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The heat in the room is oppressive all of a sudden, the moment Kun becomes aware of the rivulets of sweat streaming down his neck. He’s panting almost audibly. He closes his eyes, lets his head fall back and his hips roll one last time. Johnny’s grunt sounds beneath him. Kun barely has the strength to smile, his chest heaving, his body buzzing with the overwhelming sensations of everything that went down. All he wants at this very moment is to pass out and not wake up all weekend. Then again, the kids are away until Monday, so maybe he shouldn’t sleep through all the glorious adventures his boys are about to put him through.

Kun feels a hand on the small of his back and opens his eyes slowly. Jaehyun has moved up onto his knees and leans in for a grateful, appreciative kiss. Kun hums into it, winding a hand around the younger to slide down his toned back. Jaehyun kisses his cheek and climbs off the bed.

“I’ll get some towels.”

Kun takes a breath to find his voice, “I left some on the chair over there, but feel free to bring more.”

He exhales loudly, grunting. Exhaustion is crashing over him.

“You good, baby?” he drags a gentle hand down Johnny’s back. The younger responds with the most tired hum Kun can imagine and he laughs to himself fondly. Gently, he pulls out of Johnny and they both sigh. Johnny just about collapses on his side, but Kun holds him up. “Wait, baby, wait. Let’s clean you up first. You don’t wanna take a shower? Oh, look at you, you’re so pretty, you’re opening up so nicely. Oh, Johnny…”

Kun swipes his thumb through the semen trickling out of Johnny’s wrecked hole, pushing it back inside, and grins at Johnny’s whine.

“Here,” Jaehyun says as he returns to the bedroom, AC remote in one hand, damp towel in the other. Kun gets to gently wiping Johnny’s backside.

“So. You boys ready to do this all weekend?”

 

***

 

Johnny wipes his face with a towel after pulling his shirt on and exhales. He looks around the room to make sure everything is in order, then smiles at Allison who is standing by the door with her purse in her hand.

“All good?” Johnny asks and Allie gives him a thumbs up.

“I’ll see you around, Johnny. Text me some time,” she says, opening the door.

“Oh, wait, let me walk you out--”

“It’s alright, I’ll see if Kyle is down in the common room and hang out for a bit,” she says and walks down the hallway towards the stairs, waving at Johnny.

He waves back and makes his way to the other end of the hallway where the house’s little library is located. A couple of his brothers are sprawled around the old armchairs, including Jaehyun who looks up from his phone.

“Hey, there he is!” Jaehyun yells out, joining the few hoots Johnny gets from the other guys. “I can finally have my room back! Am I gonna even be able to walk in or is there nuclear waste everywhere?”

Johnny shakes his head, waving them all away, “You should be used to it by now, Jae, I’m the only one who ever gets laid in that room after all.”

“Oof!”

Jaehyun gives him a light kick in the shin, “Too much head gets to your head, buddy.”

“I’m gonna walk over to CVS, anyone wanna come with? Just getting some ice cream,” Johnny asks.

Ten minutes later, Johnny and Jaehyun are strolling down the sidewalk towards the corner CVS. It’s only early September, but the weather is throwing a fit and it’s unusually windy and overcast. People are bundled up in sweatshirts, some even wearing scarves. Johnny and Jaehyun have no time for that kind of silliness and are only wearing basketball shorts, flip-flops and deep-cut tank tops.

“Dude, my hair has been sooo soft ever since you gave me that shampoo,” Johnny says, running his fingers through his brown locks. “I guess that’s why my mom always wanted me to use shampoo and conditioner at home, it pays off!”

Jaehyun laughs and nods, “Yeah, man, I’m glad my ex made me start using shampoo, it just feels better. It’s good to treat yourself sometimes.”

“Totally,” Johnny agrees, shaking his hair out of his face. He cracks his neck and sighs in relief as they round the corner. “Man, coach needs to ease off. I really feel like trashing us with work outs before the game won’t help at all, we’re not lacking in stamina…”

“I know, right? I don’t really know what he’s thinking, he’s been so stressed about this game since the year started and it’s not even in-season. Makes no difference.”

They cross the street to the next block, still chatting about their soccer team, until Jaehyun pauses and points across the road.

“Oh, I meant to tell you, we should check out that bakery some time. I grabbed a coffee there the other day on my way to work and it looks like a terrific place. What’s it called?” Jaehyun squints and it crosses his mind that he really does need those glasses he adamantly refuses to wear. “Main...Main something? What is it?”

Johnny squints as well. “Mian Bao, I think. Is it an Asian bakery?” he asks, eyes on the Chinese characters on one side of the bakery’s sign.

“Uh, didn’t look like it, they looked like they have a mix of pretty much everything, but they do have some like, classic East Asian stuff, I guess. They sell bingsoo!”

“For real? Is it new, how come we’ve never gone in before?” Johnny frowns in surprise. Their college town is not necessarily lacking in “ethnic” locations, but it’s usually hard to find anything authentic so close to downtown. Being the only two Asian guys in their fraternity, Johnny and Jaehyun are often each other’s culture buddies, bonding over their shared traditions and similar upbringing.

Jaehyun shrugs, “I don’t know, honestly. I feel like I’ve been seeing it there for a while, I just don’t pass by very often, so I never thought to go in before, but it’s on my way to work now. Wanna go in on the way back? The cashier was pretty cute too when I went the other day.”

Johnny grins as they enter CVS, “Ah, so it’s not just the coffee. Hold on-- should we see if they serve ice cream? Or just check out what they have, I guess. Don’t want my ice cream to melt while we’re in there.”

The two of them make their way across the street and back to the bakery Jaehyun pointed out. Everything looks just as delicious as it smells once they’re inside. They’re fawning over a two-tier cake covered with an unbelievable number of layers of fruit, when someone approaches behind the fridge.

“Can I help you guys pick out something? This berry-vanilla cake is only for sale whole, but we do sell it by piece too, if you’d like. Unless you’re picking something out for an occasion?”

Behind the counter fridge is a middle-aged Asian man smiling softly while wiping his hands on a towel. He’s wearing a dark shirt and has an apron tied around his waist. For some reason, Johnny feels a little bit like he’s home.

“Oh, we’re just looking, just browsing,” Jaehyun smiles back.

“Sure! Take your time. I will say, I personally don’t think you need an occasion to buy a whole cake. Feels great to come home and know you can have a slice or two ready, just waiting for you in the fridge,” the man says, shrugging, and starts wiping the counter with the towel. Johnny laughs at his remark and the man smiles again, pleased, “But anyway, I’ll let you browse. Let me know if you need any help.” 

They’ve got several baked goods each in the little baskets they picked up by the entrance, but everything around this place looks enticing, and Johnny is in such a good mood - especially after his lovely afternoon with Allie - that he’s happy to stick around the bakery drinking coffee and enjoying some good desserts. While Jaehyun chooses between several kinds of sweet rolls, Johnny scans the drinks menu on the wall. A somewhat sparse, but nonetheless interesting selection of coffee choices.

“Did this place open only recently? My friend and I go to school nearby and live close, but I’ve never noticed it,” he asks, in the mood for conversation.

The man behind the counter shakes his head, hands on his hips, “No, no, not at all! We’ve been open at this location for four years now at least. We’ve got two more branches in town and one in Asheville, that’s the one that opened this year.”

“Huh! Well, it’s a shame I never knew to come in here before, I’m just amazed by all the variety,” Johnny gestures at the sun-lit space and shelves overflowing with baked creations. A whole franchise! He’s happy to hear the chain seems to be so successful. 

The man smiles wider and a dimple appears in his cheek this time.

“I’m glad you like it! We’re always happy to see students come by, you probably saw we have some Dempsey themed cookies over there.”

“Definitely, I think my friend got one,” Johnny turns and is surprised to find Jaehyun right behind him. “Oh, hey. Ready? I’m getting an iced cap.”

“I’ll tell you what, let me treat you guys,” the man behind the counter says. He brings out two small plates. “It’s your first time here, you should get to taste our cakes too. I hope you’ll like this one, I made it this morning. The berries are fresh too, I had some time to swing by the farmers’ market.”

“Oh, no, you don’t have to! We can--”

“No, no, my pleasure, my pleasure!” the man waves a hand, then continues arranging the perfect slices of berry cake with his obviously skilled fingers. Johnny can see his fingernails are neatly trimmed through the transparent gloves the man put on before serving them. “Let me know how you like these! I hope they get you to come back some time.”

After some more thank-you’s and pleasantries, the man behind the counter who is, apparently, also a baker, slides the slices of cake down to the cash register and disappears into the kitchen, while Johnny and Jaehyun make their coffee orders and pay for all their purchases. No hot girl behind the counter, just a pleasant dude Jaehyun thinks he vaguely recognizes from their Friday night party, but that’s okay. Maybe she’ll be around another day.

“What a nice guy!” Johnny says, as he sets down the tray with their cakes and drinks. “I wonder if he’s the owner. He was so sweet.”

Jaehyun throws the man a glance, then hums in agreement and slides Johnny’s paper bag of baked goods across the table. Johnny keeps looking over at the counter where the man who treated them is fretting about, ringing out customers or preparing drinks or bringing out more trays of food. He looks focused on his tasks most of the time, but never fails to smile warmly at a customer. His messy black hair is pushed back from his sweaty forehead, and Johnny notices a subtle streak of flour above his ear. 

What a sweet dude. You don’t run into people like him every day.

Accompanied by a chorus of pleased groans and hums and ooh’s and aah’s, Jaehyun and Johnny finish their cake, then proceed to sit in the comfortable booth, sipping their cold drinks in comfortable silence, occasionally broken by mild chatter about this or that. Jaehyun bites on a scone out of his bag as they clean up their table to leave, and Johnny steps up to the counter.

“Hey, is the gentleman who was here earlier and treated us to cake still around?” he asks the guy behind the cash register.

“Kun? He’s the owner. Yeah, do you want me to go get him?”

“I’d really appreciate that, just want to thank him again,” Johnny says. He straightens out his shirt while he waits and watches Jaehyun happily eating his scone. “It’s good?”

“Oh, so good,” Jaehyun mumbles through crumbs.

“Hey! Hi again, just wanted to let you know we loved that cake,” Johnny exclaims as soon as the man, Kun, steps out through the doors.

“Ahh, I’m so happy to hear that,” Kun says, clasping his hands and smiling, eyes closing for a moment. His dimples make a brief appearance and Jaehyun spots them this time, too. Good to know maybe his own dimples will continue to look as adorable twenty-thirty years from now. “You could tell how fresh the berries were, right?”

“Oh, yes, they were amazing.”

“Definitely. Everything was delightful, thank you so much,” Johnny smiles back just as warmly. It feels so good to go out of your way to be nice to people. “We’ll be back for sure, right, Jae?”

“Absolutely. I pass by on my way to work, so I’m gonna be coming in for coffee for sure.”

“Ah, that is great, we would love to have you. Hey, I’m Kun, thank you guys for stopping by today, it’s been great to meet you,” the baker adds as an afterthought and holds out a hand that Johnny gladly squeezes.

“I’m Johnny, and this is Jaehyun.”

“Nice to meet you, and thanks so much for the cake!”

They say their goodbyes and leave the store with two more mini-cookies on the house.

“That was great. I’m glad you pointed out this place, that was awesome,” Johnny says as they cross the street, and he mulls over the fact that kneading bread must take a lot of muscle because Kun’s arms sure looked extra defined in that dark tee.

 

“I saw that,” Taeyong sing songs when Kun gets back to the kitchen. He’s got frosting on his cheek and a spatula in one hand. “I saw that, buddy, I saw what you did there!”

“What? Shut up, Yongie,” Kun dismisses him with a hand and sets up the mixer again.

“Hey, I agree, they’re hot, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the around here either…”

“What? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Kun denies with a little smile on his lips.

“You want to see hot twenty year olds around the store more? That’s infidelity, Taeyong,” Doyoung quips from the walk out freezer.

Taeyoung laughs, “It’s not infidelity if they’re hotter than your own spouse.”

“What?! Hotter?! That’s--”

Kun tunes their bickering out with practiced ease, humming to himself. Why are they even here today? Anyway, no harm in treating his attractive customers well.

 

***

 

Another week comes and goes. The semester begins to ramp up. Jaehyun stops by “Mian Bao” twice on his way to work, and one of those times happens to bump into the sexy barista again. He flirts very casually, satisfied to just elicit a smile. There’s no sight of Kun either time, but perhaps that’s normal given how busy mornings tend to be. 

On Saturday morning, Johnny and Jaehyun wrap up their early soccer practice and, sweaty, exhausted, and still somewhat hungover, head down to the bakery for some refreshing iced coffee. Jaehyun walks shirtless right until they’re in front of the establishment, when he pulls his jersey on. No matter how disgusting it is with sweat, he’s not enough of an asshole to walk in half naked for the sake of showing off his wonderfully shredded stomach and firm pecs.

It’s busier than last week, and more employees are behind the counter this time. When the two boys make their way over there, Kun steps up to take their order. He’s looking more frazzled than last time, but it suits him. Another tight black shirt with flour streaks, hair messier, smile just as warm as last time. Skilled fingers working the cash register, then the coffee machine. All while making sweet, pleasant conversation with Johnny and Jaehyun.

“Ah yes, I’m not always around, I work out of our other locations sometimes. But I usually do work from here though,” Kun explains when Jaehyun mentions he stopped by during the week but didn’t run into the baker. He sets down Jaehyun’s drink and turns around, bending to pull out a scoop of ice from under the counter. Johnny’s eyes slide over his ass. Kun throws them a glance over his shoulder as he makes Johnny’s coffee, “So do you guys play soccer? You’re not on Dempsey’s team, are you?”

Johnny laughs humbly, “We are, actually. I’m a goalie, Jae is a forward. We just had practice this morning and we thought what better way to cool down than some great coffee!”

The happy grin on Kun’s face (and the dimples) are worth it.

“Happy to provide! That’s awesome, I’ve seen you guys play then! I took my kids to a few of your games last year. You guys are good!”

“Ah, I don’t know about good, but we give our best,” Johnny continues to be modest, watching Kun work the coffee machine.

“No, no, you’re--”

“He’s just being being humble, we’re really good, it’s true. We’re very good,” Jaehyun interjects, winking, and the three of them laugh together.

A little more chit chat, and Kun sends them off with a fresh, warm taro bun on the house.

“Hm,” Jaehyun shrugs when they’re back on the street. He takes a thoughtful pull of his coffee, “You’re right, he’s really sweet.”

And if they’re both feeling a little inexplicably warm and fuzzy in the stomach, they certainly keep that to themselves.

 

***

 

Another week and some trickles by. Jaehyun continues stopping in for coffee, Johnny joins him once or twice, and the sweet owner/baker is there almost every time. He supplies the most pleasant of exchanges and the two boys are happy to reciprocate.

On a Wednesday evening, after a hearty meal at one of the University’s cafeterias, Jaehyun, Johnny and their friend Ten drive out to the nearest Whole Foods. While Ten goes into the next door Michael’s, grumbling about how overpriced everything is going to be, the two athletes peruse organics. Whole Foods is way outside their standard price range, but every now and again they like to treat themselves to higher quality protein shakes.

They check out chatting happily about the good fruit they bought (and less happily about what a scam Amazon Prime is anyway). As they are about to step out the sliding doors, Johnny pauses mid-sentence.

“Hey, wait, is that-- Is that Kun? From the bakery?”

Jaehyun looks back at the check out lanes and spots him immediately. His appearance is very different from how they usually see him, but it’s Kun. He looks taller in his fitted suit, and it’s probably because of the slight heel his shiny black shoes bear. Jacket slung over one arm, tasteful blue button down with the sleeves rolled up. His golden tie is loosened around his neck. His hair is pushed out of his face again, but this time it’s carefully styled. Kun looks...intimidating. And wealthy. And his waist is so outstandingly narrow and little.

Jaehyun fights the urge to swallow thickly.

“Should we say hi?” he meeps out.

“Sure, why not, right?”

Just as Kun is placing a sizeable watermelon into his cart along with his groceries, the two step up to the check out lane.

“Is that you, Mr. Qian?” Johnny quips, squinting as if to see if he can recognize the man. Jaehyun grins next to him.

Kun looks up from his wallet. 

“Oh! Hello! What a coincidence, what are you guys doing here?”

They make room for him to push his cart out of the lane and over to the little packing area.

“Jae and I come here once in a while to get better fruit for our protein shakes. Kind of a treat, every now and then.”

Kun smiles and nods warmly while putting away his change, “That makes sense, that makes sense! I was gonna say, when did Whole Foods become a go-to for college kids?” he chuckles and Johnny and Jaehyun respond in kind.

“It’s good to experience how normal people live every now and then,” Jaehyun jokes, gesturing out at the store. “What about you, what are you doing here all...all dressed up?”

“Oh,” Kun breathes a pleased laugh, dimples out. He looks down at his stellar outfit, “It was parent-teacher’s conference night at my kids’ school. Usually...usually, teachers like to think of me as the friendly baker dad who always brings croissants and muffins to school events, so I like to look the parent part for these. Gotta have them take me seriously. Plus, it’s nice to dress up sometimes, isn’t it?”

Johnny makes a sound of understanding, “Ahaaa, got it. Absolutely, you look sharp ! I love the pattern on your tie.”

“Thank you,” Kun straightens out his tie and smiles. “I don’t get to wear ties often, so I always take pleasure in it when I do.”

“Do you pick your ties yourself or does your wife?” Jaehyun smiles.

Johnny cringes inwardly, then outwardly when Kun waves his fingers side to side, “Oh no, it’s just me and my kids. No wife. So, I do pick my own ties.”

“Jae, you can’t just assume like that!” Johnny says good-naturedly, clapping a hand over Jaehyun’s shoulder. He turns apologetically to Kun then, “My moms get that all the time, everybody’s always asking about the husband!”

They chuckle at Johnny’s remark and Jaehyun says, “Sorry about that, didn’t mean to assume. I guess your taste in ties is just that good!”

“Thank you, thank you,” Kun smiles, smoothing down his loosened tie. He reaches into his jacket pocket then, bringing out a little glasses case. He slips on a pair of round-rimmed glasses on his face and Jaehyun thinks he looks even more handsome like that. Kun pulls the receipt out of his reusable bag of groceries, “Okaaaay. Let me see if this place is starting to be outside of my budget too… I get my face moisturizer from here and it was more expensive this time, so I wanna see if I maybe I misread the label and got the wrong one. Hmmm...no, that looks right. I guess they upped the price. Well, anyway,” he stuffs the receipt back into the bag and waves a hand, then looks through his bag. “I got my rosé, got my face masks, my body scrub, got some watermelon...I’m all set for a relaxing night!”

Jaehyun meets Johnny’s eye. Interesting purchases.

“Well, don’t let us keep you! It was good running into you,” Jaehyun says, quickly smiling and stepping aside so Kun can roll his cart out. The man waves as he leaves.

When Kun is a safe distance away, Jaehyun shuffles the paper bag in his hands, “Maybe he’s gay.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

They take another few steps in silence.

“I mean, face masks, body scrub...Ten does that kind of thing.”

“Right.”

Ten is sitting on the curb when they walk out, still doing the gay math in their heads, and Johnny prods him with his foot.

“Did you find what you were looking for, Bob Ross?”

“Did you find what you were looking for...Lebron James?”

Jaehyun laughs while Johnny makes a disappointed noise, “You can do better than that, Tennie…”

Ten throws his hands up in defense, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but all sports are the same.”

They walk towards Jaehyun’s car and Johnny asks, “Ten, is it gay to use face masks and body scrubs and drink rosé?”

Ten whirls around, face contorted in confusion, and almost runs into Jaehyun’s solid chest.

“Huh???” 

“I mean--”

“No, taking care of your skin and not wanting to be a crusty chapped sponge loaf of bread doesn’t make you attracted to men. What??”

Jaehyun laughs and Johnny spares a giggle too, before swatting at Ten, “Stop, that’s not what I meant. I just meant...like, gay guys are more likely to do it, right?”

Ten shrugs.

“Sure, I mean, I guess we definitely take better care of ourselves than cishet guys do. Why? Your frat bros won’t think you’re gay if you lotion your legs every once in a while, Johnny.”

Jaehyun laughs louder this time and Johnny just shakes his head.

“He’s asking cause we just ran into this bakery dude that Johnny’s been flirting with,” Jaehyun says once they’re in the car.

“Hey! I haven’t--”

“He’s the owner of this Asian bakery a few blocks from the house. And yes, you have, you’re always extra nice to this random dad, do you think it’ll earn you free scones or something?”

“What! I would not disrespect the man like that, he’s so much older than us--” Johnny protests loudly, but he knows Jaehyun is just teasing in good spirit.

Still, as they drive back to drop Ten off at his apartment, Johnny can’t help but feel a little bit odd about Jaehyun’s joke. Is he really flirting ? No way. He can come off as flirty sometimes when he’s just being extra nice. And why would he flirt with the probably-gay owner of a bakery who is like thirty years older than him and has kids?

He can’t deny he has been going out of his way to chat with this guy and be nice to him. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but why? Johnny can’t help but think that it has to do with the fact that Kun could be his dad. Just a kind, gentle Asian man who has an entire bakery franchise and is ridiculously personable and sweet to customers. The kind of father figure he never quite had.

It’s not like Johnny feels like he’s missed out on having a dad, it’s not like his moms have ever been anything short of the most amazing mothers in the world, and it’s not like he thinks he needs a male figure to look up to in that way. He had both of his grandfathers, and an uncle, too - and he would have been fine without them too! But he does wonder sometimes.

 

***

 

Friday night, at last. 

Kun pours himself a glass of water out of the pitcher in the fridge, eyeing his bottle of wine with a promise. He tries not to think too hard about how early he’ll have to get up tomorrow. It’s okay. It’s good for him and the kids. And he’ll get to sleep in on Sunday.

“Maria!” he calls out, catching a glimpse of his daughter zooming past the kitchen.

“Yeah?” she answers while her feet pad up the stairs.

“Are you getting ready for bed?”

“Yes!"

“Did you help your brother with the laundry?”

“Yes!”

“It’s done, dad!” Xiaojun calls from the laundry room and a moment later zooms up the stairs too.

All this energy...Kun can’t relate.

“Alright, thank you both, now make sure you’re getting ready for sleep!”

Kun waits for a response for a few seconds, blinking at the stairs. Then, hands on his hips, surveys the kitchen. Xiaojun has done a pretty good job cleaning up, with the exception of the bundled tablecloth he always forgets to shake the crumbs from. Kun is pretty sure it’s intentional, but he lets it go.

Ten minutes later, the dishwasher is on, a scented candle burns on the table, and Kun can almost feel the phenomenal bath he’s about to take. He heads up the stairs to check on the kids, one tired leg after the other. Their dog, Benny, is but a shadow curled up on the bathroom mat, his black fur blending with the darkness in the hallway. Kun flips on the light and gives him a few good ear rubs.

“Daddy?” Maria pokes her head out of her room. She’s got her canvas explorer hat on her head. “Daddy bear, I’m really excited about tomorrow!”

Kun smiles widely despite his tiredness. Maria’s enthusiasm over this is more than worth getting up early and dragging himself and a whining Xiaojun to a local park for a bird wak.

“I’m excited too, honey. I’m sure we’ll learn a ton!”

Maria nods, doing a happy little twirl.

“Daddy bear, can you promise me though, can you please buy me my own binoculars next week? They don’t have to be very fancy and expensive! But I need my own binoculars since I’ll be birdwatching so much from now on and I can’t always borrow from the park. Please, daddy--”

"I didn't say you can't have binoculars, you don't have to beg! All I said was that we have to see how your grades come along next week and then decide--"

"I know, I know, but you have to promise , okay? You have to promise you'll think about it, dad. Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease, daddy, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeee--"

Kun puts his hands over his ears, yelling over his daughter's whine and fighting a grin. He knows at this point she's being obnoxious on purpose. He sweeps her up and carries her giggling self to Xiaojun's room.

"Dejun, are you getting ready for bed?" he asks, setting Maria down, a stern note in his voice when he sees his son is playing a video game and hasn't even changed into pajamas yet. "We have to be up so early tomorrow, c'mon."

Xiaojun pauses his game and sighs dramatically, rolling onto his back.

"Why do we have to go again? Why do we have to get up at ass o'clock to listen to birds? We have birds in our backyard! They're right there all day!"

Kun's eyebrows shoot up.

"Dejun! Can you be nice? We're going because your sister really likes nature and wants to see what it's like being an explorer! Can you be nice to her? Can you be nice to your sister? It costs nothing to be nice to your sister!"

Xiaojun rolls his eyes, pretends like he doesn't care, but whenever Kun spits out words so fast, it definitely gets to him.

"Sorry, Maria..." he says like he's being forced to.

Maria pays him no mind. Unfrazzled by how much her brother is just another stupid boy sometimes (and you can't expect boys to get why nature is the most exciting thing in the world), she gently unfolds the mesh of one of the insect nets propped against the wall. They're brand new, used only once.

"If we stay at the park a little bit after the bird walk, maybe we can see the dragonflies come out and we can try to catch some, what do you think, daddy bear? I really want--"

Bless his heart, Kun nods through some more enthused chattering and coaxes the eight-year-old out of the room. He gives Xiaojun a pointed look before closing the door, expecting him to be in bed within ten minutes.

When he first realized how much he wants children, Kun knew there would be tough moments. Especially if he goes down the adoption or foster route, the odds are that some difficult situations will come about and he'll have to go through painful learning and trying times. All these years later, he's had his fair share of those, but what truly gets to him the most are the ordinary things. Like not losing his cool when Maria is still chattering fifteen minutes later and the light in Xiaojun's room is still on. He's had a long, tiring week, his muscles ache, his brain is drained, and it's really damn difficult to not just walk into his bathroom, close the door, and let the kids sort themselves out. Or, what would be worse, raise his voice.

Finally, finally , he kisses Xiaojun’s forehead for good night, and five minutes later, drops his underwear into the dirty clothes hamper and relaxes into the hot bath. 

His eyes slide shut. A quiet, drawn moan slips out between his lips. The smell of lavender fills the moist air. Chopin spills from the small speaker on the counter in soothing, quiet wafts. Kun runs a wet hand through his hair and counts his breaths.

One...

Two...

Three...

Kun draws a hand down his chest, kneading into the sore muscles of his thighs, pressing into his aching feet.

Six…

Seven…

Eight...

Yukhei has been on his mind a lot this week. 

They haven't seen each other in a few months, not since they went on vacation together with their families back in late June. The Wongs travelled a lot the rest of the summer, and then with the school year starting back up, Kun was too busy with the bakery and the kids to arrange time for anything.

It's been, of course, even longer since they've seen each other like that , just the two of them. He makes a mental note to text Yukhei after his bath.

The reason Yukhei's been on his mind so much is, obviously, all these jocks he keeps running into. In the bakery, on the streets around the college, at freaking Whole Foods . When does sports season end again? They need to put on some clothes. Kun is a whole forty-four years old, he shouldn't be getting so worked up over their toned bodies, but he's been single for the last...ten? twelve? years, so there's only so much he can help.

Some of them are really nice, of course, like the two that keep stopping by the bakery. Frat bros aren't all bad nowadays, he supposes. Jaehyun and Johnny remind Kun so much of a young Yukhei. Tall, broad, muscled, all huge captivating grins and irresistible charms. Body to die for. A startlingly warm personality. A gentle, kind soul.

Kun rolls his head, feels the hot water lap at his scalp, pull the tension out of his body.

When they first started going out, Kun thought Yukhei must be a dream, a mirage, a product of his imagination. Years later, eyeing engagement rings in store windows, he knew Yukhei was one of the most phenomenal people he'd ever meet.

And even though it all broke down for some time. Even though there was hurt and painful goodbyes. Things came back together. He and Yukhei couldn't stay apart, they knew each other inside and out, needed to be there for each other. Yukhei married, and Kun was there to help Yuqi plan everything down to the color of the invitations. Kun fostered kids for the first time, and Yukhei was there to be the clueless but fun favorite uncle.

Yukhei is still as toned and sexy as ever, Kun thinks, thoughtfully bringing his hand to his crotch. And it's been too long since Kun has gotten to explore that in person. And all these damn frat boys all around with their chiseled jawlines and knee-buckling smiles and strong, deft hands...

After a satisfying orgasm, Kun lets the water drain out and washes up under the shower spray.

It’s a warm evening outside, so he towels off, spends a few minutes scratching and cooing at Benny, then settles into his favorite porch armchair with a glass of white. Benny patters out and drops on the wood next to him a few minutes later. Kun is shirtless under his silk robe. His bare chest sits teasingly exposed. His damp hair is slicked back from his forehead and temples. It’s getting long, maybe even due for a trim, but Kun likes it for right now. It makes him feel attractive. Handsome.

He breathes in the aroma of freshly cut grass coming from Taeyong and Doyoung’s yard. The wine settles warm in his stomach. He fiddles with his phone and texts Yukhei. A response comes in quickly, and they agree to chat on the phone tomorrow and make plans for some fun time together in the coming weeks.

After responding in kind to Yukhei's heart emojis, Kun swipes through his app menu and opens Grindr. He visits the app an average of three times per year - it takes so much energy to sift through all the people he's not into or couldn't have a chance with, and Kun has so little time to deal with that, that it's just not worth it. But every once in a while, it's good to try. He decides to change his profile photo and fiddles with his apps some more until he manages to switch his camera from video to photo mode.

The glow of the living room lights filtering out through the drapes casts attractive shades over Kun and he takes several selfies he’s very pleased with. You can even see the faint droplets of water over his chest in one of them. But he decides to save that one for himself. Maybe he’ll send it to Yukhei some time.

While his photo is pending approval, Kun opens a chat with a good looking thirty-year-old and starts to type when he hears the typical Friday night drunk crowd approaching from up the street.

 

***

 

Seven P.M. is just about the perfect time to start pre-gaming on a Friday night after a long week. Johnny isn't in the mood for party, but his frat is throwing one, so he figures he might as well make the most out of it and get pleasantly smashed.

He's got his arm up around the back of the couch, feet propped on the coffee table, a beer in his hand, and Ten next to him. They're finishing the first season of "Queer Eye" and Johnny is honestly glad Ten made him watch it. It's fun, and somewhat enlightening too. He sort of feels like he gets Ten better now.

Ten crunches on a tortilla chip loaded with guacamole and Johnny is about to whine about how loud it is when Jaehyun bursts in with another case of Bud. They pause the show for a few minutes while Jaehyun updates Johnny on the set up for the party in the basement.

"I got this whole thing," Jaehyun smacks the eighteen-pack, "but it's more to share, honestly. Alexis texted me she's coming to the party."

Johnny makes a surprised sound, "Oh yeah? Is she finally gonna let you smash tonight?"

"I don't know, but she's been texting me all day, sooo..."

"My boy! Getting your dick wet tonight, huh!" Johnny laughs loud and obnoxious and they slap hands. Next to him, Ten makes a retching noise.

"Can you guys be any more crude?"

They ignore him and Jaehyun cuts through the paper wrapping of the beer case with his keys, pulling out a can for himself.

"And if she doesn't, I got you to come back to and smash!" he says, shrugging at Johnny.

"Oh, so I'm just your second choice?"

"You know I can't resist Alexis, bro! Besides, you're always around, the thrill is gone!"

They laugh at their own banter and clunk cans together before Jaehyun drops on the couch to watch the show with them. Ten eyes them curiously. This is definitely a new layer to their obnoxious straight broeyness.

Half an hour later, Mark, a freshman recruit that is probably going to rush and is currently too tipsy for his own good, crashes into the room to tell Johnny they're asking for him in the basement, since he's the jungle juice master. 

“That was fun,” Jaehyun comments as Ten exits his Netflix account. He nods at Johnny, “Makes me think of your man, Mr. Qian.”

Johnny just snorts and leads the way down the stairs.

And so begins a pretty typical Friday night in a basement illuminated by blacklights that highlight all of the questionable spills. Johnny somehow manages to get a bunch of Ten's friends on his side during beer pong, and Ten gives up and goes to make out with a hunky sophomore who's been giving him starry eyes since the week before. Jaehyun spends all his time chatting and laughing with Alexis, until she offers that they go get food from one of late night food trucks by the dorms.

Five minutes later, Johnny finds himself leaning a little too heavily on Ten's tiny frame as they saunter down the street to campus in a noisy group of at least six. Jaehyun is riding an odd kind of high, a mixture of being excited that Alexis is taking him to her room, and whatever buzz Johnny’s jungle juice has got him on. The clamor their posse creates is half giggles and incredibly loud talking, half them shushing each other constantly before erupting into more giggles. Johnny feels a little bit bad about all the people whose houses they’re passing, but hey, it’s Friday night. Everyone should live a little.

Johnny head snaps up, startled, when Jaehyun belts out, “Is that Mister Qian? Johnny! It’s Mister Qian! MISTER QIAN! HOW ARE YOU, DUDE?”

A few of their friends try to shush Jaehyun, but Alexis is giggling, and that’s all the encouragement he needs.

“MISTER QIAN, it’s me, Jaehyun! How are you doing?” Jaehyun continues yelling, borderline screaming. Johnny squints in the dark towards the house they’re stopped in front of. Sure enough, Kun is sitting on the porch, a halo of soft light framing his small, regal figure, and a confused-looking dog next to him. Johnny starts to also shush Jaehyun and apologize to Kun at the same time, but Jaehyun pays no mind to his stutters. “MISTER QIAN, sorry to bother you! It’s Friday night, we’re just-- we had a party and we uh-- Alexis, this is Mister Qian, he’s a very nice baker. He uh--”

Kun finally responds, after also squinting through the dark to make out the faces of the drunk kids on his sidewalk.

“Ah! Jaehyun?” he chuckles, “Yeah, it’s Friday night, but my kids are asleep so you gotta keep it down, okay?”

His words are very lighthearted and he’s clearly not upset, but Jaehyun begins to apologize loudly and obnoxiously.

“--don’t mean to wake your kids up, Kun, we’ll get going, I’m so sorry--”

Johnny steps up to Jaehyun and all but presses a palm over his mouth.

“Sorry, Kun!” he calls out, plastering the most charming smile he can muster all over his face. Words come a little hard, but he pushes through, “We didn’t mean to disturb you, we uh-- we had a party and we’re going for a snack now. Are you also having a good Friday night?”

While Johnny takes in the deafening awkward silence that, to his drunk ears, stretches over minutes, and wonders why the hell he asked that, Kun chuckles again, taking a sip from his wine.

“I’m having a great Friday night, thank you, Johnny. Enjoying the last of the warm weather,” he tips his glass up towards the…weather surrounding all of them. What a fucking odd encounter. Kun is amused and a bit tickled that these damn drunk jocks are seeing him looking this good, but he also wishes he’d sat on his back porch instead.

More drunk whisper-yelling comes from the group, before Jaehyun calls out again.

“Okay, we’ll go now, we’ll leave you alone! Sorry, mister Qian! You look good, though, I’m glad you’re having a good night! Hey, you know-- you know what? You should come to our game on Sunday! Johnny and me, we have a game on Sunday, come watch us play! Bring your kids too, we’re gonna win just for you, Mister Qian!”

After assuring Jaehyun he’ll try his best to be there and accepting his earnest goodnight wishes, Kun finally breathes a sigh of relief as he watches the group walk away down the street. Drunk college kids - and especially drunk frat boys - will never not make Kun shudder in disgust. (Except for Yukhei...who always somehow managed to be much more endearing than obnoxious when smashed.) Still, there’s something satisfying about Jaehyun recognizing Kun in the dark, drunk-yelling at him about their upcoming game… Maybe Kun’s head is just muddled by memories of those rippled arms.

He finishes his wine in the dark, phone abandoned, listening to the crickets and Benny’s soft snores with peace in his heart.

 

***

 

Nothing is ever simple and easy around kids, Kun has learned over and over, and is reminded the next morning.

Maria is, of course, up bright and early to wake her father and brother who, bleary eyed and with feigned excitement, listen to her chatter through breakfast about all the things she's excited to see at the park. The bird walk goes smoothly and is actually entertaining for Xiaojun too, so Kun allows himself to also enjoy the crisp air and natural sounds.

Kun's big mistake, however, is letting Maria return to the nature center to check out their indoors exhibit...where she also happens to come across dozens of brochures and guides and booklets. They leave with a stack of pamphlets on topics ranging from "Guide to spring wildflowers" to "How to build our own backyard insect hotel". Maria is particularly interested in a tri-fold titled "A native yard: your gift to nature", and by the time Kun pulls into their driveway, she has made an executive decision that they will be re-doing the landscaping of their yard and populating it with native flora.

It's not that Kun minds the idea. It sounds like it would be nice to do some landscaping and make their yard more interesting; and he loves making Maria happy. But between everything else going on in their lives Kun is...tired. Simply tired.

He relents of course. Maybe he can stall on the insect hotel till next summer, but Maria's excitement for getting their yard ready for the winter is way above the taming threshold. Kun just accepts his fate.

Still, he's able to placate her and put things off until next weekend, and so the rest of Saturday is blissfully uneventful. Kun makes some pasta, brings out some popsicles for the three of them to enjoy in the afternoon sun, and thoughtfully books them tickets for tomorrow's University soccer game.

Sunday is hotter than expected. Rummaging through his carefully curated dresser, Kun decides he both doesn't care enough to put together an outfit for this, and would like to look the hot dad part for once. He throws on a pair of black shorts that reach just past mid-thigh, a loose beachy white button down whose sleeves he rolls up, and his favorite pair of sandals. Sigh. If only there were more (more like any) single queer dudes (that he is even remotely into) his age in this town...

Xiaojun is more than happy to abandon his homework for the game, and Maria agrees only if she can bring her book. The small stadium is half empty, but enough people trickle in through the gates that the audience has spirit. Once he settles the kids in some decent seats among other adults from the neighborhood rather than rowdy college kids, he pops his black sunglasses back on and heads off to the concession stands.

He's satisfied to see a couple of moms giving him meaningful glances as he makes his way through the stands. It puts a little more confidence in his stride, and he starts to hum to himself as the smell of grilled brats and burgers and fries and popcorn, so much popcorn, fills his senses.

Armed with a tray of hot dogs, fries, sodas and a small bag of kale chips (a balanced meal), Kun happily heads back to the stands when he hears his name being called in a deep honey voice.

"Oh! Hey dude, what are you doing out here, aren't you playing today?" he says to a mildly sweaty and extremely hot Jaehyun who's giving him a smile that looks more like a smirk. Is this about Friday night? Does he even remember Friday night?

If he does, he doesn't bring it up.

"I am, of course, I just had to run back to the locker room. We're starting in a few," Jaehyun says. The smirk stays on and Kun thinks it's less of a smug expression and more a part of Jaehyun's signature charms. "You made it to one of our games, huh! Good to see you here!"

"Yeah, I told you I liked watching you guys play last year, you're a really good team!" Kun smiles, shifting the food tray in his hands. Jaehyun looks really fucking fine in his uniform. "My son, Xiaojun, he's in middle school and he likes playing soccer with his friends, but he hasn't decided if he wants to join the team yet. I think it could be fun for him, but I don't want it to be too demanding."

Jaehyun props his hands on his waist thoughtfully. His jawline is ridiculously carved.

"Hmm, yeah, it can be a lot before the season starts. But hey, me and Johnny wouldn't mind kicking a ball with him some time if he wants to get better!"

Kun tries not to stare at Jaehyun's perfectly styled hair, or his muscled thighs. He smiles a dimpley smile at him.

"That would be great! Thanks, I'll let him know to keep it in mind."

Jaehyun smiles back and a mesmerizing dimple appears in his cheek too. He's trying to keep his brain on the game, but there’s something oddly comforting about seeing Kun here. He almost feels like he’s more motivated to show off on the field now. And sure, it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that it’s an important game and that there are a lot of chicks from Delta Rho in the crowd, but bumping into the baker warms his heart.

“I’m gonna head off now, but I hope you enjoy the game, Mr. Qian!”

“Alright, have fun out there, I’m sure you guys will do great!”

“Yes, sir!” Jaehyun calls over his shoulder, jogging off onto the field.

Huh. Sir.

Kun ponders that as his feet start to move on their own, and it takes him a few seconds to realize he’s walking towards the wrong section. He turns around and almost drops the entire tray in his hands.

These damn jocks, man.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The dial tone cuts off and there is a moment of silence while the call connects, before Johnny hears his mother’s voice greet him. He finishes pulling a shirt on and drops into his desk chair.

“Hey, ma,” he greets back, waving at his laptop. His mother is at the farm’s kitchen table, he recognizes. She’s wearing a warm wool sweater and her nose looks red from the wind.

“How are you, baby? It’s so cold over here, is it the same there?”

“Yeah, about the same,” Johnny looks out the window at the overcast sky. Still, he’s wearing a pair of basketball shorts (that he can’t remember when he washed last).

“Well, they’re saying it’s just a passing front. Your eomma and I are hoping it’ll be done by tomorrow since we still have a lot of cleaning up to get done and it’s hard when it’s so cold.”

Johnny’s eomma, Jenn, crashes into the kitchen through the back patio in that moment, closing the door behind her with her foot. 

“Hey, Youngho!” she peeks over her wife’s shoulder before dropping something into the sink. “Phew, it’s so cold out. Really hope it does loosen up tomorrow. Supposed to be in the high 70s next weekend, can you believe that?"

“It’s climate change, isn’t that what they say?”

They catch up some more, Jenn pattering around the kitchen while Shiwei continues to sit in front of her laptop. A few minutes later, Jaehyun walks in to the room. He gives Johnny a quick bro hug and goes to rummage through his dresser.

“Hi, Jaehyun,” Shiwei greets. Her wife is at her side in the very next moment.

“Hey, was that Jaehyun? Hey, Jae! How are ya, dude! Good to see you!” Jenn waves and Johnny misses the way Shiwei rolls her eyes.

Jaehyun leans over Johnny’s shoulder to wave at the screen, “Hey, Mrs. and Mrs. Suh. Good to see you too.”

He smells sweet, like his cologne, even though he’s just coming from class. Johnny smiles.

“Soccer season going well? I hear you guys are doing a great job,” she continues just as Jaehyun is about to step away.

“It’s pretty good, yeah, we’re pretty proud of ourselves.”

“Jae has stuff to do, mom, let’s not keep him,” Johnny says. He adds, “Hey, did I tell you guys about this new bakery Jae and I found?”

Behind him, Jaehyun snorts.

“You got something to say, Jae?” Johnny challenges.

“No, man, just surprised you haven’t told them about it yet…”

“You’ve got more of a stake in visiting “Mr. Qian”, buddy, don’t look at me like that.”

“Oof…” Jaehyun admits a rare defeat, distracted by searching for the right notebook in his desk.

“Anyway,” Johnny turns back to his laptop and tells his moms about why they’d like “Mian Bao”.

“You’ll have to take us there when we come down to pick you up for Thanksgiving,” Jenn replies, chewing on a carrot.

“Don’t put your muddy gloves on the table, I’ve told you a million times,” Shiwei says to her wife, handing her a pair of soiled gloves, suddenly distracted.

“We’re about to put the potatoes down, it’s fine--”

“Yeah, but I’m going to be putting down a tarp for that.”

“And? We’ll be wiping it clean anyway--”

“Moms. Please,” Johnny butts in. “I have to go in fifteen.”

Jenn leans in towards the camera, “Bye, Johnny, I got stuff to do. Call me on Monday whenever you have time, okay? Let’s catch up. Love you.”

“Bye, eomma, love you too.”

Jenn kisses her annoyed wife’s cheek and leaves the house, letting Johnny and Shiwei continue their conversation.

 

***

 

“What are you being all cute for?”

Startled, Johnny all but chokes on his hazelnut latte. He’d been trying to get a good selfie, one hand wrapped around his mug, eyes wide and adorable.

“Jeez, just trying to get into this late fall Instagram aesthetic, man.”

“Al-right,” Jaehyun makes a “weird but none of my business” face which makes Johnny laugh. Ten sets a few plates on the table and sits next to Jaehyun.

They spend the next few minutes sipping on their drinks and sharing a few different desserts in companionable silence. At one point, Jaehyun picks up the plastic table tent at the edge of their table and peruses the flyer inside.

“Check this out,” he says, flipping it towards Johnny. Kun’s handsome face stands out right away, smiling next to a headline which reads: “Baking Class Series Returns! Join Baker-In-Chief Kun Qian for our first class of the winter”. The full body photo of him with some baguettes must have been taken at a photoshoot of some kind because he’s all done up in a soft green button down and fashionable trousers. 

Johnny makes an interested sound and lets Ten have a peek, “I didn’t know they did baking classes. That could be fun.”

“Thirty-five bucks per person. That’s not bad.”

“For someone who’s not a broke college student, maybe.”

“Well, it’s a cooking class, I mean you pay for his time, for supplies…”

Johnny hums. A baking class is a cool date idea, but there’s no one Johnny is looking to take on a date. 

“When is it again? Could be a fun little something to do on a weekend.”

Jaehyun licks the foam off his spoon, “It’s next Thursday night. Do you have work that day?”

“I don’t think so. You guys wanna go? Do we pay for it here?”

“I have an exam review that night,” Ten says.

“Look at that, they have a YouTube channel,” Jaehyun points out. Sure enough, on the bottom of the printed flyer is the YouTube logo and a reminder: “Keep up with Chefs Taeyong, Doyoung and Kun on our baking channel ‘MianBaoBakes’! New videos out every week.”

Jaehyun shrugs, “Kun’s got the charms for it.”

Just then, the bell at the door chimes.

“Jeremy, can you take this to the back? Taeyong said he needs it asap,” a familiar voice reaches Johnny’s ears and he looks over his shoulder. Bundled in a large jacket is a rosy-cheeked Kun, handing off a cloth bag to one of the baristas. He proceeds to take off his jacket and place it on the hanger by the door. He’s such a compact man that Johnny’s mind makes a momentary association to an avocado pit emerging, shiny and perfect, from a split open avocado.

At the same time as Johnny’s silently comparing him to an avocado pit, Kun spots their table and waves. He walks over and claps a hand on Johnny’s shoulder who looks up to smile at him.

“Haven’t seen you guys in a hot second! How are you?” he says. “Jaehyun, is that a white chocolate mocha? Yeah? Wow, you guys are getting fancy with your drinks…”

“It’s good, I really like it. Not too sweet, very, uh...creamy and rich.”

“Good! Good. I’ll tell Doyoung you like it. He’s one of the other bakers here and he came up with the recipe for this one only recently.”

“How are you , Kun? It got so cold out, is the farmer’s market even open in this weather?” Johnny says, looking up at the baker.

Kun makes a sound, “Yep, the outdoors one at the town square still opens twice a week. They’ll be moving indoors in the coming weeks though. Don’t you worry, Johnny, I make sure everything around here stays fresh year round.”

Johnny holds up his hands, “I know, I know, I trust you fully, Mr. Qian! This is our friend Ten, by the way.”

Kun nods and offers a hand which Ten shakes.

“Nice to meet you, your food and coffee are just as great as these two have been telling me,” Ten smiles sweetly, and only now does Johnny notice a peculiar intensity in his gaze.

They make light banter for a while longer, Kun’s hand still on Johnny’s shoulder, until Kun has to run back out and unload more stuff from his car.

“Listen,” Ten leans in once Kun is out of earshot, “if you don’t fuck this man, I will.”

Jaehyun and Johnny, eyes wide, give a couple of shocked, uncomfortable peels of laughter. The corners of Ten’s mouth twitch, but the intensity in his eyes doesn’t let up.

“And yes, he’s gay. He’s into men, at least. If you two don’t wanna make the most of that, I will.”

“Tennie, he’s all yours, we don’t--”

“Spare me, please, the three of you have some weird flirt going on, but we don’t have to talk about it,” Ten holds up a hand. He picks up the last piece of blueberry cheesecake with his fork and lets Johnny and Jaehyun laugh his words off.

On their way out, the two athletes stop by the cash and sign up for next week’s baking class.

“You guys are probably gonna be some of the youngest there,” the barista helping them says. “Lots of soccer moms sign up for these, they all love Kun.”

Johnny throws Jaehyun a glance and Jaehyun shrugs.

“Well, we love him too, so we’ll be there!”

 

***

 

It’s been less than a minute since the bumper of Sicheng’s Honda disappeared down the street with the kids, when Yukhei’s grey truck pulls into the driveway. Kun closes the front door he’d just opened and steps back down the stone path.

“Ge! Hi!” Yukhei opens his door and shouts.

Kun waits for him with his hands on his hips. As soon as he reaches the older, Yukhei wraps him in a giant, warm hug, and Kun happily reciprocates.

“Been too long, Xuxi,” he says into the man’s shoulder. Yukhei agrees, rubbing a hand up and down Kun’s back.

“You smell good, have you been baking already?” he says when he pulls back, sniffing at Kun who laughs.

“Yeah, I made muffins. Banana nut, crispy top, just how you like them,” Kun responds, somehow proudly.

Yukhei shouts in delight, shaking Kun’s shoulder, “I can’t fucking wait. God, I’m so glad we’re doing this. It really has been too long,” he wraps Kun in another brief hug. His embrace feels solid, safe, and earnest. “It’s so good to see you, Kun."

After Yukhei grabs his rucksack out of the truck, the two head inside, where Yukhei is tackled by an unusually excited Benny. The two of them wrestle and enjoy each other for a few minutes until Yukhei is able to calm the dog down and carry him into the kitchen. Kun and Yukhei then catch up while Yukhei devours a few muffins with milk.

Kun intervenes when Yukhei reaches for another one, “Xuxi, slow down, if you’re that hungry I can make you some quick lunch, don’t stuff yourself on muffins.”

Sheepish, Yukhei puts it down and pushes the tray away, “Sorry, I guess I really am starving. Yuqi and the kids went out to lunch after the girls’ kindergarten show, and I just headed straight here.”

“Do you want me to make you something?” Kun tilts his head compassionately, already getting up. He takes pride in being an amazing host and Yukhei is one of his favorite people to take care of in any context.

The younger waves a hand, “Nope, nope, I’m good. Let’s just get something to eat on the way back from the-- where are we going again? A gardening center?”

Kun sighs, dropping his head in his hands, “A gardening center.”

 

Yukhei reverses into a parking spot and kills the engine. He looks over at Kun and his confusing shopping list which he put together based on instructions by Maria and an exhausting amount of research he had to do himself.

“I still don’t quite get why this is so complicated.”

Kun sighs, “It’s just that when you want your yard to be...eco-friendly, I guess is what you’d call it, you gotta do certain kinds of soils and mulches and fertilizers that are not sold as widely. They’re more expensive and not everyone carries them. Is what the internet told me at least. That and, because we’re just getting the yard ready for winter so it’s better suited for an actual makeover in the spring--”

“Okay, you know what, I’m too hungry to follow what you’re saying. Let’s just go,” Yukhei says before shucking his jacket off and stepping out. 

While Kun frets around picking items with the help of an associate, Yukhei hums to himself, marveling at some of the prettier flowering plants and then carries everything to the back of his truck. Even when Kun tries to pick up a bag of mulch himself, Yukhei jogs over and quickly takes it out of his hands.

“Let me help you, ge. That’s what I’m here for,” he winks. It doesn’t elude Kun how he makes sure the sleeves of his T-shirt are rolled all the way up or how he lifts the hem of it multiple times to wipe non-existent sweat from his brow. God, his stomach is still so beautifully ripped, pecs firm under his shirt. Yukhei’s always known how to spoil Kun just right.

They swing by a Cracker Barrel on the way home and eat heartily, chatting away. Yukhei makes Kun laugh hard enough to almost choke at least once. Gradually, as usual, with all of the catching up they’re doing and the more time they spend together, they’re both filled with a special kind of warmth reserved for these kinds of special weekends. By the time they get dessert, their fingers are twined on the table. Kun’s thumb rubs soothing patterns into Yukhei’s skin while the younger recalls a tough call he had last week. Kun’s hand is so delicate and comforting, it makes Yukhei feel all the more sated after his meal and ready for a relaxing night.

Back at home - the home that could have been theirs , but is now just Kun’s and that’s a fact they’ve long since made peace with - they unload all the landscaping supplies into Kun’s garage, unpack the grocery bag Yukhei brought and pull out a couple more items from Kun’s fridge. After a coffee break in the backyard, playing with Benny and enjoying the weather, they spend the next hour cooking and listening to music, a little tradition signature to their weekends together. Kun’s always teaching Yukhei something new in the kitchen, voice calm and entrancing as he instructs him to do this or that. 

While Yukhei tries his hand at making mushroom sauce on the stove, Kun comes over and watches him work with a palm on the small of his back.

“That looks really good actually, you’re doing it right. Just needs to thicken a liiiittle more,” he says, watching Yukhei work the spatula.

Yukhei groans, “This is stressing me out, I feel like it’s gonna burn or something. You do it,” he steps away from the oven, only to step closer again and wrap himself around Kun’s form and watch him work. His chin rests on Kun’s shoulder.

“Wah, you’re gonna make me ruin this,” Kun complains.

“You’re a wiz at this, it’ll be just fine,” Yukhei responds. He noses behind Kun’s ear for a moment, breathing in the scent of his shampoo and his soft black locks. Kun hasn’t felt this relaxed yet wired in months.

Dinner is served with a bottle of rich red wine and their legs tangled under the table. Their eyes are shiny by the time they finish their dessert lemon bars. They’re giggly and happy as they make mulled wine and Kun’s gourmet popcorn (secret ingredient: love), then retire to the couch under a fleece blanket with a cartoon bear design on it. Kun loves how uninhibited Yukhei becomes when tipsy like this, no longer hiding behind his hand when he laughs, big eyes crinkling into delighted crescents.

 

Benny curls up in the space between their legs. They put on some Netflix and light a vanilla scented candle. In the comfort of Kun’s living room, the wine, as well as their conversation warm them thoroughly and bring a glow to their faces.

 

Kun fills Yukhei in on the beginnings of his new project: an ice cream truck slated to hopefully be on the streets next summer. He talks about Maria’s recent explorer obsessions and Xiaojun’s impressive academic success. Yukhei, in turn, shares a bit about his girls and how nervous they both are even now to be starting school next year.

 

Years ago, when they first started having these occasional dates - a weekend here, a short vacation there - it would have been unthinkable for Yukhei to bring up his wife and kids. It was an arrangement blessed by Yuqi, but it took Yukhei a while to get comfortable enough with it not to feel like he was betraying her. In contrast, he couldn’t care less that she spent the same kind of time with Soyeon, another researcher at her University department; he was happy for her.

 

With time, his anxieties died down. Nowadays, it’s natural to share with Kun every part of his life. They know each other inside and out and there’s no better comfort than to confide in one another.

 

Their conversation lulls and Yukhei finds himself zoning out. The wine has heated his insides. 

The TV fills the room with a gentle, flowing glow. Next to him, Kun seems to be paying attention to the movie. Yukhei watches him for the longest time, until he chuckles softly at the TV and finally notices Yukhei’s gaze.

 

Kun smiles at him and Yukhei smiles back. He moves a hand under the blanket and places it in the middle of the older’s thigh, stroking back and forth. Kun sighs in content. He scoots closer, until Yukhei leans in too, and closes the space between them. Their kiss is familiar and loving. Yukhei sighs into it, eyes slipping shut, giving himself in to the utter comfort of the moment.

 

They part, then kiss again. Then once more. Kun tastes like wine and citrus and cinnamon, like his Kun, so thrilling. Yukhei feels like he’s home, a different kind of home.

 

They lean their foreheads together. Kun hums. He feels fresh warmth zap through him, so he kisses Yukhei again and this time twists, moves up onto his knees, shuffles closer and climbs into the younger’s lap, still kissing him.

 

“Why did we wait so long to do this again?” Kun breathes and Yukhei shakes his head, bringing his hands to Kun’s sides. Three months had been the longest they’d gone without spending a weekend with each other in the last few years, so the last six months have been entirely too long.

 

“I have no fucking clue,” Yukhei presses wet kisses down Kun’s jawline and his neck, sucking red marks and eliciting breathy groans from the man in his arms. Kun grinds down on his lap, slotting their crotches together and Yukhei groans. He pulls him in tighter, “God, I wanna feel all of you. Touch me, please, please...”

 

“Yeah, baby?”

 

Yukhei keens in his throat at the affectionate name and offers up his neck for Kun to caress, squeeze, kiss. Kun doesn’t miss a beat. He’s feeling Yukhei up, from the strong column of his neck, to his muscled shoulders and rippled biceps, strengthened but exhausted, too, by years of firefighting. At a particularly loud moan, Benny startles, reminding the two of his presence by whimpering and climbing up on the couch to check on them.

 

“Benny, no-- get down. Benny!” Kun groans in frustration while Yukhei giggles.

 

A brief pause follows, until Kun can lock Benny in the guest bedroom. Yukhei’s waiting for him just how he left him, legs spread wide, lips shiny and red, hair tousled and begging to be pulled.

 

“You’re so big, Xuxi, you’re so strong and handsome,” Kun chants once he’s back in his lap, still kissing at Yukhei’s neck and stroking him all over, feeling him puff out his chest and shrink under Kun’s ministrations simultaneously. His hands slide up Yukhei’s torso and over his chest, thumbs stopping to focus on his hard nipples. Yukhei is making little pants and grunts of pleasure and trying to hide his face in Kun’s neck.

 

With a final kiss to the side of Yukhei’s head, Kun gently pushes him away and gets to work on the zipper of his jeans. He’s been feeling Yukhei grow hard under him and can now see the clear outline of his boner straining against the fabric. He kisses the sigh off Yukhei’s lips once he gets his hand on his hot, hard cock. He gives him a couple of strokes, tight and with a flick of his wrist at the tip, just to make sure he has him dripping and borderline desperate.

 

Next, Kun leans back a little to work his sweatpants down enough to free his own hardening dick. Yukhei is watching him so intently, it’s like Kun can basically see him salivating. He grabs Yukhei’s hand and wraps it around his shaft, guiding him to bring him to full hardness. They make out for a few minutes while stroking each other, and it’s just intoxicating, Yukhei’s almost sloppy way of kissing, so earnest and punctuated by deep little sounds in the back of his throat. 

 

“How do I always forget--” Kun says, then leans in to lick into Yukhei’s mouth again. He groans into the kiss, reveling in how heavy and hard the younger’s cock feels in his hand. “How do I always forget how fucking big you are?”

 

“ ‘M not that big…”

 

“You’re just right, baby…”

 

“Just wanna be good for you…” Yukhei mumbles, panting into Kun’s neck and trying to remember to jerk him off too. “Wanna be so good for you, Kun…”

 

“You’re so good for me, baby, always, always the best boy…”

Yukhei hums, lifting his forehead to rest against Kun’s. A particularly good upstroke of Kun’s deft hand punches a pleasured grunt out of him and his abs spasm as he feels himself suddenly on the verge.

 

“Stop, stop, stop, I don’t wanna cum yet, wanna be fucked first, stop--”

 

“Yeah, you wanna get fucked? Wanna cum on my dick, baby?”

 

Yukhei whimpers out an affirmative, looking at Kun with these big, gorgeous, needy eyes.

 

They negotiate for a minute in hushed tones, where and how to do it. Finally, like some kind of an ultra-strong giant, Yukhei perches on the edge of the couch and stands up, scooping Kun into his arms like he barely weighs anything. By the time they get halfway to the bedroom, the tendons on Yukhei’s neck are popping out with the effort and Kun laughs at him all the way until Yukhei drops him on the bed and collapses on top of him.

 

“Ow! My balls,” Yukhei grunts, rearranging himself and Kun laughs harder. Yukhei’s grin is blinding and Kun kisses him again and again and again, until Yukhei licks at his lips and it gets hotter from there.

 

Kun ends up taking him in the center of the bed, hands grasping his waist tightly while he pushes into the younger’s heat. Yukhei has stripped fully naked and his back curves beautifully as he struggles with the intrusion of Kun’s cock. His head drops onto his clasped hands, and he pushes back against Kun, taking him deeper and deeper and silently thanking the universe for letting him experience the joys of Kun’s cock.

 

Soon, Kun’s hips are slapping against Yukhei’s ass and Yukhei’s breathy moans fill the room. Kun pants with each thrust, eyes closed in pleasure as he feels his lover’s tightness pull him in. It doesn’t take too long for him to feel on edge. As blissful as he feels, his thighs are already burning with tension and his back is coated in sweat, so he hopes he can hold out in this position. The last time he’s put his body through strain like this was the last time they did this, months ago.

 

Kun pulls Yukhei’s long arms from under him and grasps them behind his back, then leans in to press him into the mattress with a hand between his shoulder blades.

 

He fucks him hard and fast and shallow then.

 

“Ah, yes, yes, yes, Kun--”

 

“Ah, God…”

 

 “Just like that, right there, ge. Harder, fuck--”

 

Yukhei feels it in his core, the moment Kun presses deeper than ever before and grinds into him and empties his balls inside of him, the wet heat spreading. Yukhei’s groan is long and continuous and he struggles to free his hand so he can jerk himself over the edge and into a toe-curling orgasm.

 

Almost immediately, Kun’s muscles tremble with exertion. He pulls out gently and admires the sight of Yukhei’s wrecked hole, dripping with lube and cum. He massages the rim with the pad of his thumb until the man jerks away from him. Kun buries his face in the pillow next to Yukhei. They’re both panting, heat radiating off their bodies in waves.

 

Finally, the younger clears his throat to find his voice.

 

“I didn’t know I need that that badly.”

 

He laughs, and Kun laughs too.

 

“Was it everything you wanted? The kind of good dicking you needed after so long?”

 

Yukhei is hiding his blushing face in the pillow and laughing, “It absolutely was. Only you can do it like that, Kun-ge.”

 

Kun groans and tries to elbow him, but he’s very, very smug about that. They rest in silence. Even though they’re both tired and could happily snuggle up and sleep until noon, the night is far from over.

 

“I’ll go wash up a bit. Wanna come?”

 

“Just bring me a wet towel.”

 

When Kun returns, clad in fresh, tight Calvin Klein boxers that make Yukhei salivate at the sight, Yukhei has flopped over on his back and is scrolling on his phone. His nude, gorgeous, toned body is on full display. Age has softened him less than it has Kun.

Longing curls in Kun’s stomach. A desire to have that gorgeous, toned body in his bed every day. And it’s not about Yukhei in particular - Kun is happy with their arrangement, satisfied with getting to be with his best friend and ex-lover every few months, shutting out the world and reveling in each other’s comfort. It can’t be more that that with Yukhei, the past has shown this clearly.

 

But it could with someone else. And that’s what Kun has been longing for a heck of a lot more than usual in the last few weeks.

 

He chases the unpleasant feeling out of his mind and helps Yukhei clean himself up. They down every last drop of the water bottle Kun brought and sit there, collecting themselves.

 

“You want a massage, stud? You’re getting so old, I just don’t know how you can still handle saving lives every day…”

 

Within a minute, Kun has straddled Yukhei’s (slightly sore) ass and is rubbing jasmine-scented massage oil into his tan skin. Relieved, pleasured low groans and hums trickle out of Yukhei with no end in sight. Kun throws some kisses to Yukhei’s shoulder blades into the mix. His thumbs dig into Yukhei’s tense shoulders, kneading and releasing built up exhaustion. His palms slide down his strong back and dance around his ribs.

 

“Mmmmmm,” Yukhei purrs out. “You’re making me hard.”

 

“Yeah?” Kun isn’t surprised. Anything can make Yukhei hard. Still, Kun is smug once more, with the universal satisfaction of knowing you turn on your partner.

 

“Yeah, but it’s okay. Keep going, I can fall asleep like this…”

 

Kun laughs, jabbing his knuckles a little too hard into the muscle, “You’re not falling asleep!”

 

Over the years, he’s perfected his technique in massaging Yukhei, and still occasionally reads up on how to improve it. From Yukhei’s first days in the academy when the gruelling training was more than the younger had ever imagined, Kun was there to rub all the soreness out of Yukhei’s bruised body. At first, the massages were truly a necessity, since Yukhei would be far more prone to injury without them. When they began to be able to afford frequent professional massages, Kun’s massages became an intimate time to unwind and, sometimes, smooth and relaxing foreplay.

 

As he drags the heel of his palm along Yukhei’s spine, Kun tries not to think too much about the ugly, jagged burn mark running across the man’s side. It’s a permanent reminder of some of the darkest moments of Kun’s life, not long before their relationship ended.

 

Kun plants another kiss in Yukhei’s hair and shakes his head to clear his thoughts.

 

“I think I’m extra hot for you today,” he snorts to himself. “Much more even that the usual. Have I told you about these jocks that keep coming to the bakery? I haven’t told you over the phone, right?”

 

“No, you haven’t. What jocks?”

 

Kun sucks his teeth, sheepish.

 

“They’re frat dudes from Dempsey. Johnny and Jaehyun are their names and they’re on the soccer team too.”

 

“Kun-ge, I’m supposed to be the only jock in your life, what are you talking about?” Yukhei teases. His voice has turned to gravel from the pleasure of the massage. 

 

“Wah, please, they’re just kids!” Kun’s blushing and he doesn’t really know why. “To be honest, they remind me of you back in college though. They’re all polite and sweet, very well mannered, they always come by the bakery and leave a tip, always say ‘hi’ if we run into each other…”

 

Yukhei hides his grin in the pillow. Only Kun would comment on how well mannered or not kids are.

 

Kun sighs, pressing the heel of his palm into a sore spot, “They’re even more ripped than you, Xuxi. Saw one of them with his shirt off at a Dempsey soccer game and phew-- Total washboard abs situation.”

 

He’s not sure where he’s going with this, but his dick is awake and aware in his boxers. Yukhei seems to be ruminating on his words.

 

“You’re the hottest dad in the neighborhood, Kun, you don’t think you can get them in bed?”

 

“Oh my God, shut up--” Kun is outraged, ears burning, landing a slap on Yukhei’s oiled up skin, pretending like this isn’t exactly the kind of thing he was secretly hoping Yukhei would say. Kun, a baker and a single middle-aged gay father of three, having a threesome with two straight frat dudebros? I mean, yes, that’s the dream, but it’s wildly out of the range of what’s ever possible.

 

“Ow! Hey-- What else do you want me to say? I’m just trying to indulge you! You can tell me about how you want to bone them, if you want…”

 

Kun huffs, trying to swallow down the mixture of his embarrassment and excitement and arousal. Yukhei doesn’t press.

 

“Why don’t you return the favor and massage my back a little,” Kun says after a while.

 

Yukhei needs a moment to bring life back into his body after the massage just about melted him. He stretches and grunts, putting on a show for Kun, before straddling his thighs and accidentally pressing his entire crotch into his ass.

 

“Oops, my bad,” he tries an innocent tone, then giggles at himself. He hooks his fingers under the waistband of Kun’s underwear, “Let me help you out of these. Massages are more comfortable that way.”

 

In the next ten minutes, Yukhei does his best to give Kun a thorough, satisfying rub down. For better or worse, however, he’s way too tired and horny to really do that. Laying wet kisses along Kun’s shoulders and neck, nuzzling his nose in the hair behind Kun’s ear, resting his entire body on top of Kun, rutting against Kun’s ass in barely noticeable motions. Kun finally lets out a quiet moan he’s been holding and allows himself to press up into Yukhei’s warmth. The weight of Yukhei’s sturdy, strong body enveloping him like that makes heat curl in his stomach again like a stab of electricity.

 

The moment Yukhei enters him, it’s like the air’s been punched out of Kun’s lungs, but it lasts only a few long seconds. Yukhei hums in his ear, breath fanning against his cheek. Kun takes his time adjusting to the girth of Yukhei’s cock inside of him. Sighs of pleasure and pain leave his throat.

 

They’re chest to back this time, in the middle of the bed. Kun is seated in Yukhei’s lap and, once more, completely engulfed by the younger’s warmth, arms encircling his front, chin hooked over his shoulder.

 

It’s so intimate like this, so precious as they both kneel on the bed and it’s little more than rutting and grinding inside. Yukhei holds him tight, kisses his neck, breath hot against Kun’s skin, murmuring sounds of appreciation and pleasure to each other, whispering tender I love you ’s. Yukhei’s hands explore Kun’s chest and belly, his thighs and his erection.

 

Just this time, just for a moment, Kun allows his mind to drift. Drift to a world where this is a constant in his life, or another, where the massive body fucking up into him isn’t Yukhei’s but someone else’s. And to think, to imagine, even for a moment, the glory of having two of them to play with, two of them to take.

 

He brings himself back to reality by turning his head and pressing a kiss to Yukhei’s lips. It’s not fair to the younger to be sailing into that fantasy world, so Kun grounds himself, bounces in his lap a little longer, until they’re both way too tired to endure the strain of that position any longer.

 

They finish face to face, Kun muttering praises in Yukhei’s ear, fingers buried in his hair. Yukhei’s hips stutter and he pulls out just in time to jerk himself off all over Kun’s stomach. He uses his release to make the slide of his fist smoother and strokes Kun to completion too.

 

A few minutes later, while Yukhei is panting into his pillow, Kun notices his dick is still half-hard and bites his lip.

 

“Baby,” he breathes and kisses Xuxi’s pliant lips. “Looks like you’ve got another one in you. Let me…”

 

Yukhei whines, but doesn’t pull away when Kun wraps a hand around him and milks a third orgasm out of him. His cum dribbles over Kun’s fist and onto the soiled sheets and he’s so boneless and out of it that he barely reacts when Kun licks his fingers clean.

 

Once their souls return to their bodies, they help each other out cleaning up roughly. They collapse in the larger guest room bed and sink into sleep within seconds of smelling their pillows. The last thing Kun remembers is the warmth of Yukhei’s body in his arms.



Sunday comes with beautiful morning sunshine warming the room. It bathes Kun’s handsome face in a healthy glow. Yukhei watches him through half-open lids, smiling to himself, until he drifts off.

 

The next time he wakes up, it’s to Kun stirring next to him. Benny’s whines, gentle boofs and scratches fill the room. Poor thing, he’s too well-trained and polite to jump on the bed with them, but he’s doing his best to signal how badly he needs to go.

 

“I’ll go let him out in the yard,” Kun rasps. Yukhei smiles again, dozes off again.

 

Soft kisses to his brow pull him out of his hazy sleep. Kun looks like a god in the morning light.

 

“Spoon me a little before we get up,” he says. Yukhei obliges. Fondness, love, gratitude, all blossom in his chest.

 

The mornings are Yukhei’s favorite. Padding around in their loose boxers, bumping into each other in the bathroom, making coffee together in practiced sync, idly chatting, basking in each other’s warmth. Just two dudes, two dads, sleepy, soft. Soaking up this precious, private time, no kids, no responsibilities.

 

They take Benny for a walk around the block and dive into a passionate discussion of some of their mutual favorite movies. They shower together and make out tenderly under the hot spray and then get brunch at a new place at the nearby mall. 

 

Kun’s heart is full by the time they get home and have to part. He feels rejuvenated. Happy.

 

“Take all of these,” he says, pressing a saran wrapped tray of muffins into Yukhei’s hands. “Have some on the road and give the rest to Yuqi and the kids.”

 

Yukhei grins and the sun gets brighter.



Yukhei throws his belongings in the truck and walks back to where Kun is miserably eyeing the bags of compost. He sneaks a hand around the baker’s waist and watches him squint adorably, trying to read the label on a bag of bulbs.

 

“I love you,” Yukhei says simply.

 

Kun sighs, tossing the bag back on the ground. He leans his head on Yukhei’s shoulder.

 

“I love you too, Xuxi. I wish you could stick around and help me with this madness, but you’ve got you own madness to deal with.”

 

Yukhei sighs in agreement, shuddering at the thought of the twins’ barren new room and all the painting he’ll be doing for the rest of the day.

 

“You sure you’ll be okay with these? I can help--”

 

“No, no, I’ll be fine. We’ll get it done one way or another,” Kun waves a hand. He’s not going to be fine. He’s not going to be fine at all. 

 

He embraces Yukhei in a warm, tender hug, like what it would feel like if you could be wrapped in  freshly baked croissant. “Tell the girls their godfather can’t wait to see them in two weeks. And hug Yuqi for me.”

 

“Yes, sir. You tell Maria and Xiaojun I love them and am bringing lots of candy next time.”

 

“Aw, Xuxi, come on--”

 

Yukhei pulls away laughing, “Okay, okay, just a couple of bags of jelly beans. That’s all.”

 

“Drive safe, babe,” Kun plants a kiss on Yukhei’s forehead and watches him jump into his truck. He waves all the way until the vehicle rounds the corner and he can’t see Yukhei’s hand waving out the window any more.

 

***

 

An hour and a half is all Kun gets to himself, before Xiaojun is barreling into the house. He gives his dad a big hug and then goes straight to his laptop to play a new level of his favorite online game with his friends. Maria, on the other hand, is busy inspecting all the supplies in the yard and has a whole lot of questions Kun has no idea how to answer. Kun’s only relief is the fact that Sicheng stays for coffee and they get to catch up.

 

“Bye, dad,” Sicheng gives him a quick hug on his way out, car keys jingling in his hand. “Don’t overwork your old bones out there.”

 

“Old? Listen--”

 

“I love you! I’ll see you on Wednesday!”

 

“Ah, these kids will be the death of me... “ Kun shakes his head, hands on his hips as Sicheng slips his shoes on. “Good luck with your exams, bud. Call me if I can help with anything, okay? I love you!”

 

And just like that, Sicheng is gone too and Maria is all but climbing Kun in excitement to get started on the yard. He gets her enthusiasm at bay just long enough to get Xiaojun to join them outside. While their dad ponders where they should start and what tools they should use, the kids tell him all about their time with Sicheng, all the games they played and movies they watched and how funny his new boyfriend is and their breakfast at Denny’s and the--

 

“Cool. Okay!” Kun claps his hands, interrupting without any remorse after having nodded and asked appropriate questions through it all. “We’re ready to get started.”

 

Maria is suddenly all eyes and ears. She copies her dad and surveys the scene with her hands on her hips.

 

“Mar, I’ve got you some special tools,” Kun picks up a child-sized shovel with a metal end and a sturdy wooden handle. “These are not toys, they’re proper tools, but they sell them in kids size, so you can work more comfortably. They’re just as effective though, okay? Jun, I got one for you too, but I think a large one will be more comfortable for you. Okay? Alright. So here’s what we need to do.”

 

Digging up the soil in the flowerbeds lining the house, as well as creating a few new ones, seems simple enough. Stick the shovel in, press it down with your foot, turn the soil over and break it up. It proves to be infinitely more time-consuming, however, when neither of the three of them has ever done it before. By the time they are halfway through their first flower bed, Kun pauses to wipe his brow and see if there might be a more efficient way to do this. They’re still going to have to lay down the compost and spread it out and get the bulbs in and--

 

He pushes down the overwhelming thoughts and declares, “You guys keep going, I’m gonna get us something to drink.”

 

“Wait, I’ll go,” Xiaojun immediately volunteers.

 

“It’s alright, you keep working. Chocolate milk?”

 

On the plus side, they get to spend some quality time together. Kun has to keep reminding himself that this is more about Maria feeling accomplished than all their yard working actually panning out that well. Figuring it out together is fun despite everything, especially when they get to make fun of one another for tripping over their shovels, or to throw the occasional worm in each other’s direction. Kun makes sure to snap plenty of photos of the three of them, even when he has to force the kids to pose in order to recreate Grant Woods American Gothic.

 

Nevertheless, an hour and a half later, frighteningly little progress has been made. Kun dreads how much more time he’s going to need to spend on this. He can already see Maria’s interest waning. Xiaojun could be convinced if Kun spins this into a work out, but he’s already whining about going inside.

 

Just when Kun is about to suggest a snack break, two blessed saviors show up at the gate to his yard.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Good day, Mr. Qian,” a familiar voice calls from the fence at the front of Kun’s yard.

Benny has cocked his head curiously, a friendly growl in his throat.

“Who’s that?” Maria asks not too discreetly.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Johnny is leaning on the fence, relaxed and sexy. His sunglasses reflect the glint of the sun.

“Hey, guys,” Kun dusts his gloves off. “Yeah? Fancy seeing me here, in my own yard, in front of the house I’ve owned for years, with my children around me?”

He grins and he can hear Jaehyun chuckle.

“I guess I just didn’t expect such a lucky encounter today, right, Jae?” Johnny quips and it makes Kun laugh.

“Alright, alright, enough with the charms…”

Jaehyun nods his chin at the mess that is Kun’s front yard, “You guys seem busy.”

Kun sighs, looking around. “Don’t get me started. We’re kind of in over our heads… We’ll be alright, though, we’ll be alright.”

"You sure?" a concerned, genuine question, but Jaehyun's pointed look at the pitiful state of the flower bed has embarrassment burning in Kun's neck.

"It's all about taking it easy and learning as we go, right?" he attempts an optimistic tone again. Benny has trotted to the bottom of the yard, interested in the newcomers.

"Well, if you guys need help..." Johnny starts, turning to Jaehyun, a question in his voice. "Jae and I have some free time this afternoon, we can give you a hand."

Kun makes a surprised sound, "Oh, um...I mean, you guys don't have to, it's a lot of work..."

"A lot of work for the three of you, will be less between the five of us, right?"

"Um..." Kun hesitates. Maria is still looking at him in confusion. "Sure, why not, but you guys don't have to stick around any longer than you need to, okay? If you've got somewhere to be..."

Benny continues to give off barks and boofs, hesitating a few paces before the door.

“Benny! Come! He won’t hurt you guys,” Kun says, “He’ll just come up to check you out. You can pet him.”

Jaehyun is already through the gate, palm outstretched low for the lab to sniff. As soon as Benny, tail wagging, has checked him out and given him a friendly lick, Jaehyun is down on his knees and burying both hands in the black fur around the dog’s neck. Cooing and pleased whimpers blend as the two of them get to know each other.

While they are lost in their own world, Johnny closes the gate behind himself and steps towards Kun, surveying the yard. A young girl is watching him with open curiosity and suspicion, leaning on an oddly small shovel. Mr. Qian’s outfit is yet another category of looks Johnny’s never seen on him: sweatpants, flannel and a warm-looking sleeveless fleece, along with a baseball cap on his head. He gives Johnny a smile with a hint of embarrassment.

“I don’t want to take you guys away from whatever you gotta do today. But if you’re offering, we sure could use your help…”

“You’re totally fine, Kun, we’d love to. A nice work out in fresh air, what more could we ask for? Jae seems to have made a new best friend too,” Johnny motions towards Jaehyun who has let Benny climb on top of him entirely.

Kun chuckles, still a little sheepish, then remembers to introduce his kids, “Johnny, this is Maria, my daughter. Maria this is Johnny, he and his friend Jaehyun are regulars at the bakery,” Johnny promptly shakes Maria’s hand with a genuine smile and Jaehyun waves, walking over. Maria looks nothing like Kun and while Johnny supposes she could be a carbon copy of her mom, it seems more likely that she was adopted. The boy that steps out on the porch looks more like Kun, but who knows. Johnny wonders what desires and decisions led Kun to being the single dad of two.

When Kun looks over his shoulder, Johnny notices a small splotch of dark red on his neck and a weird zap travels through his body because the spot sure looks a whole lot like a hickey. Kun adjusts his collar in the next moment and Johnny hopes he didn’t catch him staring. Mr. Qian’s private life is none of his business.

“And my son-- hey, there you are. Xiaojun, this is Johnny...and this is Jaehyun. They’re regulars at the bakery and they were walking by and offered to help out.”

“Hey, you play soccer, right?” Jaehyun asks and Xiaojun nods, trying to shake off his dad’s proud arm from around his shoulder. “We’re both on Dempsey’s team. Johnny might make captain next year, too. We should play together some time, if you want.”

“Yeah, that would be fun,” Xiaojun throws his dad a questioning smile, though Kun is smiling at the two newcomers.

Finally, Kun clears his throat and clasps his hands together.

“So, the hope here was that we can get most of this done today, but it’s really looking like we’ll have to do a lot of work over the week. This is all Maria’s project, by the way,” he says, proud to give his daughter ownership of the endeavour. She stands a little straighter next to her shovel. “We’ve never been big on gardening, but she wants to-- do you want to explain, Maria? Basically, we want our yard to be more eco-friendly, right?”

Maria is happy to explain, in many sentences, and with the help of some shovel gesturing.

“That’s so cool! This sounds familiar - you know, my moms run a landscaping business! So they know all about this stuff and I’ve learned a bit from them…”

After some explaining and coaching, they all get down to work. While the Qians finish up the flower bed they’d been toiling over, Jaehyun and Johnny get started on the next one. Between the five of them, each one is more clueless than the other, but by virtue of pure luck and figuring it out together, the work flows faster than before. The air is crisp with the last days of fall, yet the sun’s glow warms them pleasantly and there’s even a cardinal that keeps them company from a nearby tree.

Shovel in, press down, turn over the moist soil (it’s honestly too wet for them to be doing this, but none of them know better). A calming routine. Johnny tries not to think about the lovebite he spotted on Kun’s neck. No wife, just me rings through his head again and again, and he can’t overcome the heat that prickles under his skin every time he thinks about that little splotch of purple against Kun’s light skin. Instead, he shucks his sweatshirt off and even rolls up the sleeves of his white T-shirt, following Jaehyun’s example. Confidence thrums in his veins every time he flips the shovel in the ground.

Meanwhile, Kun fights the constant tomato hue creeping over his face and hopes that everyone will attribute it to the strain of the work. His stomach is relaxing, little by little, from the ball it was clenched in ever since Johnny and Jaehyun started swinging their shovels around, veins popping out on their hands and thighs bulging in their tight jogging pants. Being around them while they’re doing something so physical in his yard, having to keep up a stream of idle chatter with them, catching glance after glance of their charming smiles and fingers running through unruly hair...it’s all an uphill battle.

He finds a thread of comfort in focusing on his kids working together. Xiaojun and Maria are deep into their task as they measure a five-finger distance between each little hole they dig for a bulb.

“Daddy bear,” Maria dusts her hands off as she shifts further down the flower bed. “But won’t the flowers be too far apart? It’ll just be one flower every like...uhm, every few inches, and then just bare dirt. It’ll look so ragged and sparse, we should put the flowers closer together.”

“It says on the package they need to have five fingers between them, Mar, there must be a reason.”

“Yeah, but I think that’s just--”

“It’s because when they grow, they’ll need more space to thrive,” Johnny says. Kun smiles. “If you think about it, they’ll take up that space between them as they get bigger. And they need it so each of them can get enough sunlight and their roots have room to grow.”

Maria mulls that over and soon deems it an acceptable explanation.

“That’s true. Besides, daddy, are we doing it like in the picture on the brochure? If we are, which we should, then we’ll have little grass growing between the flowers, so.”

“Mar, check this out,” Xiaojun wobbles over to her on his muddy knees. The two of them read something on the package of wildflower seeds Kun bought for the spring.

He loves seeing them working together so calmly. They’re both, you could say, thorny personalities, so it’s often not easy to get them to enjoy something together. Whenever they do actually spend some quality sibling time with one another, be it poring over a puzzle of peacefully watching a movie without fighting over it, Kun is always on cloud nine. He tiptoes around them and soaks up every moment with a full heart.

Benny keeps them company too. He gives them an excuse to take a break every few minutes by politely requesting to be petted (paw gently tapping a knee or head nuzzling into an elbow). He and Jaehyun seems to have developed a quick friendship. Jaehyun is happy to rile the dog up and wrestle with him in a way that only Xiaojun usually does, so Benny’s thriving. Xiaojun himself joins in a few times and starts a short-lived bout of fetch - Benny is a lazy boy after all and can only take so much excitement in the span of five minutes.

“Dad, I think we’re ready for the compost,” Maria steps up next to her dad while he eavesdrops on Xiaojun and Jaehyun’s conversation about dogs and pretends to be very meticulous about breaking up some soil with his rake.

“Hm? Oh, the compost. Phew, we finally made it to that stage, huh?” 

“Yay, compost time!” Johnny cheers behind him. He sticks his shovel in the ground and walks over the survey the flower bed. “But...won’t it be difficult to put it down now since we have to go around the bulbs?”

The three of them consider this new challenge, rubbing their chins in thought.

“Well, but why would it matter? We just like...sprinkle it everywhere, right?” Maria looks up. Kun has no opinion either way, but tries his best to look thoughtful while wiping his aviators on his shirt. A sliver of skin peeks out from under his untucked shirt.

They do their best to solve the problem that may not be a problem at all but sort of seems like a problem since none of them really know what they’re doing. After some back and forth, Maria seems set on a best course of action that doesn’t quite make sense to either Johnny or Kun. Still, when Johnny goes to gently protest, Kun cuts him off with a hand on his forearm.

“Johnny, I hear you, but I think Maria has a point. I think I remember reading about that online too, I think they say that’s the way to do it,” he says, winking in Johnny’s direction, out of his daughter’s line of sight. Maria nods wisely. When she marches off to try and bring over a bag of compost, Kun turns to Johnny with a semi-apologetic, semi-conspiratorial smile, “Let’s give them a chance to do this however they want, it’s their project. Maria’s especially. I don’t really care how it turns out.”

He goes to help Maria with the heavy bag and Johnny stays rooted to his spot, something tight and warm in his chest. Kun seems to be such a dream dad, it’s kind of unbelievable.

Once the compost is down and the next flower bed is ready for a layer too, Kun takes a concerned look at his watch. Not that he had any hope they’d finish tonight, but it’s getting late and he needs to plan the rest of the evening.

“Tell you what, guys, let me go in and get some stuff out of the freezer. Johnny, Jaehyun, would you guys like to stay for dinner? You should stay, it’s the least I can do to repay you guys for your help,” Kun offers and his tone makes it clear he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, despite the students’ polite protests. He was planning to just warm up leftovers for dinner, but now that they’ll be having guests, the image of golden crusted chicken pot pies floats in his mind.

“Can you make brownies too, baba?” Xiaojun asks.

“I won’t have time for those, bud. But we can do cookies, does that work?”

“Daddy, please no carrots. Just this time, no carrots, please,” Maria pleads, looking miserable while leaning on her shovel. Her stomach is notoriously sensitive and it makes her super picky about her food, no matter how good Kun’s cooking is.

Kun sighs, “I don’t think we have any canned peas, so I’m going to use a frozen vegetable mix, babe, so I can’t take them out. You can just pick them out later, okay?”

Maria sighs too, deeper and way more dramatic than her father. She turns away to sulk while spreading the compost with a rake. Kun gives the boys a look that says “this is what I have to deal with every day” and heads inside.

He pulls a couple of batches of pie dough from the freezer and gets some other items ready. If he cranes his neck, he can see Jaehyun helping Maria sprinkle compost, both wrinkling their noses at the strong odor. It’s kind of weird, Kun thinks, how he’s just trusting these random frat dudes in his house and around his kids. Maybe he should be more cautious. But honestly, those two have been nothing short of the best mannered, kindest guys that age that he’s met in forever. Xiaojun and Maria seem to like them just fine too.

“Ugh, gosh, this stuff is heavy,” Xiaojun grunts under the weight of a compost bag just as Kun steps outside ten minutes later. 

“Heavy? Not at all dude!” Johnny exclaims a little too loudly, dropping the three bags he was carrying. Kun senses clownery in his tone. “Not heavy at all, I work out! Don’t you? Come on, give me ten!”

Johnny drops to the ground too and starts doing push ups, biceps bulging, right then and there in Kun’s yard, in front of Kun’s kids and dog. Kun stares for the longest moment, trapped by a force from gay hell, then gyrates on his heel and walks right back inside.

While Kun collects himself in the house, work outside continues in comfortable silence.

“So what’s it like having a dad who’s a baker?” Jaehyun asks. He smiles at Xiaojun and Maria. Hanging around them reminds him of his little brother, Jeno, who’s around Xiaojun’s age. “Do you guys get like, fresh cookies and croissants every day?”

“Yes, all the time.”

“Dad always brings stuff home from the bakery and he bakes on weekends. Actually, he-- Maria tell them about that time me and you tried to make chocolate chip cookies--”

Maria breaks into a laugh, little rake forgotten.

“Oh my God, me and Jun tried wanted to surprise him, so our big brother Sicheng--”

“Sicheng bought us cookie dough from the store--”

“Yeah, like the one in blocks, and we--”

“Yeah, cause we didn’t want to spend all day making the dough and--”

“Let me tell the story, let me tell the story--”

“Okay, okay, go ahead.”

They’re both grinning with the memory and Jaehyun just can’t wait to hear it.

“Our big brother Sicheng bought us the cookie dough from the store, the one that comes in squares. And we just wanted to make a snack for daddy, but he came home early while we were still putting it on the tray and he got soooooo mad!” Maria starts giggling and Xiaojun is barely containing himself from taking over and telling the story himself. “He was so mad, he was all ‘Oh, this dough from the store is fake! How can you buy this, store-bought cookie dough in MY HOUSE!’

Maria’s imitation of her dad’s voice is absolutely ridiculous and Jaehyun and Johnny are already laughing along, picturing a horrified Kun yelling about store-bought cookies.

“Yeah, he was so angry, it was so funny, he yelled at Sicheng and threw out all the cookie dough and then we spent all afternoon making chocolate chip cookies from scratch. And now daddy always has frozen cookie dough he made in the freezer, so we can surprise him when we want. But that was sooooo funny when he got so mad, Jun and I were laughing when he yelled at Sicheng--”

“Are you telling the cookie dough story?” Kun steps out into the yard, carrying a tray of drinks. God , he looks so effortlessly comfortable in his outfit. Maria dissolves into more giggles, and Kun shakes his head, sucking his teeth, “Always makin’ fun of me for wanting you to eat real food…”

“Daddy, it’s just cookies…” Maria is almost hiccuping.

“Uh huh, I’ll let you have all the junk food you want for a week some time, see how you feel after that…” Kun says, playfully annoyed. Maria wraps her arms around him from behind and he has to hold back his laugh. “Alright, y’all, I think we should wrap up here. The sun’s setting, and I think this is a good spot to stop for today.”

(and forever, he hopes, even if that means he’ll have a bunch of gardening supplies piled in his shed)

The five of them, plus Benny, clean up the yard methodically.

“Where do these go, Mr. Qian?” Jaehyun peers around the stack of five entire bags of compost he’s carrying. The veins on his lean arms looks about ready to pop out, kind of like Kun’s eyes. This weekend has truly been a blessing and a test and Kun’s lucky he doesn’t suffer from heart problems or he might just not have made it through.

“Right here, bud.”

“Here you go,” Jaehyun squats, so he doesn’t spill the bags everywhere. Kun stares at his ass for all of three (3) seconds before making a beeline for the house.

While Kun makes dinner, the kids - all four of them - make use of the last scraps of daylight in the backyard. They kick a soccer ball around, play with Benny, and explore Maria’s birdfeeders. Kun brings out hot cocoa and a plate with orange and kiwi slices for them to snack on and Jaehyun feels like he’s twelve again. It’s too cold for Kun to leave the screen door open, but every now and then he can hear laughter or happy screams and it puts a pep in his whisking.

Ever the gracious hosts, Xiaojun and Maria show their guests around the essential parts of the house once darkness sets outside. Kun’s tossing the salad, watching the pot pies rising and loving the sound of engaged conversation and giggles in the living room. The four of them are getting along weirdly well and he’s loving it.

Finally, finally , when Johnny’s stomach is just about to start consuming itself in hunger, Kun’s sweet voice beckons them into his kingdom of heavenly aromas. Jaehyun’s stomach growls loudly as he sits down at the table and Xiaojun bursts into laughter. Maria delicately explains that she and Xiaojun have fixed seats at the table and Jaehyun will have to move over, if he pleases.

Kun takes off the cream-colored apron he had on. Humming to himself, he pours water in their glasses.

“Hands washed?” he asks, setting down the salad bowl in the middle of the table.

“Yep.”

“Yeah.”

“Yes, sir.”

Johnny takes in the fridge door littered with magnets in the likes of “#1 Dad”, “I <3 my Foster Dad” and “Papa Bear”. A few impressive drawings of what appear to be Fortnite landscapes and characters are pinned here and there. It feels odd, being in Kun’s house, but it’s also been a lovely day of getting to know him and his kids. And when the steaming pot pie is placed in front of him by a pair of skilled hands, its crust so perfectly golden, flaky and buttered, Johnny is nothing but thankful for the chance to have such a delightful homemade meal instead of college cafeteria food.

“So, we, Qians, have a little ritual we do before we eat,” Kun says when he finally takes his seat at the head of the table. He’s changed into a clean, soft green flannel, a white T-shirt peeking out from underneath. His watch is gone, but a delicate silver bracelet adorns his wrist now. It’s weird seeing him out of the bakery, out of his apron, out of the setting Jaehyun and Johnny always see him in. “You guys shouldn’t feel obliged to join in by any means, but you’re also free to, whatever you’d prefer. Basically we just go round and say one or two things we’re grateful for that have happened today or recently. It’s just a nice way to pause and reflect.”

Jaehyun hums and nods thoughtfully.

“Okay, I’ll start. I’m, of course, grateful for this lovely spread we have here and the amazing chef that prepared it,” he gestures at the table and earns a few chuckles. He looks at his kids then, “And I’m also grateful that I got to see your uncle Yukhei this weekend. Aaaaand finally, I’m grateful that we worked so hard today to transform our yard and we even got some awesome help from some new friends.”

God, Kun is such a dad . Johnny fights his smile from growing as obscenely wide as it wants to.

Later that night, back at the frat house, belly full of pot pie and cookies, homework abandoned for the morning, Johnny pulls his sleep shirt on and finally gets into bed. Across the room, Jaehyun is already asleep, one muscular leg over his comforter. Johnny pulls his favorite stuffed stuffed tiger close and fits his headphones on. 

At the same time as, a few blocks away, Kun is suctioning a dildo to his shower wall and readying himself to ride out the frustrations of the day, Johnny opens Youtube on his tablet and scrolls through MianBaoBakes’ uploads. He watches one titled “Doyoung and Taeyong Make Brazillian Cheesy Breads Ft. Special Guest Bru” for a bit, until a suggested video on the side catches his eye. Snuggling deeper into his duvet, to the sound of Jaehyun’s soft snores, he fullscreens the new video and sends the night off watching the soothing “MianBaoExperiments: Kun tries ancient Chinese recipes”.

 

***

 

Jaehyun is torn. With every crunchy Cheeto he devours, part of him floats deer into the pleasures of cheat day, while another feels more and more disgusted with his snack choices. He sighs and puts the bag down when his phone vibrates. He wipes his fingers on the house library couch and opens a text from Alexis.

“John, what time do you think we’ll be out of the baking class?” he asks, shifting his feet on the couch armrest so he can see Johnny.

Johnny’s deep into playing poker with Jaemin, a freshman recruit. He finally replies absently, “I assume by like seven or eight?”

Jaehyun sighs again. He sneaks another cheeto into his mouth.

“Alexis wants to hang out tonight. I’m worried if I tell her I can only hang out after eight, she won’t wanna hook up later. But we already paid for the class…”

“Oh, dude, I wouldn’t throw thirty bucks in the wind just like that. Just tell her you’ll hang out tomorrow, can’t you?”

“She’s out of town till Sunday.”

Jaehyun’s fingers hover over his phone keyboard as he decides what to do.

“Bro, c’mon, the class is gonna be fun! We already paid. It’s gonna be good food and we get to see Mr. Qian in action. Just hit her up on Sunday or after the class.”

Jaehyun crunches down another cheeto and finally tells Alexis he’ll stop by her room after the baking class. He locks his phone after that and heads to his room to get ready to go out.

 

The bakery is completely rearranged for the class. All attendees get their own little work station, equipped with a whole bunch of whisks and bowls and measured out ingredients. Kun gives Jaehyun and Johnny a brief greeting when they arrive, but he’s busy setting up right up until the class is about to begin. A slight man with bleached blond hair helps him along with Maria, but the two of them leave before the start.

“Taeyongie, please remember to give Jun his allergy meds. He always forgets,” Kun says as they exit and the blonde man gives him a salute.

“See you later, daddy.”

“Bye, love!”

There are twelve people at most in the class - the bakery is too small to fit more - and every work station is taken. Jaehyun spots at least four classic soccer moms among the attendees. As Kun starts talking and introduces them to the activity, every single person has heart eyes for him, even the tall gentleman in the back.

“Here’s what we’re making today,” Kun holds up a small, round pastry that looks like a regular bun. “Looks underwhelming, but on the inside it’s bursting with the comforting flavors of wintermelon and sesame and other things. It’s called a sweetheart cake, or wife cake, or sometimes marriage cake. Anyone heard of it? We don’t sell it here at the store. No? Johnny, Jaehyun, maybe you guys? No? Well, that’s good! Means we’re learning something completely new today! Okay, can someone help me pass out some samples, please, and I’ll tell you a bit about the origins of this pastry.”

Kun absolutely owns this. He’s donned an impeccably adorable brown apron with a rolling pin print over his outfit of jeans and another plaid flannel tucked into them. His hair styled back from his forehead, his sleeves rolled up, the easiest smile across his lips, and he runs this class like a live show, like he’s the piece of gold in the spotlight and every single person in the room is transfixed by him. Everyone’s following Kun’s every move, soaking up every word, every smile, every joke, and Jaehyun knows that he and Johnny are in the bag too, whether they like it or not.

“Now, the twist we’re putting on this recipe is gonna be all about making it fluffier. If we were working with batter and not dough, the way that we’d make it light and fluffy would be-- and some of you will know this from previous classes; Moira, Karen, you were at the souffle class, right? And Bev, you’ve probably been-- Right, I’m glad you remember, yep. Definitely, so if we were working with batter, we’d just make sure to beat a lot of air into it with broad whisks, till it’s nice and fluffy. For the dough that we’re making, it’s gonna be about temperature.”

Johnny’s almost getting a feeling of fomo, like he and Jaehyun didn’t even know how big of a neighborhood star Kun is. Kun goes on to explain more of the details around how dough rises. Johnny just about loses it when he uses his fingers to demonstrate how the delicate bubbles in the dough grow.

Soon, the explanations are over and Johnny and Jaehyun’s adventures in baking begin. They each need to prepare two types of dough and the pastry filling, so they decide to work on different things and learn from each other. Kun walks around the work stations and helps everyone, keeps demonstrating the key points from his own station. Naturally, the two bros who have never touched baking powder in their lives need more help than the other attendees. Thankfully, Kun is happy to provide.

“This is a good consistency, Jaehyun, it’s fine for kneading,” he says, pressing dough into the mat. Immediately, Jaehyun acquires a satisfied glow. “What’s bothering you about it? It stretches fine. Look, you don’t need it to be very stretchy, we’re mixing the two doughs later, remember? This is good.”

Sleeves rolled up above his elbows, Kun works Jaehyun’s dough. His skilled hands move in magical ways, pressing and stretching and squeezing, fingers arching and knuckles rolling, and the veins on his hands, those veins Jaehyun and Johnny have been fixating on so many times, standing out so delicately…

Kun has moved on to checking out Johnny’s dough, but the two boys haven’t uttered a word the entire time, eyes boring into the baker’s hands and arms, so he finally pauses.

“Are you guys okay?” he glances between them. Jaehyun is suddenly busy sprinkling flour over his dough.

Johnny clears his throat, “Yeah, I just-- it’s complicated! I don’t know, you uh, you just clearly know how to do it really well, it’s, it’s amazing to see.”

Kun shrugs, “It’s really not that hard once you try it a few times. Now come on, add a splash of butter to this like I showed you and you’ll be good to start kneading. But don’t sweat it too much cause the dough can smell fear, okay?”

Kun winks and walks away with a smug smile to the chuckles of the two moms in the row in front of Johnny.

Once they wrap their first batches of dough and set them aside, they help one another with the next steps and Kun stops by once more to check on them.

“Woah, woah, hold on, buddy, you’re working that too hard. May I?” the baker takes the ball of dough from Jaehyun’s hands. “Like this, gentler. The harder you knead it, the more you’ll feel sore. And the dough will just suffer too. It’s not all muscle, it’s technique too, okay?” he pats Jaehyun’s arm playfully, then moves to stand next to him. 

Harnessing his power to send waves of heat crashing through Jaehyun, he takes the boy’s hand and places it over the ball of dough. He shows Jaehyun how to put just the right amount of pressure with his heel, then with his fingers, talking him through the motions and pressing his own fingers into the dough and over Jaehyun’s hand. By the time Kun walks away, Jaehyun feels like he could pursue a career in baking, but he also feels like his ears are smouldering.

Things settle down as they get to making the filling. Johnny is chopping his candied winter melon sticks and glancing in amusement towards the back where the tall gentleman seems to be very nervously trying to flirt with Kun. Johnny chuckles to himself and leans closer to Jaehyun.

“People love this place, huh?”

Jaehyun shrugs, “Lots to love.”

When Jaehyun’s filling mixture is done, Kun comes by their station again. Jaehyun takes a dramatic whiff of his aromatic filling and his eyes turn into pleased crescents. Johnny and Kun can’t help but just beam at him.

“Okay, everyone, please make sure all of your dough is labeled and has been migrated to the fridge,” Kun rubs his hands together once everyone’s wrapped up their tasks. “Those of you that have been to one of our classes before - you know how this goes! We usually have a surprise for the second part of the class, and now it’s time for that surprise! Today, you all are getting an exclusive chance to do this, we’ll be making something we don’t even sell at the bakery yet.”

Jaehyun wiggles his eyebrows at Johnny and makes a mysterious oooh . Johnny just snorts.

“Check this out!” Kun exclaims and then pulls the towel off a tray with the air of a magician revealing a top-tier trick. 

A few quiet gasps sound around the bakery and Johnny cranes his neck to see if he’s missing something because from what he can tell, the tray just has a bunch of classic bungeoppang, a favorite fish-shaped, custard-filled snack from Johnny’s childhood. Are these that popular around here? But Kun said he doesn’t sell them at the shop…

“I’m so excited for these, everyone! They’re a terrific snack and we’ve been getting requests for them for years. If you follow us on our Youtube channel you may also remember the street food vlog we did last year and these were a big part of that video,” Kun picks up a fish and wiggles it in the air before carefully breaking it in two with his extraordinarily capable fingers. Custard spills out. Jaehyun salivates. 

Kun goes into explaining the different names of the pastry while passing out samples. Johnny and Jaehyun munch on their fish and watch as Kun, glowing with excitement, brings out his brand spanking new bungeoppang mould, shipped all the way from Korea.

“The batter is super easy and I have the custard ready for you all, so this is going to be just for the fun of it! Here’s what we need.”

Making the custard-filled fish is just as delightful as Kun made it out to be. By the time everyone’s made one, their sweetheart cake dough is chilled enough and it’s time to form the cakes. Those are all in the oven in no time and Jaehyun is actually quite excited to taste the end result.

“Hey, wanna get a drink after this?” Johnny asks as they clean their space. “We can ask Kun to join us.”

“Hmm. I was gonna hang out with Alexis, remember?”

“Ah, right, right.”

Jaehyun sweeps flour from the table into his cupped palm.

“I’m feeling kinda tired though… A drink sounds good after all of this.”

While Jaehyun bites his thumbnail and ponders what to tell Alexis, Kun brings out the steaming pastries. Attendees wrap their creations in parchment paper with the Mian Bao logo on it and make their way out of the bakery. Johnny and Jaehyun hang behind and help Kun clean up.

He’s reluctant to accept their invitation at first. He’s a full grown adult, to be seen out drinking with college kids? Maybe not the worst things, but still a bit weird. At the same time though, who cares what people might think? Jaehyun and Johnny are great guys he’s enjoying building a friendship with and there’s nothing wrong with getting a drink together after a long day.

Fifteen minutes and a comfortable ride in Kun’s spacious car later, they find a table at a bar a little farther from their campus than the two students usually venture.

Pulling his jacket around the back of his chair, Kun has a sudden realization, “Hold on, you guys are twenty-one, right? Please don’t make me--”

“We are, we are, don’t worry, Mr. Qian,” Johnny grins.

Kun gets them a large platter of various bar snacks and a beer each. It’s only when the aroma of perfectly crispy mozzarella sticks dipped in marinara hits Jaehyun’s nose that he realizes how hungry he is, despite the generous amounts of desserts he devoured earlier.

“Mmm,” he lets out a deep hum as he stretches the cheese from between his teeth. “Baking makes you hungry, huh?”

Kun chuckles, loading a chip with creamy dip.

“Sure made me hungry enough to stomach all of this junk food.”

The first round of beers goes down quickly, so they take it easier on the second, chatting about everything and nothing. Kun looks tired. The alcohol glazes a fine glow over his face in no time. Even as Kun talks about baking and his business and his love for feeding people while keeping in touch with his roots, Jaehyun can’t help but blink at him lazily, almost like he’s gonna devour him if he could, watching the delicate bracelet slip back and forth his wrist, even the weirdly sexy way his fingers wrap around a beer bottle.

“How’s the garden coming along?” Johnny asks. He laughs when Kun grimaces and groans.

“I mean, we’re getting somewhere , you know? I was hoping Maria wouldn’t make me start another flower bed, but she’s a little fixated on this, so… But you guys were great help the other day, seriously, I don’t know how I would have done it without you.”

“Of course, it was so much fun, happy to help again if you need us.”

Kun hums, “I’ll keep that in mind. Might have to take you up on it. I just don’t see us finishing this on our own. Here, can you put your numbers in my phone?”

Is it weird, Kun wonders, that here they are again, having dinner together for the second time in less than a week? He doesn’t know whether to be happy or puzzled. At the end of the day, Jaehyun and Johnny turning out to be such great people he can strike a true friendship with and spend good time with is a good thing, it’s a great thing, it makes Kun genuinely happy and brings a new thread of excitement and social comfort in his life. Nothing wrong with that. And yet, Jaehyun and Johnny are more than 20 years younger than him and Kun finds them wildly attractive… Does he perhaps need to take a step back and learn to separate those two things in his head? Make sure he can enjoy a genuine friendship with them without being creepy and weird, without letting his attraction to them color any of their interactions?

“Would be good for Xiaojun to spend more time around you guys. He liked you a lot the other day, “ Kun says thoughtfully. He pokes the bone of a chicken wing on his plate with a fork. “He’s been...I don’t know, I think he’s been having a bit of a rough time at school the last year. More so than he tells me. I mean, you guys know how this area is, Jun is the only Asian kid in his class.”

Johnny nods sympathetically.

“He doesn’t have a lot of older friends. His brother is in college, they don’t get to hang out a whole lot. I don’t know, I try not to push him, I try to keep him in touch with his culture but also respect that he’s feeling a lot all at once. And Maria…” Kun sighs and smiles and takes a swig of his beer. “It’s a whole ‘nother thing with her…”

He gets quiet after that, so Johnny and Jaehyun jump in and reassure him that they’d love to spend time with Xiaojun and with Maria, too. Johnny smoothly pivots the conversation and opens up about his own background.

“You know, my mom-- Jae, you know this, but my mom Shiwei, she’s my adoptive mom. My dad and my biological mom split when I was a baby and my mom Shiwei came into our lives when I was four years old or so. So she’s been in my life for a long as I can remember,” Johnny speaks of his parents with so much fondness in his voice that Jaehyun and Kun can’t help but mirror his affectionate smile. “I remember when they got married when I was eight, I was the proud little ringbearer and all. They’re both everything I could ask for in a mom, in a parent, and my mom Shiwei has always...you know, she’s always been there for me like I’m her own son. Which I am.”

He pauses and Kun and Jaehyun give him space to stuff a mozzarella stick in his mouth and push it down with some beer.

“I wanted to make it official, though, I wanted to, you know, go the whole way. Kun, I don’t mean to presume anything, but I imagine you know what I’m talking about,” he says and a blush takes over his face. Kun shrugs and smiles as if to say something like that and Johnny nods because maybe it was different for Kun. “Well, anyway, I got my eomma to get aaaall the papers sorted and it was really complicated. Like, holy shit! I never knew it could be that hard. But I finally had some official papers in my hands and on Christmas when I was fifteen, I did the whole thing where I proposed to her with them…”

The loud coos from his two companions cut him off and he giggles, wrapped up in the memory through sharing it.

“That is the sweetest , that sounds like such a special moment,” Kun says and Johnny’s head is spinning.

“Isn’t he a real sap?”

“It was super sappy and emotional, even my eomma cried...We have videos from all of these angles cause my grandparents were there, so now my moms watch that when they miss me when I’m at school,” he laughs and thrives on the glittery happiness he’s been able to put in Kun and Jaehyun’s gazes.

As the third round of beer appears on their table, their conversation moves on to lighter things. They joke more and laugh more and Kun seems to grow more and more relaxed, the weight of the day lifting off his shoulders. 

It’s good to see him like this. Hair a little ruffled, arm thrown over Jaehyun’s chair, beer bottle hanging in his hand. There’s something so charming about the way his eyelids get droopier and his smile gets dopier. He’s so effortlessly, overwhelmingly attractive, pliant, lips shiny and red, cheeks tinted with the flush of the alcohol... He looks like the greatest man Johnny’s ever seen (he thinks, before he reels himself in and takes a deep, deep pull of his beer and vows to never revisit that thought).

Jaehyun quietly enjoys the conversation and throws in the occasional question to make Kun open up more. It’s new, it’s odd, to be at a bar and not be in the thick of the loudest crowd, to not be pouring shot after shot down his throat for the sake of getting drunk as fast as possible. 

Jaehyun likes it. It makes him happy. Once Kun drops them off at the house, he tells Johnny as much and Johnny agrees. 

There’s just something about Mr. Qian that lights up the whole world.