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how not to become icarus

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“Hey. Hey. Earth to Chanyeol.”

Chanyeol blinks. His eyes focus, and there’s Junmyeon’s face swimming before him, waving a slow hand right in front of his vision. “Huh?”

Junmyeon gives him a half-amused, half-concerned look. “You were spacing out,” he tells Chanyeol, leaning back in his cushioned seat and brushing a strand of hair off his forehead. Under the dim light, the frames of his glasses glint. “I was worried that you somehow managed to get drunk already.”

Chanyeol blinks again and stares down at his hand. There’s a wineglass gripped in his fingers, filled with rich crimson liquid, and it sloshes as he brings it up to his face.

Right. Drinking. That was a thing they were doing.

Then the full implication of Junmyeon’s words hit, and Chanyeol makes an affronted noise as he curls his fingers tighter around the stem. “Hyung, my tolerance isn’t that terrible,” he protests.

All Junmyeon does in response to that is laugh and tip his own glass back to take a sip of his drink. “Sure, sure.”

Seoul’s evening air around them is cool - surprisingly so, for a city that seems to be trying its best to edge out into summer. It wraps around Chanyeol in a soothing sort of blanket that does more to relax him than any kind of alcohol. Junmyeon’s house is large and sprawling, a classic French mansion in contrast to the modern Asian fusion of Chanyeol’s own family home, but the balcony they’re sitting on is a tiny, peaceful pocket of space, quietly cut off from the rest of the world like their own personal bubble.

Which, Chanyeol supposes, it sort of is. It’s classy and elegant and very much Junmyeon. For all the power Junmyeon holds as the head of his own company, having long moved past the heir status of chaebols like Chanyeol and Jongin, his taste for the refined has never changed. That shows more than ever here, in the circle of comfortable seats surrounding a simple glass coffee table.

He’s been invited by Sehun and Junmyeon for a night of drinks to unwind after a grueling day of company work - though Chanyeol suspects it was more just to talk. And maybe to make him play third wheel.

At least Sehun isn’t with them right now, having volunteered to grab their next round of drinks from Junmyeon’s fancy wine cellar. “I can’t believe both Jongin and Kyungsoo couldn’t come,” Chanyeol says, tracing along the rim of his wine glass and sighing. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were making excuses.”

That just makes Junmyeon aim yet another amused glance at him. “They’re just busy, Chanyeol. You know Jongin has his own company work—”

“—And Kyungsoo has his new movie to shoot. Yeah, I know. They have their own things to do.” Chanyeol gulps down another mouthful of his wine and slumps. “Doesn’t mean I can’t miss them.”

“I’m sure you’ll get to see them soon.”

Chanyeol sighs again. “I doubt it, but hopefully.”

“And anyways, you’ve been pretty busy yourself lately too, right?” Junmyeon says. He tips his wineglass in Chanyeol’s direction and raises his eyebrows, looking for all the world like some handsome, sophisticated art guru at a gallery show, and like this, Chanyeol can kind of get what Sehun sees in him. “With what you’ve been doing these days.”

“I mean, yeah. Since things at the company are also getting busier. It’s only natural.”

Junmyeon gives him a tiny smile. “Well, what I was getting at was your vacation, but that works too.”

His vacation. Of course. He should’ve known. Chanyeol scrubs a hand over his face. “Did Sehun put you up to this?”

“What do you mean?” Junmyeon asks, voice pleasant. “Sehunnie has nothing to do with my curiosity.”

That must be a yes, then. “Hyung, listen,” Chanyeol says empathetically. He puts his glass down on the table in front of him and makes a vague hand gesture. “I don’t know what he’s been telling you, but it’s probably exaggerated. Seriously. It was just a quick trip, okay?”

Because Sehun - for all his usual brattiness - has gotten on Chanyeol’s back a lot since he came back from Jeju last week. Using his best friend privilege and saying that Chanyeol’s been acting differently, or being all weird, or whatever. And, for some reason, Sehun’s determined to crack the case. Not that there even is a case to crack in the first place.

Chanyeol knows how much his friend cares about him, but this, he thinks, is the one time where Sehun’s actually wrong about him - because for all he knows, nothing’s changed since Jeju, except maybe the newfound feeling of peace in his heart that always comes after a good vacation.

That, and the fact that he and Baekhyun haven’t hooked up since the night at the villa. But that’s only because of Baekhyun’s hectic idol schedules. For the most part.

Junmyeon hmms. “Sorry, Chanyeollie,” he apologizes, as nice as ever. “I wasn’t trying to imply anything. But did you enjoy your trip?”

“I - yeah, I did.” Chanyeol blinks wistfully at where Seoul’s skyline is slowly sinking into dusk. “It was really nice. Relaxing.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I haven’t seen you in a while, but you seemed stressed the last few times I did.”

“Gee, I don’t know, hyung, I’m still sort of stressed,” Chanyeol tells him, only half joking. He takes another sip of his wine and lets the faint sweetness linger on his tongue before adding, “But I feel a lot better now.”

Junmyeon gives him a long, appraising look. It’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking behind those glasses. It makes Chanyeol fidget a little in his seat when it goes on too long, wondering if Junmyeon’s going to start on one of his inevitable I’m so old life lectures as if he’s not only two years older than him.

But all Junmyeon eventually says is, “You do look happier. Less tense.”

“Thanks?” Chanyeol tries.

“But also like you’re confused about something. Are you thinking over a problem at the company?”

Chanyeol almost drops his glass in his surprise, fingers fumbling around the stem. “Huh?” he asks dumbly.

“Just a tiny guess. Your face gives off that impression.”

“Wow, hyung. Sometimes I forget that you went to university for a psychology degree before doing your business stuff.”

That makes Junmyeon let out a laugh, hand coming up to cover his mouth as his eyes sparkle. “Sorry, sorry,” he says. “The itch still comes back to bite me sometimes.” Then he pauses. “But really, Chanyeol, is everything alright?”

And really, it’s unfair of Junmyeon to ask him like this, with imploring eyes and a tone that reminds Chanyeol so much of his mom that his skin prickles. “Everything is fine, hyung,” he says, only sounding a little stubborn as he raises his glass to his lips again.

“Are you sure?” Junmyeon’s frowning a little. “You know you can always talk to us.”

“I’m sure. I’m here with you guys, aren’t I?”

“Who’s ‘you guys’?” A voice puts in.

Chanyeol looks up, and there’s Sehun, standing over his seat and quirking an eyebrow at him with a tray of drinks in his hands. There’s three - two more glasses of red liquid, and a fancy cocktail that Sehun probably got Junmyeon’s chef to make especially for him - and a bottle of expensive-looking wine balanced in the center, because of course Sehun’s taste is as snobby as ever.

“Junmyeon hyung, obviously,” Chanyeol shoots at him, as Sehun carefully puts the tray down on the table. “And you, if you wouldn’t spend almost a century to pick up three drinks.”

“Hey, good things take time. And margaritas are definitely good things.” Sehun picks up one of the wineglasses and offers it to Junmyeon. “Here, hyung. It’s Chianti.”

“Thanks, Sehunnie,” Junmyeon says happily, letting his fingers curl around Sehun’s as he hands him the drink.

“And here. For Chanyeol hyung.” Sehun puts the other glass down in front of Chanyeol. “Chianti mixed with water. Because you’re a total lightweight.”

“You’re joking,” Chanyeol says, voice flat as Junmyeon muffles a laugh into his sleeve. “You better be joking.”

Sehun just grins at him, teasing and sharp. “Of course I am. We’re here to get drunk, aren’t we?”

That makes Junmyeon protest something about drinking responsibly, and Chanyeol watches as Sehun falls into the couch beside him and starts a good-natured round of bickering, arm settling naturally over Junmyeon’s shoulders as they trade playful arguments.

It’s so easy for them - always has been. Chanyeol still remembers back when Sehun used to call him every other night to whine about how hot the new investor he’d met at a shoot was and how good he looked in suits. They’ve come a long way since then. Sehun and Junmyeon are one of the steadiest couples he knows, and they fit with each other so well that Chanyeol wouldn’t be surprised if they stayed together forever.

It makes a warm feeling swell up in his chest as he keeps watching them, soft and tender and very much mushy, because, well, Chanyeol likes seeing his friends happy.

Even if they do make him feel lonely sometimes. But then again, they’d probably make anyone feel that way, with how touchy and all-around lovey-dovey they are.

“So,” Sehun says suddenly, pulling Chanyeol out of his embarrassing thoughts. “What were you two talking about while I wasn’t here, anyway? Trading business tips without the peasant’s presence?”

Junmyeon swats him on the shoulder. “You know it’s nothing like that.”

“Junmyeon hyung was channeling his inner psychologist and trying to read my mind,” Chanyeol answers in his best serious voice.

That only makes Sehun snort. “What’s there to read?”

“I’m happier now, according to his expertise. But also confused.”

Chanyeol sort of regrets it the moment it comes out, because Sehun straightens, curiosity piqued as he focuses his stare on Chanyeol. “Confused, you say.”

Chanyeol shrugs. “Sure.”

“Only recently? After the vacation?”

“If this is about your weird detective agenda, I’d really rather not hear it.”

“There’s no weird detective agenda!” Sehun defends, making it very clear that there is, in fact, a weird detective agenda. He sets his cocktail down to rest in his lap, fingers fiddling with the wedge of lemon at the edge of the glass. “I’m just curious. And a little worried about you. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you have been a bit weird lately.”

“Weird like how?”

“I don’t know.” Sehun flips a hand. “Just… weird.”

Chanyeol rolls his eyes and takes a sip of his new drink. It’s dry and sweet, and it settles like pure heaven on his tastebuds. “That’s not very helpful to your point.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll give you an example. Hypothetically.” Sehun stares at him harder. “It’s like you realized something but you’re trying your best to pretend you didn’t.”

That’s… specific. Chanyeol stares right back. Sehun’s gaze is direct and obvious, and he has one eyebrow raised as if prodding Chanyeol to understand.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Chanyeol finally says, because he doesn’t.

“You really don’t?”

“I really, really don’t.”

That makes Sehun slump into his seat like he’s the one who should be frustrated here. “Oh, man.”

“Sehun, I’m happy. Junmyeon hyung said so. What would I even be stressing over right now?”

“I don’t know,” Sehun says, extremely slowly. “Maybe your company? All your work? Your new music deal with that famous studio? Your relationship—”

“Wait.” At that, Junmyeon interrupts Sehun, face brightening a little as he looks over at Chanyeol. “Chanyeol, what’s this about a music deal?”

Chanyeol welcomes the subject change. He grins, straightening up in his chair with pride welling up in his chest, and starts letting Junmyeon in on the facts around his tentative new collaborator relationship with Lay Studio, weird best friends notwithstanding.

Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Sehun leaning further back into his seat. Chanyeol meets his eyes and grins wider. Whatever confusing game Sehun’s trying to play right now, he’s pretty sure that he’s won this round.

He may be a little disoriented by the whole cryptic conversation they just had, but he’ll count this as a victory.

Eventually, as dusk changes into night and their conversation flows on, Sehun does make good on his promise and gets drunk. Chanyeol makes a mental note to poke fun at him later for calling Chanyeol a lightweight when he’s this easily affected himself. Sehun’s a clingy drunk, and Junmyeon eventually has to gently untangle himself from him, making Sehun wander in tipsy circles around the spacious balcony they’re on just to clear his head.

It’s comical watching Sehun try his best to walk straight, but it gets old after a while. Chanyeol polishes off the last of his own drink and blinks. He’s starting to feel it too, honestly, head already going a bit hazy and warm as he focuses his gaze on his empty glass.

Which is why he almost doesn’t process it when Junmyeon says, “He really loves you, you know.”

The words settle a little strangely in Chanyeol’s gut. He blinks again, raising his eyes to look at Junmyeon’s face.

“Who?”

“Sehun. He probably doesn’t mean to push you, and I’m not sure why he’s doing it, but he seems to genuinely care.”

“I…” Chanyeol has no idea what to say to that. He slumps. “He’s confusing me.”

“He’s kind of confusing me too,” Junmyeon admits, but any exasperation in his voice is ruined by the soft fondness in his face as he looks at Sehun, still wobbling around the balcony like a complete mess while they talk. “He seems to know something, though. You guys didn’t have a talk or anything recently?”

Chanyeol grimaces, because they haven’t. “No. Nothing like that. This is just out of nowhere.”

“Well, Sehun’s always been really observant,” Junmyeon says thoughtfully. “Maybe he’s caught on to something we both don’t know about.”

“Like what? It’s not like I have any earth-shattering secrets. He’s my best friend.”

That makes Junmyeon’s gaze go a little more contemplative, and his voice is almost absentminded when he murmurs, “Then that’s probably the reason why he’s so hung up about it in the first place.”

And that’s enough to reduce Chanyeol to silence again. Because it’s true - Sehun’s near-telepathic best friend sense is almost never wrong where it counts, and Chanyeol’s long since gotten used to not being able to hide anything from him. Whether it’s a bad day he had at work or some doubts about his music, he’s pretty much doomed to always getting his mind read by Sehun and, eventually, being prodded into talking it out with him. Most times, Chanyeol’s grateful for it.

But this time is different, because he has no idea what Sehun’s been trying to get at at all. Chanyeol hasn’t come across any serious bumps or hurdles with the company recently. He’s nervous about the studio collaboration, but not enough for it to be something to worry about. And he hasn’t even done much besides casual meet-ups with Sehun since coming back from Jeju. Before Jeju, there was only the cafe date and the song he hastily showed Sehun on his laptop, but…

“Hey,” a mumbled voice says, breaking Chanyeol out of his thoughts, and he looks up to see a very much intoxicated Sehun half-collapsing into the couch beside Junmyeon. “You guys are - you’re talking without me again.”

Junmyeon ruffles an affectionate hand through Sehun’s hair. It’s a testament to how drunk Sehun is that he doesn’t even complain about his style getting messed up. “We didn’t say much. How come you stopped walking?”

“Couldn’t… focus. Too cold.”

“It’s almost June,” Chanyeol cuts in, amused.

Sehun burrows his face into Junmyeon’s shoulder and fists a hand in his neat shirt. “Still cold. And the wind’s mean.”

“Why is the wind mean?” Junmyeon asks patiently.

“Keeps trying to cut my face.”

“Holy shit, he’s such a lightweight,” Chanyeol stage-whispers to Junmyeon across the table, watching Junmyeon’s mouth curl up into something of a reluctantly entertained smile. Sehun doesn’t even hear him - just cuddles closer to Junmyeon and loops his arms around his waist, nuzzling into his boyfriend’s back like the baby kitten he very much is not.

His black hair flops over Junmyeon’s neck as he does it. Chanyeol has no idea how Junmyeon is so patient. It must be itchy beyond belief.

“Listen,” Sehun says abruptly, pulling his face out of Junmyeon’s shoulder and blinking. “You know what’s really, really ridiculous?”

Chanyeol and Junmyeon exchange a look. “What?” Chanyeol says.

“I’ve never - I haven’t been to Paris. Even though I’m a model.”

Chanyeol snorts, just a little. He can’t help it. “What a tragedy.”

“I know,” Sehun says with feeling, sarcasm completely flying over his head in his drunken state. “It’s like some… rule of the universe or something. Models, and Paris is fashion - a fashion capital. I should go.” He blinks again, then turns to Junmyeon and complains, “It’s ridiculous, right?”

“Right,” Junmyeon agrees, indulging Sehun only because he’s whipped. “Absolutely.”

Sehun nods and buries his face into Junmyeon’s shoulder again. “I should go,” he repeats.

All Junmyeon does is smile down at him, so soft and fond that Chanyeol almost feels like he’s intruding just by watching them. “I could take you. I’ll take you to Paris as much as you want once you get a break. How does that sound?”

“Really?”

“Of course. Other cities, too. What about Venice? Los Angeles?” Junmyeon reaches over and tucks a strand of Sehun’s hair behind his ear. “Want to go there?”

Sehun scrunches his face up, considering. “Only if we don’t use your dumb private jet,” he says, serious despite the slight slurring of his words. “Because you know. About the - the cab - the carb—”

“The carbon footprint,” Chanyeol says helpfully, remembering Baekhyun’s words to him on his own jet.

“Yeah. That.” Sehun’s head drops into the crook of Junmyeon’s neck again. “Fuck planes.”

Chanyeol meets Junmyeon’s eyes across the table once more, and this time he has to try very hard not to laugh as Sehun shifts and mumbles more nonsense into the fabric of Junmyeon’s shirt.

He watches them like that, for a while, even though the whole scene almost feels too private for him to observe. Junmyeon keeps stroking his fingers through Sehun’s hair, listening to whatever he’s saying and murmuring more soft words back as he dips his head low enough to hear. They’re fit together so closely that Chanyeol can barely tell where one ends and the other begins. It’s terrifyingly intimate.

There’s a pang in Chanyeol’s chest all of a sudden, and he thinks, again, about how easy and natural it comes to them both. It’s so simple for them, despite everything - the demanding, high-strung tension of Sehun’s model career, the weight of Junmyeon’s investment company on his shoulders. They stick together through it with what seems like no effort at all. And Chanyeol, for all his terrible track records with relationships… kind of wants that too.

Scratch that. He does want it. With such startling intensity that it suddenly makes his chest shaky.

Chanyeol’s heart lurches, because even he didn’t realize he craved it so much, something like Sehun and Junmyeon’s, something tender and loving and so steady that it hurts. Something like what he has with Baekhyun, but permanent.

Only - why is he thinking of Baekhyun now? Now, of all times, when they’ve barely even spoken since coming back from Jeju. Now, when what he’s thinking about is a relationship like his friends’. Not the kind of fiery, impulsive, on-and-off hook-up thing Chanyeol’s gotten into with Baekhyun.

Because that’s what it is. Fiery. And impulsive. A temporary fix.

Right.

“Sehunnie,” Chanyeol hears through the sudden dizziness in his mind, and he blinks back into focus to see Junmyeon carefully patting Sehun on one shoulder. “Are you good?”

“Perfect,” Sehun mutters, obviously not perfect.

“You should get to sleep now. It’s late. You can stay in one of the guest rooms with Chanyeollie.”

That makes Sehun let out a petulant noise. “Noooo. I don’t want to.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” Sehun says, glaring at Chanyeol with one baleful eye from where he’s still leaning against Junmyeon. It might’ve been intimidating if he wasn’t so red he looked like a grilled lobster. “He’s stupid.”

“Wow,” Chanyeol says dryly. “Are you five?”

“No, you are,” Sehun tells him, because apparently alcohol reduces all his comebacks to second-grader insults. He rolls off of Junmyeon and slouches into the other end of the couch, smushing his face into the armrest.

“Okay, pray tell. Why am I stupid?”

“Because. You’re in… uh…” Sehun squints, then finally decides, “Denial.”

That catches Chanyeol off guard. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t tell you. ‘Cause you’re stupid. And you won’t get it.”

“Hey! You’re the one who’s—”

Junmyeon pointedly clears his throat. “Alright, children,” he says, voice tinted with amusement as he pulls Sehun’s arm to get him to straighten up again. “Time to head to bed. Sehunnie, you’ll live if you sleep near Chanyeol for one night. I can give you two separate rooms.” Junmyeon glances at Chanyeol, and his eyes are sparkling with mischief as he adds, “Besides, he isn’t that stupid.”

“Isn’t that stupid?” Chanyeol protests. “Hyung—”

Junmyeon lets out a laugh. “You know I’m joking.” He yanks Sehun upright when he starts to fall sideways again, tsk-ing at the way he’s already dozing off where he sits.

“Do you have any idea what Sehun’s talking about, though? When he said ‘denial’?”

“None,” Junmyeon says genially.

“Really? Because I don’t—”

“Chanyeol.” Junmyeon’s eyes meet his, exasperated but still as fond as they always are. “I may be dating him, but I promise I don’t understand his strange schemes any more than you do. Now—” he pulls at Sehun’s arm again, steadying him with both hands at his shoulders. “Do you mind helping me get this man-child off to bed?”

Chanyeol looks at his best friend. He’s already mostly asleep, eyebrows furrowed under his messy hair, mouth open as he breathes in and out.

“Sure,” he says, and thinks: You better be ready to explain, Oh Sehun.

 

---

 

Chanyeol - for maybe the first time all year - doesn’t wake up to his phone alarm for once. Instead, he wakes up to what’s probably the worst headache he’s ever had, pounding through his skull with such ferocity that he instantly groans and rolls over to plant his face into his pillow.

Not that it helps. All it does is make the ache press harder against his temple. Chanyeol winces and rolls back again, staring at the ceiling as his vision sways and focuses.

Screw hangover mornings.

Junmyeon’s home is as nice as it’s ever been, all clean, wide-open space and classic French windows, and it’s a damn shame that Chanyeol can’t appreciate the guest room for what it is. At least he can tell by the sunlight streaming through the tall curtains that it’s already well past morning. That means that Junmyeon, with his freakishly good alcohol tolerance, is probably already sitting in his dining room with a table of brunch and rolling his eyes over how late Chanyeol and Sehun are sleeping.

Because Chanyeol knows his best friend, and there’s no way he’s gotten up before Chanyeol has. Not with how drunk he was last night.

The thought makes Chanyeol stumble out of bed with a kind of competitive determination, heading straight towards the nearest bathroom and pulling on his rumpled shirt on the way.

Only, by the time he pushes open the frosted glass door, Sehun’s already bent over a sink as he scrubs out his mouth with a toothbrush. “Good morning,” he says to Chanyeol. He spits out a patch of minty foam and raises an eyebrow as he looks up. “How did you sleep?”

The words are casual, but there’s a hoarseness to Sehun’s voice and a grimace in his expression, and Chanyeol only manages a dry laugh as he makes his way over to the other sink. “Terrible,” he mutters, opening up one of the cabinets where he knows Junmyeon keeps spare toothbrushes.

Sehun lets out a pained sigh. “That makes two of us.”

“I’m not surprised, with how out of it you were last night.” Chanyeol squeezes out a dollop of toothpaste. “What did you get the poor chef to put in that margarita, anyway?”

“Now that’s a secret I’ll never tell.”

Chanyeol snorts. He sticks his toothbrush in his mouth and watches Sehun pat toner onto his face through the mirror. “If you say so.”

They stay in comfortable silence for a while, going through their morning routines with the kind of easy familiarity that only people who’ve known each other for ages would have. Chanyeol still cringes at every pound of his hangover headache against his skull. He massages his forehead as he brushes his teeth, a futile attempt to force his brain to get it together, before giving up and just doing the best he can while the nausea brews in his gut.

Eventually, Sehun breaks the silence by leaning against the tiled wall and saying, “Hey.”

“Huh?” Chanyeol mumbles, looking at him through the mirror again. His face is shiny with moisturizer.

“Did I do anything really dumb last night?”

That makes Chanyeol snort again. He turns on the tap and starts filling a cup with water. “You stumbled in circles around the balcony for, like, twenty minutes straight.”

“Okay,” Sehun concedes. “That’s not so bad.”

“You almost cried to both of us because you were upset about never having gone to Paris.”

“Well—”

“You told Junmyeon hyung to fuck his private jet,” Chanyeol interrupts, pausing to rinse out his mouth.

“I what?”

The sheer bemusement in Sehun’s voice almost makes Chanyeol choke on a laugh. “Just kidding,” he says, wiping his chin on the back of his hand. “You kind of did, but indirectly. Never call me a lightweight again. Oh, and—” All of a sudden, he remembers what he was so determined to wheedle out of Sehun last night. “You said something weird to me.”

Sehun, when Chanyeol turns to look at him, is combing out his hair with a thick wooden brush. “I did?”

“Yeah. You told me that I’m stupid and in denial.” Chanyeol puts his cup under the stream of tap water to wash it out. “What did you mean by that?”

Silence. Chanyeol chances another glance back, through the mirror, and gets to watch Sehun’s brush stop halfway through his hair.

“I said that?” he asks, something odd in his voice.

“Yeah, but I’m not offended. I just wanted to know why. It was pretty out of nowhere.”

Sehun’s silent for a long moment again, so much so that Chanyeol finishes washing his face and towelling it dry before turning back to look at him. His best friend has his arms crossed over his chest, and he’s gazing at Chanyeol with a vaguely contemplative expression. It’s so much like Junmyeon that it’s almost scary.

Finally, Sehun says, “Okay, look.” He puts his brush down and faces Chanyeol head on. “I’m going to be kind of blunt about this, because I’m your best friend and I care about you, so don’t blame me, okay?”

Sehun’s staring at him with so much seriousness that it actually kind of terrifies Chanyeol. “I - okay,” he answers, slow and very much hesitant. “Go ahead.”

“Okay,” Sehun echoes. He crosses his arms again. “It’s about Byun Baekhyun.”

Chanyeol blinks. That wasn’t what he was expecting. “What about Baekhyun?”

“What I said about you being in denial. It’s about him.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, geez.” Sehun drops his arms and frowns. “Do I have to spell it out? Listen, hyung, if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, but I really don’t think I am with what you’ve seemed like recently—”

“Sehun,” Chanyeol says, sounding - for lack of a better way to phrase it - completely fucking baffled. “What are you talking about?”

There’s a beat. A very long one.

Then Sehun visibly gives up and says, “I’m talking about you being in love with Byun Baekhyun.”

Chanyeol drops his cup on the floor. Thankfully, it’s plastic, so all it does is bounce and clatter noisily a few times before rolling to a stop near the wall.

Not that he even has the mental capacity to care about that, with how all the breath seems to have whooshed out of his lungs at Sehun’s words. “You’re talking about what?” Chanyeol says, voice going so high-pitched that it’s almost mortifying. “I - what?

“I said I’m talking about you being in—”

“Don’t repeat it!” Chanyeol’s voice cracks in the middle of the sentence. “Sehun, what the fuck? Where did you get that impression? I just - what?

Sehun blinks at him, infuriatingly calm. “Is that an actual question or a rhetorical one?”

“Both! What are you even—”

“Well, there’s the part where you chose to get into that kind of relationship in the first place,” Sehun tells him, all nonchalant like he’s answering an exam question instead of ruining Chanyeol’s life. “And then how you stuck with it even with the risks. And how you two spend way too much time together for just hookups.” Sehun’s brows knit together. “Then there’s the Jeju trip you took him on, and how off you’ve been since you came back—”

Chanyeol’s head is spinning. He can barely even process what Sehun’s saying. “Off how?” he manages weakly, swallowing around the sudden dryness in his throat.

“I don’t know, just off. Like something happened but you refuse to acknowledge it.”

A memory of Baekhyun’s starlight-tinted tears rises up in Chanyeol’s mind again, but he pushes it away with a vengeance. “That doesn’t mean—”

“And that love song you wrote,” Sehun says suddenly, like he’s just remembered it. “The one you let me listen to. That’s what made me start thinking about this at all.”

“Sehun, I don’t…”

Chanyeol realizes, belatedly, that he has no idea how to finish that sentence. He feels like he’s been hit with a cannonball - like he’s been struck in the chest and left to learn how to breathe all over again.

Sehun just looks at him, something soft and a little apologetic in his gaze. “Hyung,” he says, voice quiet. “Listen. Like I said, if I’m wrong then I’m wrong, and I’m sorry for freaking you out. But…” he hesitates. “Can you think about it for a second? Just by yourself.”

“Sehun—”

“Chanyeol hyung,” Sehun says, and gives him a meaningful look.

If this were any other time, Chanyeol might’ve protested about how Sehun only ever uses the honorific when he’s trying to get Chanyeol to do something. But as it is, this is not like any other time. This is whiplash, an activated flight instinct, and a moderate heart attack all rolled into one. This is Chanyeol’s pulse beating through his veins so fast that he’s almost dizzy with it.

But there’s something serious in Sehun’s stare, and a determined press to his mouth, and Chanyeol can hear his words as clearly as if he said them again. Think about it for a second.

So Chanyeol falls silent and thinks.

It’s ridiculous, he tells himself, because he doesn’t lo— like Baekhyun. At least, not in the way Sehun’s getting at. Even just thinking about that L word and Baekhyun in the same context now kind of makes Chanyeol want to curl up in the fetal position, because, well, they’re not like that. Far from it.

Baekhyun’s just… complicated. And intense. And really, really hot, a complete heartbreaker who practically has his own gravitational pull on the stage, a celebrity famous enough to get people talking with a single flick of his pretty fingers. And the worst thing about him is that he knows it. He’s infuriating, and impossible, and so good at teasing Chanyeol that it’s maddening. He’s a tyrant wrapped in the disguise of a flirt.

But at the same time, Baekhyun’s more than that: someone strong enough to make it to the top and stay there, someone who took Chanyeol by the shoulders and pushed him all the way to his dream. Someone soft and warm in the mornings, when he’s leaning on Chanyeol’s chest with no makeup on and his red hair in a messy heap. He’s still an idol-shaped problem in Chanyeol’s head even now, and he’s irresistible and also insatiable, which is a terrible combination for both Chanyeol’s heart and his stamina. He invades Chanyeol’s space with no shame at all. He lounges around Chanyeol’s apartment like it’s his own, and he’s the relentless, greedy thorn in Chanyeol’s side - but at the same time, he’s the person Chanyeol spends the most time around these days, the man who let diamond tears trail down his face in Jeju, the one who crashed into Chanyeol’s life like a fiery meteor but stayed like a supernova, and Byun Baekhyun is also, sort of, kind of, maybe… everything Chanyeol never even knew he wanted.

Because he does want Baekhyun. And - fuck.

“Fuck,” Chanyeol says aloud, with feeling. “Wait, I—” Maybe he should curl up in the fetal position after all. There’s something hot and alight and buzzing starting up beneath Chanyeol’s skin, and it spreads throughout his body with the gut-churning sweep of a tidal wave. “What the fuck?”

“You thought about it,” Sehun says, and it doesn’t sound like a question.

“Yeah. I just - oh my god.” Chanyeol sits down heavily at the edge of Junmyeon’s enormous marble bathtub. “Fuck,” he repeats, feeling a half-hysterical laugh almost bubble up in his chest.

Because what was he even doing. How did this even happen to him, subtly and then all at once like a thunderstorm? Sehun was right - he’s a fool in denial. He’s been in love with Baekhyun since at least the stupid Pann article and he didn’t even know.

The thought of it, even just barely, makes the nausea in Chanyeol’s gut roil all over again. “I can’t believe this,” he says, voice weak as he drops his head in his hands. “How did you even - Sehun, you never even met him.”

“I know.” Sehun’s steps come closer. “But I didn’t have to. It wasn’t hard to tell.”

“Not to me.”

There’s a touch to his shoulder, and when Chanyeol looks up again, Sehun’s smiling a weary, grim smile as he says, “Call it best friend intuition.”

That makes Chanyeol actually laugh a little, though it sounds feeble even to himself. “You knew before me. That’s…” He stares down at his fingers. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Sehun tells him, still so soft. “At least, not to me.”

“I don’t get it. You didn’t even see us together. All you ever heard about him was from me.”

Sehun quiets at that. Then his hand comes up to squeeze at Chanyeol’s tense shoulder.

“I heard your song,” he finally says, like that’s enough for him to realize all of Chanyeol’s feelings before Chanyeol even did himself - and maybe it is.

It makes Chanyeol breathe out a laugh again, if not a very good one. They just sit like that, for a while, while Chanyeol tries to calm down the vague panic still fizzing in the pit of his stomach. He feels like he wants to jump out of his own skin. He’s terrible at dealing with this. His relationship with Baekhyun was a messy chemical reaction right from the start, and Chanyeol is the element that just won’t stop reacting.

But that was even before he found out he was in love with him, and that’s just—

“Sehun,” Chanyeol blurts, frantic all of a sudden. “I don’t - I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.”

Sehun glances at him. His expression is still careful, but there’s also some of that usual signature deadpan returning to his face. A good sign. Probably. “Isn’t that obvious, hyung?”

“I can’t do anything about it. He’s… it’s…”

“If you’re trying to say that he won’t care, I’m going to have to stop you there.” Sehun’s hand comes down to grip around Chanyeol’s wrist, an anchor. “Listen. I don’t know him, but he’s stuck with you for this long even though your thing getting out would be suicide for his career. He kept seeing you, and for some reason I doubt it was just because of the sex. No offense.”

Chanyeol splutters. “Hey—”

“And if what you told me is true, he connected you to a famous producer just because you told him about how you want to write music,” Sehun continues on, barrelling right through Chanyeol’s protests. “That’s not what hookups do. That’s a huge thing even for friends. And I haven’t even counted all the time you two spent in Jeju Island.”

“But…”

“No buts,” Sehun says firmly, and Chanyeol snaps his mouth shut, stunned speechless by his best friend’s rant. It’s disorienting. Sehun turns to face him, staring into his eyes with a startling intensity. “You know what you should do, right?”

And - Chanyeol swallows. He does know. But it also terrifies him. He still feels hot and cold all over, and he’s a whole romantic movie cliche stuck in a mansion, sitting at the edge of a bathtub but feeling more like he’s hanging off a cliff over empty, muted nothingness.

“I can’t,” he whispers.

“You can.” Sehun’s fingers curl around his hand. His gaze is rock-steady when he says, “You need to tell him, hyung.”

 

---

 

The Park family mansion is just as enormous and sharp-edged as ever. Chanyeol walks the long way up the driveway and to the front entrance, feeling sort of like a visiting guest instead of someone returning to their home.

It’s only because he’s spent so much time at his own apartment these days, by-product of the whole mess he’s gotten himself into and all that, but after his and Sehun’s talk in Junmyeon’s bathroom, Chanyeol couldn’t possibly imagine going back there again. It just made him feel vaguely nauseous in a way that wasn’t all because of his hangover. Going back to the penthouse, where his music sheets are still strewn over the piano, where every fold and crease of his bedsheets reminds him of Baekhyun’s body - well, Chanyeol’s never claimed to be brave. He’s not quite ready to face the proof of his helpless feelings yet.

There’s still that restless, panicky buzzing under his skin as Chanyeol unlocks the door and lets himself into the mansion, and he has to resist the urge to shake it off as he walks down the halls.

Chanyeol skipped breakfast in the morning. Mainly due to the fact that he was too caught up in his newly-realized crisis to even think about joining Junmyeon and Sehun at the table in their huge, high-ceilinged dining room. Which is why - when he steps into the living area and sees his mom bustling around the open kitchen - he thinks he must be suffering from some sort of hunger-induced hallucination.

But then he blinks. His mom is still there. He drops his bag on the couch, and she hears the noise and turns, face breaking into a warm smile as soon as she sees her son.

“Chanyeol!” she calls out. She wipes her hand on her apron and beams at him. “It’s so nice to see you. You haven’t been here in a while.”

“Hi, Mom,” Chanyeol says, baffled.

“I know you have your own things to take care of, though, so I understand. I haven’t been around much either, honestly—”

Mom.” Chanyeol slowly walks over until he’s standing just beside the kitchen island. “What are you doing in the kitchen?”

At that, his mom’s cheeks go pink a little, and she clears her throat. “I know we let the chef do most of the work these days, but I can still cook, you know,” she tells him, voice stern as she adjusts her hair bun. She shrugs. “I thought I’d make lunch for myself today. Just so I don’t get rusty.”

Like this, Chanyeol can see the woman he remembers from his childhood - less sharp pantsuits and more cookie-dough-scented sweaters. He sees her tall silhouette standing in front of the stove, humming along to the songs on the radio, stirring a pan with the exact same focus that she now directs towards spreadsheets and profit margins.

Both versions are undeniably his mother, but it does make Chanyeol a little nostalgic.

“You could never get rusty to me,” he says truthfully.

“Such a flatterer.” Chanyeol’s mom winks at him as she turns around again. “That means you can help me out.”

Chanyeol pretends to groan as he slumps over the counter, but he has to hide a smile when his mom laughs at his dramatic antics, clear and open without a care in the world.

They work side by side for a while like that: preparing the pasta ingredients Chanyeol’s mom has laid out in perfect mother-son unison. It’s just as nice as that morning in Chanyeol’s apartment that now seems like forever ago. Chanyeol’s missed this, too. Not cooking, because he does that enough for himself, but cooking with his mom, absorbing her quiet, concentrated aura as she dices tomatoes and measures out olive oil.

“So,” his mom says suddenly, just as Chanyeol’s grating cheese into a glass bowl. “I didn’t get to ask. How was Jeju?”

Chanyeol’s hand slips. He’s lucky his finger doesn’t get grated, too.

“Jeju,” he repeats weakly, feeling all the nervous buzzing return to his body again. He almost managed to forget about everything in his focus on the cooking. “Right.”

Chanyeol’s mom sets down her spoon and turns to smile at him again. “Did you have a good trip? How was the villa?”

“Yeah. It was… nice.”

If Chanyeol’s mom notices the strange tone to his voice, she doesn’t mention it. All she does is quirk her mouth a little more. Her smile goes teasing.

Chanyeol only has about a second to think oh, no before she says, “And did your cute boyfriend like it?”

There it is. Chanyeol puts the cheese grater down. His stomach starts swarming with something that feels more like ricocheting bats than butterflies.

He’s forgotten, almost, that his mom is definitely still assuming Baekhyun’s his boyfriend because of the morning she caught them at his apartment. But it’s not like he could’ve denied it without embarrassing himself before - and it’s even more of a complicated mess right now. So Chanyeol just swallows, tries to steady his heartbeat, and answers, “He did.”

Chanyeol’s mom’s smile turns into something soft and so happy Chanyeol’s chest aches. “That’s good to hear,” she says to him, looking down at her tomato-stained hands. “I’m really glad you’re happy, Chanyeol.”

If only she knew. Chanyeol has to stare down into the bowl in front of him.

“How did you know I decided to take him?” he asks, gut clenching a little when his mom glances up.

“I just had a feeling.”

“But… you didn’t… how were you so sure?”

It’s a pointless question - Chanyeol asks it mostly just to distract himself, because the delight in his mother’s eyes at his white lie is almost too much to bear. But then his mom wipes her hands again and turns to face him, a strand of greying hair falling over her forehead as she meets his gaze.

“Well,” she murmurs, and she says it easily, naturally, like it holds no weight at all. “You love him, right?”

 

---

 

To her credit, Taeyeon makes it almost all the way through her usual makeup routine before she snaps. She puts down the brow pencil in her hand, capping it with about three times more force than necessary, and says, “Okay, what is up with you?”

Baekhyun just blinks up at her. “What do you mean?” he tries.

“What do you mean, what do I mean? You’ve been acting like a zombie all day. It’s not a good look.” Taeyeon taps his head and gets Baekhyun to look down again. “And don’t even try to deny it,” she adds savagely when Baekhyun opens his mouth. “You’ve barely said a word since you came in. Minseok spilled his coffee on his shirt earlier, and you didn’t even crack a smile.”

Any other time, Baekhyun would’ve protested the sentiment - he’s not mean enough to take that much joy in one of his manager’s fuck-ups - but he’d be hard-pressed to do it right now, when Taeyeon’s looking down at him with eyes sharp enough to cut glass. So Baekhyun just blows out a breath and slumps into his seat.

“I’m fine,” he tells her, trying to settle in a more comfortable position. “You can keep going.”

“Don’t try to—”

Noona. I’m just tired.”

Taeyeon obviously doesn’t believe him, but at least she’s decent enough to not push it any further. “Right,” she says dubiously. She picks up her brow pencil. “If you say so.”

And then she goes back to drawing out Baekhyun’s left eyebrow, so Baekhyun tips his head back, closing his eyes and focusing on the light brush of the point against his skin.

He’s in his dressing room preparing for yet another photoshoot - one that’s actually for his own activities, this time. Turns out that the schedules Minseok was stressing out about were comeback schedules. Baekhyun didn’t even get any time to breathe after Jeju or anything, because he was swept into one of SM’s meeting rooms the moment he landed in Seoul, and by the time he came out, his head was spinning with album concepts and schedule preparations with no room for any of the confusing emotions he felt during the trip.

Which is probably a good thing, now that Baekhyun thinks about it. He’s been so busy this week that he’s had no time to contact Chanyeol. Not that he even knows what he would say. Hey, sorry I haven’t been up for sex recently, I’m just freaking out like a weirdo because you were being too nice to me?

Right.

Unfortunately, while Taeyeon’s nice enough to let Baekhyun be as she keeps doing his makeup, Jongdae has known him for far longer and therefore has no such reservations when he barges into the dressing room just as Taeyeon’s finishing up. “Oh, wow,” he says the moment he spots Baekhyun, dropping his bag into a chair as he steps through the door. “What happened to you?”

Taeyeon makes a disgruntled noise. “You can still tell?”

“Only because I’m his best friend. Don’t worry, you did a good job.” Jongdae shuts the door behind him and blinks at Baekhyun. “Did something go on in Jeju or what?”

God. Of course Jongdae would hit the nail on the head right away. Baekhyun tries his best not to grimace. “No.”

“Jeju?” Taeyeon echoes.

Jongdae comes further into the room, then leans against the wall, right off to the side from the vanity Baekhyun’s in front of. “Seriously, what’s up?” he says, eyebrows climbing up his forehead. “You look tired.”

“Because I am.”

“Did something happen with Chanyeol?”

“No,” Baekhyun says far too quickly, right as Taeyeon repeats, “Chanyeol?”

And it’s a total mess - Jongdae’s staring at Baekhyun with something almost uncomfortably knowing in his eyes, while Taeyeon looks confused beyond belief, still standing there with a powder brush between her fingers. Baekhyun’s too worn out to deal with this. He drops his head onto the back of his chair, then exhales to let out some of the tension in his chest.

“It’s nothing, okay,” Baekhyun says, pointedly glancing at Jongdae out of the corner of his eye. “You know better than anyone how comeback preparations are. I’m exhausted.”

Jongdae crosses his arms. “Come on, I can tell it’s more than that.”

“Well, you’re telling wrong.”

“I’m not. If Chanyeol did something—”

Taeyeon interrupts them there. “Wait, I’m confused. What does Park Chanyeol have to do with any of this?”

“Nothing,” Baekhyun says, at the exact same time Jongdae mutters, “Everything.”

Silence. Taeyeon just stares at them. Baekhyun coughs and meets Jongdae’s gaze by complete accident, and a strange urge to laugh wells up in his throat as soon as he catches the wince in Jongdae’s expression. Leave it up to them to manage this kind of unlucky, perfect synchronization.

“Okay,” Taeyeon finally says, voice dry. “Well, I think that’s my cue to head out.” She starts gathering up her tools and cosmetics on the table and sweeping them into her bag. “I still have a few rookies to take care of, so sadly, I’ll be missing whatever you guys will be debating about this time. Baekhyun, try not to ruin your face any more. Have fun.”

And then she’s hoisting her bag over her shoulder and calling out “Bye!” as she leaves, blonde hair whipping over her back.

The door slams shut behind her. Immediately, Jongdae turns on Baekhyun.

“Spill. Why do you look like Minseok hyung when he’s trying to figure out how much coffee he can drink at once?”

Baekhyun snorts. “It’s the pre-comeback glow,” he answers sarcastically, and laughs when Jongdae rolls his eyes so hard they look like they might pop out of his head. “No, but seriously. It’s nothing, okay?” Baekhyun flips a hand. “I really am tired. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Do you realize how weird those two sentences sound together?” Jongdae sighs and drops his arms. “Baekhyun, I know I haven’t seen you since you came back, but I can tell when something’s wrong, okay? Like it or not, I am still your friend.”

“Taeyeon’s my friend and she left me alone,” Baekhyun mumbles, leaning over to check on his makeup in the mirror.

“Taeyeon’s your weird ex-slash-makeup-artist person.”

Baekhyun doesn’t even want to get into that can of worms. “Why are you here, anyway?” he asks, glancing at Jongdae through the mirror as he runs his fingers along his hair.

Jongdae walks over to one of the seats near the door and drops into it, settling back against the upholstery. “I’m in for a recording session. Thought I would visit you and all, since I’m all done and we haven’t met up in a while.” He sighs dramatically. “Though it looks like you don’t appreciate it.”

“I appreciate it fine,” Baekhyun protests. He squints into the mirror as he fixes one of his earrings. “Just not when you’re so nosy.”

Jongdae makes an offended noise. “I’m worried about you!”

“Why? Since I’m tired? Because in that case, I think you’re about six years too late to the occasion.”

“No, wait.” When Baekhyun looks over at him, Jongdae’s got his chin propped up in his hand like some modern Michelangelo statue. “I’m turning on my best friend sense,” he says seriously, raising an arm to draw a square in the air around Baekhyun, “and it says you’re twenty percent tired and eighty percent something else.” He pauses. “Plus, Minseok hyung mentioned you’ve been acting off since you came back last week.”

Damn Minseok. Baekhyun slumps a little further into his seat. “I’ve been tired since last week.”

Baekhyun.”

Jongdae. I don’t know what you’re getting at, but I’m more than fine, okay? Jeju was—” he hesitates for only a millisecond. Not enough for Jongdae to catch. “—Good. I’m just down because I have to go back to work. That’s all.”

For a moment, Baekhyun thinks Jongdae isn’t going to let it go. He’s staring at Baekhyun with something concerned and defiant and contemplating in his expression all at once, and it’s making Baekhyun’s skin prickle.

But then Jongdae lets out a breath. “Alright,” he says, dropping his hand and tucking it back into his side. “I’ll leave it. If you’re sure.”

“I am,” Baekhyun says, relieved.

“But it really has nothing - nothing at all - to do with Jeju?”

And that’s what makes Baekhyun go quiet, despite everything, because, well - he’s never been great at lying to his best friend. Especially not when Jongdae’s all serious like this, looking at Baekhyun like he can see right through all the makeup Taeyeon’s swept on him, all the guards and poker faces he’s put up. It’s unsettling.

But Baekhyun’s even worse at telling the truth. He can’t answer Jongdae’s question about this. He can’t really tell him what’s wrong and what’s right, or let him in on the confused feelings he’s been having ever since he stepped off Chanyeol’s fancy private jet, Chanyeol’s kiss still lingering on his mouth, Chanyeol’s words stuck like a burning mark in his head.

Because Baekhyun can barely understand it all himself.

So he says, “No, nothing,” and tries to ignore the pang in his chest when he sees Jongdae instantly relax.

 

---

 

Baekhyun, in all his years of being a top idol, has seen enough luxury hotels to last a lifetime. They’re always the same basic template slightly modified over and over again - clean marble walls and floors, exotic flowers arranged in careful, deliberate patterns, maybe a fountain in the front lobby if the designers are feeling fancy.

This one checks off all three and then some more. Baekhyun gets more than enough time to see it all as he wanders through the hallways. The ballroom he was in earlier had been all modern elegance and bright, high ceilings, and it’s the same everywhere else on the first floor, where the ground is so shiny Baekhyun can practically see his own reflection in it. It’s quiet for the evening, so whatever high-profile guests are here don’t pay Baekhyun any mind as they check in at the front desk.

That’s a good thing. Baekhyun doesn’t have a mask on. He’s here for yet another media event, this time a smaller, more low-key one that’s celebrating the launch of some new SM subdivision in Seoul. Because of course his company wouldn’t pass up any chance to show off their idols.

It’s also not nearly as fun as the gala, which is why Baekhyun slipped out halfway through the dinner, went to take a walk around the lobby, and is now trying his best to look like he knows where he’s going.

Honestly. Why do luxury hotels always make their halls into mazes?

He’s about to give up and make a shameful call to Minseok - trying not to think about the lecture he’ll probably receive - when he rounds the corner and sees Park Chanyeol.

Baekhyun stops in his tracks. Something in his lungs catches embarrassingly, and he has to swallow as he just stares at the other man. Chanyeol’s not looking in his direction; he’s fiddling with his phone as he walks down the length of the lobby, hair falling over his forehead in soft, dark waves.

He’s got a mask pulled down his chin and a hoodie too big for him around his shoulders. Even so, his figure is undeniable.

Baekhyun suddenly has no idea what he’s supposed to do, still frozen in his spot like he’s someone who’s just seen their high school ex or something. Which is ridiculous, because he’s not. The last time he saw Chanyeol was barely a week ago. They’ve barely texted since then, sure, but it doesn’t explain why Baekhyun’s so inexplicably nervous all of a sudden - or why, as he stands there, he feels his heartbeat start to go hummingbird-fast in his chest.

There’s five more seconds of stupid, pointless panic before Chanyeol looks up, sees Baekhyun, and his footsteps stop.

The ensuing stare they hold is one of the most confusing moments of Baekhyun’s whole life.

For some reason, what looks like a billion different expressions flash across Chanyeol’s face before he settles on a small, tentative smile. He gives a tiny wave before resuming his steps, and the time it takes for him to walk over seems longer than a movie. Baekhyun’s gut does something dumb and quivery as soon as Chanyeol stops in front of him. It’s distressing.

“Hi,” Chanyeol says, and his voice is so quiet.

Baekhyun clears his throat. “Hi.”

“What are you doing here? You’re not covered up.”

That, at least, is a question he has the answer to. “Launch event,” he says. “For my company.” He rubs his fingers along the hem of his pressed shirt, and Chanyeol’s eyes follow the movement. “It’s a courtesy more than anything, but I still have to dress well.”

“Oh.” Chanyeol blinks and looks back up. “You look nice.”

He sounds as genuine as ever, and it makes something shiver in Baekhyun’s stomach. “Thanks.”

It’s weird. It’s so weird. There’s a charged, restless tension between them, and Baekhyun has no idea why. It’s not the same type of flash-fire chemistry he felt at the gala; far from it. It’s hushed, strange, and just… impossible to define.

It makes Baekhyun want to speak again, if only to break the silence. “What about you?” he asks abruptly. “Are you here for something related to the company?”

It’s a good guess, he thinks - he doesn’t know if Chanyeol’s family business extends to hotels, but it doesn’t seem too unlikely. But Chanyeol shakes his head. “No,” he says, ducking his head a little. “I’m living here now.”

That wasn’t what Baekhyun expected. “What? Here?”

“Yeah. I booked a room. My mom’s using the mansion as a meeting venue tonight, and I can’t stay in my apartment.”

“How come?”

Chanyeol looks off to the side and shrugs a shoulder. “Renovations,” he explains vaguely, and leaves it at that.

Despite everything, Baekhyun’s lips pull up a little. Seeing Chanyeol flustered for seemingly no reason makes everything feel sort of normal again. “What, like adding another Jacuzzi?”

Chanyeol doesn’t take the bait. “Something like that.”

And then they fall into silence again, broken only by the gurgling sounds of the fountain in the middle of the hotel’s way-too-fancy lobby room.

Baekhyun takes the time to observe Chanyeol. He’s still staring towards the side, absentmindedly running his hand up and down his phone, and it leaves Baekhyun an opening to just look at him: the casual, floppy mess of his hair, how relaxed he looks in a hoodie two sizes too big for him and a pair of well-worn jeans. This is what Chanyeol would look like in private - when he doesn’t have to be careful about the shoes he’s due to fill for his family name. It’s a good look on him. He told Baekhyun he looked nice, but Baekhyun thinks now that Chanyeol’s the one who looks better between the two of them.

Baekhyun’s so distracted by the thought that he almost misses it when Chanyeol says his name. “Baekhyun?”

“What?” Baekhyun tears his gaze away. He looks up into Chanyeol’s eyes again, and for some reason they’re hesitant and determined at the same time. “Yeah?”

There’s a beat. Then Chanyeol lets out a breath. He reaches down and takes Baekhyun’s hand, and Baekhyun heats up all over, left to do nothing but stare as Chanyeol pulls it to his chest and squeezes.

“Come up to my room?” he says, voice even softer than before, if that’s possible.

The hummingbird slams against Baekhyun’s ribcage. He swallows.

“Okay.”

Maybe this is what they should do. It’s what they always did anyway, right from the start. Sex is familiar to them by now, a well-learned routine, and Baekhyun isn’t one to resist when Chanyeol touches him like that, light and reverent like he’s made of crystal glass. This is what they’re used to. This is what they know.

Maybe this is what they need to fall into their regular dynamic again.

Only - by the time Chanyeol takes him into his luxury suite - Baekhyun can tell that this is different. There’s something new in the way Chanyeol looks at him. He doesn’t push Baekhyun up against the door like Baekhyun expected, just grazes his shoulder as he tips his face up, gentle, still so reverent.

Staring up into Chanyeol’s eyes like that is terrifying. Baekhyun’s breath hitches.

He thinks Chanyeol’s going to say something, but Chanyeol only looks at him for a second longer before pulling him into a kiss. And Baekhyun doesn’t even know if that’s a good thing or not. If hearing whatever words on Chanyeol’s tongue would’ve been worse than being kissed like this.

Because Chanyeol is still so soft when he does it, not even putting his arms around Baekhyun until Baekhyun presses himself in, gripping at the fabric of Chanyeol’s hoodie as an anchor while he tastes his mouth. It’s only been a week, but it’s evidently been too long for Baekhyun’s stupid, rebellious body - Chanyeol’s touch sends a rush through him, and he wants to learn the way Chanyeol reacts all over again, the breaths he takes in between kisses, the little noises he makes when Baekhyun does something right with his tongue. It’s addictive. Baekhyun buries himself in Chanyeol’s scent, revelling in his steady warmth, and feels a type of contentment that he never wants to let go.

But it’s still too slow. Too gentle. Chanyeol’s touches are light, like he’s scared of hurting Baekhyun somehow. Baekhyun craves more. He leads Chanyeol over to the bed without breaking the kiss, swallowing the gasp he lets out, and he craves more.

He’s greedy. He wants Chanyeol’s fire.

Chanyeol’s eyes go wide when Baekhyun lies back on the bed and pulls him in again. He doesn’t protest another kiss, but he does break away earlier than normal, breath coming out in hot puffs against Baekhyun’s face. “Are you sure?” he says, hesitant all of a sudden. “I asked you to come up here because - I didn’t mean—”

Baekhyun hooks him in with a leg around his waist. “I’m sure,” he tells him. “If you want me.”

That makes Chanyeol’s eyes darken, and there it is, the spark that Baekhyun’s been looking for.

“I always want you,” he whispers.

Baekhyun just kisses him again.

It’s like his words have flipped a switch. Soft, tender Chanyeol is replaced by a Chanyeol whose daring mouth steals the air right out of Baekhyun’s lungs. Baekhyun’s pressed into the mattress so hard he’s actually scared for a moment that he’ll sink right through to the plush, carpeted ground of Chanyeol’s stupidly enormous suite room - Chanyeol crowds over him, hands hot as he grazes Baekhyun’s neck, his shoulders, his arms, and then further down to catch his hand and tangle their fingers together. He barely lets Baekhyun catch a breath before he’s leaning down and crushing his mouth against Baekhyun’s again, hard enough to bruise.

Chanyeol’s always been passionate, all heated eyes and gripping hands, but this time it’s like he actually has something to prove. It’s heady. It’s intoxicating. Chanyeol kisses him so overwhelmingly intensely that Baekhyun’s low moan gets swallowed up into silence, and he brings up the hand that isn’t holding Baekhyun’s to grip the side of his head, sliding thick fingers into his hair.

When Chanyeol finally lets up, Baekhyun’s head is hazy and shocks of arousal are zipping around in his gut. His chest is heaving. As he gazes up at Chanyeol, his hand twitches where it’s still held captive by Chanyeol’s larger one.

“What’s up with you?” Baekhyun breathes, and even he can hear the unsteady hitch in his voice, just how wrecked he sounds from Chanyeol’s burning kiss.

Chanyeol doesn’t even bother to reply. His eyes are bright and unreadable, and he stares down at Baekhyun with an expression that sends another flash of heat up his spine.

And Baekhyun’s no coward, so he wraps his legs around Chanyeol’s waist and hauls him in to press their hips together. His limbs thrum with heat. His body is idiotic and possessive and he wants Chanyeol, so badly that his eyes go half-lidded at that first drag of friction, so good that Baekhyun’s blood sings.

“Please,” he murmurs, tightening his fingers on Chanyeol’s nape. “Tell me you have what we need.”

Chanyeol swallows hard. “I do.”

“Good. Do it to me this time.”

So Chanyeol listens to him, undressing him slowly and spilling the lube over his own hand, dipping in to press a kiss to Baekhyun’s inner thigh before he slips his fingers in.

It’s been long enough that Baekhyun has to tense up. The stretch burns a little, half-uncomfortable, half-satisfying. As Chanyeol works him open, though, the pain fades away into pleasure and Baekhyun’s breath comes quicker, until he’s leaning back against the mountain of pillows and making noises inside his throat every time Chanyeol pushes in.

Chanyeol’s relentless in his efforts this time, and it only makes the flames in the pit of Baekhyun’s stomach burn. “Come on,” he pleads when Chanyeol does nothing except keep fingering him. His cock is flushed up to his stomach by now, leaking and aching, and he hasn’t even been touched. “Chanyeol—”

Chanyeol curls his fingers upwards and presses. Baekhyun sees stars. The world sways and tips over, and he stutters out a moan as he falls back before slapping his hand over his mouth.

“I—” he starts, but Chanyeol doesn’t let up and presses again - right against his prostate - and lightning zips up Baekhyun’s spine.

He has no idea what’s making Chanyeol suddenly want to take things so slow, so intense that it’s almost too much for Baekhyun to take. He still doesn’t touch where Baekhyun needs it the most; just keeps scissoring his fingers in Baekhyun as he pants and whimpers and trembles. It works Baekhyun up to a fever pitch, until the desire is swirling like an inferno in his gut, wild and endless.

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol finally rasps. He presses harder, twisting his fingers, and Baekhyun gives up trying to muffle his noises and just shudders back onto the fancy headboard of the bed, blinking away tears as he stares up at the ceiling without seeing a thing. “Baekhyun, look at me.”

Baekhyun’s legs twitch and he chokes on another moan as Chanyeol doubles his efforts. It’s too much. It’s way too much. His blood feels like it’s on fire, and everything Chanyeol does is just swiping another match inside him that lights him up even worse. They’ve done far dirtier things in their time together, things that would make even the most stoic type of person blush, but somehow, this is the one time that makes Baekhyun feel like he’s being properly, completely ruined.

Chanyeol’s touch is unforgiving, and it’s like every single nerve in Baekhyun’s entire system is responding to it. Every brush of the sheets against his skin feels amplified from how turned on he is, how much his whole body is craving the contact, how scarily badly he needs the man still hovering above him with his eyes almost black and his sweat sliding down his bangs.

He can only imagine just how wrecked he himself must look right now. Red hair a tangled mess from Chanyeol’s fingers, eyes glazed and skin flushed, mouth falling open and voice just shy of outright begging Chanyeol to move already.

Look at me, Chanyeol said, like Baekhyun hasn’t been doing just that since that very first doomed night at the gala. Like Baekhyun’s going to be strong enough to take his eyes off him anytime soon.

He just doesn’t know how much it’ll reveal if he does meet Chanyeol’s gaze right now, and that’s fucking terrifying.

Another intense shiver racks up Baekhyun’s spine when Chanyeol dips his mouth to his hip bone, lips soft against his tingling skin - and then he bites down so fiercely he almost draws blood and Baekhyun cries out, losing the strength in his arms and collapsing against the mattress, cock throbbing as he trembles and sobs around the stubborn fist he still has pressed to his mouth.

“What did I say?” Chanyeol’s voice is low and rough but unsteady around the edges. If Baekhyun wasn’t so overwhelmingly delirious with want, he’d think that it sounds halfway to broken.

“Look at me, Baekhyun.”

It’s the tone he uses - gravelly and desperate - that makes Baekhyun finally look up. Through the haze in his vision, he finds Chanyeol’s eyes. They’re dark, and indecipherable, and so completely full of emotion that Baekhyun’s already erratic heartbeat goes into reckless overdrive.

He’s looking. And he can’t pull his gaze away.

Chanyeol fucks him slow and deep against the bed. Baekhyun’s incoherent the whole time, feeling all the pleasure but barely processing it under the buzzing beneath his skin. When he eventually comes, it’s with Chanyeol’s name on his lips, Chanyeol’s hands everywhere on his body, Chanyeol’s fingerprints etched into the deepest parts of himself like a branded mark.

It’s, Baekhyun thinks as he dissolves into static, the first time he’s felt so helplessly wanted.

He has no idea what that means.

 

---

 

When Baekhyun wakes up, it’s to a cool mattress and an empty bed. He blinks as he rolls over. The air is unusually chilly for the end of May - the hotel room’s air conditioner must be on, turned up to full blast to combat the typical morning heat.

Baekhyun sits up and rubs at his eyes. From what he can see of the suite, everything is clean and tasteful and luxurious. There’s an elegant square of couches around a darkwood coffee table, glass windows so wide that they might as well be walls, and even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling above the flat-screen television. It’s stupidly nice.

Not to mention the enormous bed Baekhyun’s currently sitting in.

Rich people, he decides, and pushes the blankets off.

Chanyeol’s not in the huge bathroom when Baekhyun peeks his head in. He’s not in the living area, either, or the small, open kitchen near the entrance of the suite. Baekhyun wanders around the whole space, wincing at the burning ache in his lower waist, but by the time he comes full circle back to the bed again, he’s reached the conclusion that Chanyeol just isn’t here anymore.

Which should be concerning, but actually makes Baekhyun more grateful for the space and time to think. He puts on his clothes from yesterday just to feel less naked and crawls back onto the bed. The sunlight is coming through the windows full force, bright enough to blind, and the digital clock on the nightstand reads 10:07 A.M.

So. Baekhyun tucks his legs in and exhales.

He can still feel the soreness in his hips, and it only makes the memory of last night that much clearer: Chanyeol’s intense eyes on him, the inexplicable thing that expanded and burst in Baekhyun’s chest when he met them.

It’s not… an earth-shattering feeling. It wasn’t one. It was more like a quick, rapid thing that welled up in his lungs like a heated balloon. But it set something off, and now Baekhyun’s more confused than ever before, and his pulse is still thrumming faster than usual through his veins as he thinks about it. Chanyeol is passionate, sure; Baekhyun just isn’t sure where that passion ends.

And before that feverish sex, there was the softness. The way Chanyeol looked at him like he was a fragile, precious thing. Not unlike how he looked at Baekhyun that night in his apartment when Baekhyun played out his song on the piano. Exactly like that, actually, except dialled up to an overwhelming ten.

But Baekhyun didn’t even do anything to warrant it this time.

He swallows. Why is his throat so dry? Chanyeol’s not even here. Baekhyun pulls his knees to his chest and takes a breath in.

And suddenly, he can’t sit still in the bed anymore, cooped up in the luxury suite waiting like some baby bird in its nest. He needs to find Chanyeol. If only to see him - if only to know if looking at him will give Baekhyun any answers.

Baekhyun leaps off the bed, hurriedly raking his fingers through his messy hair to at least look somewhat presentable, then runs over to the door to pull on his shoes.

He barely even thinks. Only by the time he’s made it out into the hallway does he realize he’s not wearing makeup or a mask of any kind. If there’s anyone at all in this hotel that at least vaguely knows idols, Baekhyun runs the risk of being recognized and photographed. He bites his lip and turns. The elevator is right there, ready to take him down to the lobby, but Baekhyun makes a split-second decision and heads for the stairs instead. Because no one’s masochistic enough to take the stairs in a twenty-floor hotel, right?

Unfortunately, he’s usually not masochistic enough to do that either, and combined with the burn in his thighs, Baekhyun already feels like he’s halfway to death by the time he finally makes it to the first floor.

He takes a moment to catch his breath in the stairwell before walking into the lobby. He’s realizing, gradually, that he doesn’t have a game plan. Baekhyun doesn’t know if Chanyeol is still in the hotel. He could’ve left Baekhyun alone, for all he knows: went out the door back to his own apartment without waking Baekhyun up. It’s not like that’d be an atypical thing for someone to do after a hook-up.

But last night wasn’t just a hook-up. It was different for some reason. If Baekhyun’s sure of anything, it’s that. He doesn’t know how different, or what even made it different, but - the memory of Chanyeol’s unreadable gaze on him is more than enough for Baekhyun to guess that there’s something more hidden there.

He just has to find out what it is, which is… easier said than done.

Maybe that’s why the universe finally decides to give him a break. Baekhyun rounds the corner, and like impeccable deja vu, there’s Chanyeol, standing with his back to Baekhyun right beside the fancy fountain in the lobby.

And, well, he didn’t expect to find Chanyeol so soon and so easily, but he sure isn’t complaining. Baekhyun’s about to walk over and call out Chanyeol’s name when the other man turns a little. The side of his face just barely comes into view, and then Baekhyun gets to see who he’s talking to.

It’s a girl. A tall one. Baekhyun’s hand drops and he blinks.

It takes a second of confusion for him to recognize the girl as Park Sooyoung, the luxury hotel chain heiress. And then it only takes another second for him to remember that she’s Chanyeol’s ex-girlfriend.

Something lurches in the pit of Baekhyun’s stomach, more nauseous than just plain unpleasant, but he doesn’t take the time to analyze it as he just keeps looking at the pair.

From here, he has a clearer view of Sooyoung than Chanyeol. She’s pretty. Baekhyun’s only ever seen photos of her, on news sites and occasional social media pages, but it’s easy to see that pictures don’t really do her justice compared to what she looks like in real life. She has her short dark hair tucked into a tiny side ponytail, and her skin is so perfect it seems like ivory. There’s a grace in her stature that would be obvious to anyone, and she’s beautiful, and…

And Chanyeol’s looking down at her with the exact same soft expression he directed towards Baekhyun last night, except this time he’s smiling, too.

The lurch in Baekhyun’s stomach comes back full-force.

It’s like ten separate realizations crash into him at once, none of them coherent enough for Baekhyun to make much sense of. That girl was Chanyeol’s lover, once. They’re still on good terms with each other. Chanyeol looks happy. Whatever we are right now, this is somewhere I don’t belong. Baekhyun watches Chanyeol say something while still smiling, then bend down to pull Sooyoung into a hug, and the eleventh one hits him with the force of a jet plane.

This must be what Chanyeol looks like when he’s in love.

And suddenly, standing in the middle of a five-star hotel lobby, wearing rumpled pants and last night’s shirt with an ache running through his entire body, he’s never felt more out of place.

 

---

 

“Hey,” Sooyoung says, halfway through Chanyeol trying to come up with a reasonably believable excuse as to why his hoodie is so wrinkled. She tucks a lock of hair behind her ear and squints behind them. “Is that…?”

“Huh?” Chanyeol says back intelligently.

Sooyoung strains her neck to peer over Chanyeol’s shoulder. “Across the lobby, five o’clock. Beside the entrance.”

Chanyeol frowns and turns. The first floor of the hotel isn’t busy by any means, but tourists carting their luggage are still scattered all around the space, so it takes him a while to spot who Sooyoung’s talking about.

It’s Baekhyun - standing just near the stairwell on the side of the main entrance.

Talk about timing. When Chanyeol was just thinking about him. Chanyeol’s stomach plummets, then jumps in the exact same way it did when he saw Baekhyun yesterday. It’s embarrassing.

“Oh, you mean Baekhyun,” he says, doing his best attempt at sounding nonchalant. “What’s he…”

He trails off. Because Baekhyun’s staring right at them. Chanyeol’s bewildered gaze meets his, making Baekhyun’s eyes shutter right away, and he takes a step back until his shoulders are pressed right against the wall.

“Byun Baekhyun?” Sooyoung asks. “Is he here with you?”

Chanyeol’s barely even listening. “Yeah, he…” He watches Baekhyun visibly hesitate in his spot. Not knowing why, Chanyeol takes an involuntary step forward.

The effect is instantaneous: Baekhyun tenses. Before Chanyeol can even blink or figure out why he suddenly seems to make Baekhyun so nervous, Baekhyun turns and walks away so quickly that he’s almost a blur, disappearing through the glass sliding doors as soon as they open for him.

Sooyoung makes a confused noise. “Then why did he—”

Chanyeol doesn’t stay to hear the rest of her sentence. He just straightens up and runs, winding through small crowds of guests and the propped-up luggage bags beside them. “Wait!” he calls out, even though he knows Baekhyun won’t be able to hear him. “Hold on—”

He comes out into the sunlight, blinking against the bright rays, but by the time Chanyeol’s eyes adjust, Baekhyun’s already nowhere to be seen on the streets.

“Chanyeol!” Sooyoung’s voice comes from behind him. Chanyeol turns around, and she bends over and pants, reaching a hand down to fix her high heels. “God, I can’t run in these shoes. Why did you come out so fast?”

Chanyeol offers his arm to steady her, and she takes it with a grateful sigh. “Sorry,” he says, sheepish. “I didn’t think. I just…”

“Don’t worry, it’s no big deal.” Sooyoung straightens. “Was that really Byun Baekhyun?”

Chanyeol glances back over at the streets like it’ll make Baekhyun suddenly reappear or something. “Yeah.”

“Why did he run out?”

“I don’t know,” Chanyeol admits. “But…”

In the split second before Baekhyun’s face closed off, Chanyeol managed to catch his expression. The fresh memory of it makes his skin prickle. It wasn’t a good one. In fact, it was probably the worst expression he’s ever seen, one so jarring and wrong on Baekhyun’s features that Chanyeol felt his chest constrict.

When he looks back at Sooyoung, she’s gazing up at him with a pensive look on her face. “You guys have been hanging out a lot lately, right?”

“How did you—” Too late, Chanyeol remembers the articles. Of course Sooyoung would’ve seen them. He winces. “Oh. Yeah. We have.”

“Good friends?”

“Something like that,” Chanyeol mumbles, because he’s a terrible liar.

Because Sooyoung dated him for more than a year, she - most likely - is able to catch on to that. Her expression turns a little more contemplative, and she’s quiet for a few seconds before saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t have hugged me.”

That stings a bit. Chanyeol frowns at her. “Why? Did it make you uncomfortable?”

He thought it was a weird twist of fate, when he ran into Sooyoung at the hotel lobby just as he was signing off all the necessary things for checking out. Well, for all of five seconds before he remembered her family owns this hotel. But it was nice to talk to her. Nice to play catch-up and relax, have a conversation without all the awkward tension from their last meeting. They talked about Chanyeol’s new music deal, and how Sooyoung’s been going to Red Velvet’s new concerts to support them, and then Sooyoung mentioned how happy Chanyeol looked, and…

And of course that made Chanyeol think about Baekhyun. Because he’s doomed. Which led to him hugging Sooyoung, only because she told him something sweet and genuine about being glad to see him doing well.

And then Baekhyun showed up in the actual weird twist of fate.

“No, Chanyeol,” Sooyoung tells him exasperatedly now, pulling him out of his thoughts. “I’m fine with it. You give good hugs. It’s just…” She chews at her lip, thinking. “Maybe he wasn’t.”

Chanyeol stares. “Who? Baekhyun?”

“Yeah.”

“But - why?” Chanyeol asks, baffled.

Sooyoung looks askance at him. “Okay, let me put it this way,” she says, lowering her voice. “You two are more than just friends, right?”

Chanyeol almost trips over the sidewalk. “What - how—”

“Lucky guess.” Sooyoung doesn’t even blink. “So just going by that… he probably didn’t love coming down and seeing you hug some random girl.”

Chanyeol opens his mouth, then closes it again. His first instinct is to say that Sooyoung’s wrong. More than friends has a whole dictionary of different definitions, after all, and the one that applies to him and Baekhyun’s relationship isn’t one where Baekhyun should be upset by a scene like that.

But then he thinks about it a little more - really thinks about it. He remembers the look on Baekhyun’s face before his expression shuttered. The look in Baekhyun’s eyes last night, when Chanyeol begged him to meet his gaze.

Something terrified and elated and hopeful rises up in his chest all at once. “You mean…”

“It’s just a thought,” Sooyoung murmurs. She glances up at Chanyeol, her smile wry, considering. Knowing. “But maybe you should try to talk to him, Chanyeol.”

 

---

 

Baekhyun does not want to talk to Chanyeol.

In fact, he so doesn’t want to talk to him that he completely ignores his phone that first day, throwing himself into dance practice and vocal recordings without even a single glance at the device. Minseok would be thoroughly impressed. His vocal instructor sure looks impressed, and his dance trainer, and Yixing when he listens in on Baekhyun’s studio session later in the evening. At the very least, Baekhyun thinks, he’ll have a stellar comeback performance ready for his fans by the end of all this.

He can’t avoid turning on his phone forever, though. So back in his apartment, with a towel around his wet hair and his muscles already feeling the familiar sore ache of exertion, Baekhyun bites his lip and switches it on.

The screen lights up. Five missed calls. Seventeen unread text messages.

Baekhyun doesn’t want to talk to Chanyeol, but it seems the same can’t be said the other way around.

Because he’s kind of - or maybe entirely - a coward, he doesn’t even read them. He just winces and checks to see if there are any important messages from Minseok before turning the device back off again. Another thing Baekhyun doesn’t want to do is deal with this right now. This being a whole mess of feelings and thoughts and memories whirling around in his gut like a malfunctioning carousel. This being Chanyeol - this being himself. There’s shame in his stomach and humiliation muddling his mind, and Baekhyun would sooner hold a naked fansign than try to reply to any of Chanyeol’s probably rightfully bemused texts.

So he doesn’t.

It’s the easy way out, he knows, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling so hard.

It’s for the best anyway. That’s what Baekhyun says to himself through the following days as he keeps practicing and recording and ignoring those gut-tightening messages. His thing with Chanyeol was nice, satisfying - but it was also a distraction for them both. So it’s probably a good thing that Baekhyun’s way too agitated and restless to actually confront his problem. He’s an idol, and he has a career to take care of, and his comeback is the important thing right now, more than any foolish feelings, more than any puppy-like chaebols who managed to come into Baekhyun’s life and mess up Baekhyun’s head without even meaning to.

It’s like Baekhyun’s been slowly pushing himself down this doomed path since the Pann article, and seeing Chanyeol with Sooyoung in the hotel that morning was the triggering point. But for what, he doesn’t know. All he knows is that he needs to keep his distance for now.

Which is easier said than done, since Chanyeol can’t seem to stop messaging him, calling him, seemingly trying any method of communication he can to get Baekhyun to explain his dumb freakout, and Baekhyun doesn’t blame him, but it does get difficult to make excuses for why he’s missed important company messages just because he was too reluctant to check his phone.

The one saving grace is that he never took Chanyeol to his apartment, so Chanyeol can’t try to show up there to talk to him even if he wanted to. Not that he would do that anyway. Chanyeol’s not the dashing lead of a fairytale-perfect romance movie, and Baekhyun’s not the moping protagonist with a heart of gold, waiting for their love to realize what they’re missing and come running back to profess their devotion. He’s just some stupid person who thought things too soon and made more mistakes than he should have. That’s all.

Baekhyun doesn’t know what to think. So he just keeps silencing his phone and pretending that it makes him feel better.

(Needless to say, it doesn’t. Not by much.)

 

---

 

What makes everything even less easy to deal with is that Baekhyun, despite his occasional side roles in dramas and short films, is an idol, not an actor. Translation: it’s not very hard for everyone around him to tell something’s wrong.

Taeyeon keeps giving him worried looks whenever she dolls him up for photoshoots and filming these days. Minseok, ever the attentive manager, takes one look at him at the end of the first week and nearly orders him to take a nap. Even Yixing, in his occasional visits to the recording studio, doesn’t try to be subtle when he asks Baekhyun if he can do anything for him. It’s comforting to know his friends care, but it’s also embarrassing in the same way that it’s embarrassing to go out in public after you cry, and even perfect strangers - ones that have never seen you before - can tell by your red-rimmed eyes what you just did.

It’s not like Baekhyun cries or anything. He’s not that pathetic. He just activates the inner workaholic that Jongdae always talks about and jumps into all the preparations for his looming comeback. And it works fine as a distraction.

That is, until the one person who doesn’t even need to look at Baekhyun to read him like a book comes back from his overseas tour.

“Hey! Open up! I know you’re in there!”

What,” Baekhyun groans as he pulls the door open. Jongdae’s knuckles almost knock against his face, and he has to flinch and jerk back on pure instinct to avoid getting hurt. “What is wrong with you? It’s nine A.M. on a Saturday.”

Jongdae doesn’t even look the least bit apologetic. “You look like shit,” he says in greeting, pushing into Baekhyun’s apartment and doing a judgemental sweep over his less-than-orderly living space. “Wow, and so does this place. What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is that you just almost knocked my door down while I was sleeping.” Baekhyun shuts the door.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Jongdae says loftily. “You weren’t answering my calls.”

“Yeah, because I was sleeping.”

“Technicalities.”

Baekhyun rolls his eyes. He doesn’t have enough energy to deal with his loud friend right now - not when it’s one of the rare breaks in his schedule that he has, and especially not when Jongdae’s narrowing his eyes at him like he’s already turning on his self-proclaimed best friend sensor. “How are you here right now, anyway?” Baekhyun says, stifling a yawn in his fist as he turns and starts walking back to his bedroom. “Don’t you have some concerts to perform?”

“Last one ended yesterday night. You should really pay closer attention to my activities.” Jongdae doesn’t even hesitate before he kicks off his shoes and follows Baekhyun.

Baekhyun snorts. “Why, so I can know when to shut myself in to avoid you?”

“No,” Jongdae says. “So you can know when to expect me to come talk to you when you’re being weird.” He points a finger at Baekhyun. “And don’t try to deny it, because I can tell. I wasn’t here the last week, but it’s still obvious. What happened?”

Baekhyun feels like slumping to the floor. As it is, he just slumps back into his bed, smushing his cheek into his soft blankets and blowing out a breath against the sheets. All the fight drains out of him like air.

“I think I was dumb,” he mumbles.

A beat of silence. Then Jongdae says, “You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.”

Fine. I did something dumb. It’s just—” Baekhyun rolls over a little, until he can see Jongdae frowning at him from the door. “I don’t know. I bumped into Chanyeol at a hotel, but then I saw him with his ex and it felt weird, and I didn’t know how to deal with it so I’ve been ignoring his messages, but—”

“Wait, wait.” Jongdae puts a hand up. “So this is about Chanyeol.”

Baekhyun wishes he could sink right into the mattress. “Yeah.”

“I knew it,” Jongdae mutters. He crosses his arms over his chest and frowns harder. “You’re ignoring his messages? Because you saw him with his ex?”

“I - yeah.”

Baekhyun. Are you hearing yourself?” Jongdae fixes his stare on Baekhyun, more than a little incredulous now. “So something did happen in Jeju. You came back, and you’ve been so off, and now you’re cooping yourself up in your room because you’re jealous or something?”

That makes Baekhyun jerk up. Jealous. That word vibrates along with the nervous buzz starting up beneath his skin. “No!” he protests. “It’s just…”

Confusing. And nauseating. And so unfamiliar to Baekhyun that it makes his stomach clench every time he remembers it. Chanyeol’s not even sending him any texts anymore, clearly having given up, and Baekhyun’s still too much of a coward to try and fix things - if there even is anything to fix in the first place.

“It’s complicated,” he finally says, because he has no idea how to express any of that.

Jongdae purses his mouth. “I can tell.”

“I just—”

“What happened in Jeju?”

Jongdae’s voice leaves no room for argument. Baekhyun bites his lip, then sits up to pull his knees to his chest. “Not much. He was just… really nice to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“He told me he wanted to take me there. He kissed me in the pool. He rented a car for us so he could take me out to the countryside to watch the stars.”

He can hear how weak his own voice sounds, how naked and exposed he suddenly feels putting it all out there into the open. Jongdae just pauses and stares at him for a moment. And then he gets it. Baekhyun can see that he gets it, because Jongdae’s mouth opens a little, and he gets that expression on his face that’s usually reserved for unexpected awards, shocked and stupefied and as sudden as lightning.

Jongdae reaches his realization at the exact same time it decides to smack Baekhyun in the face.

“You’re falling in love with him,” he says simply, and drops his arms.

Baekhyun’s body goes hot and cold at the same time. His pulse picks up, then starts pounding through his veins with the force of a bass drum. “No,” he forces out, something panicky seizing his stomach. “No, I—”

But it’s useless, because the blow has already landed, leaving Baekhyun’s mind reeling while his system scrambles for more oxygen, and it’s clear his traitorous heart has known this for a long, long time, because the shock ebbs away in waves as soon as he lets himself fall back onto his bed.

You’re falling in love with him. Six words he never thought he’d hear Jongdae say.

“I really thought,” Jongdae says, voice softer now, “that going on that vacation would be a bad idea.” He shuts the bedroom door behind him and furrows his brow. “But I didn’t think it would get this far.”

Baekhyun just makes a tiny, pathetic noise and curls further up in his blanket nest. “Don’t say I told you so.”

“Baekhyun…”

Kim Jongdae.”

“I told you so,” Jongdae says anyway, because he’s a good friend like that, and Baekhyun groans and pulls the blanket over his head. “But seriously, Baekhyun. This is a mess. You can’t just—” There’s the sound of steps coming closer, and before Baekhyun can protest Jongdae pushes the entire mess of blankets away until Baekhyun is left blinking up at his friend in the too-bright morning light. “Did you even try talking to him before you cut him off?” he asks, raising one eyebrow. Baekhyun makes an attempt to grab the blankets back, but Jongdae just pulls them up and away from his reach. “I’m being serious here. Did you talk to Chanyeol?”

At Chanyeol’s name, Baekhyun makes another noise. “You’re so mean,” he mumbles, and sits up. There’s no point in trying to mope a little more when Jongdae is in his therapist-mode, anyway, all concerned looks and low words. Baekhyun combs his red bangs out of his eyes and sighs. “I didn’t. But only because I had no idea what to say.”

“You could’ve confessed.”

That actually makes Baekhyun laugh out loud. But Jongdae just settles his gaze on him again, then says, “No, really. Even if you only realized it now, you had an idea before, right?”

And that’s - well. There’s the tightness to his stomach that’s been there since Jeju. There’s the way Chanyeol stared at him after Baekhyun played the piano, and the thread in his gut at the villa pool, the way his chest shook like wind chimes when Chanyeol held him and kissed him. There’s how scared he was to meet Chanyeol’s eyes that night. Baekhyun’s probably the biggest idiot to ever walk this earth. “I don’t know, Jongdae,” he ends up saying, bunching up the blanket in his hands. “I couldn’t have.”

“Why? Do you think he doesn’t feel the same way?”

Baekhyun goes stiff. “Well—”

“Because I have some news for you. I’m not saying that he’s already in love, but if I took someone to my island villa and did everything you said he did, I’d probably also be on the way to buying a ring.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Baekhyun says, voice cracking. He feels wobbly, if that’s even something to be felt. “We aren’t - we’re not even…”

Jongdae shrugs. “Maybe. But the point still stands.”

“We’re not like that.”

“But you could be,” Jongdae says, one hundred percent straightforward. “If you weren’t so scared.”

That makes Baekhyun fall silent, fiddling with the bedsheets as he lowers his gaze. He can’t even deny it. He is scared. Of his feelings, of Chanyeol’s nonexistent reaction, of the rulebook that comes hand-in-hand with his idol career. Of letting himself sink into all of this with not even a trace of regret or hesitation.

“I can’t,” he tells Jongdae, and hates how true it sounds in his mouth.

“Sure you can. What are you afraid of?” Jongdae comes over and sits down on the edge of the bed. “Don’t tell me it’s your weird serial romantic complex.”

Baekhyun blinks. “My what?”

“Your whole I don’t do relationships thing. It’s good for your career, but that’s about where the benefits end.”

And honestly, that - Baekhyun not being used to falling - is only part of the reason. The rest is just a spiralling mess of nerves and dread and doubt. He tucks his knees under his chin again. “I really don’t know,” he says helplessly. “I think I lost my chance already. He’s probably mad at me.”

Jongdae touches his shoulder. “You don’t know that.”

“I can guess it. I’ve ignored him for almost two weeks now. He has every right to be.”

Baekhyun’s expression must be something terrible, because Jongdae’s face softens into sympathy. “You messed up, didn’t you,” he says, gently pulling the blanket away from Baekhyun and setting it down at the end of the bed.

The fact that it’s barely even a question isn’t making Baekhyun feel much better.

“But listen,” Jongdae goes on, hand coming back to squeeze at Baekhyun’s arm. “I still think you should try. You never know until you do, right? He might be waiting for you.”

Something in Baekhyun’s gut tightens. “I don’t know about that,” he mutters. “You didn’t see him with his ex-girlfriend.”

Jongdae makes a frustrated noise. “Forget about his ex for a second. It was probably a misunderstanding, anyway. Look—” Jongdae lightly hits Baekhyun’s cheek, forcing Baekhyun to face him, and says, “You have to take the leap. Be brave once in a while, Baekhyunnie.”

That makes Baekhyun pause. He stares into Jongdae’s eyes, so determined and pleading, and feels his chest cave in like a house of cards.

“I’m not brave,” he says weakly, because he isn’t.

“Doesn’t matter. Maybe you aren’t.” Jongdae drops his hand and huffs. “But you know, now might be a good time to start.”

 

---

 

Life-ruining realizations aside, Baekhyun does still have his pre-comeback schedules to attend to. So on Sunday, two full weeks after the morning at the hotel, he heads to a skyscraper-height company building for one of his final ones. It’s another magazine shoot, meant to be printed at the same time as his album release to promote his songs, and it’s a familiar routine by now. Baekhyun lets a makeup artist who’s not Taeyeon clean and conceal and powder his face. Dresses in the different outfits that the team of stylists tells him to dress in. Poses in front of the camera, slipping into his idol skin, and smiles for the shot. All normal.

What’s decidedly less normal is what happens once he’s done and already leaving the dressing room. Baekhyun’s absentmindedly fiddling with his phone, half-pulling his face mask out of his bag, when a hand catches him on the shoulder.

“What—” He nearly jumps out of his skin. He whirls around.

There’s a man staring down at him, tall and handsome and intimidating, and Baekhyun falters.

He doesn’t quite look like a staff member - he’s dressed to the nines, and there’s a precise perfection to his features that wouldn’t make him seem out of place in any high-profile fashion magazine. His dark eyebrows are pulled together as he looks at Baekhyun, gaze roving over his face, and Baekhyun feels a sense of unsureness that he hasn’t felt since his rookie days settle over his skin.

The hand is still on Baekhyun’s shoulder. Baekhyun clears his throat.

“Hi,” he tries. “Did you need anything?”

The man blinks. He drops his hand and takes a step back. “You’re Byun Baekhyun.”

It doesn’t sound much like a question. Baekhyun wonders if he’s a fan, or something, if a freakishly good-looking one. “Yeah…”

“I’ve been meaning to look for you.”

That catches Baekhyun off guard. “Um, sorry, do I know you?”

The man’s silent for a while. Baekhyun takes the time to scrutinize his face, running over the straight bridge of his nose, the sharpness in his eyes. He does sort of look vaguely familiar, in the way that almost everyone in the entertainment industry looks. Maybe he’s a rookie here for a photoshoot who wanted to greet Baekhyun.

“No,” the man finally says, and sticks his hand out. “My name is Oh Sehun. I’m Chanyeol’s best friend.”

That makes Baekhyun freeze.

“Oh,” he says feebly. He looks down at Sehun’s outstretched hand, and he isn’t even thinking when he blurts out, “Are you here to yell at me?”

Sehun’s lips turn up into something that’s not quite a wry smile. “I’m here for work. But I’d like to talk, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh.”

Too late, Baekhyun realizes Sehun’s waiting for his answer. He coughs. “Of course,” he mumbles, not having any idea what to expect.

“Why are you not replying to Chanyeol’s messages?”

Well. That’s - straight to the point. Baekhyun’s chest constricts a little, and his throat tightens as he stares up into Sehun’s serious eyes. They don’t look angry, at the very least, but they’re solemn and inquisitive. Baekhyun’s mouth opens and closes while he tries to think of an acceptable answer. One that preferably won’t get him punched in the face.

“Because I’m an idiot,” Baekhyun finally says, and resists the urge to slump into the wall.

For some bizarre reason, that makes Sehun’s mouth thin out into a real smile. “I guess that makes two of you.”

“What do you—” Baekhyun straightens. He feels weirdly defensive all of a sudden, in front of this not-quite stranger who smiles like a Sphinx. “Chanyeol’s not an idiot.”

“Not all the time,” Sehun agrees. “Only occasionally. Like now.” He studies Baekhyun, eyes piercing into his face, before he says, “He thinks you hate him.”

Baekhyun jolts up. “What? I don’t - I could never!”

“That’s good to hear. But he doesn’t know that.” Sehun shrugs, one broad shoulder dipping as he leans against the wall to their side. “He’s been moping, you know. He thinks he hides it, but Chanyeol hyung’s never been a very subtle person.”

Guilt races up Baekhyun’s spine. It’s hot and shameful and makes him want to hide in a dark hole. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I never meant to.”

Sehun just shrugs again. “I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” he says simply.

“I want to. It’s just…”

“You’re afraid of rejection.”

The straight-up bluntness is enough to stun Baekhyun into silence again. He stares at Sehun, eyes wide, for what feels like hours before Sehun sighs and pushes himself off the wall to stand.

“Listen,” he says quietly, gaze searching Baekhyun’s face. “I know you’re not a bad person. Chanyeol talked about you a lot, and it’s easy to tell at least that. But you’re making things difficult for you two right now. I know Chanyeol, and he’s not going to try and repair things when he thinks it’s clear that you don’t want to talk to him.”

Baekhyun swallows around the sudden dryness in his throat. “I—”

“And I also know it’s hard,” Sehun continues. “Especially with your situation.” He pauses, and glances meaningfully down at the black face mask still gripped in Baekhyun’s hand before going on. “I don’t want to interfere or put my nose where it shouldn’t be. But I do want to see my best friend happy.”

“I understand,” Baekhyun says, because he does.

Sehun nods. “So this is me talking to you.”

He takes a breath after that, mouth pressed together and eyes thoughtful as if he’s looking for the right words. Baekhyun just waits. The mask clenched between his fingers suddenly feels like it’s made of steel, an ironic piece of symbolism or something, and he stands there with his face bare and his chest tight. An apprehensive statue.

“Chanyeol hyung doesn’t think he’s good at relationships,” Sehun finally says. “It’s because of his track record. I know you must’ve heard of it, because the media likes having field days every time he goes through a breakup.” His jaw clenches. “It’s ridiculous. Usually, he wouldn’t care, but too many rumours and speculations would wear anyone down after a while.”

Baekhyun gets that. He understands it more clearly than most people ever will. He says as much.

“Yeah,” Sehun mutters, “but Chanyeol’s less used to it.” He sighs. “That’s why - and don’t tell him I told you this - I think he’s insecure about this stuff. It doesn’t help that his parents’ relationship ended early because of his dad’s death. He’s grown up with expectations surrounding him, and he’s eager to meet them and to please people, which is what leaves him vulnerable.”

“Hold on,” Baekhyun says feebly, feeling more than a little lost. “What does this—”

Sehun doesn’t even glance at him as he goes on. “So you can only imagine how going through so many relationships must have affected him. I’m his best friend - I’ve known him since we were teenagers. Chanyeol’s one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet, but he’s also one of the most easily hurt.” He gazes at Baekhyun, eyes infinitely sharper than they were just moments before, and tells him, “I’m not trying to guilt you into anything, but I just want to say… if you think he’s worth it at all, then I don’t think there’s anything better you could do than come clean and go talk to him.”

Silence. Sehun seems to be done with his short speech. Which is good, because Baekhyun feels like his mouth is stuffed full of cotton, head only spinning more and more with each and every word out of Sehun’s mouth.

He has to swallow again. “Why are you telling me all of this?” he asks, voice weak.

That gives Sehun pause. He tilts his head and half-smiles.

“Because you seem too stubborn to be an easy person to convince,” he says softly, gaze so knowing it hurts. “But not a bad one.”

Baekhyun’s heart squeezes.

He really has been an idiot, he realizes. A selfish, cowardly one, too caught up in his own ideas of what’s good and what’s bad for them instead of actually thinking it through. So oblivious that it took a conversation with a blunt best friend and a run-in with a blunter stranger to make him see his mistake. Baekbeom would be exasperated if he knew.

Somewhere along the way - in the middle of all the relentless routine, the exhaustion, the masks and the makeup and the glitter, the Naver articles and Pann posts, the eyes he feels concentrated on his back like a spotlight - Baekhyun’s forgotten that he’s only human. He’s forgotten that it’s okay to want, sometimes.

And now that he allows himself, wanting Chanyeol is so, so easy. It feels like water through a faucet. It feels like standing in a shipwreck and letting the entire ocean spill over the sides - terrifying, and fatal, and inevitable.

At this point, Baekhyun’s the only thing holding the tide back.

The determination hits him like an anticipated tsunami. He straightens. “Thank you,” he says to Sehun, every bit as sincere as he feels. “For all of this.”

Sehun waves a hand. “Don’t mention it,” he says back. Then he pauses. “Like, actually don’t. Chanyeol would never let me live it down.”

“Sure. One last favour, though.”

“What is it?”

Baekhyun takes a deep breath. “Tell me what the best way to reach him is?”

And that makes Sehun give Baekhyun a real smile this time, warmer and clearer, softening at the edges, so obviously the caring best friend that it makes Baekhyun’s chest ache.

“I thought you’d never ask.”

 

---

 

The address Sehun gave Baekhyun leads him to - of course - yet another media event. Because Baekhyun’s life obviously enjoys playing with him a little too much. Full circle, as they say.

Although, instead of being held at a hotel this time, the organizers of this one have placed it at an actual venue: a newly-opened Gangnam restaurant-slash-bar, sleek and classy and perpetually booked-out in the way that only the most exclusive places tend to be. It’s dark by the time Baekhyun drives himself there, summer dusk already settling over Seoul like a heavy blanket. It makes it a little easier to pull down his face mask and get recognized on purpose so the wide-eyed hostess will let him in without question.

It sort of feels like cheating. Baekhyun tries not to dwell on it as he gives her a grateful smile and ducks into the venue.

He’s had three days to think through his game plan. In retrospect, that isn’t long at all, but it seemed like an eternity for Baekhyun - an eternity spent pacing around his bedroom, growing more and more nervous as the date Sehun told him closes in. If he’s being honest, he’s still not sure what he might say. His current idea consists of exactly two steps:

#1: Find Chanyeol at the event.

#2: Confess.

It’s simple.

It also scares the living shit out of him, but - well. Baekhyun doesn’t have anything better.

The restaurant is dark when he enters, and he blinks to let his eyes adjust to the dim lighting. It’s purposeful in a romantic, understated way. The decor is all deep black and muted gold, glossy walls flecked with shimmering dashes of metallic colour, and everything around him is so shiny that Baekhyun sees his shadow reflected tenfold wherever he looks.

It’s elegant. It’s also intimidating, especially because Baekhyun has no idea what this event is actually for. He gulps. From what he can see, it seems like it’s more on the business side of the media industry than the entertainment side: the tables have been cleared off to allow a blank stretch of floor, and there’s old, important-looking people in tuxedos milling about.

Baekhyun, with his silk shirt and dyed hair, feels ridiculously out of place.

Chanyeol, he reminds himself. You’re not here for anything except to talk to him.

Because Sehun said his best shot at getting Chanyeol to forgive him for two weeks of radio silence is to seek him out in person. Not through text messages. Not over the phone. In person, where Chanyeol can see Baekhyun’s feelings on his face instead of having to guess them through his voice.

It’s more than a little daunting, but it’s what Baekhyun keeps in mind as he swallows and walks forward, eyes roving over the crowd to see if he can catch any hint of Chanyeol’s tall height or unique ears.

Only he doesn’t have any luck - by the time he’s wandered around enough for the actual guests to probably be suspicious, dinner is already starting to be cleaned up and he still hasn’t found Chanyeol. Baekhyun bites his lip as he does one last glance around the room. It’s no use. All he sees is old businesspeople next to old businesspeople next to old businesspeople, no one even close to Chanyeol’s bright-eyed youth.

Baekhyun has to have caught someone’s notice at this point, so he turns and walks out the main area into a quiet hallway, if only to not run the risk of one of the guests realizing hey, that guy wasn’t actually invited, but wasn’t he on the MAMA Awards last time?

It’s calmer out here, the bustling conversation cut off by a thick wall. Baekhyun rests his forehead against the cool surface and exhales. So. He still has no idea where Chanyeol is. Maybe he left early. Maybe he didn’t even decide to come in the first place.

Or maybe Sehun gave him the wrong address and acted out a very elaborate skit with him just to teach him a lesson. Baekhyun wouldn’t even blame him, honestly.

It’s that ridiculous thought that makes Baekhyun straighten up and turn again, a newfound determination running through his body. He can’t give up now; if there’s even the smallest chance of Chanyeol still being here, the barest possibility, Baekhyun has to take it. He’s come too far and given himself too many embarrassing pep talks to just let it go now. Even if whatever god watching over him only wants to see him make a complete fool out of himself, he’ll do it, as long as—

“Excuse me?” an all-too-familiar voice says behind him, and Baekhyun’s stomach plummets somewhere around his feet.

He whirls around. His breath catches.

It is Chanyeol - in a dark blue suit with his hair pushed off his forehead - and he looks so good and so Chanyeol-like that something squeezes painfully in Baekhyun’s throat.

Chanyeol realizes it’s him at the same time the vice versa happens. A billion different expressions flicker across his face before it washes out into blankness. His jaw clenches a little, and he looks off to the side, eyes shadowed and unreadable.

Not a good sign. Baekhyun swallows. “Chanyeol,” he says, and at least his voice comes out mostly steady.

Chanyeol looks back for only a second before snapping his gaze away again, like he can’t even look at Baekhyun.

“Chanyeol, listen, I—”

“What are you doing here?” Chanyeol interrupts, voice sounding closed-off. He shifts a little, posture stiff as his shoes scuff against the shiny floor.

Baekhyun bites his lip. Ten thousand different answers run through his mind before he settles on the truth. “I came to look for you.”

Silence. Chanyeol just stares at him, still with that blank look on his face.

And suddenly, Baekhyun can’t bear it anymore, mincing his words while tiptoeing around the whole reason there’s tension between them in the first place. “I’m sorry,” he says in a rush, forcing himself to meet Chanyeol’s eyes. “I was being really stupid, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have ignored you - I shouldn’t have run off at all. I was just a coward, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk to you, and that was selfish of me so I’m sorry—”

A door slams behind them, loud and jarring, and they both jump. Baekhyun whips his head back. A woman in a sparkly dress comes out of the bathroom down the hall, one hand fixing her earring as her high heels click against the floor.

It’s lucky that she doesn’t take any notice of them as she turns back into the main area of the restaurant. Baekhyun relaxes a little. He turns back to Chanyeol and opens his mouth again, but all the brief courage he gathered to say his words seems to have vanished with the interruption.

Something flickers in Chanyeol’s gaze. He glances at the door and seems to reach a decision.

“Not here,” he says, still sounding upset. He grabs Baekhyun’s wrist, and Baekhyun freezes at the touch, but Chanyeol only pulls for a second before letting go. He nods over at the other end of the hallway and doesn’t wait for Baekhyun before stepping past him. “This way.”

Not having much of a choice, Baekhyun follows him.

Chanyeol brings him through a black door and up two flights of stairs, until they come out onto a wide, open roof, the evening air still warm around them as they emerge into the night. Baekhyun didn’t even know the restaurant had a roof like this. It’s clean and surrounded by glass panels, and the lightest breeze ruffles through Baekhyun’s hair as he walks behind Chanyeol.

It’s a nice scene. In any other context, it would probably be romantic.

Now, though, Baekhyun’s all too aware of the tension still in Chanyeol’s shoulders as he stops at the edge of the roof and turns.

He’s moving a little awkwardly. Baekhyun’s eyes drop to Chanyeol’s hands, and only then does he notice a large, flat bag gripped in Chanyeol’s fingers, one that he saw almost every day during their stay at the Jeju villa. He blinks.

“What did you bring your laptop here for?” he blurts out.

It’s not the best way to restart their conversation, but at least Chanyeol’s eyes clear a bit as he looks down. “I thought I’d bring it just in case. These types of events always get boring, and I might be able to use the time to be productive.”

“Oh.” Baekhyun has to physically bite back a teasing remark. “What type of event is this?”

“A business one,” Chanyeol says dryly.

“Oh.”

Silence again. It’s so uncomfortable it makes Baekhyun’s skin prickle. He wants to break the tense atmosphere, but he also doesn’t want Chanyeol to get offended and leave, and the conflict puts a nervous buzz in the pit of his stomach as he fidgets with the hem of his shirt.

Eventually, though, it gets too much. Baekhyun clears his throat and thinks, screw it. “I’m sorry,” he says, making sure his voice is as bare and honest as possible, because that seems like a good place to start.

Chanyeol just looks at him. “For what?”

“For - a lot of things. What I said before. Ignoring you, and running off, and…” Baekhyun worries his lip between his teeth. “Not giving you an explanation.”

“An explanation,” Chanyeol repeats.

“Yeah. For acting the way I did. I’m sorry.”

There’s a beat, and then Chanyeol sighs, slumping his shoulders as he sets his laptop bag down. “I’m gonna be honest with you, Baekhyun. I was really hurt. I know it might’ve made things awkward, but… I thought you could’ve at least told me straight up if you didn’t want to see me again.”

Baekhyun jerks up. “Chanyeol, no, I - why would you think that?”

“I don’t know!” Chanyeol says, tearing his gaze away to look to the side again. He sounds tired and frustrated at the same time, and it makes Baekhyun’s stomach churn. “Maybe because you ran off after we had sex? Maybe because you ignored my texts and messages for two weeks afterwards?” He shrugs, all stiff, and drops his eyes to the floor. “Actions speak louder than words, and you didn’t even give me any words to work with.”

The churning in Baekhyun’s gut turns into a full-blown storm. “I’m really sorry,” he says again. He feels completely helpless. “I know I shouldn’t have.”

Chanyeol just shrugs. “Well, you did,” he says quietly, and Baekhyun can’t even blame him for the sting in his words.

“Chanyeol, for what it’s worth, I really am sorry. You don’t have to forgive me or anything, just - hear me out. Please.” Baekhyun forces himself to stare into Chanyeol’s face until he looks back again, and he doesn’t say anything, so Baekhyun takes it as his cue to go on. “I was an idiot,” he says in one breath. “I was an idiot, and I was scared, so I ran away and convinced myself it was for the best. But it wasn’t. Not at all.” He sucks in another lungful of air. “I just got stupidly jealous because I saw you with your ex-girlfriend.”

That seems to actually catch Chanyeol off guard. “Sooyoung? Baekhyun, we’re not—”

“I know. It was stupid of me. But I didn’t think it through because I went by instinct, and because…” Baekhyun hesitates. “Because…”

“Because?” Chanyeol says softly, and there’s something different in his voice now. Like he’s waiting to see if he should start to hope.

It makes Baekhyun’s chest tremble. This is it. This is the moment - the point where there’s no turning back.

He has to be brave now. He doesn’t have any other choice.

“It scared me because I realized you meant something to me,” he says, and it comes out so easily, despite everything, gathering on the tip of his tongue before spilling out like a gentle wave.

Chanyeol’s breath catches, so obviously that Baekhyun can hear it. He straightens up. “You…”

“You still do,” Baekhyun tells him. He swallows. “You maybe always have.”

“Are you joking with me?” Chanyeol asks, and he sounds vulnerable but also more hopeful by the second. That hope reaches Baekhyun, fills his chest; steadies him out like an anchor.

“I’m not. I would never. Not with this.”

“So you really…”

Chanyeol trails off. He’s not quite brave enough to say it out loud.

But that’s okay, because right now - in this moment - Baekhyun suddenly feels like he has enough bravery inside him for the both of them.

“I’m going to fall in love with you, Chanyeol,” he says, and Chanyeol freezes up all over. “Is that okay?”

Chanyeol stares. Baekhyun stares right back. It’s like everything around them stills, until there’s only the pulse of Baekhyun’s own heart to fill the deafening silence, fast and strong and miraculously even.

He counts ten full beats before Chanyeol starts to smile. Then he laughs, and every single piece of the tension around them breaks into molecules.

What?” Baekhyun protests, but for some inexplicable reason he’s smiling now too.

“Sorry, sorry.” Chanyeol muffles another laugh into his sleeve. “It’s just…”

“What?”

Chanyeol meets his eyes again, and the brightness in them is enough to make Baekhyun’s heart swell until he’s almost floating. “It’s just such a ridiculous question,” he says, voice soft, eyes softer. “When I’m already two steps ahead of you.”

Baekhyun’s breath stops. “What?” he asks for the third time, just to be sure.

“Baekhyun. Are you serious? I’ve been in love with you since before Jeju.”

That successfully renders Baekhyun speechless. He opens and closes his mouth, and Chanyeol’s still grinning at him, so pleased it’s almost smug. “No, wait,” Baekhyun finally says, feeling stupidly indignant all of a sudden. “You - don’t outdo me!”

Chanyeol laughs again. “You’re a little too late for that.”

“Are you for real, though? Really?”

“You still have to ask?” Chanyeol fixes his gaze on Baekhyun. “Of course I am. It took me a while to realize it, but…” He steps closer, then hesitates before reaching out to touch Baekhyun’s shoulder. “I’m telling the truth. I couldn’t lie about this.”

Baekhyun feels that light touch on him like a magnetic pull, and he’s helpless to it. He takes a step forward and falls into Chanyeol’s chest, wrapping his arms around Chanyeol’s torso, breathing in the scent of his expensive cologne.

Beneath it all, there’s the scent of Chanyeol, warm and familiar and comforting. Baekhyun sinks right into it. “Okay,” he mumbles.

Chanyeol squeezes him. “Just okay?”

“Shut up and hug me back.”

Another laugh rumbles in Chanyeol’s chest. “Greedy,” he says, but any teasing note to it is ruined by the soft reverence in his voice, like he can’t quite believe Baekhyun’s really here in his arms.

They stay like that, for a while. The sweet night air swirls around them. Down below, Seoul’s traffic is still so loud, coming and going in flashes, but Baekhyun couldn’t care less. Anyone could probably look up and snap a photo of them right now, tangled together in the worst piece of incriminating evidence possible.

Baekhyun doesn’t even mind. He just needs to be close to Chanyeol right now - surrounded by his body heat, feeling the elated hum of his pulse near his neck. Knowing that he’s here, as sure as anything. And that he isn’t going away.

Not if Baekhyun can help it.

“I just realized,” Chanyeol says suddenly, pulling Baekhyun out of his gooey feelings. “That I didn’t give you my answer yet.”

Baekhyun buries himself closer. “Hmm?”

“It’s okay. It’s more than okay.”

“I already know that. You made it kind of obvious.”

“Good.” Chanyeol pauses. “Hey, look up.”

Baekhyun looks up, and Chanyeol catches him with a kiss, pressing his mouth against Baekhyun’s and cupping the side of his head sweetly enough to hurt.

Baekhyun melts into it. He kisses Chanyeol back, feeling Chanyeol smile against his lips. He reaches his hands up to curl around Chanyeol’s neck, then pulls him down into a deeper kiss without a care in the world, like they’re not on a roof in one of the busiest parts of Seoul, like their names aren’t bright enough and heavy enough to fill the entire skyline.

When they break apart, Baekhyun has something to say.

“I changed my mind,” he tells Chanyeol. “I think I might be past the point of falling already.”

Chanyeol just smiles harder. He reaches out, tucking a piece of Baekhyun’s hair behind his ear, and Baekhyun lets the happiness rise and crest inside of him like ocean water.

“Wouldn’t have guessed it.”

The tide turns.

 

---

 

Chanyeol wakes up to cool, quiet air. He yawns and sits up to stretch a little as the blankets rustle around his waist. A glance around makes him remember where he is: Baekhyun’s no-longer-mysterious apartment. He’s in Baekhyun’s bed, Baekhyun’s sheets, and the comforting tranquility of a good night’s sleep is still washing over his mind.

Almost involuntarily, Chanyeol smiles. He looks down beside him.

Baekhyun’s still asleep.

Chanyeol watches him for so long that it must be creepy, but he can’t help it. Because the man at his side isn’t Baekhyun the idol or Baekhyun the celebrity. This is just Baekhyun the human, like this - eyes closed and chest rising and falling, early dawn light pooling over his skin, filtering through the brightest strands of crimson-red in his hair.

Even in the morning, Chanyeol thinks, Baekhyun still looks like he’s only a few smudges of eyeshadow from being ready to stand on the stage and take an audience’s breath away. It’s unfair.

Not that Chanyeol is a good audience. Even if he does kind of feel embarrassingly breathless right now. He looks at Baekhyun for a moment longer, just drinking the scene in, and the rightness of it all comes to him like a piece of music in his head.

He reaches for the bag beside the nightstand. He pulls out his laptop. He opens a new file.

He starts writing a song, and he doesn’t stop.

 

---

 

EPILOGUE

TWO WEEKS LATER

 

The flowers are pink and white and delicate, pretty blossoms that bloom in near-perfect circles with petals that flutter when Baekhyun picks them up. It’s a good thing they’re professionally wrapped in a bouquet, because they look like they might break apart with half a gust of breath. Congratulations aside - backstage definitely isn’t the best place for them. Baekhyun has to cradle the wrinkled tissue paper with a careful hand as he peeks in.

There’s a notecard, too. White and pristine. It’s marked with a clumsy doodle of a lollipop and one sentence in thin black pen.

Sweet as candy.

“I hope you know,” Taeyeon says to him, voice dry but with an undeniable trace of amusement, “that your man is cheesy as fuck.”

“Jealousy is a disease,” Baekhyun shoots back. He can’t stop smiling as he looks at the flowers, not even caring that Taeyeon’s probably rolling her eyes hard enough to hurt. Leave it up to Chanyeol to be so ridiculously sweet. “Do you know when these came in?”

Minseok’s the one that answers from across the room. “Just before your final take on the stage,” he calls out, glancing over at the clock. “I have to say, I’m impressed he got the timing so accurate.”

“Like I said, cheesy.” Taeyeon pulls at Baekhyun’s ear before picking up her bag to leave.

“Don’t be so judgemental.”

“When did I say it was a bad thing? Count yourself lucky.”

That makes Baekhyun look up as Taeyeon makes her way to the door. She gives him one last once-over as she pulls it open - running her eyes over Baekhyun’s meticulous idol hairstyle, the makeup that she put on his face, the stage outfit he hasn’t yet bothered to change out of. Whatever she sees, it makes her lips tug up.

“Congratulations on your comeback,” she says, tilting her head teasingly at the bouquet in Baekhyun’s hands. “Even though my words can’t compare to those.”

And then she’s gone before Baekhyun can even reply.

While he’s still caught up in blinking at the door, Minseok comes over and claps him on the shoulder. “She’s right, you know.”

“About what?” Baekhyun meets Minseok’s amused gaze. “The comeback?”

“No. That fact that you’re lucky.”

Something squeezes in Baekhyun’s chest. He looks down into the bouquet again, breathing in the sweet, faint scent of the flowers, remembering the way his heart did a mini gymnastics routine as soon as he recognized the earnest loops of Chanyeol’s handwriting.

“I know I am,” he says, and he doesn’t think he’s ever sounded more honest.

“Good.” Minseok gives him an exasperated smile and nods over at Baekhyun’s phone. “Oh, and when you’re ready, I think your number one fan is out there waiting for you.”

As if on cue, the device vibrates.

 

---

 

Chanyeol’s Rolls-Royce is already waiting in the private parking lot by the time Baekhyun makes it out of the building. He has to suppress a laugh as he pulls open the door and climbs in, dropping his bag on the floor before settling back into the leather seats with a sigh. “You know,” he says, closing his eyes, “flowers and a fancy car ride aren’t exactly the textbook definition of subtle.”

The smile is audible in Chanyeol’s voice as he replies. “Not your type of thing, then?”

“I didn’t say that.” Baekhyun looks over. “Just that it’s not very low-key.”

“And here I thought I was being very mysterious with the note.”

Under the July sun, Chanyeol looks every inch like the spoiled movie star he very much is not: designer sunglasses perched in his windswept hair, million-dollar grin pulling at his lips as he looks back at Baekhyun. There’s a flush to his cheeks and a gleam to his eyes as he starts the engine, and he returns his gaze to the road before lowering his voice a little. “But did you like it?”

He sounds so shy but so determined all at once. Baekhyun’s face is starting to hurt from his smile.

“I loved it,” he says softly. “Thank you, Chanyeol.”

Chanyeol ducks his head. “Good,” he mumbles, and turns the wheel.

The flowers rustle a little in Baekhyun’s hold as the car begins to move. Baekhyun has to grasp them more tightly, fingers steadying the end of the bouquet where the stems are concealed. Seoul’s sky is clear and bright, and the sunlight washes over Chanyeol’s tinted windows as they come out into the street, radiant and in perfect time with the happiness in Baekhyun’s heart.

This is something new - a boyfriend who sends him flowers and comes to pick him up after music shows - but Baekhyun isn’t complaining at all.

Because that’s still a recent development. Boyfriend. Chanyeol was the one to even bring the word up, that morning after the night on the roof. It’s not like Baekhyun would’ve done anything else except accept and maybe kiss him stupid, but Chanyeol was so nervous anyway, meeting Baekhyun’s gaze with so much earnestness that it hurt as he asked him over breakfast. And really, Baekhyun’s charmed to the point of idiocy. He’s doomed and he doesn’t even care.

It’s not like a relationship between them would be one hundred percent easy - Baekhyun knows that. Not when he still has his idol reputation to maintain, and not when Chanyeol has the weight of his company on his back, an ever-present duty. Not when rumours still cling to Baekhyun’s skin almost as much as the scent of Chanyeol’s favourite cologne.

But there’s a simple, plain want when he looks at Chanyeol, as all-consuming as sinking into water, and Baekhyun would sooner retire and let himself fade into the shadows than try to deny it.

So they’re here, and that’s a start.

By the time Baekhyun looks outside the window again, the streets have transformed into the quiet luxury of Gangnam. He straightens. “We’re going to your apartment?” he asks, glancing over at Chanyeol in question.

“Yeah.” Chanyeol’s oddly quiet for a while before saying, “I have something I want to show you.”

Baekhyun cocks his head. Chanyeol’s voice is different now, softer but more serious. Whatever this something is, it must be important.

“Okay,” he says, and leans back into his seat.

The hallways of Chanyeol’s classy apartment are as familiar as ever when he unlocks his door, and Baekhyun steps in and sets his bag down on a chair with well-practiced ease, toeing his shoes off and waiting for Chanyeol to do the same. Chanyeol takes longer than usual this time, seeming to hesitate as he hovers near the door. There’s something about it that gives Baekhyun pause.

He’s obviously nervous. For one ridiculous second, Baekhyun has to wonder if he’s about to be shown a hidden sex dungeon or something, Fifty Shades of Grey style.

Right.

“Okay,” Chanyeol finally says, making a vague hand gesture in the direction of the bedrooms. “It’s this way.”

So Baekhyun follows, not sure what to expect.

Chanyeol takes him to a closed door at the end of the hallway. It seems innocent enough, white and wooden and unremarkable, the same as all of the other doors in Chanyeol’s apartment. But that doesn’t explain why Chanyeol’s still so nervous, fidgeting a little as he puts his hand on the doorknob - looking back at Baekhyun with an expression on his face that’s half-anticipating and half-anxious. It makes Baekhyun’s heart skip a beat in his chest.

“I just wanted to show you this because it’s important to me,” Chanyeol says quietly. He pauses. “And because… I think I have you to thank for it.”

And Baekhyun doesn’t get any time to try and interpret what that means, because then Chanyeol’s pushing open the door in one go, and Baekhyun’s breath catches in his lungs.

It’s not a sex dungeon. It’s probably the furthest possible thing from a sex dungeon.

Because it’s a music studio - clean and put-together and beautiful - and all of a sudden, Baekhyun understands Chanyeol’s nerves with a clarity that strikes him right in the face.

The room is immaculate. There’s a window letting sunlight in over an enormous soundboard, and soundproof foam walls that have obviously been put in place by a professional touch. There’s a three-screen monitor set-up on a wide, spotless desk, huge speakers that take up nearly all the space in the corners, and a complicated tangle of wires and microphones set up right near the door where they’re standing, just waiting to be tested and sung into. Baekhyun can count three electronic keyboards and five guitars on the wall with just one glimpse over the area.

But at the same time, even with all the businesslike equipment, Baekhyun sees hints of Chanyeol all over the room - in the music sheets with his handwriting on them scattered over every surface, the One Piece flag on the wall, the potted plants placed carefully near the window for maximum exposure to sunlight. It all ties up into a scene that’s so unexpectedly intimate it gets stuck in Baekhyun’s throat. This is the Chanyeol he knows, in bits and pieces. His love for music and his love for life. It comes together like a puzzle, settles in the corners of Baekhyun’s mind like a memory he never had, and it’s…

“It’s perfect,” Baekhyun says, and means it.

Chanyeol’s breath whooshes out next to him. He turns and smiles. “Really?”

“Of course. This place is amazing, Chanyeol.” Baekhyun looks at him, pink-cheeked and eyes pleased and warm, and a real memory comes to him out of nowhere. “Is this what you meant by ‘renovations’ that day?”

Chanyeol bobs his head. “Yeah. They were installing the walls and it was noisy, so I couldn’t stay here for a while.”

“But it was worth it?”

“Definitely worth it,” Chanyeol agrees. He comes closer to Baekhyun, looping his arms around Baekhyun’s neck and settling his chin in the crown of Baekhyun’s hair. “You like it?”

“I love it,” Baekhyun corrects, reaching up to tangle his fingers with Chanyeol’s. “Seriously, it’s perfect. Thank you for showing it to me.”

Chanyeol’s strangely quiet for a while in the wake of that. And then he says, “It was thanks to you, you know.”

Baekhyun blinks. He tries to tip his head back, but the weight of Chanyeol’s chin holds him in place like an anchor. He can’t see Chanyeol’s expression.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean I don’t think I would’ve gotten this far if it wasn’t for you. And no, don’t try to argue,” Chanyeol says sternly, tapping his fingers against Baekhyun’s lips when he opens his mouth to protest. “I’m serious, okay? I always liked music, but I never ever thought I’d be brave enough or daring enough to even do it as a side hobby. Not until you knocked some sense into me and gave me that chance, so - thank you.” He pauses, and then he confesses, voice achingly honest, “I feel like a lot of good things have happened to me because of you. Or maybe you’re just a good thing.”

It’s sappy. It’s so sappy. But it’s also so Chanyeol-like, just as much as the room they’re standing in, and Baekhyun feels something swell up in his chest, as hot and bright and inextinguishable as a flame.

“You’re such a sweet talker,” he murmurs, but he leans back into Chanyeol’s embrace all the same.

“Maybe.” Chanyeol’s grin is obvious. “You like me anyway.”

“You’re lucky I do. Or else I might ask you to write me a song right here to prove your worth.”

Chanyeol’s hand squeezes around Baekhyun’s wrist, and his voice is soft all over again when he says, “I already have. At least two.”

That isn’t something that Baekhyun was prepared for. His heart expands so quickly he thinks his lungs must cave in from all the added pressure. He swallows, trying his best to make his voice steady as he teases, “Not even enough to put on a mini album?”

Baekhyun feels the vibration of Chanyeol’s laugh running up his spine. He’s turned around in Chanyeol’s arms, gentle and indulgent like a child.

When he looks up, Chanyeol’s gazing down at him with a fondness in his eyes, almost warm enough to catch on the spark in Baekhyun’s chest.

“It’s okay. I have all the time in the world, don’t I?”

He sounds so sure, so confident. The flame lights up into something like a miniature sun. And suddenly - with Seoul’s skyline behind him and the easy, comforting pull of Chanyeol’s gravity, strong and tower-safe - Baekhyun’s never felt so fearless.

“Yeah,” he says, and smiles. “You do.”