhyung with a sweetness he didn’t know he could possess, a tenderness he reserved for someone who he didn’t even know would come to his life or not.

But then there’s Minhyung, clinging onto him like Xuxi is his lifeline, catching Xuxi in his bound, making him float in his gravity. His fingers, they dug into his back, raking down, scraping his skin, leaving marks.  He had said sorry , Xuxi had said it’s okay .

It’s okay because he knows Minhyung had hurt as much if not more. If Xuxi can’t suffer for him, then at least Minhyung can give him his own scar to feel. If Xuxi can’t know his history, then at least, he can let Xuxi taste his misery.

“Okay?” Xuxi asks, panting heavily, nibbling Minhyung’s scarlet ears. Minhyung doesn’t answer him, his tears keep on falling, he’s breathing harshly through his mouth, his head is thrown back. Even with his eyes closed, Xuxi can see the pain burning behind his eyelids.

Xuxi waits until he’s ready, kisses along the trail of his tears, laps the sweat off his skin. He keeps whispering sweet words, doesn’t care whether Minhyung hears him or not. Once he feels Minhyung relaxing, he pulls his hips back before pushing them in testily. The smaller boy gasps his name, “Xuxi,” then Xuxi thrusts in again.

He goes on, doesn’t give Minhyung time to catch his breath. Xuxi’s name keeps spilling out from Minhyung’s lips between his moans. Somewhere in between, he starts moving his hips, meeting Xuxi’s merciless thrusts. It’s his sign; the pain has turned into pleasure. Xuxi growls, hooking Minhyung’s legs onto his shoulder to get better angle, he increases his speed until Minhyung is a babbling mess, half-folded beneath his weight.

Minhyung bares his throat for Xuxi to feast on, his hands grabbing on the sheets beside him before they grapple for Xuxi’s upper arms, sliding to his back, nails trailing red on his already abused skin. They sting, they burn, and Minhyung is so hot, clenching all around him.

Xuxi cannot remember the last time he ever had sex like this. In fact, he cannot remember anything at all, nothing’s registered in his mind but Minhyung; Minhyung and the specks of scarlet in his ocean of brown, Minhyung and his cry of Xuxi’s name.

Minhyung, and his chaos that Xuxi is yet to know. Minhyung, with his demons that Xuxi is desperate to save him from.

Minhyung. He reaches between their bodies, tickles the skin under Minhyung’s sack, causing the smaller boy to jerk in pleasure, eyes screwed shut, Xuxi’s name a curse casted from his mouth, “Xuxi.”

Xuxi falls, a little deeper, but he thinks he will be alright. “Minhyung-ah.”

After all, he’s Xuxi . Huang Xuxi. Not Wong Yukhei. And as long as Lee Minhyung calls for him, he’ll be alright.

:::

He returned home, knees bleeding, elbows scraped. His ball had been taken away by the other boys, but it’s okay. He just needs to ask his father, he will buy him a new one. It’s the only thing he can do for him anyway; spoils him with presents, not his presence.

“Mom?” Tentatively, he calls out for his mother. He knows she’s not going to answer him. Small chance, she spends most of her time staring away, into the distance. Far off horizon. Somewhere beyond there, maybe his father is there.

She sits by the window as usual, gazing far. The sky has set, bleeding red into blue. Her eyes are as red, the tears dripping down her cheeks glinting like rubies.

“Mom?” He tries again. His limbs are wounded, but it’s his heart that stings. He walks closer to his mother until he can rest his tiny hand on her knee.

She used to take it into her own, squeezing it gently with the most brilliant smile on her face.

“Mom?”

Now, she doesn’t take his hand, she looks at him, but not seeing him. “Min-Hao?”

He is ‘Yukhei’ .

Chapter Text

You leave me room for my imperfections 
When I’m a mess and you jump right in 
If I drift in the wrong direction 
You turn the tide and you calm the wind

You will Find Me - Alex & Sierra

:::

When Mark eventually leaves Xuxi’s place, his hips aren’t aching any longer, but he is still limping. He walks slowly, and Xuxi keeps on saying sorry.

Mark tells him it’s okay, still hasn’t told him that his name is not Minhyung but Mark, but Xuxi had called him ‘ Minhyung’ when they fucked and it felt strangely liberating.

Mark lets Xuxi register his number under that name in his phone. Xuxi miscalled him, tells him to save his number as anything he wants.

“If you need someone to talk to,” Xuxi says with an easy smile. Friendly. There’s no accusation or jeer in his voice.

Mark briefly wonders if Xuxi needs it too; someone to talk to. A body to hold on to. Mark wonders if Xuxi has been lonely too, so that he accepts a total and complete stranger so easily. Into his room. Onto his bed. Into his life.

Mark definitely is; lonely. He lets Xuxi in , himself. He can almost feel him again, slick and hot inside of him. Mark’s face flares up, he ducks his head down in embarrassment, trying to erase the image of their joined bodies from his mind.

It’s not spectacularly successful but at least his voice is calm enough when he says, “thank you, Xuxi. I really appreciate it.”

“No see you soon?” There’s teasing in his voice.

Mark nods, but he only says, “bye.”

He turns around and leaves. He doesn't look back.

He doesn’t save Xuxi’s number.

:::

It’s been 3 days.

Mark doesn’t remember where Xuxi’s house was. Mark doesn’t remember where his station was. Mark doesn’t save Xuxi’s number. Xuxi doesn’t contact him either.

At night, Mark turns off the lamp, locks his door. He hides under the blanket, pants rolled down until they’re hunched around his knees. His dick hot and heavy on his palm as he strokes himself.

He used to imagine Taeyong’s slim body or his warmth mouth.

He draws Xuxi’s large hands and calloused fingers in his head.

It doesn’t feel as much like punishment as the first time.

:::

Another night finds Mark lying on his bed, staring unseeingly into the dark ceiling, breath ragged, chest heaving.

He wonders if Xuxi had ever felt so guilty to the point he needs to punish himself. He wonders how Xuxi would react if he knew that Mark is only using him for his twisted self-loathing. He wonders if Xuxi will hate him if he knew that Mark was only taking advantage of him to earn his sick sense of forgiveness.

It’s been 5 days.

Mark scrubs his face harshly with sweaty palms. It’s been 5 days, yet the image of Taeyong, staring at him with eyes richly tainted with rejection, shoulders raking with fear, is still clear in his head. Bright, vivid in burning red. So does Jaehyun’s grip, vice with promise of death if Mark dared to touch Taeyong again.

The images are shadows, quiet yet stubborn, insistently not leaving him alone. They breathe down Mark’s neck, sinister like monster. Hungry for his sanity, thirsty with no sympathy.

It’s getting more difficult to remain lucid during the day, especially with the less sleep he’s getting nowadays. Three is the most he could get when sleep was gracious enough to visit, zero is the most when it’s being vicious. The awkward time in between he spent either crying or letting the worst of his thoughts fight against the last remaining of his best, and he’s failing.

He’s failing; his class, his life. He’s losing weight and his friends, Donghyuck, Jeno, and the gang, are starting to notice. They started mentioning the bags under his eyes, his lack of appetite. Donghyuck pulled a face that’s torn between worry and ridicule when Mark told him he didn’t remember having an assignment at all when the due date was the next day.

He can’t let this happen. Sooner or later, they’re going to shoot him point blank and he cannot risk them knowing his problem , his secret.

He needs sleep, as much as possible, so that he can feign a level of stability. He needs sleep, as soon as possible before the demons get a good, bruising grips on his limbs.

Mark’s hands fall from his face, he turns, and right beside the pillow lies his phone, not taunting, dead. He just needs to reach. He just needs to press.

He just.

:::

“Hello.”

“Thought you’ll never call.”

Mark swallows. “You’re not Korean, are you?”

“Nope,” there’s amusement in his voice. “Are you?”

Does it matter? “I want to see you.”

“Mm hmm,” silence stretches. Mark’s the one who’s taut. “Thought you’ll never ask.”

“Thought you’re meant to hear me talk.”

Xuxi laughs. Mark feels the ground collapse beneath him and he’s free-falling. “Whatever you wish, Princess.”

Only for Xuxi to catch him.

:::

Mark starts seeing Xuxi. Regularly.

Mark starts sleeping more under Xuxi’s blanket, with his arm around his waist and his brands all over Mark’s skin.

He still calls Mark ‘Minhyung ’, whispers sweet nothings to  his ears whenever he drives Mark into the mattress and lifts him to the height of pleasure.

He teaches Mark something new about himself every day, like how much he likes being fucked with Xuxi nibbling his ears, or the wonder of melting cheese on sausages for late night snacks.

Mark doesn’t come back to the college dorm any longer, finds his shirt cramping Xuxi’s small drawers. He feels guilty, but then Xuxi would hug him from behind, pepper his nape with kisses, and says he’ll forgive him as long as Mark lets him fuck him again.

Mark agrees because he likes the fucking, because it makes him feel forgiven and with how guilt’s been corroding his heart a rust with every breath he takes, it’s the closest thing to salvation.

He tells himself it’s not because he likes Xuxi, Xuxi who kisses him sweet and cradles his face with a tenderness that only serves to break Mark’s heart.

He doesn’t deserve this.

:::

Mark would wake up every now and then, wrenched awake by his nightmare. The violence he didn’t know he could possess, the rejection in Taeyong’s voice. The many no . His name uttered in fear. In betrayal.

The fear. It grapples around him, stinging cold chains of ice. Mark gasps, trying to catch his breath, one hand clutching his chest, another on his throat. Wheezing. Seeking, for oxygen that deserts him as if knowing the graveness of the sin he had committed.

Tear after tear falls from his eyes. He cannot breathe. Squeezing his eyes shut, Mark chokes out a sob. Strangled. He just wants to breathe. He needs relief.

Then there are hands. Arms. Around him. Everywhere. Warm, the ice melts. He’s cradled into an embrace, tender and sure. His head is tucked under a chin, comfort rubbed onto his febrile skin.

His name, “Minhyung,” is uttered. Calling, someone is looking for him. “It’s okay. Can you hear me?” He nods. “Good. Then let’s count to three, okay? With me. Can you follow me?” Another nod, less frantic but just as desperate.

He can feel a kiss being pressed to his sweaty temple, can feel his hand being taken away gently from his throat to solid skin, bronzed and beating. Heart, alive.

“One,” the voice says. Mark focuses on that heartbeat, timing it with his own. He takes a deep breath, feels the chest expand beneath his palm. “Exhale.”

He’s breathing again. The voice tells him he’s doing good, tells him to do it again. He complies.

He’s breathing.

:::

The next time Mark opens his eyes, there’s no longer demons haunting his wake. Just a body, warm, kissed by the sun, pressed and tangled around his own.

He watches the owner of the body sleep. Xuxi. His eyelashes are long, his lips parted slightly. Carved out nose, the slant of his strong jaw. His facial features are all big, like his entire build. He resembles Taeyong and not at the same time, for Taeyong is a snowflake, all sharp angles and small, breakable.

Taeyong was never there when Mark opened his eyes, but Xuxi is. There. Here . Always.

His thoughts are still the same; he doesn’t deserve this.

:::

Mark eventually comes back to sleep in his dorm after Jeno tells him that his mother’s been visiting them lately. Jeno had to cover up for him, lying to Mark’s unsuspecting mother, that Mark’s been spending his time in the library. First year. Mountain of homework.

“She bought it, and I know she’s been contacting you, but,” Jeno gives him a pointed look. “You know. Be careful.”

Mark wonders if Jeno knows what’s been going on. Between him and Xuxi. Between him and Taeyong. Taeyong and Jaehyun, and Jaehyun and him. And Johnny, and how everyone keeps telling him that Taeyong isn’t good for him. He’s toxic, he will kill him.

Little did they know that Mark’s the toxic one. He hurt Taeyong and now he’s running away like a coward. He hasn’t meet Taeyong since that incident. He attended campus every day but made sure he never crossed paths with any of them.

College. Xuxi isn’t attending one, or is he? It’s only ever Mark who talks about college and classes and homework. Xuxi only talks about his family in Hong Kong, a life in a foreign country that Mark never knew about, and how much he misses his brothers.

It’s scary how little they actually know about each other. Even if Mark knows Xuxi’s life before Korea, he doesn't really know his life now, and the same goes with Xuxi.

Xuxi doesn’t even know his name isn’t ‘Minhyung ’. Nowadays? Mark just wants to be ‘Minhyung’, the person whose name Xuxi utters with such fondness.

Suddenly, he misses Xuxi. Misses his large frame pressed around him, misses his loud, boisterous laugh playing in Mark’s ears.

“I will. Thanks, Jeno.”

That night, he returns to his own room.

:::

It’s barely been a week but he misses Xuxi. Greatly.

Mark tries to be patient; he uses his classes for distraction, working through his assignments diligently. His mother comes to visit eventually and she fusses over how dark her son’s eyebags are.

Mark barely sleeps with how foreign his room has become now that he’d spent so much times in Xuxi’s. The lack of his ever-so-comforting presence also played a big part. Guilt melded into his nightmares, haunting him every time he closed his eyes.

Mark could barely sleep, finding he was screaming himself awake to escape the terror his dreams brought him.

His mother takes him out for dinner, fills Mark on with everything he’d missed since he started living in the dorm. Mark eventually manages to find comfort in the stories about his family, his mother’s ever-so-graceful and abundant kindness.

After they’re done, Mark sees her off at the station. He feels better despite the ever present weight of guilt that has found a home in the bottom of his stomach.

The smile he plastered on finally crumbles when his mother hugs him, apology and sadness tearing her voice. “You know I’m always here for you, right?”

Mark knows it. He just doesn’t know if his mother is there to be tormented with what her son has become. What her son had done. She doesn't deserve it.

Mark hugs her, tighter, seeking as much warmth and comfort as possible. Hoping that his body can speak for him what his mouth cannot.

“I know, mom. Love you,” he mutters to her shoulder. She whispers an I love you back, pats Mark’s back a couple of times, then eventually lets him go.

Mark watches her leave, eyes prickling with tears, smile wobbling on the edge.

The wind blows solitude that pierces his skin. It’s still May and the air feels damp. It’s not cold at all.

Mark feels so anyways.

He needs Xuxi.

:::

The door opened to Xuxi’s surprised face.

He doesn’t ask anything, still, because Xuxi is there to hear him talk, not to fire questions at him. He only embraces Mark, enveloping him in his familiar warmth. He smells like cigarettes, his mouth tastes like nicotine when Mark kisses him, pushing him into his room.

“What did you eat? Anything tasty?” Xuxi closes then locks the door. There’s a smirk on his ridiculously handsome face and Mark is filled with the urge to see it twisted into something else; an expression raw and more honest.

“Mom came, we had pizza.”

He continues kissing Mark, playful tongue lapping wet stripes down his throat. Fingers dishelving Mark from his clothes. Impatient. Xuxi drags him inside, gently lowers him to the bed despite his furious touch.

Mark sighs when Xuxi palms his through his jeans. He needs him, now. “Xuxi.”

He doesn’t sound like himself. “Minhyung.”

He probably sounds like him .

:::

Mark wakes up to Xuxi cooking, stark naked as always. He’s humming a wordless tune, familiar song. They play a guessing game with Mark admiring Xuxi’s sun-kissed skin and the way his muscle ripples whenever he moves.

Xuxi pours their breakfast onto the plates; omelet and cheese. “This is domestic.”

He probably didn’t mean to voice it out loud, judging from the widening of his eyes and freezing of his hand.

But Mark is here, sitting equally naked on Xuxi’s bed with Xuxi’s blanket pooling around his waist. The sun is pouring hopeful beams from Xuxi’s opened window, and Mark’s heart flutters with anticipation. “It is.”

Xuxi smiles, and it’s the best thing Mark has ever seen.

:::

Everything is good until Mark is reminded that he shouldn't feel   good .

He is a sinner, a mistake too grave to be forgotten.

He doesn't know how forgiveness feels because he shouldn't be forgiven.

Even if Taeyong said, “it’s okay,” even if Taeyong smiled at him when they accidentally bumped into each other in the library. “Mark.”

Mark. Mark is mute. Mark can hardly breathe. Mark has never drowned before but surely, this is how being underwater feels. Everything is pressing on you from everywhere; your nose, your ears, your lips. His head is ringing with the cut of oxygen, screaming for SOS.

His savior looks more like a punishment as Jeong Jaehyun approaches from behind Taeyong, settling a careful yet protective arm on the eldest’s shoulder.

Jealousy. The ugly thing. The monster that mercilessly dragged him to his doom. Had it not possessed him, he wouldn't have hurt Taeyong. Had it not reared its ugly head in his mind, he wouldn't have ended up committing the sin that he did.

It’s here now, again, licking its green fire mockingly on the pit of his stomach.

But as soon as it came, comes the guilt, anger, and shame.

How dare he feel jealous of Jaehyun? It’s probably Jaehyun who’d helped Taeyong patching himself up after what Mark did to him. It’s obviously Jaehyun whom Taeyong seeks protection from with how he saddles close to him, angling himself until his shoulder is pressed on Jaehyun’s chest and the taller guy is practically hugging him.

Mark has no right to feel jealous. He’s the one who hurt Taeyong. He’s the one who pushed him away. After how he had treated him, no wonder Taeyong wouldn’t feel safe around him.

He had forced himself on Taeyong. The only thing he deserves is punishment.

“Long time no see,” Taeyong starts, offering him a small smile. Jaehyun isn’t saying anything, just regarding Mark with cold, composed eyes.

Mark still cannot breathe well enough to speak. He would probably say something stupid if he tried. He just nods, not looking at the two of them, but his shoes. Afraid. Ashamed.

“It’s been some time.”

Mark doesn’t want to remember how many days had passed since then, since he left Taeyong hurt. Since he met Xuxi.

Xuxi.

He needs Xuxi.

“I-”

Mark blurts out, “I have to go. I’m sorry,” and then without looking at them at all, he runs away.

Again.

:::

Xuxi isn’t there when Mark arrives.

He knocks on the door multiple times, rings the bell until the guy living beside Xuxi’s room comes out and tells him to stop. Mark apologizes, sits in front of Xuxi’s door and calls him.

His breathing is erratic, his vision blurry with tears. He needs Xuxi, needs him and his warmth to burn Mark alive until he’s nothing but ashes to be raised anew. Needs him and his large hands to treat Mark roughly, break him until he is a million pieces, ready to be built anew.

Needs him to whisper stupid, sweet nothings into Mark’s ears. Needs him and his tender lips to press reassurance onto Mark’s skin. Needs him and his breathing in time with Mark’s so he can breathe again. Needs him and his heartbeat, strong and secure in the carcass of his flesh and bones against Mark’s own.

Mark needs Xuxi to call him ‘ Minhyung ’, the sweet stranger whose legs he tripped over and ended up bringing into his room to play house with, not ‘Mark ’ who’s stupid and selfish and is riddled with too many mistakes to fix.

He needs Xuxi, badly, and Mark cracks into a cry eventually, letting himself choke out one sob after another as loneliness triumphs over him. Fear that Xuxi is leaving him as the callback tone stretches endlessly. The guilt of what he had done mercilessly tearing him apart, flesh to the bones.

He doesn’t know how long he cried, doesn’t know when he stopped trying to call the person who never answers his phone, doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there letting his emotions run him to a ruin.

But he knows it’s Xuxi who runs up the stairs noisily, knows it’s Xuxi who calls his name with panic and fear bleeding red all over his voice, knows it’s Xuxi who drops kneeling in front of him before drawing Mark’s trembling body into his own, steady one.

Knows it’s Xuxi who sings apologies to his ears, voice as broken as Mark’s cry, and his heart, and everything.

Mark clings onto him, or else he’ll fall. When Xuxi kisses him, afraid yet sure on his salty cheeks, Mark realizes he will, most likely, fall, without Xuxi to keep him grounded.

:::

Xuxi undresses him, but they don’t do anything beyond naked cuddling. Although Mark is desperate for Xuxi’s consoling heat, he’s too weary, emotionally, to do anything but sleep.

Xuxi tells him about his brother; he’s coming to visit this summer break and Xuxi asks Mark if he wants to meet hi,. Mark’s too mentally drained to answer, but Xuxi understands, he doesn’t seem like he’s expecting Mark’s response either.

He continues speaking to Mark’s skin, fingers gently rubbing a spot on his temple. Xuxi sounds like a lullaby, the one that pushes away all bad thoughts from his head so he can fall into a blissful sleep instead of a bad dream.

Xuxi is a song so sweet. Mark is too much of a coward to call it a love song.

:::

“My name’s not really Minhyung.”

“Huh, thought so.”

“You do?”

“I might or might not have seen your ID card.”

“That’s stupid of me.”

“Everybody was at some point. Stupid. It’s just a phase.”

“You think so?”

Xuxi kisses him, slow and sweet. Desperate yet solaced.

Minhyung - Mark , kisses back, feeling as much.

“Tell me your name?”

“It’s Mark. Mark Lee.”

When Xuxi smiles, it’s so tender it’s almost sad. “I like Minhyung better.”

Chapter Text

  Lost in you, lost in me
Afraid of love in too deep, so we just run and hide
Lightening fast, felt the crash
We only know goodbye

Holding on for Life - Ellie Goulding

:::

Minhyung is limping so badly that Xuxi feels as bad.

He keeps on saying sorry, the word refusing to hang off his sentence. Minhyung gives him an amused smile, brows pinched together as he holds back the pain.

“Don’t you know anything else but I’m sorry?” He teases Xuxi, and Xuxi cannot help but pull Minhyung back into his arms, earning him a yelp that turns into blissful moan as he kisses the smaller boy, soft and sweet.

Minhyung leaves after cleaning himself up. Xuxi doesn’t tell him he jerks himself off once again with the images of fucking Minhyung still vividly shining in his mind, the aftertaste lingering strong in his skin.

Before Minhyung leaves, Xuxi registers Minhyung’s number in his phone. Minhyung , it’s probably not his real name, but Xuxi doesn’t care, at least he can put a name to his beautiful face, can call out a name when he wanks.

He miscalls Minhyung, tells him to save his number as anything he wants. “If you need someone to talk to,” he says with an easy smile.

Minhyung doesn’t say anything for awhile, just stares at his phone before ducking his head down, cheeks slightly tinged pink. But when he speaks, “thank you, Xuxi. I really appreciate it,” his voice is calm.

“No see you soon?” There’s teasing in his voice.

Minhyung nods, but he only says, “bye.”

Nothing else, nothing more. No confirmation. Maybe there will be no see you soon.

Minhyung turns around and leaves. He doesn't look back. Xuxi watches his figure retreat, further and further, dark grey eventually bleeding into the whites of the horizon.

Xuxi knows there’s nothing he can do to make Minhyung stay, or make Minhyung saves his number. He has no way of making sure Minhyung will call him again, or whether Minhyung will remember him at all. But he had held him, held Minhyung through his crying, and Minhyung had held him back.

He hopes Minhyung will at least make time, even if not to call him, just to remember him; just to remember the way their drunken bodies had met each other in the middle. He hopes he remains somewhere in Minhyung’s mind, if his heart is too much to ask.

After all, Minhyung remains, strong, lingering. On his tongue, in his blood, on his skin, in his mind. His aftertaste.

:::

It’s been 3 days.

He doesn’t usually check his phone often, but it’s been 3 days, and it feels like a dead weight in his pocket. He considers leaving it altogether except like anyone else his age, the device is an extension of his limbs.

Pretending is never difficult for him; it comes easy, like breathing and singing his favorite song. Now, it’s like a foreign equation.

Yukhei works by day, sometimes still works by night. He goes to the bar, he meets people, but any invitation beyond, he turns them down.

Even Can-Lie, Can-Lie who works with him by day and never once leaves his side till the night because they’re made to work together. Can-Lie who, on the 4th night, sits on Yukhei’s lap, hands circling around Yukhei’s shoulders, fingers brushing the hair on Yukhei’s nape.

Yukhei just stares at him, completely sober. He’s smiling but he’s not amused, “you’re drunk.”

Can-Lie laughs; high, shrill. He starts tangling his hand in Yukhei’s hair, lips curled into a smirk. “I am,” indeed, his breath smells like liquor. “Aren’t you?”

His skin crawls, from Can-Lie’s weight on his thighs, from his alien touch on his skin. Alien. Can-Lie shouldn’t be like this, he’s Yukhei’s first.

Minhyung. Minhyung feels familiar. Just once, but Yukhei has memorized him already, lets him ignites his fantasy, and Yukhei wants more.

“I think you should get off,” he says as he grabs Can-Lie’s hands.

If only Can-Lie wasn’t as fit as he is, and slightly smaller, Yukhei would have stand already to get him off his laps. Alas , Can-Lie is; as fit as he is and slightly bigger. At least he can try to gets his hands off Yukhei’s hair, neck, makes him stop clinging to him and talk him off Yukhei’s lap.

Unfortunately again for Yukhei, drunk Can-Lie is persistent. He insists on sitting on his lap, insists on clinging on him, insists on kissing his cheeks, and that’s where Yukhei draws the line.

The hell with professionalism, he doesn’t care if Can-Lie ends up being an ass to him when they’re working. He’s upset Yukhei enough now by behaving like this, he’s the one who went too far, and Yukhei is not in the mood to humour him.

“Fuck off, Can-Lie,” he swears, shoving him off roughly with all his might. Can-Lie yelps and falls on his ass with a loud, ‘Ouch!’ Yukhei scowls, drinking the last of his water.

Water. Just water, alcohol will only remind him more of Minhyung. Alcohol will probably drive him to the wall with his unsatiated hunger, and under its demonic control, Yukhei will end up calling Minhyung.

No. He can’t lose. If this is the game that Minhyung wants to play with him, then so be it. He cannot lose. He’s not backing down, not even if the feeling of Minhyung’s touch is still imprinted hotly on his skin. Even if he still sees Minhyung in his dreams.

It’s been 4 days and Minhyung still hasn’t called him. Yukhei still hasn’t lost him in his sleep.

“Fuck,” he swears once again, ignoring the barrage of swearing that Can-Lie sends in in his direction  toward him. Yukhei pays the bill, too generous with his tip, even, and walks away. Not once looking back.

Not even when he hears Can-Lie yell, “the hell is wrong with you?”

Nothing. Nothing is wrong with him.

Like there’s nothing that ties Minhyung to him.

:::

Yukhei goes straight home, slams the door heavily before locking it. He takes off his shirt, his pants, his underwear, lets them draw mess in the corridor. He goes to the shower, turns the lever as cold as he can stand.

It does nothing to his head;still hot, bubbling with rage, bubbling with anger.

Bubbling with heartache.

w hy doesn’t he call me? Doesn’t he need me? Did he? Did he abandon me, too? Again?

Yukhei thumps his head against the wall, his wet hair clinging on his temple, his head feels heavy, but at least not as dead as his heart. At least it doesn’t hurt as much as his heart.

And his heart, his heart has never been hurting, has stopped hurting since he found her mother dyeing the water scarlet with her blood. And that morning when he woke up to empty bed, Can-Lie brewing coffee without as much as looking at him, hadn’t his heart been hurting, too?

Hadn’t he?

“Minhyung-ah...” His voice falls on the cold, porcelain floor. The streaming water cries in sympathy. Cold.

Did he?

Please don’t abandon me.

:::

It’s been 5 days.

Yukhei hasn’t been drinking. He’s been sleeping the whole day and hasn’t left his room since he went home from the bar last night.

His phone is still on. He tells himself it’s for emergencies, in case his job needs him.

Not for Minhyung. Never for Minhyung.

Can-Lie called, approximately 6 times, before Yukhei picked up on the seventh. He’d already prepared himself for the worse, but to his astonishment, Can-Lie barraged him with an apology, saying he was drunk and he didn’t understand what he was doing, but he’d heard from Kun (who also happened to be there) that he upset Yukhei pretty bad.

Yukhei said it’s okay. Yukhei didn’t elaborate, even if Can-Lie seemed to beg him to. “I’m not feeling well, Can-Lie, bye. See you tomorrow.”

“Lu-” Yukhei cut the call.

He tried to relieve his frustration by jerking off but his hand alone wasn’t enough. There’s always an image dancing behind his eyes, an image he ended up chasing instead of his own release, Minhyung’s name on the tip of his tongue.

Yukhei didn’t feel better at all; if anything, he felt worse. He’s sulking, he’s miserable. Kun also inquired about his condition and Yukhei told him off, threatened Kun not to come to his place or else he’d make up some nasty rumour about Kun so his uncle could fire him.

He felt bad about how he was acting with  Kun. He should apologize to him, he’s being fucking childish, but he simply couldn’t care at the moment. There’s a pain so acute in his heart. He’s being pushed to the very edge but they wouldn’t let him fall; just dangle him there so Yukhei can only stare into the abyss that’d welcome him when they eventually let him go.

It’s torture, this waiting. He hoped they’d just get over it with, just push him so he can fall. Even if falling is just as scary, at least he knew where he’s going. Whether he goes on or goes back, pain is the only thing that would welcome him. It’s like dying and arriving in the gate of hell.

But at least, he can fall. At least, he can get his release, instead of being strung up with no confirmation like this. Finality feels more like a relief.

If only Minhyung would call him already. What would it take for him to make a call? Another fear to scare him? Another demon to run away from? Another dream? Another drink?

Then Yukhei wishes, so desperately, that if they’re all that’s needed for Minhyung to call him, may they happen to him already. It’s cruel. It’s selfish. It’s heartless. He’s being unfair to Minhyung but Minhyung is also being unfair to him, like this, leaving him over the edge as he goes on his life, probably unbothered, probably unconcerned.

Does Minhyung know how much he’s killing him?

His phone rings.

It’s been 5 days.

:::

“Hello.”

“Thought you’ll never call.”

Minhyung’s voice wavers slightly. “You’re not Korean, are you?”

“Nope.” He tries not to sound amused. Tries not to sound like his emotion is choking him. “Are you?”

Does it matter? “I want to see you.”

“Mm hmm,” Yukhei - Xuxi finds it difficult to breathe, to speak. Too elated. Too giddy. He doesn’t want to make a fool of himself. “Thought you’d never ask.”

“Thought you’re meant to hear me talk.”

He doesn’t want to be hurt again but he cannot help it; he laughs. He laughs because Minhyung gives the last push and Xuxi is falling.

The abyss that welcomes him, it’s dark, like the bottomless pool of Minhyung’s eyes.

“Whatever you wish, Princess.”

Xuxi is falling, but it’s okay, as long as it’s Minhyung he’s falling into.

:::

He’s going to be his downfall, Minhyung. He’s going to bring Yukhei down, run him to the bottom of the abyss, break his bones, flay his flesh.

He’s going to be his be all and end all, and frankly speaking, as he tugs the ratty t-shirt off Minhyung’s body, he doesn’t give a single fuck.

Once he heard the knock on his door, Yukhei didn’t even check, just ripped his door open with more force than necessary, slammed it close, then held Minhyung’s waist, kissing him as he pressed him against the door.

Yukhei attacks his neck, that sinuous column leading to his jaw, his hands fondle Minhyung, everywhere, as far as he can reach. This is an adventure, no compass, no maps, just Minhyung’s soft groans guiding him astray.

He’s gone. Far gone. Minhyung sinks his teeth into Yukhei’s shoulder when the taller boy cups his dick through his jeans. He tries to be quiet, and Yukhei almost laughs, starts stroking him, and Minhyung’s bite stings as he deepens it, a growl curling at the base of his throat.

“Don’t hold back,” he says, crowding Minhyung to the door. “Fuck, I haven’t locked it. Fuck it.”

“Lock it, idiot,” Minhyung gasps, slapping his back weakly. Xuxi presses a playful kiss under his ear, earning another enraptured gasp.

“I said; don’t hold back,” and he starts licking his ear while simultaneously locking the door, another hand still palming Minhyung’s hardening cock. In his hold, Minhyung mewls, blindly reaching for his shoulder, running his palm down Yukhei’s bulging biceps.

“Fuck, you’re huge.”

Nibbling the shell of his ear, Yukhei smirks. “Up here? Down there?”

The soft skin he’s licking turns warm; he can feel Minhyung blushing through his skin. “Both,” he mumbles with smallest voice possible, sounding like a scared mouse. Shy. Adorable.

Affection sears through Yukhei’s body, fizzles his blood exuberant scarlet, smooches his skin with ecstatic pink. He’s blushing from Minhyung’s bashfulness; it’s contagious. Shit, this is absurd; they’re going to have sex, for fuck’s sake, and here they are, acting like virgins.

Minhyung runs his palms up and down Yukhei’s arms. Yukhei pulls away to take in his expression; eyes glassy with need, wide with wonder. His pink lips are parted open, tongue poking out. He looks like he wants to lap them; Yukhei’s muscle, sucks the hard muscles down to the bones. He presses his hips to Yukhei’s palm, and Yukhei can feel his erection, hard.

He wants Yukhei, and his shameless display of hunger makes Yukhei reel.

Minhyung wants him. Minhyung needs him.

Fuck.

“Xuxi.”

It stops there, at his name, it doesn’t have to continue; Yukhei gets his message loud and clear.

Fuck me.

With a growl, almost animalistic, Yukhei kisses him; messy tongues and open mouthed. Minghyung clings on him, almost automatic. He lets Yukhei hooks his arms beneath his knees and hoist him up to straddle his hips. Their erections meet and Minhyung jerks in his hold, his teeth dragging on Yukhei’s bottom lip before mouthing down to kiss the slant of his jaw.

Yukhei carries him to his bed, Minhyung’s legs around his waist, one hand maps around Yukhei’s  chest, the other fingers twisting on his hair. Yukhei sits down on the mattress then hastily unzips Minhyung’s jeans before slipping his palm underneath his boxers, massaging Minhyung’s left cheek,  eliciting a long out drawn moan from Minhyung. He bucks on Yukhei’s lap, their erections brushing once again.

The boy tosses his head back, body curving sinfully toward Yukhei. He uses the chance to once again ravage his neck, his fingers going closer and closer to Minhyung’s inviting cleft. The brunette starts nipping on his ears, and Yukhei’s name spilled like pearls on the floor. Beautiful. Captivating.

“Xuxi, fuck. Xuxi, nnn. Xuxi,” He gives Yukhei’s head a sharp tug, jerking him away from his neck. Yukhei uses the momentum to lets his body fall backward, careful as not to hit the wall. Minhyung yelps and squeezes his eyes shut, ducking his head under Yukhei’s chin as if it’d give him protection.

Yukhei laughs, pressing an affectionate kiss to the side of his face. His fingers slip between Minhyung’s ass, teasing the puckering hole. The smaller boy groans, starting to rut his erection on Yukhei’s stomach, still calling his name helplessly.

“Stop it,” he groans but doesn’t stop his desperate grinding. Yukhei’s still  clothed erection jumps awake at the friction, he can feel it staining his underwear already. Minhyung is too close, all over his lap. Panting, moaning. He’s too much to bear, Yukhei can’t possibly have him all, but at the same time, he wants more.

“Hmm, really?” He gives Minhyung’s ass a firm squeeze with his other hand. Minhyung screws his eyes shut, cheeks going the darkest shade of pink.

“Xuxi...” He moans, needy.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. “You’re fucking cute, sugar, you know that? Really cute,” nudges his nose, licks his lips. Minhyung’s tongue pokes out as if answering his call, and Yukhei sucks on it. The noise Minhyung makes with his throat is pure bliss. “Sweetheart, you sure you don’t want this?”

Yukhei probs his hole again, and Minhyung squirms, rutting closer to Yukhei’s heat. His back is curved perfectly, their chests pressing against each other’s. Minhyung is small and soft while Yukhei’s huge and buff. Fuck , he suddenly imagines Minhyung sucking on his tits, making small noises of pleasure. He’d very, very much like that.

“Sugar?”

“ ‘m not your sugar,” Minhyung protests. “I’m-”

Yukhei laughs, “what are you talking about? You’re sugar, my cute little sugar. So sweet. So pretty, like this, hungry for me. My fingers,” he sinks his palm deep on Minhyung’s cheeks, burning his heat on the scalding skin. “You want this, Sugar. You want me, my fingers, my dick. You want me here. Inside of you. And me too, I want to be in you. I want to feel you all around me, I wanna fuck you so hard until you’re clenching on me. I want this.”

His finger slips once again between his cheeks, he doesn’t go further, just resting there. Minhyung pushes his hips back as if chasing for that touch. Hungry, his mouth falling open, their eyes met; dark and blown with lust, mirroring each other’s. “Xuxi.”

“Say it, Sugar. My sweet, little, Minhyung, say it. Say you want me, say you need me. Say it.”

Yukhei lifts his hips, giving Minhyung a taste of his rock-hard erection. Minhyung shudders, and he’s flushed all over, red, like a rose. A beautiful, tender rose, all soft petals and no thorns. So easy. “I want you, Xuxi. I need you. Want you to fuck me, I’m-nhn!”

Minhyung jerks in surprise. Yukhei is smirking, slipping a dry finger into Minhyung’s hole. The smaller boy’s groan goes on and on, the red pain in his voice slowly evaporating into purpling pleasure as Yukhei continues thrusting slowly into him. “You like it, huh, sugar? Like it dry? Like it painful? Like this?”

Minhyung nods, whispers a breathy, “yes, yes, yes. Xuxi, fuck me, hurt me. Don’t, ahn! Hold back. Don’t be gentle. Don’t- nn! Xuxi, yes, there! Xuxi!"

Yukhei’s smirk grows wider. He’s easy; so easy for him, so easy for Yukhei to fall deeper into. Yukhei is slipping, he crashes, he burns, but he thinks it’s okay, because if he is burnt and becomes the fire, he can be the one to consume Minhyung like Minhyung is consuming him.

And this affection, it expands through his system as Minhyung continues to whisper his name while clinging onto him, touching him everywhere he could reach, like he couldn’t get enough of him.

Minhyung has come to him. Minhyung wants more of him. Minhyung needs him. He’s not going to leave, he’s going to stay here with Yukhei until the bleeding sun rises.

“Xuxi.”

And Yukhei will bleed for him, will breathe for him. As long as he stays.

:::

Drunken truth. He needs to hear it. He craves for it or else he couldn’t get the air into his lungs. It feels like it, certainly. He’s drunk, his uncle is still sober. He doesn’t feel like himself. He needs,

“Do I look like my father?”

His uncle doesn’t answer him. Yukhei repeats the question to quench the bubbling anger.

“Does looking at me remind her of my father?”

There’s no answer. He’s not even sure if his uncle even has an answer at all. Nobody can, after all, nobody but his mother. His mother who had slit her wrists and painted the cold water weeping red.

“Am I?”

“You’re drunk,” his uncle simply says, and Yukhei can hear him filling his glass again, the ice tinkering inside his glass. “He does that. A lot.”

The next morning when Yukhei wakes up, he decides to stay clean for alcohol.

He only lasts a week.

:::

But Minhyung stays. Minhyung fucking stays. He’s there when Yukhei opens his eyes, snoring lightly, lips puckered up into an adorable pout. Curled to his side like this, Minhyung looks so small. Sleeping soundly like this, he looks so innocent. Like a child. His face is devoid of any trouble that loomed over him yesterday.

Yukhei brushes his bangs back, pressing a kiss, tentative and tender onto his temple. He whispers his name, in wonder, “Minhyung.”

He doesn’t answer, he doesn’t stir. But it’s okay, Yukhei thinks, chest buzzing with warmth.

He didn’t disappear, he’s here.

He stays .

:::

When Minhyung wakes up, Yukhei is cooking him breakfast. Their breakfast.

He loves cooking for people. It makes feel like he’s needed  What he cooks will fuel their energy, help them to get through their day. Breakfast is, after all, important. A bad breakfast can lead to potentially bad day, or bad stomach. And Yukhei relishes the fact that by cooking them breakfast, he’s the one responsible for making sure their day take off with a good start.

He makes them happy .

Yukhei wishes that Minhyung would be happy too, from his breakfast. David is always happy to eat his morning treats. His uncle didn’t express it openly, but he approves of Yukhei’s cooking.

His mother-

“Xuxi?”

He pops the bread into the toaster. “Hmm?”

“What are you doing?” He sounds tired, voice still rough. If Yukhei turned around, he’d probably find sleepy Minhyung, squinty eyes and tousled hair.

And hickeys, also lots of hickeys, and bite marks because Minhyung is delicious. Minhyung is sweet. His sugar. Addictive. His treat. “Cooking.”

“Huh,” Minhyung yawns. Does he stretch when he yawns? Yukhei does, spreads his limbs and pulls them tight. He wants to know if Minhyung does the same, wants to know Minhyung’s routine when he wakes up. Wants to know more about him; his joy, so that he can bring a smile to his face. His fears, so he can protect him from them.

He eventually looks at Minhyung. Minhyung on his bed, naked, sapphire blue blanket pooling around his hips. Amethyst-colored dots drawing constellation on his skin. Yukhei’s marks. His .

“Omelette again?” This time, he rubs his eyes. With his finger, fingers that had drawn red on Yukhei’s back. Furious brush works of passion and elusive pain.

“With cheese.” Yukhei walks toward his bed, plops down on its edge then cups Minhyung’s face.

The brunette blinks at him, still not 100% lucid. He is warm, under Yukhei’s touch, he’s solid. He’s real.

He’s here.

Yukhei stroke his cheeks before pressing a kiss to his nose, Minhyung squeezes his eyes shut. Makes a tiny “mmm,” sound, before looping his hand around Yukhei’s neck for a loose hold. Yukhei swoops down for a kiss. Quick. Sweet. Chaste.

The sun floods, rich exuberant gold, gilding his wall aureate. “Good morning, Sugar.”

Minhyung flushes pink. In the kitchen, the toaster dings. Yukhei steals another kiss, pretends that by doing so, he also steals Minhyung’s heart.

He can pretend, like he pretends Minhyung is this stranger’s real name.

He can, as long as Minhyung stays.

:::

Minhyung leaves after eating Yukhei’s breakfast. He walks funny, Yukhei kisses him silly. There’s lots of laughing, lots of teasing, and Minhyung stutters a lot with reddening cheeks as Yukhei continues drowning him in cheesy names and goodbyes.

Yukhei doesn’t have work that day. He spends the day shopping, calling David, and comes home to Minhyung calling him, voice small and timid. “Can I, umm, stay?”

He unlocks his door with all too excited hands; thankfully, the key doesn’t fall off his palm. “For how long?” Yukhei asks, drawling.

He does it to tease Minhyung. He does it to hide his giddiness. He kicks the door open and almost throws his bags of groceries until he remember he got eggs and milk in the plastics.

Yukhei closes the door, walks to the kitchen then carefully sets them down on the counter. He bites his lip, pushes his excitement down his throat, clears it, then asks again, “Sugar?”

“Stop calling me Sugar ,” Minhyung moans, embarrassed. He had done the same when Yukhei fucked into his tight heat last night, calling him with the same pet name. “I’m not. Sugar. Uhh, I was saying-”

“You’re asking,” Yukhei falls to his bed, legs sprawled, hand somehow finds its way onto his lap. It skirts down, teasing around his zipper. Minhyung sounded so shy yet so willing. It reminds Yukhei too much of last night.

He unzips his jeans with a moan. He can almost see Minhyung yelp with his face flushing crimson. “What? The fuck are you doing? What are you?”

Yukhei slips his hand under his boxers, caressing his dick. “Hmm, Sugar...”

“I can’t fucking believe you,” Minhyung groans.

He’s supposed to sound exasperated, but his voice is a tad too breathy. What is he thinking? He should have guessed already what Yukhei is doing; is he imagining him, then? Imagining Yukhei wanking to his voice?

“Xuxi, are you?”

Yukhei answers him with a long, throaty moan, slowly working on his cock. Yukhei hears Minhyung swallowing beyond the phone. “Sugar?”

“I’m fucking coming,” Minhyung answers, tone clipped.

“Mm-hmm, are you jerking off to me, too?”

“I didn’t mean that! Fuck you,” he’s swallowing again, Yukhei can hear it. He wants, needs Minhyung to swallow around his cock, needs Minhyung to swallow his come as he splurts deep down his throat.

With the imagination and memory of last night edging him, Yukhei strokes himself harder, thrusting into the circle he is making with his fingers. “Nnh. Sugar, will you?”

“Fuck. You. Xuxi,” he enunciates each words clearly, as clear as his lust. Vivid haze of violet drenching his vowels. Yukhei wants to be drenched too, in the same color, in Minhyung’s color of desire.

“Yes,” he thumbs his slippery slit, smearing the cum for more lubrication, moaning, “yes, you can. Fuck, if you want to, Sugar. Sweetheart, Minhyung. I’m close.”

“Xuxi, I’m in the fucking campus” Minhyung hisses, he’s practically whining like he’s the one on the edge of orgasm. “Fuck you.”

Yukhei laughs, breathy, his stomach goes taut, white bleeds into his vision. His hand is as erratic as his breathing, “is that a promise?”

Minhyung just says his name once again, calls it with so much need, and it ignites fire under Yukhei’s skin. The red, it consumes him, bursts him bright like the fireworks exploding behind his closed lids.

He sees Minhyung, aurulent eyes gleaming, dripping Xuxi’s name honey from his luscious lips. So sweet, Minhyung, his Minhyung, holding on helplessly; on Xuxi, on his lies that Xuxi supported as if that’s the only way he can live.

“Xuxi.”

And maybe that’s the only way he can live, maybe that’s the only way he can be safe from whatever it was that was chasing him that night, pushed him to take the temptation of lust and liquor.

Maybe that’s why Yukhei can’t abandon him; he knows how it feels to live in a castle built from bricks of lies. He cannot deceive himself anymore; he needs Minhyung because Minhyung needs him, because Minhyung looks for him.

Because Minhyung fucking stays, and Yukhei never had anyone who stayed because they want him.

They all stay because they have to.

“Minhyung, Minhyung,” with that name scattered from his lips, he came.

:::

Minhyung doesn’t fuck him but he lets Yukhei fuck him after he gives Yukhei the most spectacular blow job the taller boy had ever received.

Yukhei turns him around, still panting from his receding height. Minhyung’s brown eyes are dark, richly ornated with want. They locked straight on Yukhei’s, gaze steady, unwavering. There’s no fear, no hesitation, just pure, honest want .

“Fuck you,” Minhyung licks his lips, sticky with Yukhei’s cum. “Fuck-”

Yukhei follows his example, licking the seminal fluid clean from Minhyung’s face. Minhyung tries to kiss him but Yukhei avoids him, pinning the smaller boy to the mattress, grinding his weight down, securing Minhyung’s wrists above his head with a nearly bruising grip.

“Fuck,” Minhyung curses again in frustration when he realises Yukhei is not letting him do as he wanted.

The blonde laughs, nipping along the slant of his jawline. “I told I’d let you if you want to, right?”

“Real-” Yukhei starts grinding his hips on Minhyung’s, letting their slippery dicks meet in intimate caress, effectively shattering his cohorency into a babbling mess. “Xuxi, fuck .”

“That’s one rich vocabulary you have.”

“That’s not fucking,” Yukhei gives him a particularly deep suck on the side of his neck, and Minhyung squirms under him, squeezing his eyes shut as he bucks up to Xuxi’s dick, arching his back beautifully off the bed, cherry lips falling open. “ Fucking, Xuxii !”

“Fuck you, too. And that’s a promise,” with that, Yukhei enters him. Minhyung moans, and Yukhei answers him with his laughs as he handles a pliant and willing Minhyung in his arms. The boy is so reactive, body twitching at every single touch. He’s very vocal, too, not embarrassed at all with his loudness. Yukhei likes it; loves it even.

He loves hearing Minhyung moan his name, the syllables gushing out his slick lips like prayer. Minhyung doesn’t hold himself back, not anymore. He’s nothing like the boy that Yukhei fucked in the morning almost a week ago. He’s sure with what he wants, how he wants to be touched. He vocalizes his need for Yukhei.

Minhyung wants to be treated roughly, with no mercy. He wants Yukhei, Xuxi to treat him like he amounts to nothing but a body to satiate himself, even if all Yukhei wants to treat him as is anything but that. He wants to treat Minhyung like he’s everything , like he’s the God who breathes him into being, like he’s the very breath he’s inhaling.

Yukhei gets the boy straddling his hips, holding himself up with his palms on Yukhei’s torso, the taller boy’s thick, muscular thighs ready to cushion his back as well as propping him to an angle that enables him to impale deeper into Minhyung’s velvety heat.

Minhyung stays still, sweat-soaked hair plastered to his temples, shading them darker. His brows are knitted together, he’s probably in pain but his lips are hanging open, making noises that tells Yukhei that he likes this; he loves this sweet misery.

Still, there’s a pinch on his heart at seeing Minhyung in any kind of pain at all. He doesn’t like it, even if it’s  pain he put Minhyung through because Minhyung wanted it. Caressing the small of his hips, stroking his thigh with the other hand, Yukhei coaxes Minhyung to open his eyes.

“Open your eyes, Minhyung-ah. Sugar, baby, look at me.” Too much. Too much emotion. Too much affection.

Slowly, Minhyung opens his eyes. It feels like a privilege, to be pinned under his elusive caramel gaze, to be able to see him like this at all. To have Minhyung surrendering his all; his all but his heart, his truth .

Yukhei opens his mouth, trying to speak, only to find he’s not able to. Minhyung’s brows are still knotted together in impressive frown, expression pinched, his body gives out tiny spasm as he tries to get himself comfortable with Yukhei’s larger than average dick sheathed inside his ass.

“Mmn, yeah?” He manages, still squinting at Yukhei. His arms are trembling, his whole body is shaking like he’s being stretched taut and he’s about to snap anytime soon.

“Is this okay? Are you okay? Do you need us to-”

switch position , he’s about to say but as if reading his intention, Minhyung starts moving above him, exerting his strength to pull himself up then sinking back onto Yukhei’s lap. “No-nnh!”

“Fuck,” Yukhei swears, and his hands start roaming Minhyung’s skin; up his thighs, down the sides. Minhyung starts riding him in stuttering, shallow thrusts, his wall clenching desperately around Yukhei’s dick.

“Xuxi, Xuxi,” he cries, head hung low as he continues bouncing on Yukhei’s lap. His tears are making his lashes shine. Yukhei starts thrusting up to meet him, causing Minhyung to toss his head back with a loud moan of his name. He exposes his all to Yukhei; his body, the most intimate part of him, the most shameful of his scream.

He’s too much. Too unfair. He lets Yukhei in this deep, lets Yukhei sees this much, but never actually tells him anything . He’s too cruel. Too brutal.

And Yukhei increases his speed to an almost brutal pace, making Minhyung practically screams on his lap. Minhyung’s arms give up and he falls onto Yukhei’s torso, a moaning mess, rubbing his cheeks on Yukhei’s chest. He’s ember on Yukhei’s skin, spreading heat golden sizzling under his skin. But this fire, it doesn’t kill; it galvanizes him, coating him with fortified armor of gold and love-

“Minhyung. Sugar, sweetheart, can you feel it? Can you feel me?” Foolish. Foolish. Foolish. Foolish. Foolish. Foolish. It can’t be. There’s no way it could be .

Minhyung doesn’t answer him. Instead, he writhes in Yukhei’s hold, trying to get a hand around his leaking cock. Yukhei fucks him further, uncoordinated, he doesn’t care. He has intent, but he doesn’t care about the means. He just wants Minhyung to feel good no matter what it takes, he just wants,

Not that. He can’t. If he did, they’d all leave. He can’t. It can’t. “Minhyung?”

Minhyung is too delirious to time the stroke of his hand with Yukhei’s thrust. He’s also doing it as haphazard as Yukhei is. But it doesn’t last long because then Yukhei must have hit that bundle of nerves inside of him that makes his vision goes blank, head equally gone, because he screams, stills, then clenches hard around Yukhei. “Xuxi!”

Minhyung jerks his head up, back perfectly arched, their eyes met; and those eyes glow, fucking glow amber in the dark, and Yukhei sees everything. All of him; his fear, his ecstasy, his trepidation, his bliss.

But how much is Minhyung and how much of them is the boy behind Minhyung?

Yukhei gives one last thrust before coming long inside of him, spilling his cum into Minhyung’s walls. Minhyung continues riding him, milking Yukhei until the last drop while working on his own cock.

Once Yukhei stops coming, he loops one hand around Minhyung’s waist, the other joining Minhyung’s, enveloping his rock-hard dick with Yukhei’s larger palm. Minhyung moans at the newly joined heat, rocking into it in shallow thrust, “Xuxi. Xuxi, please. I’m close. I’m. I need-”

Yukhei pulls him a little higher on his torso, pressing a kiss to the side of his temple. Minhyung squirms, leaning to his touch; his lips, his body, his palms. “Sugar, Minhyung-ah, I will,”

He wants to say that he’d give him anything; everything. All of him. Minhyung can gouge out his heart, his guts, his lungs. Minhyung can cut his flesh and smash his bones, if that’s what Minhyung wants, if that’s all it takes to make Minhyung happy, Yukhei will voluntarily bleed and break for him.

But he can’t say it. He can’t because he has a feeling that if he did, Minhyung will leave. Minhyung will no longer stay. Minhyung isn’t here because Yukhei asks of him, Minhyung is here because Yukhei promised he wouldn’t ask but only will listen.

So, he can’t; he can’t ask Minhyung to give Yukhei his all. He can’t ask Minhyung to accept Yukhei’s all.

All he can say is, “come, Minhyung-ah. Sugar, sweetheart, come. Come to me, come for me.”

And Minhyung comes on his stomach, Xuxi’s name dying in his throat before it can climb past his mouth.

Yukhei hears it anyways. Xuxi . Xuxi who Minhyung treasures so much, Xuxi who Minhyung searches for in the dark.

Xuxi who gives him pleasure, who facilitates his escape. Xuxi who believes his lies and helps him build his citadel of deceit taller.

Xuxi. As long as Yukhei stays as Xuxi, Minhyung will also stay.

:::

Minhyung stays.

In fact, he stays everyday . He only leaves for classes or when he’s running out of clothes. Other than that, he stays in Yukhei’s room, day and night, waking up and falling asleep to Yukhei’s touch, Yukhei’s kiss, and Yukhei’s breath. Yukhei’s brand painted on his skin, vibrant shade of purple.

Mostly, they have sex. It’s not even almost everyday; it’s literally everyday. There’s no single day spent without Yukhei burying himself deep in Minghyung’s ass, or his mouth.

They get adventurous. They explore things , and discover as much. Like how Minhyung loves to have Yukhei nibbling on his ears as he fucks him deep into the mattress. Like how Yukhei loves to eat Minhyung out until he’s writhing mess above him while he hungrily and diligently laps Yukhei’s dribbling cock.

When they’re not having sex, they talk or cook. At least Yukhei tried teaching Minhyung, but after multiple attempts of failure, they realised that not everything is worth trying. These days, Minhyung does the table, cleans the dishes, and resolutely refuses to touch the food. Absolutely for their sake, he cannot even slice an apple. What a dork, and Yukhei is growing even fonder of this dork with each passing day.

They talk. Of everything and nothing at the same time.

Yukhei learned that Minhyung spent a majority of his life overseas, in an English speaking country he didn’t name. He asked the boy to speak then, in English, and when he did, he guessed there’s no way it could be England because he didn’t sound British enough.

“I can do British,” Yukhei drawled, coating his words with accent. “That’s not British, must be America, Canada,” he scoffed, sticking his nose in the air pompously.

Minhyung laughed at his imitation, face all scrunched up, and he looked happy, truly happy, carrying none of that broken boy Yukhei found crying at the bottom of the random stairs of a random alley.

Yukhei held back his grin. Instead, he said, in the thickest British accent he could muster, “Americans.”

Because it made Minhyung laugh; louder, harder. He made a fist then punched Yukhei’s shoulder. It didn’t hurt one bit. Yukhei loved it. He loved seeing Minhyung laugh, loved hearing his exuberant giggles echoing in his room, bouncing off the walls and vibrated titillation under Yukhei’s skin.

He loves it. He’d do it again and again. He’d do anything, everything to make this boy happy.

Minhyung also told him about his campus, about his major in education, because he wants to be a teacher after watching Morgan Freeman’s Lean on Me.

“Were you even born?” Yukhei had asked. They talked over the meal, sometimes. Most of the talking they did  on the bed, after sex. Like an actual, proper pillow talk . Like they’re an actual couple.

“Maybe,” was all Minhyung said, tucked under Yukhei’s chin, using his arm as a pillow, the taller boy’s hand drawing circle on his shoulder as he pressed a tender kiss on his temple.

As if.

Minhyung didn’t even tell him how old he is. Yukhei didn’t either, because they talked about everything but nothing at the same time. Minhyung will tell him everything about Minhyung but nothing about the boy hiding beneath the mask of those eight letters.

Likewise, Yukhei only told him as much. Told him that he lived with his endearingly awkward uncle and the loveliest boy on earth as a brother. He didn’t tell Minhyung about his parents or the circumstance of how he ended up living with his uncle. Minhyung didn’t ask either, in return of how Yukhei didn’t ask him about his family.

But Minhyung told him about his friend, Jaemin, and his unhealthy obsession with bullet journals. Yukhei told him that back in high school, he used to have a friend with a similar tendency, except it’s a she and Yukhei can no longer remember her name.

“Janette, her name must be Janette,” Minhyung suggested. They talked about the enthusiasm around bullet journalling in one lazy Saturday morning when Minhyung didn’t have any classes to attend, any reports to file, and Yukhei’s phone had not buzzed at all with any calls.

Yukhei had woken up with Minhyung rather diligently working on his morning wood. His tongue poking out of his cherry lips in concentration, face all pinched and brows furrowed. The look he had when he’s absorbed in his task, like how he had been working on one of those many college tasks he had.

Yukhei found it cute, he’s touched even, that Minhyung took his job relieving Yukhei very seriously. Hell , he finds everything Minhyung does, even if burning his egg into black gunk of char, to be cute.

He came, thick rope of white drenching Minhyung’s hand sticky. He pulled Minhyung by the back of the neck, kissed him, then they kissed, and kissed, and kissed until Minhyung was the only thing he cared about, as if he wasn’t already.

Minhyung pushed him back to the bed, smiling shyly like he didn’t just give Yukhei a hand job first thing in the morning. Then here they were; cuddling .

“Why Janette?” Yukhei asked, mouthing along his brow.

Minhyung made a sleepy, contented sound, his eyes shut. “Because it sounds like Jaemin, and Jaemin is obsessed with bullet journalling since,” he made a vague gesture with his hand before flopping it back down on Yukhei’s chest, giving it a pat. “Forever.”

“When did you know him, anyway?” Yukhei took that hand, brought it to his mouth. Gave it tiny little pecks on each finger.

Minhyung nudged his nose to the side of Yukhei’s neck, like a snuggling cat. “Junior high, he’s Jeno’s best friend. Jeno is my friend by the way.”

“You sound so fond of them, surely he can’t be your enemy.”

“Did I?” Yukhei didn’t have to look at his face to know he’s frowning.

A kiss, this time on his knuckle, on the slope between two bumps of his ring and index fingers. “You did.”

“Huh, we’ve known each other for-”

“-ever.” And I barely knew anything about you. If we’ve had known each other as long, would you speak about me as fondly?

“-a long time.”

Minhyung didn’t try to extract his hand away from Yukhei’s hold. He never tried to distance himself from Yukhei. Physically .

The other way is a whole different issue.

“Tell me about them? Your friends, I mean.”

Minhyung told him, about Jaemin, about Jeno. About the guys in campus, but that’s as far as he’d go. He’d always stop himself in the middle, abruptly. Cut it, awkwardly. Like there’s something else in the story; someone else, that if he gave the name away, that would equal him giving his actual name as well.

Yukhei never asked him. Minhyung would continue like he didn’t just make the most obvious evasion ever. He is, after all, there to hear Minhyung talk, not to ask. He’s scared that once he asks, once he demands, Minhyung will leave him, and as much as Yukhei wanted to know about the boy behind Minhyung , he wanted Minhyung to stay with him forever. Just now having him by his side, warm body curled beside him, was already a luxury, and a beggar cannot be a chooser.

Yukhei is aware that he’s falling, further, deeper. Closer into the dangerous territory. One more step, and they’d have him, sinking their venomous fangs deep into his skin.

He doesn’t care. Maybe he’ll love it, like he loves it when Minhyung bites him as he penetrates deep into the most intimate part of him. He doesn’t care because it feels good, to have that four-lettered poison seeping hot into his skin, clotting into his blood, racing fervently into his heart.

Then his heart would beat, out of that toxic called-

“Are you listening?”

“Huh?” Yukhei blinked down at him. At Minhyung, at his gorgeous brown eyes and plump lips, lips that just wrapped themselves around Yukhei’s cock the night before.

He suddenly wanted them in the exact same away. Again. Minhyung just gave him a hand job, but that’s not a blow job and there’s something fundamentally different between the two, and that was the involvement of Minhyung’s sinful mouth.

“Well?”

Yukhei didn’t answer him; he kissed him, like he didn’t have enough already. Like he could have enough anyways. “Mm, nope, sorry, what was it about your friends again?”

Minhyung made an annoyed huffing sound. He stayed still, didn’t pull away. Fireworks popped brilliantly in Yukhei’s heart, sparkling embers and warm flares. “They’re idiots,” he said in between their kisses, eyes hooded. “Idiots. I don’t know why I’m putting up with them.”

Yukhei rolled them around until he had Minhyung trapped under his weight. The brunette stretched his hands to loop them around Yukhei’s shoulders, loosely hanging on. “You love them.”

“Do I?”

“I don’t know.” All he wanted to say was; do you love me? “You tell me.”

Minhyung pressed him down until their lips met again. The fluttering in his stomach grew, Yukhei can feel his erection returning. Minhyung must have realized it too because he lifted his hips, their naked cocks touching, like their lips, hot and slick.

“I want you, Sugar. Down there, I want-”

There’s a laugh as Minhyung continued bucking up against him. Yukhei groaned, grinding his hips down to meet Minhyung’s. And then they were gasping, they were moaning, there were two boys, creating a rhythm together, dancing to chase their release.

“Fuck. You-”

Minhyung asked, breathing ragged, teasing. “I?”

Do you love me? “You love them.”

“Why are we talking about, ahn! Hnm, Xuxi,” their cocks slid together in maddening frenzy of skin, the wet friction turning Yukhei dizzy. He licked a long stripe down Minhyung’s throat. “Them again. I thought,” Minhyung’s breath hitched when Yukhei clamped his mouth around his left nipple, sucking. “Xuxi!”

Why? Because they’re all they can talk about, aren’t they? Because Minhyung won’t talk to him beyond anything but that. Because Minhyung could only tell as much as Minhyung wanted Xuxi to know. Because Minhyung couldn’t talk about anything that would give his identity away.

Because Minhyung could give him everything but nothing at the same time, and Yukhei was here, giving him as much, too afraid to come forward at the expense of losing the meager amount that he could have.

Because Yukhei wanted , but he couldn’t, except for making the best of what he’s privilege to.

“Xuxi!”

Their hips were snapping wildly together before Minhyung froze beneath him, back arching off the bed. He made a long, keening sound as he came, fingers sinking deep into Xuxi’s skin.

Like that, he injected again. The euphoric toxin. And Yukhei was helpless, could only continue chasing after his release by humping onto Minhyung’s cum-drenched cock, his name an unspoken prayer, only recited with so much worship in his heart.

His heart. Heart that beat out of that,

Don’t. You don’t ask. Don’t put a name on that. Don’t want. You don’t demand. You’re there to listen. Know your place. Remember who you are. But can I dream? No. You can’t. You’re not allowed. He’d leave. I want him to stay. Don’t. He only needs you when you don’t-

“Minhyung, I’m-”

When they’re not having sex, they talk. When they’re not talking, they have sex. That’s the only way they can be, Yukhei knew. Yukhei understood it perfectly. Crystal clear. That’s the only fucking way they can be.

That’s the only fucking way.

“Come, Xuxi, come for me,” Minhyung kissed him; his nose, his cheeks, the corner of his mouth, his lips. And Yukhei would, come for him, he’d run, headlong, forsake his everything and crash on him.

Only if Minhyung would let him.

Would he ?

Yukhei came with a strangled moan. Not with Minhyung’s name.

It hurts so fucking much.

:::

“Remember that boy?”

Kun does this thing with his brows where they jump so high instead of furrowing when he is thinking. He does the ever so cliche blink, still. “That?”

“The drunk boy.”

“Oh! Yeah, that,” he scrunches his nose; this time, he furrows his brow. “What’s with him? How’s he? Did you take him home safely?”

Take him home safely . Yukhei supposed that would be the right thing to do when you found a drunken boy - man. That’s the common sense, you take him home, safely without scratch nor missing a limb. You take him home, not, “I fucked him.”

Kun does this amazingly hilarious thing where he practically sprays his drink all over the table. The bartender leers at him with utmost disgust, racist slurs streaming out of his mouth. Or maybe there’s nothing racist at all because the man was speaking in Korean, and Yukhei might have known Korean well enough, but he doesn’t know that much to tell whether someone was being rude to him or not. Sometimes, it’s better to be a fool.

Most of the time, it’s better to be a fool.

“You what?” Kun wipes his mouth using his overpriced Burberry handkerchief. Silk. He’d probably use it to wipe the table as well. What a waste.

“I’m human.”

“Lucas.”

He’s not intimidated by Kun’s tone at all. He has the upper hand here. Kun works under his uncle and his uncle trusts nobody, Yukhei included.

Well. He still has the upper hand. He’d like to believe so. He’d like to believe his uncle loves him. If not, David, and he can make David believe that Kun has harassed him or something.

“I said I fucked him. We fucked. Twice,” he curls his pinky, his ring, and Kun’s eyes follow them like a hawk, mouth hanging open.

The bartender is still giving them dirty looks and huffing under his breath.

“Thrice,” his index finger, Kun’s jaw goes lower. In the end, Yukhei decides to clench both hands into fists, nodding to himself with a lazy smile, and he shoves both of them into Kun’s astonished face. “Maybe more.”

Kun is slack jawed. The bartender starts cleaning the mess he made, still grumbling. Yukhei feels strangely amused at his gobsmacked expression.

“He’s so sweet, Gege. That boy, he’s-"

“Lucas.”

“-his name is Minhyung, but that’s not his real name. I don’t know. He never tells me. Eh, I don’t care, anyways-”

“Lucas.”

“-he comes to me, Gege. Always. Now, it’s almost everyday? Or it’s actually everyday? Just, he comes to me, Gege. He comes to me, he needs me.” Yukhei finishes wistfully.

He thinks of Minhyung; his beautiful face, the shine in his eyes after he’s thoroughly fucked, the way he calls for Xuxi, beckons him closer with hands that always clung to him.

“He needs me, Gege.”

He wants to add that Minhyung needs him like nobody had ever needed him before. But he realises that Kun doesn’t know of his past, his story. He only knows of Lucas, the nephew of his employer, a model. Young. Handsome. Talented. Desired.

So, Yukhei keeps that part to himself, hides it carefully inside the jewel-adorned treasure box of his heart. He doesn’t think Kun can understand him anyway, the tone of his voice already speaks of his opinion as it is.

“Lucas.” Kun repeats once again, pulling his hands down by the wrist. On his face is the most stern expression of him that Yukhei has ever seen.

“Are you mad?”

“Lucas.”

“He-"

“It’s not wise.”

Wise. No, he supposes it isn’t. At all. Nobody ever says having sex with total stranger you literally picked up at a random alley is wise.

Nobody said having a fuck buddy is wise either, but they said the same about premarital sex, too. Does anybody ever really care?

“Can I call it one night stand, because we didn’t only have it once-"

“Your uncle-"

“He wouldn’t care,” Yukhei bristles, slamming his hand on the table.

The bartender curses at him. Kun bows his head many times while apologizing in the most polite form of Korean. It doesn’t diminish the stinging look but at least the balding man stops ranting.

Yukhei goes on, voice tightly roped with anger. “He doesn’t care, whoever I fuck, whoever I sleep with. I’m not a child, I’m fucking nineteen, and I can have anyone I want in my bed.”

“Lu-"

“And I want him, Minhyung, because he needs me. He wants me, Gege. He keeps coming back. He doesn’t leave. He stays. He sleeps in my room, wakes up to my breakfast, he calls me Xuxi-"

“You only have 90 days,” Kun hisses, gripping Yukhei’s wrists hard. His words bludgeoned Yukhei’s head just as hurt. “90 days. You only have 90 days here, Lucas. In June, you’re leaving.”

“I can-" text him. Skype. Adds him on social media, we can still talk, FaceTime, video calls. Leaving silly comments under each other’s status-

“He doesn’t tell you his name.”

That hits the nail in the coffin.

“Lucas. I don’t know this boy, and-"

“-you don’t know me.” Voice trembling with anger, with misery that comes together with the dawning reminder, Yukhei speaks. “You don’t know him. You don’t know us.”

Kun does this irritatingly annoying thing called pity. His mouth’s curved down, his eyes are sad, he looks at Yukhei like a drowning man he cannot save. “Do you know him?”

Do I?

Yukhei wrenches his hands away, averts his gaze from Kun’s face. They go far, distant, beyond the dancing crowd on the floor. Not seeing the innumerable bodies moving excitedly to the music. He remembers his mother used to do this a lot, far off, unbreachable distance. A rift in time uncrossed.

With a small voice, jarringly small compared to the weeping of his soul, he says, “that’s what I want to know.”

:::

Yukhei learns more about Minhyung, and this time, it’s possibly closer to the boy behind the name.

If it was any other situation, he’d be glad to know. Excited, even, but Minhyung is crying, he’s sweating a lot, and he sounds like he cannot breathe. He’s wheezing loudly, one hand clutching his chest, another on his neck.

He inhales noisily, but as if it’s not enough, he keeps on inhaling, again and again, without actually making any exhaling sounds. If he keeps this up, Yukhei is afraid he’s going to choke himself to death, and Yukhei doesn’t want that; doesn’t want him gone, doesn’t want him sad, doesn’t want him to break like this.

But if Minhyung were to break, then Yukhei will fix him. He can. He can collect the many pieces of broken shrapnel Minhyung had splintered himself into and put them back together.

At least what’s broken can be fixed, as long as he can see it, and he can see Minhyung now, he is there, right beside him; cold body trembling with fear and misery. Battling a ghost that only him can see.

So Yukhei gathers him into his arms, tenderly as not to break him any further. Surely as if he was anything less than stronger, Minhyung would slip and crash without anyone catching him under.

He tucks Minhyung’s head under his chin, rubs comfort onto his febrile skin. He calls him names, the sweet nothings; sugar, sweetheart, in hope that he can come back to him.

When nothing seems to work, Yukhei calls him by the name, the only way Yukhei is allowed to know him as.

“Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung-ah, it’s okay. You’re okay, Minhyung. You’re here. I’m here. They’re not there anymore, it’s just you and me. Minhyung, it’s okay. Can you hear me?”

That seems to do the trick. Minhyung stops trying to jam oxygen forcefully into his lungs. He stills then gives Yukhei a small nod.

“Good. Then let’s count to three, okay? With me. Can you follow me?” Another nod, Minhyung’s less frantic but desperate still

Relief bursts under Yukhei’s skin, pride swelling his heart. He presses a kiss to the salty skin. Gently, he takes Minhyung’s hand in his, bringing them to rest on top of his chest, right on top of his beating heart.

“One,” he says, inhaling. His other hand that’s not holding Minhyung’s hand is wound around the other boy’s waist, he feels Minhyung inhales with him. He breathes out then Minhyung follows suit. Yukhei’s heart positively aches with pride, with affection. “Good. You’re doing good, Minhyung. Let’s do it again, okay?”

He presses another kiss, praises into the cold skin. Minhyung nods, his hand is hot iron on Yukhei’s chest when his whole body is freezing with terror.

Yukhei counts, “two,” then, “three,” then so on until Minhyung’s breathing returns to regular. It eventually slows down, even gets quieter that tells Yukhei that Minhyung has fallen back to sleep.

He kisses him again, on both of his closed eyelids, feeling the saltiness of his sweats and tears that caught on his lashes. He pulls Minhyung down with him, arranging him so he’s comfortable in Yukhei’s hold.

“Sweet dream, Sugar.”

Yukhei drifts to sleep himself, lulled by the cadence of Minhyung’s breathing. He knows this is going to happen, a lot. He wonders if this is why Minhyung seeks for him. After 5 days.

Did they haunt him, whatever it was, to the point he couldn't even get a wink of sleep? Did it stop chasing after him only when Yukhei fucked him to sleep? Indeed, they didn’t have sex that day. Minhyung had come, Xuxi cooked him dinner, they ate, talked, then Xuxi lied on the bed watching Youtube while Minhyung worked on his assignments. They went to sleep right after that because it’s been a long day for both of them, too weary for sex.

If so, that’s sad. Incredibly sad. What could have Minhyung done that it wouldn't stop hunting him down until he’s thoroughly fucked, treated so rough as if he amounts to nothing but a mere warm body to fuck? Sure, Yukhei might have intended it another way, God knows how much he adores the boy. But it doesn’t change the fact that Minhyung had asked him to do as such.

Don’t treat me gently, he said. Don’t hold back, he told Yukhei.

Why? Why did Minhyung ask him like that? Why was he crying when they first met? What did he do? Why isn’t he telling Yukhei anything? What had he done? Why won’t he tell Yukhei his actual name?

Why

But Yukhei knows he cannot ask. He must not, even if the questions are strangling his neck like the demon in Minhyung’s nightmare had choked him. If he did, Minhyung might stop coming to him. After all, Yukhei had promised him that he’s there only to listen, not to ask. Not to demand nor beg anything from him.

He’ll stay, he’ll listen, as how Minhyung needs him to be. If Minhyung needs Yukhei to fuck him, he will. If Minhyung needs Yukhei to make him bleed, he will. If Minhyung needs him to help him breathe, he will.

He will do anything for Minhyung, as long as the boy stays.

:::

“Xuxi?”

“Hmm?”

“Thank you.”

There’s a shy whisper of a kiss on his skin. Xuxi is still knee-deep in sleep, the sunlight too harsh on his sleep-deprived eyes. They’re closed. He can’t really see anything but he can tell it’s neither his lips nor his cheeks that Minhyung's kissing.

It’s his chest. Left. Right where Yukhei had put Minhyung’s hand on last night.

Lips stretching into a lazy smile, Yukhei gropes blindly along Minhyung’s now warm body. He hears Minhyung giggle, that tinkering sound he loves so much. He eventually finds the back of his neck, kneads it softly, feels Minhyung shudder against him.

He is fine. He is thankful. He stays.

“Omelette?”

Minhyung laughs again, ever so lovely. Ever so happy. “Extra cheese?”

“Even better,” he finally cracks open his eyes.

What welcomes him is the most beautiful boy he has ever seen, smiling down at him like he is the fucking sun and Yukhei is the sunflower who can only gaze longingly at him from afar.

“Sausages?”

Minhyung kisses him again, this time on his lips, and Yukhei lets himself believe that at least when they’re like this, they are as close as he wants them to be.

Yukhei, after all, is a fool.

Mark leaves the next day. He doesn’t tell Yukhei why. As always. Yukhei is used to it.

He is a fool.

:::

It’s been a bad day.

Mostly because of work. They had to shoot for an advertorial and the female model working with him was being a total bitch.

All because Yukhei turned down her offer for quick shag last night when they were introduced. She said they should know each other better before working together, she purred out from her glossy, red lips, “so we can work better.”

Yukhei mentally rolled his eyes, said he’s not interested along with the most charming smile he had, and the girl threw a hissy fit, fuming until her face was as red as her painted lips.

And today, she’s being a fucking wench. Fucking petty.

Yukhei is all professional, plastering his easiest smile as if the girl’s tantrum and refusal to cooperate doesn’t bother him at all. It’s her loss, really, the whole set could see how difficult she was being. It only tipped the hat to his favor.

He goes through it all, but not without the help of cigarettes to blow some steam off his system. The makeup artist  had offered him one, complete with ‘pity’, not because Yukhei was going to abuse his lungs with some carcinogenic substance, but because he had to deal with this shit.

Hours later and he’s done. He’s feeling cranky, he refuses all the drinking and eating offers, goes straight home to smoke, and pretends yet again he’s not checking his phone for Minhyung’s texts.

Minhyung never texts. He never calls, either, save for that one time. Idiot. Who was he kidding? He’s checking his phone for Minhyung because he misses the boy, greatly. So much.

He tried to distract himself with work but it’s hard to shake the ghost of Minhyung from his mind because his work also means Kun, and Kun had not stopped looking at him with both disapproval and pity ever since he found out what Yukhei had done with Minhyung.

He didn’t even have to voice it; Yukhei got it already. He didn’t bring the topic up anymore, made sure he kept everything professional . Kun seemed to understand his refusal to speak, so he didn’t ask either. It’s good, for both of them: Yukhei didn't have to hear Kun crowing at him and Kun didn’t have to get his pants twisted as he lectured Yukhei about his poor decision-making ability.

It would have been better if Kun could stop looking at him like that; like Yukhei is suffering from a disease that cripples him. It’s not fatal, he can be healed if he seeks treatment, but he declines, choosing to let the disease consume his body.

Well, Minhyung is not a disease, he doesn’t cripple Yukhei; he’s toxic and he’s killing him. Even then, it’s fine, because as Minhyung strung him to the edges of the afterworld, that is when Yukhei feels the most alive. All his senses heighten, everything becomes much more vibrant, clearer. He feels like he’s standing at the top of the world, so far, so tall.

One push and he will fall, and from that height, he’s not sure he could survive the fall.

Kun didn’t know this, didn’t know that even if he’s completely aware of how bad Minhyung is for him, he’s still willing to fight to stay with that boy. Yukhei didn’t even want to imagine what he would  do if he ever found out. For God’s sake, he respects Kun but the man’s supposed to be his manager, not his babysitter.

Except his uncle actually kind of assigned him to be just that; Yukhei’s babysitter.

Fuck his uncle. Yukhei is so roasting his asparagus charred once he returns and assumes his duty as their chef again.

Yukhei doesn’t want to imagine Minhyung either, but the moment the thought popped up in his mind, it’s too late. Minhyung is there already, hands twisting Yukhei’s sapphire blue sheets, legs spread open for Yukhei to see his pink, dripping, clenching hole. His cheeks are just as pink and his lips are parted open, panting Xuxi’ s name.

“Fuck,” Yukhei scrubs his face harshly, takes a deep breath, tries to calm his racing heart, but his blood pumps and the Minhyung in his head begins to writhe, calling Xuxi yet again with so much need, so much want.

Yukhei can never deny him.

With another, “fuck,” Yukhei goes to the bathroom. He doesn’t even push his jeans down, just unzips it and takes his cock out, already hot and hard from a mere fantasy.

Yukhei jerks himself off. In less than an hour, he got the real thing. Minhyung practically throwing himself to Yukhei’s arms, kissing him all over, tasting like salt and spices.

“What did you eat?” Yukhei asks, smirking, after he pulled Minhyung inside his room and locked the door behind them.

“Mom came, we had pizza.”

They don’t talk beyond that. Even if they did, it’s either Minhyung begging Yukhei to fuck him or Yukhei telling the boy about how good he feels.

Yukhei hopes Minhyung feels the same way; that he makes him feel good, and as long as he wants Yukhei to, he would.

:::

He has been working, had forgotten to charge his phone. It’s around three in the afternoon when it eventually dies on him. He doesn’t really care; if he needs music, he can always borrow Kun’s phone.

It’s not like Minhyung calls anyway.

Oh, how wrong he had been.

:::

His landlord always greets him when he comes home, but he never approaches with such troubled and pinched expression on his face. When he speaks, his voice is heavy with worry.

All it takes for Yukhei to dash to his room is simple, “there’s a boy, crying-" He doesn’t need to hear the rest to know who the boy is and where he is. He knows.

Miles ahead, through the loud noise of his hurried steps, he can hear it. Clear as a day. So far yet so close. How ironic; it’s Minhyung. It’s all so Minhyung, this frustrating distance, this infuriating helplessness, this intensifying cry. It gets louder and louder, defeating the drumming of his heart in his ears, cutting clear through the pandemonium of why s and I’m sorry s.

Yukhei makes it to the top of stairs, makes it to the small trembling body weeping in front of his door, makes it back to that day when they first met. Minhyung, an alien who invaded Yukhei’s planet with his torrential tears and eventually raided him with something that Yukhei doesn’t dare identify.

The assault now is welcomed; Minhyung is no longer extraterrestrial. His heart bleeding cry is what Yukhei needs to keep his soil alive. Even like this, as each and every sob that escapes past his shuddering lips ravaged hurricanes through Yukhei’s earth, the halcyon day that surely awaits is whispering hope to his cry-deafened ears.

It’s wrong. It’s not supposed to be like this. He shouldn’t be thrilled at seeing that it’s him that Minhyung runs to in times of distress. Not anyone else, not his friends Jeno and Jaemin, not his family; him. Huang Xuxi . Huang Xuxi, who will have sex with him when they’re not talking and talk to him when they’re not having sex.

Huang Xuxi, who doesn’t even know his real name yet. Huang Xuxi, who he comes to so he can stop his bleeding from a bullet wound, but he never tell where the sizzling metal is lodged in his flesh.

Huang Xuxi, who realizes what a cruel being he is for relishing in someone else’s pain.

Huang Xuxi, who’s suddenly overcome with fear, of what if- s and the ghost of gaze so distant. That even if the bleeding had stopped, the bullet is still so deep and Minhyung is not actually healed.

Will he amount to anything once Minhyung realizes Xuxi can’t fix him?

It’s foolish; Xuxi can always blame Minhyung for choosing to build on his deceit. But Xuxi is so foolish that he lets the fear consume him, for he never once won against the ghost called her who keeps haunting him from his past.

He cannot lose Minhyung. It terrifies him, as terrifying as it is to realize the monster he himself had become. He drops down on his knees, calling Minhyung’s name with so much red bleeding through his voice. He’s scared, so scared, but it must have been even scarier for Minhyung. God knows how long he has waited here, battling his own demons and crying as if it could help chase the terror away.

He looks as small as always, not smaller than usual because, for Yukhei, Minhyung can never look anything but small. Precious. Breakable.

“Minhyung,” he whispers, gathering the boy carefully, precariously into his arms. Minhyung won’t stop crying, Minhyung won’t stop shaking. He just cries, cries, and cries, like the first time they met; so sad, deeply agonized. “I’m sorry, Minhyung-ah. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry.”

I’m sorry that I didn’t come earlier. I’m sorry that whatever it was had to happen to you. I’m sorry my battery was dead. I’m sorry I couldn’t come sooner. I’m sorry you had to cry.

I’m sorry I’m like this.

I’m sorry I-

“I’m sorry,” Yukhei apologizes, again and again just like Minhyung is crying, and even if he doesn’t say why  he‘s sorry, he’s sure Minhyung can understand.

With the same sureness, he presses a kiss to Minhyung’s salty cheeks.

“I’m sorry.”

:::

Yukhei had to practically drag Minhyung inside his room.

The boy clings on him like an inch of distance between them could kill him. Yukhei doesn’t let him go, not even when he’s making hot chocolate, hoping it can calm the weeping boy down.

“Just a while, okay?”

And Minhyung had cried, nearly hysterical.

Yukhei makes the chocolate with one arm curled protectively around Minhyung’s waist, chin resting on his brown hair. By that time, Minhyung is calmer, albeit only by small margin. He sniffles here and there, arms wound tight around Yukhei’s torso.

Yukhei keeps whispering to him, words that he hopes can give the boy some comfort even though he knows nothing consoles Minhyung like his presence.

His heart swells with pride.

It pops with disgust.

“Got a new name for you, it’s koala.”

Yukhei muses out loud, trying to uplift the mood, but Minhyung’s energy seems to be reserved for either crying or fastening himself to Yukhei. All Yukhei gets for the new pet name is a sniff. For now, that’s enough.

Convincing Minhyung to let him go, just for a meager second, proves to be a task. Yukhei has to pour the hot chocolate, after all, doing it with one hand is too much of a risk. What if he ended up spilling it and hurting them instead? Not to mention that it is a hot chocolate, it must be treated dearly.

He tells Minhyung just that. The pout on Minhyung’s face says; so, I’m less important than hot chocolate?

There’s no way he can win this, isn’t it? Giving up, Yukhei magically manages to pour the hot chocolate without wasting a single drop, with a single hand. He praises his enormous bicep.

Carrying two mugs of steaming hot chocolate in each hand, with one still holding Minhyung close to him, Yukhei sits both of them down on his bed. Careful. Spill nothing. Break nothing. Both the hot chocolate and Minhyung.

“Do you need help with this?” Yukhei asks the boy in his arms after he deemed the drink was warm enough, holding one mug to Minhyung.

Minhyung gives him a tiny nod, or was it a shake? His movement was too small for Yukhei to tell the difference. Suggesting from the slackness of his hands - if you can call the vice hug Minhyung is giving him as slack - Minhyung needs his help, so Yukhei brings the mug to his lips, pressing it until Minhyung parts his lips and Yukhei tilts the ceramic so he can drink the sweet, soothing liquid.

“Okay?” He asks softly even though he knew he was unlikely to get an answer. Minhyung doesn’t betray his expectations, staying immobile, but his lips are still pressed to the warmi ceramic, so Yukhei takes his chances.

After helping Minhyung with his drink, Yukhei downs his own, not once letting his hands off the lethargic boy. Minhyung uses his shoulder as a pillow, breathing evenly in his arms in between his quiet sniffles.

“Okay, so,” he pauses, unsure how to approach this. Usually, Minhyung comes to him to, well, have sex. Actually, he can scratch the usually and change the sentence into; Minhyung always comes to him to have sex.

Minhyung uses the sex as deflection. An escape from whatever it was that’s frightening him, from whatever it was that he refused to tell Yukhei about. Clearly, it’s the same thing that’s terrorizing him now, but the lassitude staining his glassy caramel eyes, the way he sags languidly into Yukhei’s body, they all tell him that Minhyung is not up for it.

Which means he’s only left with one choice. The easiest way to forget, the easiest way to stop thinking. “Guess it’s time to sleep, Sugar.”

Minhyung doesn’t say anything. Yukhei takes it as a yes, that seems to be just what he needs anyway. That’s the only thing Yukhei can give him right now; sleep, company. He puts the mugs down on the floor, gives Minhyung a soft kiss on his hair, before tugging the edge of his shirt.

“Up you go, Sugar, let’s make it comfy, shall we.”

Minhyung finally frees Yukhei’s torso, he lets the taller boy undress him before Yukhei takes his own clothes off, crumpling them into a ball on the floor. Minhyung is quiet through it all while Yukhei does all the work, settling them down under the blanket, legs tangling and Minhyung’s arms once again around him, his head safely tucked under Yukhei’s chin.

Yukhei talks then, tells Minhyung about how his brother is eager to visit Korea for the summer break. It’s a lie, of course, Yukhei wouldn’t even be here when summer arrives. 90 days. That’s as much as he has, he probably doesn’t have any more than half of that left.

Rubbing soothing circles on Minhyung’s temple, Yukhei thinks it’s okay. It’s okay to lie to Minyung because Minhyung also lies to him. They feed each other lies and they love it, even if the lies clog their blood, they couldn’t get enough, not when the very same lies are the ones keeping them together.

So, Yukhei lies. Lies about how excited his brother is, lies about how he had all places the wanted to visit noted down, lies about how interested his brother is in meeting Minhyung because Yukhei had told him about the new friend he made in Korea.

He lies, and Minhyung falls asleep to his lies. Lies that seems to push all the bad thoughts from his head. Lies that seems to grant him the only way out he’s allowed to have.

Lies. They stitch his wound closed.

:::

“My name’s not really Minhyung.”

“Huh, thought so.”

“You do?”

“I might or might not have seen your ID card.”

“That’s stupid of me.”

“Everybody was at some point. Stupid. It’s just a phase.”

“You think so?”

Yukhei kisses him, slow and sweet. Desperate yet solaced.

Minhyung kisses back, feeling as much.

“Tell me your name?”

“It’s Mark. Mark Lee.”

“I like Minhyung better.”

When Minhyung, Mark , smiles, it’s so tender it’s almost sad.

:::

They kiss, they take a shower. They make out in the bathroom because last night, Minhyung was too gone with stress to be able to enjoy himself. Yukhei sets the pace for him, fucking him with his fingers nice and slow and soon Minhyung is a blubbering mess in his arms, begging Yukhei to take him there and now.

Yukhei complies, showering him with kisses as he swiftly enters Minhyung. They fuck under the jet of the shower, the pouring icicles doing nothing to temper the heat in their bellies. Minhyung comes twice; once from the blowjob Yukhei gives  and the second with Yukhei pulsing deep inside of him.

He’s quiet most of the time, and Yukhei supposes he’s still got a lot going on in his head. It was less than 24 hours ago after all, and although he no longer looks visibly shaken, he’s still not quite himself. At least he’s more responsive than yesterday: he speaks, he talks to Yukhei, voice a little bit raw from too much crying. His eyes are swollen and Yukhei has lost count of how many times he had kissed them.

Minhyung - Mark Lee - is the most beautiful wreck Yukhei had ever seen, and he doesn’t think he will ever see anything as beautiful.

And he says that, “you’re beautiful,” because Yukhei wants to say it, because Yukhei wants Minhyung to hear it, to know it, that whatever he is - was - in the past, he is still beautiful for Yukhei.

Minhyung looks at him, startled. He blinks, slow, lashes still wet, droplets of water still caught between the lush black of his lashes. He tilts his head aside, speaking wordless confusion. With his hair still sopping wet, he looks like a drowned kitten. A helpless drowned kitten that had somehow found itself in Yukhei’s home.

“I said you’re beautiful,” he repeats, stealing a quick kiss from his lips before getting out of the shower. He takes a dry towel then wraps it round Minhyung. “And cute. Very cute. Let’s get you dry, okay, Sugar?”

A quiet, “yes,” slips out of Minhyung’s lips, and he closes his eyes, hangs his head low, and lets Yukhei wipe him dry. A couple of tickling kisses peppered on his post-shower flushed skin. Minhyung stays put, never protests, just squirms and sighs in between, contented.

Done with Minhyung’s body, Yukhei wraps the towel around his narrow hips. He takes a smaller towel and begins working on his hair. “Your hair smells nice, too, Sugar,” he hums, sniffing Minhyung’s hair. “Admit it, my shampoo is nice, yeah? Your hair didn’t smell this good before.”

Yukhei keeps talking, mentioning random things like the shampoo brand and conditioner. He talks because that’s what he’s supposed to do. He talks a lot because Minhyung doesn’t, just standing there letting Yukhei gently work on his hair, listening with one hand clutching his elbow.

Minhyung.   His small, little Minhyung.

Mark Lee.

“About your ID card,” Minhyung stills but his head snaps up, their eyes meet and Yukhei’s heart snaps at the fear he sees hiding inside.

His hold on Yukhei’s elbow goes tight. “I didn’t-”

“Please don’t say I didn’t mean to lie to you, because you did. You meant it.”

Yukhei cuts him off, and he might have cut Minhyung’s heart to pieces for the boy’s crestfallen expression darkens further. His eyes are starting to gloss over with tears, his bottom lip  trembling. Whatever he wanted to say, his lips seems to refuse to cooperate, and all Yukhei gets from him is stunted, “I,” and “I wasn’t.”

He looks so lost. So broken. So scared. Like last night, when he clung onto Yukhei with his haunted, wretched soul. Yukhei feels sorry. He didn’t mean to hurt Minhyung, no, but all truth can be is just and fair. Yukhei is human, all he can do is soften the blow. “Sugar. Sweetheart, ssssh, listen to me, okay? It’s fine. It’s okay, I’m not angry at you.”

Yukhei gently brushes his thumb over Minhyung’s lips. Moist but cracked, like a newly opened wound on the skin after the salve was applied. The caress doesn’t stop the tremble, but it squeezed tears out of Minhyung’s eyes. One drop. Two. Soon, it becomes three and four, and Yukhei can only count, can only watch, not trying to stop him for if Minhyung wanted to cry, he should very well cry.

“Remember that one time you asked me what I would do if you were a sinner?”

It was a conversation a long time ago, before Yukhei found out his name was Mark, somewhere after Minhyung came to his room with the taste of pizza lingering in his mouth. They were cuddling, Minhyung’s breathing an even cadence on his naked skin, and Yukhei’s heart was dancing to its harmony.

“Remember what I told you? After I stupidly offended you-”

“You weren’t!” Minhyung has finally found his voice again. He looks upset.

A part of Yukhei wished the reason he was upset is because Yukhei was offending him, not because Yukhei is bringing up an old conversation in the past that he’s not fond of. He practically shut Yukhei up, stopped him from treading the topic further by asking the taller man to fuck him.

Cleary, he is not fond of the topic. At all. About who he is. About who he was . About his, his mistake. About the monster, a shadow that’s too fond of Minhyung to leave him alone.  And that was the only time Minhyung had brought it up to the table for Yukhei to feed.

That was the only time Minhyung had ever let Yukhei catch a glimpse of Mark Lee .

But he’d retreated back rather quickly. Will he, now?

“Let’s say I wasn’t. But do you remember, do you remember what I told you that day?” Yukhei hangs the damp towel on his shoulders, loops his hands around Minhyung’s waist and brings him closer. He rests his lips close to Minhyung’s temple, a breath away from a kiss.  He whispers, “do you?”

For a while, Minhyung is silent. Everything is quiet, an unfamiliar song of Yukhei’s bathroom in the morning, in Minhyung’s presence. There’s supposed to be sighs, supposed to be moans, supposed to be the wet sound of skin meeting skin as Yukhei fucks Minhyung against the slippery tiles.

Now, there’s nothing. Just them and the bathroom that watches them in equal silence, the white wall wet with trepidation. Yukhei’s lungs are drawing a blank, he’s breathless at the lack of Minhyung’s answer.

If he didn’t remember, he might as well be,

Does he ever amount to any,

“You said,” Minhyung mumbles and the air is back to Yukhei’s lungs, flooring him with relief.

He stops holding his breath, eventually pressing his lips onto Minhyung’s skin, closing his eyes. “Yeah, Sugar, say it. I said something, what did I say? What did I say about you being a sinner?”

Yukhei hears Minhyung sigh himself, in relief. He pushes himself deeper into Yukhei’s hold, closer. He sneaks his arms up, his palms shyly touching Yukhei’s jaw, cupping his cheeks. “You said, you said you don’t care, it doesn’t matter whatever I was, I am ,” he says, almost a whisper.

There’s slight tremor in his voice, and Yukhei gives him another gentle kiss, an assurance. A guidance. “That’s right, Minhyung. Babe. I said I don’t care, it doesn’t matter whoever you are, whatever you were. And then, what else did I say, huh? Little one, what else did I say?”

“You said, Xuxi, Oh God,” his voice breaks. He takes a sharp breath, he is crying again, and Yukhei’s heart weeps with him, overwhelmed. With memories. With feelings. With the things they shouldn’t feel for one another, but the seed has taken root, the little green bud has grown.

It’s too late. It’s all too late.

“And you don’t care. You don’t care whoever I am because for you, I’m Minhyung, Lee Minhyung and that’s all you care about. Whoever I am to anybody else, I am-”

“Minhyung,” Yukhei finishes for him. Or maybe, he’s calling him. Calling for Minhyung , begging him to stay.

Pleading for him, because Yukhei would give Minhyung everything he wanted on a silver platter, adorned with gemstones and jewels. He’d bleed dry for him, smash his bones if that’s what it cost for Minhyung to fucking stay.

If that’s what it costs for Mark to not take Minhyung away.

As if in answer, Minhyung whispers back. His voice is small, unsure and terrified, “Xuxi.”

Desperate.

Yukhei is just as desperate. He’s so desperate that he’s being cruel, unfair, like this, to Minhyung. To Minhyung who’s broken in places he shouldn’t be and cannot heal unless Yukhei - Xuxi - patches it up for him.

To Mark , who hides behind Minhyung as he nurses himself back to health.

Yukhei doesn’t.

“I’m here,” Yukhei turns his head slightly to give a kiss to Minhyung’s fingers. He murmurs, right against the skin whose warmth he has come to crave so much. “I’m here. And I don’t care. I don’t care if you lied to me, I don’t care if you wanted to lie to me. Whatever it was that happened yesterday, Sugar, whatever it was, whatever your reason; I don’t care. I’m not going to leave you, I’m here to stay, with you. For you. So would you-”

But he can’t ask him.

He can’t ask him to stay because everybody who came into his life, they only come to cease. Everybody he’d wanted to stay, they always leave.

“Xuxi?”

Would you stay ? He wanted to ask. “Please don’t cry,” is what he ended up asking.

Confusion. He feels it, dancing briefly under Minhyung’s skin, but it’s gone as fast as it came.

Just like people, they come, and they go. Like time. Unlike pain.

“I won’t,” Minhyung says eventually, craning his neck to leave a small kiss on Yukhei’s jaw. “I won’t cry anymore. I got you.”

“You got me, Sugar. You got me.”

Always. Forever. As long as you want me to, the words, they go unsaid. Letters die, words refusing to write themselves on the paper of his tongue, so he crumples it and throws it to the bin, back of his throat.

Minhyung hums, an unfamiliar tune. They can play the guessing game again. They can be fine again, like nothing had gone wrong, like nothing had been broken and nothing had been gone. Like the sun is rising again to banish every remnant of the rain.

And the rising smile on Minhyung’s face is indeed the sun, beaming gold, beaming hope, innocent. “Kiss me?”

“Anything you wish for, Sugar.”

He doesn’t have it in him to ask if Minhyung would do the same for him. He only has enough to give, never to ask.

When they kiss, when their lips meet shyly like it’s the first time they ever met, Yukhei tells himself to forget. Yukhei tells himself that this is enough to make him forget, that whatever he wants, he’s never allowed to have.

“Thank you,” Minhyung mumbles, their lips still touching, but there’s enough distance for the words to slip and linger in between. “Thank you, Xuxi.”

“Anytime,” Yukhei nods before kissing him again, swallowing that gratitude, and hopes it’s enough to delude himself.

Again.

:::

A few days have passed since that day when Minhyung showed up crying desperately in front of his door, and Yukhei had done everything to nurse the boy back to life.

He thought it’d be awkward. Turned out it’s easier than he had imagined; Minhyung is still as adamant as ever, he remains mum about the circumstances of Mark Lee , and Yukhei is still keeping the same stance; he won’t ask unless Minhyung talks.

They have resumed their usual routine; a routine in which Minhyung practically lives at Yukhei’s place. Only leaves for school and comes back at night to indulge himself in the pleasure Yukhei always has to offer. every day a new treat, every day a new height. Every day a new story to share and every tale takes him closer, closer to the boy behind Minhyung.

Closer to Mark Lee , and Yukhei is, honest to God, unsure how he’s supposed to feel about that.

There was one time when Minhyung asked Yukhei if it’s okay for them to meet somewhere else. Yukhei won’t lie, his heart had soared high into the atmosphere before it plummeted back down in an ugly crash.

It’s just him being a coward, he knows. It’s not Minhyung, it's him. He’s scared, he’s too terrified. The rare times he had given up his heart, it always returned bruised, black and blue, barely pulsing. He doesn’t have it yet, the courage to believe, the courage to trust. Which is unfair because Minhyung believes in him, Minhyung trusts him, Minhyung is ready to show Yukhei all the ghosts he keeps in his closet. Surely, it takes a lot of courage.

But Yukhei doesn’t have it. Not now. Not yet. His mother is still a constant nightmare in the back of his head, smiling with her lips bloodied red, looking at him with eyes so far, so hollow. Calling him by his father’s name and Yukhei knows he’s being fucking unfair to Minhyung. To Mark Lee .

The boy is ready. The boy is so brave. So beautiful. Like the sun, so gallant and radiant. He’s ready to come out of his shell, a step closer to permanently reside in Yukhei’s shelter.

Minhyung has his truth, his heart, offered and decorated beautifully in a colorful garland of bright yellow and orange petals, but all Yukhei’s got is soul, empty and hollowed by the shadow of his mother.

Whatever sin Minhyung had committed, Yukhei bets his whole disgraceful life, that it amounts to nothing compared  to what he had done.

Minhyung would hate him if he found out. Yukhei can’t afford that. He needs Minhyung to stay, even if it means they have to dance inside this ring of fire forever. This ring of fire that Minhyung ignited when he lied to Yukhei for the first time when he introduced himself as ‘Lee Minhyung’ instead of ‘Mark Lee’. And Yukhei had poured oil onto the small flicker, set it ablaze, smoked the haze into their lungs, deluded them, deceived them.

If they stopped dancing, if the fire went out, Minhyung could leave him, but Yukhei can’t have that.

If lying is the only way he can have Minhyung by his side, he wouldn’t have him any other way.

Yukhei is the fool, he knows, letting his fear control him, letting it consume him. He blocks out the voice of reason that screams at him, shouting at him that Minhyung can leave too if Yukhei refused his heart, but the words are out, the refusal, “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Yukhei doesn’t remember breathing. The words a stone, sitting heavy on his chest, clogging his windpipe. Minhyung’s answer of “Okay, your place, then. Good enough,” smashes the boulder to pieces, allowing oxygen to enter his lungs.

Then, they have been fine. Everything’s fine, he still cooks Minhyung breakfast in the morning, still calls Minhyung by sweet nothings, and Minhyung still begs Yukhei to take him apart, set him anew, screams Xuxi ’s name with so much need, with so much heat.

His ember sings against his skin, incarcerates his flesh, smolders his bones, and Yukhei’s soul is reduced to ashes by his scorching honesty.

Yukhei can see it in his eyes, every time they close the distance that set them apart, those eyes speak so much, too much . Of words which meanings Yukhei knows all too dear by heart, of emotion too raw to be expressed, of emotion that he wishes he didn’t have to feel.

Minhyung never asks but Yukhei knows anyway, knows it because he has always been watching him, has always been paying attention to him, has always been taking care of him, and he knows every song that Minhyung wants to sing.

It’s the same song again today. Even if the only song that should be there is the song of their skin meeting in wet, slapping sounds, he’s singing it again.

The song that Minhyung shouldn’t be singing to him. Not with the weight of his sin engraved on his skin. Not with the weights of their sins combined. But he hears it anyway, the faint yet jarring tune, the shy melody, his name slipping out of Minhyung’s lips, caressed by the harmony.

And he has to tell him. He’s just got to. Even if he’s scared, even if he’s dead terrified, even if he doesn’t know where it will lead him, but Minhyung had given him his piece of truth, and if Yukhei isn’t ready to hand him his all, then at least this sliver of it should be enough to return his faith.

“We didn’t,” he stops, abrupt. Both his words, both the snapping of his hips.

It’s one of those days when Minhyung had had a long day at school and Yukhei was cranky at work because Can-Lie won’t stop trying to get into his pants. They came back home with deep frowns on their respective faces, and when they kissed, full of pent-up energy and frustration, it’s just as deep.

Yukhei locked the door, wrenched Minhyung out of his shirt as the smaller boy pawed at his. Flurries of movement and tangles of limbs later, they found themselves back on Yukhei’s bed. Fast forward and here they are, Yukhei already buried so deep inside Minhyung’s ever so inviting heat and the boy taking him as eager as always.

That was until Yukhei heard it again, the song. Playing on his eyes. Too quiet to be ignored. Too loud to be tuned out. And the words slipped, unbidden from Yukhei’s lips. He looks away. His heart palpitates faster, his chest heaves, blood freezes. Terror comes, rushing for arrest. Yukhei is caught, shackled and knelt to the ground, his courage robbed away by the thought of Minhyung leaving him.

If he knew this, Minhyung could be leaving him.

But then Minhyung cups his face. Gentle. Tender. He’s the kindness Yukhei doesn’t deserve and Yukhei knows Minhyung thinks the same of him.

But he’s wrong, so wrong, Yukhei wants to tell him. To say it again and again until he believes that the only reason why he doesn’t deserve Yukhei is that he is too bright and Yukhei is an abyss in faraway space too dark. What Minhyung deserves is a light by the end of the road.

“Xuxi?”

Minhyung also deserves this, deserves to know at least this much, for how brave he has been, for how long he has stayed. He deserves to know the truth , as little as it is. He deserves everything in the world, and if Yukhei could, he’d give it. But he’s got nothing in his pathetic being other than this single honesty, so that’s all he can give.

That’s all he can give to answer the unsung faith serenaded by Minhyung’s eyes.

“We didn’t do anything. That night. When I found you. You were already asleep when we got to my room. You hit the table before we got to bed, rather hard. You were awake but then we didn’t- I didn’t-"

Yukhei momentarily forgets to breathe. He said it. He said it. He confessed to Minhyung that nothing had happened between them that night, nothing but drunken Yukhei taking him to sleep, and that morning when they kissed, that was the first time anything ever happened.

He suspected that Minhyung was under the notion that something had happened, and that’s why he gave himself up to Yukhei so easily that morning. The milk had been spilled anyways, why not spill some more?

There’s no way someone as good, as pure as Minhyung would willingly give his first time to a stranger; having sex with someone you know takes a great deal of courage itself, let alone a stranger. Either Minhyung was so devastated that his sanity was knocked out of his head, or he thought there was nothing else left for him to fear.

Yukhei thought it was the latter rather than the former. As much as he doesn’t know about Minhyung, he knows . The boy had been very awkward, very timid, always listened to whatever Yukhei told him about sex with genuine curiosity. That’s not how someone who doesn’t give a flying fuck about their virginity behaves.

Yukhei’s not saying Minhyung is a prude, but his mannerisms resembled one. The more you have, the more scared you become. Unless Minhyung didn’t believe they’d had had sex before, he wouldn’t have welcomed Yukhei’s advance.

But he did. Because he thought it had already happened, and Yukhei had left it under wraps for so long, longer than Minhyung had with his real name. This was the only thing Yukhei has that can amount equally.

Even if it will cost him more than he could bear. Even if it could very well cost him the presence of Minhyung by his side. After all, who would want to stay with someone who had misled you to believe that you’d had sex with them, only to get more of it from you?

Yukhei is prepared for a slap on the cheek, but what he gets is Minhyung caressing the tender skin under his eyes as he brings their foreheads together, whispering, “it’s okay.” Then again, with a voice still barely a whisper but stronger, surer, he says, “It doesn’t matter what happened, Xuxi.”

Yukhei wants to cry. So bad. So hard. So loud until the whole world can hear him, but there’s nobody else he wants to hear his voice as much as Minhyung. There’s nobody else he needs to hear all his fear as much as Minhyung. “You are?”

He prays to God. Begs on his knees, he’d grovel, even, for Minhyung to hear it. Hear his silent scream. Hear his unspoken question, just like he had heard Minhyung’s soundless song.

If Minhyung really meant it when he said it doesn’t matter what happened, then surely, he will,

“I’m here,” he says, with a kiss, with a smile in his voice. With the light so brilliant it shines all over Yukhei’s dark.

And he’s here . Yukhei takes a shuddering breath. He’s not leaving , he thinks, as he kisses Minhyung back, shy, timid. Like it’s the first time, asking for permission.

Minhyung wraps his arms around Yukhei’s neck, pulling him closer as if asking him whether it is enough for an answer or not.

Yukhei deepens the kiss, hoping that it’s enough to tell Minhyung that, yes, it is enough.

Chapter Text

You leave me room for my imperfections
When I’m a mess and you jump right in
If I drift in the wrong direction
You turn the tide and you calm the wind

You will Find Me - Alex & Sierra

:::

They still meet, Xuxi still calls him ‘ Minhyung’, and Xuxi still cooks him breakfast the morning after.

Xuxi still doesn’t ask. Mark feels strangely lonely. He thought they had breached a certain border that night, crossed a line into a whole new territory, but nothing changes, and everything feels eerily the same.

It’s unsettling.

“I was wondering, if we could meet somewhere else? Not here?”

When Xuxi answers, Mark regrets ever gathering his courage to ask. “I don't think it’s a good idea.”

He is still stupid, still foolish. They’re still in the same place. Mark tells himself he should stop being hopeful. He doesn't deserve it for how gravely he had sinned. “Okay, your place, then. Good enough.”

Xuxi’s answer is his smile, grateful, but not reaching his eyes.

:::

May passes, the season rolls by. Summer skirts around the horizon, drawing the shadow longer. Finals are coming up and Mark is busier than ever. He buries his nose in books and assignments, barely has time to think about anything but his academics.

He hasn’t paid a visit to Xuxi’s place at all. There’s no phone call nor text either after Mark told him he was going to be busy for a while. Xuxi had made no protest, just told him, “good luck,” with an earnest smile in his voice. Mark could almost see it; Xuxi and his huge, boyish grin.

Mark misses him, greatly. He has to be patient; this is a small sacrifice he has to make until he can see Xuxi again. After this, it’s summer break and he can spend as much time as he wants at Xuxi’s place.

Xuxi’s family is coming as well; Mark had brought it up in one of their rare calls and, rather shyly, voiced out his interest. Xuxi had beamed, rich, golden sun. He gushed about his adorable brother and how much he likes ice cream; said he’d probably cling on Mark too since Mark resembles a teddy bear.

He had jokingly take offense at the similarity, and Xuxi had played along with him. It had been a nice relief from his impending report.

That was their last call and it’d been 4 days since then. Mark dreams about Xuxi, fantasizes about him daily. His studies occupy his mind but whenever he’s back in his own room, the lack of Xuxi’s presence keeps edging him on.

Just another week, then he will be free. He can see Xuxi again. He can stay in Xuxi’s place again. He can hear, feel him again, and that’s all Mark ever needs; for Xuxi to be in his bound.

:::

Mark cracks before his finals are over. His study is driving him insane and he needs release. He calls Xuxi, the boy says, yes , sounding as eager and hungry as Mark is. Upon getting his approval, Mark doesn’t waste his time, he leaves for Xuxi’s place, with only his wallet in tow.

Xuxi welcomes him into his arms, with kisses, with sweet nothings whispered like prayers on Mark’s skin. Yukhei undresses him, gently, a far cry from the way he fucks Mark afterwards, fast and impatient with wild abandon. The sex is as great as it always is, and it helps Mark release his pent-up frustration.

He falls asleep after their 2nd round, Xuxi still as energetic as always, and Mark teases him, “you’re such a beast, a dumb beast.”

All he gets is a cocky smile and eyes way too tender for the smugness of his lips. “Uh huh, and this beast is still hungry, so, will you allow him to eat you again tomorrow?”

Mark snorts, and Xuxi laughs, kissing his nose, kissing his lips. He smiles into the kiss, content, happy. “Yeah, maybe, if you behave tonight and let me sleep in peace.”

Yukhei nods, innocently enthusiastic. Minhyung kisses him good night on the cheek before snuggling into his arms, inhaling his unique scent which only grows stronger after sex. “Good night, Sugar,” the boy says above him.

“Good night, Xuxi,” he replies sleepily.

Sweet dreams.

:::

Mark wakes up to Xuxi kissing him, hands roaming all over Mark’s still lethargic body. The usual morning. The usual routine.

They’re talking about Xuxi’s brother and how he had come to call Xuxi ‘giraffe’ when the blond’s phone rings.

Xuxi usually doesn’t answer his phone in front of Mark, but today, he does. He looks panicked a couple of seconds into the call, distressed even. Whoever called him, it seemed to be someone from his workplace.

Somehow, Mark feels scared. He and Xuxi have talked a lot, but they’re still keeping boundaries. Mark doesn’t talk about his family because the talk about his family will likely lead him to Donghyuck, and Donghyuck will lead him  to Taeyong.

He cannot talk about Taeyong. Not yet. Not now. He’s not brave enough.

And as for Xuxi, Xuxi doesn’t talk about his work. He talks about his school day shenanigans, about his brother, but never about his parents or his school, or his job. Heck, he doesn’t even know if Xuxi is actually in Korea to work or study, but from the irregular intervals of his leave, it’s more likely to be a job.

And now, apparently, his job demands him to leave.

Xuxi apologizes profusely to him, but he also accidentally said that Mark is important, complete with a blush, and failed attempts at explaining himself later when Mark corners him about it, heart bursting with fireworks, flutters of butterflies.

“Am I important?”

“There are, like, dozen other things you can ask me, Minhyung-ah.”

“But I want to ask you if I’m important,” Mark presses on, stares down at Yukhei, curious, wondering. “Am I?”

“You heard me the first time,” Yukhei tries to evade. Not smooth enough. Mark uses his chance.

“And I want to hear it the second time. You said; anything you wish, Sugar .” He swallows down his triumphant smile. Anything you wish, Sugar , that’s what Xuxi had told him long time ago, and he still uses it sometimes when Mark begs him to do something, anything.

Xuxi presses the heel of his palm to his eye, groaning again. “Do you have to?”

“Do you have to leave?”

That seems to sober Xuxi up. He opens his eyes, puts a smile on his face as if hoping it could convey how sorry he feels. “I have to. I wish I didn’t have to.”

“Hmm,” he looks down, heart pinched with loss, body seized with loneliness.

“I’m so sorry, babe, I wish I could stay,” gently, Xuxi puts his hand on Mark’s cheeks, rubbing his thumb over his lips to coax Mark’s gaze back to him.

Then he says it, three words that Mark longs to hear,

“You are important.”

Who is Mark to deny that?

“You’re coming back?”

“To you,” Xuxi nods, smiling, and always, his smile is still the best damn thing Mark has ever seen.

:::

Even though Xuxi had promised him he would come back tonight, he doesn’t.

Mark ends up falling asleep alone, clutching Xuxi’s blanket, shrouded by his scent, imagining the cotton sheet is Xuxi’s arms.

He wakes up the next morning to Xuxi’s message, telling him he’s not coming home for a while. Mark is disappointed but doesn’t think much about it; this isn’t the first time it had happened anyway. Xuxi had left at an odd hour and didn’t come back for days before.

Without sparing another thought, just disappointment weighing down his heart, Mark goes back to the dorm. His room feels like a stranger’s room. It should be the bed that belongs to him, his clothes neatly folded in the spacious cupboard, but they don’t feel like his own.

He’d been  in Xuxi’s place just  this morning but he misses it already, yearns for the familiarity and comfort it provides.

The furniture of his own room stares back at him, judging in betrayal. He abandoned them for a total stranger, someone to whom Mark slowly admits to himself, he wants to belong.

That night, he doesn’t sleep until he jerks himself off, twice, Xuxi’s name spilling from his lips.

:::

“Hello?”

“Minhyung.”

“Xuxi?”

“Minhyung. Mark."

“Yeah, Xuxi. It’s me. What’s wrong? You don’t usually-"

“I’m sorry.”

The line goes dead.

:::

Mark runs all the way to Xuxi’s place, only to find it empty.

The landlord tells him it was vacated two days ago. He looks at Mark with sympathy, he even pats him and says, “I’m sorry.”

Mark cannot even imagine how dreadful he looks right now. His head is empty. He can barely think.

Mark returns to Xuxi’s room - now empty, standing by the all too familiar door that’s now starting to look intimidating.

Beyond this door is the room where he was first held by Xuxi. Beyond this door is the room where he and Xuxi came to know each other. Beyond this door is the room where Mark could finally become himself, free from his worry.

Beyond this door is the room where Mark found  happiness. Beyond this door is Mark’s sanctuary.

In his head, someone chuckles, disgusted.

Beyond this door is your escape, and now is time to put an end to it.

You cannot run away forever.

Chapter Text

Lost in you, lost in me
Afraid of love in too deep, so we just run and hide
Lightening fast, felt the crash
We only know goodbye

Holding on for Life - Ellie Goulding

:::

Even if this castle is built upon lies, Xuxi finds it beautiful. Like Minhyung and his morning dew of tears, like Minhyung and his shy smile that belies many secrets in its cherry red womb.

It’s beautiful. Nights filled with nothing but deflection and pretense, smile as fake as much as it’s true. Still, he finds them beautiful. Xuxi finds him beautiful.

Minhyung laughs, as if his heart doesn’t bleed. Minhyung smiles, as if the oxygen is not strangling him. Xuxi kisses him, as if his skin doesn’t jump whenever Xuxi touches him.

Minhyung heals, he peels another wound open under his skin whenever their bodies melt into one.

“Xuxi,” Minhyung gasps. It sounds like a plea, like a prayer. It’s his name, spelt as help, and Xuxi is the fool.

He kisses him, with too much heart than he intended, a sincerity he didn’t mean.

He is the fool.

He forgets that one day, he has to leave all of this behind.

:::

Yukhei has always been the one being left behind. He is so used to it that he never expected that one day, it would be him doing the leaving.

Even if he doesn’t want to, he has to leave.

Everything happened so fast. Fast like lightning. Fast like time flowing. Fast, like he’s falling for Minhyung, deeper and deeper each passing day, with every breath he takes. With every kiss they exchange.

But he has to leave, he has to. It’s time for him to stop falling; he has hit rock bottom. Kissing the earth with a violent crack, bones snapping at wrong angles, skin peeling hideous red, flesh torn, like his heart. Like his soul, dying.

It’s one morning, the usual morning, with Yukhei waking up to Minhyung sleeping soundly in his arms, skin painted with the color Yukhei had brushed on him with his lips. He wakes the boy up with kisses, hands roaming everywhere, every single place he can touch; his shoulder, his arms, his waist, down to his thigh.

Minhyung stirs awake with a sleepy groan, tries to turn away from the wake up call, but Yukhei pins him under his weight, effectively sealing every escape. He murmurs Minhyung’s name on the spot under his ear, nipping it, before pressing a kiss on his cheekbones.

“G’morning, Sugar,” he says when Minhyung cracks an eye open.

He gets a, “hey,” rough with sleep. Hoarse from all the screaming last night. He also gets an adorable yawn from Minhyung, an equally endearing nose scrunch, topped with a kiss on his nose. “Morning, Xuxi.”

Yukhei says, “good morning,” once again. Calls him sugar again, then they spend the next minutes just kissing and cuddling.

Nothing has changed much after that, everything is pretty much the same. It never ceases to amaze him sometimes at how long they’d been keeping up this game . At how well they lie. But everything goes the way it was before, before Minhyung showed up crying in his door, before Yukhei confessed to him that nothing had happened between them.

It’s complicated, and he’s not sure what he should be feeling, but at least Minhyung still stays, at least Minhyung still seeks solace in him. Beggars cannot be  choosers, after all, and if this is all he could have, then Yukhei should be nothing but grateful.

Yukhei is in the middle of telling Minhyung about how his brother had come to call him a giraffe, another safe story to tell because it doesn’t give away that much about Wong Yukhei , when his phone rings.

“Shit, wait,” he swears, reaching out for his phone on the nightstand. Minhyung just hums in approval, he starts tapping randomly on Yukhei’s chest, watching the taller boy fumble with his phone.

Usually, Yukhei doesn’t take call in front of Minhyung but it’s too comfortable here under the sheets with Minhyung in his hold, with the sunlight dancing merrily over them in bright, cheerful steps of gold. Plus, the uneasiness left by their brief moment of honesty days ago is still there, lingering even if he tries to shoo it away by keeping Minhyung as close as possible.

The boy isn’t going anywhere, but Yukhei’s gotta go. At least that’s what Kun tells - demands of - him.

“Hello?”

“Lucas? Where the fuck are you?” is how Kun greets him. Angry. Impatient.

“Hello to you, too, gege.” He peers down at Minhyung, who’s doing a really great job at pretending he doesn’t want to hear at all. He even goes as far as pulling the blanket until it’s covering his ears, and Yukhei’s heart cracks inexplicably. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

Many things ,” Kun hisses into the phone, so loudly that Yukhei has to pull it away from his ear. “Do you even know what time it is? Scratch that, do you even know your schedule today?”

How the hell is he supposed to know or care when he had Minhyung begging him to fuck him on the table last night? Of course, he doesn’t say that, unless he wanted Kun to rip his testicles apart. Instead, Yukhei ponders for a while, taking his sweet time, his hand resuming its job of fiddling with Minhyung’s hair.

And then he remembers.

“Fuck. Fuck, fuck,” Yukhei swears, face going pale. He remembers, he has a photoshoot schedule today, with Can-Lie, of all people.

Minhyung apparently picks up the evident distress in his voice, and his hand stops moving, “what’s wrong, Xuxi?”

“Who’s that?”

Double, triple fuck, with extra dozens of fuck. “Uhh, the boy I told you about.”

“The boy, who?” Minhyung uses his elbow as leverage to pull himself up, peering down at Yukhei with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. “Are you talking about me?”

Flying fuck. “Lu-

“I will be there soon, Gege. I’m sorry, I’m, something important came up. I swear it’s important, really, really important. Don’t worry, I will be there soon, bye, Gege. I love you. Mmuah!” After making a loud, smooching sound, Yukhei turns his phone off and practically throws it to the floor. He doesn’t care if it breaks, he can buy a new one, he’s loaded.

Well, technically, his uncle is, but his uncle’s money is Yukhei’s, and besides, it isn’t like he doesn’t have a steady income on his own.

Yukhei takes a deep breath, he looks at Minhyung with a grin that he hopes doesn’t come out as a grimace. “So.”

But Minhyung’s expression is too blank for Yukhei to tell anything.

“I’m sorry, I gotta-”

“Am I important?” That’s all Minhyung asked him. He didn’t ask Yukhei who it was and why he has to go.

He only asked Yukhei if he, Minhyung, is important.

Yukhei groans. He can feel his cheeks flaming up, from embarrassment, from the fire tickling him under his skin.

“There are, like, dozen other things you can ask me, Minhyung-ah.”

“But I want to ask you if I’m important,” Minhyung goes on, still staring down at Yukhei with his big, brown orbs. Curious, wondering. “Am I?”

“You heard me the first time,” Yukhei tries to evade. Not smooth enough.

Minhyung shoots him, bull’s eyes. “And I want to hear it the second time. You said; anything you wish, Sugar .”

His tone is normal but Yukhei can’t help but think that the boy is mocking him. He presses the heel of his palm to his eye, groaning again. “Do you have to?”

“Do you have to leave?”

That sobers him up. He opens his eyes to find Minhyung still staring at him with the same level expression, but his lips curling down a little on one side, telling him a tale of loneliness. Yukhei pulls a smile to his own face, hoping it can convey how sorry he feels. “I have to. I wish I didn’t have to.”

“Hmm,” he looks down, dejected. Yukhei’s heart stutters with apology.

“I’m so sorry, babe, I wish I could stay,” gently, he puts his hand on Minhyung’s cheeks, rubbing his thumb over his lips to coax Minhyung’s gaze back to him. “You are important.”

That does it. Minhyung looks again at him. The birds in the cage of Yukhei’s ribs twitter in happiness. “You’re coming back?”

“To you,” he nods, smiling, because he is happy. Because Minhyung wants him back, because Minhyung needs him, and the splash of sadness on his face tells him that Minhyung cannot bear the thought of being alone without Yukhei by his side. “I will, today. A little bit late, you can sleep earlier if you want.”

“I will wait,” Minhyung nuzzles his palm. Yukhei presses his thumb on Minhyung’s lips, and Minhyung gets the message, parts them open and lets Yukhei slips the digit inside.

“I will fuck you again tonight, yeah? You promised me last night, I behaved.”

“You did,” Minhyung mumbles, voice muffled with Yukhei’s thick finger in his mouth, his tongue swirling along the flesh.

“First time when I get back, as hard and fast as you like it,” at Yukhei’s words, Minhyung visibly squirms, begins sucking on the thumb. “But before that, I wanna fuck your throat first. Do you like that idea, sugar?”

The boy moans, nodding. The embers of lust crackling in his hazel eyes. Relief whispers sweetly down Yukhei’s spine. This is it. This is better. This is them treading familiar water; sex, and more sex. This is what they’re used to, not some talk about feelings and honesty.

This is their even ground.

Yukhei smiles, he pulls his thumb out, and it’s coated with Minhyung’s spit, and he smears it on the owner’s cheeks. “Hurry up and go then.”

“So I can come home soon?”

Minhyung nods, “The faster you go, the faster you come back.”

Yukhei pretends it doesn’t sound like Minhyung saying he doesn’t like to be alone. But it’s useless. It’s futile. His heart swells with pride. Minhyung needs him. “Eager, aren’t we?”

He gets a snort, and a slap rather hard on his chest, so that he yelps. Minhyung’s laugh, spilling broken diamonds and pearls all over Yukhei’s rusting body. Body that rusts from yearning and wanting for something he shouldn’t have had. “Shut up and go.”

“As you wish, Princess.”

“And kiss me,” he pouts.

Yukhei laughs, and Minhyung laughs too. Like his heart isn’t bleeding at knowing that he will be left alone again, even if his demons haven’t quite gone away. Like he’s not shaking from fear that demon will come to get him again.

Yukhei cradles his face, gently, like Minhyung is a glass ball that’s about to break, and he kisses him just as gently. The way the smaller boy’s lips chase after Yukhei tells him that Minhyung is afraid. Although Yukhei is just as terrified, he has to be sure. He has to be strong. For Minhyung. For both of them, because if one of them wasn’t strong, then how are they supposed to keep themselves afloat?

“I gotta go,” he murmurs after he manages to stop Minhyung from stealing another kiss.

Minhyung swallows, what could probably be his fear, his worry. Yukhei doesn’t know, but he can tell. “Hurry.”

He doesn’t know either if Minhyung meant hurry and go , or hurry, come back to me. He says, “yes,” anyways

With another lingering kiss, he bids his farewell.

:::

“It’s important.”

Kun does this thing when he’s angry; knits his brows together in a very impressive frown, and narrows his eyes to an impressive glare that reminds Yukhei of angry owl.

Yukhei actually finds it cute. It doesn’t deter him one bit.

He simply says, “it is.”

It is or he is?”

Shoot . Yukhei pulls his best kicked puppy expression at his manager slash babysitter. It doesn’t seem to work, judging from how Kun still pretty much resembles an angry owl and Yukhei doesn’t actually mean his pathetic expression.

Oh well .

“This isn’t exactly a talk I’d like to have in the middle of,” Yukhei gestures  around them. The set. The bustling staff, the MUA prattling in the background about the horrible weather, the harsh lighting that makes the room even hotter. “ This .”

“We’re on break,” Kun says, nonplussed. “I bet you’re going straight home after this, so this is technically the only time I can ask you, and frankly speaking, I don’t care if you don’t want to talk about this ,” he rolls his eyes, gesturing around the room like Yukhei just did, “ here .”

“We only have fifteen minutes break,” Yukhei tries again. He doesn’t want to talk about this with Kun. Or with anyone, at all. He knows Kun doesn’t approve of this relationship, if he can even call it a relationship, so what’s the point?

“So you better talk soon.”

Yukhei makes a frustrated noise, throwing his hand to emphasize his exasperation. “I swear.”

“Fourteen minutes,” Kun says, folding his arms. “We don’t have much time left before we resume shooting, Lucas. You better talk soon.”

“Can I, like, talk to you another time?” If Kun is relentless, so is Yukhei. If Kun is not letting go of his silence, so is Yukhei.

“Will you talk to me the other time?”

“Gege, I don’t-”

“Do you want me to come to your place and make the boy speak?”

Yukhei bristles, losing his cool, losing his silence too in the process. His hand shoots forward, surprising Kun and himself. The elder man jerks back, hands raised in defense as Yukhei’s hands stop mid-air. The owner blinks in bewilderment, mouth falling open, “I-”

“Lucas.”

Kun’s voice isn’t angry, no, he’s just surprised. Just as Yukhei is at himself. He raised his hand against Kun, what had he wanted to do? He couldn’t remember. All he knew was tendrils of red webbing themselves around his eyes at the notion of Kun coming to his place to make Minhyung speak.

His sweet, little Minhyung.

“I’m sorry,” he says weakly, pulling his hands back to wrap them around himself. He’s ashamed, he has let his emotion overtake him. This never happened to him before. Wong Yukhei, Lucas, he plays his game well. He never loses his cool. “I’m so, sorry, Gege. I didn’t mean-”

“You’re angry at me,” Kun says testily. Yukhei doesn’t know what kind of expression he’s wearing, too distraught to look the elder man in the eyes. He keeps his eyes resolutely on the ground and hopes it unhinges its jaw to swallow him whole. “You meant it. You wanted to hurt me.”

“No. No, I didn’t, Fuck,” He shakes his head, frustrated. He begs the floor to open its jaw soon. He can’t do this. Yukhei lies. Yukhei pretends, but he doesn’t get aggressive and lay his hand on his opponent.

It’s an easier game with Minhyung.

“Gege, I’m sorry. I really, really didn’t mean to hurt you or anything, it’s not personal. I just- it was instinctive. I heard you said you’re making him talk, and I just,”

“Lost your cool.”

Yukhei admits it with another groan, guilty as charged. “I’m sorry. That’s, that’s all I got to offer. Really.”

“Not quite, you owe me explanation.”

Oh, fuck this. Why is Kun so persistent? Yukhei feels like pulling his hair apart, he’s starting to lose his mind. The red web is back, dancing mockingly at the edge of his vision, but Yukhei’s more rational mind pushes through. “What is it to you, Gege? I get it, you don’t like me sleeping with him-”

“Wait, wait, wait. Lucas. Wait, did I hear it right? You’re sleeping with someone?”

Can-Lie.

It feels like someone just doused a bucket of cold water all over him. Yukhei freezes below zero. Blood stops in its tracks. Oxygen deserts him. Someone stabs a hot lead down his heart, pinning it under its blazing weight before twisting it to rupture his veins.

Images go in his eyes. A train wreck nobody can stop. Flattening storm, a force of nature too strong for human to reign. Can-Lie. His first time. The empty bed. The heartless dismissal. The cold chain of solitude digging through his skin, broke through his flesh, and shattered his bones as Yukhei made his lone way home.

He was cast away once, by his parents, and swore he would never be tossed aside again. Only for his long forgotten naivete to betray him as he found himself again with his shadow as his only company, Can-Lie’s indifference a taunting music in his head.

Yukhei raises his face and finds Can-Lie, standing there, looking both amused and surprised, and unfeelingly curious. Can-Lie, who made him remember how it feels to be left alone by someone he thought cared about him.

The image of long, flowing hair. Sad eyes. Gentle hands turned cold as water gleamed red. Unbidden. Yukhei swallows dryly.

Another expression rose on Can-Lie’s face. An ugly shade of anger, rotten hue of disgust. Lips curling into ugly sneer, he jeers, “I can’t believe it, all the time you’re playing prude, refusing anyone who threw themselves at you, it’s all because you’ve got yourself someone else to fuck?”

“Can-Lie, I don’t think-”

Before Kun can speak any further, the behemoth in Yukhei’s belly breaks down the arresting restraint of fear. He grabs Can-Lie by the collar, growling, each word coated with promise of slaughter. “He’s not someone to fuck .”

The elder man doesn’t seem phased at all; if anything, his sneer turns nastier. Yukhei just wants to rip it out of his face. He imagines sinking his claws around Can-Lie’s eyes and wrenching them out from his rotting sockets. “But you said you sleep with him.”

“Doesn’t mean he’s someone I sleep with just to fuck.” His fingers crawl with disgust, itching to sink his nails deep, deep under so he can tear a wound open and have some blood to spill.

Out of Can-Lie. Out of himself. His loathing is a lost fiend in his mind, knows only to massacre but cannot tell the difference between friends or foes. Is it Can-Lie that he wants? Is it him, the behemoth of a liar himself?

He’s a liar. All he and Minhyung had ever done was fuck. They talked, sure, but the larger portion of their time was spent getting on it, Yukhei’s cock ramming deep into Minhyung’s most intimate part.

That’s the only honest thing they’ve done. Can-Lie doesn’t need to know. Neither does Kun.

“Oh, and it’s a he . Figures, Yukhei, you’re a fucking faggot,” Can-Lie raises his brows in mock surprise, taunting him.

If it wasn’t for the murmur of people around him, and Kun trying to futilely break them apart, Yukhei would have punched him on his straight, perfect teeth, right here and then.  “Fuck you, you’re a faggot yourself, Can-Lie, in case you forget.”

“How could I? You fucked me,” Can-Lie sneers, blotches of dark red beginning to obstruct Yukhei’s view.

“Can-Lie, enough,” Kun orders but it sounds more like a desperate plea in Yukhei’s ears. The elder man turns to him, hands gripping vice on Yukhei’s upper arm. “Lucas. Stop. Let him go.”

“Fuck me? Really, Lucas. You never seemed like you’re up for it before, but now, you want to? Fuck me? Angry sex, huh? I like it. Does he? Does your little boyfr- no, no, not your boyfriend; boy toy-”

It happened fast. So fast.

He doesn’t remember blinking, or breathing. All he knows is that he wanted Can-Lie to hurt. Bad. He wanted Can-Lie to pay for his words. For insulting Minhyung. For running his stupid, filthy mouth. For even daring to talk to Yukhei again after what he had done to him.

The demon whispers in his ear, words of malice, drawing vivid images of Can-Lie hollering in pain; of not being able to use his dirty mouth anymore, cheeks swollen, and blood gushing out. Blood . Yukhei wants his blood. Yukhei wants him to bleed like he had made Yukhei bleed. Yukhei wants him to pay for every single drop he had sucked from Yukhei’s body.

Yukhei hates him, he hates Can-Lie. The demon says, “yes,” goads him on, sketches more in his head. Violence. Blood. “He needs to pay ,” it hisses, “ this scum needs to pay .”

He needs to pay .

It happens, then. Fast. Like lightning, imparting its wrath on doomed earth.

Yukhei roars, the demon laughs as it takes possession of Yukhei’s body. He lets the demon take control, gives up to his need to kill, to smell Can-Lie’s blood, to make the insolent fool pay. It’s due. His retribution.

Yukhe is conquered, manic. He shrugs off all the holds around him, sees Can-Lie’s eyes widening with terror. The jerk tries to run away but the demon has always been faster, ten steps ahead, they know humans too well to let it escape.

His fist connects to Can-Lie’s jaw, hard. He thinks he hears the sound of something cracking, and Can-Lie is screaming, so is everyone, but Yukhei doesn’t care.

All he care is about imparting pain on the wretched trash that is Can-Lie. He raises his fist again, and the commotion around him dissolves into nothingness, swallowed by the cackling of the demon in his head. The laugh guides him through his anger so he can land hit after hit on Can-Lie’s ugly face. So he can wipe not only that atrocious sneer from his face, but maybe his whole existence from this earth.

All Yukhei can see is red, and the places he want to hit. That crooked nose, those bloodied teeth, maybe next, he can try wringing his hands around that slim neck and snap it with a sound as horrible as Can-Lie’s cry. Disgusting. Filthy Can-Lie. Yukhei had killed before, many times, he had no problem doing it again. His hands are soiled already, he got nothing to lose.

Yukhei pays no attention to people around him, to the screams of his name. He might be young, but he is bigger and stronger than half the people around him. They need at least three people to restrain him.

And indeed, three people come, wrestling him off Can-Lie’s crumpled form. Yukhei continues shouting without realizing he was even doing it in the first place, trying to break free from his restraints.

The demon is still whispering in his ear. This time, it mocks him; you’re so weak , it hisses cruelly, how could you let this trash stop you? Show me more, more of your anger. Show me. He has to pay , and it points at Can-Lie, weeping in pain, clutching his head. He needs to. He insulted him, didn’t he? Your Sugar. Your Minhyung. Are you letting him get away? Are you?

Yukhei clenches his teeth together, shouting in anger. It’s not enough. He needs to pay, more. Can-Lie needs to hurt, more. “Let me go!” He shouts, and mustering his strength, he manages to wrench one hand away from the captor. Yukhei grins manically, yes, yes, he will have more. He will hurt more !

But it’s short lived. Another set of hands shoot out to catch his raised fist, twisting it back harshly until Yukhei screams in pain. “Stop it, Lucas! Stop it!”

Yukhei doesn’t stop, he’s not going to stop until Can-Lie pays for his sin, for his mistake. For insulting Minhyung. Yukhei isn’t going to stop unless he receives his judgement. He is not going to stop until he can rip Can-Lie’s teeth apart, until he can claw his eyes out, until he can snap his bones, and break his nose. Until his face is black and blue, smarting and swelling beyond recognition.

He’s going crazy with anger, with need. He rages, he needs to see Can-Lie bleed, for nobody insults Minhyung. His sugar. His Minhyung, and lives to see through the day.

Nobody.

Not even him.

:::

Disappointment tastes like acid, tastes like fire. Tastes like hot chains of flame constricting around his throat as his uncle repeats his name. Only his name. “Yukhei,” he says, and nothing else. Just his name. Repeated at irregular intervals, heavy sighs in between.

Disappointment tastes like regret, all sorts of guilt. Shame doused all over his pathetic frame in liquified fire. Hot, molten iron cruelly kissing his scorched skin. Anger a cruel lick of inferno in his belly. He’s burning inside out.

“Yukhei,” his uncle says again. Miles away in Italia, across terrains and sea. Far away, yet closer than he could ever be. In Yukhei’s ears, his anger is a deadly snake hiss.

“I’m sorry, Uncle. I didn’t mean to. I just-”

“You dislocated his jaw.” Lighting strike. Rain falls. Storm flattens whatever argument Yukhei has prepared.

Yukhei whimpers, digs the heel of his palm to his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. He was being a dick about him, and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. He’s been all over me since the beginning, he’s grating on y nerves, and today, he just-”

“But you held yourself back, Yukhei. You did. Why?”

“Because he insulted Minhyung!” Yukhei would have screamed if the emotion welling up in his throat wasn’t strangling him. He’d rage against his uncle’s hurricane with his own typhoon if his fury against Can-Lie were stronger than the one he holds against himself.

He would have, but he doesn’t. He can only grip the phone tight in his hold, nearly crushing the device in his wrath. The wrath at himself. Of his stupid mistake.

Yukhei can only manage a whimper, “because he called Minhyung a boy toy, and nobody insults Minhyung in front of me. Fucking nobody.”

His uncle sighs again. Once. Twice. Then Yukhei is left with silence to deal on his own. Stillness that throttles Yukhei’s throat, an iron clamp of guilt. It’s familiar; he’s been living with it adorning his neck, the ghost of his mother’s distant eyes a red chains with no lock.

It’s familiar, he’s supposed to be used to it, but why? Why does it posses the power to hurt him, still?

“I heard from Kun, about this boy,” his uncle speaks, taciturn.

Yukhei chokes, speechless. Why? How? When did Kun-

“It wasn’t a wise decision, Yukhei. You knew it. You said so yourself.” The man continues, and the clamp around his neck tightens, cruel with anger. “You knew, Yukhei. I thought better of you.”

Oh no. No. No. Yukhei gasps, he knows where this is going. He knows , like he knew it wasn’t a wise decision to take Minhyung home that night, like he knew the wise thing to do was to bring the boy back to wherever he belonged, not to his room.

Like he knew falling in love for Minhyung was the total opposite of wise.

“No. Uncle, please. I’m sorry. I just, Minhyung, he is-”

“You’re coming home. I’m booking the ticket as we speak.”

“Ticket? No. I can’t leave, I have to stay!”

“You don’t have to worry about the contract, I will take care of it for you. You’re not losing the job but I will cut your pay for compensation. You should be grateful Can-Lie is not permanently injured, but still, you wrecked his face. He’s a model, Yukhei, he makes money with it.”

No. No. His uncle can’t do this. It’s Can-Lie’s fault for running his filthy mouth where it didn’t belong. Yukhei shouldn’t be the one being punished for it, it’s all fucking Can-Lie’s fucking fault. Why does Yukhei have to be the one to pay? “That’s not-”

“That’s fair!” His uncle’s voice is a booming thunder, and Yukhei flinches in the back of Kun’s car, his manager resolutely keeping silent, keeping his eyes on the road. He doesn’t know where is Kun taking him but he knows his heart has been taken away, ripped violently from the carcass of his ribs.

Like he is going to be ripped away from Minhyung’s side after everything he had done to keep the boy in his bounds.

“Do you even know what you were doing, Yukhei? Do you even think about the gravity of your situation at all? Do you understand your situation? This isn’t only about you; this is about me. This is about us .”

Guīxián seethes, his frustration a hailing bolt, clamoring the shame under Yukhei’s skin.

“If this thing spreads, it’s not only you who could have lost the job, it’s me, and the other models under my management. This could costs Kun’s job as well, since he’s supposed to be the one supervising you. They’ll think of him as incapable if he couldn’t even control a twenty year old brat like you.”

And almost 190 cm brat with muscle mass twice as his own , Yukhei wants to add. But it isn’t wise. Meeting Minhyung is wise, but fucking him and wanting him to stay; just wanting him alone, it isn’t wise.

It isn’t wise because Yukhei is like this; a monster. He understands his mistake, the graveness of his error. He’s been living with it for twelve years, the stigma of a sinner, the beast in his belly.  Minhyung deserves better, even if he told Yukhei that he is a sinner, too, he still deserves better. For Yukhei knows he is the terror, the malice. He’s the abomination, bringing bad luck wherever he goes, kills what he could murder, and takes what he could steal.

His mother was his first victim.

His brother, David, was the second; Yukhei took his parents away from the innocent boy.

His uncle is the third.

Yukhei knew his uncle wasn’t as heartless as he made himself out to be. The man is kind, the mind is wise, he could never make the same mistakes Yukhei did. He could have his chance with the woman he loves, but Guīxián had thought about Yukhei and David, about his nephews who live under his roof, and he knew where his priority lies.

It was one of their many late night talks, when the wine had worked the lock in his uncle’s head loose. He told Yukhei about a woman, a lovely woman named Constance, with a brilliant mind and a brilliant smile. He could have taken her, could have made love to her, and had her in his arms.

But Constance had said something about marriage with no kids and how children would just be a hindrance to her career. “The old me would have agreed,” his uncle said quietly, glass of wine in his hand, small smile, brown eyes a heavy dagger buried in Yukhei’s heart. “Me now? Nah, ain’t having such a woman.”

Because of him. Because Yukhei had killed his mother and brought himself, along with his brother, to Guīxián’s doorstep. If only his beast hadn’t killed his mother, if only she was still alive, then Guīxián would have Constance already. Beautiful Constance with her brilliant smile and her brilliant mind.

Beautiful Constance for beautiful Guīxián. Guīxián, his uncle, who is kind, who is honest, who is smart, and compassionate. Who taught Yukhei how to drink, how to smoke. Who doesn’t realize he prefers broccoli over asparagus and says he likes Yukhei’s mashed potato the best.

Whom Yukhei would call a, “father, please.”

There’s a sharp intake of breath. Sharp dagger digging into the core of his heart. Sharp pain bursting his veins open. Sharp turn that Kun almost missed.

“I promised him,” and his voice breaks, desperate. “I promised him I would stay.”

“And you promised me you would be good, Yukhei. You promised me.”

The line goes dead. Beep. Sharp roar of a heart crashing in his ears. Sharp rush of blood that stings like a flood of needles. Sharp word, sliced out of his mouth in dull whisper, “father?”

The line stays dead.

:::

Kun takes Yukhei to his place.

It’s a studio apartment, bigger than Yukhei’s small, one room apartment. He tells Yukhei to use the sofa bed to sleep as he rummages through the large wardrobe to find the taller boy clothes big enough to sleep in.

Yukhei just stands in the doorway, staring straight ahead, hollow. He doesn’t want to see his own reflection in the mirror; he must look like hell. A wreck. Like his heart.

“Sir Guīxián has booked the ticket for Friday.”

Kun enters his vision, a neatly folded jumper and pair of shorts in his arms.

Yukhei senses nervousness in his voice. Maybe he’s scared, of Yukhei. How could he not be after he saw Yukhei going ballistic? In the end, it took around 4 people to completely restrain him. They pinned Yukhei to the ground like he was a wild animal.

Can-Lie was taken to the ER immediately, but Yukhei didn’t give a fuck. He didn’t say anything, just stared into the spot where his prey used to be, breathing heavy and ragged with the remnants of his anger. The demon still refused to uncast its curse, praising Yukhei with glee, kissing his bloodied knuckles with pride.

“Good job, my boy. Does it feel good?”

“Feels fucking good,” Yukhei spat out, aware of the grin forming on his face, aware of the looks people were giving him. He didn’t give a fuck, again. All he cared about was that Can-Lie has paid, even if he wished the jerk could pay more; for now, it should do.

But his satisfaction didn’t last long. Kun approached him, told him his uncle needed to talk to him and all color was drawn out of Yukhei’s face. He went still, just stared at Kun while the demon sauntered away with a peal of mocking laughter.

He barely registered what happened next, only remembered the weight above him disappearing, Kun handing him his phone, and telling him they’re going home. Then Yukhei was in the car, Kun driving him home , wherever that home is, unlikely Yukhei’s place. His uncle called him, he picked it up, then the talk happened.

Now, here he is, with a plane ticket booked under his name. Friday.

“Three days again?”

“Afternoon. We’re leaving at nine.” Kun shoves the clothes into Yukhei’s arms, expecting the boy to take them.

They fall to the floor instead, along with Yukhei’s heart. He grabs Kun’s shoulder furiously in a vice grip, eyes widening with terror, breathing fast and ragged. The Chinese man yelps, the fear on his face mirroring Yukhei’s own.

“Fuck, Lucas, let me go. I swear, if you dared-”

“No. No. No. No,” Yukhei sobs, horrified. “He can’t do this. He can’t do this to me. I’m not fucking leaving! I won’t! I’m not fucking leaving him , do you hear me? I’m not-”

“Are you even listening to yourself?” Kun screams back, trying to wrench Yukhei’s hands off his shoulder, but it’s futile, because even if Yukhei is shaking with fear, he still weighs more than Kun. “Lucas, were you even listening to your uncle at all? Do you understand what you have done? You could have killed him, you could have killed Can-Lie!”

Can-Lie. “Fuck Can-Lie, I’d be more than happy to kill him, I’ve killed before,” Yukhei snorts, rolling his eyes. Kun looks at him like he’s crazy, like he doesn’t know who the boy is standing before him.

Did Kun ever know Yukhei at all? Did he ever know the boy behind Lucas ?

He never knew. Nobody ever knew him. Not even Yukhei himself.

But Minhyung had known Xuxi .

“I can’t leave him, Gege, please. I can’t leave Minhyung. I promised him,” Yukhei begs, hanging his head low. The thought of having to leave Minhyung takes his anger under custody. Sadness wells up in his throat, and he chokes up in the flood of his words. “I promised him I would be back tonight. I can’t. I need to go back, I need to go home. I can’t leave him. I promised-”

“You promised your uncle you would be good, Lucas,” Kun says. The fear has gone from his eyes, replaced with sympathy. “You promised him and you broke it. Why do you think you can keep this one?”

That’s not fair, that’s not fair at all, but Yukhei can’t blame Kun, for he is right. He is right. Yukhei couldn’t even keep his promise to his uncle, the man who had raised him in place of his bastard of a father. How is he supposed to keep a promise to a stranger? A stranger whose real name he didn’t even learn until recently?

It’s not fair, but Kun is right, and it hurts. His grip on Kun’s shoulders goes slack, and the elder man uses the opportunity to step back, away from Yukhei. If he’s fearing Yukhei’s attack, the young man wants to say he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t have any energy left, crippled by the dawning reality that smacks him right on the hand, making his world turn on the wrong axis.

He is leaving Minhyung. Soon. Too soon.

“Mr. Guīxián also told me to keep an eye on you. You’re not allowed to meet the boy anymore.”

Yukhei wants to cry. It’s not fair. This isn’t fair. “Gege, please. Please, you’ve got to help me. I can’t-”

“You can’t meet him anymore, Lucas. I can’t allow you to.” Kun says, voice stern. Final. The crumpled clothes watch them from under the floor, mute.

Yukhei stares at his mentor, whose expression is solemn with pity. The sky is bright outside, a sapphire expanse of vault with tinkering stars, silver. What a contrast to Yukhei’s heart; a maelstrom of emotion, the welling up sadness erupting into a raging vortex behind his eyes.

“I’m sorry Lucas,” the elder man says as he looks down, shaking his head. “I told you, it wasn’t wise. I told you but you didn’t listen.”

A tear slips by. Yukhei speaks, his voice cracks, like the splinter beginning to split his already maimed heart apart. “But, I promised him...”

Time goes by, unaffected. “I’m so sorry, I wish I didn’t have to do this, Lucas. But you don’t want to disappoint your uncle again, do you?”

Yukhei wants to scream at him, wants to wring his hands around Kun’s neck, and yell to his face how dirty he’s playing. He’s pulling that card, that one card Yukhei can never beat no matter how much he has up his sleeve.

His Uncle. Of course Yukhei doesn’t want to disappoint his uncle, which he had already done. His guilty conscience makes sure he will never repeat it a second time. His uncle had done so much for him; he had given Yukhei not only a place to stay but also a job. He never asked anything from Yukhei but one thing; be good . The make me proud went unsaid, but it could pretty much be Yukhei’s wishful thinking anyway.

First and foremost, he had given Yukhei family. He had given Yukhei the closest thing to a father.

And this is how Yukhei repaid him; breaking the jaw of his associate just because of a drunk boy he picked up and then slept with on regular basis.

He loves Minhyung. He does, even though he’s been afraid to admit it. He loves him because Minhyung stays, because Minhyung needs him. Because Minhyung welcomes him back with a smile, with a kiss, with arms small yet encompassing. Because Minhyung needs Yukhei to help him breathe, because Minhyung needs Yukhei to put his demons to sleep, in the same way Yukhei needs Minhyung to banish his own.

Minhyung never abandons him. Neither does his uncle.

He’d been with Yukhei through thick and thin for as long as he could remember. His uncle never left him. They might not talk a lot, but that was more because they were both too scared of each other, unsure of how to approach their relationship, not because his uncle didn’t care about him.

Heck, his uncle cares about him a great deal. He always had. He was the first person who ever cared about him. First, even before Minhyung.

He loves them both; they are two people who have never left him. There was once a time when Yukhei dared to imagine how great it would be if he could introduce them to each other. His uncle would love Minhyung because Minhyung is smart, takes his education seriously, and Yukhei just can’t imagine anyone not growing fond of Minhyung. Minhyung would be awkward around his uncle at first, but that’s fine; his uncle is kind of intimidating to anyone anyway. Later, if they’re more comfortable around each other, they would be sharing stories, embarrassing and hilarious ones about Yukhei. David would join the pile, either saving Yukhei from further humiliation or throwing him under the bus. Yukhei thinks that’s fine too because he loves them, all three of them, and he wishes, sincerely, that one day his imagination will come true.

Now it’s become much less likely. An option struck out with a bold red marker. Minhyung will never meet his uncle or his brother; his image is tarnished with the supposed bad influence he had over Yukhei. His uncle would never approve of Minhyung after the stupid stunt Yukhei had pulled for the boy. Whatever approval the man had for Yukhei is probably gone as well.

Now Yukhei has to choose; rebel against his uncle and sneak out to see Minhyung, or stay put, following his orders, and risk not seeing Minhyung ever again.

It is by no means an easy decision to make, choosing between your parent or your lover. Yukhei wants to laugh; it’s almost hilarious. This is not a situation he imagined himself in years ago, but here he is now. The gun is in his hand, fully loaded, and he’s just got to pull the trigger or let it go.

The one who stands on gunpoint is nobody but himself anyway.

Time, it goes. But pain, it never does.

And Yukhei makes the decision.

He pulls the trigger.

“No. I don’t.”

:::

As soon as Kun leaves for his bedroom, Yukhei strips to his jeans, balls up his shirt, and throws it to the floor.

He does that a lot with Minhyung, undressing himself, tossing his clothes carelessly to the most random corner of the room. Minhyung , and Yukhei grits his teeth, his poor shirt falling victim to his angry kick. The garment skitters across the carpeted floor, joining the abandoned sleepwear Kun had offered him.

Kun. The thought of the elder man’s pitying glance before he closed his bedroom door licks shame and anger down Yukhei’s spine. Groaning in frustration, Yukhei sits down on the sofa bed, hands in his hair, gripping his head tight. He could have pulled all his hair out in rage, but the pain that’s lacerating what remains of his heart is too strong, wrenching him away from any strength to harm himself.

If only he could, he’d smash the mirror, grabs the broken shards, and jab it into his heart.

Anything hurts less than having to leave Minhyung.

He had made his decision. He has chosen his uncle over Minhyung, and for that split second, he’d thought he will be okay. Clearly, the ‘being okay’ part doesn’t come immediately. The being not okay crashes first.

The emptiness is too much, too heavy. It drags him down, and Yukhei collapses onto his side, still clutching his head. The sofa bed is hard beneath him, nothing like the mattress at his place. There’s no softness of Minhyung’s skin that he could caress, there’s no evening out of his calming breath to lull him to sleep.

More tears fall, plucked out from his eyes with every memory of Minhyung bursting vidily in his mind. His shy smile, his adorable giggle, the way he yelps loudly whenever he accidentally drops something, the awkward laugh that skids out of his throat after, cheeks blooming a beautiful color of scarlet.

Minhyung. He is alone, in Yukhei’s room, believing a promise that Yukhei couldn’t keep, waiting for someone who will never come home. This might not be the first time he had left Minhyung alone in his room, but this will be the first and the last time where he wouldn’t come back at all.

The anguish spears through him. Yukhei cries some more, wishing he could tear his hair out, wishing he could do something to make things right, except he has nothing left in him but dread and guilt. He doesn’t regret hurting Can-Lie, but he regrets breaking his promise. Promises ; one to his uncle that he’s going to be good, and another one to Minhyung that he’s coming back.

His uncle. Minhyung. Both are very important people to him, but Yukhei can do nothing to protect them from his horror. In the end, he’s still the behemoth of catastrophe, he brings disaster wherever he goes, he breaks whatever he can. A promise. Two promises. Hearts. Trust.

He couldn’t even imagine how crushed Minhyung would be once he realises Yukhei, his Xuxi , is not coming back to him. The boy could still hardly sleep without him, still wakes up to nightmare sometimes even though the frequency had lessened of late. The boy still cries in the shower sometimes when he thought Yukhei couldn’t hear him.

The boy asked him just this morning if he was important, and Yukhei had said, yes . A thousand of yes, he is important. He is the best damn thing that ever happened in the shattered ruins that Yukhei called his life. He’s the sun that remains hanging bright in the sky even though the ground has been decimated, grass burnt and soil charred black, air stifling with remaining ash.

He is the closest thing to hope that Yukhei had. He is the only one who had stayed when everyone else had left.

He is just a stranger, but he is the only one that Yukhei sees in the midst of this destruction.

Minhyung is the only one left, even though Yukhei brings everything to demolition.

He is the first person that  Yukhei thinks he can give up for, his devotion.

But all he can do now for Minhyung is to estrange him, further from his salvation.

“This isn’t fair,” Yukhei cries out to the empty room, only for the mute couches and table to listen. The tall open shelves look down on him, dark brown with sympathy. The air conditioning is cold, fanning his naked skin with apology. The sofa bed is still hard, still reminds him of Minhyung and all the things he couldn’t have. Not anymore.

He’s got a plane ticket booked under his name, back home to Hong Kong. His mind screams in rebellion, retaliation. He used to roll his eyes when people said, “home is where the heart is,” but he thinks now he understands. It’s true, he doesn’t think he can identify anywhere but Minhyung’s warmth to be his home. Even the penthouse he grew up in with his beloved brother by his side doesn’t ring like home anymore.

Yukhei wants to go home. He wants to go back to Minhyung. He wants to kiss Minhyung good night, wants to sing him good morning, wants to cook him breakfast, and call him, “Sugar.” Wants to see Minhyung giggle shyly at the term of endearment, wants to envelope Minhyung’s slender body with his, wants to protect him from any danger that’s about to come.

Except he’s the danger, he’s the beast, he leaves explosions everywhere behind him, and by the end of it all, he’s the last man standing, losing yet another part of him after every detonation.

And now his heart, his ebbing heart has perished with the final bang. He is leaving, Friday, in three days. He could have snuck out of Kun’s watch and find Minhyung, beg his apology, give him at least a proper goodbye. Yukhei wants to tell him, he has to tell him. Those three words, those highly overrated three words that he never imagined he’d have someone to say them to.

It’s not, “you are important.” It’s not, “you are beautiful.” It begins with “I” and ends with “you”, and Yukhei’s world, right now, is ending, as he loses the only place he wants to come home to.

:::

Yukhei thought he wouldn’t be able to sleep but he does, somewhere after 3 am. He falls asleep to pain lancing deep, heavy iron between his ribs. He falls asleep to the ghost of Minhyung’s palm, deadweight lingering on his chest. He falls asleep through the anguish, through his tears.

He dreams of Minhyung, dreams that he’s sleeping in the same bed with him, under the cotton sapphire blanket. Breathing Minhyung’s scent that has become the same as his, because the boy keeps using his soap and shampoo, steals his perfume, and uses the same toothpaste as him.

He dreams. He yearns. He longs. He wishes he could set right back the wrong, but he wakes up to a different song. The dead silence of Kun’s room. The dull grey of his carpet and drab white of his walls.

“You’ve been crying,” Kun’s voice falls to the said drab floor. Different song. Everything is still wrong.

Yukhei blinks sleepily, not showing any intention to move or wake up. “Can I go back?”

Something beeps in the background, and Kun explains while offering, “coffee?”

“Can I go back?” He repeats, because Kun is not giving him the answer he wants, and he, “don’t want a coffee.”

“Brewed too much, then.” Kun says. He doesn’t speak for a while, presumably pouring himself a cup of coffee judging from the sound. The sharp, bitter smell fills the room, edged with nuttiness and a shy whisper of spices. “I thought you were a coffee person. You seem to drink them fine, as far as I recall.”

“Can I go back?” Yukhei asks through gritted teeth, still not moving from his position on the sofa bed, still not looking at Kun, eyes dead set on the crumpled clothes on the carpet.

“Yes, but I’m coming with you, after I make sure the boy is gone.”

Yukhei jumps awake at the mention of the boy . “Minhyung?!”

He finally gets a full view of Kun, wearing a long sleeved black shirt, ratty on the hem. He’s leaning on his kitchen counter, nondescript black mug between his palms. His dark hair is tousled into a messy nest on top of his head, and Yukhei pictures his own blonde hair as doing the same. “Borrowed your phone last night. Sorry. Told the boy to leave.”

“My phone!? How did you - what did you say to him?”

“I swear, Lucas, do you even remember what happened at all last night? I took care of your things, your bag included, and your phone was there. You didn’t even lock it, learn a thing or two about privacy, won’t you?” Kun rolls his eyes, calmly takes another sip of his coffee.

He doesn’t look like he’s worried that Lucas will do anything rash anymore. Yukhei is hell-bent on proving him wrong; he can easily overpower Kun if he wants to. Refreshed with sleep, replenished with energy at the thought of meeting Minhyung again, Yukhei rolls his shoulders, getting rid of the stiffness, eyeing for his chance.

Except it never comes, because the next second, a phone rings. Kun’s. He takes it out of his pocket, looks at the screen with squinty eyes, says, “it’s your uncle.”

Treacherously, his spirits desert him without so as much as a goodbye. “My...”

Kun picks up the phone, talks briefly to his uncle before, “Lucas? Yeah, he’s finally awake,” he glances at Lucas. “Wanna talk to him, Sir? Yeah, okay. Wait a sec.”

Yukhei feels small, like he’s 5 years old again and his mother was shouting at his father. He hid under the blanket, listening to every single word exchanged, not understanding everything, but knowing what it meant.

He feels small in his 185cm tall bones and muscles, feels like he’s back to 4 feet again, looking at his uncle like he’s the one who hung the stars and the moon, strung tight to get his approval and attention.

Kun walks across the room, steaming mug of coffee in one hand, and phone in the other. He gives the latter to Yukhei, who only stares at it in horror, the heart that’s damaged beyond repair barely beating in his chest.

“He wants to speak to you.”

On the dark blue screen, his uncle’s name is spelt in white letters. Huang Guīxián .

It’s spelt like death .

With a trembling hand, Yukhei takes the phone. His palm feels sweaty, he feels like he can slip from his hold at any time, but then his uncle speaks, and Yukhei knows he cannot drop the phone. His heart plummets nevertheless.

“Has sleep put you in your right mind?”

Yukhei swallows dry. His mouth feels like sand. Somehow, he manages to speak, “define right .”

He can almost hears his uncle’s disappointment when he speaks again. “Lucas, I’m not changing my decision.”

“Can I at least go see him?,” his voice cracks. “Please, uncle. I’m coming home, but at least- let me see him one last time?”

“You can’t, Yukhei. If you saw him, you would start saying something like you can’t leave him.”

Yukhei clamps his mouth shut, ashamed, for his uncle is right. If he saw Minhyung again, he’d likely second guess himself.

“Which you can. You’re only meant to stay there for 90 days. The boy’s not supposed to happen. If there was anything that’s going to happen, that’s you leaving. And had you behaved, had you kept your promise to me-”

“I didn’t mean to, Can-Lie-”

“Can-Lie is in hospital right now and his management demanded that you be pulled from this project,” his uncle’s voice is calm, the center of the storm. Outside, it wrecks everything in its wake, crushes Yukhei’s helpless heart further. “You should be grateful that Ms. Fei likes you, so she decided to keep you in, but you have to pay the compensation. Can-Lie bailed out.”

“Thank God, I don’t have to work with that jerk anymore.”

“And thank God you are not losing your job, Lucas,” the elder man hisses, anger and impatience barely restrained. “I don’t. I don’t get you. You still don’t understand what you did wrong, do you? The sleep didn’t do anything to you, didnt it? You still think whatever you did was justified? Just because he harassed that fucking boy-”

“Don’t!” Yukhei growls to the speaker. Whatever fear he felt at his uncle for disappointing him crumbles to ashes, replaced by anger as sharp as the pain twisting in his chest. “Don’t you dare, uncle. He has a name, and that’s how you should-

“I don’t give a fucking damn, Yukhei. That boy took you away from me!”

At those words, they perish; his anger, his voice, his heart. Himself.

“Yukhei, I swear to God. I might not be the best person around to raise a child. A, a son,” the voice trembles, Yukhei feels numb, slowly, from the bottom up. His toes. His ankle. His calf. His thigh, and soon the coldness spreads everywhere.

That’s not fair .

“But I did my best. I never thought I could do it, but you’re so sweet, so understanding. You’re so good, Yukhei. You and David, so brave. So good to me. You two believed in me, you made me want to try. So I tried, hard, to at least be as good to the two of you. I never dreamt, I never wanted anything back from you, I just,”

His uncle stops, drawing a shuddering breath. Yukhei’s world collapses into rubble.

“I just want to be good, to the only people who ever considered me as their family.”

That’s not fair at all .

“Your father, my brother, do you know why he ended up that way? That’s because of how we’d been raised, Yukhei. My parents, they’re good parents, but I don’t think they ever saw me as anything beyond the instrument of their ambition. I’m grateful for them, I really am, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. But I never, I never once - I never knew what it felt like to have a parent .” he sighs. “The same goes for my brother, but he’s... he just took it badly. I don’t think he ever, God, Yukhei. If only he knew what he did, what he had turned into, if only you knew.”

His father. The ghost in his mind. The core of his evil. The beast that curses him into leviathan. The one who guided his hand to destroy. The mirror image of his own.

“I don’t want you to grow up the way we did, I don’t want you to grow up thinking you’re unwanted beyond your achievements. I don’t. I might not be the best person to raise a kid, all I know is how to raise a company -  I mean, I don’t even know what a parent’s supposed to do other than whip their kids into shape, into success. I don’t know how to do it, but you and David, you two looked at me like I’m the only one you had, you and David looked at me like,” he pauses again, takes a deep breath to compose himself. Like speaking itself breaks him, like speaking itself drains him.

Like telling Yukhei his honesty is a battle to fight. The one he used to give up fighting for.

“Like a family, and I knew I had to do it right. I knew I had to make it right. My childhood might have been horrible, but you and David still had long lives in front of you. I don’t want you to grow up like us. I don’t want you to grow up into-”

“Father,” the word flees from his mouth.

His uncle draws a breath, so sharp Yukhei can almost feel the tightening of his chest. “Yukhei, that wasn’t-”

“I once asked you if I resemble my father,” he continues, his voice even. It’s funny, his head is a mess, his heart a shamble. If there was anything that remained clear through it all is that suddenly there is this ball of anger unfurling inside of him.

He doesn’t even know to whom that rage is directed at; himself? His uncle? But Yukhei also knows that he needs it out before it drowns him under.

“You only said that I’m drunk, you told me to sleep. But I’m as sober as  I can be now, I’m fully awake-”

“Yukhei, please. Listen to me.”

“I ask you once again uncle. I ask you; does looking at me remind you of my father?”

“Yukhei,”

“Do I remind you of my father?” He asks.

The question he asks himself every morning, every time, and which only grows stronger whenever he catches his reflection. The question that only people who had known his father could answer, which his uncle does, but had never answered him.

He should have known the answer; it’s clear as a day. It doesn’t even take two eyes to see.

Yet, his uncle never answered him, because apparently the truth hurts and his uncle doesn’t want him to know. It’s supposed to make him happy to know his uncle cares about him, but it doesn’t. Not when it’s a question that stops him believing in himself, a question that’s been eating away at his self-worth. It just makes him angry.

Yukhei doesn’t even need the truth, he just needs his uncle to deny it. Yet, he doesn’t. When he is asking Yukhei to leave Minhyung, the person he loves the most, he can’t even answer such simple question.

And it isn’t fair.

“He left my mother. I left Minhyung. He took her heart, destroyed it. I took Minhyung’s, I did the same, I broke it. He promised my mother forever, but he broke it. I promised Minhyung, I promised you, I broke it. He left my mother, I left Minhyung. I left you.”

In the background, he hears Kun calling him. His name, “Lucas,” walking at a fast pace towards him, bare feet against carpeted floor.

Beyond the speaker, his uncle speaks. Begs, pleas, “Yukhei, stop. You’re not-”

He doesn’t need it anymore, his uncle’s lie. He just needs this out. He just needs to get back at his uncle, to make him know how much it hurts. For disappointing him. For his murderous silence.

For having to lose Minhyung and how it’s killing him inside. His uncle needs to know.

“I didn’t mean it too, Uncle. I hate that I let you down. I feel so bad, it hurts, so much. I hate it, I hate myself for disappointing you. I hate myself for being nothing but exactly what my father was. But I never meant to, uncle. I swear I never meant to. If I could, I would turn back the time so I could be good, so I could keep our promise. What I did, I know what I did was bad, I wasn’t thinking straight, I let my anger control me. I swear I know, I understand, but uncle, uncle, even if I could turn back the hands of time,”

He draws a sharp breath. Draws an image of Minhyung in his head, his smile, his laughter. His hand, warm and real, timidly clutching Yukhei’s bigger one. His eyes, ocean of autumn leaves, peeking sun gilding them golden.

“Lucas,” he hears Kun speaking, the man is kneeling before him, hand on Yukhei’s knee, squeezing. “Lucas,” he says again as if he doesn’t know what else to say. He looks lost, and Yukhei feels sorry for him, even if he’s the one Kun is looking at with so much pity.

Yukhei finds his voice again, he still has so much to say, so much to tell his uncle so he can understand. How sad they’d never had a heart to heart talk before. The first time they have a proper one, it had to turn out like this.

“Even if I could turn back the hands of time, uncle, I would still meet him. I would still find him. I would still take him with me. I would still hold him. Because he needs me, because he seeks for me. Because when everyone leaves, he stays with me. Minhyung. Even if I could redo everything and make things right, there’s one thing that I’m not gonna change. I would still...”

He would still. Without doubt. Without question. He’s not allowed to ask for it but if people asked, he can answer. Always. Again and again. No matter how many times they ask, his answer will remain the same.

“I will still love him,” Yukhei smiles, swears, to whoever would take his pledge. To the drabness of this pitying room. To the sadness richly painted on Kun’s face. To the broken whisper of his name that slipped past his uncle’s lips.

To Minhyung, wherever he is. Whoever he was.

“I will still love him.”

After a long silence, his uncle finally says, “Just come home.” He sounds tired, defeated. “Just come home, Yukhei, we can still make this right.”

Yukhei mumbles, “why can’t you just say that I resemble my father?”

He’s answered by nothing, nothing but the cold beep beep that has becoming annoyingly familiar. His uncle has hung up the call again, leaving Yukhei’s question unanswered, again. Leaving him with nothing.

And nothing, nothing can make him right again. “I’m sorry.”

:::

Yukhei doesn’t know how he manage to function after that, but he does.

After his uncle hung up on him, he gives the phone back to Kun. Kun, who tries to talk to him, to console him. Kun, Kun whom he had disappointed too. So kind, Qian Kun. Yukhei doesn’t deserve him the same way he doesn’t deserve his uncle.

The same way he doesn’t deserve Minhyung.

He simply tells Kun he’s taking a shower, but before he goes, he asks Kun if he’s going to take care of the room.

Kun says yes, still sounding unsure, still sounding lost, but he tells Yukhei that he has spoken to his landlord and Yukhei doesn’t have to worry about the lease. He’s also going there to get Yukhei’s things.

“Can I come along?”

“You’re not meeting him,” Kun says softly. “I’m sorry, Lucas. I know it’s hard for you, but-”

“I just,” Yukhei looks at him, earnest. “I just want to meet the landlord, he’s been so kind to me. I thought, I want to say thank you, maybe give him something-”

“You’re not meeting him, Lucas.”

“I know, Gege. I promise I will behave, I promise I won’t go to my room. I promise I’m just going to meet my landlord, thank him, and I will go back with you. That’s all,” he lets himself beg. “You heard me earlier, right? I’m tired. I’m just,” Yukhei exhales, “I’m tired...”

He watches Kun assessing him with a sympathetic gaze. The man looks troubled as he thinks, and Yukhei can almost hear the cogs spin and turn in his head. “Okay. You can come.”

Breathing in relief, Yukhei says, “thank you, Gege. I promise, you have my word.”

Kun shakes his head, smiling. “I know you’re a good man, Lucas. You’re just,” he shrugs, “lost. Everybody gets lost sometimes.”

And Minhyung finds me , Yukhei wanted to say, but it’s not wise. It’s not right and he’s done being reckless. “Do you think my uncle will forgive me?”

“Why am I dragged into this family feud again?” He moans, attempting to joke, lighten up the mood. Yukhei is grateful to the man, really.

“Because you’re my babysitter, of course you’ll be dragged into this.”

“Cheeky brat,” Kun sniggers, no bite, his lips quickly returning into a smile. “Mr . Guīxián is a good man. He will understand. He treasures you and your brother more than you ever imagined, Lucas.”

He hopes his uncle forgives him. Understand him. He never imagined how much he and his brother meant to the man, never dared to; all he ever did was hope that he is good enough for the man. Clearly, he wasn’t. He isn’t. Yukhei doesn’t deserve his uncle’s acceptance or mercy, he doesn’t have any right to even want it after what he had done.

Yet, he wants it, still. Like he still wants Minhyung. Like what little remains of his heart is still praying that somehow, Minhyung is still there, and he can catch a glimpse of him. Can at least say to him his sorry and goodbye.

Yukhei is done being unwise. “Yeah, I hope so.”

But he’s not done being foolish.

:::

Minhyung isn’t there when he arrives. Kun says the room is empty, and Yukhei swallows back his disappointment, gives him his most convincing smile because Wong Yukhei is good at lying, like his father. “That’s great,” he says, and Kun seems to buy it.

He talks to his landlord, gives him a nice set of suits as a present, and a big hug as farewell.

“Where are you moving to, Yukhei?” The man asks after he lets go, teary eyed, looking sad.

“Somewhere far away,” is all he gives him in reply, along with a grin. “Goodbye, Sir, it’s nice meeting you.”

The man asks for another hug that Yukhei accepts, patting the man’s back as he repeats his gratitude.

He hears Kun calling him at the same time his landlord asks,

“Your friend?”

Yukhei swallows back his pain, swallows back his sorrow. Swallows back his tears, and wishes he had enough to keep his smile hanging on. “Please take care of him.”

:::

He spends his last day in Seoul moping , according to Kun.

Yukhei doesn’t deny it; what’s the use in denying he’s moping when all he does is lie on his side on the sofa, phone in his hand, listening to sad, depressing break up songs.

Kun also calls him dramatic. Again, Yukhei doesn’t deny it. He admits to it, “I’m dramatic.”

The Chinese man moans, “brat.”

“I’m a brat,” he raises the volume of his phone louder, singing along to Adele’s, “Hello from the other siiiideeeee,” at the top of his lungs, much to Kun’s displeasure.

“For God’s sake, Lucas, shut up!”

“I’m heartbroken,” he says, rolling from side to side on the narrow sofa bed. “And I can relate to this song, strongly. Except I can’t even call him to tell him I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done, even though I knew he must be home. I can’t say at least I’ve tried-”

“Are you quoting the song?” Kun almost screams, exasperated at Yukhei’s antics.

The young blond merely shrugs. “It doesn’t matter, clearly I’m the only one torn apart.”

“I can’t believe it, you’re quoting the song,” Kun throws his hands up in the air.

“Can you blame me? It fits.”

“Lucas.”

“Can I at least?” His voice turns somber, losing all traces of mischievousness.

Kun is sitting across from him on the couch, nursing a cup of coffee and a magazine that Yukhei knew wasn’t really keeping his interest splayed open on his lap. He gives him a sad smile; the expression has become so sickeningly familiar. Yukhei just wants to rip it out of his face like he had wiped the stupid sneer from Can-Lie’s.

Can-Lie. He doesn’t know what’s happening to Can-Lie now, where is he. Has he left the hospital or not, have his wounds healed. Yukhei doesn’t give a single fuck. He certainly regretted disappointing his uncle with his vulgar behaviour but he doesn’t regret punching Can-Lie, not one bit.

“Meet him?”

“Call him,” he mumbles, “tells him I’m sorry, for everything that I’ve done.”

“You’re quoting the song again,” Kun pipes up.

Yukhei snorts, self-deprecating, “at least my uncle got it. Minhyung. He,” he purses his lips together. “This is the least I can do.”

Kun looks up to the ceiling, pinching the bridge of his nose. Yukhei feels sorry for putting all the burden on him, but he’s the closest thing Yukhei can call an ally. He’s desperate. He’s half-alive, dying inside. He has come to terms with the fact that he has to leave Minhyung, to eventually forget him, but he needs a closure. As meager as it is, even if it’s just a mere apology too improper to be accepted.

“Can you please at least ask my uncle about it?” He asks, making his sound as small as possible, giving Kun his most desperate smile.

“I really hope it doesn’t have to-”

“Please?” He doesn’t need it. Doesn’t need his pity. Doesn’t need his sympathy. He just needs him to,

“I will try to ask, but I won’t promise.”

That . That’s all he needs Kun to do, that’s the least he deserves to have even though he knows he’s not worthy enough to earn it. “Thank you.”

He is still a fool.

:::

He doesn’t get the chance until he’s at the airport, in the boarding area, waiting for his flight. Kun’s been missing for a while and Yukhei is left with the elder man’s tablet and no way to contact Minhyung. He can connect the tablet to airport’s wi-fi but he doesn’t have Minhyung’s number, or any social media account.

Yukhei spends his time watching Youtube, randomly skipping from one video of a platypus to another. He’s in the middle of watching a video of them hatching when Kun taps him on the shoulder.

Yukhei turns around, takes off his headphones, “wha-”

And gets his phone shoved to his face. “I still can’t believe you saved his contact as Sugar ,” Kun looks at him with something akin to disgust. “Seriously?”

Yukhei blushes brilliantly, both from embarrassment and giddiness. “Shut up. It was Minhyung before but he turned out to be the sweetest boy in the whole world, across galaxies-”

“And you only have,” Kun looks at his watch, “Fuck me, he didn’t even give me time. He said; cut it off right after you said ‘I’m sorry’.”

Oh God . Yukhei wants to cry, he can’t believe it’s happening. “I. I’m sorry, yeah. That’s good. That’s enough, I-”

“And told me I have to hold the phone for you.”

“He’s too much,” Yukhei groans, burying his face in his palms.

“Are you going to do it or not?”

“Of course!” He quickly shouts, a little bit too loud. A little bit too enthusiastic. People might have turned to look at him, but he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t care. He can finally call Minhyung. He can finally hear his voice again. He can finally say his apology.

“Just. Yeah. Of course, that’s okay, you can hold the phone for me, cut it right after I said I’m sorry,”

“Are you okay?”

He is not. He is not fucking okay. How is he supposed to be okay when he’s forced to leave the only person he had ever loved against his will? How is he supposed to be okay when he’s not even allowed to hold his phone as he apologizes? How is he supposed to be okay when he is dying slowly, little by little inside, having his heart shattered and smashed to pieces beyond help?

He is not fine. Nothing is going to be fine. But at least he can hear Minhyung again. At least he can talk to him again. He needs this, like Minhyung has needed him - is needing him. He prays to any God who bothers to listen, for Minhyung to still needs him even if he’s the last person Minhyung should ever need, for Yukhei no longer has any means to give the boy what he is yearning for.

So Yukhei says, “yes, I’m fine,” complete with a smile.

Kun doesn’t buy his lie this time. His eyes say he’s sorry, but Yukhei wants to scream at him, scream at him to stop pretending he’s sorry when he actually thinks Yukhei brought this upon himself. The Chinese man looks down at his phone, draws a deep breath, glances at Yukhei again, before pressing the call button, “here it goes.”

Yukhei wants to panic; maybe is already panicking. He flails his hands around but stills immediately when Kun presses the phone to his ear. He might not be breathing, he cannot tell, all he’s aware of is the call back tone, stretching endlessly with no ounce of care toward his rising anxiety.

Was this how Minhyung felt when he tried to call Yukhei that night? Yukhei feels horrible for ever making the boy feel this way, the little amount of hope he has left inside of him dies little by little with every unfeeling beep, beep .

The pain might be nothing compared to what he’s going to put Minhyung through after this. It’s going to be more unkind, so much more brutal. Yukhei is going to leave him, without a proper goodbye. Nothing more than this. Just an apology. It’s not fair, he owes the boy so much more, but this is it. His retribution. The cost he must pay for every single thing he had done.

For disappointing his uncle, who had given Yukhei everything; the life he didn’t think he could have, a father he believed he’s not allowed to have. This is the cost he has to pay. This is the wound he has to bear.

And maybe, maybe this is the one Minhyung has to pay, for whatever it was the sin he has committed.

Yukhei wants to cry, wants to laugh. In the end, it all comes down to this. They have started whatever it was that they had the wrong way; it’s only fair for it to end the same way.

It’s only fair.

“Hello?”

“Minhyung.”

“Xuxi?”

“Minhyung. Mark."

“Yeah, Xuxi. It’s me. What’s wrong? You don’t usually-"

“I’m sorry.”

The line goes dead. Yukhei hears Kun sigh, heavy with regret. “I’m sorry, Lucas. I’m sorry.”

Yukhei closes his eyes, smiles. He doesn’t cry, not until the words slip by, run free, clear and steady like the tears rolling down his cheeks. “It’s only fair,” he murmurs, soft, barely above a whisper. Not meant for anyone to hear but himself. “You deserve this.”

For the sins they have commited, they deserve this.

Chapter Text

You leave me room for my imperfections
When I’m a mess and you jump right in
If I drift in the wrong direction
You turn the tide and you calm the wind

You will Find Me - Alex & Sierra

:::

After the landlord finds Mark crying silently while staring at the door, he hands Mark the key, letting him sleep there just for one night.

Mark doesn’t have any energy left to even convey his gratitude; he’ll do that later, when he has enough. For now, he just thanks him with a nod. The old man squeezes his shoulder and says, “I’m sure you will meet your friend again,” and then he leaves Mark. Alone.

And that’s how Mark enters the room: alone. The bareness of the room makes everything even more real. Xuxi is gone. Nowhere. He is not here to welcome Mark and cook him breakfast. He is not here to hold Mark and make him laugh with silly antics.

Xuxi is not here. Xuxi is not here. He is gone. He leaves Mark alone with nothing more than a sorry. Not even a proper goodbye. No sad, tearful farewell kiss exchanged. No promise of meeting each other again.

Nothing.

Nothing, like how there’s nothing between them in the first place. Like nothing to define their relationship  and nothing like an ‘ I love you’ ever exchanged between them to tie them to each other.

Just a, “you are important,” and even then, it holds nothing now.

Nothing. Nothing that Mark can feel beside loneliness and anguish so excruciating. Sadness. Fear. Pain. Nothing. Nothing but bare furniture and boring, cream walls where Xuxi used to hang a Justin Bieber poster.

Nothing but the plain, barren mattress where Xuxi’s dark blue sheets used to be. On the bed where they  claimed each other almost every time Mark came to visit. Xuxi acting as his blanket, protecting Mark from cold and pain with his too huge body and equally huge, enigmatic eyes promising him a world too kind to hurt.

Nothing but an empty sink where Xuxi’s dishes used to pile up until it became too much even for Mark to handle, and Mark is probably the least tidy person among his peers.

Nothing to answer the endless where, why, how buzzing deafeningly in Mark’s head. Xuxi is not here, nobody knows where he is, nobody knows why he left. Mark had tried to call him earlier, but there’s nothing aside from the eternally ringing call back tone.

Nothing is left but Mark, here, alone.

How ironic because here is where Mark finds himself truly belong. Perhaps that’s how he’s meant to be;

alone.

:::

Mark cries himself to sleep. He wakes up to the sun rousing him from his slumber with its shy, hesitant stripes peeking from between the cracks of the blind.

Mark searches for the familiar warmth of breath that usually caressed his skin.

He finds nothing.

He cries again.

:::

“Minhyung?”

“Yeah?”

He smiled. Sweet. Sincere. His skin glistened with sweat, they’re joined skin to skin, and with Xuxi buried up to the hilt pulsating deep inside of him. Mark wished secretly that they were joined heart to heart, too.  

“Xuxi?”

He didn’t say anything, at least not verbally. He probably kissed his response to Mark’s skin, sealed it like it’s a forbidden sin.

Mark heard it anyway, met Xuxi’s heart-bleedingly tender kiss with his own fervour. He felt Xuxi’s lips melt into a smile.

This is it. This is probably what happiness is like.

Except to be happy, first, you must forgive yourself. Mark never knows what that feels like.

:::

Mark thanks the landlord, who then pushes assorted kinds of bread into Mark’s arms. He has a rounded belly and chubby cheeks and he looks kind; his touch is, his smile is.

The man speaks softly about how lonely Xuxi had looked when he was leaving. The kid’s usually bright, even brighter since some months ago, the man tells him. “I teased him, asked if he got himself a lover, but apparently, he got himself a friend instead, a nice one.”

Mark knows the man is talking about him, judging from the grateful way he’s looking at Mark; like Xuxi is his own son and Mark is the first person Xuxi ever called a friend.

“I did ask him where was he moving, but he only said somewhere far away. Sorry, Kiddo.”

“It’s okay, Sir. I will- he’ll probably answer me lately, maybe his battery’s dead or something,” Mark tries to laugh it off. His voice sounds hoarse and raspy, his eyes stinging raw, probably swollen.

The man pats his shoulder, offers him the same sympathetic smile he had given Mark last night. “He told me to take care of you.”

It’s useless holding on. He breaks down crying again.

:::

Mark goes straight to campus. He only has to hand in a report for his finals, thankfully. He’s 100% sure he would only flunk if he had to take an exam to pass the class.

He’s spotted by Jeno right after he leaves the classroom. His classmate catches up to him with his long legs, and Mark almost wanted to quicken his pace; he doesn’t feel like meeting anyone right now. But if he did, Jeno’d probably notice something was wrong. At least he can blame his red eyes on his report.

“Mark.”

“Hey.”

Jeno raises quizzical brows, high. “What’s with your voice?”

He’s only got Xuxi to blame for this. “Uhh.”

“You eyes are red, too,” Jeno searches around his face, worried. “Fuck, you look horrible. Are you okay?”

That’s a stupid question. “You think?”

“No. Sorry. Have you eaten?”

“Bread,” Mark’s mind reels into the many breads stashed in his bag. “I have a lot. Want some?”

Jeno actually looks appalled, and pitying. “Nutritionally imbalanced. Have you eaten an actual meal, Mark. No additives. Home cooked.”

Jeno. Former track athlete. Of course he’d be the one to fuss over nutrition and all that shit. He doesn’t say anything about overtraining and lack of sleep though, what a hypocrite. “Got no time for that, the report-"

“Was it so hard that you had to cry?”

Mark refuses to look at Jeno’s face. He casts his gaze away, Jeno’s hands resting on his shoulders. “Lack of sleep can make your voice like this,” he mumbles testily.

“Have anyone ever told you that you suck at lying?”

Taeyong did. He said Mark’s rubbish at lying. Xuxi never said anything about it, even if he had probably seen through all the walls Mark had built.

Xuxi. His heart clenches, painful and tight.

“Drop it, Jeno,” he adds, “please.”

Jeno had been nothing but a spectacular friend, all these years of knowing him. He’s ready to help Mark when he’s needed, and respectively to keep his distance when Mark needs space. But even monkeys can fall down from trees, and Jeno is bound to miss sometime.

Today is the day.

“No. Mark. I’ve had enough of pretending that I didn’t notice how much you’ve changed. Since you stopped coming back to the dorm, something happened, didn’t it? You looked happier but also troubled. You’ve been spacing out a lot, you keep your distance from us. From me, from Donghyuck. Johnny-hyung’s been asking me about you too, he’s worried. If you cannot tell me, your friend, then at least your cousin-"

“He won’t understand!” Mark snaps, slapping Jeno’s hand away from his shoulder. “He won’t. You won’t. Can’t. Nobody fucking can understand! You don’t get it. Nobody would, Jeno, not even you, not even Donghyuck, least of all Johnny-hyung.”

He spat the words with so much venom, so much anger. So much hatred, directed at himself.

“You can’t, so leave me the fuck alone. You won’t understand. You can’t help me.”

Mark turns on his heel, leaving a stunned Jeno behind. Red blinding his head, black obscuring his vision. His heart itches violently in his chest, he desperately wants to claw it out and throw it to the ground, step on it flat so he doesn’t have to feel anymore.

He had enough. He’s tired. He just wants to go home, sleep, and just be.

“And whoever made you cry like this can?”

Xuxi. Xuxi. Sweet, lovely Xuxi. Mark misses him. Mark needs him. Mark is drowning, slowly, and without Xuxi, he’s only bound to sink.

He is-

“He can.”

He just wants to go home .

:::

Mark spends summer break in his home, with his parents who throw spectacular feasts, with his brother who also comes home from Canada to fill Mark in with stories of the land where he was born.

“Don’t you miss it, Mark, Canada?”

Mark misses it. The high sky, the crisp, chilly air that welcomes him in the morning. The wide lawn of grass behind his home, his mother’s back garden and the flowers she tended to on the porch.

Crawling on the ground, getting dirt and mud all over his knees, his elbows. Grinning ear to ear with his friends as they compete to see who can get the most bugs. It’s gross, but they were children, carefree and fearless.

Mark is older. He is still as carefree as before, letting a stranger like Xuxi in so deep and far into his life.

He is not so fearless anymore. His greatest fear came true: Xuxi is gone from his life. Nowhere. Leaving nothing behind. Nothing but Mark’s heart stranded on the ground, mangled and crusted with dirt.

He is not strong enough to face the risk and take the burn. All he wants to do right now is crawl into a hole and sleep there forever, oblivious to the passing of time, squeezing his eyes tight and wishes when he wakes up, there’ll be Xuxi’s golden skin filling his eyes and his mouth carving out to Mark that it’s all been nothing but a long, bad dream.

“What if, what if you can come to Canada, Mark? Live,with me. Are you coming?”

He misses Canada, greatly. It’s the first sky he came to know. It’s the first summer he came to love. It’s his home, technically. But like everything else after Xuxi, it stopped being one.

He doesn’t want to go anywhere else but where Xuxi belongs.

:::

Xuxi fucked him raw. Xuxi fucked him tender. Xuxi shaped and molded Mark anew like he never knew himself before. He took Mark out of his shell, unraveled him, taught him what pleasure feels like.

Xuxi smiled down on him, pink clouds and orange sky. His eyes are huge, like a black hole in the sky. Drawing him in. Stars littered around. His hair was damp, dark blonde plastered to his sweat-slicked skin.

He was so deep in Mark, touching him where he didn’t know he could be touched. Reaching him where he didn’t know he wanted to be reached. He stilled, and the way he’s looking at Mark was in stark contrast to how he’d just handled him.

Mark’s head was thrown to the side, breathing erratic. His whole body burned, his stomach taut. He needed release, soon, or else he’d implode inside out. He needed Xuxi to come, to complete himself and take Mark along as he went.

He needed. Xuxi was still looking at him. He wanted.

“Minhyung-ah.”

“Hmm?”

Xuxi kissed him. Like a beginner’s dance, like treading on shallow water, excited yet afraid.

It felt real. It felt more intimate than ever despite the lack of sweet nothings being brushed daintily onto his skin. Xuxi was scared, Mark could feel it roll out in waves from his skin. From the trembling under his skin, from the shakiness of his breath.

He was terrified and Mark was petrified with how real everything was.

Xuxi stopped kissing his lips, making a slow journey upward until his lips were on Mark’s lids. Barely touching. Mark can almost hear his pulse, beating strong and sure and fast and scared, so scared Mark wanted to hold him and tell him everything’s gonna be alright, nothing can come to get him, Mark’s gonna keep him safe. Like Xuxi had done for him.

“Can I. Can I find you? Will you let me?”

How foolish, Mark thought. If there was anything that was going to come and get Xuxi, it’s him.

Him and no one else.

:::

The last person he expected to visit him is not Donghyuck, but still, he’s not exactly the first person he expected to pop out on his door on a blistering hot, July morning. He lives next door, it shouldn’t be surprising, but it still is.

“Hi.” Donghyuck greets him. Simple. His t-shirt is plain grey, his shorts hang around his knee. He’s sweating from the temples down. His hair is fiery red, blazing sun.

“Hi.” Mark greets back, awkward.

He and Donghyuck had been inseparable once, until Donghyuck found out what Mark and his brother did behind his back. Donghyuck didn’t blame any of them; if he blamed anyone, it’s himself.

Does Donghyuck still think everything ended up the way it is now is his fault? Does Donghyuck still believe that if he hadn’t been hospitalized, triggering the crack in his family which led to his parents’ divorce, Taeyong wouldn't be the way he is now and Mark didn’t have to be the collateral damage?

After all, it’s him who introduced Taeyong and Mark to each other. Mark doesn’t think it’s his responsibility anyway. Just because he facilitated his meeting, it doesn’t mean it’s his fault that they ended up the way they are now.  He simply provided the guns; it’s Mark and Taeyong who loaded them and pulled the triggers.

Does Donghyuck know that Mark had hurt his brother and is paying the consequences now? Did Jeno contact him? Why is he here? What does he want from Mark?

“Jeno and the others are going to the beach,” Donghyuck explains himself without being asked. He probably read Mark’s expression. He’s always good at that. After their blank years, it feels strangely relieving. “So. I was wondering. Are you coming?”

Nothing changed between them. As if. Donghyuck has always been the better one at lying. His older brother is even more impressive of an actor. Nothing changed.

But Mark.

“Sure.”

And he wants to change again.

:::

He doesn't know how it happened. It’s almost positively the booze, his brain too jumbled to make it out. But he and Donghyuck are heavily making out behind the cabin that Chenle rented for them. There’s sand beneath their feet, stars hanging merrily above their head, lips hot on skin.

It’s almost romantic, until Donghyuck gets his hand under Mark’s pants and everything suddenly tumbles down to the wrong direction, the tide turns, and Donghyuck’s much smaller hand scalds acid on Mark’s skin.

He had been drunk too when he let Xuxi take him.

“Stop,” Mark gasps, pressing his palm flat on Donghyuck’s shoulder. For a split second, when Donghyuck kept on going, mouth insistently suckling on Mark’s skin, he wonders if this the boy’s revenge for what Mark did on his brother.

You deserve this .

Minhyung-ah.

Donghyuck’s hand goes even lower, snakes past the globe of his ass. Smaller palm. Thinner thumb. Shorter nails.

Mark gathers all his strength, propelled by fear, he pushes Donghyuck away. “I said; STOP!”

The younger boy staggers back as Mark wrenches his hand out of his pants. Donghyuck is looking at him with glassy eyes, dazed and confused, still hanging on his high.

Mark tidies himself, wrapping protective arms around his body. He tells Donghyuck, voice still trembling from the receding fear. “Just. Nothing happened. You’re drunk, okay? Forget it.”

Mark walks away, he’s almost too far, but he still hears Donghyuck when he says, “I’m sorry.”

Is this how Taeyong felt when he said, “it’s okay.”

:::

“Where are you going?” Chenle asks, sounding sleepy. His hair is a mess, he’s still crossed-eyed.

Mark is ready with his bag, his clothes. He just needs to put on his shoes so he can leave. “Home.”

“But-"

“It’s okay Chenle, really. I just, my brother called me. He’s leaving to go back to Canada soon. I wouldn't want to miss him." Technically, he’s not lying. His brother really did call him but only to ask Mark if he wanted anything from Busan, where he is spending his time with old friends.

Chenle bought it anyway. Chenle is kind. Chenle is unsuspecting. “Do you need me to-"

“I can go by myself. Thanks Chenle, see you next semester.”

Mark slips into his shoes, old, tattered sneakers. They’re Xuxi’s favorite because they orange and they’re small. They’re cute, he said like Mark - Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. And Mark had considered throwing them away because they remind him of Xuxi, except that’s the exact reason why he cannot.

He passes the door without as much as look in Chenle’s direction, just a small uttered goodbye.

Chenle doesn’t say anything, doesn’t try to stop him.

Xuxi didn’t either. Mark didn’t. How was he supposed to when he didn’t even know he was leaving?

:::

I’m sorry

Mark

That was stuoid of me.

*stupid

I shouldn't have done that.

Well, you’re a jerk, too. We’re both jerks.

At least I want to know if we’re alright

Hyung?

It’s fine

:::

It’s not. It’s not. It’s not. Because the air is too hot and he can hardly breathe. He can hardly sleep. He doesn't deserve this. Apology. He is the sinner. He pulled the trigger. Landed the first strike.

They’re iron hot, skewered into him, between his ribs. Breaking his bones. He cannot breathe. He cries himself to sleep only to wake up with a scream.

He shouldn't be here. He should be somewhere else, punished for his crimes, except there’s no greater one than this restless torment.

His family is starting to notice, and he feels even more horrible. His mother has taken to sleeping with him, and Mark cries his apology into her bosom, lulled to sleep only thanks to the protective embrace of mother’s grace.

His brother keeps asking him about Canada, about a scholarship. He eventually stops being subtle, barges in to Mark’s territory to demand what the hell is wrong with him.

Mark runs, in those orange sneakers, phone forgotten but wallet safe in his pocket.

He makes his way to Xuxi’s place. The door is locked. He considers asking the landlord for the key, but when he knocks, an old lady that passes by tells him that he’s away for vacation.

Mark ends up sitting with his back against the door, legs folded, and face buried on his knees.

He feels like home.

:::

Mark dreams of running away, of crashing headlong into Xuxi’s wide, open arms. Mark dreams of Xuxi and endless heart and infinite kindness. Mark dreams of Xuxi and his welcoming kiss, Mark dreams of taking Xuxi’s hand as he leads them far, further.

Mark dreams. Xuxi is his light. His cure. The air in his lungs. Xuxi is the salt running down his cheeks. The copper in his blood. Xuxi held him to sleep and kissed him awake. Xuxi is someone who takes him under his sheets. Xuxi listened to him even though Mark never listened to himself. Xuxi didn’t know Mark much at all, but he’s someone who never misunderstood him even though the world does, and he’s all Mark wants to fall on to.

Xuxi. Xuxi. Mark doesn’t know much about him either, but he knows that this small, feeble seed that has taken root in his heart has a name. A name he died to deny but now lives to admit, and he needs Xuxi to nurture it. With him. Together.

Nobody can live alone after all, and the same goes with emotion. Feelings. Mark cannot either; he thought he could, but now he had turned his head around to find a man named Huang Xuxi, Wong Yukhei, who had showed him how wrong he was.

He cannot - he doesn’t want to live alone. Not if alone means living without Xuxi to embrace him when he sleeps. Not if alone means he had to live knowing that he never told Xuxi what he feels. 

Tell him, that’s the least that Mark wants, Mark needs. He needs to tell Xuxi, of everything, of his feelings, of the demon that haunts his sleep, of how terrified he is at losing Xuxi if the truth were to come out. Of the rust around his scars and the ones he left unhealed.

Of his name; Mark , and his life back in Canada. Of his brother who lives there to study. Of his best friend Jeno and his cousin, Johnny. Of the brothers who live next door. Of the elder one who had taught Mark what pleasure was for the first time when Mark was still young and clueless, and free, and stupid, and idiotic, and too selfish to understand consent and consequence.

He wants to tell Xuxi, of everything and maybe nothing, because he’s sure that no matter how many words he could string together, they’ll be gone once he sees Xuxi. In flesh, in person, with his bottomless eyes of sweetness and solicitude. It’s easier when Xuxi isn’t here because when he is, Mark is not Mark but a new person; Minhyung with cheerful laughter and clumsy hands who can barely crack an egg without getting its shell in the pan.

They might not start with forever, but at least, at least, Mark doesn’t want them to end with another forever, the one where his absence is. At least, he wants to remain friends with him. A feeling he can kill, like his sickening obsession with Taeyong that has been long forgotten with Xuxi’s touch painting new colors on his skin.

If he tried, he knew he could stop liking him, could stop this suffocating feeling from choking him further. But at least, at least, give him time to say goodbye. Properly.

“Xuxi?” Mark wakes up from his dream, his back aching. The ground is cool beneath him. Sky has yet to sink, the day still goes long.

Summer is yet to end, but it’s not its heat that’s burning Mark alive. It’s the remnant of someone that reminds Mark of one.

:::

There’s no way he can go back to his home, not before he makes up his mind.

He ends up at his dorm, grateful that he still kept his access card. Grateful that his family hasn’t tried to look for him here. Maybe they’re not even looking for him, thinking that Mark will eventually come back to them with apology.

He will, but not now.

What should he tell his family, he wonders. There’s no way he can tell them he had forced himself on their neighbor. Taeyong has enough on his plate, his family, his reputation, he doesn’t need Mark’s raging hormones making it worse.

Besides, he doesn’t have the heart to tell his mom. She’d be devastated no doubt, not because he’s gay but because of the nature of said circumstances.

In the end, Mark manages to come up with a closely realistic story of a break up. He omits the name of the parties involved, obviously, omits the part that his lover was a foreigner and concluded their meeting was a meet-cute at a club.

He rehearses it well enough until he can recite the story blind. Smooth without creases and no stumbling around.

Mark returns home later that night to a worried father and a crying mother. His brother only punches him weakly on the shoulder; his apology hurts more.

The million dollar question is out, and Mark answers it without a hitch. He even cries and his mother brings him into a hug once Mark cannot continue his words. His story might be a well-reconstructed lie but lying underneath it is something real, his feelings in their most raw and truest form. His pain, raining all over the floor a thunderstorm.

His family might not understand, but he takes them all in, takes him home .

But even then, with all these arms and warmth around him, he still doesn’t feel like he’s home.

:::

Summer walks out of the picture, climbing down the stage hesitantly. It still leaves a mark, like a clingy ex-lover, in the stuffiness of the air.

The days still drag long, like Mark dragging his feet to his dorm. His bag is heavy on his back, full of fresh new clothes and some snacks.

It’s late noon when Mark arrives, he sees familiar faces, sees new ones. Some people had moved out of the dorm after last semester. If Xuxi had been there, Mark considered doing the same, moving out to his room so he can wake up and sleep to Xuxi’s ever so darling presence every single day.

But Xuxi had to erase himself from the story, abruptly putting a stop to Mark’s well-planned scenario, leaving him with nothing but bruised heart to heal and broken dream to seal.

Mark enters his room, drinking in the familiar wall and furniture. His mother has packed him a snowman patterned sheet, bought in Canada by his brother. His father had bought him a brand new laptop cover, the one with Mark’s initial engraved at the center.

It’s the same room but also a new one. Mark is still the same person, but this step that leads him further, is gonna make him a new one.

:::

Mark dyes his hair blond when the last of the leaves fall. Winter peeks around the corner faster than before, making people pull out their coats and sweaters even if it’s barely December.

The air gets crisper, his breath comes out in a puff of transparent cotton. Night takes reign over the day, stars merrily twinkle in the sky. Sun gives up its spot to the silver moon, retiring to its humble abode earlier than usual.

Everything reminds Mark of Canada, his homeland. Every day takes Mark closer to who he was - young, fearless, carefree.

He is still not as brave as he was back then. One day, he will find himself waking up screaming from nightmare, another day he finds himself distracted whenever a tall figure passes by.

Mark is chasing after a ghost. A beautiful vestige of his daydream. A summer that came too early and left him to bring winter a little earlier.

But Mark no longer cries himself to sleep, no longer cracks at the thought of mirthful eyes and honest touch. He can smile at the thought of Xuxi’s lips, full and velvety against his own. His long lashes and highly-sculpted nose. The strongness of his jaw and firmness of his chest under Mark’s palm.

The heart, heart that beats sure and strong. The fingers, fingers that treated him rough and melted down into the sweetest dance of caring and affection.

Mark can smile and look at Donghyuck in the eyes, can tell Jeno he is alright without breaking an eye contact. Can lie convincingly enough that neither anybody nor himself can tell.

He is getting better, he gets better even if the chance of meeting Xuxi again takes opposite direction.

It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay. Mark is a brand new person, and he’s gonna be okay.

:::

Year recedes into its final day, they’re spending borrowed times. Numbers will turn and soon, they have to say goodbye. Welcome the new one, the new year, starting fresh and anew.

Donghyuck starts it earlier by telling Mark he’s dating a girl named Kim Yerim, she’s in their year but different major. Donghyuck knew her from this game club where he’s dragged to join the last semester, and when they had been foolishly intoxicated, Donghyuk had actually started seeing her.

“Congratulations,” Mark grins at him. Earnest and genuinely happy for his best friend.

They no longer skirt around each other, Yerim has apparently matured Donghyuck, like how Xuxi was to Mark. It’s not the same but similar enough now that they’re back to fooling around with each other. They might not be attached on the hips like how it was back in high school, before Taeyong happened, but Mark is once again the first person Donghyuck turned to whenever he’s troubled, and the display of trust encouraged Mark to do the same.

He still hasn’t told Donghyuck about Xuxi, one of the many secrets he keeps for himself. Obviously, he hasn’t told Donghyuck about Taeyong either.

Donghyuck doesn't seem to mind, he probably has as much secret on his own. One of them seems to be Yerim, but now she’s out. Donghyuck even shows Mark many photos of them together. They look happy, Yerim is pretty with large eyes and pouty lips, and long, flowing blonde hair.

“She suits you,” Mark comments with his impression of them. They look like a picture perfect couple, Donghyuck is handsome, in a certain angle, he can look pretty as well. It must be in their genes, Taeyong carries the same charm on his facial feature albeit his is much more striking.

“She used to sleep with my brother,” Donghyuck says so dismissively that Mark has to doubt his own hearing. At the dubious look he apparently throws him, the red-head elaborates. “I mean, my brother sleeps with a lot of people. Why are you even surprised?”

Mark almost became one of them. “I-"

Donghyuck gives him a funny look, there’s no mocking nor disgust when he says, “you did, too, Mark. Seriously. Brother was in that club too, the game club. Yeri had taken interest on him but he’s too aloof to care. You know my brother, he doesn’t get attached.”

“But, Jaehyun,” Mark trails off. Jaehyun. Jaehyun and his dimpled smile and icy glare. “Is he. Are they still?”

Donghyuck’s expression suddenly turns thoughtful, he stares far away, putting his chin on top his palm. The report they’re supposed to finish together lying forgotten on the table between them.  “Taeyong-hyung didn’t come home this summer. Mom begged him to but he refused. I haven’t seen him at all since this semester started.”

“But that’s!” Mark’s eyes double in size, startled. “That’s almost 6 months, half a year?”

“I know. We tried visiting his place but apparently, he had moved before summer break started.”

Before summer break. Finals. A little earlier, he had met them, Jaehyun and Taeyong. “And Jaehyun-hyung?”

“Told me that Taeyong-hyung needed time for himself, alone. I said it doesn’t make sense if he’s allowed to see him but I, his own brother, and his family don’t. You know what he said?”

Mark shakes his head, Donghyuck smirks, rolling his eyes. When he speaks, his voice is tight, caught with anger and sorrow.

“You didn’t care before.”

:::

Mark doesn’t come home for new year, his parent is spending it with his brother in Canada anyways. He received party invitations here and there but he politely declined them.

He spends the last day of the year huddled in thick, padded jacket. Carrying a bottle of soju to Xuxi’s apartment door.

He sits there, watching the night sinks and new day announce its arrival by teasing the shy sun out of its hiding. Mark drinks the soju , enjoying the slick burn sliding down his throat, leaving a delicious fuzz fizzling his brain.

The door is solid and warm on his back, like it’s missing owner. Mark misses him greatly. He had some girls confessing but he turns them all down, still foolishly waiting for his return.

It’s okay. It’s a new year. Winter will end then comes the colorful spring. After that, a new summer will roll around.

“Happy new year, Xuxi,” he raises the green bottle to the rising sky, barely awake but still sober. “Happy new year.”

Come back to me .

:::

Winter drops its curtain for spring to arrive in loud, vivacious dance of blooms. But before that, there’s the chilliest day of winter, persistently imprinting itself on people’s mind.

None of them registers in Mark’s mind. Even as he finishes another year of college and gets himself new faces for a friend.

Donghyuck tells him that Taeyong is graduating this year, he asks Mark if he and his family wants to come.

Mark lets his mother answers. She accepts the invitation excitedly. Marks passes it to Donghyuck.

“Are you gonna be okay?” Donghyuck asks him, concerned.

Mark draws Xuxi in his head. His smile. His laugh. His eyes too tender that caused Mark to look away. His touch that’s bold as much as it’s shy.

He is Mark. He is a new person. He’s gonna be okay.

“I will.”

:::

“We didn’t,” Xuxi stops, abrupt. He is looking away, Mark has to cups his face and physically make Xuxi look at him.

He looks pained, anguished. It tears Mark apart to see him like this. If Xuxi is not fine, how’s he supposed to be?

It’s been a few days since his encounter with Taeyong at the library. Xuxi already learned his real name but adamantly refuse to call him ‘Mark’. It’s okay, Mark prefers hearing ‘Minhyung’ coming out of his lips anyways.

Xuxi took care of him, cooked for him, pampered him. Xuxi kissed him whenever he saw Mark looking down, distracted him away from whatever demon threatening to collapse his healing heart.

He’s all Mark had left, he’s all Mark needed to stay alive. As long as Xuxi’s here, smiling and fine, Mark will be alright. So, Xuxi can’t look like this; this lost and afraid, unsure and scared.

“Xuxi?”

“We didn’t do anything. That night. When I found you. You were already asleep when we got to my room. You hit the table before we got to the bed, rather hard. You’re awake but then we didn’t- I didn’t-"

And Mark is also lost, afraid and unsure, scared and scarred when he was found that night. The only reason why he is still here right now, still lost but safe and at least belonging somewhere, is because of Xuxi.

He wants to do the same for him, wants to stop him from feeling like the whole world is leaving him behind as the ground falls beneath his feet. Xuxi looks lost, courage adrift, and even if Mark can’t bring them back, Mark can give him a new one.

“It’s okay,” he brings their forehead together, thumbs caressing the tender skin under Xuxi’s eyes. He feels Xuxi’s breathing stills, then Mark whispers  again, “it doesn’t matter what happened, Xuxi.”

Or what didn’t. It doesn’t matter anymore, not when he and Xuxi eventually did it anyway, and as much as Mark refused to admit it, he’s staying here right now for an entirely different reason.

The fact that Xuxi looks so scared at the prospect of Mark is going to resent him from not telling this sooner is one of them.

“You are?”

Mark doesn’t even know what Xuxi’s asking but he hears it anyway, the unsaid question. The unspoken fear. Xuxi is just scared as he is, the thought somehow brings peace to his mind. Mark doesn’t smile when he kisses Xuxi’s lips, but his voice probably gives away as much, “I’m here.”

Xuxi takes a shuddering breath before kissing Mark back; timid, as if he’s asking for permission.

Mark wraps his arms around Xuxi’s neck, pulling him closer, hoping it’s enough for an answer.

When Xuxi deepens the kiss, he knows it is.

:::

Taeyong graduates without many people congratulating him. Rather, they part ways for him as he walks in brisk steps toward the guest seating area, hugging his diploma in one arm, another holding his cap steady on his head.

His smile is vibrant, eyes twinkling stars, his cheeks are pink with excitement as he comes nearer and nearer to where Mark and his family are waiting for him.

But it’s none of them whom he crashes his body onto, it’s none of them who got arms secured around Taeyong’s slim waist, hugging him tight until his cap is knocked off, toppled down from his head.

It’s Jaehyun and the two of them pay no one any mind. Taeyong’s arms are thrown around Jaehyun’s neck, his laughter a happy dance of fingers on ivory keys. The younger boy’s hold is not possessive but it’s able to hold its ground, leaving no room for question nor argument.

They say something to each other, exchange words like vows, like prayers. Smiles like a promise of forever, and Jaehyun presses a kiss on Taeyong’s lips, petal-soft and cotton-tender. Their smile bloom, like spring.

Mark hears someone sniffles beside him, hears someone mutters a broken, “I’m sorry,” hears his own mother whispers, “It’s okay. He is okay.”

He pretends his mother is talking to him.

:::

“I’m sorry.”

“I told you it’s okay.”

“Hyung, I-"

“I said it’s okay, Mark.”

Back then, Taeyong had been lonely. It’s the same words that left his lips, but that day, it sounded more like a lie to convince both him and Mark, and Taeyong had been smaller, weaker. Looking frail, thinning ice.

“I think it’s time for us to forgive ourselves, each other.”

His eyes twinkle. Frozen lake, under the coaxing caress of the loving sun, they break. Shimmering blue, clear icicles. Had Taeyong break or had Jaehyun thawed him down true? Returning the swaying water that carries life in its womb of Azure?

A Winterland, that’s what Taeyong had been. Mark was the iron in the water, sinking under, frozen with time. When Jaehyun lined Taeyong ablaze and melted him back cheerful blue, Mark had been freed as well.

He’s buoyed, washed ashore to coral sand and emerald grass. He watches the water, ebbs and flows, drops leap and dance crystalline concerto. Skimming wind gilded hot by the sun.

He sees them, the picturesque song of nature. A sad, lonely rock on the ground. He was once strong but now he’s corroded a rust. Too old and damaged to forge.

But maybe the ice has done him good, it slowed down the oxidizing process so not all of the bounds that keep him together was broken. He still has time, to be treated, to be fixed, before he disintegrates into flakes and shrapnel.

Jaehyun’s hand is fastened around Taeyong’s, fingers interlaced, sewn together. There is no room, no crack, for anything to get by.

Mark thinks of another set of hands, strong as hawser. Steadying anchor. He needs those hands. He longs for and dreams it ancient.

“It’s okay, Mark. I forgive you.”

He can never truly be, unless he got Xuxi around. But for now, for now, he gotta be. One wound healed, but he still has another opened to bleed.

:::

“Xuxi?”

Lashes drew dark, shadow on bronzed skin.

“Xuxi?”

He stirred, not awake, just fingers drawing Mark’s smaller body closer, his breathing tickling his nose.

A laughter skidded out, Mark playfully punched the exposed shoulder peeking from beneath sapphire blue sheet. “Come on, you’re awake, aren’t you?”

Smile flirted on his face, but his eyes were still tightly shut.

“Xuxi?”

Mark opens his eyes. Awake.

:::

Spring barges in with excited steps, like a child. Like baby gazelle in beds of red, yellow blooms. The wind caresses butterfly flutters, Mark’s newly dyed hair flows, falling all over his eyes.

“You need a haircut,” Jeno comments, eyeing Mark’s overgrown bangs with worry.

Mark brushes them back, fingers finding knot and tangle. “And hair wash."

“How are you supposed to charm the new girls if you stink. I heard some of them are already checking you out.”

“I do not smell, thank you.” Mark sticks out his nose. “For the hundredth time, Jeno, I don’t need girls.”

“Boys, whatever. You need to get laid,” Jeno waves his disagreement dismissively. Children’s tantrum. “You’re not over your ex? It’s going to be a year soon, Mark. You need to move on.”

Indeed, it’s gonna be a year very soon. He no longer shed tears at the memory of Xuxi, but he doesn’t think he’s getting over him anytime soon.

He’s a brand new person, Mark Lee. But Lee Minhyung stays, remaining the same.

:::

“What if I told you I’m a sinner?”

Xuxi doesn’t stop drawing a circle on his upper arm, the abrupt question isn’t bothering him it seems. “Was that why you cry when we first met?”

Mark’s the only one bothered, his palm clenching into a fist on Xuxi’s bare chest. Xuxi continues drawing, his chin on top of Mark’s head, face slightly turned so he can kiss Mark’s exposed forehead anytime he wants, having brushed his hair back before they cuddled.

“Was it?”

He’s rarely persistent, it throws Mark off balance a little. Usually, Xuxi just play along until Mark let the ‘secret’ spill. He’s just there to listen, never to prod, but sometimes Mark thinks Xuxi should be more selfish. He had done so much for Mark already, if it wasn’t for Xuxi, Mark will never find an escape from his guilt, from the terror of his nightmare.

Xuxi gives him the chance of being someone new, someone free from that burdening shackle of past mistake, albeit only momentarily. Mark owes him a lot if not everything. Honesty isn't something he can give away easily, not that soon either, but Mark would like to start.

He can practically feel Xuxi’s curiosity radiating from beneath his skin. Maybe Xuxi has finally realized that he can cross a particular line or Mark is just getting better at reading him.

“Sorry, I wasn’t-"

Before Xuxi can backpedal, Mark starts speaking, “Sort of. I did something bad, really bad and horrible. I hurt him.”

“Huh,” is all Xuxi said. He presses a kiss on Mark’s forehead, down his nose. Mark raises his chin then they lock their lips together, Xuxi has stopped drawing on his arm. “Then I’m as much as you’re then,” he murmurs when they part. “Let’s just say because I took advantage of you.”

“You’re not-"

Xuxi shushes him with another kiss. “That makes us even.”

They’re not, they shouldn't be. Mark is the sinner and Xuxi’s supposed to be the one who punished him. That’s how Mark had wanted it to be at the time; for Xuxi to remind him of his sin, but not everything is bound to stay on track.

They kind of skid of the railway, bounced out, and ended up on an entirely new path. This one leading Mark, who’s supposed to be forgetting whoever he is - was - to run away from the responsibility born out of his wrongdoing, into a road lined up with lush of something he doesn’t dare call a happiness yet, and he gets a feeling that at the end of the line, he’s going to find himself again, that coward he despises so much.

“We don’t have to be,” Mark insists, he stops Xuxi before he can be silenced again by hitting him firmly on the chest. “Even. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not saying this to get your pity.”

Xuxi cringes. “I didn’t mean to pity you or anything. Sorry if it came out that way. I was, I wanted to say that none of it matters to me, you sinned, you’re criminal, whatever. It doesn’t-"

“Why?”

Xuxi has stopped drawing a circle on his arm. He doesn’t look like he wants to stop not giving Mark answers. Mark understands it’s only fair this way, he hasn’t come clean to Xuxi either, Xuxi doesn’t even know his real name.

It hurts, and as always, Mark will always tell himself he deserves it. “Forget it.”

“No.”

The stubbornness in Xuxi’s voice startles him. It gives Xuxi an opening to kiss him, this time rougher and he rolls them until he got Mark pinned under him, hands on either side of his head with Xuxi’s hands on each of his wrists.

“I don’t want to forget how I offended you, accidentally as it may be, it doesn't erase the fact that I owe you something. An apology at least. Sorry I cannot word myself better that you took it differently. I really don’t think it matters whatever you are, you’re Minhyung. Lee Minhyung, and that’s all I care about.”

If only he knew, if only Xuxi knew how his honesty is skinning Mark alive, if only he knew how his words are tearing him apart. Mark chokes back his sob, begging to God that Xuxi will mistake the incoming tears as ones from his gratitude, not misery.

He feels horrible because it’s the same with lying to Xuxi, but then Xuxi says, “Whoever you are to anyone else, you’re Minhyung to me,” and Mark is doused with icy water of reality.

He’s almost always lying.

Mark hates himself even more. There’s a manic voice inside his head, telling him that everything goes according to plan, he never go out of bounds. Being with Xuxi is still a punishment to him, being with Xuxi reminds him of how horrible of a human being he is. How weak. How disgusting. How cowardice. Yes, Xuxi gives him an escape, but then Mark will always be reminded with every single time Xuxi calls him with that name, then he’s back to square one.

He deserves this.

“You can worry with everyone else, but-"

“Xuxi.”

“Yeah?”

“Just. Stop talking and fuck me.”

Xuxi fucks him after that, Mark feels his anger, reverberating through his skin, spelled on Mark’s own by his hands. Mark has to bit down on his lips to contain his screams, but he doesn’t tell Xuxi to stop, doesn’t ask him to slow down even though he knows Xuxi will comply.

Mark closes his eyes, letting Xuxi treats his body with no finesse. The touch is foreign yet familiar, violent with something else that’s not desire nor fervor. Mark doesn’t blame him, Xuxi will likely apologize later and Mark is ready with, “it’s okay.”

Because it is; okay. He doesn’t have to say why it is, it’s always the same thing, the same reason. He did wrong, and he-

and he-

:::

Calendar finally marked a year after their meeting. Mark isn’t sure if the date is exact because it’s not a date he wanted to commemorate. That day, he committed a mistake, a sin. The sin he’s been forgiven but hasn’t forgotten.

He brings himself to Xuxi’s place again. It’s still empty, nobody has moved in. Mark planned to rent it once new semester started, he has talked to the landlord, reads through the paperwork. He welcomed Mark with a zealous hug, fascinated by Mark’s story of living abroad almost half of his life.

He promised Mark he’s not going to sell the room to anyone even if they offered to pay more, “it belongs to you and Yukhei.”

Yukhei. That’s how his name’s been officially registered, on the legal papers and his passport.

Mark might have typed the name on Google at least once every other week, hoping the search engine will at least provide him with social media account. It turned up with almost dozen different people with the same name. None of them is his Xuxi.

Today, he types in the name again, greeted with the already too familiar list. The room is yet to be his, but Mark sits by the door, cracking open a can of beer. The one kind he used to drank himself silly and tripped Xuxi in the process.

Thinking back, it’s actually funny. Hilarious. Mark was too buzzed up and Xuxi equally inebriated. Sloshed beyond belief that he actually brought a total stranger home. His meeting with Xuxi. It wasn’t a mistake, but it started from one.

Mark isn’t sure what it ended up as. Hopefully not a mistake, for him it isn’t. Far from it. He wishes Xuxi also feel the same, wherever he is, however far they are.

And when it’s finally time for them to meet again, he hopes it doesn’t start as another one.

:::

Mark officially moves in around the second week of September. Although new semester isn’t starting until late of the month, Mark has managed to convince his parent that it’s better to move earlier so he can get used to the new swing of things.

After finals, Mark dyed his hair pitch black. Jeno said it made him look younger. Donghyuck said nobody will believe him if he claimed himself to be to 22 years old. His parent loved it.

Mark thinks every day what would Xuxi say about his hair.

It’s actually pathetic albeit he doesn’t consider himself as one. He’s still pretty much hung up on him, a guy who was never officially his anything.

He’s the guy who took away his virginity. His first, Mark is foolish romantic, so he kinds of hope he’d be the last.

Everyone helps him moving. Everyone being his parent, Jeno, and Donghyuck. Somehow, they managed to rope Chenle and Jisung in. Thanks to them, the moving is finished earlier than expected. Mark’s parent invites them all to pizza for dinner, comforting their weary limbs and aching joints with spiced dough and cheese.

Mark comes home alone. He’s strangely excited. He’s all too familiar with this room, he’s glad nobody seems to notice it earlier. He styled the room exactly how Xuxi had styled his, just a little bit neater, there’s no poster to stick on the wall, and his sheet is grey instead of blue.

Mark stands by the bed, undresses himself, then settles under the blanket. He curls his finger around his dick, they jumped under his touch, twitching awake at the memory.

Here on this exact same bed, he’s been branded and claimed. Everything becomes more vivid, he can almost feel bigger, rougher hand around his heat. Thicker fingers probing around his hole. Lips running trail down his spine.

“Xuxi,” Mark moans, starting to stroke himself.

After he comes, he makes mental note to buy himself the same detergent Xuxi used. He remembers the brand.

After all this year. How domestic.

:::

The second day has Mark waking up to a wave of nostalgia that drags him to the depth of lovelorn.

Still buried under his grey bedcover, Mark stares blankly at the ceiling. The same ceiling he used to stare at when he's trapped under his Xuxi's body, under his anchoring weight.

The only weight that's pinning him on the mattress right now is that of his cover. Xuxi's weight was liberating. This one is suffocating.

He tries not to think too much about it, groaning and rolling on his side, but then he's greeted by the wall, the wall that he hit his head on in the first day he's here. Memories burst through his open wound; xuxi's hand, larger, gentle, foreign yet welcomed, kneading his sore spot. The awkward silence. The awkward conversation. Everything that happened after that.

Their first time.

His stomach flips. The images burn, vivid in color of flesh and blood. Xuxi's hands; rough when needed, kind even if Mark never wanted it. His lips, sparking ember under his skin. His tough, igniting shame along his bones. It was supposed to that way, he's supposed to clean him, to purge Mark free from his sin, to turn Mark into Minhyung . Sweet, innocent, Minhyung. His sugar.

Sugar .

How much he missed being called by that pet names. How much he wished he could hear Xuxi calling him that again. How much he hoped thinking of Xuxi doesn't bring him any more pain. How much he longed for that man. How much he wanted him to be here, in the room that used to be his but now belongs to Mark because Mark, even if he tries to fool himself into believing he can get over him, has come to term with the fact that he's still far from moving on. From him. From Xuxi. From his could have been but is never was. From the man he wished was his something but was never anything.

When another memory played, it hits him like winter breeze; piercing cold but crisp, refreshing. Mark inhales a lungful of it, relieving the agonizingly dear times they had spent together. The morning, the kisses of sunlight on naked skin, Xuxi's breath brushed tenderly along his ears, his arm thrown across Mark's waist, holding him safe and sound.

Mark was awake but Xuxi wasn't, still deep in his golden slumber. The smaller boy had decided to take his sweet time watching his face, learning, remembering, noting every detail that made up his handsome face. His long lashes. His high, artisan nose. His strong set of jaw. His full lips, lips that had called him so many names, lips that had cured him with their merciful words so many times, lips that had kissed upon him affection and acceptance. Lips that Mark longed to kiss, right here, right now. But if he did so, he would wake up Xuxi, Mark didn't want that, he still wanted to watch, a little longer, just a little more.

Back then he wasn't even thinking that this , whatever they had between them, will eventually come to an end. Curtain fall. Maybe he was intoxicated from whatever it was that Xuxi injected into his veins, but the word separation never comes to his mind. He foolishly believes this kind of morning, this peaceful morning being held in Xuxi's arms will last forever. Outside, he will struggle, but inside, here, in their miniature garden, he will be safe, secure in the cradle of Xuxi's embrace.

He understands now, as he stares at the all too familiar wall, that he had been stupid, that he was foolish. Nothing lasts forever. Season passes. People go. Xuxi has come to him only to leave, and Minhyung is left, with a bruising heart that's vainly trying to heal, and a room that prisons him with dearly ruthless memory.

The film of the past rolls again, at least the colors are still vivid even if they stung his eyes. At least everything that he remembers of Xuxi is the happy ones, of loving someone and being loved in return.

Of pretending .

Pressing his palm on the wall, Mark closes his eyes, a tear slips by, he takes a shuddering breathe. This time he sees Xuxi, smiling down on him like he's the sun and Mark is the earth that helplessly orbits around him, will die without his light and benevolent warmth.

“Morning, Sugar ,” Xuxi in his head greets him.

Mark opens his eyes.

The second day. He wakes up for the second time. He wakes up to the wave of nostalgia. And he let them wash him off the shore, he let them takes him astray, just like Xuxi had left him in disarray.

It's gonna be another fight to move on today.

Chapter Text

Lost in you, lost in me
Afraid of love in too deep, so we just run and hide
Lightening fast, felt the crash
We only know goodbye

Holding on for Life - Ellie Goulding

:::

Yukhei remembers feeling lost. Ages ago. 8 years ago, actually, to be precise. He remembers feeling lost when his mother first stopped responding to him, when she started ignoring him.

When she began looking at Yukhei for someone he’s not and Yukhei starts thinking of himself as someone he doesn’t want to be.

In the end, it’s all for naught. Yukhei ends up being exactly what his nightmare was; heck, maybe still is . He doesn’t know where his father is now, whether he’s still alive or already dead in a ditch somewhere. But his father is slick, like Yukhei, always finding a way to survive no matter what kind of situation they were in.

The difference is Yukhei doesn’t survive unscathed. He lands in his homeland with a heart barely intact.

Or rather; his heart isn’t there anymore. He left it back in Seoul, in that small apartment that he baptized with Minhyung almost every single night.

A short journey. Yukhei can only hope that the healing process will be as short.

“We’re here,” Kun tells him once the plane stops moving. “Your uncle wants you-”

“Could you please tell him there’s someone else I want to visit first?”

There is it. That disapproving look. Yukhei has become familiar with it, unfortunately. Kun does not approve of his (poor) life choices far more often than his uncle has ever done in the two months they’ve spent together.

“No. No. Don’t give me that look, please,” raising his hands in mock surrender, Yukhei summons his most convincing, charming smile. It used to work. Always. Had worked on Kun before, and hopefully, this time it can work again.

Maybe it will be more effective if he edged it with sadness for the pity factor. Kun is being really, really careful with him after what happened. Yukhei can play it all to his advantage.

“It’s been a long time since I visited my mother. I was thinking of going there, actually. Can you please arrange it with my uncle?”

Turned out he doesn’t need to add the touch of melancholy to his smile nor voice at all, for one mention of his mother is enough to win over Kun’s trust. The man doesn’t even sigh like he’s questioning Yukhei’s sanity; his shoulders just fall, and he looks like someone just ran over his puppy with their car.

Yukhei feels sorry for the man. Somewhat. He has saddled Kun with enough emotional baggage with his escapades in Korea; adding more to that is rather mean. Worrying his bottom lip, Yukhei thinks to himself that maybe he is just being mean, for a little part of him still vehemently denies the fairness of this all. If he suffers, someone else has to suffer too. Kun just happens to be that unfortunate someone for being stuck with Yukhei for these past two months.

They say misery loves company. If Yukhei is the misery, then Kun is the unlucky company.

“Please?”

Yep. He really is the misery. The way Kun’s muscles work as his expression takes a plunge seems painful. “Just. Let’s get off first. I will arrange it later.”

Sound grateful. Look grateful. Yukhei gives the man a hug which ends up rather awkward since they’re both still seated, and the plane’s economy class space is famous for being cramped. “Thanks, Man. I owe you a huge time.”

Gingerly, Kun pats him on the back. His voice is more sure, honest with his weariness. “Damn, right, you do. I’m expecting a feast.”

“Lunch on me?”

“Add dinner.”

Yukhei chuckles, squeezes the man into a tighter hug, hoping that it can convey all of his apologies. “Cool. Dinner. Wine. Whatever you want. All on me.”

“You’re so gonna regret the wine part.”

Cringing playfully, Yukhei says, “oh, I’m going to, aren’t I?’

In more somber tone, he wonders if it’s possible for him to regret more than he already is at the moment.

:::

Yukhei stands in front of his mother’s tombstone, still feeling as lost as he was 8 years ago when she decided she had enough of life. A life that didn’t give her anything but solitude and a ghost of her loneliness as her offspring, serving to remind her of the miserable life she had to lead.

“Mother. Long time no see.” Kneeling down, Yukhei gets a better view of her last resting place. It’s lacking the flower, but it’s well-tended like the other graves around it. Someone must have been taking care of it. His father is out of the question.

That could only mean one person; his Uncle.

Putting down the bouquet he had picked earlier; white roses and lilies, with some blue gladioli peeking solemnly in between, Yukhei greets her once again. “Hi, Mother. Looks like someone’s been taking care of you, huh? Sorry, I couldn’t. I wasn’t-”

The words are stuck, as always when it comes to her mother. He’s suddenly speechless, all the vocabulary he had learned in the course of twenty years forgotten. She had that effect on him. Her dark, ocean eyes. Accusing. Even just her memorial manages to have the same effect on him.

He tips his head skyward, taking a deep breath. He has to collect himself first before thinking about what he’s going to say. The task proves itself difficult because every time Yukhei tries to put himself together, those eyes are back, sliding his legs so that he crashes and tumbles. The streaming red. The pool of scarlet. Those oceans eyes staring at him, dead.

His breathing becomes erratic, an alarm blares in his head. This isn’t good . He’s falling apart. Images flash in his head, an irreversible ride. Yukhei feels like getting a motion sickness. He’s dizzy. He wants to throw up, his stomach feels funny, and his throat burns as the bile crawls up. His brain goes haywire, without the order, his lungs cannot decide whether to contract or relax.

Only a sickly, “fuck,” survives the catastrophe that wrecks havoc in his body.

Although he’s sure it’s been forever since he got a panic attack, it feels oddly familiar. He’s been t here before; stifled breath, traitorous lungs. Sweats bedding along his hairlines, head pinching with pain. Smaller body rocked into mine. Deep into the cave where he hid his treasure chest.

Minhyung.

Ah, yes. Minhyung. His sugar. His sweet little one. Clinging to him like Yukhei is his last remaining lifeline. A thread so strong yet didn’t have enough to bear. If he was any more, would Minhyung rise with him and soar? If Yukhei was more honest, would Minhyung be as kind as to lay himself bare?

Yukhei misses him so badly; everything reminds him of Minhyung. Minhyung and his sweet smiles, Minhyung and all the sweet nothings Yukhei whispered into his ears. Minhyung who couldn’t sleep unless Yukhei timed their breath together. And breathe. He needs to breathe, and he is failing spectacularly at that right now.

Like caving walls, the air is pushing all around him instead of into his lungs. Yukhei wants to grab of a fistful of it and punch it into his chest. But he can’t, and on top of that he shouldn’t. He always told Minhyung to take it easy, don’t rush. No need to panic because he’s there. To count to three. Sometimes, ten. Sometimes twelve. Depending on how bad the nightmare is.

Technically, Yukhei can’t be having any nightmares since he’s not asleep, but he’s drowning in them all the same. He puts his hand on his chest, feeling its unsure rise and fall. Count to three , he coaxes himself mentally. Count to three. It’ll be okay. It’s fine. It’s going to be okay, just count to three with me, Minhyung. Count to three .

Repeating the mantra over and over in his frantic head, Yukhei somehow managed to find a semblance of composure. At least his breathing is back to regular even if his heart is still pounding a little bit too quick to be called normal. His head still twinges with pain, his throat still hot, like his eyes, brimming with unshed tears. But he can breathe easy again and as little as it is, it counts.

“Let’s redo this again, shall we, mother?”

Yukhei tries to laugh. It sounds more like a sob, and his voice eventually cracks. He doesn’t fight the tears that fall; one drop, two. Soon, it becomes three, and he can taste it all on his lips. Salty. Sad.

“Hello. It’s been a long time, mother. I hope you’re well. I’m glad to see someone is taking care of you. I’m sorry it wasn’t me. I’m sorry I wasn’t,” he takes a shuddering breath. “I’m sorry it wasn’t me. I’m sorry I was such a bad son. I’m so sorry-”

Another cry is ripped from Yukhei’s throat. He scrunches his eyes shut. More tears fall. His nose starts to run. He can’t do this. He can’t. It’s too much. Too many things stopping him on track. His guilt. The memory of her mother on her last day. His regret. The haunted looks she sent him.

He killed her, and he doesn’t have any right to talk to her like this, to greet her oh so casually like he didn’t just bury the blade in his heart. Well, he did not, technically, but might as well have done it figuratively. He killed her by reminding her of what she had lost and will never have any more. The only thing he deserves is punishment, not forgiveness, nor mercy to talk to her like this.

But isn’t he being punished enough? Isn’t being forcefully ripped apart from Minhyung enough for punishment? Yukhei can feel a part of himself die with every passing second, can feel his will losing with every ticking minute. Every step he takes carry him further from Minhyung, tears him apart.

Shouldn’t it be enough? Shouldn’t losing himself be enough for punishment? Shouldn’t the pain be enough to earn him at least the chance to talk to his mother? To her grave, which can do nothing but stand still and judge him in silence?

It should. Yukhei wants to believe it should be enough, this excruciating pain, this heaviness in his chest. His separation from Minhyung. They should be enough to warrant him a moment like this with his mother, a moment he could have had but never got because she was lost in the forest of her loneliness.

So, Yukhei speaks. Speaks to her about Minhyung, about this lovely boy he found crying in a random alley. Speaks to her about how he had taken him home out of pity. Speaks to her about how Minhyung reminded him of an abandoned puppy and there’s no way he could leave him alone.

He speaks about everything he never knew he wanted her to hear. Speaks about things he knows he could have told her if she was still alive because she’s his mother, and a long time ago, she was as amazing as any other mother out there. She used to listen to him babbling about his adventure in the park with a smile. Praised him and promised him candies after Yukhei told her how he had saved a poor cat from bullies.

The more words that poured out of his mouth invited more memories. Good memories. Bright memories. Memories he didn’t realize he had about her because everything he used to associate with her is drab and bleak, if not vivid, grotesque scarlet.

It’s a breath of fresh air, everything feels lighter, his world resumes to spin on its normal axis. Gravity shifts back, everything clicks into place. It no longer feels like drowning in an ocean of unsaid words. He is threading similar water, glimmering clear cerulean, white sand warm under his feet. Long ago, they used to visit the beach together; maybe Yukhei was four, he couldn't remember exactly how old he was. is mother was wearing a peach-colored swimsuit, and she was laughing along with Yukhei as he ran on his chubby legs along the shore.

“That’s right, it’s summer break soon. I told him that David is going to come, another lie. I know I’m bad, but he lied as much to me, mother. Does it make me bad? I could just come clean to him, off with the bullshit. But I just can’t, you know? I don’t think I have any right to demand anything from him.”

Oh, who is he kidding? He never feels like he deserves anything for the longest time now. The woman he is speaking to right now is his exact reason.

“Still, I love him. I fell for him harder than I should, considering all we ever did was lie to each other,” he ducks his head with a sheepish grin. “Other than fucking. It was great, the sex, Minhyung is spectacular on the bed. Oh God, it feels so wrong. I’m telling my mother,” dead mother, “about my one night stand’s sexual prowess. Can I even call him my one night stand at all since we slept together more than once? How do you call it, multiple nights stand?”

Yukhei actually ponders about it for a while. All serious. What term is best to describe Minhyung, his nearly was whom he never had?

“I guess the closest one should be friends with benefits,” he concludes with thoughtful hum. “We’re friends. Kind of. If you put the sex out of the equation. We talk a lot, nothing really personal, since, you know; we sort of lie about who we are. Though now I think about it again now I didn’t lie that much. I told him my name, didn’t tell him about my job as a model, nor about my uncle...but I told him about David! And Minhyung loves him, he perks up like this, like, if he’s a puppy, his ears would perk up like this.”

Yukhei puts his fists on top of his head and unfurl them open to mimic an excited puppy, complete with a dorky, bright smile.

His mother’s grave regards him with silence.

What a fool. Yukhei mocks himself, letting his hands fall to his sides, shoulders slumped dejectedly.

“We lied a lot, but I really, really like him, mother. I think I love him. Is it possible? Falling in love with someone who did nothing but lie to you?”

Aren’t you familiar with it, mother ? He wants to ask. Father never did anything but lie to you. Yet you loved him still. You didn’t go because you fell out of love with him. You did because you loved him too deep, to the point of no return, and knowing he wouldn't be there to hold your hand as you go further was something you couldn’t bear.

“Turned out I really am your son, after all,” Yukhei chuckles, self-deprecating. “We both fell for someone who lied to us. What a pair we make, huh, Mother?”

Before he can stop himself, his hand is already shooting out to touch her grave. The moment his fingertips grace the rough concrete, it becomes even more real to him that his mother is dead. It’s not just a ghost whispering in the back of his mind. It’s real. She’s dead. There’s nothing left here but her tombstone as her keepsake and her ashes. Ashes that Yukhei had reduced her into.

“I’m so sorry,” another tear slips by. His vision swims once again. “I’m so sorry, I wish it didn’t have to turn this way. I wish, I wish-”

He wishes. Wishes for a lot of things. Wishes that his mother is still alive. Wishes his father wasn’t such a bastard. Wishes he didn’t have to be born with his father’s face. Wishes he didn’t have to grow up thinking everything was his fault.

Yukhei wishes for a lot of things, but maybe what he wishes a little bit deeper and more sincere than anything was that he could turn back the time, back when everything was alright and they were happier.

And Yukhei will still meet him. Yukhei will still find him. Yukhei will still take Minhyung with him. Yukhei will still hold him. Because Minhyung needs him, because Minhyung seeks for him. Because when everyone leaves, Minhyung stays with him. Even if he could redo everything and makes things right, there’s one thing that he’s not gonna change, and he will make damn sure that nothing will make that part different.

“I wish things were different, I wish you’d survived so you could tell me how to cope with this loss. I don’t think I can ever stop loving him, the same way you never stop loving Father, and I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know what should I do with this. With myself.”

Yukhei runs his fingers along the letters of his mother’s name, and it brings back memories. Young Yukhei, barely four years old, proudly showing her his handwriting of her name. She had smiled, eyes a little bit wet, before scooping up Yukhei into her arms, kissing his cheeks loudly and praising him.

“I love you, mother. I always have. I know it was difficult for you to love me in your last moment.”

Swallowing a fresh wave of tears, Yukhei rubs his eyes. This is something he’s always told himself his whole life, but doing it inside yourself is different to admitting it out loud.

“But I love you. Everything aside, I love you. And I love him, someone who cannot love him back, someone whom I cannot meet anymore. I’m sure you understand it better than anyone else, how hard it is, how painful and lonely it is. It was- you’re so amazing, mother, you managed to last that long. And I will be stronger, I want to be. I want to come out of this alive, I want to survive this thing that you couldn’t. I don’t want to give up. I want to live, mother. The life you could not, the life that you could have. I will live them all for you mother, because I’m your son. And this, this is the only thing I could do for you. This...”

This is the only thing he can do. Because Yukhei is just a human. Riddled with mistakes. Grounded by sin. And he cannot turn back time, he cannot undo the things that have been done, because he is just a human. One weak, tiny human in the grand scheme of the galaxy.

“This is the only way I can be right again.”

Or at least pretend , that he will be alright. Even if he knew nothing will ever be, not without Minhyung by his side.

:::

Kun picks him up an hour later. If he saw Yukhei’s red eyes, he doesn’t say anything about it. Actually, he doesn’t speak at all through the rest of their journey. Yukhei is thankful.

The silence lasts until Yukhei realizes they’re going somewhere he’s not familiar with.

“Where are we going?”

“Lunch. There’s this place downtown, it’s my favorite.”

“Oh,” Yukhei checks his google map. Indeed, the car seems to be moving toward the downtown area. It’s an area that he’s familiar with, yet he feels so far away, so foreign. His mind is still at places. Particularly Minhyung’s.

Minhyung.

“Do you think,” Yukhei leans his head on the car window. He pretends that the sigh that escapes his lips is coming from having the cool glass on his skin, not from the ache in his heart. “Do you think my uncle will forgive me?”

“That depends,” is Kun’s short answer. His voice isn’t tight nor lax, just neutral. Yukhei cannot guess what the man is feeling; whether he’s comfortable enough to talk about this topic or not. But since Kun doesn’t particularly look, or sound like, bothered by it, Yukhei takes the liberty to continue.

“I still love him,” he closes his eyes, drawing the image of Minhyung in his head. “If uncle heard that, would he be mad?”

“He’s still mad at you, I think,” Kun chuckles. “And you said that already to him. That part about you loving that boy.”

“The name’s Minhyung.” Yukhei turns his head slightly to send his deadliest glare toward Kun’s direction, not that the man can see it though, since he is dedicating all his attention to driving them safe and sound to their destination.

“Yes. Minhyung. Sorry. I don’t think he’d be happy to hear about it.”

Still glaring daggers at Kun, albeit lessening in intensity, Yukhei pouts. “Neither am I. I’m not happy. I have to leave the love of my life behind. I’m not allowed to talk to him without anyone holding the phone for me.”

Kun doesn’t have to turn around to show Yukhei the grimace on his face.

“But I don’t want uncle to stay mad at me forever, too. He is, the closest thing I have to a.” Yukhei pauses. “Father. Figure. Whatever. We might not look like it,” he scrunches his nose. “Hell, we don’t even act like it, but...I don’t know, I don’t know, Gege. I can’t bear the thought of disappointing him anymore.”

“More than you can bear the thought of leaving Minhyung?”

Groaning, Yukhei ruffles his hair, leaning his head back on the cool glass. That’s one tough question. It’s been torturing him ever since his uncle made the decision for him. “I can’t bear. Both.”

“That’s a little bit selfish, isn’t it?” The light turns red. The car halts into stop smoothly. Kun’s eyes are straight ahead; he isn’t even looking at Lucas through the rearview mirror like some people would do in this situation. He just stares ahead, yet Yukhei feels his skin prickle as if someone was watching him.

“What makes my uncle then? He forcefully ripped me and Minhyung apart. Doesn’t it make him the more selfish between the two of us?” Yukhei tries to sound petulant. Tries being the keyword here. He fails, his voice comes out as a tight mumble. Whenever he speaks of his uncle, the guilt won’t leave him alone, stealing the little that’s left of his courage.

The light turns green and Kun shifts gears just as smoothly as he braked. The car rumbles beneath them as it rolls forward again. “He just wants the best for you.”

The young blonde scoffs, but his voice edges on wistful when he speaks. “Is this one of those parents know best situation? Never thought I’d have experienced it. Mine’s dead after all...”

“You just told me your uncle is the closest thing you have to a father figure.”

Scrunching his nose, Yukhei shrugs. Again, he tries , this time to not sound self-deprecating. “...I never dared to admit it before. I don’t know, it’s just...intimidating.”

“Admitting that you think of him as your father?”

“My father’s a jerk,” the tall blond scoffs. “And my uncle is not.”

“Even though he did this to you.”

To Minhyung . “Yeah. I guess. This is one of those situations, right? When the child was too young to understand how the world works and adults knew better?”

“I suppose so,” is Kun’s short reply. “My mother did the same to me, told me to resign from my previous job and here I am, traveling around the world-”

“Babysitting.”

His babysitter is probably rolling his eyes, but Yukhei couldn’t tell, since Kun’s eyes were still glued to the road. Still, he can picture it perfectly, that exasperated expression on his face whenever Yukhei did something that made him question his life decisions. “Call that whatever you want, I love this job.”

“Does it mean you love me?” Yukhei teases, lightly kicking the passenger seat. His heart is still heavy, but it will probably stay that way the rest of his life until he can learn to let go, which he doubts he ever will. But at least like this, as long as he had someone else to hide from, he can pretend his heart is as light as a feather.

It’s easier like this. To lie. To pretend. Like he had always done. It’s so much easier when nobody can see him bleed. It’s easier when there was no pity involved. It’s so much easier when they expected Yukhei to be strong, to take everything they throw his way.

It’s easier when he doesn’t have to talk about his scars and numerous injuries.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Brat. I’m just saying that even though what your parents demanded of you sounded ridiculous at first, later you’d learn they’re actually the best for you.”

He had heard that too, from his friends, from television, written in books numerous time, about how parents always know and want the best for their children. On the contrary, popular media seems to show it the other way, portraying parents as selfish humans who view their children as nothing but avatars to achieve the things they could not when they were young. They didn’t want the best for their children; they wanted the best way to soothe their ego.

Yukhei’s mind wonders in which category his uncle falls into? The selfless one or the selfish one? It’s a moot point to ponder about, he figures, because no matter what the conclusion is, Yukhei knows it’s too late to turn back now. The guilt and shame he feels for his uncle are too big, it’s consuming him. Even though he knew he could argue for his cause, he doesn’t think he deserves to, just like how he didn’t deserve to ask anything from Minhyung.

A small voice in the corner of his head cries out, accusing him; if  you thought you did, maybe things would turn out differently .

He muses; perhaps, perhaps things would have turned out a different way. Perhaps he didn’t have to lose Minhyung. Perhaps he would have had his uncle’s permission to date him properly.

Sadly, none of it happened. It’s just a pipe dream. A castle in the sky. Yukhei was, after all, a sinner who deserved nothing. A product of his parents’ love turned rotten. In his skin, he carries the stigma of a sinner. On his face is the mask of a murderer.

On his hands was the blood of his mother. Deep red, almost black, and even if the water diluted it away, it was still darker than anything in Yukhei’s eyes. It won’t go away, no matter how many times Yukhei tried to scrub his hands clean, it’s still there.

And with the very same hands, he had touched Minhyung. Perhaps. Perhaps their relationship has been doomed from the start. Yukhei never meant to have anyone stay with him, who, after all, would want to stay with a boy whose hands are drenched in the blood of his own mother?

Nobody. Until Minhyung.

“I hope so,” Yukhei mumbles. He looks up, watching, as the car takes him further into downtown, how the sky turns into a darker shade of blue. In the middle of that is the sun, a lone orange drop in the sky. Orange. Like the worn-out sneakers that Minhyung loves so much.

He really hopes his uncle knows what’s best for him, because at the moment, Yukhei doesn’t even know if he has any right to have the best. All he knows is that he wants Minhyung, the boy he loves so much.

:::

The lunch is great. Yukhei pays for both of them and then Kun takes him home.

Home. Can Yukhei even call it home anymore? He knew he’d dread it, but knowing something beforehand sometimes doesn’t help as much. Preparation is often a one night stand; that’s definitely the case with Yukhei. Like how he knew he’d ended up with nothing like a happy ending with Minhyung but he wrote their tale anyway. It hurts. Badly.

His uncle isn’t coming back until tomorrow, which leaves Yukhei alone with David until then. When he enters the apartment again, the first time after what had seemed to be an endless three months, he’s struck with nostalgia. The place hasn’t changed one bit, but considering it actually hadn’t been that long since he left, it shouldn’t be surprising.

Yukhei stands in the doorway, marveling at how curious it is that nothing had changed here when he had changed so much in just a span of three months. He had changed. A lot.

The fact that this place feels foreign says a lot, and together with the nostalgia is paranoia as reality kisses him cold with terrifying, ‘hello’.

“Do you need my help?” Kun asks, startling him from his reverie. “Where should I put your suitcase? Your room? Which one’s your room?”

“It’s okay, I can do it myself. Thanks for the help, Gege.” Yukhei pulls the man into a big hug, patting him on the back. “Thank you. I mean it.”

Kun ruffles his hair. “You already paid me back, brat. Wait, you still owe me dinner.”

“And wine,” Yukhei adds before releasing Kun from his arms. He looks the Chinese man in the eyes, musters his most sincere smile. He hopes it’s enough to fool both Kun and himself. “Anything for you, Bro.”

Chuckling, Kun rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever, just don’t chicken out after you see my taste of wine.”

“Don’t think I would, I have an impressive selection myself,” Yukhei waggles his brows, gesturing toward the dining area where the cabinet of his uncle’s wine collection is. His stomach falls but he keeps the smile on anyway. “Groomed by the best, I’d say.”

“The best,” Kun murmurs, his expression is going distant. Yukhei wonders if the man was reminiscing about their conversation in the car. About his uncle. About the best decision for Yukhei. The best. “Well, I’m counting on you, then, Mr. Huang.”

“I will blow your mind,” Yukhei grins then pulls Kun into one more hug, the last one. “It’s nice knowing you, Bro.” He playfully kisses him on the cheek, making Kun screech and jumps away from him, rubbing the wet spot Yukhei left.

“Gross, Lucas!” Yukhei laughs, loud and boisterous. Obnoxious. This is his safe, even ground. The familiar water he treads every day. This is not foreign, like his apartment has become.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“Naaah, you love me!” After blowing one more kiss, Yukhei takes his suitcase from Kun’s hand.

The tires don’t make a screeching noise against the smooth wooden flooring. Yukhei’s heart cracks because the floor of the small apartment he used to live in made that kind of horrible sound, and in that very same room, he had fucked Lee Minhyung on all fours.

Oh God, it’s happening. His hands are starting to tremble, but he tries to hide it by gripping the handle of his bag hard. His throat goes tight, like someone’s tying a rope around his neck. His bottom lips wobble, he’s thankful that Kun is doing all the talking, telling Yukhei his schedule tomorrow, telling him he’s going to pick him and his brother up in the afternoon to welcome his uncle at the airport.

Airport. Yukhei said goodbye to Minhyung in the airport. In the boarding room. And Kun just keeps on talking, unaware of how fast Yukhei’s heart is crumbling at the memory. Yukhei hears Kun speaking but none of it  registers on his mind, too busy to keep up a front. Smile. Smile. Minhyung’s smile is beautiful; always lined with shyness in the corner, sincerity in the center.

Smile. Like Minhyung had smiled at him whenever Yukhei called him Sugar. Smile. Smile. He is dizzy. Smile and pretend that everything is alright, it’s what he does best. It is okay. It’s going to be okay even if this is not the same room where he and Minhyung had spent passionate nights together. It’s going to be okay even if he’s not going to meet Minhyung anymore.

Everything is going to be okay. He is going to make it okay. He talked to his mother already, hasn’t he? The first after so many years. He’s making a change. One step at a time. He’s going to be okay even if Minhyung wasn’t by his side. Even if this isn’t the room he has come to call home these past months. It’s going to be okay. He’s just got to smile. He can’t cry. Not now. Didn’t he just cry his heart out two hours ago?

“Lucas?”

“Hmm?” His voice is small, his eyes are wet, and Kun catches it.

Yukhei hopes Kun takes it as Yukhei is feeling overwhelmed at being home again. He gives Yukhei a reassuring squeeze that does nothing to Yukhei’s collapsing heart. “You will be fine.”

Yukhei gives him a shaky laugh, looks away but he quickly ducks his head down to stare at his shoes because looking away gives him a view of a kitchen too wide, too advanced, compared to the one he had in his cramped apartment room in Korea. His head spins faster. It’s difficult to breathe. He hates himself and everything he has come to be. It’s supposed to be easier. He’s supposed to be stronger.

He isn’t. He is just as weak as he was before and he needs Kun to leave. Now. He doesn’t want there to be anybody around when he breaks down. He wants that moment to be his and his alone. His tragic treasure.

“See you tomorrow,” is all Yukhei manages to say, voice thick with suppressed emotion. Kun understands, bids him another farewell, then he walks out of the door, never once looking back.

Yukhei breaks.

:::

People get lost sometimes, like they get stupid, like they get stupid when they fell in love only to lose themselves at the end of it all.

Yukhei is. Lost now. Stupidly in love. Maddeningly, dangerously in love. With the blue sky. Far away. Far away had his mother gazed into. Far away had her dark chocolate eyes been. Far away is his salvation as he drifts further and further away from the shore.

The ocean is vast, boundless and bountiful with mysterious life. Yukhei could have discovered something beautiful if he dived under, but diving under could also mean he’d die forever, and Yukhei, stranded with his mistakes everywhere, has promised his mother that he will come out of this alive.

Alive. Yukhei is alive now even if there’s nothing but empty echoes in the hollow where his heart used to be. He is still alive, his mother’s dead, while his bastard of a father is still alive. Yukhei condemns him, forever, for eternity. Wishes him the worst that fate could bestow upon humanity. Wishes him anything but well.

Wishes that he has something to hang on to rest his exhausted feet before he pushes himself to swim again. Closer to the shore. Still lost, not found, but at least on the ground, he can let himself be found.

That comes in the shape of his brother. David, still alive. A single log that comes floating his way from nowhere, or if he wants to be stupid, because people gets stupid sometimes, he’s sent by the merciful God who heard his prayer. Or a God idle enough to do a task as mundane as giving this wretched sinner salvation.

David comes home with excited steps. With excited laughs. With an excited shout of Yukhei’s name. He is not any taller than Yukhei remembers, than when Yukhei saw him last, and it sets Yukhei’s head in a frenzy as it crashes once again, cruel reality, that nothing has changed, changed, changed , leaving Yukhei the only thing different. He is a thousand steps ahead. He is lost, cold and far offshore, while everyone is still huddled safe and warm on the ground.

The brothers share a hug, share a kiss; loud and noisy and silly and lots of, “I missed you,” are exchanged between them, because Yukhei knows David can understand that. Because Yukhei knows David can’t understand his, “ I’m sorry, ” or “ I’m scared ,” even if they’re the only words that Yukhei really wanted to say.

He is scared, so, so scared. Just as much, he feels sorry. And then just as much, he misses his brother. So he tells him, again and again how much he misses him. Asks him about school, asks him about his friends, asks him about his soccer team, asks him more, and more, and more, and the more stories David tells him, the more his fear and regret is shoved away into the corner of his mind until Yukhei can pretend he forgets them.

Until Yukhei can pretend he is okay again, even if everything but him stayed the same while he is thousands of steps further ahead, had company but now he is lost alone, no one to take his hand and lead him further. Further. Far away. Some exotic place with a dark blue sheet under their feet and sky shining metallic gray, his laughter caressing Yukhei’s cheeks like the tender caress of a lover.

A lover. Was he ? His mind screeches to a halt, screams with horror; no, not there. Don’t go there. You can’t go there. There’s David. There’s David. He can’t see you fall. He won’t see you fall.

Yukhei blinks his tears away. His brother, realizing it, pulls him again into another hug. “Missed you a lot, Ge. I missed you. We missed you. It’s not the same without you,” David tells him, he sounds like he wants to cry but holds it in for Yukhei’s sake.

Yukhei wished he could have said something like he’s changed, he’s more mature now , except David has always been like this. Always so kind, always so selfless, heart bleeding understanding. Yukhei cannot say it then, because everything has stayed exactly how it was.

He is far. Far. Far. So far. He’s changed. He’s different.  He wished everything could have turned out differently, but now he wishes he’d stayed the same. Far here, all alone, he is lonely. His chest is empty and his empty hand reminds him of his could have been but never was.

“It’s different without you, bro.” This, Yukhei can say because it’s true. It’s true. It’s not the same. It’s sky blue but in a deeper shade of azure. It’s ocean blue but in a lighter shade of ultramarine. It’s Wong Yukhei but he goes by Huang Xuxi, and he sleeps on sheet sapphire blue like a royal gemstone with a warm body as a beloved company.

“How was Korea?” It’s David’s turn to ask this time.

Yukhei is thankful that his brother cannot see his face right now. He must look hideous with grief, with regret, with guilt, with the dirt of a broken promise he cannot keep. “It’s lovely.”

At least he’s being honest with his answer. Lovely.

“It’s very lovely,” Yukhei says once again. He thinks of a boy, the lovely stranger. Thinks of him and the millions of things they could have been, and the way they wrapped themselves around each other’s skin.

Yukhei thinks of him. Thinks of how much he is sorry. Thinks of how much he misses him.

When he says, “I miss you,” it’s not with David in mind, but him, him, him, and him , and Yukhei clings onto the log that is his brother before the wave of his sorrow can drown him.

“Missed you too, Gege. I missed you, too.”

Yukhei hugs him tighter, burrows himself in his brother’s warmth and lets himself rest. Rest, before he has to tread water to the shore again.

:::

Yukhei and David fall asleep, stomach full and stuffed with various foods that Yukhei whipped up from the ingredients they have in the fridge. They even forego baths and go straight to bed. David wraps his hands around Yukhei’s torso, small in Yukhei’s muscular arms, but it is Yukhei who does that desperate cling.

His brother’s presence a forgiveness, for his brother loves him, for his brother needs him, and just being a good brother for sweet, little David is enough atonement for now.

He feels better, and when he sleeps that night, it’s the first time he sleeps peacefully since he’d had to leave Minhyung. Yukhei doesn’t dream. It’s a serene, uneventful sleep.

But when he wakes up, it’s like standing under afternoon rain. Cold. Quiet. Sky bleak. It’s quiet but it’s cold and it’s desolate, and he freezes slowly from his soaked fingertips. The sun is going down, and nothing’s gonna warm him up.

He sinks under, like the raindrops are sinking into his skin. Yukhei looks around his room. Doesn’t feel like his room, which is frustrating, since this is the room where he’d spent his previous 10 years, growing up.

But there is no Minhyung. He stares blankly at the sapphire blue sheet that covers his legs.

There are legs tangled with his, they’re warm. But they’re not Minhyung. Yukhei touches his brother’s hand that’s draped across his lap, holding back a chuckle.

It’s a cold rain. Quiet. Lulling. Making you eager to go home. And this is home. This is home, with his brother by his side and his uncle’s collection of expensive wine in his ornately made cellar.

Still.

Yukhei wants to go home .

:::

People do things. A lot of things. People do things and one of them is change. When you change, there are two ways to go; for the better or for the worse.

Yukhei thinks there should be something in between, because even if dichotomy is somewhat rule of the universe for balance is the key of wisdom, there is this change when you don’t go either way. You changed but somehow you don’t affect anything.

Or maybe it’s not that you don’t affect anything, nor did you change nothing; you simply don’t know, for until conclusion is given there’s a long process in between, various factors to consider, other aspects examine. And there’s this thing called perception because the truth is one, but value is not. Change your perspective and the good can be bad.

Yukhei falls into the worse category, but his uncle falls exactly in that middle ground; for Yukhei doesn’t want to admit it, yet, that his decision in keeping him and Minhyung apart is the better for both of them.

His uncle is exactly in the middle. Where black meets white. Where the sky blue meets the ocean blue. Where the end comes and the beginning leaves. In the middle where Yukhei needs to be, to meet him, because they’ve always been standing on the edges, staring at this gaping hole that can only be crossed by words, but they are cowards. Both of them. They stared. Stared. And stared, and regretted, and lamented. And in the middle of people, the bustling scene of airport lobby, his uncle stands, and here is Yukhei, standing in the border, about to cross and meet him in the middle.

David, letting go of Yukhei’s hand, runs off to their uncle. He stops short, like his breath is short from the running and the excitement, and he greets his uncle with a grin as huge as his heart, and, “welcome home, uncle!” sounds so bright, so cheerful, so jovial. So carefree. So free, birds soaring through the sky. Child. Pure. Foreign to the weight of the world.

But Yukhei. Yukhei is not free. Yukhei envies David then. Because he is only one boy but he got the weight of continents and oceans on his shoulder. He envies David because his smile is forced, because David easily waltzed to the middle, because his voice wavered when he gives his uncle a two finger salute, because David is grinning wide, wide, wide, wide , while Yukhei’s is weird, weird, weird . A rubber stretched, waiting to snap, tight.

“Hey.” Short. Clipped. Like his wings, broken and bones. He shouldn’t be here even though his uncle wants him to. He should be here but more beautiful, more graceful with his disarming smile and charming, “ Hey!

But this is his uncle and this is how they’ve always been. They’ve never been in the middle. Lengths apart. And this. Now. In the middle of people who come and go, carelessly, listlessly, soundlessly while their head buzz like the click-clack of shoes on the floor, is where Yukhei should be too. Like his uncle. For his uncle who deserves him to be here to see how much Yukhei appreciates him, to be ensured, assured that it’s him whom Yukhei chose instead of Minhyung.

“It’s been a long time.” He says again once his uncle is standing in front of him, David’s hand in his, his suitcase held by the other. His uncle who hates Minhyung because he took Yukhei away from him.

Because Minhyung got Yukhei lost. Lost deep in the bottom of the sea, the chest of azure that hid gold and sanctuary beneath. Yukhei is lost, lost because when you are supposed to be lost when you are in love. When you desire. In desire, he had lost, and he’d love to, get lost, again, as long as it’s Minhyung the depth he’s sunken into.

But his uncle doesn’t love another human being the way Yukhei had loved Minhyung. His uncle did, but he never let himself got lost, always holding a steady rein on his desires, therefore, he can never understand the delirium Yukhei felt when Minhyung swallowed him whole in the deep, darkest shade of scarlet haze.

Yukhei, though, had chosen his uncle. Goodbye, take off the red blindfold. It’s time to see again. It’s time to leave the ocean, back to the shore where his family is, buoyed by David, the log he clung onto, so everything can be normal again between him and his uncle. In the middle. Where water meets the ground. The shore, here, he will let himself be found. At least. At least.

“Feels like forever, but it’s only been, what, 3 months?”

He tries. Tries. Tries. Tries , hard. Water tickles his feet. Come back . A tiny little cry of a teary abyss. But, I’m sorry , is all he can say. If he could kiss the water, he would. If he could meet Minyung once again for the last time, he would. And he would love him again and again and again and again and again.

“Not exactly. 2 months and a week? More. I don’t know, I don’t count,” his uncle shrugs.

That shrugs. So familiar. The same shrug he always gives Yukhei when Yukhei asks him to choose between medium and well done for his humbly cooked steak. “It’s all the same,” he had said.

All the same, same like nothing had changed between them but everything had, yet, his uncle was acting like nothing had changed. He gives Yukhei a smile. So easy. So cruel. He doesn’t change while Yukhei is here, all changed and anew, chalking bones and weak sinew. It’s unfair. It’s unfair that Yukhei has to be here, trying to smile, smile, smile , when all his face wants to do is stone up like a statue.

Yukhei, in the exact moment when his uncle reaches out to him, to rest his hand on top of Yukhei’s head. To ruffle his hair in kindness that Yukhei swears he doesn’t deserve, hates his uncle. Hates him so much. Toxic in his blood. Rust on his bones. Hates him, and just as much loves him, loves his uncle with the ever-present shyly rigid smile, who is trying to find a middle between them. He is trying to make the middle now, for him, for Yukhei, for David.

“You’re not growing any taller,” he says, with a smile. With the same black tie with navy blue stripes that Yukhei and David had given him as birthday present two years ago. It’s the same.

People change and the middle is not changing at all but Yukhei needs to change for he loves this man. This man who’s clueless as of how but still fumbled in the dark to return a semblance of normalcy to Yukhei’s abnormal life. So, Yukhei talks, talks because he cannot say I’m sorry , for there is David, smiling, grinning, having the moment of his life, and for his brother, too, he’d try. He’d change. He wouldn’t say I’m sorry . He would make the middle, he’d throw Minhyung away if that’s what it cost.

Because Minhyung stays. But so does his uncle, he stays. The first. Always. Before anyone else.

“Actually I grew an inch. When I wear shoes.”

Between them, David giggles. Behind them, Kun chuckles.

“And we should celebrate.”

His hand is still on top Yukhei’s, fingers warm on his scalp. No pressure but pressuring Yukhei to cry anyways. “Celebrate?”

Yukhei doesn’t. He doesn’t cry in front of David. He pinches his brother’s cheek, eliciting a loud yelp that soon bursts into a giggle, stellar bright. It inspires Yukhei to fight. “David’s soccer team won the regional, apparently.”

“That’s great,” it’s simple praise but David beams like he is the sun himself at the appraisal.

“I’ll do good,” Yukhei says. He meant it as he’d do good at cooking for David’s celebrating, but his uncle is trying to make the middle for them and he catches it anyway. Codes. Secret. Exciting. He feels like a child all over again when his uncle finds his gaze, warm and hurt, and Yukhei would beg his forgiveness forever even if the man had forgiven him.

“You’re always good.”

And Yukhei would die. For him. For that appraisal. For that approval. For this person who had given him everything. For the only man, he would call a father. “I’ll make your favorite,” he gives the man a thumb up, gives the man his appeal, and he gives Yukhei his admission in return.

“I’d love whatever you cook,” he says, gently patting Yukhei’s head.

And Yukhei. Yukhei loves him. He loves his brother. He loves his family.

“Did you pick up any new recipes in Korea, brother?” David asks. He means nothing. Nothing. He doesn’t mean to pick an old, open wound, but he does anyway, unintentionally, and it’s always the accidental that hurts the most.

Yukhei picks it, the drying, blood-caked skin. Korea means Minhyung. Yukhei is here in the middle, and Minhyung is there, far beyond. Beyond the land, beyond the sea. Beyond. Minhyung is the sea who got Yukhei lost in his depth but now Yukhei is pushing, pushing, up, up, up, to the surface.

“I didn’t pick up any new culinary skills, bro. I’m sorry.”

But he picked up a boy and he loves him so much. He loves his uncle. He loves his brother. But he loves Minhyung the most.

He catches his uncle smiling at him. Smiles. It’s okay. Codes. In silence. Words. Unsaid. Unspoken. Untold. But understood.

Yukhei smiles back. “Anyway, you’d love what I’d whip up for you. Cake, do you want cake, Bro?”

David says yes because he loves cake. And love, Yukhei cannot love himself.

:::

The ride back home is a ticking time bomb. Yukhei smiles, smiles, and smiles until his cheeks are numb, his teeth are dry. His uncle smiles too, small almost imperceptible but it’s here. His gaze on David is tender.

His eyes on Yukhei coaxes him to surrender.

Yukhei does, surrender. Helpless hands in the air. Chest empty, heart does not beat because he has lost his heart. It’s a wound huge, deep, gaping, open, and pungent. Blood crusting around jagged tissue. Ugly. Yukhei is flesh and bones, empty, for his uncle to fill.

To fill it, his uncle would have to talk. The talk. The dreaded talk. It has to come sooner or later. Yukhei expects it.

It’s not happening until late after midnight. The plates are cleaned, resting in the dishwasher. The table has been cleaned of any sugar crumbs from David’s chocolate pie. The dinner was a feast, a jolly one that Yukhei had only seen aired on the TV for commercials but never experienced himself.

He tucked David into bed after brushing their teeth together. Kissed him good night on the temple, and left him for his uncle. His uncle. Now sitting on the sofa with the TV turned on in low volume but his eyes are fixated on the screen of the tablet on his lap.

The talk. It’s happening now. Yukhei stands awkwardly in the hallway, the one that connects the bedrooms to the living room where his uncle is lounging (if reading a report filed by your subordinates can be considered lounging at all).

Nothing has changed. The irony. Yukhei is back to his adolescent self who didn’t know how to approach his uncle. Just stared at him, wasting his young, precocious time watching him, head abuzz with thousands of questions. All of which he swallowed back and replaced with shy, timid, “goodnight, Uncle.”

His uncle always answered him with, “you have school tomorrow.”

This time, Yukhei says, “we need to talk?”

And his uncle raises his gaze from the glowing screen, squinting at Yukhei through his reading glass. “What talk?”

“Oh.”

He is fifteen again. Unsure. Lost. Scared. Confused. His uncle told him, ‘ you have school tomorrow ,’ which meant he wanted Yukhei to go sleep and wake up on time, why was he up so late? Yukhei, fifteen year old Yukhei ducked straight into his bedroom, disappointed and ashamed of himself. Now, nineteen, Yukhei wants to do the same. His uncle never stopped him.

But his uncle has changed too, along with him. Or maybe he didn’t. He’s the same. It’s Yukhei who has changed and his uncle is simply seizing the chance he had always wanted to seize but Yukhei never let him.

“Not tonight. Maybe later.” He taps on his tablet. “Much on my hands.”

Yukhei hides his hands behind his back, fiddling with his thumbs. “Was it me?”

“Part of it.”

“I’m sorry.”

“We agreed not to talk about it now.”

Shamed. Yukhei looks downs. His breath comes in trembles. So much for change. “I’m sorry.”

“Let’s talk about something else?”

“But your work?”

He slides the tablet off his lap, his offered smile an invitation for truce.

It feels more like an absolute order for Yukhei.

“Got new champagne, pour it for me?”

“Are you okay?”

“That’s my line.”

He is true, perhaps. Or he is wrong, perhaps. And in the middle is where they should meet, so, Yukhei meets him. In the middle. Leaving the shaded hallway, going into his uncle’s precious wine cellar. “I’ve never had wine from there.”

“Why not?

He cringes. The cabinet’s door creaks loudly, sounds like something from disuse. “Uhh. If we go on, I’ll have to talk about Minhyung one way or another.”

“And we agreed.”

“Yeah.” His uncle is way too calm, it unsettles him. It’s a harmless kind of uncomfortable, like wearing mismatched socks. “We should talk about something else. Whoa, shit, this looks good.”

“My pick.”

“Not your client?”

“Are you accusing me of bribery?”

“That’s kind of,” he carefully sets the heavy bottle down. “Normal, in our line of job. I don’t, though. Never sleep for a job.”

“You’re an exception.”

“Got your reputation to hold, Sir “ He pops the bottle open. “This smells good already.”

“But you did.”

“What?”

“Slept.”

Yukhei almost wants to throw the bottle to the floor, his skin crawling, his eyes stinging hot. He just clutches its cold neck. Cold. Cold. Temper down the heat boiling in his belly. “I can’t do this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I thought we agreed.”

“This is harder than I thought.”

“Not talking?”

“Being a parent.”

A sob rips itself free from Yukhei’s throat. He grips the bottle harder. Cold. Cold. Cold. He needs warmth to set him free. He needs heat. He is in too deep. He needs,

“I’m sorry, Yukhei.”

“That’s not fair.”

His voice cracks like the floor beneath them. In the middle, they have met but the concrete splintered with a threat. Advance no further. Stay where you are.

“I wanted to talk but you said no, but you said, let’s talk ! But not about what I wanted to talk about, but here you are, leading me on-”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“Neither am I!” Yukhei had to hiss because he remembers David is asleep, safe and sound in his bedroom. David sleeps with the image of his brother and his uncle laughing together, celebrating his victory. Yukhei doesn’t want him to wake up and see how that image has been torn down.

“I know you didn’t.”

“We’re not talking about this,” he spits, mocking. “I should sleep.”

Yukhei returns the wine to the cellar, breathing harshly through his nose. “What am I supposed to say now?”

“I don’t know, never had a father before,” he shrugs, hoping it looks nonchalant enough. Hoping it sounds as hurtful as he intended it to be.

“Mine’s not good either.”

He turns around to face his uncle, still fuming. “I guess this is good night?”

“This is where we should.” This is supposed to be their middle .

“Good night uncle,” he says, briskly, without looking at him.

In long strides, he reaches his bedroom door, and it is when he’s pushing it open his uncle replies, “good night.”

Yukhei slams the door behind him. Yukhei throws himself onto the bed, wishing he could say he’s sorry.

:::

The first thing David asks him the next morning is, “are you okay?”

Obviously. Since Yukhei’s eyes are bloodshot and he looks like a walking trainwreck. “No.” He butters his toast. He’s just in his pajama bottom. Topless. Minhyung would have stood on his tip-toes to kiss his shoulder if he was there. “Couldn’t sleep last night.  It’s okay, David. Don’t worry.”

“Hmm,” David shuffles to his side, clutching his bare arms. “Should we sleep together tonight?”

He loves David but he loves Minhyung the most and he wants to sleep with Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung . “Sounds like a good idea.”

“We should do it for a whole week!”

“To make up for lost time?” He takes another piece of toast. His uncle’s. He butters it angrily.

“Can we?”

“We can,” Yukhei purposely uses less butter. Just in spite. He still hates his uncle.

“Are you angry?”

“Just cranky.”

David tugs his arm, his voice drips with his pout. “But you’re frowning.”

“Because I’m cranky. I cannot sleep.”

“You should sleep.”

“Can’t. Breakfast.”

“I can do it too! I’ve been doing that for us while you’ve been away!” He exclaims triumphantly, puffing out his chest.

Us . David and his uncle. Yukhei’s mood deteriorates further, like the wilting basil he’d found in the bottom of the fridge last night. Thankfully they had another package of it, so he’s cooking some pesto for lunch. “Great, Dave. One of these days you’ll stop needing me.”

“Never! I will always need you, Gege!”

“Hey, thanks bro!” Yukhei beams, ruffling his brother’s hair. David grins back. His mood is up. Was down. Then up again. He’s volatile.  “I really need sleep.”

“After breakfast?”

After breakfast. He’d cuddle with Minhyung. Kiss him, taste the breakfast on his lips. Like cheese. Like omelet. Like love and comfort and acceptance, and, “you’re so sweet, Sugar. So delicious, my love.”

And Minhyung would laugh, hit him playfully on the shoulder before kissing him again. He was happy. His laughter exuberant fingers on ivory keys. Yukhei’s happy too. Happy. Exhausted from the lie but happy nonetheless because Minhyung was there in his arms, warm, fit. Slotting perfectly into the slope and hill of his body, skin rippling with joyous sound. “When will you stop that?”

“Stop what?”

“Sugar.”

“Never.” He would nip his lips. “You are sugar. My sugar. My sweet, little sugar.”

And I love you, I love you, I love you. I love you , and he would have to say that if Minhyung didn’t call him Xuxi . Would have said that if he didn’t call Minhyung Minhyung.

I think I will skip breakfast,” he begs, to whatever being human should beg even though all they could give human was an empty promise, that his voice is as steady as his legs and nothing like his trembling eyes. “No. I will eat it later. Save it for me?”

He hands David the butter knife, avoiding his brother’s eyes. “You’re not okay.”

A statement because Yukhei obviously looks like he’s not feeling fine in David’s eyes. “This is why sleep is important,” he softly pats his brother’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, bro. I’ll leave it to you.”

David tells him it’s okay. Tells him he will cook Yukhei extra sausage. Tells Yukhei to sleep well and take care.

Yukhei says yes. Once. Only affirming the sausage because he feels sorry. The first one. And he doesn’t think he can sleep well.

There’s no way he can sleep well. Behind the closed door, hoping his messages could be conveyed beyond, he whispers.

“I’m sorry.”

He can’t.

:::

Another night. Another day. Another try.

“We should talk,” Yukhei says.

“About?” The TV is turned on, set on mute. They’re playing a foreign movie. Yukhei has never watched it before, but the female protagonist has beautiful strong jaw and red, pouty lips. Her shoulder is sloping down. Like Minhyung’s.

“You. Tell me about yourself. How you grew up.”

“It’s gonna be boring.”

“I can settle with boring,” Yukhei walks toward the cellar, he takes a bottle. The same one from last night. A souvenir from the Mediterranean. “I can’t settle with not agreeing with you.”

“That’s surprising.” There is no bite. No surprise either. Just a statement. All too casual, like this conversation holds no meaning at all.

Yukhei is trying to bring it back again, the two of them, to the middle. It’s all too meaningful for him to give up now. “Maybe I can, I can try understanding where you’re coming from. See things your way?”

“I doubt you can.”

“Are you mocking me?” He brings the bottle and two tall glasses to the living room, where his uncle is lounging. This time he is properly lounging, no tablet, no work. Nothing to distract him. Nothing to run away to.

“I’m simply saying you can’t because I don’t want you to think my way. You should be different.”

Scowling, Yukhei pours them both a glass of champagne. “You said that, but you did this to me.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Him .

This is his comeback. “For the record, I still love him.”

“Yukhei.” His voice is tight, Yukhei, finally, finally , looks up to find his uncle’s face.

He looks the same. Tired. Exhausted. “Let’s talk about you.” He gently pushes the glass toward his uncle’s side. The man stares at it like soldier scoring landmines. “It’s not easy either for me, so, help me. Please.”

“We’re both so bad at this,” he takes the glass, no longer treating it like some kind of hazard.

“We are,” Yukhei agrees with a nod, taking his own glass. “No cheers?” He quirks one questioning brow.

His uncle's answers by taking a sip of his wine. Yukhei takes his too. “Let’s talk about myself?”

“This is ridiculous,” Yukhei moans, taking another. Sweet. It’s sweet on his tongue, the golden elixir. He hopes it diffuses into his blood, makes him sweeter. A sweet, little boy who listens well to his parents.

“Bear with me,” his uncle sounds just as morose as he is.

“Trust me. I have friends. Lots of them. I’m usually charming.”

“That’s my line,” he chuckles. Another sip. Could it be he’s as nervous as Yukhei is? The boy who’s learning how to be a son feels his heart flutter. Excited baby birds.

“Right. Same boat. So.”

“So.”

“Let’s talk about you?”

And he talks. Talks. Talks about himself and Yukhei listens. Yukhei listens, like the good boy he wants himself to be. His uncle talks like the good father he wants to be. Yukhei pours him another drink after he emptied his glass, like the good son he wants himself to be.

Yukhei listens and pretends this is what being found feels like.

:::

But he is lost, lost, and lost, and lost, and lost. Lost. He lost Minhyung. He lost himself. He lost his family but then they found him, his family, but it was Yukhei, not Xuxi , for Xuxi is still in that room. Still draped under the blanket of Minhyung’s scent in the morning. And Xuxi is gone, gone, gone, but here he is; Yukhei. Then Kun calls him Lucas and who the fuck is he?

Where is he?

He has been found.

Xuxi is deep. Under the sea, unable to see. Everything is dazzling dance of rich aquamarine. He breathes them in like he breathes Minhyung’s air.

Minhyung doesn’t know Yukhei who is Lucas who is Xuxi who is Yukhei who is Lucas who is amalgamation of sinner called the child of his mother. Mother whom he ripped apart by his own hands- stop. Don’t go there. Halt. cease fire. Stop. Don’t go there. There. That’s beyond, but Minhyung is there. Beyond.

Beyond far beyond. So is his mother. So was. His mother. Smiling. Staring far beyond. Was he there too, was his father there, far beyond? Was she looking for him like Yukhei who is Lucas who is Xuxi is looking for Minhyung ?

Stop. That’s the border, do not cross. Don’t go beyond, you should be right here in the middle. In the middle because human changes, for the better or the worse, and the middle is not changing at all. Yukhei needs to be there because he has always been on the edge, and he - his uncle, was too. Now, they need to meet because he cares and Yukhei cares, step back, trace the locus they should have walked years ago when Yukhei first showed up on his doorstep. Small. Scared. Worried. Was seeing nothing but red, red, red.

Red, like anger. Red, like shame. Red, like the color of his fist after he landed strike after strike on that bastard’s rotten skull. Red, was the color of his uncle’s voice as he talked to Yukhei over the telephone. Red, like Minhyung’s lips. Red, like Minhyung’s eyes after he cried. Red, like Minhyung’s cheeks when Yukhei slipped his engorged flesh inside of him. Little by little. Inch by inch. Red, like the puffiness of Minhyung’s rim as Yukhei drives into him again and again.

Red. The color he sees before he snaps his eyes open. It’s midday. It’s Friday. It’s him alone in the apartment. His uncle has left for work, David for school. Yukhei cooked them breakfast, as per usual. Yukhei washed the dishes, as per usual. Yukhei falls asleep, and that’s not usual because he is a very active person. The usual would be him hitting the gym or swimming pool. The usual would be him calling anyone available, fancy a hang out?

The usual would be him stealing kisses from Minhyung as they wipe the plates clean.

The usual would be him seeing Minhyung off, lies on his bed, takes out his well-pampered cock and jerks off once again, thinking of Minhyung and his moan and the way he clung on Xuxi as he clenched around him.

He lies on his bed, catching his breath. He stares at his study table across his bed, realizes this is his room but not his room at the same time. There was no study bed. There were walls. Grey, boring, but Minhyung painted them with his voice as his moan bounced off the walls, intimate stroke of brush, giving the otherwise drab canvas a life.

“Fuck,” Yukhei swears, contemplating on getting up but he feels lethargic. His body wants to cooperate, energized by sleep, but he doesn’t want to cooperate. He pulls the comforter higher over his shoulder, squeezing his eyes shut. He wants to sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, and hopes that when he wakes up, there will be Minhyung there.

But it’s impossible, isn’t it? He is back in Hong Kong and Minhyung is all the way there in Korea. Beyond. Far off beyond and Yukhei is stuck here in the middle.

Except who is he?

He doesn’t know.

He is not who he wants to be

He knows.

He wants to be Xuxi.

Except Xuxi is gone. Dead . Down, down, bottomless ocean. Sinking under, further. Sooner or later, he will be gone, gone, gone, forever.

He is dead but Minhyung will remember him forever.

Minhyung, who won’t love him unless he is Xuxi.

The study table mocks.

The grey wall jeers.

Can he even love himself?

He can’t. He won’t. He’s a fool, that’s why. He’s one. Has always been, and as he peeks outside the comforter to see the door to his walk in closet instead of the humble white dresser where Minhyung had crammed most of his clothes in, he doesn’t think he will stop being one anytime soon.

He is Yukhei, but Minhyung wants Xuxi, not him. He is Yukhei.

Yukhei , that’s how his uncle had called him. That’s who his uncle wants him to be and that’s who he shall be, because Yukhei had chosen him. His uncle. For all he ever wanted in his life, before Minhyung came with his drunken cry and desperate plea of help, was his approval. No wonder the man hates him. Minhyung, his sweet, lovely Minhyung.

For the past days, his uncle has tried, Yukhei tried too. He listened to him, as sweetly as he could be. Yukhei loves it, loves him. His story, there is no trace of his father who didn’t even know what’s best of himself, but his uncle knew what’s best for him.

The only thing his uncle didn’t knew was giving yourself up to desire. The only thing his uncle knew was giving yourself up to your duty, and Yukhei is his. That’s why he cannot understand why would Yukhei let himself be, consumed by desire, deluded by lust, got lost in it. That’s why he hates Minhyung for getting him lost.

Yukhei tells himself that he’s okay with it because he knew, with every drinks shared between them, that his uncle only ever want the best for him.

Did he ?

Helpless human. Greedy boy. Often time cannot reign his thought in check, lets them wander. Wonder, if this really was the best of you. If this was the best then why, why staring at his wardrobe door brings him nothing but riotous anger?

Yukhei wonders too, shutting his eyes shut and pray, pray, pray, pray, pray, pray for nothing, for he knew whatever he wanted was doomed to be impossible in the end of his orison. He wonders what could be the best for him? A skeletal remain of what could have been, bones crumbled into dust, left with nothing. Bare. runch and snap and open your ribs for hollow.

This hollow, what could be the best for it?

What could be the best for darkness?

Not light.

Minhyung is light.

:::

“You’re not looking good.”

“Long time no see,” he punches Kun on the shoulder. “And this is the first thing you tell me?”

“You still owe me dinner.” He doesn’t punch back, just takes out his tablet and scrolls, scrolls, scrolls.

“Please tell me it’s not Can-Lie.” He groans, mentally swearing he’s going to bang his head on the table if it was him.

Kun looks at him like he’s a lunatic. “That’s so out of the blue.”

“I know,” Yukhei takes a loud, noisy sip of his frappuccino. Kun is absolutely disgusted.

“Pipe down.”

“Calm down, Lucas,” he pipes up, cheery but looking dead because he is still dreading his work partner for the day. Editorial shoot for summer spread. Swimsuits. He’s going to wear speedo. That’s all he knew. Actually, that’s all Kun told him and he had agreed because he has been working out to release his pent up frustration and hiding it would be a total waste.

His pent up frustration, otherwise known as his sexual frustration. He hasn’t get any laid since Minhyung because Yukhei is a fool who wants to savor the taste of his ex, revels in bittersweet memory, and labels himself a pathetic masochist by the end of the day.

It had made his uncle wonder one day. One night, when Yukhei’s mouth had decided that it was very, very wise to let it slip to his uncle that, “dude, I haven’t had sex since I left Korea”. His uncle was bamboozled, and Yukhei’s mouth was as slick as oiled floor, words slipped like trippy feet, and he added, “that’s why I’ve been working out. Like a mad man.”

His uncle just stared at him.

“Minhyung loves, loves my muscles. He worshipped them, and he’s so small, so tiny. You should have seen him.”

“You need to get laid,” the elder man had said, matter of factly. “And we’re not talking about him.”

“Not yet?”

“No.”

“Boo, boo. Coward.”

“Get laid. Sleep with someone else. That’s how you get over someone.” His uncle said and to Yukhei’s inebriated ears, he sounded sage.

“Whoa. Whoa. Are you speaking from experience? Are you talking to me about sex?”

“You’re of age.”

“I’m saying you’re talking about your sexual experience.”

“I only had it with girls. I don’t know about,” he looked pointedly at Yukhei. “Men. I know how it goes but I never actually do it.”

“You’re as straight as a ruler. Figures.”

“I’d say you’re more experienced in that department,” he emptied his glass in one go then handed it to Yukhei. “Pour me another.”

Yukhei obliged like a dutiful son he wanted to be. “Should I be proud?” He scrunched his nose. “I should be, shouldn’t I?”

“But when it comes to getting over someone, I am far more experienced, so, no. It’s not time for you to be proud yet.”

“Boo boo,” he rolled his eyes, putting his uncle’s glass on the table. He was a little bit petulant at the time. The elder man glanced at him knowingly.

“Do you wanna hear?”

“Do tell.” Yukhei watched his uncle extended his hand, leaning forward slightly to reach his glass. His fingers are slender, long, like Yukhei.

His fingers, they had been everywhere , as he narrated later. They’re not places Yukhei had never been before but it’s fascinating nonetheless because it’s the first time his uncle had been this honest, this frank, with him. Yukhei savored every detail of it. His uncle’s first time. His second. His third. The soft curves of the women he had slept with. The story was raw. The ones he had fucked over his table once clock struck midnight and it was only him in the office, along with some lucky women.

That was a whole new experience. It felt like he was living it with his uncle. The lust. The hunger. But none of them triumphed over the memory of Minhyung, still vivid and luscious in Yukhei’s mind. Fresh everyday. But Yukhei couldn’t have him. Forbidden fruit of Eden. Hence, his sexual frustration. Hence, his pent up frustration.

Hence, his endless work out. The magazine would love it, his muscles all ripe and carved on the right place, right angle, right edge.

“So, who’s the guy?” He chews on his straw. It’s a hot summer day, the sun is all happy and merry beating down his heat on the poor, sweaty people outside. Yukhei had had his share of sweat today after hogging the treadmill, and practically the whole gym, for almost three hours straight this morning.

Kun had called in right when he’s about to wash off, “come to Starbucks across the office,” he said. “It’s swimsuit. Editorial. Speedo. Quick. An hour.”

And here they are, Starbucks. Green straw sandwiched between his teeth. Heaps of sugar streaming in his blood but Yukhei doesn’t care because he doesn’t workout for diet purpose, just to release his frustration and unnecessary energy.

“The name’s Jungwoo. Kim Jungwoo.”

Kun flips his table and shows Lucas a picture of a boy. Silky brown strands flopped over his eyes. Soft jaw. Soft cheeks. Soft smile.

“He’s Korean.”

The way Kun had said it, the boy’s nationality is tentative. Careful. Like treating an open wound. A wound. Yukhei hears Korea and, “Oh.”

He hears Korea and thinks it’s some kind of universal joke.

“Oh.”

:::

Yukhei doesn’t think of this Jungwoo guy. But he thinks of Korea.

“The new model I’m working with is Korean,” he tells his uncle over the dinner table. There’re only the two of them, David is having sleep over party with his soccer team.

“That sounds like a bad joke,” is his uncle’s reply.

“I know.”

Clinks of dining ware. Chewing sound. Someone slurps the soup noisily. It’s Yukhei. “You will be okay.”

The boy puts his bowl down. “I should dye my hair brown.”

“Girls cut their hair when they’re heartbroken.”

He juts out his soup-soaked bottom lips. “I am heartbroken.” His uncle nods. “Are we talking about him?”

“Not now.”

“Gee,” he stirs his soup using the chopstick, the stock is too murky for him to catch his reflection. “I wonder what’s the deal.”

“You will cry.”

“Pft,” Yukhei snorts. “I cry over him every night but here I am, I choose you.”

“I’m grateful.”

Yukhei looks up to find his uncle is staring at him. He holds his gaze. “But I still love him.”

The corner of his lips curled up, a soft sigh is released. He doesn’t look sad. He just looks resigned. So is Yukhei. “I know. That’s why I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why?”

Yukhei had expected his uncle to either avoid answering altogether or at least takes his time to stall. He is surprised when the man says, straight and easy, undeterred, unhesitant, “because you’d ask me to let you meet him and I’m not sure if I can deny that.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s incredibly selfish of you.”

“I know.”

“And you’re being unfair.”

“...this is when you’re going to say, fuck you, old man , and you strom out of the table.”

“Is that what you want me to do?”

“You’re crying.”

“I’m not,” Yukhei says but he knows his uncle is right. His eyes feels hot already, like his chest, like his throat. He speaks, and his voice is slick, words failing as they slip, slip, slip. “But, yeah; fuck you, old man.”

“That’s why I always say not now , because this is the part of being a parent and it’s still hard for me.”

“And have you ever wondered,” Yukhei says harshly, standing up just as harsh that he could have knocked the chair behind him.

He is still holding their gazes together, he lets his uncle see the wetness of his eyes, the fiery anger dancing in his iris, tinting his brown eyes in crimson.

“How hard is it for me because I love him, so much, and I love you too. Have you ever wondered?”

This time, his uncle chooses to do what Yukhei expected him to do; avoidance. He doesn’t avert his eyes away, at least, and that’s nice. Yukhei hopes he sees them, he sees everything, every single pain and misery he is causing Yukhei by acting this way. He hopes they torment him in his sleep and in his wake like Yukhei is being tormented by his guilt every time he takes a breath.

“This is the part when I storm out the table. And Fuck you. And it doesn’t mean good night.”

He walks out.

:::

Yukhei hates this routine, the routine of fighting with his uncle when they’re supposed to be bonding and making up for the lost time. But, no. This had to happen. Like a routine. Like something that’s been scheduled to happen at least once a week but the time’s not determined. The fight. Always happened whenever Yukhei tried to bring Minhyung to the table because he fucking needs to resolve this tension between him and his uncle, but the man had cowardly turn it down and used that fucking excuse.

It’s difficult being a parent.

It’s difficult excuse to deny because Yukhei fucking loves his uncle and he understands how  difficult it is to be honest. After All, it took him ten years to tell his uncle about his fear, about his complex toward his parent. Precisely why it is difficult for Yukhei to deny him because he’s afraid pushing his uncle too much could push him away. Yukhei can’t afford that, not when he actually has someone who’s willing to be his parent.

The first thing he does after slamming his door shut is locking it. The second is throw the key to the taunting trash bin. The third thing is regretting his action; the throwing the key, not the saying fuck you to his uncle. The fourth is wrenching his t-shirt off his body. The odd number comes with throwing things again. The sixth is him kicking the poor t-shirt. And the seventh, lucky seven, had him crumpling to his feet as he sobs out in frustration.

The eight. Eight. It’s the month of Minhyung’s birthday. It tumbled out of his lips once, in their rare moment of honesty. “My birthday is August second,” he had said.

And Minhyung. Yukhei thinks of Minhyung because he loves him and it’s the only thing he seems to be capable of doing even if the whole world wants him to move on.

He can’t. He can’t for without him, he feels so hollow, so painful, so empty, but at the same time he feels so full. His chest feels stuffy when there’s a hole gaping open there. There’s nothing, there’s supposed to be nothing in the carcass of his decaying bones but he needs to get them out.

How is he supposed to let them out when there’s nothing inside?

Yukhei clutches his chests, tight. He remembers a palm, heat that scalds, resting there. Caramel brown eyes swimming with something ; something unspoken, something that bellies more truth than he intended to. He’d give his life, he would have given all his life to hear it, that something .

He’d give it all, seven oceans he’d sail, highest of mountains he’d climb, space he’d explore. He would. He would have done it all without second thought, without any doubt, no question asked, he would . Everything for Minhyung, everything to hear the many things they had chosen not to say and then some.

Minhyung. He misses him, badly. He needs him; needs him back in his bound, in his system, needs him to smoke air into his lungs, needs him to run his blood free. Yukhei curls on the floor he has fallen on, no dignity, just shame. Holding himself, he imagines his fingers are Minhyung’s, imagine the tentative touches are Minhyung.

It doesn’t work. They’re too big, too long of fingers to be Minhyung’s. Skin too cold. Too sure to be Minhyung’s.

Minhyung had been scared, Minhyung had been hesitant, Minhyung had given himself to Yukhei in exchange for something he couldn’t have. Minhyung had entrusted himself to Yukhei, to break him and mend him anew.

Minhyung had. Yukhei had,

“Minhyung-ah,” a single tear slips by, rolls down his cheeks. He remembers how Minhyung had cried, so many, so much. Remembers how when they met for the first time, Minhyung had been crying too, so painful and anguished.

He remembers that irrational urge inside of him to take Minhyung under his wings, the vow he makes to no one but himself that he’d keep Minhyung safe, that he would protect him.

Minhyung never leave him, Yukhei did.

Yukhei did, because his uncle made him did. And his uncle is being frustrating, is being selfish. Is pushing all the wrong keys and song is out of tune, and Yukhei can’t bear it. But he cannot bear losing his uncle either just like how he cannot bear losing Minhyung.

He can’t bear it, not when Minhyung is already in so deep, too deep; suffused into his bones, permeated into his flesh. He’s in there, flowing in his blood, dancing in his lungs. Minhyung is nowhere and everywhere at the same time. The phantom behind his wake, the ghost in his sleep.

Yukhei can try but he will never be able to shake Minhyung’s vestige off him. He clings, like shadow, always following him, untouchable. He grows bigger once the sky sinks down, shorter but never leaving once sun conquers the sky.

The lancing pain is so deep inside his gut, twisting between his ribs. He wishes he could turn into an animal, casts away that torment called feeling and lives purely on instinct.

But even then, his senses will remain. He can sense those twinging aches still. Nothing can free him from the agony, he’s like wounded animal in a cage. His blood will still spill even if they rip his eyes and tongue away, his scar will remain open even if they tore away his limbs.

Pain. They will remain, blossoming scarlet under his inflamed skin, kissing cold along his shattered bones.

And like this, pathetic ruin of wrecked soul, will Minhyung still find him beautiful? If Yukhei crawls back to him on his contorted limbs, will Minhyung takes him in?

He cries, because he doesn’t think Minhyung will find him beautiful, because he has no reason to believe Minhyung will take him in.

Why would he? Why would he when the woman who gave birth to Yukhei threw him away? Why would he when his uncle didn’t want him unless Yukhei is The Yukhei whom he want him to be?

Minhyung is no God, just human. As broken and flawed as  Yukhei is. He said he had committed a sin, he said he had hurt someone precious to him. And so was Yukhei; a sinner. He had killed his own mother, he had taken her life away just by simply existing.

He’s cruel, he’s evil, he’s disgusting. It’s his fault that his beloved brother has to live his life without a mother. She had taken a look at him, just one single look and Yukhei reminded her of everything she once had and had lost. Yukhei was killing her everyday by making her remember about the love she could no longer have, even if that love was the only reason for her to stay alive.

Yukhei’s a murderer, there are blood on his arms, drenched all over him in mocking scarlet. Soaked in his crime, who would even take a look at him, let alone accept him?

But Minhyung had been a sinner too, doused with his own slip. Yukhei had embraced him, let him sink his bloodied teeth into his skin.

Yukhei had loved him, what are the odds that Minhyung will do him the same?

:::

The odds that Yukhei will find someone new is bigger, apparently.

Or, Kun, and maybe his uncle, wants him to believe it is bigger.

They practically set him up with Jungwoo. So cliche. So typical, just like how he stumbled upon Minhyung - Mark , both deliriously drunk. Typical. But Yukhei had loved him, had loved Minhyung’s screeching laugh and awkward hands, had loved Minhyung’s seagull-like brows and clumsy feet.

He had loved Minhyung in his high and in his low. Surely, he can try to love Jungwoo, too; Jungwoo with his soft cheeks and shy smile. Jungwoo with his high nose and lean muscles on his abs.

“This is Jungwoo. Jungwoo, this is Lucas.”

Minhyung’s stomach had been flat, Yukhei cannot help but compare as he stares pointedly at the trained flesh. Unashamed.

“Umm,” someone umm -ed. The voice is light, almost airy. Like spring breeze.

Minhyung sounds like a summer that he dreams about.

Yukhei looks up to the owner of the voice. Jungwoo. He’s smiling but there is huge question mark on his face. He is cute. His cheeks are red, his whole skin is flushing, probably from Yukhei’s unabashed staring. He is adorable, Yukhei wonders if he was a virgin.

“Hey, man,” he shoots Jungwoo his most charming grin, flashing his teeth, quirking his brows. The boy blushes darker shade of red.

From the corner of his eyes, Yukhei catches Kun nodding excitedly. A little too enthusiastic.

“Sorry, I was staring,” he admits bluntly, gesturing at Jungwoo’s exposed stomach. They’re in the swimwear, ready for the shooting. It’s the pool of his apartment building, the place’s luxurious enough for the shot. Staffs are bustling behind them, oblivious to their exchange. “Nice abs.”

Jungwoo looks like he doesn’t know whether he should cover his stomach or let them show because Lucas positively appreciated it. He settles with awkwardly holding them in front of his torso, fists clenched. His smile is wobbly, the redness has spread from his cheeks to his ears. He avoids looking at Lucas as he mumbles, his already high voice going up in pitches. He’s squeaking like a mouse. “Thank you.”

The first time Yukhei had seen Minyung naked, the boy was shy too but he didn’t try to hide himself. He gave Yukhei everything, his beauty, his flaw. He let Yukhei saw everything.

And now Yukhei had lost that everything.

“Wouldn’t imagine that from a cute face like you.”

Jungwoo looks like he belongs there in the water, gaping like a fish.

“Anyways,” he clasps his hand around Jungwoo’s wrist. The boy squeaks again. Yukhei forcefully wrenches his fist open, slipping his palm into Jungwoo’s sweaty, softer one. “Nice to meet you, Jungwoo. Got a feeling we’re going to hit it well.”

Jungwoo, his face no longer able to go any darker than this, hides from Yukhei’s eyes. “I hope. We. Yeah. Nice to meet you.”

Yukhei shakes his hand, causing Jungwoo to flicks his gaze upward but quickly scurries away again when he catches the smile Yukhei flashes his way.

Even when he’s in his cheesiest, Minhyung always looked his way.

But now, Yukhei has to walk away.

:::

He hits it off with Jungwoo pretty well.

Way too well, if he has to say himself.

Jungwoo is so easy, a little praises here, a little bit of teasing there, and he warms up to Yukhei like butter on the pan. It’s the third time they have a dinner together, it’s a date, really, and Yukhei is taking Jungwoo back to the apartment he’s staying in, hand slung casually over the Korean’s shoulder.

Jungwoo is shy. Jungwoo is cute. Jungwoo is adorable. Jungwoo doesn’t say no when Yukhei asked him, “can I kiss you?” with his hand still heavy on his shoulder. Hanging loosely, allowing him an escape but trapping him all the same.

Jungwoo just blushes before closing his eyes, lips slightly parted. An admission. He is holding his breath, Yukhei can feel it from the tensing of his shoulder. He is cute, and with that thought, Yukhei shuts his eyes, dips his head down.

Yukhei kisses him.

It’s short. His lips are warm. His lashes are long. He feels wrong.

Everything feels wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong,

“Lucas?” Someone speaks on his mouth. Someone’s breath is caressing his lips. “Is something wrong?”

Yukhei opens his eyes and he sees the wrong person.

He could have said the right name.

“Sorry,” he tries to laugh it off, tries to pretend everything is right and he’s just, “nervous. I guess.”

“You’ve never done this before?” Jungwoo asks quietly, his chin is still tipped upward as if he’s waiting for Yukhei to swoop down and kiss him again. Yukhei sees the lustre on his eyes.

“What about you?”

Jungwoo flicks his gaze toward Yukhei’s lips then back to his eyes, afraid yet sure. It reminds Yukhei a lot of Minhyung; uncertain but ready. Afraid yet eager. “I have kissed before.”

“Boys?”

“Boys,” his voice goes softer, he’s craning his neck now and Yukhei feels compelled to grant his wish.

He kisses Jungwoo, this time he cups the boy’s face, Jungwoo moans slightly, looping his hands around Yukhei’s neck, holding him in place. The role’s been switched, Jungwoo’s the ward and Yukhei’s the prisoner.

They kiss, they kiss, and kiss, even if Yukhei’s stomach is turning upside down. They kiss even if Yukhei feels like throwing up any moment with how wrong it feels. They kiss even if Yukhei weeps for someone else. Someone with shorter hair and shorter height, someone with deeper voice and deeper eyes. Someone who giggles before they kiss and still giggles when they’re kissing.

“You are,” not him .

Jungwoo smiles, his cheeks are as red as his well-loved lips. “You’re a good kisser.”

“You’re not so shy now?” Yukhei berates himself to fucking stay and don’t pull away. This is his chance to get over Minhyung. This is his chance to set everything right.

Jungwoo steals a quick peck from his lips, giggling. Yukhei’s world crashes all around him because it’s a giggle but it’s not Minhyung, and it was a kiss but it wasn’t Minhyung’s. “They said so too.”

“They?”

“The boys,” he threads his fingers through Yukhei’s hair, making the ones on his nape stands up.

“Whom you kissed before.”

“Whom I kissed before,” he nods, biting his lips as he looks at Yukhei, eyes blown. “They said I’m. Guess what did they say about me?”

You’re not Minhyung and I shouldn’t be kissing you . “Let me guess.”

“Be my guest.”

“You’re such a flirt, I didn’t see that coming,” Yukhei chuckles. Yukhei wants to run away. Yukhei wants to throw Jungwoo’s hands off from his shoulder because he’s making Yukhei’s skin pricks and crawls.

“From a cute guy like me?”

“Well, they said the cutest guy is the freakiest one,” he stands his ground. He runs his thumbs over Jungwoo’s lips. The lips he just had kissed before. The wrong lips.

“That’s what they said.”

“About you?”

“Mm-hmm.”

Yukhei wants to say he is the freakiest one because he is kissing someone he doesn’t want to kiss, but he kissed him. Takes a day or two, he’d be fucking him.

The worst part is he can see it actually coming. The worst part is he doesn’t know how could things get any worse when everything around him is already competing to be the worst. The worst part is Jungwoo is kissing him again. The worst part is Jungwoo is licking his lips. The worst part is Yukhei opens them and lets Jungwoo slips his tongue in with a moan. The worst part is Yukhei can feel himself getting excited because he is a man, and he’s frustrated, and he hasn’t get any laid since forever, and Jungwoo is so ready, so willing, so hot, so eager.

The worst part is Yukhei will take him if Jungwoo wants Yukhei to take him.

“Stay the night?”

The worst part is he asks, and he ruts his hips against Yukhei’s, not because he knows what Yukhei wants but because he wants Yukhei to wants what he wants.

The worst part is Yukhei can’t say no, not when his dick jumps under his jeans and Jungwoo seems to catch it. He licks his lips, presses himself harder to Yukhei and murmurs throatily, eyes fiery with desire. “He seems like he wants to stay.”

The worst part is Yukhei swears, “yes.” The worst part is Yukhei takes out his phone, texts his uncle, ‘ I’m staying with Jungwoo ,’ and he doesn’t wait for his permission because he knows what he’s going to say anyways. He turns off his phone, pulls one of Jungwoo’s hand to his crotch, giving him a taste of what he desires.

“You’re huge,” he says, breathless. Yukhei swears he would have fondled Yukhei right there right now if they weren’t out there in the open.

“You’re okay with sex on the third date?”

“I’m okay with sex on the first date, actually.” He admits, “actually, I’ve wanted you since I saw you.”

“At the pool?”

“No, before, when my agent showed me your photo.”

Yukhei laughs, it’s borderline hysterical because he’s hysteric, because he’s about to fuck someone who’s not Minhyung just because he wants to fuck Minhyung but he can’t. He’s not allowed to. But he wants. And his dick fucking wants it. Even his uncle wants him to fuck Jungwoo. So is Kun. Maybe. He doesn’t care. He wants a fuck, now, or else he’d explode inside out from anger, from lust, from frustration. He’s been drowning in his misery for far too long, he wants to feel good.

He wants to, even if it means fucking someone and imagining it’s Minhyung instead of whoever else he actually is.

“Fuck, it’s true. You’re a freak.”

“You hate it?” Jungwoo palms him through his jeans, Yukhei swears again.

“No. Not at all.”

How is he supposed to hate Jungwoo when he’s the freakiest one around here? How is he supposed to hate Jungwoo when he’s about to use the boy for his advantage? How is he supposed to hate Jungwoo when he’s the worst here?

The worst part is he’s used being the worst one, and it feels wrong not to be one. So, he kisses Jungwoo again, all hungry and filthy, and keeps his palm heavy on his crotch, slightly rutting against it. Jungwoo moans, one of his hand, the one that’s still tangled on his hair, guides his head for better angle.

“Lucas, Lucas, I want you. I want you to fuck me.” He says, hurried, impatient.

The worst part is Yukhei says, “I want you too, Pretty boy. I want to fuck you, now.”

The worst part is he’s going to do all the worst.

:::

They didn’t waste their time. The moment Yukhei closed the door behind him, Jungwoo is already all over him, his hands fumbling between getting Yukhei’s clothes off and holding him in place. Yukhei chuckles at his excitement, can’t deny it’s adorable. Can’t deny he likes it when Jungwoo begs him. Can’t deny that he wishes it’s Minhyung. Can’t deny that he imagines it’s Minhyung whose shirt he tears open, buttons popping here and there.

Can’t deny when he undresses him, revealing inch by inch of creamy white skin, he fantasizes it’s Minhyung he’s doing.

Even when he fucks Jungwoo, one leg coiled around his hips for better angle, he pretends the boy is Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung. Minhyung.

Yukhei doesn’t come with any name on his lips because he know it wouldn’t be the right name to say even if the right name he desires. Jungwoo comes with a shout of his name, Jungwoo lies there, motionless, lets Yukhei uses his hole for orgasm.

“Can we do it one more time?” The boy asks after Yukhei reached his climax, squeezing around the sensitive dick.

Yukhei groans, flips him over. Jungwoo moans, excited. He takes him from behind this time, grabbing handful of his ass to spread them wider. The boy beneath him keens, rutting to the sheet for a friction of his own.

They fuck thrice. Jungwoo came with Lucas’ name thrice.

Yukhei never mention any name. Not even once.

:::

He meets Jungwoo again the other day. He texts his uncle again, ‘I’m staying with Jungwoo .’

His uncle’s reply has always been the same; have fun .

Yukhei’s response has always been the same, he mutters to his innocent phone, “fuck you.”

Oh, was his uncle happy about this development. He practically glows when Yukhei came home from Jungwoo’s place. He tries to hide his smile but fails miserably, the corner of his lips always twitching. If this was any other situation, Yukhei would find it funny. But this is not any other situation, this is his uncle forcing his will on Yukhei and Yukhei, hopeless for his approval, has no other choice but obey it. He’s puppet in the string, too in love with its master.

Kun was just as happy if not more. Whenever they work together, he keeps asking Yukhei, “are you staying with Jungwoo tonight?”

Yukhei wonders when he says, “yeah. Sounds like a good plan,” was it said just out of spite or he actually fancy the thought of sleeping with the Korean model. Just like he cannot deny how he imagines Minhyung when he’s fucking Jungwoo, he cannot deny the sex with Jungwoo is good.

It’s either a blessing or a curse that the sex with Jungwoo is nothing like the sex with Minhyung. Sex with Minhyung is rough but somewhere in between, the roughness has become their kind of tenderness. Minyung wants them; the rough hands, the rough kiss, the rough sex, because he wants them to justify something. He always does it like he wouldn’t be able to bear himself if he doesn’t have it. He always does it like he wouldn’t be able to stand himself if he doesn’t have it, and it’s sweet. Achingly sweet that in a way Yukhei is helping Minhyung to love himself.

Sex with Jungwoo is rough. Sex with Jungwoo is fun. Sex with Jungwoo is exciting. Sex with Jungwoo is good, that’s all. Jungwoo lives up to his self-proclaimed name; freak in the sheet. Oh, he’s a freak, alright. Yukhei’s second night with him has him begging Yukhei to fuck his mouth while he had a huge, pink vibrator lodged in his ass. The other day had Yukhei coming to his place with Jungwoo waiting prettily in nothing but apron, food spread out just as prettily, he purred at Yukhei, “dinner or me?”

Yukhei said, “you,” and discovered that Jungwoo was cooking everything with butt plug in his ass.

The guy’s a freak, alright, and Yukhei cannot deny he likes it. He is just a man, slave to emotion as much as he is slave to desire. Sex with Jungwoo is never boring and the guy himself is never boring. He’s not exactly quiet as a mouse when they’re not having sex (or; when they’re not in his place which always lead them to nothing but sex), but he is so shy he sometimes cannot look at Yukhei in the eyes. He blushes whenever Yukhei teases him and hides his face whenever Yukhei teases him with how different he is on and outside the bed.

The guy is pretty to boots, too, that’s another advantage. He’s pretty, dainty like a flower. He still stutters when he talks to Yukhei about his story, about how he had come to work as a model after giving up his dream to become a singer. His laugh is soft, petal-tender like his lips whenever he sees Yukhei goofing around. He argues with himself for 5 straight minutes in silence before holding Yukhei’s hand.

Jungwoo is sweet, Jungwoo is kind and funny. Being with Jungwoo is nothing like being with Minhyung because with Minhyung, they never gone outside the small world they have built from scratch in Yukhei’s room. Being with Jungwoo makes him see outside the box he’s hiding himself in. Being with Jungwoo is how being with your lover should be, and Yukhei supposes he should be happy, he finally got himself a chance to be happy.

Yet, as he said earlier; it’s either a blessing or a curse. The blessing came with this opportunity for happiness, and at least the lack of similarity between Jungwoo and Minhyung stops Yukhei from wondering if this is how he and Minhyung could be.

But, alas, of course he thinks about it, of course being with Jungwoo makes him wonder had he given himself and Minhyung a chance, had he not messed up, would it be them together? Walking out under the greeting of the sun, tightly hand in hand as if they have a hope there in between and they have to carry them together?

That’s one of the curse. The other curse part comes with the collosal guilt because he still sees Minhyung everywhere, in his room, on his bed, in his kitchen. He still hasn’t lost him in his sleep, it’s still Minhyung he hears when he climaxes, it’s still Minhyung he jerks off to.

It’s still Minhyung’s aftertaste that lingers on his tongue, in his blood, on his skin, in his brain. It’s still Minhyung he weeps for every night. It’s still Minhyung he prays for every morning. It’s still Minhyung, the cadence of his breath in his dream, their unsaid goodbye is the only thing he cannot redeem.

It’s still Minhyung, even if it’s Jungwoo he’s holding, as days speed on past the summer break, reaching the autumn’s feet. Even later in the bleak of his winter, it’s sill Minhyung.

Nobody can every change that. Not Jungwoo. Not even his uncle.

:::

“I still love him.”

“Are we talking about this now?”

“I’m drunk, I’ll probably fall asleep in...”

Silence.

“That’s the sign,” he chuckles. He doesn’t hear his uncle chuckling back. He doesn’t care if his uncle chuckled back.

“But you are dating Jungwoo. Isn’t it unfair to him?”

“Rich for you to say that,” Yukhei scoffs. He pushes his glass down, it’s already empty, nothing to spill. Like Yukhei’s chest; empty, there’s no heart to hurt nor break.

“I suppose so.”

“I still love him. Even if I died and reborn again, I would love him still, and I will do it again, and again.”

A staccato of silence, followed by the cliche “Why?” And cliche, Yukhei’s entire life has become a cliche, and he wants to rewrite it if possible. Give him another family to born into but don’t give him another boy to fall into. Minhyung, the only abyss he desires. The only star he’d admire.

“Because I love him.”

“That doesn’t explain a thing.”

“That explains everything, but you wouldn’t understand uncle, you’re always the king.”

He hopes it hurts. He hopes it sting. He hopes. “And you?”

He hopes he’s never missing anything, but he does, isn’t he? “I’m always losing things.”

In his citadel of flesh and bones, there is nothing.

:::

Season passes like its their routine. It is indeed their routine, and sleeping with Jungwoo has become Yukhei’s routine until Jungwoo tells him he’s coming back to Korea this November but he’ll be back in Hong Kong somewhere over the summer.

“Why?”

“Of course to meet you,” he says before swallowing the rest of Yukhei’s question with a kiss.

They fuck once again, blinds tightly shut, not allowing the naughty sun to have a peek.

Yukhei takes him to the airport when the time comes. They doesn’t part with a kiss, just a handshake because Yukhei wouldn’t give him what he hadn’t give Minhyung and that includes proper goodbye. Jungwoo doesn’t question it even if it’s obvious he had wanted it. His hand lingers a little too long, Yukhei has to retrieve his hand first.

“Bye,” he says, easy. Jungwoo is easy. Everything about him is easy, like fucking him is easy, like saying goodbye to him is easy.

“It should be see you later, Lucas.” He says with a giggle. It’s so easy to adore him, nice, sweet, Jungwoo.

“Kay, then, later!”

The only difficult part is to love him.

:::

The only difficult parts are getting over Minhyung and getting his uncle to talk about the boy.

He’s been flying here and there, catching shows, and shoots. He’s busy as always, nothing new, only this time Yukhei has something new to talk about, he never imagined it’d be this frustrating. He always had something to tell his uncle before, he never had the courage, only dared to dream. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t as exasperating as now; he had accepted that his uncle wouldn’t listen.

This time Yukhei hopes. This time Yukhei knows his uncle would listen. This time Yukhei wants him to, even if it means he got to make him to.

As always, what Yukhei wants is not what he would get. The drinking session with his uncle is coming to stop altogether because the man wouldn’t come home until at least 2 in the morning, and Yukhei was too impatient to wait for him.

It’s not that Yukhei is free himself, he gets himself job. Models here, walks there. He meets up with old friends, hang outs, cinemas, hiking, going to Lamma Island for seafood, or going to Peng Chau even if the weather isn’t supportive.

He meets people, boys and girls, sometimes sleep with them. Sometimes, he replies to Jungwoo’s text because they’re still in touch with each other. Yukhei never mention the bodies he sleep with, neither does Jungwoo asks him about it. Jungwoo tells him he’s walking for Seoul Fashion Week this spring and Yukhei jerks off to the memory of Minhyung at night because Seoul Fashion Week does nothing but reminds him of Minhyung, it’s the path that leads him to the boy.

Yukhei still thinks of Minhyung, every night, every day. Every time he opens his eyes, every time he closes them. Every time he sleeps with someone else and wakes up to somebody else. Every single second, every single minute, every singe hour he dance with, and every single day he lives.

Everything, they remind him of Minhyung. Minhyung and his hazel eyes, Minhyung and his tanned skin, Minhyung and his soft, brown eyes. Minhyung and his clumsy hands. Minhyung and the way he calls him Xuxi , the way he clings on him like Yukhei is the last remain of his lifeline. Minhyung and the adorable way he scrunches up his face when he laughs. Minhyung and his broken heart. Minhyung and his nightmare. Minhyung and the maelstrom of emotion he hits Yukhei with.

Minhyung whom he holds like nobody else does, Minhyung who gets the best of Yukhei, Minhyung who’s drunk when they first met and get Yukhei drunk in him. In his love. In his passion. In his fear. In his tragedy. In that acne scar where his jaw meets his cheek. In the lovely row of his teeth. In all things he’s wrong and all things he’s right.

He misses Minhyung, great like tsunami, dear like waves calling to the shore. And Yukhei is here, right on the sand, dry on the shore. Minhyung is the sea, endless land of melancholic blue, calling, the song of Lorelei. Calling, yet Yukhei can’t call him back. Yet Yukhei can’t turn it back the way it was because he’s just human and Chronos is kind to nothing but time itself.

Yukhei is just a human. A sinner who tries to redeem himself except it’s the sin that he wants to atone the most that he cannot repent.

“You’re important,” he had told Minhyung and Minhyung had looked at him, sad yet happy, like it’s his final day on earth but first in heaven. He looked like he cannot bear the thought of being apart from Yukhei, he still remember it clearly; the slight downturn of his lips, the swirling darkness in his eyes.

He remembers it clearly and it’s killing him dearly. Dear, because Minhyung can’t hurt him. Dear, because every single pain his memory imparts on him is what he deserves, is what he wants, he’d rather struggle in misery of the boy than forgetting him.

He loves him, in this dangerous way when he gives Minhyung his everything and left him with nothing. He loves him in this way, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He loves Minhyung, and that’s what he’d tell uncle, again and again, no matter how many time it takes. He will tell him or the whole world if they asked; who do you love?

Yukhei would answer, sure, fearless. Let the blades strike him, let the arrows hit him. He had never been this sure in his whole life.

It’s Minhyung. It’s the boy he picked up drunk in random alley.

It’s Mark Lee.

:::

Yukhei has stopped feeling amazed at how fast time goes since forever. Or rather, he has stopped caring for he believed his life will remain the same. Nothing’s gonna change, his hands will be soaked in ugly crimson, and he will carry that stench of death forever. Time will does nothing. He never believe that time does heal. Ten years later and some, he is still haunted by guilt.

The only one that changed him is Minhyung, and it’s going to be a year since he left Minhyung. Year has changed six months ago, it’s June, four days away from July, and 33 days later it’s gonna be Minhyung’s birthday.

It’s been a year, yet, his uncle still hasn’t talk to him about Minhyung at all. What a coward. What a liar. He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised, he’s betrayed, again, like this is how it’s supposed to be and what he had coming all alone.

He doesn't bother hiding his disappointment from his uncle. He no longer hold himself back from spitting, “fuck you,” to his face. He no longer hopes he can talk to him about Minhyung.

No. He lies. He hopes, he prays, everyday, that he can talk to him about Minhyung and he can see it his way, just like how he had listened to his uncle’s story and sees a little bit of his.

The most frustrating day will find him calling Kun for the man is the only one who knew what had went down between Yukhei and Minhyung and his uncle. Their relationship has somewhat transformed into those of friends, or, if Yukhei had to be honest, of brothers .

Kun listens to him. At first he wasn’t so approving, but he was patient, letting Yukhei speaks what he had in his mind, what he felt toward his uncle, and Minhyung, and Jungwoo. And Jungwoo. That’s why Kun wasn’t so happy when Yukhei told him that he’s not over Minhyung yet.

“What about Jungwoo?”

“What about him?”

“I thought he’s your boyfriend. You’re still in touch with each other, no? He’s coming back here this Summer.”

“He’s not. We just sleep together. We hang out. We fuck. If we took out the hanging out and cute date in cute cafes, it’s basically what I’ve been doing with Minhyung.”

“But that’s-"

“Not so different, no? The only reason I never go to cute date with Minhyung was because we could not. There was circumstance. With Jungwoo, there’s none.”

“Lucas-"

“Yet would you call Minhyung my boyfriend? No. Because you didn't set us up together like you did me and Jungwoo, and I’ll let you know that’s fucking selfish of you. And my uncle. And that’s not fucking fair.”

Kun had been silent, speechless, safe for his almost inaudible yet still sincere, “I’m sorry,” that came a while later.

Yukhei didn’t say, “apology accepted,” he just said, “There was never anything between me and Minhyung, between me and Jungwoo. But I know what I want, I know whom I want. I don’t know why wouldn't my uncle understand. He wouldn't even listen.”

“He’s just trying to figure things out.”

“That long?” His contempt was out on display.

“It’s something that he’s been doing for thirty years and more, Lucas. Habit isn’t the easiest thing to break.”

“Books said it only takes three months.”

“Books said it takes three months to get over everything, including a break up.”

That stung. That’s understandable. That simmered down Yukhei’s exasperation toward his uncle a bit. That’s how Kun became his best friend , the only one he could turn to about Minhyung.

With more stories he shared, with more avoidance from his uncle’s part, Kun has became more sympathetic. He even started criticizing his employer. “He should have listened to you.”

“Did you regret saying that?”

“Saying what?”

“Parents just want the best for their children.”

Kun looks embarrassed with himself as he admits. “Somewhat. I mean, it’s not a universal thing. Mine certainly was.”

“Yours are fantastic.”

“Mr. Guixian is a nice person.”

“Not so much as a father.”

He cringes. “Yeah.”

“More beer?” Yukhei offers.

“Please."

They order some.

It’s one of the bar downtown. Kun’s favorite place. They have wicked margaritas, but Yukhei settles with the usual beer, not feeling anything fancy.

They just had a photoshoot this afternoon, it’s for another summer spread. Yes, it’s been a year since then. It’s been more than a year since he met Minhyung and around one since he left him. Yukhei is feeling crappy, even the photographer admitted that it’s difficult to work with him today. Yukhei apologized after hearing that, getting himself to the game, and angled himself as best as possible the get the golden sun lining up the contour of his jaw.

Kun took him to the bar, seeing how badly Yukhei needed a lift up. He didn’t say no, but he didn’t say yes either. Kun took it as how he wanted to be and here they are now. Two men, two glasses of beer, refilled.

“This is not the best for me. I know that for sure,” Yukhei mutters, staring at the fizzy surface of his drink.

Kun opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. Takes a long swig. He says, half-slamming his glass on the table. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“Everything?”

Yukhei still doesn’t say apology accepted. “You’re just carrying out an order.”

“I did say it wasn’t wise.”

“Considering how badly I take this, it wasn’t wise. I mean, I read books, they said this isn’t healthy.”

“If you had a clean break, maybe you can move on. And it’s partly my fault you didn’t. I was biased, I misjudged. You. That boy.”

“Minhyung.”

“Minhyung. I thought you’re just fooling around with him, that there’s nothing serious between you. I’ve never heard of a relationship that started from one night stand ever went well.”

“And not all parent knew what’s best for their children.”

“Not a universal case.”

“Not exactly.” Yukhei turns slightly on his seat to catch Kun’s expression. He looks almost as devastated as Yukhei is, his brows are furrowed together, face pinched. “I regret it everyday, you know...”

This time, it’s Kun’s turn to look at him. Yukhei meets his gaze head on. “Which part?”

“Letting my emotion take over, not the hitting Can-Lie’s part. I’d happily hit the bastard again.”

“You two had history.”

“He’s my first, and he dismissed me easily. Yet for some reason, he’s so fucking obsessed with me. I guess it dented his pride that I wasn’t interested him in the second time. He probably had people fawning over his sexual prowess in bed and then there’s this new kid refusing him, and boooo, he went apeshit about it.”

Kun raises his eyebrows high, understanding clear on his face. “So that’s what happened. I noticed he’s all over you.”

“Annoying the hell out of me.”

“That’s nasty.”

“Hence why I don’t regret hitting him. He deserved it.”

“For having one night stand with you? That’s-"

Kun stops, looking skyward, his face is scrunched in concentration.

“No offense, but,” still not looking at Yukhei as if he’s truly sorry with what he’s going to say next. “Childish?”

“Him?”

“You.” The Chinese man shrugs then takes another sip of his drink, then another, stalling. He is weighing his words, Yukhei can tell. And Yukhei is tired of dilly-dallying, his uncle had done it to him and he doesn’t need Kun to do the same.

“Because?”

“You hate him because,” Kun huffs. “He dismissed you?”

“That was my first time.”

“Sorry but that’s kind of,” another pause, another huff.

“Childish?”

“Yeah.”

“I suppose so,” Yukhei shurghs too because he can understand where Kun is coming from.

For some people, especially people in their line of business, sex is just a tool. Sex is supposed to be casual. Sex is another trophy to collect. Sex is just sex, it doesn’t come with feelings not commitment. But for Yukhei-

“I just have, this issue.”

“Issue?”

“Now I’m thinking whether I should tell you the full story or not because I haven’t told Minhyung about it at all.”

It’s impossible to miss the way Kun’s eyes soften at his words. “You really love him, don’t you?”

And that question. What a stupid question. What a year old late question. Kun should have asked him a year ago, that day when his uncle ordered him to take Yukhei home. Had Kun been willing to lend his ears to him, to hear his plea, could things be any different? Could he be there right now, with Minhyung curled by his side, his fingers walking along Yukhei’s perineum up to his neck before touching his jaw. Yukhei would catch the signal, the message. He’d turn his face, smiling as he pressed a kiss as gentle as the emotion that wells up inside of him for this boy.

Minhyung would giggle, or merely smile, letting Yukhei shower him with attention, his fingers resting on the base of his throat. He could have choke Yukhei if he wanted but he didn’t, he’d never hurt Yukhei, and for that reason alone, Yukhei would,

“I love him,” he says, letting the words come out. Letting it takes shape in his voice so it’s true, it’s real, and anyone who listen has to acknowledge it. His feelings. It’s real, not just some illusion in his head.

“Now I know you do,” the way Kun is looking at him right now, it’s as if he’s finally seeing Yukhei for the first time. The real Yukhei, not the young, reckless Casanova Lucas who thoughtlessly picked up a random stranger and brazenly slept with him.

Fearlessly fall in love with him.

“I’m sorry, Lucas.”

“You keep saying that.”

“Because I didn’t believe in you.”

Yukhei looks away. If Kun knew what he’s apologizing for, if he put it into words like this, it wouldn't be fair for him to deny him. “You should have.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry, I should have listened to you. Maybe if I did, things would be different.”

“Would it?” or it’s just their wishful thinking? Wishful, like Yukhei wishes Minhyung would randomly pop out from this sea of stranger. He’s the only stranger that Yukhei wants to introduce into his life.

“There’s no use musing about it now, unfortunately.”

“Gee. What a bleak future I have.”

“Had you kept your emotion in check.”

“Had I did, uncle wouldn't oppose my relationship with Minhyung, would he?” Looking back into his full glass, Minhyung muses. “That’s why he didn’t like Minhyung, did he? Minhyung’s such a band influence on me. He made me resort to violence."

“You’ve never?” Kun makes a punching gesture with one hand.

Yukhei snorts. “Nah, fight a lot back in middle school, get sorted out in high school. Either way, uncle never really care about it.”

“Until now?”

“Until now.”

“Have you ever wondered why?”

“Eh. Obviously because this time his reputation is on the line, and teenagers fight all the time. He wouldn’t care back then, it’s part of growing up? Heck, did he even care about me back then?”

“That means he cares about you now,” Kun taps Yukhei’s glass with the back of his hand. “Drink?”

That actually makes sense, Yukhei realizes, and it lessens his anger toward him for a bit. Not completely, the only time he would is when his uncle finally man up and talk to him.

He downs all his drink in one go, Kun looks at him with admiration diluted in sympathy.

“Either way, he needs to listen to me.”

“He needs to,” Kun agrees.

“Do you think he would?”

Kun’s answer has been honest.

It might have not help him at all, nor was it encouraging, but Yukhei appreciates his honesty. He doesn’t come to Kun for help to begin with, just someone who’d lend him ears to listen and shoulder to lean onto. Just someone who’d agree to him and see things his way because the person he wants to do it the most isn’t willing to do it for him.

“I don’t know.”

Sometimes, Yukhei doesn’t know why is he still trying too.

:::

Yukhei is still trying because sun gets longer every day, he could almost hear its disappointed sigh as it dips behind the horizon, insincere to leave. The sun hangs on the building, clingy like ex-lover, lingering, as if waiting for anyone to say “I’d miss you,” as if waiting for anyone to affirm he’s still needed. Foolish sun, of course he’s needed, of course he’s necessary. Just because nobody said it doesn’t mean it’s not true. But he supposed that’s how someone becomes an ex lover; because nobody said anything. Because everybody affirmed nothing.

Was that how Minhyung became his ex-lover too? Although technically he’s never Yukhei’s anything to begin with. There was never a name attached to their relationship, no brand, no tag. Just Minhyung and Xuxi, getting lost, getting found. Just kissing, exchanging breath like a vow. A vow they can never utter. A promise they couldn’t even stutter.

And Yukhei is trying because he wants to get a chance to mutter. He’s like the sun, in the sense he clings on his uncle stubbornly, refusing to sink down until he is willing to listen. Huang Guixian is, unfortunately, as stubborn as he is. It probably runs in their blood, and precisely, because they share the same blood, Yukhei thinks he should listen to him.

It’s been more than a year yet his uncle never let him talk about Minhyung. It’s always “later,” and Yukhei’s irritation grows greater. Clearly, his uncle is the sun as well. Both of them are. If the sun is terrified of leaving then his uncle is terrified of staying for staying means he had to listen to Yukhei telling him about how he had been drunk yet Minhyung had loved him all the same while uncle doesn’t seem to be able to love him unless he’s sober. The thing it would do to his pride, the loneliness that would come to him once he realized the boy he always stopped himself to care is leaving him once he started to care. He doesn’t want to lose Yukhei the way any other parent wouldn’t want to lose their child. In the same way, Yukhei wouldn’t want to lose him.

In the exact similar way, he wouldn’t want to lose Minhyung.

There’s no guarantee Minhyung is still waiting for him, there was, after all, nothing between them. No paper signed, no label put on them. There was nothing but two warm bodies, lost souls, fumbling in the dark yet somehow still managed to find each other, like stars align themself in the nebulous garden of galaxy.

But stars, they emit ray on their own. Neither Yukhei nor Minhyung shine. They’re candle, struggling to stay alight. They’re strangers, giving up the fight. And whenever they kiss, they blow and ignite. They’re holding on each other to stay alive, now miles apart, they’re fighting to survive.

If only his uncle would just listen to this endless prose and poems Yukhei’s mind had come up in his misery. If only his uncle would just listen to the imperfect night they shared together. If only his uncle would just listen to the way they had lied to each other, yet, somehow through it all, they still managed to sing the song they never dared to title that is now left unfinished.

They will never die, stuck in a passage, they’re nearing the chorus. Yukhei would have finished it, had his uncle let him. Yukhei would have written the final piece had his uncle just listened to him.

The problem is he doesn’t because he’s scared Yukhei would be leaving him, at least this is what Yukhei believes he feels. He has never known any other reason why one would be so scared to demand anything except for loneliness. It’s easier to hate his uncle less, it’s easier to keep trying if he thinks of his uncle as himself- always afraid, always feeling undeserving, always feeling unbecoming. Always feeling small and insignificant that nobody is willing to stay.

Stay. Minhyung had stayed, not selflessly of course, but he stayed nonetheless.

And his uncle needs to know that Yukhei would do the same for him for his uncle, for Minhyung. Had his uncle willing to stay he will tell the man, he will swear, in his mother’s name if he needed to that coming back to Minhyung doesn’t mean leaving his uncle behind.

He just needs him to listen.

:::

August arrives breezily. On the day of Minhyung’s birthday, Yukhei goes to Long Ke Wan for stargazing. It’s been a tough journey but the sight of stars dancing on the ocean, singing in the sky, the way summer kisses its humid harmony on his naked skin, the way they reminded him of Minhyung’s lips, everything was worth it.

He takes off his sandals then walks along the coastline, the sand pricks warmly under the bare sole of his feet. Yukhei doesn’t know where he is walking to, keeping his eyes up to the sky for the sea is Minhyung and he doesn’t want to see him yet until clocks truck twelve and it’s officially his birthday.

It’s August first now then in fifteen minutes, it’s gonna be second. First will become yesterday even though it’s just less than twenty hours away. What a strange concept time is. How deceiving. How cruel, how unfeeling, the way it adds distance between him and Minhyung other than the already existing miles. Have time ever loved anyone, anything, the way Yukhei had loved Minhyung? Had it been, would it be kind to it?

Yukhei supposes time has never loved before, time doesn’t have regrets, that’s why it can only do nothing but move forward. Ahead. What a coward , Yukhei assumes instead. Time, was it scared that if it stopped and looked back, it’d find something it would regret? Was that why time only moves forward? Because it doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s capable of making a mistake?

“Things you make me think about, Minhyung-ah,” Yukhei snorts as he sits down on a rock.

The area is relatively deserted compared to the other ones, he’s been scoring the beach for about ten minutes before he found this spot. Yukhei lets his sandals fall from his hand, it topples on top of each other. He rolls the sleeves of his shirt until he’s practically sleeveless, every drag of skin reminds him of Minhyung and how he had clawed along his shoulders.

“No wonder my uncle’s so afraid of you, you made me crazy. In any way you can define crazy. Crazy, I’m madly in love with you. I’m crazy in love for you. I’m crazy for talking to myself about the crazy things I’m thinking about because of you.”

The wind blows, the waves clap back. Is it him? Is it his answer? Stars glitter, far away. Minhyung is far, further than Yukhei could reach. Far like their days together. Far beyond had his mother gazed into. Far, too deep, he has fallen into. Into Minhyung. Into the lost boy who found him. In love. In any other name could be tacked on this feeling that dwells inside his despicable body.

“Would you take me, Minhyung-ah,” he says, finally gazing into the sea. To the ebb and flow of its indigo body. To the song it sings as it skirts along the shore. “If I came to you, would you still take me?”

If you would then please, please, take me. Take to me wherever you are for my body, it cannot go to anywhere but you. For my river will flow to no other estuary but you. If I throw myself into you then would you take me? Take me far off to the middle of the sea? To where you belong and beside you is the only place I want to be. Please take me. Please love me. Please forgive me. Please.

“Happy birthday, Minhyung-ah.” He doesn’t wipe the tears that fall from his eyes, he lets it flow, down to his lips. Yukhei licks it, feeling the saltiness, tasting the sweat glistening on Minhyung’s skin.

Yukhei savours it; his pain. His misery. His longing, the gaping hollow in his breast. He savours them as not to forget the boy. The boy whom he’d love, to his bone marrow.

:::

“Where were you?”

It’s not the question itself that surprises Yukhei; it’s his uncle even questioning itself that sprung his astonishment.

Yukhei stands awkwardly in the doorway, his uncle on the other end. His sandals on hand, shirt half-buttoned, the ghost of ocean was still imprinted on his skin from the earlier swim, his hair is still damp, they stick uncomfortably to his temple.

“Umm.”

“It’s four AM,” his uncle says without even sparing a glance at the clock.

Yukhei spares one. “Were you waiting for me?”

“Do you think?”

The young man opens his mouth. Stares at his uncle. Blinks. Closes his mouth. Drops his sandals unceremoniously on the floor and slowly shuts the door behind him.

“Where were you?” He repeats, impatient. His eyes are dark, he looks unimpressed.

“This isn’t like, the first time I’ve ever went out this late.”

“The first time you weren’t telling me.”

He brushes his sticky hair back, cringing at how they clump under his hand. “Ugh, I probably should take a shower.”

“Where were you?” Guixian asks once again. He’s still not moving, he’s not even tapping his feet on the floor like all cliches on novels. He just stands there, in the hallway, imploring but not intimidating.

“Swimming.”

“You weren’t in the pool.”

Yukhei frowns at him. “You looked for me?”

“This is the first time you weren’t telling me,” he repeats again but there was no exasperation on his face. There’s just one thing and Yukhei wonders if it was cruel for him to feel elated.

“Were you worried?”

His silence just ignited his glee.

“You totally were, hey.” It’s difficult to keep himself from grinning, or maybe he’s not even making an effort to. Yukhei slips into his slippers, sand still stuck under his nails.

“Is it something you’re supposed to be proud about? Making me worried?”

“No but it makes me happy,” he admits it easily.

It must have surprised his uncle, even if his jaw doesn’t fall open, nor does he pull any comical reaction, he stutters, “I, you were, what?”

“I’m happy,” Yukhei says once again when he stands right in front of his uncle. Holding his uncle’s gaze, Yukhei puts both hands on the man’s pajama clad shoulder, squeezing tight, sealing off any escape.

Under the weight of his arms, his uncle flinches, but Yukhei holds him. Holds him as so he won’t run away because he’s done being avoided, he’s done chasing after a ghost; of his uncle’s approval, of Minhyung’s love. He’s done. He’s tired. He wants to put an end to this and when is better than now when they’re smack-dab in the middle. Walk back is the door leading outside. Walk forward is his house, at least it’s supposed to be. Anywhere, he cannot run away from his uncle. From the obligation he has toward him, and it’s only fair if he cannot run either, from Yukhei, from what he’s about to say. This is the only place they can be fair, right in the middle.

“Because you care, because you waited for me. Because you’re afraid that I’m not going to comeback but I will let you know uncle, and I wish you can, at least, willing to believe me-”

“I do.”

“You’re not.”

“Yukhei.”

A squeeze, a smile that he hopes doesn’t come out bitter and more sincere. “You’re not, because if you do, you’d listen to me. You would listen to whatever I had to say about Minhyung without feeling like I would leave you for him.”

“I wasn’t-”

“Then why didn’t you, uncle? Why wouldn’t you listen?”

He cannot answer him, not because he doesn’t know but because Yukhei had answered it for him.

“You don’t believe me.”

“Yukhei.”

“If you do, you’d listen to me, but no, you don’t, that’s why you wouldn’t listen to me. You would only listen to yourself, to whatever you’re telling yourself. To your ghost, to your nightmare. Would it hurt, uncle, to believe me even if just a little bit?”

Another silence.

“I believe in you. I believe you’d listen to me, that’s why I didn’t rebel back then and obediently come home, because I believe you’d listen to me. Because I want to believe you can understand, because I believe you are willing to try as much as I am.”

“Try what?” His uncle asks, he sounds so small, so tired, like nothing Yukhei always imagined his uncle to be but it makes him even happier for Yukhei had been terrified too before, and like this, both of them scared and frightened, he feels like he’s a step closer to his uncle.

“Try being a family, you my father and I’m your son.”

That seems to struck a nerve, his uncle sighs, for the first time averts his gaze. The soft sound that escapes his lips is a sign of admission. A truce, submission. “How do you know this so well?”

“Been there, done that.”

“Being someone’s family?”

“Fearing someone will leave me behind and nobody is willing to stay.”

Yukhei expected a lot of things but none of them was his uncle’s hands skimming past his shoulder before pulling him into an embrace tighter than his mother had ever given him. None of them was his uncle’s voice, shaky and tight, as he whispers, “I’m sorry.”

Yukhei expected a lot of things, not the hug, but one of them is having tears streaming down his face. He doesn’t try to fight it, just let relief washes over him, happiness bursting in his hollowed out chest and controls his everything. Being held by his uncle, his hands are awkwardly clinging on his uncle’s shoulders, sandwiched between their bodies. But he doesn’t feel out of place, no, on contrary, he feels right , like this is where he’s supposed to be and where he belongs. Like this is where he could have been since years ago but he didn’t allow himself a chance for he didn’t believe himself to be deserving. Neither did his uncle.

“Was it me?”

“My mother, actually,” Yukhei admits quietly, hiding his face in the crook of his uncle’s neck. “And your brother.”

“You look just like him.”

Yukhei’s breath hitches. “I know.” This is yet another thing he had expected yet knowing something prior sometimes does nothing to soften the imminent blow. Pain is not imperceptible, but pain is inescapable.

“But you’re nothing like him, Yukhei. You’re relentless, you never give up. You, you care so much and he never once cared about anything. Sometimes, I doubt he even cared about himself because if he did,” his uncle exhales, hugging him tighter. “If he did, he wouldn’t be leaving your mother.”

“...Did he love her?”

“I’d say the only person he had ever genuinely care, the only person he had ever given himself up for. But habit dies hard, and my brother, Min-hao, just like you and me, he’s scared about a lot of things.”

Another tear slips by, Yukhei licks them off his lips, chuckling. “Guess I really am their son after all. My father’s a paranoid jerk who’s also a coward. My mother’s too stubborn to move on.”

“That only means you’re full of love, Yukhei, for someone else, for yourself.”

“That’s one way to see it,” the young man - boy , smiles. He wonders if his uncle is smiling too, he wonders if his uncle is feeling this too; the happiness of being welcomed, accepted. Understood. “I love you, Uncle.”

“And you love him?”

Him. Minhyung. Yukhei closes his eyes, draws the image of the boy in the dark of his mind. Minhyung, his sugar. His Minhyung. “All he did was lie to me. But guess what, I love him. Even his lies. Even all his dishonesty, every single lie he told me, I love them. I love them all.”

For a while, his uncle doesn’t say anything, he just holds Yukhei there, tight, and Yukhei swears he has never felt this safe in this house before. “Do you want to meet him?”

Such a stupid question , Yukhei thinks. Shouldn’t his uncle know his answer already? He had told him a year ago that even if he could turn back the time, he had told his mother too, even if things could have turned differently between them, there’s one thing that Yukhei wouldn’t change. There’s one thing Yukhei wouldn’t trade with anything in the whole world.

Even if they gave him the crown to rule over the earth. Even if they gave him all gold that exist in the entire universe. Even if they gave him the key to the whole world, this is one thing that Yukhei will never change.

This is the only thing, and he tells his uncle just that.

“Would you tell me about him?”

“Another stupid question,” Yukhei laughs, carefree. Happy. His uncle doesn’t take offense to that, just shrugging and patting Yukhei on the back. The touch feels like an apology.

“From your stupid uncle. Would you tell me?”

“I would,” he frees his hands from between their bodies, hugging his uncle tight on the neck, giggling. “I would if you listen to me.”

His uncle says, “yes, I would,” then Yukhei tells him, about Minhyung, about his sugar, about the boy who was drunk and was crying and was lost and was found by him and stayed and how he had found Yukhei in return. About the boy who called him Xuxi and even if Yukhei didn’t know, even if there was nothing to guarantee Minhyung’s feeling for him, Yukhei would like to believe that the boy still loves him.

He, after all, is a fool. And just like his love for Minhyung, nothing’s ever gonna change that.

:::

Pulling a joke on him seems to be the latest thing universe is fond about.

He could have gone to Korea the very next day, on August 3rd, but one of the huge fashion house called his uncle, specifically requested him, and the sum of money they offered him is not an amount that Yukhei dared to refuse.

Right. He did just say last night that he wouldn’t trade Minhyung to anything else. Ha ha. Jokes on him.

At least his uncle is apologetic. At least this is something that Yukhei does voluntarily himself, there’s nobody to blame, except maybe the fashion house, but then he remembers the ridiculous amount of money they’re willing to spend for Yukhei, and, “first face for New York’s fashion week this September.”

He might be a lovesick fool but let’s just be real. This is once in a lifetime moment. People would literally step on each other to walk the prestigious runaway, especially first face. Anybody who still has a brain cell wouldn’t turn down this kind of offer.

He accepts it. He also begs his uncle to clear his schedule after that, at least for a week because that’s probably the most he could get with his new job as the brand’s face, and the other places that have booked him for A/W shootings.

Also, a Korean visa. Tourist one. It’d be better if he could score Yukhei another spot in Seoul Fashion Week, a working visa grant him 90 days after all, and this time, with his uncle’s blessing in his pocket, he’s more than ready to spend its entirety with Minhyung.

Everything is perfect. One month and two weeks then he could be reunited with Minhyung again.

Everything is perfect. Almost. Because the night will find Yukhei wondering alone, or sometimes out loud if his uncle was willing to listen, about how Minhyung would react to him. He supposed anger would be the most logical one, considering the circumstances of their goodbye .

His uncle is so apologetic, he goes as far as offering a personal apology to Minhyung. Yukhei is touched, but he finds the idea ridiculous nonetheless. His uncle’s apology could be as meaningless as his own had Minhyung decided to shut the door to his heart forever. If it turned out, the worst possible scenario out there for Yukhei, that Minhyung had forgotten him, had despised him, and refused to take him back, Yukhei swears he wouldn’t blame anyone.

It’s just how it’s supposed to be. People come and go. Maybe they’re never meant for each other to begin with and Yukhei, Yukhei at the moment can’t stand it, but Yukhei later, Yukhei in the future who had properly talk or bid his farewell to Minhyung, will be able to accept it.

He tells his uncle that this is what he has been fighting for; not to reclaim whatever position he had in Minhyung’s life, just a proper talk and proper goodbye. Proper apology. Whether Minhyung will welcome him or shun him away, that’s for Minhyung to decide. Yukhei owes him at least this much- apology and honesty. And if it was Minhyung’s desire for him to leave, then Yukhei will willingly leave, only after he tells Minhyung everything he had wanted to tell him. Only after he tells Minhyung the truth about himself. About his fear. About his sin. About his father and mother. About his uncle. About Wong Yukhei and Lucas and Huang Xuxi.

“I should have listened to you earlier, maybe you still have the chance with the boy.”

“Hey, don’t go ahead and kill my chance! I want to believe in Minhyung.”

His uncle says he’s oddly positive. His uncle also says sorry for what seems to be the millionth time already. Yukhei had told him to stop but the man is as stubborn as a mule with his apology and considering how Yukhei’s been quite adamant in blaming himself for his mother’s death, he supposes there’s no use in telling him to stop.

Everything is perfect. Almost, this time it’s because there’s one thing he forgot from the equation.

:::

“Guess who?” The voice is mocking, like the sun up there; hot and mocking. Yukhei is only down in his speedo, lounging by the poolside, his goggles are dangling on his neck. He’s been killing the gym this morning, yet he’s not satisfied. Swimming that is, to get rid of excess energy, to stay in shape.

Mainly to get rid of excess energy because he’s been jerking off to Minhyung almost every night, too eager to meet him. Too impatient.

Then there is Jungwoo, calling him. He still sound the same as ever, Yukhei remembers it well for once he had tried learning to love him. He failed, of course. He prays that this time, he wouldn’t fail in breaking things between them, clean.

“Jungwoo?”

There’s a giggle, “I’m touched you still remember me.”

“Hey. How could I not? Your photo yesterday makes it hard to forget you.”

He’s talking about the photo Jungwoo posted on Instagram yesterday, he was naked, hair wet, water dripping down his neck, between his collarbones, down his chest. He looked happy, carefree, the corner of his eyes were crinkled as his soft, pretty lips stretched into a wide grin.

The photo was captioned; Guess where am I? (u w u)9 . Cute. Adorable. So very Jungwoo yet not Jungwoo whom Yukhei had come to know very intimately . He’s so very innocent, a stark contrast to the boy who writhed on Yukhei’s bed almost a year ago, begging Yukhei to take him hard and raw.

“Pretty isn’t it? It was taken by a friend.”

“Oh,” Yukhei dips his legs in the water, enjoying the way the water kisses and laps crisp coolness along his skin. “You’re not alone?”

“No. I’m with this friend who’s dying to leave the hotel for his architectural tour.”

Yukhei frowns, talks in amusement-ladden wonder, “architectural tour? There’s such a thing in Hong Kong?”

“Beats me. Didn’t know myself until he mentioned it and you know what, he doesn’t want me to join.” His pout is audible even with these miles between them.

“So that’s where I come in?”

“So there’s where you come in,” Jungwoo affirms. “I want to meet you, Lucas.”

I want to meet you . Spoken so easily. Yukhei cannot imagine such words being said with so much casualty between him and Minhyung. Lust perhaps, as much as the one caressing Jungwoo’s vowels and maybe even more. But never this easy, never this weightless like I want to meet you only means I want to meet you and hides nothing else behind those four, simple words.

When it comes to Minhyung, I want to meet you means every single thing in the whole world. Desite. Loneliness. Hunger. Despair. Honesty. Anger. Solace. Solitude. I want to meet you, so intimate, so true. Hard to be said without blushing, it makes them - at least him, feels naked even though he’s entirely clothed. It’s easier to say let me fuck you, Sugar , when they’re both nude and tangled on the legs, than saying I want to meet you when they’re miles away from each other and words typed on the screen instead of voiced out from their lips.

I want to meet you . Such words come so easily from Jungwoo. Such honesty, the one both he and Minhyung had never uttered to each other. Was this a sign that Minhyung was bad for him and Jungwoo was better? Or was that simply a sign that as honest as he was with Jungwoo, he was never honest to him to begin with?

“Are you up for it?”

“Yeah, yeah. I am.” Yukhei stretches his legs in the water, staring at the way the muscles on his thighs tense. “Pick up the place, I’ll go there.”

“Let’s go somewhere quiet,” Jungwoo speaks in that languorous, dreamy way he’d speak when he’s feeling good but wants to feel better.

Yukhei’s stomach goes as tense as his thighs. He bites his lips, already familiar with what usually comes from this tone. He has to break this clean, this thing between him and Jungwoo, which means he’d have to decline whatever Jungwoo will offer him today.

He’s worried he wouldn’t be able to do it well, or worse; Jungwoo wouldn’t fare with it well.  He had never turned Jungwoo down before, always gave him what he wanted for Jungwoo is sweet, kind, and he lives as if he’s born to be pampered and will die if rejected.

Can-Lie the bastard he can hit. But, Jungwoo. Oh God, if Jungwoo turned the way Can-Lie turned into after Yukhei rejected him, Yukhei wasn’t sure if he can handle it well, for even if he didn’t love Jungwoo, he cares for him.

And Yukhei isn’t exactly the one to preach about moving on when he is the most rubbish at it.

“And this quiet place you have in mind is?”

“I’ll send you the address,” Jungwoo says, easy. Always so easy because he knows he wouldn’t have anything but easy. “Come and we’ll have a talk.”

“A talk?” Yukhei’s curiosity is piqued the same way he his legs are lifted out of  the water, free from the puddle of dread. “What talk?”

“A talk,” it’s repeated but not in the way that suggests Jungwoo is mocking him, just interested, as much as Yukhei is. “A very long talk.”

:::

Long talk turned out to be a talk about this boy, a friend , whom Jungwoo had mentioned in the phone. This friend who had taken such a lovely photo of Jungwoo, and many other photos before it. This friend who had tickled such lovely smile out from Jungwoo. The very same friend who had ditched Jungwoo for this architectural tour because he didn’t think Jungwoo could appreciate it and will probably bother him by holding his hand, or clinging to him, or lacing their fingers together.  Or, in other words; distract him by flirting with him.

“This isn’t what I expected,” Yukhei shots, point blank.

Jungwoo giggles in that pretty, dainty way of his. Still the same way after a year. Still the same Jungwoo who couldn’t hold his stare for more than a minute in public but bore a hole in Yukhei’s head with his fiery gaze once they’re on the bed.

The same Jungwoo is coming to Hong Kong with a friend, a Korean friend whom he seems to be sincerely besotted with and spoke of with unashamed admiration.

“What did you expect?” Jungwoo asks, stirring his iced lemonade.

Yukhei slices his strawberry flan, plays with it while answering because he is flushing. He feels foolish, he cannot look at Jungwoo on the face. This is the reverse echo of how thing was between them. “Sex.”

Jungwoo giggles again, tinkering. Yukhei doesn’t know where is he looking. The boy hasn’t been looking at him either, fixated on his pale colored drink, fixated at the sight of the boy in his head who’s braving through Hong Kong’s heat for architectural tour. “I wondered you would.”

“This is surprising. Um. I’m such a fool." Yukhei picks his pastry but doesn’t eat it. He apologizes, supposing he should look at Jungwoo but figuring the boy probably isn't looking at him either, so he doesn’t. “I’m sorry.”

“That should be my line, I think. I’m the one who went ahead and fall for someone else,” Jungwoo pauses. Stops stirring his glass as well. “But, well, I thought, there’s no harm in it, you know. I mean, you clearly had someone else in mind. So, I thought-”

“What?”

“What what?”

“What?” Yukhei, and Jungwoo, finally raise their heads. Looking at each other, blinking, both looking sheepish. “Were you talking about me?”

“You?” Jungwoo blinks again, that blink he does when he’s thinking, trying to remembers something that he forgets only because he’s too fixated on what he’s going to say next to backpedal and pick up what’s been said before. “Oh. You had someone else in mind part? Or the other part-”

“That.”

“The other part?”

“No,” Yukhei shakes his head, groans, covers his face and behind the fortress of his palms for he’s too ashamed to say it without any kind of protection. “Me, I have someone else in mind.”

“You have?” Jungwoo, out of many things he could pick up, picks that. “So I was right? And you’re not moving on from him yet? Have?”

“Oh God. Was I that obvious?” He asks, still hiding behind the flimsy guard of his palms. “I mean. You said I had . Was it- how long? Since before?”

“You never once call my name, Lucas. And you had this, distant look on your face. I kind of picked it up from there,” Jungwoo says in the way that suggests he’s shrugging, nonchalant. In the very same way he had spoken out his desire to see Yukhei, easy with no ounce of weight or difficulty in it. It’s enviable.

“Oh God,” he is positively flushing, in shame. He understands that feeling of wanting to dig a hole and bury himself in it, feels it in every cells of his body. He doesn’t have a courage to face Jungwoo even if it is proper of him to do so when he says, “I’m so, so, sorry.

“I take no offense, the sex’s great, and you’re a great guy, Lucas.”

The third, “Oh God.” Yukhei’s determined to take count so he can measure how embarrassed he was, and swears he’ll never say as much in the future for this will be the last time he’s ever been shamed this much.

“I love you in the way I’ve loved any other guys before you, and that means I love you but you’re all the same; nice, sweet, eager, lovely faces, lovely sex. Lovely. But that’s it.”

Jungwoo spoke, this time, in a way Yukhei had never heard him speaks before. How foreign it is, how refreshing, it’s curious enough to make Yukhei drops his hands and gets a look of Jungwoo.

He is staring, not at his drink, not at Yukhei. He is staring out the window, staring at the people passing by the cafe but not quite at them. Staring in the way that suggest he is seeing something that’s not there but he sees them anyways, close, tangible as if he can touch it without even reaching out his hand. Staring, in the way that feels intimately familiar for Yukhei might have been doing the same thing whenever a thought of certain someone passed by his mind.

“Did I...”

Jungwoo flicks his gaze at him, smiling. “Did you?”

“Did I look like that?”

“Like that?” He quirks his brow with confusion but is still smiling nonetheless.

“Like that, the way you are,” Yukhei gestures to Jungwoo’s face, then his own. “ That .”

“Oh,” he blinks, smile then cracks into a grin. Shy. Embarrassed like someone has caught him doing indecent thing and the only part he is regretting is the being caught part, not doing the thing part. “How did I look like?”

There are many things to describe the way Jungwoo was looking like, but Yukhei settles with this one, “lovestruck.”

That elicits another giggle from Jungwoo’s lips, the one that he quickly squashes down by the back of his palm, his cheeks flushing bright crimson. He tries to smother his laugh but fails, miserably, adorably, perhaps that’s how Jungwoo had tried to stop himself from thinking about this friend of his.

They just continues to come forward, the laugh, the pure, unadulterated happiness. They just come and come, like pouring rain, the thought of him . No matter how loud he’d shout to the sky to stop, stop raining, they won’t. And that rain, that rain will wash everything away. Any trace of someone else will be wiped away, cleansed thoroughly, leaving you with nothing but the taste of the rain on your lips, on your skin - the thought of him , and anything you associated with him.

He eventually buries his face in his hands the same way Yukhei did earlier. “Did I?”

“You love him,” Yukhei breathes out, laughter skids to the edge of his voice. Jungwoo’s elation is contagious, he can feel the spreading through his skin; the ticklish feeling of being in love, in dances up from the tip of his fingers to each side of his mouth, pulling the corners up until Yukhei is grinning. “Kim Jungwoo, you love him.”

“I am- he is,” Jungwoo takes a shuddering breath in a manner that suggests to Yukhei that he is terrified.

Terrified to admit it, to say it, because once feelings took shape in words, claimed out loud and slipped from your mouth, it’s no longer yours but somebody else’s to interpret. It’s not up to you how they’d take the statement; it’s up to them and it’s terrifying for people only see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

Yukhei is familiar with it, with everything Jungwoo is feeling right now; the excitement, the fear, the ecstasy, the worry, they all attack you at once you cannot differentiate them, overwhelmed by the emotions as they come to resemble each other; the worry for being excited too much, the fear of what’d come after this ecstasy. He is familiar, with being in love, with having someone you think of so dearly in a way you never thought you’d do for anyone else. It scares you, it terrifies you, it changes you, and you don’t want people to know because people leave once you’re not you anymore.

But Yukhei won’t, leaving Jungwoo even if Jungwoo told him he’s getting over Yukhei so easily while Yukhei is still there, pinned on the same place even if he tried to break free by using Jungwoo before. He supposes it isn’t fear if you looked atit from one way, but take another look, and it’s only fair. Jungwoo knew his worth; he’s not just some replacement and he wouldn’t settle for someone who didn’t see him for he is.

Yukhei is the exact opposite, how ironic, he’d say it again; he deserves this. He’s okay with being a replacement, he’s okay being an escape, he’s okay. As long as Minhyung stays. As long as Minhyung greets him in the morning with that sunshine smile of his. As long as Minhyung sleeps to him at night, his hand thrown over Yukhei’s torso in a loose hug. No wonder he’s not moving anywhere and Jungwoo is getting somewhere; Jungwoo is smart and Yukhei is stupid.

“Hey. hey, it’s okay, you know; I’m happy for you, Jungwoo,” Yukhei says, giving Jungwoo his best smile, the one he always gives to his friends. “Don’t worry. I’m the bad guy here, if you considered that I, well-”

He slowly removes his hands but not completely, only his eyes are visible. “Slept with me when you don’t even want me?”

“That I’m a jerk,” Yukhei cringes.

“Supposed that makes you one,” a small giggle, Yukhei replies it with a chuckle.

“And I’m a moron. Anyways. It’s true. I had, have someone in mind. I still have him. Now. So, umm, you don’t have to be sorry, you owe me nothing, Jungwoo. If you have someone else in mind and that someone care about you as much as you care about him, if he’s not- umm, fuck- not using you the way I did, then I say; go for him. This friend of yours, yeah?”

Eventually, Jungwoo removes his hands. He lets them fall on top of his lap, he takes a couple of furtive glance towards Lucas, alternating between the tall boy and his drink. He looks like he wants to say something, that’s how he behaves when he wants to say something but is considering whether it’s a wise thing to say or not.

It’s funny. He was just using Jungwoo to distract himself, true, but he had actually picked up his habits and remembers it until now. Guess he was that desperate in getting over Minhyung that somewhere in between, he had come to genuinely care about Jungwoo.

“I must have the worst of luck then, I guess. Or maybe that’s only fitting for me.” Jungwoo finally says although it sounds more like a whisper for how quiet he is.

“Luck?”

“I don’t know why but it seems I’m always interested in guys who cannot move on from their ex.”

“What,” Yukhei gapes at him, “do you mean? Wait, are you saying that he’s also using you like I?”

“Something like that.” The boy shrugs but he doesn’t look dejected, it’s a gesture he does to make light of things and with Jungwoo, making light of things doesn’t mean devalueing the gravity of an issue; it really means whatever it is, it’s not important, for him, and he doesn’t take offense in it. “But, hmm, I don’t know. I think he’s different from you. Doyoung-hyung. You’re like, this and he’s that .”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand?”

“That’s difficult,” he takes a long sip of his lemonade then chews it in the end, humming to himself. He’s thinking, trying to come up with the best way to explain his situation to Yukhei without making Yukhei getting the wrong idea since Yukhei is, apparently, getting it already. “I mean, with you, you’re so sudden? I guess. You came to me once I asked you to come. I mean, all the other guys did too, no offense, but you’re different from them because you kept on coming and you’re actually making effort to please me.”

“Oh,” Yukhei isn’t sure how to react to that, it feels like a backhanded compliment more than anything. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I appreciate it, really. Other people might say that you’re a jerk, even if you’re trying for me, you’re not doing it for me but yourself. But I personally think regardless of whoever you’re doing it for, the fact that you’re trying and willing to accompany me itself is something I should be grateful for.”

“Err, then, thanks?”

“Anytime,” Jungwoo flashes him a smile.

“And this Doyoung? Hyung? Guy? He’s also trying to move on from someone?”

“Yep, he had a thing going on with his college friend. A Japanese guy, Nakatomo something? I don’t know, I’m trying not to remember, he’s hurting Doyoung-hyung, why should I, right?”

Yukhei offers jokingly, “maybe for revenge?”

“My revenge will be holding Doyoung-hyung sweetly in front of him,” the smile that Jungwoo flashes this time is of iceland, cold with no hint of sun.

Yukhei cowers a bit on his seat, regretting ever suggesting it in the first place. He immediately feels sorry for this Nakatomo guy whoever he is.

“They’ve been in this on-off relationship for two years? Three? Anyways, they’ve been in this on-off relationship because Nakatomo cannot move on from his ex and Doyoung-hyung is an idiot who’s too kind, too patient, too understanding when he’s in love. He’s such a fool, really, sometimes I wonder why I even fall for him. Wait, I’ve been doing that for fourteen years. Who’s the idiot now?”

Jungwoo claps his hands together, in amazement, and he actually looks astonished at the revelation, as astonished as Yukhei is once he processed that bit of information. “Fourteen?”

“Don’t you think so?” He leans forward so suddenly that Yukhei jerks back in surprise. “I, who is holding on my seven year old silly crush to my neighbour, is only attracted to a guy like me, a guy who cannot move on?”

“I-I suppose so,” he nods quickly. “Fourteen?”

“Yep, fourteen. We’re neighbours, I’ve known him since we were in diapers. When we were a little, we promised to marry. You know, those silly stuffs you did when you were kid.” Jungwoo leans back then reaches for his lemonade glass. It’s another habit, he does it to stop his hands from fidgeting. Anothing thing Yukhei picked up. “Doyoung-hyung thinks it’s silly, I don’t. I remember, I don’t believe it, but maybe I did. Hmm. I don’t know. It’s just whenever someone confessed to me, it just came out.”

“That you’re married?”

“That I’m engaged.”

“That’s adorable.”

“I know, we were adorable together. I guess we still are, we’re cute, right?” Jungwoo perks up instantly.

“Dunno, never seen the guy.”

“Wait,” he takes his phone out from his pocket, scrolls through them, seemingly taking his time, seemingly enjoying it judging from the smile on his lips.

For a while, as Jungwoo blissfully scans through his phone, Yukhei envies him. He hopes he has any picture of Minhyung saved in his phone. It never even crossed his mind before to take a picture of him. It felt wrong. Who was he kidding; he didn’t felt he deserves it.

Jungwoo’s face lights up, brighter than he already is. Brighter than Yukhei had ever seen him. He shows his phone to Yukhei but not letting him touch it, like an overprotective parent who let other people coo at their child but is secretly afraid they’d take them away from them. “Here, this is me and this is him! Cute, aren’t we?”

“Yeah, you two are cute. Together.” Yukhei smiles and is replied with Jungwoo beaming proudly at him. Again, the jealousy is there. He wishes the day he can show off how adorably and lovely Minhyung, his Minhyung is to everyone can eventually come.

“Right?” Taking back his phone, Jungwoo continues speaking, all the while staring fondly at the picture of him and his fourteen year old crush. “I was never interested in anyone else, when I told him this, he said I just haven’t found the right person, and I, perhaps I was too blindly in love with him that I’d trust whatever he said. So I thought; yeah, let’s find the right person! Then it just happened, I meet people, lots of them, but none of them ever work, you know? They all felt wrong. Even you, Lucas. The date, the sex, they’re great. I enjoyed it. But then he’d come back to my life, just a phone call, or seeing his photo on Instagram, then; boom! Here comes the doubt!”

Wrong. Everything felt wrong. Wrong when it’s not Minhyung. Wrong when it’s not his eyes, his brows, his lips, his skin, his voice, his tears. “I get it, somehow.”

“Whenever he told me he’s in a relationship, I’m always happy for him. It’s genuine, I’d like to believe all my happiness for him was genuine... I just love him so much, I suppose. If he’s happy, I’d be happy, too. He has never cried in any relationship before this, but this time, he cried. A lot. He’d come to me, drunk, and said he didn’t even know why he put up with this jerk. Then I’d hold him, and say I’d put up with him. And he asked me; why ? Then i said; because I love you, Hyung . And he avoided me for weeks. Weeks. That’s when I kind of stopped contacting you.”

“It’s okay,” he quickly adds, “and I’m sorry to hear that. Must be horrible.” Yukhei would have said I can only imagine , except, no, he doesn’t even have to imagine; he’s living it everyday.

“You’d know,” Jungwoo says, his gaze turns softer. “You’re also...were you?”

“More or less,” Yukhei shurgs, his shrug is different than Jungwoo’s shrugs. His is I mind it a lot but I want to pretend that I don’t mind it . “Mine and his, it’s complicated. Beside, we’re talking about you.”

“This is why I said it’s going to be a long talk.”

“Go on,” Yukhei wiggles his brows. “I’m listening.”

The boy exhales in relief, “we’re okay now?”

“In case you didn’t notice, we’ve been okay since,” Yukhei playfully checks on the time on his watch. He’s not actually counting, he doesn’t even remember when did he get there, just like he doesn’t remember where did he and Jungwoo ever went wrong, not after hearing that Jungwoo too, in a way, thought that whatever it was between them had never been right.

So he says just that, to Jungwoo, to Jungwoo who then continues telling him about his fourteen year old crush and how did they come to each other. To Jungwoo who has waited for fourteen years to eventually have his first right . To Jungwoo, sweet, lovely Jungwoo who’s much more than Yukhei thought he was, and stronger than Yukhei had ever been.

But Yukhei will be. One day, he’ll be as strong as Jungwoo and hopefully even more. Or, maybe, he’s already more, for the hardship he and Jungwoo had to endure are two different kind of hardships. There’s no use in comparing the pain. In the end, they’re all the same yet different. Yukhei is strong in places Jungwoo wasn’t and Jungwoo is strong in the places he wasn’t.

Just like him and Minhyung, if he was ever allowed to learn about his strength and weakness at all. Hopefully, Minhyung will let him, even if with these many months between them, the chance is as small as any.

But Jungwoo and Doyoung, too, they had fourteen years between them but here they are. Together, in Hong Kong, they might be apart now, but once night comes, they’ll be together, and when morning rises them from their sweet slumber, they’ll be together still.

And as he listens to Jungwoo telling him the many bittersweet days he spent wiping Doyoung’s tears, Yukhei looks back to his own, the many nights he spent kissing Minhyung’s tears away, the many nights he spent nursing the hollowed chasm of his chest as he cries his sorrows away.

To those sleepless nights, those nights he cannot return to anymore. To them he says his thank you, for making him a stronger person. To them he prays, he hopes, for them to shine upon his future. A future, with or without Minhyung.

:::

The future aside, Yukhei is 100% convinced that the universe is hellbent in conspiring against him.

The shock of Jungwoo’s surprising departure is nothing compared to when this Doyoung guy whom Jungwoo had been enamored for fourteen years or so turned out to be Minhyung’s acquaintance. Associate. Senior in college. Friends. Whatever you call them.

The bottom line is he knew Minhyung. The bottom line is this Minhyung that he talked about is the same Minhyung that Yukhei had picked up, the same Minhyung whose actual name is Mark Lee . The same Minhyung who majors in education and dreams of teaching in the future.

The same Minhyung whom Yukhei couldn’t say goodbye to, and had loved like he was born out of his mother’s womb just to find Minhyung and love him. A calling.

Minhyung’s name was dropped out of nowhere. Technically, it wasn’t Minhyung but Mark Lee . Doyoung, who joined them after he finished his architectural tour for an early dinner and was welcomed by Jungwoo with an adoring kiss on his cheeks (which made the elder guy blushed darker than Yukhei had seen Jungwoo blushed), was going on about his friend, a guy named Jeong Jaehyun who supposedly had run off to elope with his boyfriend, after a prim and proper introduction of himself.

It was somewhere after the waiters served their orders; deep dish pizza with heaps of cheese and healthy green salad for Jungwoo, another strawberry flan for Yukhei, that Minhyung’s name was dropped.

“We thought he’s helping Johnny to break things off between Lee Taeyong and Mark Lee, but the next-”

“What?” Yukhei blurts out, eyes bulging out in surprise.

Doyoung gives him a look that obviously expresses his annoyance of being interrupted, Yukhei doesn’t need to know him as long as Jungwoo does to tell. “-but the next thing we knew-”

“Not that.”

This time, Doyoung is positively glaring at him.

Yukhei would have backpedal, apologize properly for disturbing the guy’s speech. The guy who’s 3 years older than him, technically a stranger he didn’t know until 40 minutes ago or so, and by that alone, deserves his respect. Except he didn’t because the guy dropped a name; Mark Lee . And when it comes to anyone named Mark Lee , when it comes to the name at all, Yukhei does have nothing in him to care about anything else.

So, he doesn’t, backpedal. He continues staring at Doyoung who’s, by now, resembling a ticking time bomb. Jungwoo is just looking back and forth between both of them, as clueless as much as Doyoung is miffed, and Yukhei turns to him for help.

“The boy I told you, remember? The boy I cannot move on from, remember?”

Jungwoo nods. Softly, he puts a hand on top of Doyoung’s as if to diffuse his ire. His voice when he speaks is just as soft, and it works like a charm on the elder guy. Yukhei can practically hear the nerve-wrecking tick tick dies down. “Lucas is rubbish when it comes to moving on, just like you, Hyung.”

Okay, maybe that doesn’t work like a charm. Doyoung fumes, at least he doesn’t shake off Jungwoo’s hand. “Is that supposed to be a compliment because I feel insulted?”

Jungwoo ignores him like Doyoung wasn’t talking to him, it kind of impresses Yukhei actually, didn’t Jungwoo just tell him that he’s been enamored with Doyoung for a whole fourteen years? “What about the boy, Lucas?”

“The boy. That’s,” he flails, pointing at Doyoung which apparently infuriates him further, but Yukhei ignores his apparent ire as he struggles to get his words out from his fumbling mouth. “You said his name. Doyoung. Hyung. Mark Lee. You said Mark Lee , didn’t you? That’s-”

“Him?” Both Doyoung and Jungwoo ask at the same time. Jungwoo interested. Doyoung completely flabbergasted, all trace of ire disappeared from his face as he slowly covers his mouth with his palm, eyes going comically wide.

Yukhei nods quickly at both of them, putting both palms on the center of his chest to calm himself down. It’s stupid when you think about it because there’s no guarantee that this Mark Lee that Doyoung was talking about is the same Mark Lee that Yukhei has been mooning over. There might be hundreds or more of Mark Lee in South Korea, what is the odd that Doyoung’s Mark Lee is Yukhei’s - Xuxi ’s Mark Lee ?

There is only one way to find out, Yukhei supposes, since universe seems to be hellbent on conspiring against him. Since the universe is so eager to flip his world around from one axis to another, tossing Yukhei up and down, making him dizzy as it blithely takes him in its turbulent ride. Since then, so Yukhei squares himself up, lets himself be hopeful, for he’s not supposed to know where he’d end up and not knowing means you have enough room to imagine.

So Yukhei lets himself free, lets his imagination takes him and lets himself believe in that imagination. Lets himself believe that if he believes strongly enough, the universe will help shaping that imagination into reality. Let’s himself ask Doyoung, says that name, the name he never leaves out from his prayer even though he doesn’t believe that there is God, not any spiritual being that would bother lending their ears to him.

“Lee Minhyung?”

Yukhei hears his heart chirps in happiness at the mere mention of that name. Yukhei feels his lips tremble. Yukhei feels his throat going tight as emotion wells up inside of him. Yukhei feels eyes on him. Yukhei feels, and Yukhei wonders if one day this feeling could kill him for how intense it is.

Yukhei finds out that even if that’s the case, he doesn’t care. He’d gladly die if it was for Minhyung. From Minhyung. Because of Minhyung. As if it’s Minhyung. It’s stupid. It’s foolish. He knows. But at this point, you shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

“It’s Lee Minhyung.”

:::

Yukhei remembers he had thought about time. It was on Minhyung’s birthday, when he was sitting on one of the many rocks on the coastline, glimmering stars of August above his head, and heart miles, miles away.

His thought at the time was about how time didn’t seem to have loved before, how it doesn’t seem to have any regret for it does nothing but move forward. Ahead. Yukhei had assumed that maybe time is a coward, it’s scared, afraid, that if he stopped and looked back, it’d find something it’d regret. Having a regret means you acknowledge your fault, and time was, maybe, too prideful to admit it. It is, after all, time the almighty.

But now, as he steps his feet on Korean soil after a long, sorrowful year, Yukhei feels like he can understand time a little better now.

It’s not that time was a coward, quite the opposite, actually. Time is wise, time understands, after existing for so long, after seeing how human vehemently insist to dwell in the past, nothing good comes from it. For looking back, a little too long, a little to forlorn. A little too obsessed with what ifs and I should have done . Most of the existing cases that time has witnessed seem to give it the same conclusion; that moving on is always the better option.

Yukhei understood it now, after so long, after living in the ghost of his past for twenty years and some more months. Indeed, it gave him the same conclusion; being trapped in your past bring you more misery than victory. Until recently, there was never a day he spent without the thought of his mother’s distant gaze apprehensive cloud in the back of his mind. The thought lingered. A past he cannot relieve. A tragedy he cannot fix. A sin, that was never unatoned, but past, past is cruel, past is vicious. Past is stubborn, selfish. Past is a pompous, self-absorbed shadow that won’t let you go unless you’re willing to let go.

Past shows you things that you could have done but didn’t. Past points out those cracks and gaps that you could have filled instead of things you already did. Past blinds you. Past whispers to you; that you could have been better. That you could have done more. But you didn’t, therefore, you’re a failure.

And that’s why time never dwells. Never lingers. Never pause nor stop because it knows that past, past is toxic. Past, it kills you. Past is the devil even though future is not an angel guaranteed either. But at least you can change your future but you couldn’t change your past, and that fact imminently brings you desolate thought for you’re reminded once again about how futile and powerless you are.

Nobody likes to be reminded of their weakness, but time, time is different. Time doesn’t know best but it certainly knows more, and among many things that it knows about, other than there is nothing good coming from being fixated on what’s gone by, it is that to move forward, you got to accept and carry on.

Yukhei understands it better now because he had changed, yet again, he’s a new person. He’s not speaking about how he had dyed his hair darker shade of brown. He’s talking about how he no longer lets himself drown in his past. He has threaded the water and came up to the surface, he had walked along the shore and found himself in the middle. The middle, where he managed to make truce with his uncle. Where they have finally closed that gap between them. Where they can, finally, admit that all they ever want from each other is approval. Yukhei from the closest one he had for a father and his uncle from the ones he had for son.

He had understand, so now it’s time for him to move forward, just like how his legs are carrying him out from the baggage claim area. Exiting the gate greets Lucas with the sight of people come and go, some coming back and some going to leave. He supposes he falls, ironically again, smack dab in the middle. Was it funny, he wonders, because he’s supposed to be walking away from the middle where him and his uncle had met to move to another stage of his life. Forward.

“Here we are again,” Yukhei chuckles to no one but himself, and perhaps his suitcase seeing as it is his only companion.

Here we are. Again . That’s why he finds himself back in the middle because here, Korea, is the place he never actually move on from even though he has physically left it behind. Here is where Yukhei had left a part of himself, here is where Yukhei had found himself.

Here, in Korea, on the same soil and under the same sky as Minhyung, Yukhei had returned and go on at the same time. He’s here for unfinished business. He’s here to finish the song that he and Minhyung had started but never acknowledged to be even finished. Untitled. The song that’s still playing and only played louder the further he was from its other composer. They’re going to write the final chorus, whatever it might be; Minhyung’s rejection or acceptance.

Whatever it is, Yukhei promises himself that grieve he would be, but dwell he will not. If Minhyung refused to continue the verse with him, if it turned out that Minhyung had another person who’s a better composer than Yukhei - Xuxi was, then Yukhei had no reason to object. It was, after all, him who put an abrupt end to their unfinished melody.

Come what may, Yukhei can say it now. Out loud. Bravely. Come what may, for whatever that they will throw his way, just like the past, if Yukhei doesn’t let them bother him, they won’t.

Of course he’s not saying he’s completely free from fear. It’s the opposite, actually; he’s terrified. He’s scared. Afraid. Like he thought time was. But time is wise, time is astute, and time, Yukhei aspires to be like that. So, he squares his shoulder, puffs out his chest, smiles to himself. Fake it until you make it, they said, and that’s the thing that Yukhei is confident he can do better than anyone else.

Fake it, but even if you didn’t make it, take it.

“Here it goes,” pulling his suitcase behind him, the address of his old apartment registered in the map of his phone, Yukhei moves forward.

Chapter Text

Whenever you break, I'll fix it for you,
I'm the one who drives to you at night
and maybe we'll fall a little deeper,
I think our little heart will be alright

Devotion - Ellie Goulding

:::

Donghyuck pops out of his door on the third day, a plastic bag from the nearby minimarket on hand.

His hair is burning red, and under the stroke of the sinking sun it's almost auburn.

It's startlingly familiar.

Someone used to come through that door before, but his hair was burnt, gilding gold under the caress of twilight. His height was taller, his shoulders were broader, and his jaw was stronger.

His eyes were an endless pit of daydream and fantasy, of safety, of sanctuary.

“Hey,” his old neighbor greets him casually.

It feels wrong, yet Mark welcomes him anyway. “What brought you here?”

“Boredom?” Donghyuck offers, toeing off his sneakers before stepping into the room like he belongs there.

He doesn’t.

The beast in Mark's belly screams in riot.

But Mark says, “come on in.”

And Donghyuck comes in, oblivious to the tumultuous emotion rocking his best friend’s belly. He puts the plastic bag on the table - the table where Xuxi used to fuck Mark. Takes out two bottles of cola, two packages that Mark vaguely registers as instant rice, a plastic container that’s filled with juicy-looking kimchi, and canned tuna. He says, “bet you haven’t eaten anything homemade since you moved! Take-out is great but it’s not good to your wallet.” Mark watches in trepidation as Donghyuck opens the fridge - Xuxi’s fridge, then he grins, apparently at the sight of eggs all lined up in their container, “hey, look who’s stocking up eggs, didn’t know you could-”

“Xuxi taught me.”

Donghyuck’s expression changes, but it’s Mark who feels like he’s being doused by icy water after being drowned in sea of bubbling lava.

Yet, he cannot stop his lips from moving, cannot stop his words from spilling over, cannot stop his words,  because they seem to be the only way to quench the queasy feeling in his stomach. “Xuxi taught me, how to cook. Eggs. Omelettes. I’m not good at it, I’m, horrible, still. Maybe. I’m still learning, yesterday, yesterday I made-”

He chokes up, and Donghyuck is looking at him with something akin with pity, still holding the fridge open. His hand is still on the handle, and,

“Please don’t.”

“Hyung.”

Mark doesn’t even know what he’s saying, he just wants this to stop. He just wants Donghyuck to stop tainting Xuxi’s color with his own. He just doesn’t want anybody to take away the only thing left of the man that he’s privileged to have.

He just-

“Please don’t take him away.”

The word slips through his smiling lips. A single tear rolls down his cheek. Donghyuck’s face is all scrunched up, and his hand falls to his side. Through the haze of his teary eyes, Mark cannot see him well, but he sees the gleam in Donghyuck’s eyes. Sees the sorrow. Sees the mercy.

Sees how much he’s-

“I’m sorry, Hyung,” the younger boy says, closing the fridge softly, carefully. Mark takes a shuddering breath, scuffing his face harshly. Another sob is about to tumble out of his lips, but before it can get out of his throat, Donghyuck is there, hugging him, catching him.

And Mark lets his wall fall. The wall he’s been struggling to build since a year ago. In the embrace of his best friend, he cries, “I’m sorry.”

:::

Wonders never cease, Mark realizes, because everytime he speaks of Xuxi, of his tender hands and his magnanimous heart, he will find himself enamored, again, as if the pain of loving him and being left behind was never there in the first place.

Donghyuck listens intently to him. They’re sitting on the floor, leaning on Mark’s - Xuxi ’s bed. The only part of them that’s touching is their shoulders, and Mark’s hand, safe and secure in the cocoon of Donghyuck’s smaller one. The red-haired boy hasn’t talked at all since Mark started telling him his story. His expression stayed the same even when Mark confessed to him what he had done to his brother.

Donghyuck didn’t say anything, just a small, “continue.”

Mark didn’t know how should he react to Donghyuck’s seemingly easy concession, but figured it would be pointless to argue anyway. So he continued.

He speaks of Xuxi, speaks of their first meeting, speaks of how Xuxi had taken him in. Speaks of how Xuxi had taken him and the twisted sense of salvation their intimate contact brought to Mark’s unsettled mind. He speaks of how he inevitably fell for the foreign man, despite his initial denials that he never meant he and Xuxi to be anything more and nothing less.

As he continues speaking to his quiet best friend, Mark wonders if Donghyuck could pick up the affection that weaves through his words. He wonders if Donghyuck could hear the longing in his voice whenever he utters Xuxi’s name. He wonders if Donghyuck could catch the way he has to swallow first before saying the L word. He wonders if Donghyuck realizes that Mark’s gaze softens as his heart flutters in the solid embrace of his breastbone when he talks about Xuxi’s kindness.

Mark wonders, and after he finishes his story, he immediately gets his answer. “You love him.”

He doesn’t hesitate one bit in his answer, “I do.”

“All that for a guy who you only knew for, what, Hyung, two months?”

Groaning morosely, Mark buries his face in one had, the other still held in between Donghyuck’s hands. “I have it real bad, I know.”

“You even moved to his room, you hate it when I touched his things. You, shit, Hyung, you have it really, really bad. You’re fucking whipped. I’d say you’re pathetic, even. You can’t move on from your, your, one night stand? Friends with benefit?”

Face flaming with embarrassment, Mark could only manage to croak out a small, “I know.”

“You’re worse than my brother,” was Donghyuck’s comment, and the way it’s said so casually, as if it weighed nothing, feels like a cold, stinging slap on Mark’s cheek.

He’s still not looking at his best friend, the brother of the man he had hurt. His heart, heart that was dancing upon the thought of his missing lover, trembles. In fear, in trepidation. “Taeyong-hyung, do you think-”

“I don’t think he hates you,” Donghyuck says, short, clear, simple.

Sure, and Mark feels like someone just opens his throat, lungful of oxygen coming in. “You think so?”

“My brother, he,” the younger one pauses but not for long. Mark knows him, that’s the delay he gives when he realizes his words were too blunt and he needs to find another word to stop himself from accidentally hurting anybody. “I don’t think that’s the first time he’s been treated roughly. By, uh, people he had slept with, you know.”

The implication, the words that went unsaid, Mark catches it. “But that’s, that’s people, and I was. Me. I’m. We were,”

Donghyuck strokes his hand, encouraging. Mark takes a deep breath, organizes his thoughts, then continues.

“Maybe I was stupid but I used to think I was different, I wasn’t just another guy he’s fooling around with. I. I’d like to believe that he, fuck it, I was so stupid, I know it was too good to be true, but I thought-”

“He loved you,” the brother finishes for him.

Mark barks out a laugh, sad, pathetic, rubs his eyes harshly. When he speaks again, his voice is wet on the edges. “Yeah, or at least I was special. I’m not like the other guys. I’m. I knew him better than they did, but then there was Jaehyun. And I. I. Oh God. I was so stupid, I’m such a jerk, how could I do that to him. How could I, he was-”

The horror comes back in full vengeance, sweeping him in its dark, dismal waves. An anguished noise is ripped out of Mark’s throat, the doing of his nightmares, clawing it out from the bottom of Mark’s chest with its long, jagged talons. If it wasn’t for Donghyuck, who gathered Mark into his arms, smothering him in his small yet protective embrace, Mark would have broken down completely.

Clinging onto his best friend, Mark tries to speak, but all that comes out is garbled mess of jumbled words and apology. Donghyuck shushes him, tells him it’s okay, tell him he understands, tells him that Mark doesn’t have to speak anymore. Just calm down. Calm down, for Taeyong has surely forgiven him. For Taeyong has surely forgiven himself too, because unless he could, he wouldn’t be able to forgive anyone.

“So you have to forgive yourself, Hyung,” Donghyuck murmurs, soft, running his hand up and down Mark’s back. “You have to forgive yourself, and him, too, maybe. It will be okay, everything will be okay. You will be fine eventually.”

You will be fine . Mark repeats the mantra in his head but he doesn’t answer Donghyuck, he just snuggles there, in his best friend’s embrace, letting himself be pampered, indulged in an otherwise empty promise. Empty, because a wish is just a wish, and unless The Merciful One decided to grant it, it’s just words without any weight.

He doesn’t answer, but he knows if he could, he’d answer; yes, I will be fine .

Even without Xuxi by his side, he will be fine.

:::

The fourth day has Mark waking up at half past one in the morning.

He blinks his bleary eyes, still raw from the crying earlier today. He certainly feels lighter now that he has come clean to Donghyuck, to someone. His weight is still his own to bear, but at least this time he has someone to turn to when it’s threatening to crush him.

Thoughts come, pass, then go. Like people. People, they do come and go, and just like that, Xuxi had come and gone from Mark’s life. Xuxi came like the sun shining down on fields green and yellow in summer. Like the everblue ocean finding cerulean sky. Mark never believed that’s how they’re supposed to be, he never meant for Xuxi to be like that. Xuxi’s supposed to remind him, like blind people when they see the dark. Xuxi’s supposed to find him, but he’s not supposed to take everything of Mark - of Minhyung , away.

But he did. Either Mark was too careless to let himself get lost in the lush forest of Xuxi’s eyes; abundant and full of life. Or it was Xuxi who had been careless, letting him show too much of himself. Letting him show how terrified he was at how real everything was that night. Mark, stunned, petrified, was taken. By his fear. By his honesty. By the realisation that this, this , this song they didn’t dare to put a name on, was probably mutual. Something they wanted to finish together.

Xuxi needed him, as much as Mark needed him, and he had met Xuxi in the middle, he had crossed that line, thrown caution to the wind, and now here he is. Half past one, absentmindedly thinking about how days passed like the season, and like that, he’s slowly losing Xuxi. Say goodbye to that day as everything comes and goes.

It’s half past one, and as he lingers in the time in between when new day is starting but is yet to awaken, as he skims his fingers through the sheet that they used to make together, he wonders if he has  known since the beginning, that people do come and go. And so did Xuxi. And so did Mark. One day, Mark will come and go too from someone’s place. Maybe he has come and gone from someone’s life. He believes that one day he will be over it, over everything, over the imperceptible goodbye. Over the inevitable.

But it’s half past one and he’s still thinking about Xuxi. He’s still running through this empty space where Xuxi used to be, thinking about how much he misses him. Thinking about how it saddens him that he’s missing Xuxi, a lot. Missing Xuxi’s time, a lot. Missing seeing what world did to Xuxi, a lot. Missing how Xuxi is changing, a lot. Sometimes it saddens Mark, that he’s not the one who knows about Xuxi the most, more than how it saddens him that things between them have to end this way.

He’s not as foolish to believe he can get over Xuxi any time soon, but in times like this, when he flirts with what if and if only , when he’s yet to lose Xuxi from his dreams, he wishes, truly, earnestly, that one day, there will be a time when thinking about Xuxi doesn’t hurt him anymore. He wishes one day his heart will stop trying to squeeze out of his chest. He wishes one day his flesh will stop trying to flee from his bones.

Mark wishes one day, just as everything comes and goes, just as the sun sinks only to rises again the next day, just as the season goes only to come home, his peace will return.

He prays, that even if his heart will never be found anymore, it will be fine again.

:::

Six days. It’s walking to seven, then it’s going to officially be a week since he started living on his own.

It’s easier now that he can make his way around the kitchen and the laundy. Mark is getting better at cracking the egg open, and on his fifth attempt, he managed to replicate Xuxi’s omelette; runny from milk but gooey with cheese.

On the eighth day, Mark wakes up late in the afternoon, having spent the previous night - morning? - at Jeno’s place, passing drinks and stories. Jeno had told them an over-exaggerated version of an equally dramatic story, the tale of his break up with Jaemin.

Mark had heard this story enough to remember when he should “oooh " and when he should “ Jeno, you dick .” Every time, Jeno always managed to throw in new details; nobody knew whether they actually happened or not, especially when Jaemin himself was there with them, nodding along to whatever the inebriated Jeno spewed from his lips.

It actually amazed Mark to this day that Jaemin and Jeno are still going along so well despite the mess that their relationship had become. According to the two of them, they somehow knew that break up was inevitable. Jeno always told Mark, with wistful smile that lacked regret, “we’re better off friends, best friends.”

And for a boyfriend, Jeno had a pretty Chinese boy with eyes like a deer and pouty lips. They met just last semester, having to share a class and partnered together. The boy also happened to know Chenle, both being Chinese and actively participating in Chinese Student Association. It wasn’t until Jeno started seeing him that he was invited to their circle.

Renjun is the type of guy who looks harmless like a bunny, but piss him off, and he’ll not hesitate to practically choke you. Apparently, he’s also got a nasty left hook, Jeno being the first witness and living testament to that. He clicks together with them right away, he even got Jaemin the ex to adore him, which says something about their characters.

He cannot help but flirt with the idea of having Xuxi here, in their gang. He’s loud, he talks and jokes around a lot. His Korean is nowhere as smooth as Chenle’s or Renjun’s, but that makes him all the more fun to hang out with, randomly breaking into English exclamations to express his reactions.

Xuxi, Mark wakes up in Xuxi’s bed, in Xuxi’s room, to Xuxi’s cream walls, but all of them are now his. His head pounds, missing the soothing kiss Xuxi would plant on the side of his head to ease away the ache. Missing the distracting touch of his hands and lips, igniting sparks of euphoria and endorphins to swallow the pain.

It’s one of the worst hangovers he’s had for awhile. Mark blindly reaches for the aspirin he stashes in the bedside drawer, stumbling on clumsy feet to get a glass of water in the kitchen. He downs them all, some water spilling out from his mouth, the cool liquid running down the side of his face to his neck.

If Xuxi was there, he’d lick them clean.

There’s no Xuxi, just his memory a haunting comfort. Mark sluggishly trudges back to bury himself under the covers, letting the glass carelessly roll on the sink with loud clatter.

The ghost of warm lips nipping his skin sings him back to sleep.

:::

The embarrassing thing is he has no fucking idea where Minhyung is.

Sure, he talked about Minhyung with Doyoung, but after hearing Yukhei’s story, Doyoung seemed to be disinclined to share with him Minhyung’s whereabouts.

Which Jungwoo easily exposed, as Doyoung actually had no fucking idea where the hell Minhyung was right now, because since their group fell apart, courtesy of Lee Taeyong, he’s hardly keeping contact with them at all. In fact, he came to Hong Kong sort of to gather himself together before he faces his friends again.

Was it that bad, Yukhei wonders, what had happened to them. Their group of friends, which Mark used to be a part of. Who is this Lee Taeyong who seemed important enough to break their friendships apart? All Yukhei knew about the enigmatic man was that he and Minhyung used to be a thing, kind of. But Minhyung’s cousin, Johnny, thought Lee Taeyong was bad influence on him because he’s also notorious for being the campus slut, as Doyoung had put it, with a contorted expression that Yukhei couldn’t figure out how to interpret; distaste or penitence. Self-reproach, even. Yukhei figured there was more to the story, but just like Minhyung’s whereabouts, it’s something that Doyoung wasn’t willing to share.

That leaves him with Minhyung, he supposed. He knew that Lee Taeyong was the same guy who Minhyung said he had hurt. The same guy who had made Minhyung drink himself silly. The same guy who had plagued Minhyung’s sleep and tortured him with guilt. Minhyung didn’t let him know much about Taeyong, but Yukhei had promised him that whatever he had done, he’d accept him all the same. Love him the same way. That had been Minhyung’s anchor.

With him being gone for one year,what had helped Minhyung stay his ground?

God, he can’t bear it. He cannot bear with the thought of making Minhyung suffer. Yet, he had probably done just that, and now here he is, back in Korea, so he can at least explain his cause.

He didn’t know where to find Minhyung, nor where he should start, but he knew he should get all his things deposited safely first in his old apartment before he began his search. He’d ask his landlord; the man hopefully knew something about him. If not, he’d go to Jungwoo’s place and grovel if he needed to until Doyoung tells him or gives him a clue. Yukhei had asked the man for at least Minhyung’s social media but Doyoung had declined as well. Looking it up in the man’s account was no help either since he had set it on private.

Simply put, Yukhei is absolutely clueless. Yet, it doesn’t deter him one bit. He’s a new person. He had changed. He won’t be discouraged so easily now for he understands that as much as the happiness he didn’t deserve is the sadness he didn’t either. He has it too, the right to be happy, and this time, he’s going to seize it, no matter how hard it is.

If only; he lets himself flirt with the if only; if only he knew this when he was still with Minhyung, would he be yet another version of himself? Where would he be now? Would he be with or without Minhyung?

It is no use; he understands that too, to ponder about the past. All that matters is that he moves forward All that matters is he’s taking the first step, and whatever the result is, Yukhei wouldn’t let them hurt him.

He wouldn’t, because even if he let them do so for twenty years, he still came out surviving in the end. And this time, he’ll do it again, because his mother couldn’t survive and Yukhei promised her he’d do her share.

Yukhei will survive, for her, for his family. For Minhyung, but first and foremost; for himself.

:::

He learned, with disappointment a boulder to swallow, that even if he changed, there’s one thing that never changes; his lack of luck when it comes to things he genuinely wants.

Things, once Yukhei really, sincerely wants it, desires for it from the innermost core of his feeble heart. From his cowardly heart that didn’t even dare to hope for it feared the pain of disappointment. They’re not bound to happen.

They just refused to go his way, Yukhei is reminded once again, as he talks to the landlord’s daughter, telling him that her father had left for urgent business.

He hopes she cannot see through his smile. She probably can’t, she’s not even looking at him; she’s resolutely avoiding his gaze, her cheeks are vibrant red, the same color as her dress. She’s so young, how old was she; twelve? Fifteen? Her voice trembles when she explains to Yukhei about her father’s absence and she stumbled through her words as if she’s the foreigner.

“I’m sorry,” the girl ends her explanation meekly, her hands fiddling restlessly in front of her dress.

Yukhei shrugs. He wants to ruffle her hair or pat her shoulder, all friendly, except her skittish behaviour, the way she’s obviously conscious of him, stops him from doing so. He doesn’t want to give her any weird ideas; girls her age, even though he technically doesn’t know her age, are extremely imaginative, especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

Pity her, though. Her age aside, right now, Yukhei has literally zero interest in anyone but Minhyung.

Minhyung who, thirty seconds ago, he was sure he could find; but now he’s not so sure anymore.

Still, Yukhei reminds himself, just like the cruel reality reminded him that nothing’s going to go the way he wanted it, that they won’t hurt him unless he lets them. He keeps his smile, tosses her a, “it’s okay, really. It’s not your fault, your father is busy man, I understand. You don’t have to apologize.”

“Really?”

“Really!” Yukhei flashes her a thumbs-up which makes her brighten up instantly. Girls are so simple. “But, ahh, didn’t he leave you something? A key, I believe, to my room. I’m going to stay here for a while...”

He’s screwed if his landlord forgot to give her his key. Yukhei didn’t book any other room because his uncle had set everything up for him, and if he had any room to spare in case of an emergency, he didn’t tell Yukhei about it.

Or maybe not; the thought of Jungwoo flashes in his mind. He could always crash at his place, he’s meant to go there after all, right after he got his belongings all sorted out.

But then the girl’s face turns even brighter and that tells Yukhei that he doesn’t have to stay with Jungwoo tonight. She excitedly fishes out a key from the pocket of her dress. The same silver key that Yukhei had used a year ago. “Here! Father told me to give it to you!”

“Thank you,” Yukhei accepts it with a smile, grateful.

He stares at the small silver for a while, its weight comforting on his palm, grounding him. It makes him feel better already, just having something corporeal that ties him to Minhyung. He didn’t have anything before, just his body, the body that Minhyung had loved and he had used to love him. But now he has this key, he doesn’t know if this was the one he had lent to Minhyung or the one he kept for himself, heck, all keys look the fucking same, how’s he supposed to tell? And there might be no telling whether the landlord had changed the key in one year, but nevertheless, it’s the key to his room.

The key to their home.

And he is coming home now. To that room. To that humble room where his love for Minhyung had humbled him. To that small room where his small heart had been found and left behind. To that room where he had let himself get lost in a stranger only to find himself in return through his journey to find that stranger.

To that room. His and Minhyung’s room. Their home. He’s going home.

:::

The door, the familiar door, which beyond is now empty, stands in silence. Not intimidating, it was never intimidating to begin with, and even now, with his heart beating miles per minute in inexplicable jittery, the solid concrete does nothing but stares back at him, unassuming.

The door, the very same door he used to come back to a year ago. The door, which beyond bellied his secret. Wong Yukhei in his rawest form. Huang Xuxi , Xuxi, that’s what Minhyung had called him, and Xuxi had called him; Minhyung , the name he wanted himself to be known as, the name he wanted himself to be associated with, the name he wanted to be , because Mark Lee , Mark Lee is someone he’s trying to run away from.

After meeting Doyoung and Jungwoo, Yukhei got a clearer view of what could have happened to Minhyung. A guess, maybe more appropriate, since there’s no way he can be so sure unless he confirmed it with Minhyung himself.

From what he gathered, Minhyung stayed with him because he needed someone to help him, to save him, from whatever sin he had committed. That ‘sin’, apparently, included him hurting this guy named Lee Taeyong. And Minhyung, his sweet little Minhyung’s conscience cannot stand it. It’s too stressful for him, the burden of his misconduct. He cannot stand himself; his self-loathing only grew unless he got Yukhei around him. To pretend like he never did anything wrong, to pretend like he’s as pure as before he tainted his hands crimson. To pretend like he’s still loveable, to pretend like he still deserves to be loved.

But not to forget his mistake. Never to forget, for Yukhei knew, every time he claimed Minhyung’s body, every time he took him, every single touch, every single caress, it reminded Minhyung of his own behemoth. It reminded Minhyung of his mistake, and Yukhei truly has nothing against that. If he could help Minhyung to love himself, to forgive himself, then he’d be willing to do it. Again and again, as much as Minhyung asked him to, as long as Minhyung needed him to.

And finally, fucking finally, the time has come. To him. To Wong Yukhei. To Huang Xuxi. To all of himself who he’d bare to Minhyung. The time has come to tell and confirm everything to him. He’s one step closer to it. He needs as much sleep as possible tonight, for tomorrow, he’s going to find Minhyung.

Today, he has to rest but to rest, first, he has to open the door.

The door. It stands. Yukhei stares at it. It stares back still. Silent.

The door.

Yukhei groans in frustration, thinking to himself about how stupid and silly everything is - him , it’s just a god fucking door, there’s no need to be this nervous in front of a, a - a stupid fucking door.

He just needs to insert the key into the lock, turns it to the left until he hears the satisfying click , and push it open.

Yukhei does just that.

He berates himself when he hears that satisfying click, mocks himself for all his foolish worries. See, it’s so fucking easy , his own voice says in the back of his head. Yukhei just stays quiet through his internal lecture. He should have known already, all the times he spent worrying never bring him anything but misery. He shouldn’t let a mere door intimidate him.

And the said door swung open, revealing a room that’s anything but empty.

Yukhei stares again.

The room, it’s the same room he stayed in a year ago. The door is still in the same position, and so is the window, and the paint is still the dull, chipping cream, but the bed. But the bed, the bed that he used to make with blue sheets. The bed that used to look like a bath of blue sapphire stones with Minhyung basking in the center of it. The bed on where he had claimed the body of his once but never was.

The bed.

The bed is grey instead of blue and under it a boy sleeps.

Soundly.

Thoroughly.

Dearly.

And Yukhei, Wong Yukhei breaks, the bastion of bones collapses into ashes and from beneath the falling relics, Huang Xuxi emerges.

:::

A pipe dream. Living a nice, straight life without having to know how the world can stoop so low is nothing but a pipe dream. For him, abandoned by his alcoholic father and losing his mother at the tender age of eight, it’s nothing more than a dream. It even sounds like a joke, actually.

It’s not like he’s the only person in the world who’s abandoned by his parents. What makes him so special?

Lots of people lost their parents at a young age, from accidents, from war. Yukhei’s mother committed suicide but there are other people whose parent committed suicide. There are other people whose parent irresponsibly ran away and abandoned them when they were even younger than Yukhei.

What makes him so special?

He's luckier than the most, he’s privileged. He’s got an uncle who run billion dollar company, lives in an upper class mansion. Yukhei works but it’s practically handed to him by his uncle. He doesn’t have the right to wail about his life and say his life will never be normal. Not even if he’s indirectly the cause behind his mother’s death. Not even if his hands are drenched in his mother’s blood. He’s got a family who supported him financially, a brother for whom Yukhei tried to grow mentally, he’s got lots of good friend, he’s got an extravagant job and lifestyle that makes everyone green from envy.

But that doesn’t make everything he felt, everything he endured, everything he had to go through, his guilt and misery, any less valid.

That doesn't make the ghost of his mother’s vacant stare that constantly haunts him any less torturing.

That doesn’t change the fact that he never had the psychological support he needed when he was a child. He might have his uncle but he was too emotionally constipated to show how much he cared, on top of lacking the simple knowledge of being a parent. Young Yukhei was too self-conscious, guilt-ridden to share his feelings too. The last years of his life before meeting his uncle were spent learning how much of a nuisance he was to his mother, how much he was torturing her by simply existing, by being the mirror image of his father. Her death left him nothing more to ask, even the “do I resemble my father that much?” that always groomed a storm within him; it gave him the answer already. He never felt he was deserving. Of anything, much less love and attention from his own family.

Until Minhyung.

Until Minhyung, and Yukhei would like to believe, stubbornly, no matter how many people would scorn and ridicule him for being so lovesick, that it is because he had met Minhyung he’s special .

All the circumstances that led him to meet the boy, the drunken walk, the drunken cry, the stumbling in the dark trying to heal each other from wounds that they cannot see, the feelings that had taken root in his heart without his permission. In his heart, heart that had been beating, believing it could never be loved by anybody, therefore he has no right to love to begin with.

But Minhyung had needed him. But Minhyung had come to him. But Minhyung had stayed,

and today, on that bed, under that sheet, sleeping soundly like a baby in a cradle, he sleeps.

He stays.

And he, he makes Yukhei special.

He might not be the only person suffering in the whole world, he might not be the person who bleeds the most, he might not be the only person who carries the weight nobody ought to shoulder, but he’s in pain nonetheless, and it makes him stop believing. Stop wanting. Stop daring to even want.

Until Minhyung.

And Minhyung is here. Asleep. On his bed; on their bed. In his room, their room. Their sanctuary. The place that has become more home than home. The place where Yukhei had left his heart. The place where Yukhei had learned about the boy named Lee Minhyung, who’s actually Mark Lee, and who is bleeding profusely from a guilt too much for his pure, precious heart to bear.

In this room, nothing has changed. Still the same cream walls, the same set up in the kitchen, the same cheap wooden table he had hit Minhyung’s hip on in the first night they met, the same bed, just different colored sheets, but even without the bedding, Yukhei can tell it’s still the same bed. The same cheap flooring that will make a squeaking sound when he rolls his suitcase over it.

His suitcase, still standing awkwardly beside him, waiting for its owner to carry it further into the room, and Yukhei, Yukhei is still standing, in the doorway. Still staring, straight at the bed where a boy - someone , was sleeping on what used to be his bed.

There’s actually no guarantee that whoever sleeps on it is Minhyung, actually.

The thought comes crashing down on him, a heavy downpour. Rain pierces deep through his bones, a raging squall. Yukhei is struck by maelstrom of emotion.

Standing on and pushing himself to stand is Huang Xuxi, just freshly awakened, renewed. The phoenix rises from the ashes, and its eyes, its wings, are fire, eternal ember. He’s not going to let him, them , lose. This is the situation he had been in before, this is familiar, this is a game he had played before, and back then, he’s winning.

Behind him is the door. In front of him is the reality that he has to confront and he is standing here, in the doorway, smack dab in the middle. Backpedal and say goodbye forever, go forward and finish it altogether. It was his uncle before; this time it’s Minhyung. Minhyung, who he had fought his uncle for. Minhyung who he had left his heart with.

Minhyung, who had stayed for him. Minhyung, who he’d still fall in love with even if his life was an entirely different life. Minhyung who he’d still love even if he was granted a chance to rewrite his life. Minhyung, with whom he had written music together and he’d ask, were Minhyung to give him a chance, to complete that sound with him.

If whoever is asleep on his bed is Minhyung, does he need to ask at all?

There’s only one way to find out, Yukhei squares himself. Taking a deep breath, he swings his leg forward. Carefully, he pulls the suitcase behind him, and the floor doesn’t squeak. Softly, he closes the door, locking it. Nervously, he looks around the room; it’s familiar, still all too familiar, and Yukhei finds it difficult to believe more than a year has passed.

And then he finds it, just a few inches beyond his feet; the orange sneakers.

The old, small, tattered orange sneakers of Minhyung that Yukhei said he loves so much because they reminds him of Minhyung.

It’s here. And Minhyung, Minhyung is still here . Minhyung stayed.

Minhyung fucking stayed in his room even after what Yukhei had done to him, even after Yukhei left him with nothing, not even proper goodbye nor explanation. Just a short, cruel apology. Yet, Minhyung stays. Lee Minhyung stays. In his room. On his bed. For,

The boy groans in his sleep.

And now, there is no mistaking it anymore. That voice. That voice that’s haunted him to sleep, that voice that sings him awake. That voice he has come to love so much, has remembered, has learned any sound that it can play. The music. The song. That song, that one piece he got to finish with Lee Minhyung’s admission, the one that perhaps he got already with his mere presence in Yukhei’s room.

Once again, the boy groans, stirring in his sleep, but he doesn’t wake up.

And Yukhei, Yukhei wants to answer him, he’s dying to. His name is there, it’s fucking right there but he cannot get it out past his mouth, past his lips. It’s there but it’s so fucking difficult, he wishes he could jam his hand down his throat, and rip the name out of his lungs. Or between his ribs. Wherever it’s stuck down there in his chest. If he could he would claw it out of his breast; he doesn’t care if he’d end up hurting himself, because, hey, he had hurt enough, and this is the time to put an end to it.

Yukhei doesn’t want to hurt any longer, he wants to heal.

So there he goes, forward, one step further, he hears the room cheer for him. The kitchen, the furniture, his abandoned suitcase, and the tattered orange sneakers cheer louder than the rest. They encourage him, applauding his steps, fortifying his bastion of reviving heart. In his eyes, tears well up. In his throat, Minhyung’s name crowds. He can hardly breathe, he’s scared, then he pauses, momentarily closes his eyes, and he sees Minhyung, there, on his bed, unchanging, asleep, so quiet, so peaceful, so deep in his slumber like he’s not constantly chased by nightmares that Yukhei knew refused to leave him alone.

He’s there, even if everything has changed, even if Yukhei’s hair is darker shade of brown and Minhyung’s a pitch black. Even if the season is no longer the same and the wind carries different scent. Even then, even then, Minhyung is still here. Still waiting for him. Still stays .

Opening his eyes, Yukhei sees him, Minhyung, still looking the same, still at the same place. It feels like coming home again, like when he was back in Hong Kong; everything has changed, everyone has but him. Wong Yukhei. Huang Xuxi. He’s the only one who’s different, he’s far off the ocean while everyone’s still on the shore.

But this time, this time Yukhei is back, in the deep ocean, breathing in that rich, cerulean blue, and the sea that welcomes him is brilliant as ever, is lulling, is calming with its warm, sun-dazzled waves. It pulls Yukhei under to its embrace azure. Yukhei kneels beside the bed, breathing in that oceanic scent.

Minhyung sleeps, his breathing an even cadence of clapping waves, calling, calling for Yukhei who’s been stranded on the shore.

He once thought Minhyung is the depth he’d willingly fall into. Minhyung still is, and today too, Yukhei falls for him.

His hand, like rain falling into the ocean, falls on top of Minhyung’s cheek, on his skin. Soft, gentle. The dancing wave says, “ welcome back ,” the raindrops fall, they merrily melt into one. Yukhei falls, reveling in that ultramarine sensation tickling his skin. A smile escapes, unbidden, irrevocable, and softly, softly,

Softly , “Minhyung. Mark,” he kisses him, along the line of his jaw, up to his cheeks, the side of his brows. “Sugar.”

I found you .

:::

The ghost of warm lips nipping his skin rouses him up awake.

Except when a sigh is drawn out from his throat, familiar fingers caressing his cheeks, his name chanted in wonder like prayer, Mark realizes it’s not a ghost at all.

It’s real.

He snaps his eyes open, breath strangled. When he sees a pair of large, glassy eyes like raven wings, he positively cannot breathe at all.

Mark gapes, at the familiar face, at the returned missing pieces, at the high nose, and feather-like long lashes. At the smile that breaks like dawn on the face that brings him seraphic vision.

“You still keep the orange sneakers.”

He wants to speak, wants to say. Wants to smash the chains tightly bound around his body so he could surge, longing waves calling to the shore. But he can’t, prisoner of his emotions. So many things running through his head, intercepting any order his brain sends to his nerves.

Mark can only stare, mouth agape but not quite breathing. Xuxi, Xuxi is here, looking down at him like he’s a new day. With hope. With promise. Gaze ever so loving, so sure, so tender. Lover whisper on his skin, rattling his bones, freeing his core.

From the citadel of his fearful skeleton, Mark breaks. Released and redeemed. His mouth closes then opens. His fingers trembling, terrified, mapping the face he covets so much. Skimming past the lips that never managed to say it all.

Of feelings. Of apologies. Of hearts and honesty. Of longing. Of love. Of-

“I miss you,” words go, unrestrained. Mark cradles his face in devoting wonder. “I miss you, Xuxi. Xuxi, I miss-"

Tears spill, not first rain for Mark has cried so much, and rain is sad. They’re once in many years star shower. When Xuxi speaks, the star mounts its throne, twinkling bright and dazzling blue. “Me too, Minhyung-ah. I miss you too, Mark. Sugar.”

Smile ripples wide on his face. Xuxi presses a kiss, unhesitant but sorry, and Mark takes it all with mercy, clamoring for his own by returning the kiss. Equal fervour and responsibility. They kiss, not until they cannot breathe for this, this very moment, is the first time Mark feels he’s finally breathing after a long suffocation.

“God, you’re so beautiful. Still beautiful. How could I,”

Mark expresses his shyness with a kiss, one hand sneaking past Xuxi’s shoulder, resting on his nape. A pulse. Heat. Alive. He’s real . He is here . “Xuxi...”

“I can’t forget you. I cannot. I tried. But, I can’t, Minhyung. I always see you. In my dreams, everywhere. I cannot get you out of my head. I swear I tried. I don’t, didn’t deserve you. Shouldn't even ask for something, someone I cannot have. I was a fucking jerk to you, leaving without saying anything. But, Minhyung, Mark, Sugar, how could I, this isn’t something I can stop. I can’t. I swear I had explanation for me. For my leaving. I swear. I tried to even if I shouldn’t. Even if I wasn’t allowed to, but I want you, I need you so bad. Just. When you’re everywhere even though you’re nowhere to be found, how could I-”

“Xuxi?”

Xuxi swallows. Xuxi’s tears, a dew on onyx. They gleam, like his eyes, like their memories swaying on shimmering water. Summer days in late spring. Innocently joyous, powder blue sky. “Yes, Minhyung-ah?”

Xuxi. His dear, beloved Xuxi. Xuxi whose heart he never meant to bruise. Xuxi who jumped into deep water to save him. Xuxi who wanted to find him but Mark never let him in.

But this time, today, in Xuxi’s room that has belonged to Mark like Mark’s heart has become his, he has found him.

“Make love to me?”

He found him.

:::

This is the first time Mark gets to have a proper look at Xuxi after a whole year.

His hair has been dyed a richer shade of brown, darker than his previous blonde. The roots are turning black already, he’d probably colored it a long way back. The length is the same, still falling over his eyes, so that Mark has to brush them away to get clearer view Xuxi’s gorgeous pitch of night.

Long, silky-looking curtain of lashes. Artisan-carved nose. Full, velvety lips. Soft cheeks framed by an angular jaw that fits perfectly in Mark’s palms. He wears earrings on both ears, one a simple black stud and another a small, silver hoop.

“I wanna get my ears pierced,” Mark mumbles, thumb running on the cool silver.

Xuxi kisses a spot on his wrist, where his veins are the most blue; a promise. “I’ll go with you, I know a place.”

“Does it hurt? Is it scary?”

“You can hold my hand. Beside, I bet not seeing me hurts more than getting a little hole in your ear.”

Mark laughs, merry. Happy. He pulls Xuxi’s ear playfully, getting a yelp and punishing kisses in return. “Jerk.”

“You love me,” Xuxi nips on his jaw. He loves this, but he apparently hates how much bone he finds there. “You’re so skinny, Sugar. Did you even eat?”

“Not much without your breakfast. Cheese. Sausages. Omelette,” Mark had barely eaten a proper breakfast when he was living in the dorm.  The tasteless, additives-loaded buns from convenience stores. “I can make them now, though. Lots of practice.”

“And now I’m here,” Xuxi sits up, knees straddling Mark’s hips. He takes off his blue plaid, leaving him in just jeans and pale yellow shirt. “I will make sure you gain at least 5 kilos back.”

“Isn’t that too much?” Mark frowns, reaching out to pull on the end of Xuxi’s shirt. “I want this off too.”

The brunette laughs. Loud. Crass. Mark had missed it so much that he could almost cry just from the sheer joy of hearing it again. “Impatient, are we?”

“I waited,” he murmurs, turning somber, now clinging to the garment like child on his mother. “I waited, for a year. Alone. Without nothing, not even a goodbye nor explanation. I think-”

Xuxi wrenches his hand off the shirt, presses kisses on slope and bones. Apology. “Anything for you. Anything for you, Minhyung. The world. Anything.”

Mark doesn’t ask about an explanation but there’s promise in Xuxi’s eyes. In anything . He trusts him, and lets Xuxi caress his skin, lets Xuxi worship every nub and joint. The blue veins under his skin. “I want you.”

“I’m here,” Xuxi whispers. “Right where you want me, Minhyung.”

A tear slips by, and Mark’s smile is wet and teary. He cannot speak any longer, words gilded with emotions and I love you, I love you, I love you . He doesn’t need to. Xuxi bends down to kiss him, on the lips, sweet and gentle. No longer hesitant. No longer terrified.

Xuxi grants his request, taking off his shirt to reveal tanned skin and taut, lean muscles. His abs are as defined as ever, making Mark’s mouth water. Usually, Xuxi’d tease him, “like what you see?” but today is not the usual day. Today Xuxi is coming back to him, finding him.

Today Xuxi looks a little bit shy, cheeks pink, and when he kisses Mark again, it’s like asking for assurance.

“You too,” he tugs on Mark’s shirt, “off. I need to see you. It’s been so long.”

“It’s been so long and this is the first thing we do,” Mark huffs, playful, lifting his body so Xuxi can remove his clothes easier.

Above him, Xuxi, his Xuxi laughs. Bright. Brilliant. Like this, he looks so childlike, so innocent. So terrifyingly honest that Mark’s scared he’s going to hurt him. This precious son of somebody. But then Xuxi kisses him in a way that’s far from innocent, kisses him in a way that’s closer to trusting innocence, and it reminds Mark that now, this time, he doesn’t have to hide, he doesn’t have to pretend. He can be him as he is; Mark Lee, Lee Minhyung, it doesn’t matter anymore. Xuxi loves him all the same. They can be sweet, they can be rough, they can be anything they want to be.

And they will still love each other.

“This is what we always do. Did.” Xuxi successfully shucks his shirt, discarding it carelessly to the floor. “It makes more sense-”

“We do this first?”

“Mm-hmm,” he toys around the band of Mark’s pants, smiling teasingly, like his fingers on the smaller boy’s skin. “This is how we...”

Mark squirms at the playful touch, his knees hitting the brunette’s waist to urge him faster. “We?”

He doesn’t know if he should be surprised or not when Xuxi stops, his hands, his words. He just looks at Mark, regarding him with a trembling gaze. Trembling lips stretched into a smile that teeters on the edge. His eyes, they shine, brilliant bronze. Scintillating embers. Frozen fingers do the same, they touch Mark beyond, long gone past the skin, far away past his bones.

And Mark gets it, gets it right when Xuxi opens his mouth only to close it again with a small shake of his head. He reaches for Xuxi’s hand that’s resting on his hip, squeezes, and feels Xuxi locking their fingers together, giving Mark a wet, tender smile.

He’s terrified. Always was whenever he realized he might have crossed a line he shouldn’t.

But that was then, and this is now. They’re new people, yet still the same. And whatever there was that stopped them from evolving, Mark’s determined to change that.

“I’m sorry.”

“We? What is it?”

“I’m sorry,” Xuxi repeats, taking Mark’s hand and plants a delicate kiss on his finger. “We. I meant to say.”

“Xuxi.”

The quiver of Xuxi’s lips reverberates through his skin, he can feel it; his fear, his worry. And just like Xuxi had taken all of his, Mark wants to take them too. For him. For them. This is the time for honesty. This is the time for them to be real, to be true. To take down all the walls they have built around them. To find each other and be found by one another.

“I won’t-”

“We’re more honest with our bodies,” he runs through his words like he wanted to run away from them. Like he didn’t want to say it.

Mark holds his hand tighter, tugs until Xuxi is looking at him. He hopes the smile he gives right now can do what Xuxi’s smile had done to him. Free him. Liberate him, from the shell of his doubt and qualm. Mark will be there, to accept him, to take him. “Let’s add another to that, shall we?”

“Another?”

“Yeah, let’s, let’s add words. Let’s be more honest with each other with our words too?”

“With our words,” Xuxi repeats after him, savoring the phrase, letting the sweetness of it hit his senses. They did, Xuxi’s gaze, his lips, they shiver no more. They stay, present, steady. Strong as hawser. Like his presence for Mark.

“You like it?”

“Very much." He answers enthusiastically.

Mark giggles at that, lets the newly encouraged Xuxi undresses him, pliant and malleable. Trusting and willing. Once he’s in nothing but skin and ribs, Xuxi looks at him, starstruck, breathless wonder. He touches Mark like he’s a piece of art, breakable ancient and beautiful.

“Fuck,” the word sounds like it’s being ripped out from his lungs. “Fuck. Minhyung, you’re so beautiful.”

Just ribs. Bones. Protruding. Skin thinly wrapped around undeveloped flesh, and even then, Xuxi regards him a sacred treasure. A holy grail. “Xuxi, please,” Mark, too full with emotion, chokes out, reaching out for his, his, his-

“I love you so much, have I ever told you that? Minhyung. God, Mark, I love you. I love you, Sugar, whoever you are. Whatever. I didn’t, didn’t know you, hadn’t heard all stories about you but I swear as long as,” he pauses to swallow, to take Mark’s hand in his and lace their fingers together.

They fit, not perfectly, because Mark’s hand is smaller than Xuxi’s. There are gaps here and there to fill, crack where things can leak and overspill. But Mark doesn’t care. Xuxi doesn’t seem to care either. He fastens his hold, tight. And Mark can already see that even if there are things that will fall from the scoop of their hand, they will go to find it again.

“I don’t know as long as what, but we can work it out. I want to work it out with you, Sugar. I swear-"

“I don’t need your promise,” Mark says, soft. Breathing is a chore with so many words jam packed in the bottom of his throat, fighting to come out. “Just. Xuxi. Come here. I wanna feel you. I want you.”

Xuxi complies, kissing Mark slow, kissing him deep, and it soon turns rough after Mark cards one hand through his hair, pulling. This is how they were, this was how they kissed; raw, uninhibited.

There’s sweetness in all that aggressiveness. There’s safety in all that harshness. There’s promise, the only promise that Mark needs that through every pain and cry, Xuxi is there, to hold him as he falls and mend him when he’s done.

Love him in the end of it all.

His lips, hot and sugar, wander down. A sought after journey, long awaited for almost twelve cycles of the moon. Xuxi maps him with his kiss, with his touch. Mark is a holy land he dreams about and Xuxi is the brave explorer Mark had always waited for to cure his loneliness.

He wants Xuxi to know everything of him, he wants Xuxi to see all of him, so he will show him. Show Xuxi Mark Lee, Lee Minhyung for all they are and he is, and hopes that Xuxi will do the same for him, let Mark in to discover the Wong Yukhei, Huang Xuxi he’s yet to know.

“Xuxi?”

He stops on Mark’s stomach, somewhere above his navel. His fingers freeze on the band of Mark’s pants, burning cold and steeling hot. “Hmm?”

Mark cups his face with trembling hand. Even if his voice is shaky when he speaks, his resolution is not. “Thank you for finding me.”

Xuxi’s smile is the still the best damn thing Mark has ever seen.

:::

Xuxi growls when he lines himself with Mark. His moan is rough and raspy when he coaxes himself in. The oxygen seems to fizzle in the air, or the air itself is burning. It’s like inhaling fire, scorching him red with each and every intake.

Mark was on his all fours but then he begged Xuxi to turn him around, “I want to see you,” he cried. And Xuxi flipped him, hands merciful yet impatient. Mark sobbed out a thank you that’s swallowed by insistent lips, Xuxi’s cock hard and leaking, the tip teasing him.

“Fuck. Minhyung, I can’t,” Xuxi groans like he is in pain, physical. He hasn’t released himself at all while Mark had come once. Even after Mark had given him head, he’d managed to hold himself back. “I wanna be in you when I come,” was what he said, and clearly, he’s at his limit now.

A couple more kisses, more hastily applied lube, then Mark had himself opened and exposed, skin blossoming peaches and pinks all over.

When Xuxi is finally sheathed inside, he lets out a ragged laugh. Mark is moaning, broken, and Xuxi’s name a babble raining from his lips. He reaches out for him, crying, like a child. The burn of being stretched after so long is deliciously painful, he keeps on crying, even when Xuxi locks their hands together, and tells him, “it’s okay, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

Mark cries still, overwhelmed with pleasure and emotion. Xuxi is indeed here, between his legs, inside of him. He’s hot, searing Mark alive, carving his sign with his touch and sweat. Mark needs him now, more than ever. He doesn’t want him to go, doesn’t want him to leave, he wants Xuxi. Needs him. In him. On him. Everywhere.

“I’m gonna move, okay?”

A kiss, brutally tender, that’s the only warning Mark gets before Xuxi starts pounding into him. He doesn’t start slow, no test, nothing. Just a pace fast and quick, the one they’re already accustomed to, and Mark remembers this. This sense of hurriedness, this hasty, exhilarating dance to release.

Mark pants, arches upward, scrambles for Xuxi’s back, nails digging and tearing and leaving marks scarlet. Xuxi hisses at the sting on his back, gives a deep, sharp thrust that hits Mark right in that bundle of nerves. The smaller boy moans, pain and pleasure blurring into one, purple stars sparkling white behind his eyes.

“Can you feel it? Can you feel me?” Xuxi laughs in his ear, aiming for that spot. Mark can only keen, holding on to him even more desperately.

It’s so good he can barely speak, robbed incoherent from his vocabulary, but his name. Xuxi . So dear. Longed for. He dreamt the old and ancient. Missing treasure in the ocean. Childhood trinket long gone.

Xuxi gets him, of course. Always. He increases his pace, like punishment cloaked in mercy. He reaches between them for Mark’s hard, weeping cock, and times his thrust with his strokes.

Mark can tell, the exact moment all the sharp stings and aches, all his heart’s plight and misery melt into one; pure, star-gilded drops of rain gleaming azure. They wash over him, making him forget everything; his past, his guilt, his present, and his interim.

When he opens his eyes, he can only see. One. One star. Kindly glinting Polaris on the inking sky.

“Xuxi?”

The star smiles. Twinkles a song, so sweet, so bitter. So loving and sorry. It started with a broken melody, inexperienced fingers strumming the wrong key, but then it goes, and as they got even more familiar, even more nimble, it’s the most harmonious song Mark has ever heard.

This time, he dares to call it a love song.

Chapter Text

Whenever you break, I'll fix it for you,
I'm the one who drives to you at night
and maybe we'll fall a little deeper,
I think our little heart will be alright

Devotion - Ellie Goulding

:::

“My battery’s dead. I’m sorry I couldn’t pick up your call sooner.”

“‘s okay.”

“But you’re not.”

Mark blinked sad, lazy. He’s worn, sated. Riddled with guilt and fatigue. “Xuxi.”

“I’m here to listen, remember.”

He sighed, and his weak hand slapped Xuxi on the chest. “You’re asking.”

“Minhyung.”

“...You’d hate me.”

“Shoot.”

Xuxi didn’t tempt him. Xuxi didn’t coax him. Xuxi was just there, holding him and listening. He’s here to listen. A body to hold. A shoulder to cry on.

Xuxi. Sweet, gentle Xuxi.

“Minhyung, I-"

“Remember the guy I hurt?

“The guy you? Yeah? The one who made you a ‘sinner?’”

“I met him. With his boyfriend? Maybe?”

Xuxi scrunched his nose, looking confused. “You don’t know?”

Under Xuxi’s blanket, it’s warm. In Xuxi’s hold, he’s safe. With Xuxi, nothing can hurt him. Even if his words were tinged with bewilderment.

Because Xuxi never, judge him, instigate him.

“I don’t. I never met him since I met you. Avoided them. I don’t think I can handle seeing them. And today.”

He felt lips, warmly soothing on his temple. A hand, softly rubbing circles on the small of his waist. “I’m sorry.”

“I was wrong. I deserve it.”

“I’m sorry I couldn't come earlier. Nor for that, you meeting them.”

“I know,” Mark put his hand on Xuxi’s jaw, drawing his face close for a kiss. Barely touching, simple. “I deserve that.”

Xuxi didn’t judge him. Xuxi didn’t instigate. Xuxi listened. Xuxi’s there. Xuxi held him, an anchor to hold. He made Mark stand even if the ground was falling under.

Xuxi is the dark to fall into. A home to come back to.

“Do you hate me?”

All he got was a kiss. Closest thing to mercy.

:::

“I think it’s time for us to forgive ourselves, each other.”

Jaehyun’s hold on Taeyong was steady. Mark thought of another set of hands, strong as hawser. Steadying anchor. He needed those hands. He longed for and dreamt it ancient. Were Jaehyun’s hands the same for Taeyong, a lifeline saving him from drowning?

“It’s okay, Mark. I forgive you.”

He could never truly be, unless he had Xuxi around. And that time, he let himself be healed.

Good morning,” Xuxi kisses his eyes, sluggish, barely awake. His skin on Mark’s, his scent silky mantle over Mark’s red and purple-marred cream.

Mark had a wound opened and bleeding. Not quite on his chest, but somewhere in his heart. Between his ribs, maybe. Between his collarbones, also likely.

“Omelette? You got cheese and eggs?” Xuxi mouths along his jaw, laughter on his touches.

Mark grins. Surely, this time the wound is healed.

:::

“When I lost my mother, I was eight.”

“So young.”

“I know, yeah? My father, he was a jerk. He had lots of affairs. Lots of women. My mother couldn't bear it anymore, it drove her to,” a pause. A gaze. Long distant.

His mother. Lovelorn gazes, familiar, heartaches. Yukhei knew. This boy in his arms, what he turned him into. He knew. He survived. His mother closed her eyes.

She said goodbye .

“Xuxi?”

“Depression. Insanity. She decided to took her own life.”

Minhyung, in his arms, legs tangled together, under the blanket, well-loved and sated, kisses him, murmurs a soft, “I’m sorry.”

“I. I reminded her.”

“Of?”

He takes his hands, kisses each tip of his fingers. Yukhei's sun, it rises and sets under the command of these fragile fingers. “My father.”

Minhyung draws a breathe. Spills a pained, “I'm sorry.” Tarnished pearl. A smudge he can erase. He wants to polish that sadness away. Minhyung’s sorrow, what he couldn't do for his mother.

“I spent my entire life thinking that I had killed my mother. She took her own life because she couldn't bear living with me, living with her own son who reminded me of the man she had loved, with her entire life but she couldn't keep.”

“That shouldn't be-”

“How am I supposed to know when nobody told me otherwise? She- in her last days, she never looked at me. And people said I looked like him. A lot. I just, pieced them together. The puzzle fit. I didn't know.”

“I'm sorry. “ Another apology, a mistake he didn't owe but hope he did so he could redo them, so he could repent them.

And Yukhei knew about it, an illogical feeling he's been carrying his whole life. A venom that streamed in his blood, pumped out of his heart.

He wanted to change that. He will. He can. Minhyung looks at him, him, his Polaris. Not overshone by luminous moon. Him. Young son with soul broken and bones. Him. Weak, feeble, but the strongest fortress Minhyung had come to know. Him .

“I never feel like I worth it, I never feel like I can ever amount for anything. After what I've done, with these blood on my hands.”

“You're not-”

“You know,” he says, smiling at Mark whose eyes widens, probably seeing himself in Yukhei's eyes. Definitely finding himself; small, lost, begging to be found, bleeding, and flowing scars unbound. Blinded. “You know how it feels to live with this, this...

“I'm sorry.”

“Is apologising the only thing you know?” Yukhei chuckles, fond, the curve of his lips sewn with nostalgia.

Minhyung doesn't smile, he doesn't laugh, doesn't take the humor, but his eyes twinkle with distant euphoria. This time, it's his turn to take Yukhei's hand in his. Kissing the longed-for skin. Yukhei thinks this is good, this is fine, passing day and night. This is right .

“I thought I would never be.”

“What?” Minhyung murmurs on his knuckle, words a cerulean wave washing rocks to gleam.

And he is the sun that shines on his stone. Sets him a bright with his magnificent heat. Encourages words to fly out of his mouth, free from the strict confines of his breastbone. “I thought I would never be fine. After what I did to my mother. Until I found you. But then after what I did to you. I thought I would never be fine, would never be okay.”

“Why?” Did you leave? Minhyung doesn't have to ask for Yukhei to know, he hears him, always. Months and heartlessly passing days later, it doesn't change. Yukhei always hears him.

“I had to. My uncle made me leave. My uncle, he’s the one who's been taking care of me. My brother. If it wasn't for him, I don't know where I'd end up at. It's thanks to him that I could live the life I have right now. He also gave me this job, modelling, he runs one of the biggest agencies in Hong Kong. Technically, he made us meet, sort of.” A frown, “or not, it was me. I  was the one who caught the brand's attention, not him pitching it for me. But considering he got me the job in the first place.”

“Do you love it?”

“My uncle?” Minhyung shakes his head. “Oh, my job, yeah, yeah. Modeling. I do. I love it. I'm really, really good at it.”

He's smiling, perhaps. Minhyung, finally, shows a hint of a smile, a red lustre in his eyes. Oh, he must have been smiling, genuine enough to invite the same smile on Minhyung’s face. “You do,” and Yukhei just nods at his words, feeling a little shy. “And your uncle...”

The sky turns, a darker shade of black, rain drizzles down, but it's not a storm, at least. Yukhei takes shelter under Minhyung's roof, holding him tighter. “I love him. He’s the closest thing I had for a parent. Have. A family. But it wasn't exactly easy between us. I, I wouldn't judge him, my father was way worse, makes my uncle's emotional constipation rainbow and sunshine in general.”

“He cares about you.” A question. A statement. Yukhei can't tell them apart. Minhyung might have meant both anyways.

“He does. He's. All my life I just,” a long sigh, another coaxing stroke of lips on his skin. Waves kissing his rock. “I just want to have someone who stays with me for me, because they want to stay with me. Not because they had to, not because they're obliged to. I thought my uncle, I thought he...”

He falters. Stone between his keys. A boulder in his throat. Minhyung, his sugar, the one he used to undo, this time Minhyung's the one doing it, setting him free, gently prying his wings open so words can fly. “It's okay, Xuxi, it's okay.”

“I thought he didn't need me beyond my talent, modeling. If you can call it a talent. And I'm just another one of his responsibilities. I thought if I didn't live up to his expectation, he'd...he would...”

“He didn't.”

Leave . He stayed, first, before Minhyung. They're just standing on different ends back then, now that they've met in the middle, he's there to stay. “He. Do you want to know why I had to leave?”

Minhyung’s expression turns sour, Yukhei cringes.

“Sorry. That was stupid, really stupid.”

He just gets a playful bite on his hand. “You owe me.”

“I do. Sorry. So, hmm, where should I start, remember that morning I got a phone call?”

“When you said I'm important?”

Pressing a kiss to his forehead, Yukhei says, meaning every single words, “you are.”

“And so are you, Xuxi,” Minhyung sighs, content. “So are you.”

They trade words with kisses for a while, slow and sweet. Spring comes to last, cheerful pink and pastel blue eternal. In the warmth of its visit, Xuxi finds his words again, “you are. You are the most important person to me. I’m sorry I had to leave, I’m sorry I had to leave because I couldn’t control my temper, my emotion, but he-”

“Wait, wait, he? Temper? Emotion? What are you talking about?”

Realizing he’s talking in wrong order, Yukhei organizes himself, he explains to Minhyung the reason for his sudden departure. That blasted bastard named Can-Lie, his filthy mouth, the swinging punches he regretted only because it cost him time with Minhyung, not because it broke the vile doofus’s jaw. “My uncle was really, really , upset, and it terrified me. A lot. I love you, I really, really do, but I, my uncle-”

“You love him too,” Minhyung graces him with another kiss, forgiveness, understanding. How easy it is for Minhyung, to forgive, to give his admission. How lucky it is for Yukhei to have found him. He’d ask later how could Minhyung pardon him so easily, but then he knew already, didn’t he?

Minhyung knew how it feels to be your own enemy.

“You love him, you respect him. You let him down with your, uhh, violence? You had no other choice but to go back home?”

“Pretty much, the easiest way to explain this whole mess. I was stupidly violent, that upset my uncle, and he made me go home as punishment.” Yukhei admits, ashamed. “Are you, would you?”

Another unasked yet understood question. There’s no hesitation coming from Minhyung when he replies, only trust, only acceptance, only his small arms, extended like wings, open like home. Welcoming. “That’d be really hypocritical of me if I didn’t forgive you. I think, I think I hurt you as much as your goodbye hurt me. I, didn’t I hurt you first?”

Yukhei wants to retort, the rejection trembles in anger under his bones. “You didn’t-”

“I should have been honest with you to begin with. If only I did, things, maybe, would turn different for us.”

“Minhyung-ah.”

“Did I,” a pause. A much needed comma. Minhyung breathes in, then out, then in, then Xuxi counts to three in his head. Calm down. Memories comes, notes of an old song; Minhyung, trembling, scared, needing his guide, needing his hands.

This is it . This is them .

Yukhei, Xuxi was there. And this time, today, he’s here too as well. Saved, only to save his savior in return.

“I’m aware that you were never actually in love with me.”

In his arms, Minhyung freezes. The boy looks like Xuxi just hit him with lightning.

“You’re just using me to get through a difficult phase in your life. We’re just, living on borrowed time, I guess. I tried not to fall for you, you know. But it’s kind of difficult for me because, because you stayed.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You stayed, and that’s all I ever want, all I ever need. You stayed for me, Minhyung-ah. There’s no tie that binds us, you and me. There’s no obligation. No responsibility. Just us. Strangers. Stumbled upon each other. Drunk, stupid, fumbling, you weren’t in love with me, but you needed me.”

“I did,” Minhyung says, voice soaked with apology, with guilt. Xuxi doesn’t want to hear the blame spinning out of Minhyung’s lips, he just wants a melody.

He picks it up, riding on the passage, stitching the broken notes. Minor chord goes, slow yet steady, fingers dance on keys ivory, fingers pluck and strum the silver string to lead the symphony. “You stayed, and I would ask you to come clean first but I thought it was too much because I knew it was a difficult time for you. Beside, I wasn’t sure if I had any right to. I never felt like I ever have the right to. I always, always, believed that I’m disposable, for anyone, for my family, for you even.”

“You weren’t. Oh God, Xuxi, I’m sorry I made you-”

“No, no, Minhyung, it wasn’t you. It’s me. It’s me and my past. My mother. My family, I have carried this scar since before I even met you. Don’t you blame yourself, Sugar,” he smiles, hoping it comes out as sweet and true, hoping it can dry the pooling tears in Minhyung’s eyes. “You have your own burden to bear, and I have mine. You had taken me in, unconditionally. You couldn’t give me your honesty, but nor did I to you. Who am I to demand anything from you? I told myself every night that I had no obligation to tell you because I’m nobody to you just like you are-”

“You’re not nobody to me.”

Laughing at the interruption, Yukhei continues, “nobody to me. But yeah, see, who am I, who are we,” he kisses him again, on lips that tremble under the weight of lined up words. “Kidding. You’re not just nobody to me, you can never be just another body to warm my bed, to fuck, to play lovers with. You are the one I love. But I’ve lost the one I loved a long time ago because of me, myself, I didn’t, didn’t think I ever have the right to be loved.”

“But I do,” Minhyung says, strong, secure, and blue. The ocean, the aquamarine fortress Yukhei had fallen into. The azure chest of life he’s coming back to. “I do love you, Xuxi. Don’t ever feel- please, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry if  I made you feel that way, but don’t, no more, please? I will make it up to you. If my lies ever hurt you, which I’m sure they did. Fuck, fuck it, Xuxi, please-”

Yukhei kisses him, tells him it’s okay, he forgives him. All the lies. All the fronts. All the tales he spun out of his fear and insecurities. It’s okay because Yukhei lied as much to him, about his identity. About his mother. About his life in Hong kong, about practically everything.

And it should be making them terrified, to know that everything they have is nothing but castles built by bricks of lies. But it’s okay, it’s gonna be , Yukhei kisses his promise, his reassurance. His vow that this is going to work out, they’re going to make it work. They’ll try, this time with more truth in their words, nothing more needed in their touches. Their touches have always been honest. Wanting to heal, wanting to feel.

Wanting to close opened seams and leaking wounds. Minhyung had been broken, bleeding all alone, licking his wounds, until Xuxi had found him and picked him up, carefully tending to his scars with hands gloved in little truth yet intention sincere. Yukhei had been broken too - is, still - he knew how it feels, and he cannot stand seeing Minhyung go through the same thing. Alone.

“Have I ever make you feel unloved?”

“Never,” came his answer, a whisper but no less sincere. “Even if I knew you weren’t actually in love with me, what mattered the most for me was that you needed me, you made me feel like I’m something.”

“I did. I still do, and now I love you,” Minhyung cups his face, looking at him as if he’s making certain, making sure, that this Wong Yukhei, Huang Xuxi on his bed is the one he’s longing for. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“You have nothing to make up for, Minhyung-ah.”

“But I didn’t- I should have told you-”

“And I didn’t tell you anything either, so let’s just say we’re even, okay? Let’s stop saying sorry, for now. If we, oh fuck I already hate the idea of it, but if time comes for us to fight, let’s make up, and reserve our sorry for later, not now. For now, for now I just want to find you, ourselves, us. I just want to learn about you, you about me. Deal?”

Minhyung answers him with a kiss again, sweet, chaste. Yukhei can live with this alone, this affection, this heart-searing titillation. “Deal. Deal, so you have to tell me okay? Everything. Your fear, your worry. I know how it feels to live with them, though surely you know it better than I do.”

“Oh, very intimately,” Yukhei gives him a playful grin.

Minhyung bites his lip, equally playful, giggles freed from his throat. “And I promise I will tell you as much, everything you want to know about me. No more lies?”

“Okay,” he says, almost breathless, looking at Minhyung with unchanging wonder. His Sugar, traces the contours and planes of his face, matching the Minhyung from his memory with the boy in his arms. “Anything for you, Sugar.”

“No more princess?” Minhyung teases.

Yukhei laughs, amends himself, “anything for you, Princess.” Then his smile turns, mellow blue like a garden in mid-winter. Minhyung wants him to tell him everything, his doubt, his insecurities, so he braves himself to ask, “was I even?”

“I’m so-,” slipped out of his lips, he bit them, caught them before they acted. “I was- You were- I didn’t mean to.”

Minhyung didn’t exactly answer his question, but Yukhei heard him anyway. His ‘ You were everything to me,’ because he always does, hear him. Find him. For he’s always been here to listen, to hear Minhyung’s unspoken words and practiced lies, to keep them under his - their blanket from now on. Saves them in his treasure chest, the small fragments he’s allowed to have. He embraces them, back then and now, like he embraces Minhyung with his love. With his selfless forgiveness.

It might have been his ego that started it all, but in the end, it’s Minhyung who made him stay. Minhyung and his shy smile, Minhyung and adorable laugh, Minhyung and the pinkening of his cheeks whenever Yukhei was being particularly cheesy.

Minhyung. Mark Lee. Minhyung. It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s still the same boy who Xuxi found piss-drunk, weeping his soul out, and he took home. He’s still the same boy who ran away from his problems, seeking Xuxi’s hands to keep him safe. He needs him, still, after all this time, even after Xuxi left him alone without as much as a goodbye.

And Xuxi. Yukhei. Xuxi. Fuck, he doesn’t care whoever he is. He is Yukhei who is also Xuxi who is also Lucas and all three of them love Minhyung all the same. They will talk about it later, they will talk properly about it, about their past, about their lies, about everything.

They will, later, but for now, all they want to do is find each other again. To learn each other again. To finish that song they had left incomplete and put a name on it. Put a name on them .

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

Minhyung smiles. A brilliant rush of blue. Waves gleam like shooting stars. The tide turns, the ocean opens up, calling, inviting. Yukhei departs, leaves the shore, bare feet crusted with sand. Soon, the azure will wash them away from him, clean, so Yukhei can belong only to them. In them, their enigmatic cradle that belies as much life as there is dark.

And Yukhei will love them all the same, Minhyung’s light, Minhyung’s dark, just like Minhyung had come to love him. All of him, his wreck and ruins. His disaster and past. His heartaches and demons. The ghost of a distant gaze that even until now is still refusing to leave him.

“For finding me.”

To them, he prays that the day when he can eventually say goodbye will come.

To Minhyung, to the fights they’ve given up, to the new ones they’re going to face to love each other properly, he says welcome .

“I’ll find you,” a promise. A prayer. “Always.”

:::

It’s kind of stupid, if not funny.

The only reason Xuxi was staying in Korea was for a short term working Visa he had. It only gave him total of 90 days, nothing more and nothing less. Mark learns that Xuxi has been working as model since high school; he didn’t continue to university immediately despite wanting to for a year project for a brand he’s contracted as the face of, and he’s in Korea for that reason.

That’s when he met Mark. At first, just like Mark, he didn’t mean it to be regular thing.

He tried to fool himself to think that between them there’s nothing.

And just like Mark, he failed. Miserably.

Still, Xuxi decided to stay, even though he knew he and Mark were just living on borrowed time. Even though he knew Mark was never actually in love with him, was just using him to get by a difficult phase in his life.

( “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Minhyung. You and I both.”)

He would have told Mark, but he wasn’t sure he had any right too. He thought he’s disposable, thought that Mark wouldn’t miss him. Told himself every night that he had no obligation to tell Mark, because he is nobody to Mark, just like Mark is nobody to him.

Xuxi tells him it doesn’t come out of nothing, his secrecy, his insecurity; they’re all the product of his family circumstances; his mother’s suicide, Xuxi’s guilt because he thought his mother’s death was because she couldn’t stand looking at Xuxi who reminded her too much of his jerk of a father.

“I spent my entire life thinking that I had killed my mother. She took her own life because she couldn't bear living with me, living with her own son who reminded me of the man she had loved, with her entire life but she couldn't keep.”

“That shouldn't be-”

“How am I supposed to know when nobody told me otherwise? She. In her last days, she never looked at me. And people said I looked like him. A lot. I just, pieces them together. The puzzles fit. I didn't know.”

“I'm sorry. “ Another apology, a mistake he didn't owe but hope he did so he could redo them, so he could repent them. And because he understands how that feels; trapped in your own self-loathing, finding no way out, for he doesn’t think he’s someone worth saving.

“I never feel like I’m worth it, I never feel like I could ever amount to anything. After what I've done, with this blood on my hands.”

“You're not-”

“You know,” he says, and Mark finds himself looking into Xuxi’s eyes. Small, just a boy who’s lost, begging to be found as he bleeds, as his demons terrorised him in his sleep. “You know how it feels to live with this, this...

Mark knows it all too well, the guilt, intimate and familiar. But he had Xuxi, Xuxi who took him in, his bastion. His place to come back to, the place that kept him safe no matter how broken and dirty he is.

He had Xuxi, but Xuxi, Xuxi never had anyone to share his pain.

“I'm sorry.”

The brunette says it’s okay and Mark should stop apologizing, referencing the conversation they had before they knew each other. He tells Mark about the reasons why he had to leave, the fight he had with his coworker because, “he called you,” Xuxi practically spits out the words, his expression all wrong and horrible, like he’d rather die than say it. “Boy- rude, fucking rude thing, that piece of garbage.”

“Still, you shouldn’t have-”

“But he-”

“And look what it cost you,” Mark sighs, reprimanding.

“You,” he moans, immediately looking apologetic, like a puppy caught in the act; ears all folded, tail tucked. “I’m sorry.”

Cute. His, fuck , this is what they’ve become, huh; boyfriends . Sweet. Adorable. He’s been spending his whole life feeling guilty over something he’s not responsible for, and Mark wants to change that. He wants to stop that. “Just don’t do it again.”

A peck on the lips, a smile tickled out. Warm and beautiful, brilliant like the sun. “Okay, I will, I will be good.” What would Mark do to keep this shine everlasting and eternal? Anything. He knows he’d do anything. He had lost this man once, now that he has him back, he’d rather die before losing him again.

He would, because now he knows how much, how long Xuxi had been bruised, broken injured, left with nothing and nobody but himself to patch himself up. But he had been young, so young, and his hands weren’t enough to close the abyss of his wounds. But now he has Mark, Minhyung , whoever Xuxi wants him to be, and Mark swears, vows, he’d even carve out an oath along the 206 bones that composed his body, that he’d do everything he could to keep Xuxi, safe, by his side, hurt but healed.

No more lies. No more pretending. Just honesty. And when Xuxi asks him, smiling mellow blue like a garden in  mid-winter, “was I even?”

“I’m so-” No more apology, no more avoidance; just honesty. “I was. You were. I didn’t mean to.” You were everything to me.

Xuxi heard him, of course. Xuxi always does. He’s here to listen, unspoken words and practiced lies. Here under his - Mark’s, their blanket, he keeps all of them, embraces him in his arms like he’s embracing Mark with his love. With selfless forgiveness.

He’s here now with tourist visa, a vacation. He has runways to walk and photoshoots schedule under his name, contracts with huge fashion houses and the first face for New York fashion week. They’re all coming in a week, so they only have, at most, seven days left at their disposal. They’re going to be separated again, so Mark decided he’s going to make it worthwhile.

He is going to tell him everything, things he didn’t want to admit or acknowledge. Words he’d always weaved in his mind as he waited for Xuxi’s return or just any chance to see him again. Things that are always easier to say without Xuxi around.

Mark tells him then, about Taeyong, about Jaehyun, about Donghyuck. About things he didn’t mean to say or happen, but he was young and foolish, the dice rolled anyway, and Mark’s left with the mess and heart bleeding blue, wounds smarting black.

But he’s okay, he’s faring better than he thought he would, even though the cold, cruel hands of regret tried to rein him into their womb of darkness and despair. He tells Xuxi it’s because he’s there. Because Xuxi was there, like hero whose heart always beckoned to help. Or just a boy with heart too pure, too kind, and Mark was the battered, wounded animal he found dying in a random alleyway.

It’s Xuxi who kept his ground. Xuxi who set his frozen heart on fire again. Xuxi who taught him, of things, of compassion, of vindication. Of love and having enough to learn how to be brave again. Even though Mark failed to gather enough before Xuxi was gone from his life, at least now he had it in him. Courage, bountiful,  more than enough to cherish everything; his sins, his mistakes. The wounds, the many blades. He takes them all, thanks to everything Xuxi had taught him.

“But I didn’t,” Xuxi exhales, large eyes searching, voyagers observing stars in amazement. “I didn’t do anything. Didn’t do,”

“You do,” Mark breathes, the word into his lungs, the feeling into his heart. He takes Xuxi’s hand, kisses it, rests it right on top of his beating heart so Xuxi can hear it. In time. Real. Here. “You trust me, my lies, my truth. You love me, Xuxi. And I love you, I love you. Even if you had to leave after this, back to your country. I love you, I will love you still, and nothing can ever change that.”

The future is not certain, he knows that. The only thing exact is the cadenza of time. And Mark fears, so many things, like change, like end. But he got Xuxi now, right here, beside him. He got him and he can proudly say come what may, for he’ll take them all. The way Xuxi had taken his black and his white. Only then, he can be stronger.

Only then, he can be someone he’s proud of, with all the scar and fault that tell a story of one. A human, only a human so meek, so small, who struggles to set his life right.

He and Xuxi are not perfect, far from it. But it’s okay, it’s okay now. They got each other. Even if they break, they can be fixed. Even if they’re lost, they can be found.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

Mark smiles. He pushes everything away, his barriers, his lies, the fear castrating his mind. “For finding me.”

To them, he says goodbye. To Xuxi, to newly rising sun inside of them, he says welcome. “I’ll find you,” a promise. A prayer. “Always.”

:::

They spend the next seven days (they refused to call it remaining because remaining means it’s gonna be exhausted one day, and they stubbornly believe that they still have many more days to spend together) practically holed in their room.

They only leave to greet the landlord, to buy groceries, too much cheese and milk because Xuxi loves them rich, and Mark loves what Xuxi does. They cook a lot, together, probably nutritionally imbalanced because Mark makes sure they consumed more MSG and cheese, and processed meat than vegetables and vitamins.

According to Xuxi, that’s the whole point. “I’m not kidding when I said I’m gonna make you gain 5 kilos back, you’re too skinny, Minhyung. You used to be,” he runs his eyes up and down Mark’s body - topless , because it somehow become a tradition for them to cook nude save for their boxers or pants. “Thicker.”

Xuxi didn’t even beat around the bush, said he missed Mark’s body so much and if possible, he’d love to look at it every day until his departure.

He also threw in, “besides, your body changed so much. I want to remember it, everything, all of you. I don’t wanna miss a thing,” and that made Mark melt into a pathetic puddle of goo, metaphorically. Physically, he’s melting in Xuxi’s arms, his boyfriend worshipping every inch of his body with that cheesy mouth of his, Mark’s name a fervent prayer on his lips.

His boyfriend . Mark’s too embarrassed to say it the first time, needing Xuxi to coax the word out of his mouth with convincing kisses and equally persuasive, naughty hands slipping somewhere down under.

Now, he can say it easily, not without the heavy blush, and he swears he’s as red as cherry when he has to introduce Xuxi to his friends.

Donghyuck and the ensemble. Jeno actually looks murderously at Xuxi, eyeing him from head to the toe in a way that reminds Mark of the stepmother in drama assessing the poor, female protagonist. Later, Jeno will text him that he did that because he’s

jealous because guy is built like a brick, and he spoke Chinese with Renjun. And his n o s e. Is that even a nose?

But he looks like he’ll fall first before taking his eyes away from you, and Renjun doesn’t like someone too tall. Hard to kiss. So I’m fine.

Isn’t it hard? Kissing him?

‘M not that short. Jerk. thank you

But that’s later for the night, and now during the day, Mark takes Xuxi to meet his friends. Their last hang out before the next semester starts. Nothing fancy, just lunch and randomly hitting the game center. Or karaoke, depending on their mood later.

Chenle has taken a quick liking toward Xuxi, laughing at everything he says and does. Jisung looks at him with quiet admiration, startled with his friendliness at first; but then Xuxi realized how jumpy Jisung could be, respectfully gives him space, and that easily won Jisung’s heart.

Jaemin is Jaemin, and warming up to new people isn’t difficult for him. Renjun and Xuxi talk less than he expected, with them being Chinese speaker and all. Xuxi talks more with Chenle, and of course, Mark. Then there’s Donghyuck whom he talks to as well, more because Donghyuck keeps firing questions at him than because he wanted to talk at all.

It’s not that Donghyuck’s being hostile, but perhaps Mark got that impression because he knows Donghyuck well enough to tell his curiosity and his jabs apart.

Xuxi doesn’t know Donghyuck, apart from the fact that Donghyuck and he are the best of friends, or had been until Mark had started fooling around with his brother. Things got awkward between them, but it didn’t last long, because Donghyuck has the purest of hearts - next to Xuxi, of course - and he understands Mark like he can see inside his head.

(Mark also told Xuxi that one time behind the cabin. Xuxi had kissed him, rough, “tell me how did he touch you?”

“Just touch me how you want to.”

Xuxi, well, touched him exactly how he wanted it, leaving Mark sore the next day.)

Xuxi takes all Donghyuck’s question in stride, answering him with confidence and a charming smile that had Mark falling for him all over again.

By the end of the interrogation, Donghyuck is looking approving, satisfied. Mark almost thinks he’s acting like Mark’s father, but saves the comment for himself in fear that Donghyuck will tease him with some stupid stories from their childhood.

After lunch, the go straight to karaoke because Jeno and Xuxi have bonded over Justin Bieber, and it’s suddenly concluded that they’re going to karaoke for Justin Bieber because Jeno and Xuxi won’t stop talking about him.

Anyways, Justin Bieber . Mark and Renjun are helpless in the face of their boyfriends’ childlike enthusiasm. The others tag along without protest; Donghyuck and Chenle are in choir, Jaemin just wants to have fun, and Jisung is the type who looks unwilling at first but has the most invested by the end.

Sometime later, maybe thirteen minutes had passed, it’s Jaemin’s first time singing, Donghyuck sits close to Mark. He flicks his gaze to Xuxi, then whispers in Mark’s ear.

Like a blessing. Like relief. Like gratitude and good will. “He’s a keeper.”

Mark looks at his oblivious boyfriend then back to his best friend. His eyes are maybe a little bit teary, his voice tight with choking gratitude. “He is.”

Donghyuck smiles; boyish, young, innocent. They’re taken back to the first day they met, Mark with a red nose and Donghyuck with a bandaid on his.

That day, Mark never knew the boy was going to be one of the most important people in his life. Mark didn’t know that there would be so much between them; bad and good. Black and white. Understanding and misunderstanding. Fights and make ups.

But they lasted through it all, not unschated but healed. Today, Mark knows, with no doubt, that Donghyuck is important, someone he doesn’t want to live without, and he will always be. Irreplaceable.

:::

Tomorrow’s the last day.

Mark’s gonna see him off at the airport, swears he’s going to give him the tightest hug before letting him go. Maybe even a kiss when nobody’s looking, or even with people looking. Fuck people, they’re just too much in love, it’s within their right to express it to each other.

Today, they spend it talking. Imagining things. The future. Long distance relationships are difficult, Mark isn’t one hundred percent positive, but nothing in the world is, and he loves Xuxi too much to stop without trying.

He survived a year without nothing from Xuxi, no proper goodbye, no explanation. This time, they’ll have skype call, Xuxi registered his new number and kakao id, and dozen other social media accounts for them to keep in contact with each other.

Mark finds out that Xuxi uses his modeling name, Lucas for his social media accounts and judging from the number of his followers, he has quite a reputation for himself. Well, considering he was in Korea to work for a brand that contracted him as their representative face, Mark shouldn’t be surprised that his boyfriend is famous.

It’s actually crazy, Mark Lee - Lee Minhyung - has a fucking model for a boyfriend, Donghyuck’s gonna flip his shit once Mark tells him.

Xuxi’s instagram feed is full with either photos of his brothers, his handsome selcas, or behind the scene of his modeling gigs. It got no theme whatsoever, not curated, but it’s cute, it’s instant, it’s real. He’s thankful that Xuxi’s agency isn’t that strict in managing their talents’ social media, if not, he wouldn’t be able to see Xuxi making goofy faces while his brother was smearing cream all over his face. Mark spends a whole 10 minutes scrolling down his endless feed. Xuxi secretly takes a picture of him doing that, uploads it right away and captions it;

sweetest boy on the planet

“That’s fucking cheesy,” Mark sputters, cheeks bright red. The ruby on his ears; got them pierced two days ago with Xuxi holding his hand tight.

“Said the sweetest boy on the planet,” he sing songs, snapping another picture, unbothered.

“Fuck you, I’m not wearing anything right now.” Mark scrambles down under the blanket. “Wouldn’t your agency, your uncle, be mad?”

“This, actually, is for my uncle.” The notification on his phone dings. Xuxi uploaded yet another new picture, the one he just took. Sugar, my whole world. I love you so much. “And, no, they don’t care. Models with boyfriends is a huge thing right now. It’s plus point for me.”

“Jerk.”

The taller boy laughs, drops his phone on the bedside table, “it’s true. I love you so much.” He wrenches the blanket off Mark’s body with glee, finding him curled up with his phone clutched in his hand, looking at Xuxi like he’s the first sun after a long storm. “Shit. Minhyung, you are so-”

He doesn’t continue, just starts attacking him with sweet nothings and playful kisses, eventually reducing Mark into a babbling mess as everything got less innocent and more steamy. Eager, hungry hands included.

They have sex - make love - a lot, too. No stranger to this, that’s what they’d been doing before Xuxi bailed out from Mark’s life. It feels normal, it feels like falling back into a routine. They do it to seamlessly, but this time, there’s more intent than despair. This time, there’s more submission than running away.

Xuxi stays, now, not to leave but to go. Tomorrow, they’re not going to see each other, again. For days, days that will pass a hundred and some more until they can meet again.

Mark will sleep to those days, Mark had sleep for days without Xuxi. But now, it’s different. Now, if he’s gonna fall asleep crying for him, it is not because he fears losing him. Now, if he’s gonna fall asleep crying for him, it’s only because he loves him, he’s grateful to have him back into his life, and he cannot wait to see him again.

Now, any tears that stain his pillow sheets, any tears that stain his salty cheeks, they’re of happiness. Brilliant blue, like Xuxi, his summer in the spring, and everything he is.

:::

Hi, Mark. Long time no see. This is Taeyong

I heard about you and Huang Xuxi? from Donghyuck

I just wanna say congratulations

I really hope you can be happy with him, truly. From the bottom of my heart

Mark, I love you. Despite everything, I love you. Maybe not as what you wanted me to, but I love you. You’re important to me. I just want you to be happy. I hope that this time you can be happy, with someone who truly loves you and deserve you

I’m sure there are so many things that we need to talk about. About us. That day. Everything. I hope the day where we can talk about it with less heavy hearts will eventually come

for now, please be happy, Mark. Forgive yourself. I forgive you. You deserve it. You never meant to do me any harm, but things happened, people make mistakes, and so do I

so please, be happy, not for anyone else, but yourself. For Mark

goodbye

:::

Taeyong-hyung, I love you, too. Thank you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Thank you. I will be happy, I promise. So, please be happy, too. With Jaehyun-hyung, with yourself. Thank you.

till we meet again

:::

The sea calls for people, they say. It calls come home , they said. Lorelei's song. It’s dark and lonely under, and it’s void and empty down further.

But humans, even in a crowd, can feel as much; lonely, empty. Taeyong used to feel like that, used to believe it, even if there were warm bodies to keep him company.

“What are you looking at?” Jaehyun asks, his arms slipping to wrap around Taeyong’s waist. His chin resting on his shoulder. “The sea?”

Taeyong stares ahead. The sea. Mediterranean sea. They’re a long way from home, just the two of them. Not alone. Never alone. Not like the sea. The poor, beautiful lonely sea. “Mark replied to me.”

He feels Jaehyun tense behind him, only for a split second. He relaxes, presses a kiss to the side of Taeyong’s face. Consoling, keeping his own composure, voice a little tight. The boy has a strong front but can’t help but  be pathetically honest when it comes to Taeyong. “What did he say?”

“That I should be happy. With you.”

Taeyong’s hands fall on top of Jaehyun’s, squeezing. Keeping him, close and dear. Trembling with fear of letting go. He can’t help it; he’s too used to losing things. “Are you now, Hyung?”

He thinks so. He wants to believe so. He wants it to be so. He says, “yeah.”

He’s lost, but like things that are  thrown into water only for the waves to wash it back ashore, he will be found.

“I’m happy.”