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how not to become icarus

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The floor is clean, newly-swept, and completely ice cold. Chanyeol really should’ve worn socks.

As it is, he ends up wincing the whole time he makes his trip down to the first floor of his home, doing some sort of bizarre half-hopping and half-skipping routine in an attempt to touch the ground as little as possible. It’s already March. It shouldn’t even be this chilly outside, let alone indoors. Considering the way Chanyeol’s pitifully bare feet are stinging, though, Seoul clearly doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.

Which is a shame, because Chanyeol loves his city - just not as much when the shitty weather is doing its best to tempt him back to his bed.

Especially on a day like today.

Come on, Park, he tells himself, trying to adopt one of those motivational pep-talk techniques his mom is ridiculously good at. You can do this. What’s a little cold in the face of your freedom?

Unfortunately, because Chanyeol’s only human, after all, and not some max-efficiency business machine, he still finds himself wishing he’d stayed in the warm nest of his blankets instead of trudging out on a cold Thursday at barely 7 A.M. The air is dry and frigid against his skin, and it makes him shiver. His poor toes feel like they’re already halfway to turning into numb blocks. The coldness definitely isn’t helped by all the space in the mansion, either, since its blank walls and bare-minimum design just make the entire place seem even bigger and emptier than it already is. Chanyeol’s never quite managed to warm up to this family house despite how much his mom likes it. It still feels bleak. Like a meticulously-kept office and not a home.

At the very least, the halls are mercifully empty, which means no one’s here to see Chanyeol look like a complete idiot as he does his weird little stumble-jog down the corridor.

He finally reaches the main entryway with a soft huff of breath. It’s still so cold that he half-expects it to come out in a white cloud. The weight of his phone in his pocket bumps against his hip as Chanyeol reaches down to rub at his feet, trying his best to get his blood flowing again.

“Well,” he says aloud, and grins to himself. “That wasn’t so difficult.”

Famous last words. Just as Chanyeol’s preparing to do one last sprint across the icy floor so he can reach the door, a dry voice behind him says, “Going somewhere?”

Chanyeol lets out an extremely unmanly yelp. He whips his head around so fast he almost cracks his neck, and there, just at the base of the staircase, stands the last obstacle to his goal: Yoona, his mom’s favourite assistant, arching a perfectly groomed eyebrow at him as she leans against the wall. There’s a glossy folder clutched in her manicured hands, and she doesn’t have a single hair out of place even though it’s early enough for most of Korea to still be sleeping. It’s just a shame that the full effect of her intimidating good looks is somewhat diminished by the unimpressed look she’s now directing at Chanyeol.

Understandable, though, considering that she’s just caught the twenty-five-year-old son of her boss sneaking through his own home like he’s trying to single-handedly reenact Mission Impossible.

Chanyeol’s the proverbial kid with a hand shoved into the cookie jar. “Noona,” he coughs out awkwardly, then trails off, because he’s never been good at getting himself out of sticky situations. “Um. What are you doing here?”

Yoona raises her other eyebrow. “Your mother asked me to retrieve a few documents from her office,” she says, nodding in the direction of the hall.

Now that she mentions it, Chanyeol’s gaze drops down to the folder in her hands, which looks like it’s stuffed to the brim with papers. Yoona’s dressed to the nines, too, he realizes suddenly - grey pantsuit sharp and pressed, shiny black pumps on her feet. It’s her typical meeting outfit. The one that means business.

And also the one that means Chanyeol’s mom probably won’t be coming home until it’s far past midnight again, then leaving in another busy blur before the sun even rises.

Chanyeol feels a slight twinge in his gut, even though it’s exactly what he was expecting when he woke up today. “Oh,” he mumbles.

“Right. She said she’d forgotten some key stat sheets that she’d meant to bring.” Yoona pauses. “She also said that you would be waiting for her in her office.”

Her voice is carefully pointed, and Chanyeol cringes. There it is. “Uh, haha,” he attempts, bringing a hand up to rub at the back of his neck. “About that. I’m actually... not?”

Yoona’s mouth quirks. “I can see that.”

“And, um, I’m not really planning on being there either?” It comes out sounding like a question. When Yoona gives him a sceptical look again, Chanyeol just gives up on any pretense and resorts to telling the truth. It’s not like he can hide anything from his mom’s sharp-eyed assistant anyway. “Okay, okay, I’m going out. For most of the day. Don’t tell Mom?”

“Chanyeol,” Yoona sighs, somehow managing to sound even more unimpressed. “I thought you two were supposed to go over the first quarter profit margins today.”

Chanyeol winces and tries to ignore the guilt creeping up his spine. “I know, but this is for something kind of important—” technically not a lie— “and you know Mom isn’t going to get back on time anyway, so—”

“I’m not your parent, Chanyeol. Youngmi-ssi has the privilege of being the only one to hold that title.” Yoona straightens, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and fixes her amused gaze on him again. “Even if I did try, I think it’s pretty clear that I can’t stop you either way.”

A faint feeling of hope flickers to life in Chanyeol’s chest. “So…”

“So go on if you want,” Yoona says. She flicks a nonchalant hand at the door, smiling not-so-discreetly when she watches Chanyeol visibly brighten. “I trust that you’re old enough to make your own decisions.” Then she frowns a little and adds, “No promises about not telling your mother if she asks, though. She is still my boss.”

Chanyeol can work with that. Chanyeol knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Got it, noona,” he says seriously, then grabs for his shoes right away just in case Yoona decides to change her mind. “Thank you. Really.”

“Don’t mention it.”

As Chanyeol’s tugging his warmest and most fur-lined boots over his bare feet - honestly, why did he decide not to wear socks again - his phone vibrates in his pocket, once then twice in a row. At the fourth time, he slaps a hand over it with a wince of frustration. It’s probably not important. Chanyeol’s about ninety-nine percent sure he knows who it is, anyways, and the whole act of texting him in the first place is kind of counterproductive considering his situation.

Not that Yoona knows that. Her smile’s turned into something a little more sly when Chanyeol finally finishes lacing up his boots and stands up. “Better hurry,” she tells him, tilting her head pointedly at his pocket. “Looks like someone’s getting impatient.”

The knowing glint in her eyes is impossible to miss. Chanyeol almost flinches. He knows what she’s assuming. He also knows, with a kind of resigned certainty, that it is most definitely wrong.

It’s not what you think it is, Chanyeol almost wants to protest, if only to clear things up and get rid of the uneasiness stirring in his chest, but then his phone vibrates again and Chanyeol starts seriously considering murdering the person on the other end as soon as he’s out.

“Uh, yeah,” he mumbles a beat late, shuffling over to the door. On second thought, he reaches back for the coat rack and grabs his jacket, tugging it over one shoulder and hastily fastening the clasp at the neck. Better safe than sorry, in this weather. “I’ll just… go now, then. Thanks again.”

Some part of him still sort of expects Yoona to reach out and stop him, on behalf of the honour of the family business and all, so Chanyeol’s relieved when she just waves as he opens the door. “Just hurry up,” she says, still so amused. “And make sure not to stay out too late, okay?”

“I won’t,” Chanyeol promises, and makes his escape. “You’re the best, noona!”

“Don’t let Yoora hear you say that!” Yoona calls out, and Chanyeol laughs as he runs out into the driveway, hair flapping against his forehead and the cold March wind cutting his cheeks. As soon as he hears the unmistakable sound of the door slamming shut behind him, he digs his phone out of his pocket. True to what Chanyeol expected, it’s a chain of completely nonsensical texts - all under one particular contact name, and with inspiring content ranging from where r u to lol jk i know where u r to hurry the fuck up already i’m freezing my balls off out here.

Chanyeol glowers down at his screen as he speed-walks along the driveway. At the very least, he tells himself, the stupid messages are something familiar he can count on as a part of his routine. If not comforting, they’re consistent.

The thought doesn’t exactly dull the sharp irritation he feels starting around his temple.

Neither does the cold air swirling around Chanyeol as he walks. The path to the gate of the mansion is ridiculously far, which is something Chanyeol’s usually grateful for because of the privacy it allows his family. Pyeongchang-dong homes tended to be built like that: all half-kilometre-long driveways and tall green hedges, adding up to round out the perfect equation for worn-out celebrities and important businesspeople. Most times, Chanyeol likes it that way. It’s peaceful and quiet and safe and relaxing. His mom needs relaxing, these days.

Now, though, when Chanyeol’s still shivering even bundled up in his expensive coat, is not one of those times.

It’s a good thing he finally spots the red Mercedes parked outside when he looks up from his phone. Chanyeol pulls the collar of his coat a bit snugger around his neck and hurries over, punching in the code to open the gate and standing back as it slowly drags open.

When it does, he steps out onto the road, glancing back to make sure the gate has shut itself again. This close, Chanyeol can see his best friend even through the tinted windows of his stupidly flashy car. Sehun’s fiddling with his own phone as he pulls the Mercedes out into the road. As Chanyeol watches, he looks up, quirks an eyebrow, and hits a button on the screen with his thumb.

Chanyeol’s phone vibrates in his hand. Again.

So of course, he can’t really be blamed when the first thing he does upon opening Sehun’s car door is throw the device at him. “Did you have to keep doing that?” Chanyeol complains, as Sehun lets out an offended noise and rubs at his shoulder. “Yoona noona was there to pick up some stuff for my mom, and now she totally thinks I’m skipping out on important work things to go on a date or whatever. Which I’m not,” he adds viciously, when Sehun just gives him a smarmy grin and wiggles his eyebrows.

“Congratulations on escaping the golden castle,” is all Sehun says in response, because he’s insufferable like that. He pats the steering wheel and starts up the car again, revving the engine. “Was it difficult?”

“Very. No thanks to you.” Chanyeol huffs as he closes the car door behind him and settles into Sehun’s fancy leather passenger seat. He picks up his phone, clearing away all of Sehun’s text notifications with a single swipe, and drops his head against the headrest with an exhale.

“Hey, is that any way to talk to your best friend who’s graciously taking you out on a shopping trip just to cheer you up?”

Chanyeol huffs again. “I don’t need cheering up,” he mumbles.

The sceptical look Sehun sends him is way too similar to Yoona’s. It creeps Chanyeol out. “And anyway,” he barrels on, choosing not to get into that subject, “this was your idea in the first place. And now my mom’s assistant thinks I’m on a date.”

“Well, yes, Chanyeol,” Sehun says dryly. “That’s what people tend to assume when someone with a significant other sneaks out of their house at 7 A.M in the morning.”

That makes Chanyeol cringe and sink back into his seat. “I’m not - don’t. Have one anymore. You know that.”

“I do,” Sehun agrees, leaning over to check the GPS screen built into his dashboard. “But does she know that?”

Chanyeol’s awkward silence is answer enough. Sehun just snorts. “You still haven’t told her? Or even your mom?” When Chanyeol pointedly looks out the window, Sehun’s head shake is practically audible. “Hyung, it’s been, like, a week—”

“Look, I tried, okay?”

“Did you?”

“Of course I did!” Chanyeol says, defensive. “I even sent a can we talk message to my mom and everything. But you know how she is.” Busy. Overworked. Probably doesn’t even sleep. He shrugs, lifting his shoulders then dropping them in defeat. “And I don’t know, it felt weird to tell Yoona noona before I even told my own mom.”

Sehun, like the brat he is, just heaves a dramatic sigh, raising his eyes to the sky before focusing back on the road. “Chanyeol, Chanyeol,” he says, dropping the hyung almost as fast as he picked it up. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Dude, you’re the younger one here—”

“Anyway,” Sehun continues smoothly. Chanyeol gives up and settles back into his seat. “Point is, you need something to take your mind off things. And as your very best friend, that’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”

“If you say so.”

Sehun pretends like he doesn’t even hear the doubt in Chanyeol’s voice. “You know the gala?”

Chanyeol slumps. Of course he knows the gala - commonly referred to with a capital G and no other title, because apparently it’s just that important. It’s an annual thing, mostly for the who’s who in the media industry to show up and show off, get some pictures with whichever pretty idols and actors are the most popular that year and then make enough connections to last until the next spring when it repeats all over again. Next to the year-end awards, it’s probably the biggest event in Seoul entertainment. It attracts enough attention that it’d be stupid to not go if you’re lucky enough to get an invitation. Anybody who’s anybody gets one.

Chanyeol’s mom, as the mogul at the forefront of Korea’s largest mass media company, has always been a part of that anybody. Which means the same goes for Chanyeol, mostly as a courtesy. For someone like him, who holds an unexpected distaste for parties and social events despite being a cookie-cutter chaebol, it usually stays a courtesy. He’s been more than happy to let his mom go by herself on behalf of her work every time the thing’s been held.

With the rate at which his mom’s duties are piling up recently, though, Chanyeol’s probably doomed to be forced to go alone to represent the company at the event this year.

Which is in three days.

All of this adds up to Chanyeol very much not wanting to talk about the gala. But of course it has to be an integral part of Sehun’s cheer-up plan, or whatever it actually is. Chanyeol sighs. “Yeah, I know the gala. What about it?”

“Well, seeing as you’re hopeless and completely lacking a sense of style—”

Excuse you—”

“—I’ve decided to lend you my services this year to help dress you up for it,” Sehun finishes, ignoring Chanyeol’s insulted spluttering. “So lucky for you, you have a professional, top-notch fashion consultant at your disposal right here.” He punctuates the statement with a proud nod.

Chanyeol makes a big show of looking around, holding a hand over his eyes as he turns to peek in the back of the car. “Where? I don’t see any—”

“Oh, very funny,” Sehun says tonelessly. He makes another turn, bringing them out onto a wider, busier road. It’s the one that takes them straight into the heart of the city, Chanyeol realizes, and feels a strange sense of foreboding begin to crawl down his neck.

Which quickly becomes justified as Sehun says, with a note of glee, “So we’re going to the mall. That fancy new one at Lotte Tower.”

Chanyeol makes a half-disbelieving and half-protesting noise. “Why?”

“Because you have more than enough money for it, Casanova. And because it’s the gala.” Sehun cuts his eyes at him, raising one thin eyebrow. “I’m going to be there too, you know? You can’t expect me to be willing to be seen with you if all you’re going to wear is some thrift shop suit.”

That makes Chanyeol sulk. He’s not that bad. He’s gained at least some common sense through years of being forced through weird upper-class socialization rituals. At least, enough to know not to wear a thrift shop suit to the biggest event of the year.

“You probably just want to go there to use the chance to see your face on some new ad or something,” he shoots back, and feels vindicated when Sehun falls into reluctant silence - meaning Chanyeol’s absolutely right. “Wait, seriously? What is it this time?” He pokes at Sehun’s shoulder, teasing. “Another racy underwear billboard? A wet swimsuit shoot in the water?”

“You wish,” Sehun mutters, but there’s a faint flush across his cheeks.

Bingo. Chanyeol grins. “Is that why you came all the way here to pick me up and go shopping?” he asks, leaning back in his seat. “And here I thought you just wanted to fulfill the whole post-breakup cliche. Not go and stare at your own face.”

“Hey, this face—” Sehun gestures exaggeratedly around his head— “has been on the cover of international magazines, you know. You could at least be a little more honoured.”

Chanyeol can’t help himself. He snorts. Loudly. It’s probably all the jittery energy still bouncing around inside of him, or a side effect of the leftover shivers from the cold air in his house. Sehun shoots him an affronted look, one hand turning the steering wheel, and Chanyeol just drops his head back against the seat and laughs.

The slight tension in his chest that’s been there more or less for the past week starts to dissolve. Maybe it was a good idea to sneak out on an impromptu trip with his best friend, after all. Even if said best friend is a slightly narcissistic supermodel who drags him to luxury shopping centres at the crack of dawn.

He might need this, anyway.

“Yeah, sure,” Chanyeol says. His lips curl into a small smile as he looks outside the window again. “I’m plenty honoured.”

Sehun, unaware of the truthfulness laced in Chanyeol’s words, just heaves another sigh and keeps driving.

 

---

 

Throughout all six of the years he’s known his manager, Baekhyun has gained the uncanny ability to instantly sort any of Minseok’s facial expressions into three main categories.

The first one is the easiest: happiness. Also known as the safe zone. Any of these expressions means that Baekhyun’s out of trouble for the foreseeable future, and also, usually, that Minseok’s in a good mood. This one’s the one to aim for. Then comes the second category, which is just a little more risky but not enough to actually be dangerous. Baekhyun just has to tread more carefully than normal when these expressions come up, for fear of turning his manager’s slight annoyance into something full-blown.

And the third one, of course, is the danger category. The code-red category. High-pitched sirens and flashing, glaring, obnoxiously neon warning signs - the whole nine yards, usually reserved for times when Baekhyun has Really Fucked Up.

Right now, as Baekhyun leans backwards over the head of his chair and blinks at Minseok’s upside-down face in the doorway, it’s the third kind. Definitely the third kind.

Shit.

“Uh,” he says intelligently. His inner alarm bells are going off, and he starts running through the past few days in his head right away. Baekhyun doesn’t think he’s done anything that warrants the Look-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named currently plastered on Minseok’s face. He’s not even promoting right now, stuck in the limbo between comebacks - all he’s done in the last week is practice, practice, and more practice just to keep in shape, forced to maintain those Nutella abs that are ever-useful when the company can’t come up with enough new things to show off at concerts. And one boring session on some radio show where he gave textbook answers to textbook questions, but Baekhyun really doesn’t think that’s what’s making his manager look like… well, this.

This being an expression like he’s just swallowed a particularly sour lemon. Or come home to his cat tearing his immaculate bedroom to shreds. Or found out that TVXQ’s Changmin has just announced that he’s getting married, leaving the duo, and quitting the entertainment industry for good.

Or all three. At the same time.

“Uhhhh,” Baekhyun says again, drawing the sound out. He wracks his brain and immediately latches on to the first possible worst case scenario. “Did another bad article get published?”

Minseok levels him with a very, very flat look. “I don’t know, should one have been?” he says, pushing into the room and dropping his bag into a chair with a thump. “Because I swear, Byun Baekhyun, if you did something stupid again—”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything!” Baekhyun protests. He watches as Minseok shrugs out of his coat and unceremoniously dumps it in the chair too, feeling more alarmed by the second. Minseok always folds his coat in a neat square before stacking it on top of his bag. Baekhyun would know, because he’s teased his manager for the habit more times than he can count. “Um, hyung, are you, like… okay?”

Minseok barely even spares him a glance. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Yeah, I’m trying to figure that out too, he thinks, but wisely does not say. “You just have a really weird look on your face.

“Do I?”

“Yeah. Like this.” Baekhyun screws his face up into an imitation of Minseok’s category three expression. Judging by the way Minseok’s lips just pinch together even more, it probably doesn’t help much. “Okay, okay,” he hurries to amend, “maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea. It’s kind of freaking me out.”

Minseok sighs. Then he sighs again. Which doesn’t really do anything to disprove Baekhyun’s point.

“Alright,” he finally says, rubbing at his forehead. “I guess there’s no point in keeping it from you anyway.” He reaches into his bag and, as Baekhyun keeps blinking up at him in confusion, pulls something out and flicks it across the room.

The something lands on the hardwood table in front of Baekhyun and stops sliding right before it drops off the edge. Baekhyun squints. It looks to be some sort of fancy, creamy envelope, with crisp edges and a loop of indistinguishable gold characters embossed over the top.

“Uh... what’s that?”

Minseok looks like he’s trying very hard not to roll his eyes. “Why don’t you take a look and find out?”

And so Baekhyun, not one to disobey his friend when he’s in manager-mode, gingerly picks up the envelope with two fingers before bringing it to his face. Turns out the curly loop of gold is his name, albeit in romanized English letters - Byun Baek-hyun, with an elegant twist at the two y’s that nearly curves off the page.

Baekhyun’s seen this type of card before. It’d be hard not to, really, with his type of career. He looks up at Minseok and quirks an eyebrow. “An invitation? To what?”

“The gala,” Minseok says, in the exact same tone of voice he’d use to say the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.

“Which gala?”

Now Minseok really does roll his eyes. “The gala. The media one. The annual one that you’ve been going to for the past three years? Does that ring a bell?”

Baekhyun almost falls out of his chair. “That’s this week?”

“It’s always been this week!” The pinch in Minseok’s expression is only getting more pronounced by the minute. He strides over to the table and picks the envelope up, stowing it away in his bag again like he doesn’t even want to look at it. “The last week of March, remember? There’s a reason I keep telling you to actually use the schedule app on your phone.”

“Why would I when you can just do it for me,” Baekhyun replies cheekily, and has to duck on instinct when Minseok raises his bag in threat. The action makes his gaze fall on the chair standing just beside his manager’s arm. Minseok’s jacket is lying in a sad, rumpled pile across the seat, its usual pristine smoothness ruined by the wrinkles running along the fabric.

All in all, very unexpected. Very un-Minseok-like. At least Baekhyun has a better idea of what caused it now.

“Let me guess,” he says, trying to press his lips together to stop a grin. Minseok definitely wouldn’t appreciate that. “You’re stressing yourself out in advance again?”

Minseok cuts his eyes at him, exasperated. “Can you really blame me?”

“Hey, I keep telling you to loosen up and just relax, you know. You don’t have to prepare yourself for the worst every time I go to a big event.”

“I’m an idol manager, Baekhyunnie,” Minseok says flatly. “Being prepared for the worst is literally my job.” As if to emphasize his point, he pulls a stack of papers out of his bag and lays it on the table with a smack that makes Baekhyun wince. “And anyway, I’m sure you remember last year. I think any sane person in my position right now would be stressed.”

That makes Baekhyun wince again, a bit more sheepishly this time. Because he does remember last year’s gala.

Or, more accurately, last year’s nightmare, as Minseok called it. There was a boring event, a steady supply of expensive alcohol, and a handsome waiter who wouldn’t stop brushing Baekhyun’s arm whenever he brought over the drinks, and - well. Baekhyun’s never been known for his stellar impulse control. The blurry paparazzi pictures of them leaving shoulder-to-shoulder were only the beginning.

Long story short, they ended up at the guy’s apartment after a tipsy, messy stumble, and apparently Baekhyun direly overestimated both his stamina and his biological clock, because he woke up late enough the next day to miss half his schedules. It took him at least a week of grovelling and coffee-buying for Minseok to forgive the incident. Baekhyun doesn’t blame him. Minseok is a manager most idols would kill for, and Baekhyun often finds himself sending thanks to the gods for bringing him into his life, but one too many close calls would fray anyone’s nerves after a while - even if in the end, his reputation still came out intact and with no potentially career-ending wounds, as it tends to do.

The rumours, though. Those are always there. As they tend to be.

(It probably didn’t help that it wasn’t Baekhyun’s first rodeo, either, so to speak.)

Which makes up at least ninety percent of the reason Minseok is so worried in the first place.

“You can’t rely on luck forever,” his friend-slash-manager is telling Baekhyun now, a downward pull to his mouth as he finishes shuffling his papers and finally reaches for his coat. “Honestly, I have no idea how you still haven’t gotten yourself into a huge scandal yet. You’d think your enormous reputation would make people want to try harder to expose you.”

“Your faith in me is truly inspiring, hyung,” Baekhyun mutters.

Minseok just sends him another Look. “Award show season is already bad enough. I’m just trying to get you to learn some self-preservation skills.”

“I know, I know. Don’t tire yourself out, okay?” Baekhyun watches as Minseok runs his fingers along the lines of his coat. “How come the invitation came so late anyway?” he asks, attempting a clumsy change of subject. “Don’t they usually send those things way in advance?”

It works. At his words, Minseok makes a vaguely disgruntled noise and tilts his head towards the door. Baekhyun follows the movement. There’s a few large packages stacked together against the wall, all wrapped up in some sort of pretty, shimmering paper that catches the light and makes Baekhyun wonder how he managed to miss when Minseok lugged them in.

“One of your fanbases chose this week to send out their support project,” Minseok explains. “It got mixed up with all the letters in the mail.” He makes another fold. “Stop looking so smug.”

Baekhyun quickly schools his face into a neutral expression before glancing over at Minseok. “You’re not even looking at me!”

“I didn’t need to.”

If there’s one thing that Minseok has gained the uncanny ability of doing, it’s keeping the amusement off his face after he’s delivered a good comeback. As it is, Baekhyun catches the slight curve to his mouth anyway. “Okay, fine,” he huffs out, leaning back into his chair and reassuming his upside-down position. “You’re the best manager. You get to read your idol’s mind. Kudos.”

“If only my idol would listen once in a while,” Minseok says dryly. “That might be a cooler power.”

“Hey, I listen plenty.”

“So if I told you not to hook up with any hot waiters this time - male or female - to save the risk of Dispatch making you their headline of the year, you’d listen?”

Baekhyun pauses, pretending to contemplate, then asks hopefully, “So the hot chaebols are free game?”

To his credit, all Minseok does is shake his head. “You’re impossible,” he says, and keeps folding.

Baekhyun watches him again, for lack of anything else to do. Minseok’s thin fingers are careful; meticulous. He handles the coat fabric with a practiced kind of ease that wouldn’t be out of place in any lifestyle tutorial video. As Baekhyun looks, Minseok presses into the cloth and smooths out all the creases with hardly any effort at all, almost like his touch is laced with magic.

It’s not, Baekhyun thinks, unlike a metaphor for his career. Or maybe just his life in general.

The thought makes him clear his throat. “I’m just saying,” he tries, waiting for Minseok to look up again before he goes on. “You don’t have to worry that much. I’ll be fine.” He waves a hand. “I’m practically a veteran at this stuff now, anyways. People only believe what they want to believe, right?”

“That’s one way of looking at it,” Minseok says, unenthusiastically. He tucks in a last corner and drops his now perfectly neat coat back onto his bag, then frowns and rubs his hand along his forehead. “If you want to play the shameless daredevil again, I’m under the duty to warn you against it. As your manager.”

“Warning received,” Baekhyun mumbles, remembering the category three expression that brought them here from the beginning.

“Just tell me you’ll be more careful.”

“Of course I will. I always am, aren’t I?”

Minseok only snorts in response to that. Before Baekhyun can even muster up the will to get the tiniest bit offended, he raises an eyebrow and adds, “And that you won’t make any impulsive decisions this time?”

They both know full well what he’s referring to. “I’ll try,” Baekhyun concedes.

He can practically feel the scepticism loaded in Minseok’s gaze. “Really?”

“I said I’ll try. No promises.”

“When are there ever promises,” Minseok deadpans, then turns away to rummage through his bag again. He pulls his phone out, unlocks it, and taps something rapid-fire on the screen. Baekhyun’s own phone gives a pleasant ping from where it’s resting in his lap, screen still facing up from the half-finished gaming session he’d been doing while he was waiting for Minseok.

He looks down. It’s a notification for their shared schedule app, because of course it is.

Media gala @ Lotte Hotel. Saturday 5:30 P.M. Arrive at SM two hours early. DON’T BE LATE.

“I take it that you won’t be there to babysit me the entire time, then,” he teases, and the ensuing expression Minseok pulls is so comical that Baekhyun is tempted to create a whole new category four, just for a moment.

 

---

 

Chanyeol pulls out his keys to unlock his door at the grand old time of 11 P.M, a whopping sixteen hours after he escaped home to be swept on a cliche shopping spree with his best friend - which, he figures with a vague sense of shame, probably breaks his “don’t stay out too late” promise with Yoona about ten times over.

It wasn’t Chanyeol’s fault, though. It was definitely Sehun’s. Sehun, who dragged him to every single high-end store in the mall like Chanyeol was meeting the president instead of just attending an event as a courtesy. Sehun who somehow convinced him to buy way more than just one suit. You need fancier clothes anyway, he said. Might as well get them while we’re here, he said. And yeah, maybe they got a little too caught up in testing some new game console at the electronics display area, courtesy of Chanyeol’s entirely-too-short attention span, but technicalities.

Even now, after Sehun’s already dropped him off and zoomed away in his flashy car, Chanyeol still isn’t used to the unfamiliar weight of the shopping bags looped around his wrists. A full-body shiver races up his spine as he finally nudges his door open. “Still so cold,” he grumbles to himself, kicking his shoes off and starting to trudge towards the stairs. “Seriously, why is it so...”

Chanyeol trails off. Then, with a sort of terrifying clarity, thinks: Oh, crap.

Yoona - like ominous déjà vu - raises her eyebrows at him from where she’s sitting at the dining table, glasses perched on her straight nose and an empty mug of coffee next to her arm. “Welcome home.”

“Noona,” Chanyeol says weakly. He resists the urge to cave into his instinct to flee. “You’re still here?”

There’s a mess of documents scattered all around Yoona’s elbows. When she takes off her glasses to put them down on the table, the papers flutter, and Chanyeol catches some of the content: numbers, graphs, and more numbers, the usual finance statistics of the company that Yoona is ever-obligated to sort through. “I’m working,” she says, a bit redundantly, and half-smiles at him. It looks one-part amused and one-part curiously puzzled, which is an expression Chanyeol doesn’t know what to make of.

Whatever confusion quickly evaporates from his mind, though, when Yoona says her next sentence. “She’s waiting for you upstairs.”

Great.

“Great,” Chanyeol intones, dread creeping up his neck. “Thanks for telling me, noona.”

Yoona just waves him on, gaze already returning to her laptop screen, and Chanyeol turns and starts stiffly continuing his journey to the stairs.

The shopping bags in his hands suddenly feel very, very incriminating. It’s not like it’s unheard of for Chanyeol’s mom to make a surprise return to the mansion; it is still her home, after all, even if she spends ninety percent of her time at the company these days. Chanyeol just didn’t expect her to be back tonight, although that was probably stupid considering they were supposed to work together today. But honestly. If he ever made a list of the worst times for his mother to decide to come home, “after he’s skipped out on important work to go on a pointless shopping trip with his best friend” would definitely be at the top.

He reaches the top of the stairs with slow guilt building in his chest. When Chanyeol peeks into his mom’s office, though - their usual designated working spot - she isn’t there. The lights aren’t even on.

Huh. Maybe she has something other than work to discuss.

Only, by the time Chanyeol’s checked every single room in that wing of the house, his mom is still nowhere to be found. His arms are already starting to ache from carrying all his bags, so he makes a split-second decision and goes on a detour to his bedroom, feet padding against the hardwood floors. His mom wouldn’t blame him for dropping off his shopping before going to find her. She doesn’t know he’s home yet, anyway, so putting away incriminating evidence is a good—

Chanyeol’s thoughts come to a screeching halt. He stops. It’s unmistakable: even though the door to his room is closed, there’s definitely faint light coming through the hinges.

“Great,” he mumbles again. He braces himself before walking forward and pushing the door open. “Mom,” he begins, a hand already coming up to rub at his neck, “look, I can—”

The figure at the other side of the room turns around, and all of a sudden, Yoona’s curious bemusement downstairs begins to make a lot of sense to Chanyeol.

Because the woman looking through his floor-to-ceiling window definitely isn’t his mother.

“Oh,” Sooyoung says, mouth opening into a soft o of surprise as she turns. “Chanyeol. You’re back.”

Chanyeol drops his shopping bags on the floor. It’s only half intentional. “I’m back,” he says lamely. “Uh. Hi.”

“I came to get some of my things, but Yoona unnie said you were out, so…” Sooyoung hesitates, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear. It’s shorter now, Chanyeol notices, cut neatly in a way that falls just past her shoulders even though it was still at her elbow a week ago when he last saw her. “She told me I could just come up to your room and look for them, but I didn’t want to intrude.”

That… clears a lot of things up. Yoona’s inquisitive, perplexed expression, for one. No doubt she expected Chanyeol to be out with Sooyoung, judging by what happened in the morning - not her coming over when he’s not even there.

At least she looks just about as awkward as Chanyeol feels. “No, it’s fine,” he coughs out. He bends down and pushes his bags until they’re resting against the wall. “Sorry for making you wait.”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t wait long. I should’ve texted to let you know I was coming.”

When Chanyeol straightens again, Sooyoung’s gaze is running curiously over his shopping bags. He looks back and almost cringes. Like all luxury clothing stores, each logo looks like it’s intentionally designed to be as obvious as possible - there’s Balenciaga, Prada, and of course Louis Vuitton, the lucky brand Sehun chose for Chanyeol’s gala suit (notwithstanding his ambassador bias). It’s out of character for Chanyeol, who usually doesn’t care about what he wears as long as it’s comfortable. If he wasn’t absolutely, completely sure that Sooyoung knew better, he’d be nervous about her assuming that he’s gotten some new girlfriend in the one week since their breakup.

Which, despite the media’s love for pinning some sort of serial heartbreaker image onto him, isn’t something that Chanyeol would be prone to doing. Ever.

“Did you go shopping?” Sooyoung asks him, blinking.

Chanyeol clears his throat. “Yeah. With Sehun. It’s, um, for the gala this weekend.” When Sooyoung nods in understanding, he says, “Are you going?”

It’s not a wild assumption, since Sooyoung’s family owns an enormous chain of luxury hotels and is, therefore, part of the top one percent the gala usually sends out invitations to. But Sooyoung just shakes her head. “Not this year. My dad wants me to go to Thailand with him for the next week to figure out a potential new expansion.” She pauses awkwardly, brushing another strand of hair over her shoulder. “That’s why I needed to come to pick up the rest of my stuff.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.” Chanyeol steps towards his walk-in closet, where Sooyoung tended to keep her things whenever she came over. “What did you leave here?”

As Sooyoung points out her belongings to Chanyeol in her careful voice, he reaches up to take them from the shelves, placing everything down on the table as he goes. It’s more stuff than Chanyeol expected, even considering the one-year length of their relationship. It makes him feel a flicker of guilt despite himself. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it ended in the first place: him never paying enough attention. Even though, as far as breakups go, Chanyeol’s had a lot worse, he still can’t help but feel regretful with every coat or scarf or fancy handbag he pulls down from his shelves.

Chanyeol’s just never been good at dealing with breakups. Especially not breakups with somebody like Sooyoung, who looked up at him during their dinner last week and said simply, easily, this isn’t really working out, is it?

He hasn’t even told his mom yet. Or Yoona. Or even anyone in his close friend group besides Sehun, although that could probably be blamed on how busy Jongin and Kyungsoo both are. Some part of him feels ashamed of it, of adding another failed relationship to his already sizeable list, but most of him just doesn’t want to risk disappointing the people around him who all unanimously loved Sooyoung. Most notably Chanyeol’s mother, whose favourite thing to point out was that - if they ever got married (hint, hint) - they wouldn’t even have to go through the whole complicated last-name-deciding process that all chaebol heirs are wont to do. It’d be a walk in the Park, she’d always say, winking.

“I think that’s all of it,” Sooyoung says, breaking Chanyeol out of his thoughts. She reaches over and takes the thin leather jacket out of his arms, adding it on top of the neat pile she’s been building up. “Thanks, Chanyeol.”

Chanyeol drops his hands. “No problem. Did you need anything else?”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Okay.”

It’s awkward. It’s so awkward that Chanyeol shuffles his feet, opens his mouth, and starts wondering if he should apologize just to break the thick silence.

Thankfully, Sooyoung stops him from saying anything stupid by turning and looking up at him. “Have fun at the gala,” she says, sounding so genuine that another prickle of guilt stings Chanyeol’s chest. “And say hi to your mom for me, if you get the chance?”

Chanyeol snaps his mouth shut and swallows. “I will,” he says.

“Good.” Sooyoung bites her lip. She’s visibly hesitating, and for one ridiculous second Chanyeol thinks she’s going to slap him in the face or something. But of course that doesn’t happen. All she does is open her arms, give him a faint smile, and reach up for a hug.

Something in Chanyeol’s gut relaxes and tightens up at the same time. It’s a strange feeling. He leans down and hugs Sooyoung, if still a little awkwardly. Her hair is soft and tickles his chin, and she smells of a subtle perfume - not the flowery scent that Chanyeol’s grown to expect from being around her, but a different, sharper kind, reminding him of peppermint and vanilla all at once.

Something like affection swells in his chest, though it’s not really romantic. He’s lucky, Chanyeol thinks, that their separation is still ending on an okay note. He’s used to ones that are far worse, after all.

Sooyoung squeezes him once before letting go. “I’ll be going now, then,” she tells him. “Thanks again for the help.”

“Don’t mention it.” Chanyeol watches her hug her stack of clothes to her chest. It’s so tall that it nearly covers half her face. “Do you, um, need a bag for that?”

“It’s alright. I drove here.”

“Okay.” Chanyeol pauses. “Have a safe flight?”

Sooyoung smiles, amused. “My flight isn’t until Saturday morning.”

“Have a safe flight… when you have it.”

At that, she laughs, bright and clear. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Sooyoung says, and shifts her baggage to her waist so she can free one hand to give him a wave. “See you around, Chanyeol.”

Chanyeol half-heartedly waves back, and then Sooyoung’s gone, stepping out his bedroom door for good with her newly short hair sweeping like black silk across her shoulders.

He waits for the sound of her steps to fade before groaning and flopping onto his bed. Let it be known that, contrary to popular belief, Park Chanyeol is absolutely terrible with breakups. And he’s had more than enough to know. There’s still leftover tension stuck in Chanyeol’s shoulders as he rolls over, spreading his limbs across his wide mattress and staring at the ceiling.

The weight of his phone in his pocket digs uncomfortably into his hip, and he sighs and pulls it out just to have something to do. I just saw Sooyoung again, he texts Sehun, tapping listlessly at his screen. Kill me. It was so awkward.

Sehun’s reply is almost instantaneous. do u need me to come over with chocolate and tubs of ice cream?

The dry message - which still sounds concerned enough to let Chanyeol know his best friend isn’t all joking - is enough to startle a surprised laugh out of him. Trust Sehun to always find the most characteristic way possible to try and get Chanyeol to feel better. Trust Sehun to know.

Chanyeol rolls over again, sinking his face into one of his soft pillows and inhaling the scent of clean laundry. So. To look on the positive side: he’s resolved things with Sooyoung. He has a nice suit for the gala. And, maybe most importantly, he didn’t get subjected to any mom-disappointment despite making the less-than-intelligent decision to skip out on his work.

It’s still a good day, Chanyeol decides, and breathes out again, unlocking his phone to message Sehun back. Everything will be just fine.

 

---

 

Everything is not, in fact, just fine.

“Can you try to look a little less like you want to die?” Out of nowhere, Sehun’s bony elbow comes out to jab Chanyeol in the shoulder, startling him into almost dropping his untouched flute of champagne. “I know your mom isn’t here and all, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with—” he wrinkles his nose, then gestures meaningfully at Chanyeol’s face. “That.”

All Chanyeol can do is aim a half-hearted glare at his friend. “I’m trying,” he complains, rubbing at his arm. “You know I don’t like these events.”

Sehun gives him an unimpressed look. “And I’m not jumping for joy every time I have to strip down for creepy old men, either, but you don’t see me quitting my job.”

To Chanyeol’s right, Jongin very badly disguises his sudden laugh with a cough. Chanyeol bites back the comment about that being a terrible description of Sehun’s high-profile model career - he probably enjoys undressing, anyway, what with his exhibitionist streak - and sends a betrayed glance to his other friend. But Jongin just shrugs. “Sorry, hyung,” he says apologetically, offering him a sheepish smile. “But you do kind of look like you need a drink.”

Which - fair. Chanyeol sure feels like he needs a drink. He looks down at his champagne flute, contemplating, then sighs and downs it in one go, wincing at the strong fizz that bubbles all the way down his throat.

All things considered, it’s a very nice event. Really. The fancy hotel ballroom is as classy as any high-budget movie set, all white and gold and crystal with enormous chandeliers that throw off bits of bright light against the dimmer walls, and there’s even a live jazz band playing the kind of slow, rich music that sounds ten times better when you’re a little tipsy. Chanyeol doesn’t exactly have any standards to go by since this is the first time he’s been to the oh-so-famous gala, but he’s attended no shortage of upper-class events in his life, and it’s easy to see how much effort has gone into planning this one. It’s vibrant. Cohesive. So well thought out that probably even the pickiest invitee wouldn’t have any complaints - Chanyeol’s mom would be jealous.

It’s just a shame that, well, Chanyeol really isn’t the type for this kind of scene.

“It’s weird,” Sehun says, as if on cue. He’s absentmindedly swirling his wine around in his own glass. “How did someone as antisocial as you end up being a chaebol?”

“It’s not like I chose to,” Chanyeol mutters. “And I’m not antisocial.”

Sehun and Jongin exchange a not-so-subtle look. “No, seriously!” Chanyeol protests, feeling the need to defend himself. “I’m not. I just - it’s so stuffy here. There are way too many people.”

Sehun snorts. “That’s kind of the point.”

“And everyone keeps coming up to me to talk about the company. Like I even know what’s happening right now, with my mom always gone and doing everything herself.” Chanyeol raises his glass to his lips again before belatedly realizing it’s empty. He huffs. “I need a refill.”

“You need to relax,” Jongin says, lightly hitting him in the arm. “Stop thinking about work and try to enjoy yourself. We’re at a party.”

“We’re at a gala.”

“Same difference.” Jongin grins. “I’m here for work too, technically, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to have fun, right?”

Under the light, the black silk of Jongin’s tie is so glossy Chanyeol can practically see his own reflection in it. Despite also being a company heir hard-pressed for time - just like Chanyeol usually is - he sure doesn’t seem to have any trouble dressing himself up. In fact, if Chanyeol didn’t know better, he’d think Jongin was one of the idol guests with how well he manages to blend in.

Of course, the same thing also applies to Sehun, who’d probably be flashy enough to stand out anywhere. “He’s right,” the model butts in now, putting a hand on Chanyeol’s shoulder. “Even Kyungsoo hyung went off to have fun earlier.”

Chanyeol almost chokes on a laugh at the mention of the last member of their friend group, who’s long since been swept away by admirers hoping to get a word in with this season’s rising actor. “I don’t think he’d call it ‘having fun’.”

“My point still stands.”

“Well—”

“Come on, hyung. Don’t be so boring.” Sehun squeezes his shoulder. When Chanyeol turns to look at him, his friend’s eyes are a little darker, a little more sober. “I’m serious.”

He is serious, Chanyeol realizes. Sehun’s voice may still be teasing, but there’s genuine concern spelled out all over his expression. Something pangs in Chanyeol’s chest all of a sudden. It’s probably an effect of Chanyeol’s recent breakup; with how listless he’s been these days, how much enthusiasm he’s lacked at the gala so far, it’s probably only natural that he would be worried. Jongin, too, if the way they’ve been teaming up is anything to go by.

His friends are looking out for him. The thought makes Chanyeol feel grateful and guilty at the same time.

“Okay,” he finds himself saying. “I promise.”

Sehun’s expression melts into relief for a moment before going back to his usual indifference. “Good,” he says, satisfied. “You better keep that promise. Now—” he glances down at his phone, which Chanyeol didn’t even notice he was holding. “I need to go meet Junmyeon hyung. He said he’d be arriving a little later tonight.”

Of course. Chanyeol rolls his eyes good-naturedly. “Go on then. We won’t keep you lovebirds apart.”

“Yeah,” Jongin chimes in, already waving him on. “Don’t let us stop you from having your fun.”

Sehun shoots them an unimpressed look, which only succeeds in making them both laugh. “Yeah, yeah,” he says dryly. “Thanks, guys.” He turns, and Chanyeol waits for him to vanish into the crowd of well-dressed, expensively perfumed people, but then Sehun stops. He looks back again and points a threatening finger at Chanyeol. “I mean it,” he says accusingly. “Loosen up. Let yourself go. Live a little, Park Chanyeol.”

When Sehun has a look on his face like that - coldness in his striking features and expression downright intimidating - Chanyeol has no problem seeing why he’s such a successful model. He gulps. “Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Sehun huffs out again, and then he’s gone.

From then on, the rest of the gala plays out pretty underwhelmingly. Jongin ends up excusing himself, too, claiming that he promised his sister he’d go home early to help watch his niece and nephew. “Sorry, hyung,” he said. “You can have fun without us, right?” And well, sure, Chanyeol’s an adult who’s about as well-versed on upper-class etiquette as can be, but he’d bet that anyone would get sick of the same polite greeting, meaningless small talk, rinse and repeat routine after the first hundred or so times.

For what it’s worth, the gala is mostly over anyways. Sehun and Jongin left about halfway into the socializing portion. The actual event portion is already over and done with, comprised of about a billion boring speeches and presentations about celebrating South Korean media, and now they’re well into the reception part meant for making connections.

Which would be useful, if Chanyeol was actually interested in making any connections. Or in making conversation at all.

Chanyeol was fine with the boring speeches. At least the boring speeches didn’t come up to him to ask about the company, or try to force him into giving up his contact info, or sneak in a thinly-veiled question like oh, right, is your mother looking for anything to invest in at the moment?

Eventually, he gets tired enough of it all to stop wandering around like a target for sharp-tongued entrepreneurs and make an escape to the buffet tables. They’ve already eaten their fancy dinner during the earlier part of the event, but there’s still rows upon rows of huge porcelain plates, tiered desserts, and carefully arranged appetizers for anyone who happened to arrive later. It’s in front of one of those pristine cloth-draped tables that Chanyeol finds himself standing, newly-filled champagne glass in hand.

He… doesn’t really have a game plan. He’s too full to eat more. He’s way too drained to engage in any more polite conversation. He supposes he could just leave early, but an annoying voice that sounds suspiciously like Sehun’s keeps goading him in his head, and Chanyeol’s stubbornly competitive nature means that the last thing he wants to do is feel like he’s lost. Even to an imaginary voice.

Chanyeol’s so caught up in reviewing his options and staring a hole into a plate of pretentious tomato-slice-looking-things that he almost jumps when he hears, “What did those hors d’oeuvres ever do to you?”

Admittedly, his first reaction is: Oh no, more polite conversation.

But then Chanyeol spins around and actually sees the man talking to him, who’s, well. Not exactly what he was expecting.

It’s not that he looks different from everyone else, per se; he’s dressed in a classic three-piece tuxedo, grey and white and silky with a single button at the waist. His brown hair is parted over his forehead in a charmingly neat sort of way - a style very typical at black-tie events. So no, it’s definitely not the average formal getup that catches Chanyeol’s attention. It’s the openness in his face.

The man has warm eyes, expressive eyebrows, and a catlike curl to his mouth when he quirks a smile at Chanyeol, and something about it is vaguely familiar and instantly reassuring all at once.

“Not one for parties?”

It takes Chanyeol a second too long to realize he’s being talked to. He coughs out something resembling a laugh. “Not at all.”

“That’s a shame,” the man says. He leans forward and squints at the label card propped up beside the plate on the table. “Because I think those… brochettes de tomate were definitely going to burst into flames if you stared at them any longer, which would’ve livened things up here a whole lot.”

That startles an actual laugh out of Chanyeol, a full, genuine one that shakes in his chest. It’s probably the first time he’s managed to feel at ease all evening, and it makes him relax a little, limbs loosening and shoulders slumping down. “Maybe I should’ve tried a bit harder then,” he jokes. “Wouldn’t want the ritzy aesthetic to fall flat.”

The man nods, all fake-serious. “You’d be doing them a favour. There’s only so much boring gold and white a guy can take.” He waves a hand at their surroundings. “I mean, what’s with the whole rich jerk vibe anyway?”

The irony in that statement does not go unnoticed by Chanyeol, and it makes him laugh even harder, bringing a hand to his mouth to stifle an unattractive wheeze.

The man’s smile turns into a full-on grin - and yeah, there’s definitely something familiar about it. Chanyeol’s positive he’s seen those unique lip curls somewhere before. A TV actor like Kyungsoo, maybe? He has the looks for it for sure. Or maybe another important businessman who Chanyeol’s met in passing, though the “rich jerk” comment seems to work against that theory.

“So what are you here for, then, if you don’t like parties?” the man asks conversationally, straightening back up to look at him.

Chanyeol pauses. Somehow he doesn’t think mentioning his chaebol status would be a great idea right now, if only because the man was clearly joking before and would probably be embarrassed at the realization. “Uh.”

“Oh, come on. You can tell me. I won’t judge.” The man tilts his head, eyes sparkling in mischief. “Free food? A chance to woo the ladies?”

“No, nothing like that!” Chanyeol rushes to say, but it must come out a bit too hastily, because the man’s grin goes teasing, mouth curving up even more at the ends.

Another pang of barely-there recognition hits Chanyeol right in the face. It’s frustrating. He tries to narrow his eyes as discreetly as possible, wracking his brain to figure out a memory to match up with the man’s features.

If he’s not a businessman, then he has to be a celebrity. If he’s at the media gala, then Chanyeol must’ve seen him on a screen somewhere. If he’s not an actor, then he must be…

He’s so focused on staring again that he doesn’t even notice someone coming up to them until a smooth voice says, from right behind him, “Jongdae, making new friends already?”

Chanyeol actually does jump this time. He turns around. And - oh.

Oh.

Crimson-red hair. Smoky eyeshadow. A pair of curious, hooded dark eyes that fall upon Chanyeol with the weight of an anvil. The first coherent thought that passes through Chanyeol’s suddenly transfixed mind is: at least I won’t have any trouble figuring out a career this time.

Because the new man standing before him - the man who’s all golden skin and sharp angles, suit daringly unique but still immaculate, with his graceful fingers wrapped around a wineglass stem - is the very definition of idol if Chanyeol’s ever seen one.

The brown-haired man he called Jongdae brightens his grin even more, although it loses none of its sly edge. “Aw, come on,” Jongdae says, reaching out an elbow to nudge the redhead in the shoulder. “You know I’d never replace you. I’m just branching out like everyone else here.”

The redhead’s lips pull up into a playful tilt. “Is ‘branching out’ code for ‘scaring the unlucky guests you find until they agree to talk to you’?”

“Hey, that’s mean! I’ll have you know that I can talk to people just fine.”

“About things other than music?” The redhead gives him a once-over, pretending to consider him before shaking his head. “For all we know, you were gathering real-life inspiration for your next album to broadcast to all of Seoul. Which would definitely be unethical, by the way.”

That makes Jongdae whine out something about artistic integrity before the pair fall into an obviously familiar pattern of good-natured ribbing. There’s something easy and natural about their banter, which would speak a lot about their relationship with each other. Chanyeol isn’t really paying attention, though. The mention of music and your next album makes him perk up right away, like a police dog with a clue, and he can almost feel the connection building itself towards a realization in his mind.

He squints at Jongdae’s friendly features again, and then he sees it: the same face, with eyes closed and mouth open, singing a song powerful enough to resonate into a mic on Yoora’s TV screen.

“You’re Chen!” Chanyeol blurts out.

And then flushes. Because he definitely said that a little too loudly. And now both Jongdae and the intimidatingly attractive man have stopped goading each other to stare at him.

At least Jongdae - Chen, since it’s all coming back to Chanyeol now, in Inkigayo stages and endless loops on the car radio - doesn’t look offended, just surprised and maybe a little pleased. “You know who I am?” he asks, blinking twice.

“I, uh, only figured it out just now. Sorry.” Chanyeol gives him an abashed smile. “You’re really good, though. My sister loves your songs.”

Now Jongdae definitely looks pleased. “Wow, thanks! That’s awesome to hear.”

“Your sister has good taste,” the red-haired man puts in. It’s the first thing he’s said directly to Chanyeol, and embarrassingly enough, Chanyeol jolts, freezing as those dark eyes lock onto him for the second time. It’s like being pinned under steel. The man tilts his head, and there’s a spark of something in his gaze when he says, “Does she like my songs too?”

Chanyeol goes still. His head spins.

“Um,” he hedges, trying to figure out the politest possible way to say that, despite the pull of this man’s strong, unique gravity drawing him in even now, Chanyeol kind of… has no idea who he is.

His mother would disapprove. For someone who’s set to inherit a media and entertainment company, Chanyeol sure isn’t the best at recognizing faces. Maybe the redhead’s charming features are vaguely familiar to him, in the way that all idols are, but he can’t conjure up a memory strong enough to connect him to anything. At least, not in the way he did with Jongdae.

He must stay silent for too long, or maybe he has a way-too-obvious expression of panic on his face or something, because the next thing Chanyeol knows both Jongdae and the red-haired man are bursting out into laughter.

“Oh, no,” Jongdae says, wiping at his eyes. “That’s got to be a blow to his ego.” He looks up and flips a hand at Chanyeol, who’s getting more mortified by the second. “Sorry about him. Don’t get so nervous, Baekhyunnie’s just teasing.”

Baekhyun. That name is unmistakable. Chanyeol’s heard it before, he’s sure of it; he’s just drawing an unfortunate blank right now. “I’m sorry,” he says meekly, “I just—”

Thin fingers curl around his sleeve, and Chanyeol’s brain short-circuits. He looks over. Baekhyun lets go but doesn’t step away, leaving Chanyeol close enough to count every single fleck of glitter on his eyelids if he wanted to.

“Don’t be,” he tells him, and his voice is so warm - not the friendly kind of warmth like Jongdae’s, but darker, more intense, a pool of liquid heat. “I’ll just have to do the introducing myself.”

Chanyeol swallows. There are silver threads running through the inky fabric of Baekhyun’s suit, and they catch the light when he tips his chin to meet Chanyeol’s stare head on.

The gravity tugs, almost imperceptibly, in his gut.

Off to the side, Jongdae clears his throat. “Hey, look!” he says, voice purposely loud. “There’s that guy I know over there. I think I’ll go talk to him.” He glances at them, a noticeable glint in his eyes. “Nice chat and all, but I’ll leave you two to get acquainted now.”

And then he’s walking straight into the crowd until his tuxedo mixes in with all the black and white and gold.

As soon as the top of Jongdae’s brown head disappears, Baekhyun snorts. “A real master at subtlety, that Jongdae,” he says, and despite himself, Chanyeol lets out a small laugh. It makes Baekhyun turn back to him and quirk a curious eyebrow. “Sorry, I just have to get this clear. You really don’t know who I am?”

It’s not an arrogant question at all; just one filled with genuine interest. For some reason that’s a million times worse. Chanyeol winces.

“No,” he admits, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. “You’re not offended, are you?”

That playful spark in Baekhyun’s eyes is back again. “Just surprised. I’m very well-known, you know.”

“I’m sure you are,” Chanyeol says weakly.

“And well, Jongdae was sort of right.” There’s a pause, then Baekhyun reaches out again, skimming his pretty fingers over the silk of Chanyeol’s collar until Chanyeol’s next breath gets stuck somewhere along his windpipe. “I’ll be honest, my ego did take a hit,” he says. His voice is pitched low, soft, like he’s divulging some big secret. “I was hoping the handsome man in the suit would know my name.”

Chanyeol’s throat goes desert-dry. It must be getting stuffier in here. “Oh,” he ends up croaking out. “I… really am sorry. About that.”

Baekhyun’s hand trails from Chanyeol’s neck down to his arm, and Chanyeol can practically hear the teasing smile in his voice when he says, “I might consider forgiving you if you give me your name.”

If looking into Jongdae’s warm, open face earlier put Chanyeol at ease, looking into Baekhyun’s now is like whiplash: it heightens and pinpoints his senses until all he can focus on is the tiny, dotted mole at the corner of Baekhyun’s curved mouth. The other man’s eyes are so dark already, and combined with the shimmery eyeshadow, all his gaze is doing is making Chanyeol’s insides feel like a gooey mess. It’s heady. He doesn’t remember the last time he was so instantly taken with a stranger - doesn’t remember the last time he felt so tempted.

Like an ever-convenient reminder, Sehun’s voice reverberates in his head. I mean it. Loosen up. Let yourself go.

Live a little, Park Chanyeol.

It’s probably a bad idea. It’s definitely a bad idea. But Chanyeol catches Baekhyun’s hand at his wrist anyway, hesitating for only a second before sliding his fingers neatly into the gaps between Baekhyun’s own.

“It’s Chanyeol,” he says, and dimples, turning on that million-dollar charm. “And you know, I’m getting really bored of this party.”

Baekhyun’s smile sharpens into a full smirk. He pulls until Chanyeol’s forced to lean forward again, close enough to share his breath, helpless to both kinds of gravity.

“Let’s get out of here then,” he says back, and Chanyeol falls - hook, line, and sinker. All in.

 

---

 

In all honesty, Chanyeol should’ve realized from the start that he wouldn’t be able to preserve any semblance of anonymity. He’s not oblivious, after all. Or blind. The fancy suit Sehun forced him to wear, combined with his presence at the gala in the first place, would be enough for anyone to at least get the idea of just who Chanyeol is. That much is given.

But Baekhyun doesn’t say anything - not when Chanyeol leads him down to VIP parking and into his Rolls-Royce, and not when he drives them in silence until busy Myeongdong transforms into quiet, luxurious Gangnam. Not even when Chanyeol takes him all the way up a glittering high-rise to its penthouse. Chanyeol punches in the key code to the apartment he bought for himself, feeling the weight of Baekhyun’s gaze like a scorching brand on his back, and can’t help but wonder if he’s going to ask about… well, anything.

Because he knows Baekhyun is an idol, but Baekhyun doesn’t know a single thing about him.

The door clicks open with a low beep. “Here we are,” Chanyeol mumbles, not sure what else to say. He reaches up and slides a button on the tablet in the wall until the apartment fills with soft, muted light.

Baekhyun steps in first, eyes roaming over all the open space, the loft overlooking the living area, the enormous glass windows that let Seoul spill out in a shining ocean of light below. “Fancy.”

“Thanks.”

“How do you know that was a compliment?”

Chanyeol opens his mouth, then snaps it shut again. There’s a quirk to Baekhyun’s mouth when he turns. “I’m just kidding,” he says, and starts walking towards Chanyeol, easy confidence outlined in every line of his limbs. “This is a very nice place.”

“Thanks,” Chanyeol repeats lamely. His heartbeat picks up as Baekhyun lessens the distance between them. Two metres, one metre.

He stops right in front of Chanyeol, until he’s looking up at him and reaching out to pull on his shirt collar, bringing Chanyeol’s head down with a warm touch to his neck.

Chanyeol’s pulse throbs in his throat.

The thick, crackling tension around them is back, and it’s suffocating and electrifying at the same time. Baekhyun’s hot breath stirs around his collarbone. “It’s just a shame,” he murmurs to Chanyeol, shadowed eyelids drooping, “that I won’t be seeing much of it.”

The invitation couldn’t have been more obvious if Baekhyun held up a neon sign. And Chanyeol wants. For a moment, he’s tempted to close the gap right away; to let things escalate, play by Baekhyun’s rules until they end up in the one place in the apartment Baekhyun will be seeing.

But then somewhere, through the haze of his mind, he hesitates. He thinks about pristine idol images. Unblemished reputations. The field days the press would have whenever there was a breakup with Chanyeol’s name stamped all over it in rash-red ink.

“Listen,” Chanyeol begins. “I think there’s something you need to know first. About me.”

Baekhyun just blinks at him, allowing him to go on.

“I should’ve told you before, but I’m—”

“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun answers for him. And Chanyeol doesn’t think much of it - not until Baekhyun cocks his head and adds, with a knowing intensity in his eyes, “Park Chanyeol.”

Chanyeol’s mind goes abruptly blank. Everything grinds to a halt.

“You knew?” he asks, flabbergasted.

Baekhyun cocks one of his eyebrows, too. “Of course I did. You’re not as low-key as you think, Mr. Big Shot.”

“But then - why did you ask me for my name?”

That makes Baekhyun laugh, sliding his hands down to tug at the sleek fabric of Chanyeol’s tie. “I needed a line,” he says, grinning. “A way in, so to speak.” He shrugs. “I never claimed to be the most creative person.”

“But…” Chanyeol flounders. “You don’t have a problem with it?”

“Why would I?”

“You’re an idol. Aren’t idols really careful about this stuff?”

Baekhyun’s eyes glint, and he tips his head to the side, letting his red bangs fall over his forehead. “Most are,” he says, and leaves it at that.

Chanyeol’s still baffled - of course he is - but if the way Baekhyun’s fingers curl around his shoulders again means anything, he’s getting impatient. So Chanyeol gives in to the pull in his gut. He swallows, then drops his hand to tentatively rest on Baekhyun’s hip.

“It seriously isn’t an issue?” he asks one last time, still unsure.

“Not an issue,” Baekhyun promises. Then his voice lowers, and oh, there’s that heat again, all-consuming. “Unless you think there’s some sort of conflict of interest with me fucking the son of the woman who owns half my company.”

It’s shameless. So shameless. But it works.

And now Chanyeol’s mind is going blank for an entirely different reason. His grip clenches, and he’s the one who pulls Baekhyun in, in the end, hands coming up to hold either side of his face and the burning in his gut threatening to consume him.

Chanyeol was expecting something languid and almost lazy, something to match the push-and-pull of Baekhyun’s teasing personality. A slow kiss. Unhurried.

But instead, Baekhyun drags him in and devours him whole - demanding, greedy, stealing the air right out of Chanyeol’s lungs. His fingers are tight around the back of Chanyeol’s neck, and he licks into Chanyeol’s mouth with such single-minded intent that it sends a zap of electricity coursing down his spine.

The idol tastes sweet, Chanyeol thinks faintly, then remembers. Wine. It reminds him of the alcohol still lingering in his own body, making itself known with a rush of liquid warmth to his gut. That must be why he feels punch-drunk right now; like he can’t even tell up from down as Baekhyun presses him back into his own apartment door and pushes his thigh between Chanyeol’s legs.

Baekhyun swallows the desperate noise Chanyeol doesn’t even mean to make before breaking away. His lips are as red as his crimson hair, and his gaze is dark, dark, dark. Chanyeol gulps.

When Baekhyun lowers black eyelashes onto golden skin, something in Chanyeol’s blood catches a spark like a doomed wildfire.

“So,” Baekhyun says, voice barely more than a rasp. “Show me to your bedroom.”

Chanyeol can’t obey fast enough.

The master bedroom of the penthouse apartment is located just down the hall from the living area. Chanyeol sends a silent thank-you to whichever architect designed the place now as he leads Baekhyun through the door, still brushing a hand along his waist because he can’t resist. The lights are dimmed enough to allow the space a sort of subtle, seductive vibe, and it’s that kind of glow that washes upon Baekhyun’s skin as he heads straight for the enormous bed, unbuckling the belt looped around his dress shirt as he goes.

The accessory falls to the floor with a clink. Baekhyun climbs onto the mattress and turns. His layered shirt is loose now, and the silver-black fabric on the outside is slipping off his shoulder, revealing red satin and bare skin underneath.

Is that a necklace glittering on his chest? Chanyeol’s definitely going to die.

He strips off his suit jacket and joins Baekhyun on the bed, hovering over him while Baekhyun looks up. His weird idol-acceptable shirt only has a few large black buttons. Chanyeol reaches down and undoes all of them, until the fabric falls open and he has to inhale a sharp breath.

It is a silver necklace. One with an intricate, circle-shaped pendant that Chanyeol recognizes and picks up in his hand.

“Dreamcatcher,” he says aloud, feeling one of the icy feathers between his fingers.

Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says back. He sounds peeved and even more impatient than before. “Is that really the important thing right now?”

Despite everything else, Chanyeol laughs, dropping the necklace and leaning down until he’s close enough to catch that mole at the edge of Baekhyun’s mouth again. “No, no, sorry,” he agrees, and kisses him.

Baekhyun tugs him in, fingers coming up to tangle in Chanyeol’s dark hair. He’s still so aggressive: all rough presses, biting teeth. He kisses like a daredevil. His palms burn the base of Chanyeol’s nape, and it’s all Chanyeol can do to let himself be dragged into Baekhyun’s restless rhythm, matching his speed with every harsh kiss until the heat fizzing in his stomach rises to a fever pitch. Baekhyun lets out a satisfied noise into his mouth as Chanyeol tightens his hold on Baekhyun’s broad shoulders, tilting back to give him more access when he dips a thumb below the waistline of Baekhyun’s pants.

It’s so, so addicting. Chanyeol feels like he’s drunk on it all. He’s never wanted to touch someone so bad.

By the time they pull apart, Baekhyun’s breathing is heavy. “Good to see you have your priorities straight,” he says, but whatever’s left of his goading tone is kind of ruined by the hitch in his voice.

Not like Chanyeol isn’t just as affected. But there’s something intoxicating about knowing that Baekhyun’s this way because of him - cheekbones flushed, pupils blown, artfully styled hair a disheveled mess. It makes Chanyeol’s lips curve as he dips down impossibly closer, trailing his mouth over the column of Baekhyun’s neck.

Baekhyun jerks as soon as he sucks the first mark into that smooth skin. The moan he lets out is gravelly, unbidden.

Chanyeol pulls back a little. “Is this okay?” he asks, suddenly hesitant.

Baekhyun has to take a breath before he answers. “More than okay. I’m just… sensitive.”

Well. Chanyeol isn’t going to use that against him at all.

His mouth goes back to Baekhyun’s neck right away, and if the way Baekhyun stiffens means anything, he’s realized Chanyeol’s intentions. Chanyeol doesn’t hesitate. He goes straight to using his teeth this time, scraping against Baekhyun’s collarbone until Baekhyun’s knocking his head back with a shudder and there’s maroon blooming on his skin. The tension around them climbs, builds to something almost tangible. Chanyeol laves his tongue over the mark, then bites another spot, hard, and Baekhyun’s nails dig painfully into his back.

The heat in the pit of Chanyeol’s stomach spikes. There’s so much red. In Baekhyun’s hair, shimmering around his eyelids, tinged in the already-darkening marks on his neck and shoulders. In his shirt, more than halfway to falling away. Off, Chanyeol’s caveman brain thinks, and he reaches out to give a rough pull, letting the silky fabric slide onto the floor.

“Unfair,” Baekhyun says. His voice is somehow composed, even though Chanyeol can see the quick rise-and-fall of his toned abdomen. “Are chaebols always required to keep their ties on during sex?”

“Only the polite ones,” Chanyeol tells him, and reaches down to press a hand between Baekhyun’s legs.

Baekhyun’s eyes fall shut. He lets out the most attractive noise so far, low and musical in a way that doesn’t make Chanyeol doubt he’s a singer. The pants he’s wearing are black and tight, but his cock is already swollen under the rough material, a hard, rigid heat, and Chanyeol strokes him with firm fingers just to watch Baekhyun’s throat quiver.

He’s mesmerized, watching the pleasure pass over Baekhyun’s face, the high flush spreading across his cheeks. A drop of sweat rolls down Baekhyun’s forehead as he pants. Chanyeol swipes it away with his other hand, and the tip of his finger comes away smudged with orangey-bronze.

He raises a joking eyebrow. “How much makeup are you wearing?”

“I’m, ah, an idol. Have to keep up appearances, and all that.” Baekhyun’s hands grab onto Chanyeol’s collar to loosen and yank away his tie. “Not important,” he says, unbuttoning Chanyeol’s shirt faster than he could’ve done it himself. “Are you going to keep touching me or not?”

Chanyeol answers that with a squeeze around Baekhyun’s bulge, and Baekhyun sucks in a breath and tips his head all the way back again, showing off those pretty marks.

He shrugs off his own shirt as he crowds over Baekhyun, still rubbing his hand along Baekhyun’s pants. Baekhyun watches him through half-lidded eyes. A hand comes up to trail over Chanyeol’s chest, and Chanyeol shivers at the touch, holding his breath as Baekhyun maps out the planes of his body with his graceful fingers. It’s a strange sensation; bewitching. Like he’s pinned in place by the dark lust in Baekhyun’s eyes. When Baekhyun reaches his waistband, Chanyeol bites down on his lip, pulse jackrabbiting, waiting for those fingers to slip lower.

But it doesn’t happen. Instead, Baekhyun curls his hand through Chanyeol’s belt loop and aims a wicked grin at him.

“Enough of that,” he whispers, and before Chanyeol can even blink, Baekhyun’s flipping them over in one smooth, liquid move - then straddling Chanyeol until his thighs are on either side of Chanyeol’s waist.

Chanyeol nearly chokes on his own spit. Oh.

Baekhyun bends down to kiss him again. It’s messy, all teeth and tongue, and Chanyeol is so turned on it hurts.

He puts his hands on Baekhyun’s bare waist while he deepens the kiss, head going hazy as soon as Baekhyun does something with his tongue that sends a flash of arousal right to Chanyeol’s groin. It’s merciless, and Chanyeol whines into Baekhyun’s mouth. He needs to be touched. He’s straining against his pants and Baekhyun hasn’t even done anything except kiss him.

“Please don’t be such a tease,” he rasps out, when Baekhyun pulls away, wiping at the saliva around his mouth.

Baekhyun just gives him a slow smirk, hand still hovering at his chin. “Since you asked so nicely.”

Then he’s reaching down and unbuttoning Chanyeol’s pants, thumbing over the wet spot in his boxer-briefs, and Chanyeol loses his breath entirely.

Baekhyun, it seems, has decided to listen to Chanyeol’s plea, because there’s nothing slow about the way he takes Chanyeol in his hand and strokes him. He sets a relentless rhythm right away; running his fingers from base to tip, fisting the head to catch the leaking precome. Chanyeol has to slap a hand over his mouth to stifle his sudden moans. There’s something so dirty about watching Baekhyun pump his cock, from this angle, following his pretty fingers as they touch and stroke and squeeze, and Chanyeol’s mind fizzles out into static, pleasure wracking his body that’s sharp enough to go straight to his bones.

It’s too much. It’s way too much. “Baekhyun,” he says, voice shaking into a half-whimper as Baekhyun presses his thumb into his slit. “Don’t - I don’t want to come so soon.”

That makes Baekhyun’s eyes darken. He slows but doesn’t stop, still rubbing over Chanyeol’s length languidly as Chanyeol tries his best to catch his breath. “That close?” he asks, voice low.

“It’s, ah. It’s been a while.”

Baekhyun straightens, sitting up on Chanyeol’s thighs, and Chanyeol almost whines at the loss despite himself.

“Have you done this before? With another guy?”

“Of course I have!” Chanyeol protests. And he has - he’s a healthy twenty-five-year-old, after all, no stranger to hook-ups even if his more serious relationships tend to be with girls because of his position. “I’m not a teenager. I’m just not used to…”

Someone so brazen. Someone so greedy. Someone so good at what he does that just a look is enough to set Chanyeol’s blood alight. Someone like Baekhyun.

Said man tugs his reddened lip between his teeth, and Chanyeol’s gaze catches, helpless, on the action. “Okay,” Baekhyun says, voice still so rough. “That’s good.” His hand slides down to unbutton his own pants, skimming over the thick outline of his erection. “Do you have lube?”

Chanyeol’s breath hitches. “In the nightstand drawer.”

Baekhyun leans over to find it, and Chanyeol takes the opportunity to stare all he wants, tracing the faint lines of abs in Baekhyun’s stomach and the sharp dip of his pelvis.

When Baekhyun comes back, it’s with a small, clear bottle in his hands. He has a condom pinched between his fingers, too. Chanyeol didn’t even know he had those in his drawer. He can’t do anything except stare some more as Baekhyun strips out of his pants and boxers in one go, then returns to his straddling position, letting out a breathy sigh as he curls his fingers around his own cock.

Chanyeol can feel his dick pulse against his leg at the sight.

“Are you,” he starts weakly, as Baekhyun reaches for the lube and unscrews the cap. He gestures at the bottle. “Do you want me to…”

Baekhyun’s lips quirk up, positively devilish. “I want you to watch.”

All of the air rushes out of Chanyeol’s lungs in one fell swoop, and his heartbeat skyrockets, because Baekhyun is evil.

There’s no other explanation for the way Baekhyun holds Chanyeol’s gaze as he tips the lube over his fingers and dips his hand down. He rubs a little, just to warm it up, and then presses one finger to his rim, biting back a pleased noise at the contact. When Baekhyun pushes it in, his legs fall open just a bit more - there’s an obvious tremble of desire running through his body as he arches his back. He works the finger in and out before adding another one, doing a scissoring motion that turns his already harsh breathing into something ragged and wanton.

Chanyeol’s knuckles clench white around the sheets. It’s downright obscene, the way Baekhyun keeps his fiery eyes on Chanyeol as he fucks himself on his fingers. Then Baekhyun’s head tips back - revealing the graceful column of his neck and all the marks Chanyeol sucked into his skin - and the already taut string of Chanyeol’s resolve snaps.

The moment Chanyeol pulls Baekhyun’s hand away from between his thighs, Baekhyun snaps his head forward. “What—” he begins, brow furrowing, but it wavers into a moan when Chanyeol presses his own fingers in, helped by the lube slicking Baekhyun’s skin, stretching.

Chanyeol,” Baekhyun gasps. It’s the loudest he’s been by far, and Chanyeol’s breath stutters. The ache in his cock grows unbearable.

He bites his lip hard enough to hurt and keeps moving, curling his fingers into Baekhyun’s heat, searching for that one spot that will—

Baekhyun’s hand shoots out to clamp around his wrist. “That’s enough,” he says, and his tone is so dark, scorching with intensity. His other hand grapples across the bed until he catches the condom and throws it at Chanyeol. “Get on with it. Now.”

“Demanding,” Chanyeol comments, going for teasing even with the obvious breathlessness in his voice.

“Do you want to fuck me or not?”

Chanyeol shuts up. He rips open the package.

Baekhyun’s the one that rolls the condom onto him, letting his fingers linger around the base of Chanyeol’s dick just to watch him tense up. He pushes Chanyeol back until he’s lying against the small mountain of pillows on his bed, then climbs over him, hovering directly above his hips.

One last stroke over his cock, and Baekhyun’s lining himself up, then letting out a keening noise as he sinks down - slowly, ever so slowly, little by little until everything in Chanyeol’s brain fizzles out into white noise.

It’s tight. And hot. So hot. Chanyeol tries his best to keep his breathing even, one hand gripped in the sheets while the other rests along the subtle curve of Baekhyun’s hip. The slow drag of his cock along Baekhyun’s walls is excruciating, agonizing in its pleasure, and Chanyeol has to gulp as Baekhyun finally bottoms out, perfect ass coming down to rest against Chanyeol’s hips as he tosses his head back and lets out the longest, most satisfied sigh Chanyeol’s ever heard.

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol manages to choke out. His fingers tighten around Baekhyun’s waist. It must be at least a little painful, but Baekhyun doesn’t even seem to notice, eyes shut and skin shiny with sweat as he pants.

For a moment, everything seems suspended in time. The only thing Chanyeol can focus on through his lust-drenched daze is the rapid heave of Baekhyun’s chest.

Then Baekhyun clenches, and Chanyeol actually cries out, bucking upwards, head spinning with the ruthless onslaught of sensation, cock giving a heavy pulse of need.

Fuck,” Baekhyun says, and he sounds so wrecked already. “You’re big. I—” He moves his hips, just slightly, circling them until Chanyeol’s cock pushes just that much further into his intense heat. Baekhyun’s voice catches and he shudders, head falling back again. The silver necklace still resting on his neck glimmers in the faint light.

It’s distracting. It’s unfair. The pressure around Chanyeol’s dick is borderline painful at this point, but Chanyeol bites his lip hard and forces his head to clear out.

“Are you okay?” he asks, because he’s not a complete jerk. “Should we - should I prepare you more?”

Baekhyun doesn’t say anything for a while. He just breathes as he drops his head and rocks back and forth on the weight of Chanyeol’s cock inside him. “No, I’m good,” he finally replies, breath still stuttering. “Just move. Actually—” Like whiplash, Baekhyun’s smile stretches into something wicked again, and Chanyeol only has half a second to think oh no before Baekhyun’s leaning forward and breathing the words into his mouth. “I’ll be the one moving.”

Chanyeol’s saved from having to force his dizzy mind to figure out what that means when Baekhyun straightens, lifts himself up, and slams back down hard enough to knock the wind out of Chanyeol’s chest.

Chanyeol’s hands shoot out to grip around Baekhyun’s waist, and he lets out a downright embarrassing noise as Baekhyun grinds down again. Arousal spreads lava-hot beneath his skin. He feels overheated already, helpless to Baekhyun’s rapid pace as he rises up and sinks down, over and over again, riding Chanyeol until Chanyeol feels like his dick is about to burst in the tight pressure of Baekhyun’s heat. The silver chain around Baekhyun’s neck bounces while he moves, thighs quivering and pretty cock flushed pink at the tip.

It’s a sight that Chanyeol instantly knows will follow him well into the next morning. Baekhyun is a vision, all sweaty, golden skin, crimson hair in a mussed halo around his head. He’s making noises as he fucks himself open on Chanyeol, too - strained moans and sharp gasps when Chanyeol’s length drags against his walls just right.

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says. His voice doesn’t even sound like his own anymore, husky and ragged and an octave too deep. “Please, I…”

He isn’t even sure what he’s asking for, but Baekhyun seems to catch on anyway, slowing down until he’s only barely rocking down on Chanyeol’s dick. He tilts his head.

“What?” Baekhyun says, low. “Do you want to fuck me yourself? Make me scream? Watch me cry from how good you can fuck me? Is that what you want?”

Chanyeol’s breath stops all over again, and he can’t nod fast enough, spreading possessive fingers over Baekhyun’s hips until they’re harsh enough to bruise. His cock is throbbing just from the thought of it; of turning Baekhyun into a desperate, incoherent mess for him.

But of course it’s not that easy. Baekhyun’s smirk sharpens. He dips down.

When he whispers his next words, Chanyeol’s lips tingle from the hot puffs of breath that blow over his skin.

“Then beg.”

Oh.

Oh.

Chanyeol’s brain short-circuits. He swallows, throat clicking dryly as he stares into Baekhyun’s pitch-black eyes. Faced with Baekhyun’s heavy gaze like this, though - heated enough to practically drip molten over his skin - it’s not a particularly difficult decision to make.

So Chanyeol makes it.

“Please,” he says softly, gut jumping when he feels Baekhyun clench around him at the words, like he didn’t expect Chanyeol to give up his pride so easily. “Please, Baekhyun. Please let me fuck you.” He strokes his fingers up Baekhyun’s chest and over his nipples, feeling him shiver under his touch. “I’ll be so good. Want to make you feel amazing. Please.”

The words, shaky and imploring, clearly aren’t leaving Baekhyun unaffected. Chanyeol can see his throat bob as he reaches down to clasp over Chanyeol’s hand, pupils blown wide until the whites of his eyes are swallowed almost completely.

“Please,” Chanyeol says again, just for good measure, face burning when he sees Baekhyun’s cock jerk and leak against his toned stomach.

It has to be a kink thing, then. It must be a kink thing. Something about Chanyeol’s words is turning Baekhyun on so badly that he can’t even try to hide his physical reaction anymore. The rush of desire that seizes Chanyeol at the realization is so strong it feels like a sucker punch, and he has to bite his lip as he raises his eyes to meet Baekhyun’s again, holding his breath, waiting.

All Baekhyun does is tip his head back: an invitation.

“Then do it,” he rasps, and it’s all Chanyeol needs to lunge forward and press him into the mattress.

Everything seems to go blurry as Chanyeol pins Baekhyun down by the wrists. His chest is heaving, and his heartbeat goes timpani-mode as soon as his vision focuses and he sees Baekhyun again - hair mussed, fiery eyes framed by smudged eyeshadow, teeth biting into his swollen red lip.

He looks like an incubus. Some kind of demon of the night. Chanyeol’s hips thrust forward almost of their own accord, and Baekhyun moans immediately, long and low and musical.

The new angle is intense, and Chanyeol can feel his cock push even deeper inside Baekhyun until he has to grit his teeth to keep from coming. “Fuck, you’re so hot,” he mouths into Baekhyun’s neck, hot breath ghosting over the marks he left earlier, and Baekhyun keens again, arching his back and digging his nails into Chanyeol’s back until Chanyeol has to wince from the sting. He doesn’t mind the pain, though. Not like this. Not when he’s buried so deeply inside of Baekhyun that he feels on the verge of exploding. Not when he pulls out and thrusts in again, managing to hit that one spot he tried so hard to find earlier, and Baekhyun actually wails, legs shuddering around Chanyeol’s hips and cock pulsing wetly against his stomach.

“Again, do that again,” Baekhyun pants, and Chanyeol would have half a mind to tease him about the begging if he wasn’t so turned on he felt like losing his mind. He thrusts once more, hitting Baekhyun’s prostate dead-on, pulling another strangled noise from Baekhyun’s pretty mouth. It’s too hot. Way too hot. Chanyeol fucks into him again, and again, and again, until Baekhyun’s practically sobbing into his own fist, squeezing around Chanyeol’s dick every time with such fierce pressure that Chanyeol feels the heat in his abdomen reach a boiling point.

He leans down to kiss Baekhyun again, although it’s not much of a kiss and more a messy press of lips. “Told you,” he breathes. “That I’d fuck you good.”

It says something about Chanyeol’s success that Baekhyun’s too far gone to even reply. He just whines at another harsh thrust, dragging his fingers over Chanyeol’s shoulders.

When Chanyeol reaches down to fist a hand around the tip of Baekhyun’s leaking cock, Baekhyun lurches, mouth falling open, letting out the most wrecked noise Chanyeol’s ever heard. Chanyeol thumbs the slit just once, and it’s over. Baekhyun clenches around him so tightly that Chanyeol sees stars, then comes all over his fingers with a cry of Chanyeol’s name, trembling through his climax and coating his own stomach in white.

It’s a sensory overload for Chanyeol. His mind goes blank and his orgasm is wrenched from him with the force of a truck. He bites down into Baekhyun’s shoulder again to stifle his moan as he comes, filling the condom, then half-collapses onto Baekhyun in a shaky heap.

Too much. Way too much.

It takes a very long time for the buzzing in Chanyeol’s ears to fade. When it does, though, he’s vaguely aware of Baekhyun still breathing raggedly beneath him, the heat of his body now more feverish than arousing.

Chanyeol struggles to sit up, bones still feeling like jelly. “Shit, sorry,” he pants. His cock slides out of Baekhyun with a slick sound that makes him grimace. “Did I hurt you?”

Silence. Baekhyun doesn’t say anything. Chanyeol looks down, alarmed, and is about to start shaking Baekhyun’s shoulders when Baekhyun lets out a stuttery breath and throws his arm over his face.

“I’m good,” he says, voice weak and raspy. “Just… give me a moment.”

“Okay.”

“Maybe several moments.”

“Okay,” Chanyeol says again, relieved if a little confused. He straightens and ties the condom off, chucking it into the wastebin beside his bed, then reaches over for the tissue box to clean himself and Baekhyun up.

Baekhyun doesn’t protest as he does it, still taking deep breaths in and out with his arm covering his eyes even when Chanyeol finishes and throws the tissues away, too. Chanyeol moves to head to his bathroom, but hesitates just as he gets up. He looks back. Under the moonlight coming in from the enormous glass windows of his bedroom, Baekhyun’s red hair is turned into something soft and almost silvery; the glow runs along the curve of his bare hip, changes his silhouette into a luminous ghost.

Chanyeol gulps. He turns around so fast he almost cracks his neck. Enough, he tells his dick, before starting to stiffly march towards the bathroom.

All in all, it’s quite an anticlimactic end to the best sex Chanyeol’s ever had.

By the time he comes back, he knows without even checking that Baekhyun’s already asleep. Chanyeol worries his lip between his teeth as he drops back onto his mattress. The idol in his bed still has his face hidden by his arm, but his breathing has evened out, and the slow rise and fall of his chest is almost soothing to watch in the quiet of the night.

So.

It’s not like Chanyeol can’t wake him up. He definitely could. Baekhyun would probably even thank him. Chanyeol doesn’t know what kind of schedules he has, but with the way Jongdae and Baekhyun reacted to Chanyeol’s failure to recognize his name at the gala, it’s not hard to guess that the other man is probably popular enough to be busy almost all the time.

But the post-orgasm exhaustion is finally hitting Chanyeol too - the haze of sleep is already creeping into his mind like a persuasive force, until he has to blink a few times to remember to keep his eyes open.

Baekhyun looks tired. Drained, actually. And Chanyeol doesn’t even know if he has a reliable method of transportation ready this late. Gangnam may be affluent, but that doesn’t take away from its danger when covered with darkness, what with all the possible robbers and criminals hiding among the streets. Not to mention the gossip-hungry paparazzi always camping out near rich, celebrity-filled neighbourhoods with their cameras, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever fresh scandal they can get their hands on.

Chanyeol, unfortunately, is willing to bet that they’d kill for a picture of an idol with rumpled clothes sneaking out of a penthouse apartment at well past midnight. No matter how blurry it may be.

“Well,” he mutters, reaching out to drag the blankets over Baekhyun’s body. He lies down himself on the other side of the large bed, yawning while his eyes close by their own will. “Sorry about this, then.”

He’ll play it safe this time. Let his famous sort-of one-night-stand stay in his room. For the sake of both their reputations.

The last thing Chanyeol catches before he succumbs to sleep is Baekhyun’s arm slipping from his face, and the leftover glitter catching the light as his lashes flutter.

Chapter Text

Chanyeol knows how to make eggs.

He’s sure of it. In fact, if there’s one thing in the world that he’s sure of, it’s this. His late dad had taught him to cook himself when Chanyeol was barely tall enough to reach the top cupboard, and his soothing words and clear instructions have stuck with Chanyeol even through all the ten-or-so years since his death. Chanyeol’s no master chef, sure, but he can do more than enough to sustain himself. And he makes a mean tteokbokki. Which is a dish far more complicated than fried eggs.

None of that, however, explains why Chanyeol’s currently staring down at the pan in front of him with the carton of eggs still in his hands and his mind completely blank.

“Come on, Chanyeol,” he tries saying aloud, shaking the carton in his hand. “Stop acting so dumb.”

It’s worth a shot. But unfortunately, it seems like his mom’s foolproof motivational tricks only work for business-related things. Not mini post-hookup crises.

Like the one Chanyeol’s currently having.

It’s a shame, because he secretly thinks his apartment looks the best in the morning - just after dawn, when the sun is streaming through his curtains and filling the spacious penthouse with light. It gives the whole place a relaxed, homey vibe that he’d be hard-pressed to find at the family mansion. The weather is nice too today, and Chanyeol can see the Han River through his huge windows, glittering under the white clouds dotting Seoul’s sky.

If this was any other day, Chanyeol would’ve pulled his laptop right up to the comfiest couch in his living room and tried to work on that song he’s been writing before starting on his company duties. But this morning, he woke up to a crick in his neck, finger-shaped bruises on his shoulders, and a redheaded idol still asleep in his bed. Which… changes things. A lot.

Chanyeol gives up on the eggs. “Honestly,” he mumbles to himself, absentmindedly rubbing at his neck as he puts the carton down. “You don’t have to be so weird just because you slept with—”

Speak of the devil. There’s a noise from the hall leading to his bedroom, and Chanyeol freezes. He turns, almost on instinct, to blink at the empty doorway.

Baekhyun emerges to fill it only a second later - yawning into his fist, his hair still mussed over his forehead but his face scrubbed clean of makeup.

The whole sleepy aesthetic makes him look a lot more like a college student than a celebrity. He’s wearing the shirt he wore last night, too, Chanyeol realizes, but without the silver-threaded suit jacket this time. Baekhyun has that looped over his forearm along with his belt. It sways in the air as he walks over, half-lidded eyes blinking languidly at Chanyeol.

He still has his dreamcatcher necklace around his neck. That’s the first thing Chanyeol notices.

The second - less pleasant - thing Chanyeol notices, when Baekhyun tilts his head and the loose collar of his shirt slips over his shoulder, is the angry smattering of purple-red hickeys blooming all down his throat.

“Oh my god,” Chanyeol blurts, absolutely mortified. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

All Baekhyun does is blink at him again. “Good morning to you too,” he says, and there’s still that subtle hoarseness in his voice that Chanyeol wouldn’t catch if he didn’t know exactly how Baekhyun got it. It shouldn’t be as sexy as it is.

Chanyeol has to do his best to push away the memories it brings up. “I’m really, really sorry,” he says again, helplessly. It’s like he’s unable to jerk his gaze away from the bruises marring Baekhyun’s neck, the faded prints of his teeth that he can still make out etched into Baekhyun’s skin. “I didn’t mean to do all of that.”

Baekhyun’s fingers come up to press into his collarbone. “Oh, these? Don’t worry about them.”

“Don’t - it looks like I mauled you.”

“You shouldn’t apologize,” Baekhyun goes on, like he can’t even hear Chanyeol at all. He meets Chanyeol’s eyes, and there it is again: that half-smirk, sharp and teasing, playing at the corner of Baekhyun’s mouth. The sense of foreboding that hits Chanyeol is anything but subtle.

“After all,” Baekhyun says, voice going wicked, “it’s not like I didn’t like it.”

Chanyeol chokes.

Luckily, he’s saved from having to think up a coherent response when the other man just pulls his collar up and comes closer, leaning over to peer at Chanyeol’s pan before raising an eyebrow. “So what are you doing there?”

“Um. Making eggs. For breakfast.”

“I don’t see any eggs.”

“Because I haven’t made them yet,” Chanyeol says weakly. He makes a half-hearted gesture towards the carton on the counter. “Did you want any?”

Baekhyun pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, and it’s unfair how even that tiny action still manages to snag all of Chanyeol’s attention. “Tempting offer,” he says, “but I’ll have to pass it up.” He shakes his bangs out of his eyes, then glances towards the phone in his hand that Chanyeol didn’t even realize he was holding. “I actually have a schedule to attend later. I think my manager would kill me if I’m even a minute late, and that’s not considering how bloated my face might get from eating so soon.”

“Oh.” Chanyeol never even thought about that. “Sounds hard.”

“Such is the life of an idol,” Baekhyun sighs out dramatically, before dropping his gaze to fiddle with his phone again.

Chanyeol watches him do it, following the taps and swipes of Baekhyun’s graceful fingers. He really does look more like an average person like this, all bare-faced and messy-haired. Although that doesn’t take away from his attractiveness in the least. Even without the makeup and meticulous styling that gave Baekhyun his indomitable aura at the gala, with his strong figure and handsome features, he’d still be someone that Chanyeol would look twice at on the street.

Though - now that Chanyeol knows who he is - looking twice would probably only be normal. Byun Baekhyun. Superstar idol and vocalist extraordinaire. Best-selling solo artist in the last ten years. A chart-topping, award-winning, record-breaking whirlwind, with enough fans to fill up every fancy apartment in Gangnam and then some.

The Naver page Chanyeol pulled up told him all of this and more, because apparently, that’s what Chanyeol’s life has come to now: frantically Googling his impulsive hook-ups in the kitchen while they’re still sound asleep in his bedroom.

“Oh,” Baekhyun says suddenly, breaking Chanyeol out of his spiralling thoughts. He has his brow furrowed as he stares down at his phone screen. “I think that’s my cue to go.”

“Something bad?” Chanyeol asks, frowning.

Baekhyun flips a nonchalant hand. “Just a threat on my life. Pretty normal.” And then, before Chanyeol can even start to wonder about what that means, Baekhyun’s already stowing his phone away and stifling another yawn as he heads towards the apartment door. “I hope you’re not one for pillow talk,” he calls over his shoulder, “because I really do need to leave now.”

Despite himself, Chanyeol blushes. “I - yeah. Sure. No problem.”

“Great,” Baekhyun chimes. He leans down to pull on his shoes, and Chanyeol takes a few steps forward, until he’s hovering uncertainly near the entryway and watching Baekhyun go through the motions.

Chanyeol’s no expert on idol etiquette, but he’s pretty sure that going out into broad 11 A.M. daylight with an uncovered face is practically a blaring invitation for crazy fans and crazier paparazzi. Especially for someone as popular as Baekhyun. He clears his throat. “Are you going to be okay?” he tries, making a vague hand gesture when Baekhyun looks up quizzically. “I mean, with your face and… stuff…”

It’s the opposite of eloquent, but Baekhyun seems to get it anyway, because he just gives Chanyeol an amused quirk of his lips. “Someone’s coming to pick me up. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure not to tarnish your company’s image or anything.”

That makes Chanyeol blush harder for some reason. “That’s not - I didn’t mean—”

“I know, I know. Don’t break a bone.” Baekhyun finishes putting on his shoes and straightens, hoisting his jacket over his shoulders. When he looks up at Chanyeol again, the curve of his mouth has edged into a full, sly grin. “Has anyone ever told you how fun it is to get you flustered?”

No,” Chanyeol protests, even though that’s definitely a lie. He’s friends with Oh Sehun, for God’s sake.

“Well, I’m telling you now.” Baekhyun pauses. He cocks his head, face contemplating like he’s trying to gauge something in Chanyeol’s expression.

Whatever he sees, it makes the glint in his eyes return again. A hand comes up to slide over Chanyeol’s neck. Chanyeol freezes. He stays, paralyzed in place as Baekhyun smooths warm fingers along his suddenly shivery skin, then reaches up to lightly touch the shell of Chanyeol’s burning ear.

“See?” Baekhyun murmurs. “Fun.”

Heat fizzles all over Chanyeol’s cheeks. “Shouldn’t you be going now?” he says, voice cracking embarrassingly mid-sentence.

“So eager to get rid of me?”

“No, I just—”

“I’m hurt, Chanyeol. And here I thought we had a lot of chemistry last night.”

Chanyeol gives up. There is no winning with Baekhyun. “Don’t be mean,” he pleads, managing to only sound a little like he’s begging.

That makes Baekhyun laugh - an attractive, full-body one that takes away the last traces of sleepiness in his face. He turns around to put a hand on the doorknob, but not without aiming a last playful smirk at Chanyeol. It would be infuriating if it wasn’t so hot. “Bye, then,” he says. “And seriously, don’t worry about these.”

Chanyeol only has a second to wonder what he’s talking about before Baekhyun lifts his pretty fingers up to press into the marks on his neck again. His eyes go hooded as he traces along the edge of one just at his pulse point, making a soft noise when he applies a bit too much pressure.

Chanyeol’s traitorous dick twitches in his pants.

“Okay, bye!” he blurts out very ungracefully, shooting a hand out to yank the door open and trying three times before he gets it unlocked. He practically shoves Baekhyun out into the hall, face feeling like a hot, soupy mess. “Nice meeting you, um, I mean, good luck with your schedule. And stuff. Sing those songs.”

He doesn’t get to hear Baekhyun’s reply as the door slams shut, but he does hear his laughter again, loud enough to still be audible even through the thick walls.

Chanyeol waits until it fades out before groaning and burying his face in his hands. His entire face feels like it’s on fire, and as he slumps against the wall, sliding until he’s crouched on the floor, he can still feel the pounding of his heartbeat like an 808 in his veins.

He’s just… not used to it. That’s all. It’s only natural. Chanyeol won’t blame himself for having a mini-freakout during the ever-shameful morning after. It’s just a part of the immovable cycle of young adult life. Because even though Chanyeol’s a serial romantic of sorts - at least, where the tabloids are concerned - he’s never really been the type to sleep around. Especially not with men.

And definitely not with men who are superstar-famous, prone to filling concert stadiums, and probably have their face plastered across half the billboards in Myeongdong.

Ominously enough, Chanyeol’s first coherent thought is: Sehun is going to have a field day when he inevitably finds out.

 

---

 

“I am going to kill you,” Taeyeon says, slowly and evenly. “I am going to murder you, and then I am going to eviscerate you, and then I will bury your body in a trash bag in some remote garbage dump so even your craziest fans won’t be able to find a trace of you for years.”

Baekhyun winces. All things considered, it’s kind of impossible not to. “Uh. Good morning to you too?”

Unfortunately, where the same line worked fine on Chanyeol, it obviously has less of a satisfactory effect on Taeyeon. If the way she just glares at him with eyes severe enough to cut through steel means anything, it doesn’t work at all. “It’s not morning,” she bites out, reaching out to bodily haul Baekhyun by the collar. “It’s almost twelve.”

“Technically, before noon is still morning,” Baekhyun points out, because he has the self-preservation skills of a particularly stupid toddler.

Taeyeon’s second glare is enough to make him shrink back again. She marches him to the seat in front of the vanity, stomping the whole way. “Tell me, Baekhyun,” she says when they stop, acid clear in her voice. She yanks on his shirt and spins him around to face the mirror. “Are you stupid, or are you stupid?”

Baekhyun winces. Again. Because like this, under the harsh fluorescent lighting that seems to be ever-present in dressing rooms, he can kind of see the logical reasoning behind Taeyeon’s threat.

The marks Chanyeol bit into his neck look a lot starker than when he checked them in the bathroom this morning. They were red before, maybe edging into maroon, but now they’re a violent purple so obvious that it might as well be black under the artificial light. It’s not like they hurt or anything - having only given Baekhyun a faint sting when he ran his fingers over them - but they do look bad. Bad enough to give a makeup artist as talented as Taeyeon a twitch in her forehead. Bad enough that, if Baekhyun saw them on anyone else in the street, he’d probably try to call them an ambulance in fear of strangulation symptoms.

There’s no way around it. “Well—”

“Don’t well me!” Taeyeon pinches his ear hard enough to make Baekhyun yelp. “What were you thinking? Don’t you know you have a schedule today?”

“I mean, it’s just a magazine interview—”

Taeyeon scoffs. “A magazine interview where you have to appear in front of people. Even if they’re not your fans. Honestly, you’d think that so many years of being an idol would give you at least a little common sense.” She stalks over to the many shelves beside the vanity and pulls one open with a bang, rummaging through it so loudly that Baekhyun hopes the staff in the halls don’t get concerned enough to poke their head in. “You are so lucky,” Taeyeon says, holding up a tube of concealer to the light, “that Minseok is too busy with his meetings or whatever to be here for this.”

The mention of his manager makes Baekhyun gulp. “He contacted you?”

“He told me to keep an eye on you.” Taeyeon looks askance at him. “Whatever that means.”

Well. That explains the passive-aggressive message that had pinged Baekhyun’s phone while he was still at Chanyeol’s place. “Minseok hyung knows me too well,” he says, absentmindedly raking a hand through his bangs where they flop over his face. “I don’t even think he’d be surprised enough to be mad if he was here.”

“Is that really something you should be proud of?”

The words are thick with sarcasm, and Baekhyun huffs. “I’m not proud—”

“Okay, heartbreaker. Whatever you say.” Taeyeon walks back over and dumps about seven-odd jars and tubes on the vanity surface. She reaches out to flick on the lights surrounding the mirror, then points a threatening finger at the seat. “Sit.”

“I could just wear a scarf.”

The look Taeyeon directs at him is positively poisonous. “Sit, Baekhyun.”

Baekhyun sits.

He does his best to keep still while Taeyeon goes into professional-mode and surveys the damage done to his neck, although he has to shift uncomfortably when she prods at his pulse point. It’s not like her touch is doing anything special. She’s been Baekhyun’s best makeup artist for years now, and whatever remains of their brief fling is staying in the very distant and ancient past.

It’s just - Baekhyun’s always been a sucker for pain. No matter how light it is. And his neck is the second most sensitive part of his body. Chanyeol made sure to exploit that fact the best he could, marking Baekhyun with such intense passion that Baekhyun almost came before his pants were even off. That, combined with the soreness lingering around his lower waist and thighs, isn’t really doing much to help his overactive imagination. And if the memories brought up by those flashes of sensation get any clearer…

“If you’re thinking about whatever poor guy you tortured last night while I do this,” Taeyeon says calmly, “then I really will get that body bag ready.”

Baekhyun blinks. His vision focuses again, and there’s Taeyeon’s reflection in the mirror, staunchly concentrating on his abused skin with a wet cotton swab.

“You…” He half-turns before Taeyeon reaches up and forces his head back around. “How did you know it was a guy?”

Taeyeon just snorts. “Please. You walked in here like you had a traffic cone shoved up your ass. I took a wild guess.”

Baekhyun will not be embarrassed about this. He refuses to be embarrassed. “You never know,” he drawls, tipping his head back on instinct when Taeyeon nudges his chin. “It could’ve been a girl who—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Byun Baekhyun.”

Because he still does have some self-preservation skills left - and because he kind of needs Taeyeon, if he doesn’t want any stupid sex scandal articles to pop up on the Internet - Baekhyun shuts up and lets Taeyeon do her work.

It turns out to not be very fruitful work, if the frustrated noises that Taeyeon keeps making are any indication. Eventually, she straightens up and heaves out a breath as she massages her temple. “Okay,” she says, half-sounding like she’s trying to convince herself. “I’m not just an employee. I’m an artist. So I’m going to go get some of my own stuff to help you, because I’m nice. And you—” Taeyeon points another menacing finger at Baekhyun. “Are going to stay right there.”

It’s not like he even has anywhere he can go, with the spectacle on his neck, but Baekhyun nods anyways just to appease her. Taeyeon shakes her head at him one last time before moving away to her bags at the other end of the room.

Which leaves Baekhyun staring at himself in the mirror, red hair still floppy over his forehead, skin disconcertingly bare, the necklace of hickeys around his throat like an obnoxious, glaring sign.

He doesn’t have anything better to do, so he presses his fingers into the marks and meets his own half-lidded eyes in the reflection. There’s two close to his pulse point, where Taeyeon poked at; smaller bites scattered under his chin and close to his shoulders; and finally the largest one, fierce violet and already bruising, spreading rosy colour over his collarbone.

No wonder Taeyeon was so mad. Baekhyun looks like he ended up on the bad side of something that belongs to the predator section of a zoo.

Predator.

He ends up touching the collarbone bruise, manicured nails biting lightly into the reddened skin. Is that what he is? Prey? Something in Baekhyun rears in protest at the submissive term - because that’s not what he’s like, he’s the dominant one, usually, and with someone like Chanyeol it should be no different - but a deeper, darker, more quiet part of him practically hums with satisfaction low in his belly. It’s enough to make Baekhyun’s blood run hotter, the feeling of pain mixed with pleasure from the mark giving him shivers, letting his eyes fall shut. He has to lean back in his seat and shift again to try and chase away the tingle under his skin.

Huh. So maybe he’s got some of those tendencies after all. Who would’ve guessed.

“Hey, Miss Artist,” Baekhyun calls, and Taeyeon looks up from where she’s aggressively combing through one of her many makeup bags. “I think you might need something a little more powerful than just concealer this time.”

Taeyeon looks like she’s just barely restraining herself from chucking a bottle of foundation at Baekhyun’s head. “No shit,” she snaps, stalking back up to him and jerking his chin up so violently that he yelps at the brief pain. Taeyeon examines Baekhyun’s neck with her professional gaze again, frowning as she turns his face from side to side with her fingers. “Do you actively try to make my job harder or something?”

“No,” Baekhyun protests. Taeyeon forces his head up again, and he resigns himself to her manhandling with a grimace. “It’s not like I told him to mark me.”

“Well, if you want to keep your pretty fans and your pristine idol image, you’d better tell him the opposite in the future.”

That makes Baekhyun snort. “Pristine?”

“Passable,” Taeyeon amends, and sighs. Seconds later, Baekhyun feels the cool swipe of a toner-soaked cotton pad against his collarbone. It’s soothing, gentle; probably Taeyeon’s favourite green tea formula. “Now keep still and let me work my magic. You’d better hope for a goddamn miracle this time, Mr. Hotshot.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Baekhyun says dutifully, and settles back into his chair.

 

---

 

Jongdae bursts into SM’s recording studio number four at exactly half past seven. Baekhyun knows this because he’s been watching the clock for the past twenty minutes, counting down every second and cursing his best friend’s existence for being so late.

He leaps up right away and is about to give Jongdae an earful for wasting his time when Jongdae triumphantly holds up his hand. There’s a plastic bag clutched in his fingers. The smell hits Baekhyun only a millisecond later: spicy, and delicious, and absolutely heavenly to Baekhyun’s growling stomach.

“I got Chinese takeout,” Jongdae says, looking smug.

The grateful moan Baekhyun lets out would be embarrassing in any other situation, but right now he’s too hungry to care. “Have I mentioned that I might be in love with you?” he says seriously, slumping back into his cramped couch and putting a dramatic hand to his face. “Because honestly, I really might.”

Jongdae just laughs as he turns and hangs his coat up. “Save the sweet talk for the fans, Baekhyunnie.”

His friend’s hair is honey-blond now, newly dyed for a music video, and it’s windswept over his forehead. Combined with Jongdae’s pink-tinged cheeks, it’s obvious that Seoul’s evening weather is still a long way off from being forgiving. Baekhyun’s suddenly glad that he’s spent the whole afternoon cooped up in the studio recording demo tracks for his juniors. At least he’s not as busy as Jongdae, who probably had to be shuffled all over the city today for his quickly approaching comeback preparations.

Said man drops into the loveseat across from Baekhyun, then unties the plastic bag in his lap and sets out the single-use chopsticks and napkins on the coffee table. “Nuh-uh,” Jongdae says, shielding a hand over the food container when Baekhyun makes grabby hands at it. “First let me in on the scoop. I heard Taeyeon threatened to kill you today?”

Baekhyun pouts and flops back in his seat. “It’s not like that’s an uncommon occurrence.”

“True, but as your very best friend who’s concerned about your well-being, I still want to know.”

Baekhyun’s pretty sure Jongdae just wants to be nosy, but he only sighs, leaning his head back until he’s staring at the ceiling. Instead of answering, he goes straight to reach for the thin scarf around his neck.

He’d taken off the makeup Taeyeon put on him after the interview was done; it was heavy and uncomfortable, and SM’s building always has the air conditioning turned too high anyways, so Baekhyun figured it wouldn’t hurt to give his bruises some time to heal if all he’s doing is staying in the studio.

One slow tug with his fingers, and the scarf is off. Baekhyun tips his head to the side and waits.

“Oh holy shit,” is all Jongdae says, sounding half-impressed and half-horrified.

“Yeah.”

“That’s… damn.” Jongdae lets out a low whistle. When Baekhyun looks back at him, he’s still staring in stupefied awe. “You’re telling me Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome from the gala did that?”

“Sure did,” Baekhyun mumbles. Then the words register. He blinks, and then straightens, watching Jongdae carefully lift the cartons of food out of the bag. “Wait. You mean you don’t know who he is?”

Jongdae just raises an eyebrow as he slides one of the cartons over to Baekhyun. “Uh, no? I know I was talking to him first, but he didn’t actually give me his name.”

“Oh. Well, it’s Chanyeol.”

A pause. “Chanyeol,” Jongdae repeats, and Baekhyun can almost see the gears turning in his head.

“Park,” Baekhyun adds, just to be helpful. He grabs a plastic spoon and digs into the container of fried rice right away, holding back another moan at the delicious taste.

Baekhyun can see the moment it clicks for Jongdae, because the resulting disbelief that flashes across his face is hard to miss. “Park Chanyeol?”

“That’s what I said.”

“You slept with that Park Chanyeol?”

Yes, Jongdae,” Baekhyun says, only a little exasperated. “The media chaebol. The one that owns half our company.” He pauses to think for a second. “Or, well, I guess his mom does, but—”

Jongdae interrupts him with a snort. “Is that really the important thing here, Baekhyun?” he asks, sounding twice as exasperated as Baekhyun did. He takes a bite out of his spring roll, then rolls his eyes when Baekhyun shoves another spoonful of rice in his mouth to avoid the question. “I know you’re always like this, but the hookup you chose this time is really something, huh.”

Baekhyun swallows and gives Jongdae a deadpan glance before answering. “You were the one who went up to talk to him first, you know.”

“Hey, don’t blame me!” Jongdae defends. He brandishes his chopsticks at Baekhyun, all accusing. “He looked lonely and nice and I was just trying to make new friends. You were trying to make new dick appointment contacts.”

That makes Baekhyun almost choke on a laugh. Because - well. It’s not as if Jongdae is wrong, per se. Just incredibly brash. And Baekhyun does get where the concern is coming from. With Chanyeol’s prominent position in the industry - an industry that Baekhyun’s very much actively involved in, no less - news of a same-sex hookup getting out would probably be the scandal of the century, doomed to be plastered across webpages and falling from everyone’s lips for years to come.

But Baekhyun, for all his reckless, careless, daredevil-like nature, isn’t stupid. He’s more than experienced enough to know how to cover his tracks and stay in the shadows. Years of indulging in one night stands and avoiding any reputation-related scars have guaranteed it.

So all he does is wave a hand. “Don’t worry about it,” Baekhyun says, and when Jongdae still looks unconvinced, decides to direct the conversation towards another topic entirely. “So why did you ask to meet, anyway? I know it’s not just because you’re interested in my sex life.”

It works. Jongdae pulls a face and proceeds to produce a glossy purple binder out of nowhere.

“Song choices for the new album,” he explains, when Baekhyun gives him a questioning look. He opens the binder and spreads out all the papers, nudging his container of food off to the side. “The company’s letting me have some freedom with it, so I wanted some outside input on what’s good and what’s not.”

Baekhyun squints down at all the sheet music and printed lyrics. It does make sense, that SM would offer Jongdae more leeway so many years into his career. Baekhyun brushes a finger over a page titled Amaranth and quirks an eyebrow.

“Oh, I see,” he says, purposely making his voice go teasing. “So you thought you’d consult the expert opinion of someone who’s won a music show award against you?”

The aggravated noise Jongdae makes is enough to spur Baekhyun into laughter again. “That was one time,” he protests, swatting a half-hearted hand at Baekhyun when he doubles over and laughs even harder. “And I wasn’t even promoting during the show while you were!”

“A win is a win, Jongdae,” Baekhyun says mock-seriously. He straightens up to raise three fingers in a half-salute. “Idol’s honour.”

“Yeah, okay, whatever. I’ll accept it if you help me.” Jongdae swipes a few papers from the binder and pushes them over to Baekhyun, making sure to avoid the carton of rice. “Just pick a few that you don’t hate too much, alright? Oh, this one’s produced by Yixing hyung,” he adds, taking another piece of sheet music and stacking it on top of Baekhyun’s mini pile.

Baekhyun hums. “I like Yixing hyung’s songs.”

“Good, I do too,” Jongdae says dryly. “Then maybe this will be easier.”

They work in silence for a while after that, only ever disturbed by the rhythmic ticking of the too-loud clock on the studio wall. Baekhyun scans bars of music and reads lyrics with as much focus as he can while eating his food. Jongdae’s style is a lot different from his own - his friend is a ballad singer known for warm, soothing vocals, while Baekhyun’s more prone to experimental pop as an idol - but Baekhyun finds songs he loves anyways, absentmindedly tapping out the beats on his thigh while he mouths syllables of the lyrics.

It’s when they’ve gathered a neat little stack of six songs, three from each of them, that Jongdae clears his throat and breaks the silence again. “So,” he says, putting the page in his hand down on the table. “About Park Chanyeol.”

Baekhyun takes the opportunity to steal one of Jongdae’s spring rolls. “What about him?”

“What do you mean, what about him? Don’t act so nonchalant.” Jongdae huffs. “You’re always talking about your hookups with how shameless you are. How come you’re so secretive the one time you pick someone who’s on the potentially-career-ruining level of interesting?”

“You know, if you’re going to give me the ‘be more careful’ lecture, Minseok hyung already took care of that before the gala.”

Jongdae exhales. “Of course he did,” he says, sounding almost as resigned as Minseok did when he told Baekhyun you can’t rely on luck forever, with his furrowed brow and pursed mouth. At least Jongdae’s livelihood doesn’t depend on Baekhyun, which means he can afford to be more casual about it. “Well?” he asks now, lips edging up into a sly grin. “Was it good?”

Baekhyun doesn’t even have to think about it. His neck still tingles with the ghost of Chanyeol’s mouth even now, and he can remember every single way Chanyeol touched him without even trying.

“So good, Jongdae,” he sighs, falling back against his seat. “You have no idea.”

He doesn’t even have to look to know Jongdae’s grin has turned into a smirk. “Is that your type these days?”

“What is?”

“Pretty rich boys with enough ex-girlfriends to fill up the private jet they probably own.”

“That’s incredibly specific,” Baekhyun tells him, eyes still closed. “I feel like I’d be hard-pressed to find many suitors if that really was my type.”

Jongdae hmms. “I guess so,” he says. When Baekhyun cracks one eye open again, Jongdae’s dumping more hot sauce onto the lid of his food carton, then dipping another spring roll into it while he chews thoughtfully. “But wow, can you imagine? You two? A chaebol and a famous idol? Pretty much everyone would be talking if they knew.”

Baekhyun leans over and swipes another spring roll, ignoring Jongdae’s affronted noise. “Talking about what?” he asks, swirling one end of the roll in hot sauce. “It was a one time thing. It’s not like I’m going to date him.”

“I don’t know, you seem pretty smitten to me.”

“Yeah, smitten with the dick.”

That makes Jongdae splutter and wipe his mouth. “Gross. I’m eating. Spare me the gritty details, please.”

Baekhyun just simpers at him before biting into his roll, then ducks his head to dodge the sheet of music that Jongdae throws in his direction.

“But seriously,” he says a beat later. He picks up the paper from the floor and sets it back in Jongdae’s binder. “I don’t date. I don’t do relationships. You know that.”

It’s true: for all of Baekhyun’s impulsive escapades, all the rumours that cling to his person like wisps of smoke, he hasn’t gotten into a serious romance since before he entered the industry. Part of that is the self-preservation that Minseok and Taeyeon are so convinced he lacks; part of it is just Baekhyun’s personality. He’s not the type to be tied down. He far prefers the burning excitement of a one night stand to the steady routine of a relationship, and he may sing company-written love songs like any other career-respecting idol, sure, but he doesn’t fall in love. It’s just not his thing.

Not like Jongdae has ever really believed that, with the type of hopeless romantic he is. He just gives Baekhyun a long look. So long that Baekhyun shifts and wonders if he’s going to end up being the audience to an impromptu life lecture.

But all Jongdae ends up saying is: “You better not get any hot sauce on my sheet music, Byun Baekhyun.”

Which means that Baekhyun, of course, reaches out towards the table with his red-stained fingers just to hear Jongdae yelp.

 

---

 

For what it’s worth, Baekhyun really didn’t expect to see Chanyeol again. At least, not for a long while. Maybe at some occasional media events or in the halls of SM if Chanyeol even does work there, sure, sometime in the vague future - but definitely not as soon as the next week. And definitely not backstage after a music festival, surrounded by a jumble of staff members and idols, when the whole place is still smothered in noisy chaos during the post-performance hustle.

Seulgi’s the one that spots him first. “Oh,” she says, cutting herself off halfway through an excited ramble about her group’s latest comeback concept. She sounds startled and sort of disconcerted, and Baekhyun has no idea why until he turns to follow her gaze.

And sees - Park Chanyeol. Smack dab in the middle of the crowd. Go figure.

Oh,” he echoes. Chanyeol’s height means he’s taller than almost everyone else, so his head pokes out above the mass. He’s wearing a neat shirt and tie, an upswept hairstyle, and an entirely disoriented expression.

He looks like a lost puppy. Baekhyun has to try hard not to laugh.

“What’s he doing here?” Seulgi asks, three-parts curious and one-part apprehensive.

Baekhyun just shrugs. “Don’t know,” he replies, and before he can think better of it, sticks his hand out over his head to wave in Chanyeol’s direction. “Chanyeol! Over here!”

He can catch the exact moment Chanyeol notices him right down to the millisecond. That’s because Chanyeol’s eyes go as wide as saucers, and he blanches first before flushing a light pink so obvious that it reaches the tips of his ears. He’s so easy to read that it’s almost cute, and Baekhyun has to bite his lip to hide a grin as Chanyeol stiffly makes his way over, giving hurried bows to everyone he passes like one of those starstruck rookies.

“Baekhyun,” he coughs out when he reaches them. Then his gaze slides towards Seulgi. “And - hi.”

Chanyeol’s eyes have gone all shifty. Baekyun blinks. He glances back at Seulgi, who looks similarly awkward and caught on the spot, tugging on a loose strand of orange hair in that way Baekhyun knows she only does when she’s uncomfortable.

Well.

It’s a good thing Seulgi clears her throat before any wild theories can start to run through Baekhyun’s head. “I think I’m going to head back before Joohyun unnie sends someone out to look for me,” she says, so smoothly that it almost doesn’t sound like an intentional escape. The glittery star drawn on her cheekbone catches the light as she turns and waves, eyes flitting between Baekhyun and Chanyeol. “Bye, oppa. Thanks for listening to me talk.”

A polite nod in Chanyeol’s direction, and then Seulgi’s gone, space buns bouncing while she speeds through the crowd with the kind of easy grace that only experienced idols can manage to learn.

Baekhyun watches her disappear around a corner before turning back to Chanyeol. His eyebrows must be hitting his hairline by now. “So what was that about?” he teases, reaching out to poke Chanyeol just to watch him fidget.

“Um. Nothing.”

“Oh, c’mon. You can’t honestly expect me to believe that.” Baekhyun tilts his head and narrows his eyes through the flop of his red bangs. “Seriously, what’s up with all the awkwardness? Did you have a thing with Seulgi too?”

The lilt of his voice must make the meaning behind the too obvious, because Chanyeol flushes all over again. “No, no!” he says hastily, waving his hands. “It’s just—” he glances around before taking a step forward and lowering his voice. “It’s my ex-girlfriend. Park Sooyoung. We broke up, like, two weeks ago, and she’s best friends with Seulgi and her group.”

Ah. That makes sense. “The hotel heiress?” Baekhyun asks, whistling when Chanyeol gives an abashed nod in confirmation. “Wow, shame. You two must’ve been a real power couple.”

“Not really,” Chanyeol mumbles. “I mean, I think we were due to break up anyway. Eventually.”

“Was I just a rebound, then?”

Chanyeol pales so quickly that it would’ve been concerning if it wasn’t so funny. He gives another panicked look at the people around them, and Baekhyun doesn’t have the heart to tell him that his dramatic reactions are probably drawing more attention to them than anything Baekhyun could say. “I - no, I just - you were - it's—”

“Relax, I’m just messing with you.” Chanyeol slumps and presses his lips together in something resembling a pout, and Baekhyun laughs, bringing a hand up to cover his wide smile. “What are you here for, anyway?” he asks, gesturing at Chanyeol’s too-formal getup. “I didn’t pin you as the type to be interested in idols.”

Especially since you didn’t recognize me, he doesn’t say, but Chanyeol seems to hear it anyway. He winces. “Just business stuff. This is a charity concert organized by someone affiliated with the company, and Mom wanted me to come to check over some of the proceedings.”

“Ooh, how important.”

“It’s more of a courtesy, really,” Chanyeol grumbles, and then catches himself. Baekhyun gets the chance to watch him get flustered again before Chanyeol blurts, “What about you?”

Baekhyun lifts an eyebrow. He sweeps a hand over his whole body as if saying, ta-da. “Take a wild guess.”

It’s kind of a redundant thing to do, since Baekhyun saw the embarrassment in Chanyeol’s eyes right afterwards for asking such an obvious question. He does it more to get Chanyeol to look at him. Which he does. Chanyeol’s eyes trail from his feet up to his shoulders, taking in Baekhyun’s carefully styled idol getup: the ripped black jeans, the belt clinking with buckles and chains, the red plaid shirt draped loosely over a white tee. His gaze flickers then stops somewhere around Baekhyun’s neck, transfixed.

Right. The choker. Baekhyun almost forgot about that. He slides his fingers up to tug at it now, brushing a thumb over the silver latch just to see Chanyeol’s reaction.

Chanyeol doesn’t disappoint. His eyes darken almost right away, going laser-focused on the movements of Baekhyun’s hand, and Baekhyun can feel his own breath catch in his lungs.

There it is again - that pull Baekhyun first felt at the gala when Chanyeol’s eyes landed on him.

He wonders if Chanyeol’s remembering how his neck looked before the marks faded. If he’s thinking about the way he printed his teeth into Baekhyun’s skin. If Chanyeol can replay in his mind, just as clearly as Baekhyun can, the way he ruined Baekhyun so well there was nothing left in his head except Chanyeol’s name.

“You’re done performing, right?” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun knows he’s not imagining the way Chanyeol’s voice has gone deeper.

He runs a fingertip over the black choker again and watches Chanyeol’s throat bob as he swallows. “Careful,” Baekhyun says back, only a little flirty. Or maybe a lot. “I might be tempted to take that as an invitation.”

That makes Chanyeol swallow even harder, eyes still glued to Baekhyun’s neck as if by some kind of magnetic force.

In all honesty, Baekhyun’s not expecting anything. There are still people around, after all, and his idol radar is telling him that they’ve already started to notice how odd of a duo he and Chanyeol are. The curious looks are going to begin any second now; no doubt a catalyst for Chanyeol’s easily flustered personality. Baekhyun’s half-waiting for Chanyeol to make his hasty escape in the exact same way Seulgi did.

Which is why it takes him by surprise when Chanyeol straightens up and says, in that low voice, “So what if it is one?”

Baekhyun’s brain short-circuits for a second.

“Oh,” he finally says. Then he clears his throat. “Well. I am done performing.”

Chanyeol takes a step forward, and it really is unfair just how tall he is, looming over Baekhyun until Baekhyun’s forced to tip his head back to meet his eyes. “I know. I guessed.”

“And the show is over.”

“I know.” Another step.

People are looking now. People are definitely looking. Baekhyun can feel the telling prickles at the back of his neck.

Too close, too close, his mind chants, and he bites his lip and steps back, watching the way the confidence in Chanyeol’s gaze wavers.

For all of Baekhyun’s recklessness and Minseok-headache-inducing-ness, he still isn’t stupid enough to make the tension between him and Chanyeol obvious. Especially when they’re surrounded by his fellow idols. But that doesn’t mean he can’t make impulsive decisions. “I wouldn’t want you to miss out on seeing anything, though,” he goes on, dropping his fingers from his throat and catching how Chanyeol blinks back into focus. “That would really be a shame. So I can show you around a little, if you like.”

He doesn’t wait for Chanyeol to reply before turning around and striding down the hall, but he does listen to make sure he can hear the steady thumps of Chanyeol’s steps following him.

Baekhyun leads him down to the quiet corridor he knows most of the unused changing rooms are. It’s much more peaceful here, even though he can still hear the muffled sounds of bustling people through the walls. He runs his fingers along each door and stops at one marked 221, testing the lock before turning the handle and slipping in, letting it swing open behind him as he switches the light on.

“Look,” he begins, turning around to face Chanyeol. “We have to be—”

Baekhyun’s cut off into a gasp when Chanyeol immediately curls warm fingers around his neck. They stroke along the skin of his throat, then go to dip just behind his choker. “This is so pretty,” Chanyeol says, voice soft, hands still moving. “Do you know how distracting it is?”

The light, almost reverent touches are enough to make Baekhyun shiver. “I can hazard a guess.”

“Because it is. Distracting, I mean.” Chanyeol looks down and blinks. His eyes are strangely focused as he says, “I think the marks have faded.”

And - well. At least Baekhyun was right to wonder if Chanyeol had been thinking about that.

“Nice observation, Sherlock,” he deadpans, but the sarcasm is hindered by the hitch in his voice as Chanyeol slides his fingers over Baekhyun’s neck again, until they’re resting in the soft hair at his nape.

Chanyeol doesn’t have any right to say what is or isn’t distracting, Baekhyun thinks, when he’s touching Baekhyun like this, gaze so heavy that it feels like a physical weight on Baekhyun’s body. He hasn’t even done anything except touch his neck, so Baekhyun shouldn’t be feeling the heat start to flicker in his gut already. He really shouldn’t trail his own fingers up to meet Chanyeol’s. Or tilt his head until he leans into Chanyeol’s hand.

But he does it all anyway, feeling something curl in his belly when Chanyeol looks at him again, head on this time. “Baekhyun,” he says, an obvious question in his voice.

“Yes?”

Chanyeol’s other hand comes up, a burning touch at Baekhyun’s cheek. “Can I kiss you?”

Baekhyun’s breath hitches again. He’d be embarrassed if he didn’t want so much. “How traditional,” he murmurs.

Chanyeol takes that as a yes, pulling Baekhyun in to press their lips together, then gripping him in closer as he licks into his mouth.

And it’s so easy, how quickly all of Baekhyun’s thoughts fizzle out. It’s like he’s drunk all over again, not on wine but on Chanyeol - on the feeling of his tongue moving against Baekhyun’s, the fingers still curved around Baekhyun’s choker, the way he tastes like mint and apples and desire. There’s not much of the desperation of their first kiss back during the night at Chanyeol’s apartment, but Baekhyun can still feel how much Chanyeol craves him. It’s intoxicating. It fills up his lungs to replace the air Chanyeol steals.

They only break apart for a second to breathe before Baekhyun’s dragging him back in again, harsher this time, his hands fisting in Chanyeol’s hair. Chanyeol drops his hands to Baekhyun’s hips, then dips them lower to palm at Baekhyun’s ass, and Baekhyun moans in approval, biting down on Chanyeol’s bottom lip just to feel him jerk and pant into his mouth.

And honestly, making out with an ex-one-night-stand in an empty changing room definitely isn’t on the list of things Baekhyun should be doing after a performance, but right now it feels too good to care. Contacting Minseok is the last thing on his mind as Chanyeol pushes him back against a makeup table and shoves a leg between Baekhyun’s thighs. Hell, thinking is the last thing on his mind when Chanyeol ruts up against him, and Baekhyun can feel the hot, rigid length of Chanyeol’s erection against his own hardening cock.

Baekhyun has to pull away, breathing harshly against Chanyeol’s swollen lips. “Fuck,” he mutters, and squirms when Chanyeol squeezes his upper thigh, thumb brushing way too close to the seam of Baekhyun’s jeans. “Ah, Chanyeol, I—”

“Please, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol rasps, and oh fuck, he remembered that.

Baekhyun’s eyes slip shut as his dick twitches against his leg. His libido clearly isn’t immune to the sound of Chanyeol begging in that deep, strained voice. Chanyeol leans down to ghost his mouth over Baekhyun’s neck again, teeth scraping against his choker, and Baekhyun’s not immune to that either, head dropping back, a strangled whine falling from his lips.

“Please,” Chanyeol says again. “Please, let me touch you?”

Baekhyun tries his best to steady his breath before opening his eyes. “No need to convince me,” he whispers.

Chanyeol’s lips quirk up - he absolutely knows what he’s doing, the asshole - before reaching down to palm at the bulge in Baekhyun’s jeans.

Baekhyun shudders right away at the contact, until his head is falling back and he’s staring at the ceiling without seeing anything. Chanyeol’s fingers are rough and purposeful. They massage Baekhyun’s cock with the worst kind of pressure, slipping up to press at the head through the fabric and making Baekhyun ache for it, to the point where he’s already so hard he thinks he might come just like this if Chanyeol doesn’t let up soon.

“Chanyeol,” he says again, going for demanding but ending up sounding more like he’s pleading. He tightens his grip on Chanyeol’s shoulders when Chanyeol looks up at him quizzically. “You too. No time.”

Understanding flickers in Chanyeol’s dark eyes, and he nods, reaching down to unbuckle his own belt and unzip his pants.

Baekhyun does the same to his own jeans, making quick work of his briefs until he’s curling his fingers around his cock with a sigh. He jerks himself off slowly as he watches Chanyeol fumble with his zipper through half-lidded eyes. Chanyeol looks like he’s caught between focusing on himself or focusing on Baekhyun, and his eyes keep flicking up to stare at Baekhyun’s hand around his own erection, until his fingers slacken and then come to a stop.

“You’re too slow,” Baekhyun says, impatient, and reaches over to pull at Chanyeol’s waistband. Chanyeol freezes, and Baekhyun orders, “Stay still.” He unzips Chanyeol’s pants for him, then pushes them until they’re halfway down his thighs and he can see the outline of Chanyeol’s erection through his boxers. “Good boy.”

It’s an offhand comment - not meant to be anything meaningful. It slips through Baekhyun’s mouth without him even thinking about it.

But Chanyeol’s reaction to it makes Baekhyun’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead. He jerks up so violently that Baekhyun almost knocks his hand on the wall, then whimpers, long and loud. Beneath Baekhyun’s fingers, Chanyeol’s dick pulses and the wet patch in his boxers grows.

Baekhyun blinks.

“Oookay,” he says slowly. When he looks up, Chanyeol’s face is fire-engine red, but even that isn’t enough to distract from how blown-out his pupils have gotten. “I’m guessing you liked that?”

Chanyeol whines in embarrassment. “No,” he protests, but it’s feeble. “It’s just—”

“Good boy.”

This time, Baekhyun’s expecting the way Chanyeol’s mouth goes slack with pleasure and his head lolls to the side.

He can’t help but smirk as he goes to touch Chanyeol through his boxers. Because at least he has something against Chanyeol, now. “So you like it when people tell you you’re doing good?” Baekhyun says conversationally, watching Chanyeol try and fail to muffle a moan in his hand when Baekhyun drags his fingers over his erection. “Because I can do that, if you want. I can praise you.”

“Shut up, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says, empathetic, but the way he throbs under Baekhyun’s hand doesn’t do much to strengthen his words.

Baekhyun, for his part, does shut up for a while. He just focuses on tracing along the shape of Chanyeol’s dick, revelling in the way Chanyeol trembles as the pleasure passes over his face. When he thumbs hard into the tip through the wet fabric of Chanyeol’s boxers, Chanyeol gasps and half-collapses forward, dropping his head to rest on Baekhyun’s shoulder, soft puffs of his breath hitting Baekhyun’s collarbone.

“Good, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun murmurs, and Chanyeol quivers against him. “You’re doing so good for me. So wonderful.”

Chanyeol’s cock jumps beneath his touch again. “You’re terrible,” he breathes out.

Baekhyun doesn’t even try to hide the smile in his voice when he replies, “I try.”

At this point, Chanyeol’s so affected that he’s soaking his underwear, helplessly leaking precome every time Baekhyun strokes and praises him at the same time. He’s mouthing incoherent noises into Baekhyun’s neck, and his forehead feels sweaty and feverish. “Good,” Baekhyun keeps telling him, nothing but the truth in his voice. He feels like he's drunk on the way Chanyeol reacts. “So good. Just like that.”

“Look at you, Chanyeol, you’re incredible.”

And that’s the line that makes Chanyeol tip over. He bites down into Baekhyun’s shoulder fierce enough to almost draw blood, then comes hard in his boxers, cutting off on a moan as his orgasm hits him. Baekhyun stills his hand and watches Chanyeol shake through it all.

It’s a scene to remember, that’s for sure - Chanyeol’s whole body trembling against Baekhyun’s own, his sweaty hair tickling Baekhyun’s nape, the way his temperature seems to have kicked into fiery overdrive as he comes down from his high. Baekhyun’s stuck waiting for Chanyeol to recover with his breath caught in his lungs. He’s so turned on it’s almost painful, and his erection is still exposed to the air. Baekhyun has to swallow around his suddenly dry throat.

“Well,” he says. “That was… something.”

His lack of eloquence can only be blamed on the mesmerizing picture Chanyeol makes, but it’s not like Chanyeol notices anyway, with the way he’s still panting into Baekhyun’s shoulder. “Baekhyun,” he finally croaks out, sounding like he’s inhaled a handful of sand.

“I mean, it’s not like I blame you for liking it so much that you—”

Baekhyun.”

Baekhyun stops. He licks his lips. “Yeah?”

Shut up,” Chanyeol tells him with feeling, before reaching out to take Baekhyun’s cock in his hand.

That makes Baekhyun breathe in sharply enough to hurt, head falling back, fingers clenching down on Chanyeol’s shoulders. Chanyeol’s unforgiving and relentless with his touch: fisting around the base of his dick so harshly that Baekhyun has to whine. He’s already so wound up from earlier, the heat heavy in the base of his gut, so it doesn’t take much until Baekhyun’s shuddering and gasping from the slick glide of Chanyeol’s hand around his length.

Chanyeol slows down teasingly before dragging his thumb over the head, and it makes Baekhyun make a noise high in his throat. “Come on,” he says, ragged. “You’re so—”

“I’m so what?” Chanyeol asks. He has to know how good he sounds, still all raspy and punch-drunk. “So insufferable? So much of a tease?“ Another languid pump of Baekhyun’s erection, and Baekhyun’s mouth falls open, head going hazy with pleasure. “Because I think that’s you.”

It says something about how strung out Baekhyun is that he barely even tries to argue, just digs his fingers into Chanyeol’s back as his stomach throbs with arousal.

He feels overheated, spiralling so quickly towards release that it’s almost embarrassing. Chanyeol’s rough fingers and firm grip make for the most intense friction against Baekhyun’s skin. He traces out the veins running up Baekhyun’s cock with a kind of methodical focus, and it doesn’t do anything to lessen the burning in Baekhyun’s abdomen at all. He’s so far gone that he can’t do anything but moan as Chanyeol pumps him again, from base to tip, the messy slide of his palm almost too much - and then Chanyeol digs his finger into the slit and Baekhyun loses it, body wracking with tremors and spilling all over himself and Chanyeol’s hand with a choked-off cry.

It’s one of the most powerful orgasms he’s ever had. Baekhyun’s left reeling by the end of it, blood rushing in his ears and static taking over his mind as he tries to catch his breath.

Inhale. Exhale.

Even with his steady rhythm, the buzzing in his head takes a very long time to fade out. It doesn’t help that Chanyeol doesn’t even stop touching him until Baekhyun has to bat his fingers away with a shaky hand, too oversensitive for it to feel like anything but torture.

“Okay,” he eventually says, voice still very much hoarse. He blinks the sweat out of his eyes and drops his head back to look towards the ceiling. “Point proven.”

That makes Chanyeol huff in amusement. When Baekhyun looks at him again, he’s shuffling towards a nearby table. His face colours a little when their eyes meet, and he hastily pulls out a tissue from a box Baekhyun didn’t even notice before passing it over and mumbling, “Here.”

How convenient. “Thanks.”

They clean themselves up in mostly silence, broken only by the rustling of the tissues and the clink of Baekhyun’s fancy belt as he buckles it again.

Baekhyun straightens up when he’s done, then glances over at the clock on the wall that he knows every dressing room in this building has. It’s exactly forty-five minutes after the official end of his closing performance. Which means that, by extension, it’s about twenty-five minutes after the time he should’ve been back in his own dressing room to wait for Minseok.

Shit.

Baekhyun clears his throat. “Well,” he says, sounding a lot more nonchalant than he actually feels. “It’s been fun, but I should be going n—”

“Can I have your number?”

Out of all the things Baekhyun could’ve expected Chanyeol to say after their second hook-up - ranging from thank you, to see you around, to you know what, let’s not do this ever again - that would definitely be somewhere at the bottom of the list. It catches him so off guard that he just stares at Chanyeol for what feels like a solid minute, watching the way determination slowly mixes with embarrassment in Chanyeol’s eyes.

When Chanyeol shows no signs of taking the words back, Baekhyun cocks his head. “Why?” he asks curiously, leaning back against the makeup table behind him. “Trying to sweep me away on a date or something?”

That makes Chanyeol splutter. It would almost make Baekhyun offended if it wasn’t actually kind of relieving.

“No, no,” he says, flipping a frantic hand. “It’s just - it felt good. The first time, too.” Chanyeol’s cheeks flush again, and he coughs, bringing a hand up to cover his mouth. “I wouldn’t mind doing it again. You know. If you don’t.”

Oh,” Baekhyun says. He crosses his arms over his chest and blinks. “I see. How forward.”

It’s not everyday, he supposes, that he gets propositioned to become friends with benefits by a prominent chaebol. If that’s even what Chanyeol is asking for. Baekhyun doesn’t even know if they’re close enough to be called friends after meeting for a grand total of two times to have sex. But the point still stands, and the offer is up on the table, Chanyeol’s cards laid out for Baekhyun to pick and choose from.

So he thinks it through.

From the perspective of Baekhyun the Idol, it’s an absolutely terrible idea. Even without taking Chanyeol’s status in the media industry into consideration, there’s still the risk of gossip, and scandal, and the rumours that always seem to follow Baekhyun around like a particularly stubborn shadow - not to mention the time it could take up, and the aneurysms Taeyeon would probably get from having to cover up marks one too many times.

But from the perspective of Baekhyun the Healthy Twenty-Five-Year-Old Man, it’s - well. Tempting.

Chanyeol’s not a bad partner in bed. Far from it. And Baekhyun hasn’t had a proper outlet of stress for so long, caught up in comebacks and schedules and maintaining his precarious reputation, that getting one might be good for him in all the ways his idol career isn’t.

And if it is no strings attached, then Baekhyun’s nothing but an expert in that area.

“Okay,” he says before he can think any better of it, watching Chanyeol’s deer-in-headlights expression fall away to be replaced by surprise.

“What - really?”

Baekhyun quirks an eyebrow at him. “Was I supposed to refuse?” he teases, and reaches out, waggling his fingers in Chanyeol’s line of vision. “Your phone, then, please. Just promise to not sell my number to anyone on the Internet.”

“No, of course not,” Chanyeol splutters again, then passes his phone over.

Baekhyun types in a new contact with quick fingers, adding a winky face after the characters of his name just to be cheeky. He locks Chanyeol’s phone again - better safe than sorry - before giving it back to him. Too late to think about it now. “There you go,” he says. “Take care of it. That’s a rare treasure you’ve got there.”

To his credit, Chanyeol doesn’t even scoff, just nods. The only indication of his amusement is a tiny curve to his mouth as he watches Baekhyun throw his tissue into the trash and move towards the door.

Fifty minutes on the clock. Baekhyun’s really pushing it now. He still stops before he opens the door, though, looking back at Chanyeol with a thoughtful gaze.

“Just one thing,” he says, brushing his hair out of his eyes in an attempt to look more presentable. “You should probably wait here a while after I’ve left before coming out. Just in case someone sees.”

Chanyeol nods again. “Got it.”

“Good boy,” Baekhyun purrs, just to watch Chanyeol go beet-red. He turns the doorknob and steps out, then pauses one last time before he goes into the hall. “Oh, and Chanyeol? Try not to call me too late. Or else I might be tempted to let you listen in on my personal time at night.”

He doesn’t wait to see Chanyeol’s expression before swinging the door shut, but he does hear the choked noise he makes as it closes with a quiet click.

It really is too fun to tease him. But Baekhyun doesn’t have much time to bask in the feeling now, because he can already hear Minseok’s exasperated voice in his head as he half-jogs down the mercifully empty halls. Too careless. Too brash. Do you even have the basic ability to read a clock? It all echoes in Baekhyun’s ears as he tries to recall the route he took to get here, ghosts of things that Minseok has said so often they might as well be imprinted into Baekhyun’s mind.

“Yeah, yeah,” he mutters to himself, squinting at each door he passes to try and find the one with his name on the sign. “Sorry.”

It’s not like he’s cruel enough to completely ignore his manager’s advice. He is still his manager, after all, paid a generous salary to keep Baekhyun out of trouble and in the industry. But - well. Impulsive decisions is what Minseok warned against in their talk before the gala. And Park Chanyeol is practically one of Baekhyun’s impulsive decisions personified.

If impulsive decisions were six feet tall, had puppy eyes, and were capable of fucking Baekhyun so good that he forgets his own name.

Well, he thinks, as he turns the corner into yet another lengthy hallway. At least there’s that last part.

Chapter Text

The first thing Chanyeol wakes up to is his alarm: slow and soothing in the way that Coldplay songs are best at being.

The second thing Chanyeol wakes up to is Baekhyun swearing as he drops a tube of something that clatters on the floor. Decidedly less soothing.

“Fuck,” Baekhyun mutters again, as Chanyeol blinks the sleep out of his eyes and props his head up on one hand. The sun is already spilling into his bedroom, and it helps illuminate Baekhyun’s silhouette as Chanyeol’s vision focuses - he’s already dressed, as neatly as he can be in his clothes from last night, hair brushed over his forehead but face frowning when he crouches down to pick up whatever he dropped. “Sorry, did I wake you?” he says, looking up and blinking at Chanyeol on the bed.

Chanyeol stifles a yawn around his fist. “My alarm woke me,” he says, a half-truth. He watches Baekhyun straighten with the tube in his hand. “In a rush this morning?”

Baekhyun sighs. “You have no idea.”

As if on cue, Baekhyun’s phone goes off - the vaguely annoying ping that Chanyeol’s almost grown to expect these days - and he glares at it so hard that Chanyeol’s surprised it doesn’t burst right into flames.

He leaves Baekhyun to his staring contest with his phone and yawns again, stretching as he pulls himself up in his bed. It’s warmer than usual for the morning. So warm that Chanyeol doesn’t even feel chilly without a shirt on. It’s not like the heating system in his apartment isn’t top-notch anyway, but it’s nice to not have to stumble out of bed to turn it up as soon as he wakes, when he’s still half-asleep with his eyelashes sticking to his lids.

And sore. Very sore.

Chanyeol has to wince at the burn in his legs when he sits up. There’s a bruise on his hipbone, too, and both only serve as a reminder of what he and Baekhyun got up to last night.

He sneaks a glance at said man across the room, who’s gone back to staring into the mirror with his brow furrowed as he runs his hand along his neck.

In the one and a half weeks since Baekhyun put his number into Chanyeol’s phone - which marked the beginning of their sort-of casual hook-up relationship - Chanyeol’s gotten very good about not leaving any obvious marks. Baekhyun let him in on the whole deal with his makeup artist the first time they met up, and it’s been a useful reminder ever since. She’s very scary, Baekhyun said, expression serious. I don’t want to piss her off. And - well. If a person is enough to make someone as bold and shameless as Baekhyun nervous, then it’s probably safe to assume that Chanyeol wouldn’t want to piss them off either. So it works out for both of them.

Which is a good thing, because even though it’s only been eleven or so days, Chanyeol’s kind of gotten addicted to it all - to the way Baekhyun kisses him when he wants to rile him up, the noises Baekhyun makes when Chanyeol sucks marks into acceptable places, the harsh grip of Baekhyun’s fingers around Chanyeol’s shoulders and waist when they fuck.

They’ve hooked up pretty much every other day since that messy encounter at the music festival, and it’s done things to Chanyeol’s mind and body. Namely that he can’t stop thinking about it. Or remembering the way Baekhyun’s touch feels against his skin. Something about sleeping with Baekhyun has made Chanyeol’s brain go all stupid and fixated, and for all the good that it’s done for his stress levels and his motivation, it’s also distracting. He’s about four times faster with his company work, but that’s only counting on him not zoning out in the middle of a conference call or a spreadsheet, replaying the exact way Baekhyun sounded when he came the night before.

He’s spent so much time at his own apartment the past two weeks that even his mom’s called him to ask about his absence at the mansion. Chanyeol didn’t even bother to unpack the irony there.

(But that’s only because Baekhyun hasn’t let them go to his own place in Apgujeong, on account of it being too risky with the media. “It’s nothing special compared to this, anyways,” he said, pointedly looking at Chanyeol’s floor-to-ceiling windows and the Jacuzzi on his balcony, and Chanyeol just snapped his mouth shut and agreed.)

“Hmmm,” Baekhyun says now, pulling Chanyeol out of his thoughts. He’s tilting his head at his reflection in the mirror, turning his chin from left to right. “You pass for today.”

Chanyeol hums and picks up his shirt from the floor. “No marks?”

“Well, there’s one. But it’s almost on my shoulder. It’ll probably have to be covered up just in case, but she’ll let me live another day.” Baekhyun pulls his collar back to his neck. “So you did fine,” he says absentmindedly, twisting the tube in his hands open and tipping it over, until some kind of creamy peach-coloured liquid is spilling out onto his fingers.

It’s makeup, Chanyeol realizes, and blinks. It looks exactly like what Sooyoung used to put on her face with a sponge to touch herself up before their dates.

“Is that foundation?”

Baekhyun glances back at him. “BB cream, actually,” he says. He dips his fingertip in the liquid and puts three dots over his left cheek. “Why?”

“I - nothing. I just thought you said there were no marks.”

For some reason, that makes Baekhyun huff out a laugh as he does the other cheek, too. “I don’t wear makeup only to cover marks. I’m an idol, Chanyeol. Like I said, we have to keep up appearances as part of the job.”

“But you never put on makeup before,” Chanyeol mumbles, confused, as he pulls his shirt over his head.

Baekhyun aims an amused look at him as he starts patting the BB cream into his face. “I also never had a schedule so early in the morning before.”

“Oh.”

It’s actually kind of satisfying, to watch Baekhyun blend out the makeup with his graceful fingers, until his already nice skin is turned into something smooth and flawless. He pokes at his chin to test the texture before capping the tube. “I might start having to do this a lot,” Baekhyun sighs as he shoves it back into his bag. “It’s just annoying to have to remember to bring it along every time.”

“I could buy some for you,” Chanyeol says. “To keep here.”

He regrets it the second the words come out, because Baekhyun is full-on smirking now. “What, getting fancy ideas about keeping me around already?”

“No, I mean—” Chanyeol blushes. It’s like he can never learn to stop doing that around Baekhyun. He gives up on finishing his sentence and focuses on pulling on his pants and standing up, ears going hot when he looks up and catches Baekhyun looking back, his smirk smaller now but still visible in the edge of his lips.

It’s a saving grace when Baekhyun’s phone pings again. The smirk falls right into exasperation. “Well,” he says, pursing his mouth. “I better go if I don’t want to wake up in a sack at the bottom of the Han River tomorrow.”

Again with the death threats. “Do all of the people working with you want you dead in some way?”

Baekhyun pauses halfway to the bedroom door, phone in his hand, and says again, very seriously, “You have no idea.”

And on that not-ominous-at-all note, he leaves. The door to Chanyeol’s room clicks shut behind him. Chanyeol exhales and flops backwards on his bed.

Another thing about their arrangement: Baekhyun never, ever stays to eat breakfast at Chanyeol’s, which means he’s at least a full scale point better at this whole casual sex thing than Chanyeol is.

 

---

 

“I think this one is the best.”

“No, it’s definitely this one. Do you see that denim jacket?”

“You know, that must just be your fashion-obsessed self talking, because I like this one a lot better—”

“Well, my apologies for having an eye for this kind of thing—”

“Guys,” Chanyeol moans out, hands over his burning face as he slumps back into his seat. “Are you all done yet?”

Three pairs of eyes look up at him before somehow managing to simultaneously exchange glances with each other. Sehun’s the one that speaks. “No,” he says, failing to hide his shit-eating grin as he leans back and waves his phone in his hand. “What, Chanyeol? You don’t think it’s important that we appreciate your boy toy as your friends?”

Chanyeol gives him a heated glare. “He’s not my boy toy. And I wouldn’t call stalking his fan videos appreciating.”

Because that’s what his insufferable friends are doing: looking up all of Baekhyun’s award show fancams and arguing over which one is the best like that’s a discussion they should be having in a public cafe. Or even anywhere at all.

Granted, the whole place is rented out so they’re the only ones there, thanks to Jongin’s own chaebol connections, but still.

Said man is the one that pouts at Chanyeol now as Sehun starts cackling. “It’s not stalking,” Jongin protests, putting his cup of almost-white coffee down on the table. Chanyeol doesn’t even know why he bothers ordering the stuff if he’s just going to end up dumping enough milk in it to drown the taste out anyway. “He’s really attractive, and we’re curious. We just want to get to know him better, hyung.”

“I don’t know if watching his performances and overanalyzing his outfit choices counts as getting to know him.”

“It definitely does,” Sehun puts in. He unpauses the video on his phone and waves it at Chanyeol again. On the screen, Baekhyun’s tiny figure moves in a series of complicated dance moves, sharp and precise. “There’s a lot you can learn about a person from their fashion style, you know.”

Chanyeol aims a sceptical look at him. “Is there?”

“Yeah. For example, this satin dress shirt tucked into these leather pants means he’s definitely a power bottom in bed, if you can confirm?”

Oh my god.

“I hate you,” Chanyeol says empathetically. He curls in on himself in his chair and tries to pretend he isn’t blushing. “I should have never told you guys about this.”

Of course, that’s when Kyungsoo finally decides to speak. “You didn’t. I think we just found out.”

Which is - well. Kind of true. Sehun’s the one who saw Chanyeol’s phone light up with a suggestive message when they were hanging out last week, then immediately whirled on him with such disbelief that Chanyeol surrendered and spilled everything, because he’s a terrible liar when it comes to his best friend anyway. Which led to Jongin putting the pieces together the next time they met up, since Sehun wouldn’t stop making not-so-subtle comments. And of course it couldn’t be kept from Kyungsoo. All he had to do was look up at Chanyeol over cooking dinner for him three days ago, squint into his face, and say, “Okay, talk,” for Chanyeol to cave.

All of which probably says something about Chanyeol’s less-than-stellar ability to keep secrets, but it’s not like he could’ve hid it for long either way.

“I just don’t see how this is productive,” he mumbles now, ears still feeling hot as he takes a sip of his fancy latte. “I mean, I’m not dating him. You guys don’t need to act like my parents on prom night or anything.”

“We absolutely do,” Sehun says, very seriously. “What if he’s a total jerk? A gold digger?”

Chanyeol squawks. “Baekhyun’s not—”

“What if, get this, he’s sleeping with you just so he can extort you with blackmail and steal all your assets?”

Thankfully, Chanyeol’s saved from having to respond to that ridiculous statement when Kyungsoo swats Sehun on the shoulder. “Enough of that,” he reprimands, as Sehun yelps and draws back, rubbing at his skin. “Chanyeol’s an adult. He can make his own judgments just fine.”

Sehun sulks. “I know that, but—”

“And anyways, I know Byun Baekhyun. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy.”

Kyungsoo’s expression is thoughtful, and that’s when Chanyeol realizes that - oh right - his friend is in the entertainment industry too. Just like Baekhyun. “You’ve met him?”

Kyungsoo just shrugs, one shoulder dipping as he stirs his mug of tea. “In passing. We were on the same variety show once one episode apart, and the staff wouldn’t stop mentioning how much he made them laugh.” He pauses, then adds, “And rumours notwithstanding, I’ve heard a lot about him.”

“Good things or bad things?” Jongin asks, curious.

Kyungsoo’s expression is completely deadpan as he says, “That depends on whether you think sleeping with half the cast of his first drama is an impressive feat or not.”

Chanyeol’s coffee goes down the wrong pipe. He coughs, spluttering, as Jongin reaches out to helpfully thump him in the back.

“Damn.” Sehun whistles. “You know, that is kind of impressive.”

“It’s also just idle gossip,” Kyungsoo murmurs, bringing his mug to his lips and blowing. “Baekhyun has a lot of that around him for some reason. And you guys know not to believe everything you hear.”

And, well, Chanyeol does know that. Better than most people, too, with all the attention the media likes to pay him when he breaks off yet another relationship. Having a reputation that precedes him isn’t anything new to Chanyeol, but - becoming linked with someone who seems to be in the same boat definitely is.

Which makes him realize that, for all Kyungsoo’s talk about pointless rumours, he’ll probably have to be very careful about this thing with Baekhyun if he wants to keep his peace.

Great.

“Be careful,” Sehun says now, because apparently he can read Chanyeol’s mind just as well as he knows his own. “I know Chanyeol hyung’s old and can take care of himself and all, but I’m still gonna play the part of the overprotective best friend and tell you to keep your guard up.”

“Thanks, Sehunnie.”

“And, you know, if he does end up being a jerk—”

“Prom night parent,” Chanyeol reminds him, and Sehun lets out a huff and flops back. “Don’t be one.”

The roll of Sehun’s eyes could almost be taken as a sign of annoyance if he wasn’t smiling. As it is, Chanyeol knows his friend, and he catches the quirk to his lips anyway.

“Speaking of parents, though,” Jongin interjects, pushing away Sehun’s phone from where he was using it to half-heartedly watch another fan video. “Hyung, have you told your mom about the whole…” he flips an awkward hand. “You know?”

Chanyeol sighs. “You can say breakup. It’s been almost a month. And I did.”

“Oh.” Jongin’s face is a cross between guilty and concerned, and it makes Chanyeol’s heart squeeze in his chest. “How did she take it?”

Fine. Well enough. A little confused, but better than expected.

“She was surprised,” is the answer Chanyeol ends up mumbling, because out of everything, that was the part he expected the least. “I don’t know why.” He toys with the saucer under his cup of coffee, running his thumb along its delicate porcelain edge. “You’d think she’d be used to it by now, right? With my track record and all. It’s weird.”

Sehun just hmms. “Not really. Eight girlfriends in five years isn’t that bad.”

The straight-up bluntness makes Chanyeol wince so hard he almost knocks his cup over. “Well—”

“And you were with Sooyoung the longest, so it makes sense.” His best friend meets his gaze, and his eyes are a bit too perceptive when he says, “She was probably hoping you would marry her.”

That makes Chanyeol slump. Sometimes Sehun really is too matter-of-fact for his own good.

“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” he says, running a tired hand through his hair. “But that was never going to happen. At least, not while I’m still being prepared to move up in the company.”

“True love doesn’t have a set time or place,” Sehun tells him like the wise philosopher he very much is not. “It just comes to you naturally.”

“What is this, a post-breakup counselling session?”

Kyungsoo laughs quietly into his mug at that, but Jongin leans over, putting his hands on the table and looking up into Chanyeol’s face. “It can be one if you need it,” he says, all earnest. “I invited you guys here because I wanted to talk things out and catch up, you know.”

Chanyeol squints at him. “I thought you invited us here because it’s your favourite cafe and you missed the dessert.”

“Well.” Jongin gives him a sheepish smile. “That too.”

Kyungsoo’s quiet laugh turns into something clear and open, and Jongin blushes and pulls back, lightly hitting him in the shoulder as he whines for him to stop.

And all of a sudden, Chanyeol’s immensely, crushingly grateful for the scene around him - the little world of the empty cafe closed off just for them, the comforting sound of slow jazz in the background, and his friends, laughing around him as he nurses his favourite drink in his hands. There’s a warm feeling in Chanyeol’s chest that expands as he breathes and takes it all in. He may still be freshly smarting from yet another failed relationship, may be getting himself entangled in something he doesn’t even begin to know how to handle, but it’s a good thing he has this.

It makes him hide a smile in his coffee as he reaches out to take a pastry. “I don’t need any counselling,” Chanyeol says, watching all three of his friends stop to look at him. “I’m good. I promise.”

Jongin frowns at him. “You sure?”

“Yeah.” Chanyeol flips a dismissive hand. “Besides, we’ve talked enough about me anyway. Jonginnie, didn’t you say something earlier about filming a new dance video in your free time?”

That makes Jongin brighten right away, and he launches into an excited explanation of the latest choreography he’s been learning, quickly drawing Sehun into a debate about camera angles and studio shots.

Halfway through listening to them argue, Kyungsoo nudges Chanyeol in the arm. “So,” he says softly, waiting for Chanyeol to blink at him before continuing on. “What about your music?”

Oh. Chanyeol clears his throat. “What about my music?”

“Chanyeol.” Kyungsoo gives him a Look. “You know what I’m asking. You have your own interests outside your company too, right?”

And honestly, Kyungsoo should really be cast to play a detective role or a secret agent role or something already, with the kind of piercing gaze he’s capable of. Chanyeol wipes at his mouth with a napkin before letting out a breath. “There’s not much going on. Like I told you, I’ve been hitting a slump.”

“An inspirational slump, or a motivational slump?”

“Both?” Chanyeol attempts.

Kyungsoo aims another one of his trademark looks at him, and Chanyeol gives up. “Okay, okay, mostly the second kind,” he mutters. He takes another sip of his coffee, grimacing when all he tastes is the last cold dregs. “But it’s not a big deal. It’s kind of stupid anyways.”

“Chanyeol,” Kyungsoo says again, a frown on his face. “It’s not stupid to want to do something you love.”

“It is when I have the company.”

That makes Kyungsoo frown even harder. “Forget about the company for a second.”

“That’s the thing,” Chanyeol says, rubbing a hand over his forehead. “I can’t. You know I’m going to have to take over it soon, and even with my mom doing most of the work these days, I still need to learn and prepare and—”

“Jongin has his family’s company to take care of too, and he still does dance anyway because he loves it and has a passion for it.”

“That’s because Jongin’s amazing,” Chanyeol says weakly.

Kyungsoo purses his mouth. “And you’re not?”

The seriousness in Kyungsoo’s voice catches Chanyeol off guard for a few seconds. He just stares, meeting Kyungsoo’s steady gaze to the sound of Sehun and Jongin’s back-and-forth in the background. “Not in the way he is,” Chanyeol finally says, quiet. He fiddles with the napkin in his hands, folding it in half before unfolding again. “I just… I don’t think I’m brave enough to do anything outside of scribbling down some songs every once in a while. At least, not yet.”

For a moment, Chanyeol thinks Kyungsoo’s going to argue again. But all he does is give a slow nod and then turn back to his tea.

“I get that,” he eventually tells Chanyeol, rubbing his thumb along the mug handle. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to push you. I just want to see you guys do things you’re happy doing.”

Chanyeol swallows. The warmth in his chest swells, until it’s borderline suffocating. “That seems like an awfully roundabout way to say you care about me, Kyungsoo,” he teases, if only to hide the fondness that’s threatening to spill over in his voice.

Kyungsoo just gives him a flat look. Then he opens his mouth.

But Chanyeol, unfortunately - for better or for worse - never hears what he’s about to say.

“Oh shit.”

The exclamation is loud enough to almost make Chanyeol jump. When he turns, Sehun’s staring down at his phone with his eyebrows almost hitting his hairline, while Jongin’s peering over his shoulder and squinting to try and see whatever’s on the screen.

What,” Chanyeol says, only sounding a little exasperated. “Did Baekhyun wear another denim jacket in one of the fancams or something?”

Sehun’s eyes flick up at him. “Not quite.”

“Well, then what is it? More leather pants? Satin shirts? A dress?”

All Sehun does is stare. It’s enough to make Chanyeol feel uncomfortable, until he has to shift in his seat and wonder just what the unreadable expression on Sehun’s face right now means.

He’s about to snap and just reach over to swipe Sehun’s phone when Sehun finally clears his throat. “Well,” he says, and coughs. “I think you might want to see this for yourself, actually.”

And - well. That isn’t ominous at all.

But then Sehun actually turns his phone towards Chanyeol, leaning forward so all the vaguely blurry text is visible, and Chanyeol feels the sense of impending doom settle in as soon as he leans in and sees what’s on the screen.

 

---

 

Here’s the thing about Seoul’s rumour mill: it’s fast. And powerful. And usually pretty subtle, at least where industry professionals are concerned. Most people in the entertainment business still have a basic sense of decency when it comes to gossip - comes with the risky career and all that - so nine times out of ten, you won’t even notice that something’s going around about you until you see it plastered across the headline of a Naver article. And that’s just a necessary evil.

But even so, the people spreading the rumours are only humans, after all, and ones using word-of-mouth at that. Not superspeed machines or social media posts doomed to the swift current of the Internet. And Baekhyun’s a veteran. Which means he’s more than used to this kind of thing, and also knows almost exactly what to expect.

So that’s why, when he walks into his dressing room at SM and the stylist assigned to him immediately drops her rack of shirts with a clang, he’s more than a little confused.

“Uh,” he says, as she scrambles to pick everything up off the floor. “Good afternoon?”

The stylist coughs. “Afternoon, Baekhyun-ssi,” she says, still avoiding his gaze. There’s a flush starting over her cheeks that Baekhyun can see even through her makeup, but she doesn’t say anything more to acknowledge her slip-up as she gestures towards the changing area. “Why don’t you go put on your first outfit for today, and then we can get started?”

So Baekhyun goes. He tries not to think much of it while he slips the threadbare jacket over his head. The stylist looked unfamiliar anyway, with her platinum-blonde bob and catlike features.

Maybe she’s just new and got nervous, he thinks, adjusting his collar as he squints into the mirror. Or starstruck.

But it doesn’t stop even as Baekhyun goes to the set for his merchandise photoshoot. He passes two of SM’s boy group rookies in the hall, and they stare at him with eyes the size of dinner plates when he gives them a brief bow. He thought Mark and Donghyuck finally got over their starry-eyed trainee phase after their official debut, helped by all the meals Baekhyun treated them to as celebration, but apparently not. It’s just a little disorienting.

All of it comes to a peak, though, when Baekhyun walks into the set and can actually feel everyone who’s bustling around stop for a moment to look at him.

Okay.

So something’s definitely up. And Baekhyun has no idea what it is. That’s a verifiable recipe for disaster, if he’s ever heard one.

“What’s up with everyone?” he asks Taeyeon as he drops into the seat she’s waiting beside. “Did all the usual staff get replaced by newbies or something?”

That only makes Taeyeon snort. She snaps her makeup case shut and gets to work right away, sweeping a brush over Baekhyun’s cheekbones with no hesitation at all. “Obviously not. I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Oh. Right.” Baekhyun pauses. “That doesn’t explain why they’re all staring at me.”

“Maybe they just forgot how your bare face looked and had to take a moment to recover.”

It’s a testament to how familiar their routine is that Baekhyun barely even reacts to the insult, just rolls his eyes a little as Taeyeon manhandles him into looking up at the ceiling. “Ha, ha,” he says dryly, blinking to get rid of the powder-induced itch in his eyes. “Very creative. But seriously, what’s going on?”

He doesn’t even expect to get an answer - Taeyeon’s fickle like that, even when she isn’t in the middle of concentrating on her work - so when she actually stops lining Baekhyun’s left eye to stare down at him, it takes him by surprise.

“You mean you really don’t know?”

That’s… not a very reassuring thing to hear. “No?”

“Oh, jeez,” Taeyeon says abruptly, capping her eyeliner pencil and reaching for a liquid one instead. “I thought you were just messing with me, Baekhyun.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t!” Baekhyun protests. When Taeyeon only gives him a very sceptical glance in response, he relents, “Okay, maybe I would, but I swear I wasn’t just now. I have no idea what’s happening. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Please tell me.”

Taeyeon hums as she leans in again to focus on Baekhyun’s waterline, and for one brief, fleeting moment, Baekhyun thinks he’s finally going to be let in on what everyone else around him seems to know already.

But all Taeyeon says is: “Not here.”

Which is - understandable. Since they’re in the middle of a busy set filled with staff and other idols.

But all it does is leave Baekhyun a little fidgety and a lot curious as Taeyeon finishes his makeup and gives him the go-ahead to start his shoot, and he’s stuck feeling restless the whole time he poses for his photos. By the time it’s all over and done with and he’s dismissed, he practically drags Taeyeon back into his dressing room, making sure to push the door shut before turning back to her and raising an eyebrow.

“Okay, spill,” he says, walking over to slump into a couch and take off his tight jacket. “Here should be fine, right?”

Taeyeon just gives him an unimpressed look. “Do you really think pulling me through the halls in front of everyone was a good idea?”

Noona.”

“Fine, fine.” Taeyeon crosses her arms and sighs. She keeps silent for a while, dragging it out for a few more seconds before finally saying, “I’m pretty sure it’s about your mystery man. Who’s not really a mystery anymore, just saying.”

Embarrassingly enough, the words take Baekhyun so off balance that he gets his arm stuck in his jacket sleeve.

“My what?” he asks once he’s struggled out of the fabric, blinking up at Taeyeon’s way-too-nonchalant face. Something clicks in his mind, then, and he frowns, pushing a curl of red hair out of his eyes. “Wait, do you mean Chanyeol?”

“No, I meant Jongdae.” Taeyeon rolls her eyes. “Yes, I meant him. Park Chanyeol. Your current stupid decision. The one and only.”

“I - how do you know about that?”

“Well,” Taeyeon says, voice completely desert-dry, “that’s why we’re here in the first place, isn’t it?”

And then - as if on cue - the door to the dressing room bangs open.

Baekhyun whips around, and there’s Kim Minseok in all of his baseball-capped, sweatpantsed glory, looking like he’s come straight out of some sort of cliche high school drama. Unfortunately, the casual outfit doesn’t do much to take away from his intimidating aura as he scans over the space. His eyes are as sharp as always, and there’s a kind of weird determination that Baekhyun can’t read in them. It’s only a little scary when he fixes his gaze on Baekhyun.

“Oh, good,” his manager says, coming into the room and clicking the door shut behind him. “You’re here. I was worried you’d already left.”

The category two expression on Minseok’s face kind of makes Baekhyun wish he already left. “Um. Hi.”

“Hi, Minseok,” Taeyeon echoes, in a tone of voice that makes it clear she’s enjoying the proceedings.

Minseok gives her a friendly nod as he walks over to where Baekhyun is, dropping into the loveseat to his left and putting his bag on the armrest. He has his trusty iPad in his hands, Baekhyun notices. Probably not a good sign. The device only comes out when his manager needs it to prove a point.

“So,” Minseok says. “I have something to talk to you about.”

The look on Baekhyun’s face probably gives away whatever complicated emotions he’s going through, because the very next thing Minseok does is frown and guess, “You already know?”

“I told him,” Taeyeon interjects from where she’s leaning against the wall with her arms still crossed over her chest. “Kind of.” She slides her eyes to Minseok. “It’s not that bad, is it?”

Minseok just hmms as he swipes on his iPad. Which doesn’t really do much to answer the question. “It could be a lot worse,” he eventually says, in vague half-agreement, before turning the device so it’s tilted towards Baekhyun, just barely.

And there’s the moment of truth.

Minseok’s iPad is still facing mostly away from him, but if Baekhyun strains his neck, he can just about make out the bold title at the top of the webpage: ENTER-TALK - BAEKHYUN SPOTTED HANGING OUT WITH CHAEBOL HEIR IN DAECHI-DONG?

Wow,” he blurts, actually more impressed than anything else. “Already?”

It probably says something about Baekhyun that his first reaction is a sort of strange respect for the nosy netizens instead of genuine dread. Judging by the look on Minseok’s face, he’s realized it too. “What do you mean already?” he says, leaning over to lightly smack Baekhyun in the shoulder. “You should know better than anyone how quickly stuff like this can spread on the Internet. You’re lucky it wasn’t anything more incriminating.”

Baekhyun pouts and rubs at the spot where he was hit. “But you said it wasn’t bad, right?”

“I said it could be worse. There’s a pretty big difference.” Minseok scrolls a bit further down the forum until the photo attachment comes into view, then adds, “I know it’s safe and all right now because no one’s going to think you guys are anything but friends, but you should still be careful.”

Taeyeon clicks her tongue. “Minseok’s right. Even if the general public has no clue, this isn’t a small deal.”

“Yes, sir and madam,” Baekhyun responds, absentmindedly. He leans over to push into Minseok’s space and take a proper look at the screen, ignoring his manager’s offended squawk.

Minseok was right, though. Because, now that Baekhyun can see the full post, it’s barely incriminating at all - just a blurry picture of two men who look like him and Chanyeol, standing a couple metres apart at some fancy Gangnam cafe that Baekhyun felt entirely out of place in. Chanyeol has a cap shadowing his eyes, and Baekhyun has his trusty face mask pulled up to his nose, but he guesses it’d be easy for anyone familiar with their profiles to tell just who they are.

Baekhyun remembers the day it was taken. Almost down to the hour, even. It was during one of those still-slightly-awkward morning afters last week, closer to lazy noon than dawn, and Chanyeol insisted on driving Baekhyun to his schedule because it’s super close anyway, and you don’t want to get recognized while walking, right? Halfway there, they stopped for a quick coffee because Chanyeol could notice how Baekhyun was nodding off. And because Chanyeol’s too nice for his own good. That was all there was to it.

To be completely honest, Baekhyun didn’t even know there were people around them at the time, much less someone who apparently recognized them enough to take photos.

“Well, like I said, it could definitely be worse,” Minseok says now, as Baekhyun scrolls down with one finger over the strings of kekekekes in the comment section. “It’s just a meaningless fluff post right now, even if it is trending. The worst anyone’s said is that SM might be in cahoots with Park Chanyeol’s company to make plans of corruption.”

That makes Taeyeon snort. “I can see why they might think that.”

Noona,” Baekhyun whines, slumping over the couch dramatically. “You scared me, you know. I thought it was something serious with the way you were acting.”

Taeyeon snorts even harder. She walks over and plucks the iPad out of Baekhyun’s hands, then aims a frown down at the screen. “Any other idol would think that this is something serious. Your standards are just warped.”

“My standards are perfectly fine.”

“They’re not,” Minseok deadpans.

“Okay, whatever,” Baekhyun concedes, because at least he knows when he’s lost an argument. He watches Taeyeon’s eyebrows climb up her forehead as she reads the forum post. “So this is why everyone was looking at me like I shaved my head? Half a terribly taken photo?” A sigh, and then he’s slumping further down the couch, until he’s lying there like a balloon with all the air gone. “We could’ve just been friends. I don’t get why people always assume the worst. You two included.”

“Probably because you’ve done the worst,” Minseok mutters, and, well. Baekhyun can’t really argue with that.

He knows his track record better than anyone else. He knows what his reputation is like; how people expect him to flirt and pull and tease. He also knows that Minseok is probably already overthinking the whole thing as part of his job, and that’s what compels Baekhyun to clear his throat and say, “It’s not anything serious, you know.”

All Minseok does is give him a Look. “I know, Mr. Heartbreaker,” he says half-jokingly, then goes on before Baekhyun can protest his tabloid-given title. “But you’re still talking to him and spending time with him.”

“And having sex with him,” Taeyeon adds helpfully.

The familiar bluntness shouldn’t even faze Baekhyun, but for some bizarre reason he feels his cheeks heat up anyway. “Well, yeah,” he hedges. “But that’s all there is to it. We text and meet up and fuck. We got coffee that one time because he’s nice to the point of being ridiculous. End of story. He doesn’t even call me.”

And then, because whatever god watching over him out there clearly hates Baekhyun with a fiery passion, his phone on the table starts vibrating.

Baekhyun looks. Minseok looks. Taeyeon looks.

Chanyeol is lit up as the contact name on the screen: as clear as a beacon in bold, bright characters.

“Answer it,” Taeyeon says, sounding like she’s struggling not to laugh and failing. “I dare you.”

Baekhyun glares at her. “You know what, I think I will,” he says back, neck prickling with embarrassment at the unlucky coincidence. He was even telling the truth. This is the first time Chanyeol’s called him. Of course he picks the worst possible timing to do it.

He snatches his phone up before Minseok can unfreeze and say something to stop him, and doesn’t even take the time to wonder about the reason behind the call before he’s pressing accept and saying, “Hello?”

There’s a beat of silence. “Baekhyun,” Chanyeol finally says, voice crackling through the receiver. “I wasn’t sure if you’d pick up.”

“Well, I guess it’s your lucky day.” Both Taeyeon and Minseok are staring at him - Taeyeon with barely veiled interest, and Minseok with something like resignation. Baekhyun mimes zipping up his mouth to them before speaking again. “What’s up?”

“Um. Nothing much, really.” Chanyeol coughs. “I just wanted to ask you about something.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“I mean, it’s sort of important, but I also don’t want to disturb you if you’re, like, dealing with stuff right now—”

“Out with it, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says, only a little impatient because of how he can feel the burn of his friends’ eyes on his head.

Chanyeol fumbles. Then he says, all in a rush, “I was wondering if you saw the Pann post already.”

And - oh. Baekhyun blinks.

It’s not a reach to assume that Chanyeol’s seen it, he supposes, with how Minseok mentioned it as a trending topic. Especially if he’s hyper-connected to all the industry news with his position in his mother’s company. Baekhyun leans back in his seat and puffs out his cheeks in thought. “I’ve seen it,” he says, switching his phone to the other hand. “My manager showed it to me just now.”

“Oh my god,” Chanyeol says with feeling. “You’re not in trouble, are you?”

That makes Baekhyun let out a surprised laugh. “Not too much trouble,” he promises, meeting Minseok’s exasperated eyes across the room and grinning.

“Are you sure? I know idols have to be careful about this kind of thing.” Chanyeol sounds genuinely concerned, and Baekhyun can almost see the furrow of his brow, the dip to his mouth. “I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have offered to stop at the cafe. That’s how they ended up getting the picture.”

Chanyeol. I’m fine, really. It’s not like you force-fed me the coffee. I’m grateful for it.”

“But—”

“And anyways,” Baekhyun goes on, letting just a little bit of flirtiness slip into his voice, “I thought I already told you I wasn’t like most idols.”

The line makes Taeyeon double over as she shakes in silent laughter, but it seems to work on Chanyeol, if the way he falls into flustered silence means anything. Baekhyun makes a shut up gesture at Taeyeon as she comes back up for air before settling back into the couch. “What about you, though?” he asks Chanyeol, actually curious. “Are you in any hot water because of the company?”

Chanyeol pauses. “I - don’t know yet. But probably not. Maybe.”

“You don’t sound very sure.”

“It’s not that,” Chanyeol says feebly. “I’m just sort of worried about what this might start. Even if it’s just a friendly-looking picture—”

“—It could still make people pay closer attention from now on because of our careers?”

“Wow. Spot on.” Chanyeol sighs. “Yeah, that’s it. I don’t have much experience here, in case you couldn’t tell. I always had to formally announce any official relationships because of the company.”

“But I’m not an ‘official relationship’,” Baekhyun points out, and doesn’t miss the way it makes both Taeyeon and Minseok’s gazes sharpen with curiosity.

If he could see Chanyeol right now, Baekhyun knows he’d definitely be blushing. “No, you aren’t.”

And that manages to put a lull in the conversation.

“Look,” Baekhyun eventually says, not at all oblivious to the way both his friends are watching him like he’s an episode of a particularly interesting reality show. “This isn’t the best time for me right now. Or the best place.” He glances towards the clock on the wall. “Do you want to have this conversation in person?”

Chanyeol makes a half-surprised, half-panicked noise. “Uh. If you want?”

“I do. Will you be at your apartment around, say, an hour later?”

“I - maybe two hours? I’m out for dinner right now.”

“Great,” Baekhyun tells him, already leaning down to untie his uncomfortably pointy photoshoot shoes. “Two hours it is, then. It’s a date.”

He doesn’t wait for Chanyeol’s reply before pulling the phone away from his ear and pressing end call, then kicking off his left shoe as he drags his own sneakers over, untangling the laces so he can shove them on.

By the time he looks up again, Taeyeon’s scrutinizing him with a thoroughly suffering expression. “Tell me you didn’t just schedule a date right in front of us.”

“It’s not a date,” Baekhyun says automatically, before remembering the last line he said before he hung up. He winces. “I mean, it’s not supposed to be one. I’m just… going to talk it out. About the rumours and stuff. Go reassure him a little.”

Taeyeon scoffs. “With what, your dick?”

“I mean, that wasn’t the official plan, but if he doesn’t mind—”

“Stop,” Taeyeon tells him, sounding tortured, as if she wasn’t the one who brought the subject up in the first place. “Just stop. I think I’ve heard enough about your dick and its activities these past few days to last a lifetime.” She pushes off the wall and heads straight towards the dressing room door, only glancing back at Baekhyun to point a finger at him. “I’ll be going now. If anyone asks me why you dragged me through the halls in here like a maniac, I’m just gonna tell them you needed help removing your makeup. Like a rookie.”

And on that note, she leaves, pulling the door shut behind her with an audible click.

“You didn’t even bring any makeup-removing stuff in here,” Baekhyun mutters to no one. He finishes tying the laces of his other sneaker and straightens.

Minseok’s already looking at him with the face of someone who’s grimly accepted something as inevitable. “Would it make any difference if I told you it’d be a bad idea to go?”

“Probably not,” Baekhyun says truthfully, because even with everything else, he’s still pretty terrible at lying to his manager.

Said man just exhales in response. Then he reaches down, picking up the iPad on the table, and slides it back into his bag.

The already-infamous Pann article disappears with a single push of the power button. It’s a bit anticlimactic.

“Figures,” Minseok says, and shakes his head at Baekhyun, all disapproving mother hen. “Just try your best not to get photographed again, will you?”

 

---

 

The halls of Chanyeol’s fancy-as-fuck apartment building seem a lot more intimidating when Baekhyun’s actively trying his best not to get noticed. Chanyeol buzzes him in at the lobby, and Baekhyun rides the enormous elevator all the way up to the penthouse floor, squinting at himself in the gold-tinted mirror walls and wondering if he looks sufficiently disguised to be unrecognizable. Or if the black mask that stretches up to his nose just makes him look like a robber.

Either way, Baekhyun’s lucky, because he doesn’t run into a single pretentious businessperson on the way to Chanyeol’s place - that is, until he steps off the elevator and almost collides with Chanyeol himself.

“Oof,” he mutters, taking a step back and nearly hitting his head on the sliding doors. He looks up into Chanyeol’s face and raises an eyebrow. “That eager to see me?”

And there it is, the signature red-eared flush that Baekhyun imagined during their phone call. “I just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t get lost.”

“Chanyeol, I’ve been here more times than I’ve been to my own company in the past week. I think it’d be pretty difficult for me to get lost.”

The flush deepens. Chanyeol coughs.

“Right,” is all he mumbles, before turning and walking down the hall, and Baekhyun doesn’t miss the way he slows down on purpose to let Baekhyun catch up.

Baekhyun wasn’t exaggerating - he’s been to Chanyeol’s home enough times by now that it’d give Minseok an aneurysm if he knew - but even if this is the tenth or eleventh time he’s seen it, the penthouse apartment still manages to astound him with its effortless luxury. It’s all clean, modern lines and classy elegance, made up of huge glass windows and pulled together by white quartz and flawless hardwood. Minimalistic, but not in the obnoxious way. Obviously expensive, but not so much that it comes across as showing off. Baekhyun likes it. It sort of reminds him of Chanyeol himself.

And the incredible view of Seoul’s city lights is just an added bonus. “Wow,” he sighs as he strolls in, turning in a full circle just to catch every inch of the nighttime scenery. “How do you ever get used to living like this?”

Chanyeol walks up and takes Baekhyun’s bag and coat like a true gentleman. “Don’t you live in Apgujeong? And you’re a famous idol. You can’t tell me your place isn’t just as nice.”

“Well, yeah, but not penthouse apartment levels of nice.” Baekhyun raises his eyebrows at Chanyeol, watching him set Baekhyun’s things down on one of his immaculate couches. “That would be a little far-fetched even for me.”

Which is true. Because while Baekhyun’s certainly not living paycheck to paycheck, he doesn’t have the money to blow on a home like this. Not in the way Chanyeol does.

His apartment in Apgujeong is great, sure, comfortable and spacious and fancy by anyone else’s standards, but it’s also what’s expected of his career level and nothing more. And while Baekhyun would probably be called rich himself, Chanyeol’s a whole different type of rich entirely; the kind of rich that’s alluded to on movie screens and Forbes articles, the kind of rich that ninety-nine-point-nine percent of Korea’s population could only dare to dream of.

It seems like Chanyeol has realized that, because he bites down on his lip as he turns back to Baekhyun. “Sorry,” he says, sounding truly guilty. “I didn’t mean to sound tactless. Or ignorant.”

Tactless? Ignorant?

Baekhyun can’t help but break out into a laugh. “You really are too nice for your own good,” he tells Chanyeol, dropping down into one of the comfy armchairs and sighing as he feels his muscles relax.

There’s a brief silence after that. At least, until it thickens when they’re both reminded of the reason Baekhyun came in the first place.

“So,” Chanyeol ventures. “I guess you wanted to talk?”

That makes Baekhyun reluctantly sit up. “We should talk,” he corrects, meeting Chanyeol’s gaze from where he’s standing in a stiff position beside the couch. “About this whole thing. And the risks associated with it.”

Chanyeol cracks a smile. “You sound like the perfect businessman.”

“Comes from being around my manager so often, I think.” Baekhyun shrugs. “So,” he goes on, choosing to get straight to the point, “I guess the main point here is, do you want to stop this?”

The million-dollar question.

The way Chanyeol’s eyes widen and his face drops is actually kind of flattering. He blinks, once, twice, then stares for what feels like half a minute at Baekhyun. “Stop this?” he eventually asks, still blinking.

Baekhyun makes a vague gesture with his hand. “You know. This whole arrangement.”

“This whole…”

“I know the Pann post wasn’t that much, but you did say it was risky, right? We don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.” Baekhyun puts his chin on the back of the couch. “It might be better for you and the company, anyway,” he adds, watching how Chanyeol’s brow furrows as he takes in Baekhyun’s words.

He’s half-expecting Chanyeol to blink some more, but Chanyeol just cocks his head at him. “Shouldn’t you be the one who’s more worried about this? I mean, you’re an idol.”

“I am.”

“And your career kind of depends on avoiding stuff like this, right? Mine doesn’t, not really, so…”

Baekhyun’s career - meaning his precarious idol reputation. Stuff like this - meaning rumours, and scandals, and secret pictures of a hush-hush rendez-vous with another man. Chanyeol’s nowhere near wrong about it. Popularity is a rise-and-fall situation on the best of days, and keeping a clean image is the best way to make sure his stays on the former instead of the latter.

But Baekhyun is also Baekhyun. Meaning he’s about ten times more reckless and ten times more impulsive than what fits in the mould.

Translation: he trusts himself too much to care.

“People only believe what they want to believe,” he tells Chanyeol, solemn save for the slight twitch of his lips. “I’m not that paranoid about it. I’m an expert at not getting caught, at this point.”

Too late, he realizes what that could sound like, but all Chanyeol does is squint at him. “Are you saying you don’t mind either way?”

“I’m saying it’s up to you.”

And it is, Baekhyun thinks. The choice is completely in Chanyeol’s hands now.

“Well,” Chanyeol says. He would sound very matter-of-fact if not for the slight tinge of embarrassment in his voice. He hesitates a little, then meets Baekhyun’s eyes, all determined and pink-cheeked. “I don’t mind… not stopping. If you don’t. We can be more careful.”

Baekhyun presses his lips together to stop a smile. “That dependent on a method of release?”

“I mean, kind of,” Chanyeol mumbles. “It’s been nice.”

And, well, nice is kind of an understatement. Nice makes Baekhyun think of okay-ish kisses and holding hands in bed. Not being wrecked so well and so thoroughly that he can barely walk the next day.

He gets up from the couch, making sure to make his steps languid as he approaches Chanyeol, and starts, low, “So if you don’t want it to stop…”

Chanyeol swallows. His throat bobs. “I don’t.”

“Then show me.” Baekhyun stops right in front of him, looking up at Chanyeol through hooded eyes. “Aren’t you going to do anything to convince me to stick around?”

For a second, he has to wonder if he’s pushed it too far this time - if he’s come on too forward even for himself.

But then Chanyeol’s hands drop to Baekhyun’s hips. Squeeze.

“Tell me what you want me to do,” he says, voice already deepening, and fuck if that isn’t one of the sexiest things a person can say.

Baekhyun actually has to think for a moment, going through his mental catalogue of things that he and Chanyeol have and haven’t done. He already feels restless, impatient even though it hasn’t been long since their last hook-up at all, and he has half a mind to just kiss Chanyeol and see where that takes them. But then Baekhyun catches the view of Seoul’s nighttime skyline through the floor-to-ceiling glass. The view that he’s been so taken with since the first time he came into Chanyeol’s apartment.

A wicked thought enters Baekhyun’s mind. “Fuck me against the window,” he tells Chanyeol, and doesn’t miss the way Chanyeol’s breath hitches and his eyes immediately darken.

Chanyeol’s fingers curl around Baekhyun’s waist.

“If you say so.”

So Chanyeol makes good on his promise - pushes Baekhyun against the wall and kisses him, so harshly that Baekhyun’s left gasping for air, then trails soft lips over his neck and shoulders until Baekhyun’s shivering all over. The cold glass behind his back only heightens Baekhyun’s senses as Chanyeol strips him of his clothes, hands roaming Baekhyun’s body like he can’t resist. It’s a sensation overload. It’s probably one of the best ideas Baekhyun’s ever had. Chanyeol takes him apart with a sort of methodical focus, fisting Baekhyun’s swelling erection and pressing lube-slick fingers against his rim until he’s crying out and panting puffs of steam against the icy window.

There’s something incredibly dirty about the scene, how the city sprawls out in an endless sea of neon below while Chanyeol fingers Baekhyun. The view is the last thing on Baekhyun’s mind as Chanyeol does his best to ruin him. The glass in front of him is all fogged up from his breath, and he presses his forehead into the cool surface while Chanyeol drags along his walls, looking for the one spot that’ll wreck him even more.

Baekhyun almost sees stars when Chanyeol finally finds it. “Ah,” he moans, and if Chanyeol wasn’t holding him up by the hips, his knees would’ve buckled. “Can you - shit - hurry up, don’t be so—”

Chanyeol just hums as he rubs into Baekhyun’s prostate, making Baekhyun shudder. “Impatient,” he says, only sounding half-teasing because of the rasp in his words.

Then he’s sinking into Baekhyun with a stifled groan, and whatever biting remark Baekhyun was about to deliver evaporates on his tongue, pleasure fizzling in to take over his mind.

Chanyeol fucks him hard and fast against the penthouse window. It’s so good that Baekhyun feels like he’s dying, reduced to nothing but a hazy mess as Chanyeol grinds into him. Every thrust makes his sweaty hands slide further up the glass, and it’s filthy, just how much being fucked in the open like this turns Baekhyun on. He can’t last much longer with Chanyeol’s cock throbbing delicious heat inside him, all rough friction and searing pressure - so when Chanyeol’s hips stutter forward at the same time he reaches out to graze his fingers over Baekhyun’s dick, Baekhyun makes a embarrassingly loud noise and comes, collapsing against the window and trembling until he’s sliding down to Chanyeol’s perfect hardwood floors.

Baekhyun’s mind whites out for a few seconds. Somewhere along the way, Chanyeol must reach his own release too. By the time Baekhyun comes to again, he’s still leaning heavily against the now-damp glass, blinking sweat out of his eyes, and Chanyeol’s hovering over him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Wow,” Baekhyun says. His voice is ridiculously hoarse. “You might want to stop fucking me so hard I almost pass out. As good as it feels.”

“Sorry,” Chanyeol tells him, but he sounds pleased and the slightest bit smug as he reaches out for a tissue to clean them both up.

Baekhyun lets him do it, still feeling at least seventy percent out of it as Chanyeol wipes him off with surprising softness. The cold press of the window behind his back is helpful for bringing his body temperature back to normal. He lolls his head against the glass as he breathes in and out, limbs feeling like jelly.

He very nearly dozes off before Chanyeol prods him in the shoulder. “Are you going to get up?”

Baekhyun whines. He can’t help it. “No,” he says. “I’m tired. Let me sleep.”

“You can’t sleep out here, Baekhyun,” Chanyeol says back, amused. “It’s the floor, and you’ll catch a cold.”

“I don’t want to get up.”

“Come on. You can do it. The bedroom isn’t even that far.”

Baekhyun cracks an eye open. Chanyeol’s a vaguely blurry shape above him, fuzzy and hazed-out, so Baekhyun blames it on the fact that he’s still a little light-headed when he mumbles, “Carry me.”

He doesn’t know what he expects - Chanyeol to laugh and poke his cheek, maybe. But it’s definitely not Chanyeol’s hands slipping under his elbows to pull him upright. Nor Chanyeol’s arms hoisting and lifting him, until Baekhyun’s piggybacking him with his fingers gripping at Chanyeol’s shoulders.

“Is this good?” Chanyeol asks, and it still sounds like there’s a laugh in his voice, but it also feels… softer, somehow.

Baekhyun buries his face into Chanyeol’s nape and sighs. He smells like faded cologne and clean laundry.

“More than good. Go forth, my humble steed.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Chanyeol says dutifully, and starts walking.

The slight up-and-down rhythm of Chanyeol’s back as he moves is soothing, in its own way. Baekhyun stays with his cheek pressed against Chanyeol’s neck as he carries him through the apartment, eyes closed and his recent orgasm allowing a pleasant buzz to settle under his skin. It’s comfortable. It’s so comfortable that Baekhyun’s actually a little disappointed when Chanyeol stops at the entrance of the bedroom.

Chanyeol’s warmth slips away when he bends down at the edge of the bed and deposits Baekhyun on the mattress, and Baekhyun makes a noise of complaint, rolling over and curling up under the fluffy blankets.

“Eight out of ten,” he mutters, feeling drowsy and sated. “Could’ve been less shaky.”

Chanyeol’s laugh vibrates in Baekhyun’s chest as he climbs onto the bed, too. “I’ll try harder next time.”

Baekhyun’s too tired to ponder just what next time means in this context. Or how good it sounds filling up his ears.

That’s how Baekhyun falls asleep - warm, and comfortable, and surrounded by the already-familiar cocktail of Chanyeol’s scent.

 

---

 

Baekhyun’s call ringtone is a Girl’s Generation hit. Chanyeol finds this out the next morning when it blasts from his phone just as he’s taking Baekhyun’s dick into his mouth.

He almost chokes from the surprise but manages to pull off safely, wiping the saliva from his chin to the tune of gee gee gee gee baby baby. “Really?” he asks Baekhyun, raising an eyebrow.

“Hey,” Baekhyun defends, sounding vaguely affronted and mostly breathless, “that song was a masterpiece.”

It’s early, but not early enough for the sunlight to be dimmed by dawn. So Chanyeol catches the attractive pink flush that’s spreading across Baekhyun’s cheekbones with ease - although he isn’t sure if that’s from embarrassment, or from the fact that he was on the receiving end of a very enthusiastic blowjob until five seconds ago. Either way, he’s mesmerized for a while, watching the rise and fall of Baekhyun’s chest as he takes breaths and the light sheen of sweat on his skin.

Then Gee’s chorus smooths out into the second verse, and Chanyeol realizes that - unfortunately - Baekhyun’s phone is still ringing. Obnoxiously.

He looks up at Baekhyun. “Who is that?”

Baekhyun shrugs and leans over to look, breathing still a little faster than normal. “A staff member from the company,” he replies, squinting at the screen. “Probably just wants to check something with my schedule.”

“Oh.” Chanyeol thinks for a second. “Answer it.”

“You - what?”

“Answer it,” Chanyeol repeats, and reaches out to stroke along the ridge of Baekhyun’s half-hard cock again, watching him stare down at Chanyeol with a mix of disbelief and arousal in his eyes. “I want to see how good you are at acting, Mr. Idol.”

It’s a bullshit excuse to tease Baekhyun and they both know it. For a moment, Chanyeol seriously expects Baekhyun to just glare at him and decline the call. Or maybe pull his hair a little more roughly than normal for even suggesting that he risk humiliating himself like that.

But there’s a spark in Baekhyun’s eyes, dark and unreadable, and the next thing he knows Baekhyun’s picking up his phone and pressing the green accept button, raising it to his ear and saying “Hello?” as he stares down at Chanyeol.

Well then.

Chanyeol gets to work.

He takes Baekhyun back into his mouth right away, sucking around the head and feeling the way Baekhyun’s thighs tense up. Chanyeol hollows his cheeks and makes eye contact with Baekhyun while he keeps speaking. He still sounds unfairly composed, nothing in his voice noticeable except for the tiniest strain of his breath.

It’s a little mean, but Chanyeol swallows around Baekhyun’s length and reaches up to curl his fingers around the base at the same time, and Baekhyun’s left hand clenches white on the bedsheets.

“No, I don’t think that was a mistake,” he says without missing a beat. “It shouldn’t overlap with anything else—” Chanyeol licks at the slit and Baekhyun’s breath stutters for a second before he recovers. “Yeah, that one should come first.”

Chanyeol has to suppress a snort at any conversation about coming first. He sucks again, pursing his lips around the sensitive head of Baekhyun’s cock.

The taste of precome fills his mouth, faintly bitter, and a tremor runs through Baekhyun’s whole body when Chanyeol drags his tongue along the underside.

There’s something incredibly hot about watching Baekhyun struggle more and more to sound unaffected as Chanyeol sucks him off. The flush on his face is much darker by now: red and obvious in the colour on his cheeks. His eyes have slipped shut, and his breathing is getting heavier by the second. Chanyeol laps at the tip with renewed vigour, feeling more than hearing Baekhyun’s silent gasp as he bucks his hips up, legs shaking around Chanyeol’s head.

Got you, Chanyeol thinks, a bit smugly, and sinks down further.

The only warning he gets of Baekhyun’s orgasm is a hitch in his voice and a hot pulse of his cock in Chanyeol’s mouth. Then he’s coming hard down Chanyeol’s throat just as he chokes out a “Bye” into the receiver, and Chanyeol swallows, maintaining eye contact as he traces his tongue over Baekhyun’s slit again just to watch him shudder.

Baekhyun’s phone is thrown carelessly onto the mattress as he lets his head fall back. “You’re terrible, you know that?” he breathes out, chest heaving like he’s just run a marathon.

Chanyeol has to hide a smile after he pulls off again. “Am I?”

“The worst. I don’t think I’ll be able to look that staff member in the eye again anytime soon.”

“I don’t know, I think you did pretty well,” Chanyeol says, reaching out for a tissue to wipe his mouth. “They probably just thought you were in the middle of a workout.”

That makes Baekhyun huff out a laugh. “So my acting skills?”

“Ten out of ten,” Chanyeol tells him. “Maybe I should start watching some of your dramas.”

“Just don’t watch the first one if you do. The one about celebrity neighbours. That one was pretty bad.”

For some bizarre reason, Chanyeol suddenly remembers what Kyungsoo mentioned back at the cafe, about how Baekhyun was rumoured to have slept with half the cast of that first drama, and he has to fight back a blush as he straightens and stands up.

Rumours, he reminds himself. Just like the ones about you and Baekhyun.

Except - well. Those are kind of based in truth. Even if they are posted by netizens with too much spare time on the Internet.

So maybe those don’t really count as an example.

They clean up in relative silence, Chanyeol going to brush his teeth while Baekhyun tucks himself back in and combs his hair. He tries not to think about how familiar the routine feels by now as he rinses out his mouth. It’s only been almost three weeks, but Chanyeol’s already letting himself get used to it all: the rushed rhythm of their nighttime hook-ups, the hazy morning sex, the goosebumps he gets when he thinks about Baekhyun’s touch. It’s probably dangerous. Definitely dangerous.

He has to push the thoughts out of his mind as he finishes washing up, then walks out the bathroom to look for Baekhyun. Somehow, they both end up in the kitchen, with Baekhyun watching him from the marble island as Chanyeol pulls out ingredients to make breakfast just because he has nothing better to do.

“You’re not leaving?” Chanyeol asks as he cracks an egg.

Baekhyun quirks his lips at him, leaning over the countertop to put his chin in his hands. “Are you trying to get rid of me?” he teases.

“No! Of course not. It’s just - you never stay long in the mornings.”

That makes Baekhyun hmm in thought, and he tilts his head to keep his eyes on Chanyeol while Chanyeol flicks on the stove. “Maybe I’m hungry this time. And maybe I want to start.”

His morning voice still sounds so good, lower than usual, half-rasped-out and playfully warm. Chanyeol has to swallow as he waits for the stove to heat up.

Unfortunately enough - because Chanyeol can’t catch a break - Baekhyun is also shirtless. Chanyeol can see his bare torso from the corner of his eye as Baekhyun yawns and stretches, all lazy limbs and golden skin. Baekhyun said it was to let himself cool off after sweating so much, because the heat in Chanyeol’s bedroom is always turned up too high, but Chanyeol’s pretty sure it’s just to distract him.

And it’s working. Also unfortunately.

He tries his best to focus on the omelette recipe that he pulls up in his mind, lining up tiny pots of salt and pepper to busy his hands as Baekhyun moves in and out of sight. “You’re okay with eating eggs this time?” he asks, glancing over.

Baekhyun gives a wave of assent. “Sure. I don’t have any schedules until the evening anyways.”

Chanyeol hums, then picks up another egg, gently tapping it against the edge of the pan so he can crack it into the bowl. There’s still something oddly domestic about it all: making breakfast for two when he’s long since gotten used to making it for one. He chooses not to dwell on it.

“I’ve been wondering,” Baekhyun says suddenly, cocking his head and letting his bangs fall across his eyes when Chanyeol looks over again. “You have your company and all, right?”

“Yeah?”

“But you never have to leave early in the morning. Or leave to go on any important business trips.” Baekhyun blinks at him, then muses, “It’s always me having to go first because of my schedules.”

The curiosity in Baekhyun’s voice makes it obvious what he’s asking. “You’re wondering why I don’t seem that busy for a chaebol.”

“Well… kind of.”

“I work from home a lot. And I only go to the actual company when I really need to,” Chanyeol offers. “That’s probably why I seem to be here all the time.” He reaches out and turns off the stove for now, leaning back against the countertop. “It’s easier for me this way, since the company is far, and my mom doesn’t really mind.”

“She doesn’t?”

Chanyeol grimaces. “She would probably do everything herself if she could. She’s like that.”

“Ah,” Baekhyun says. He crosses his arms. Blinks again. “Enough to keep her son from work?”

And it does sound weird when he puts it like that, Chanyeol supposes. Especially if all that’s running through Baekhyun’s head is those angsty chaebol dramas about duty vs. desire. “Yeah,” he says back. “It’s just… always been like this. Ever since my dad’s death.”

He sees the way Baekhyun processes that, how he gazes at Chanyeol with a bit more seriousness than before. Chanyeol shifts. He can also tell Baekhyun’s probably about to ask him a question, and even though he’s gotten over his mourning period years ago, it still makes him bite his lip and brace himself for whatever’s coming.

Chanyeol’s just never been good at talking about things like this. Which is why he’s more than a little glad when the silence between them is broken by the sound of a key opening his apartment door.

Then he realizes that it’s the sound of a key opening his apartment door - something that he definitely should not be hearing - and his stomach trips, stumbles, and falls somewhere around his feet.

“Um,” Baekhyun says. He sounds about one-part confused and three-parts alarmed, and that’s all he gets out before the door swings open and Chanyeol’s mom is walking in.

Talk about terrible timing.

“Chanyeol,” is the first thing his mom says, looking a little surprised when she sees him frozen in the kitchen. Her hair is twisted into a neat bun at the side of her head, and she’s carrying a tall mug of coffee in one hand - just out of the office, probably. “Oh, good, you’re here. I was getting worried. You weren’t picking up your—”

And then, of course, she sees Baekhyun. Her mouth snaps shut. She blinks.

For ten extremely long seconds, no one says anything.

“Mom,” Chanyeol eventually blurts out, if only to get his mom to stop staring at Baekhyun like she’s trying to piece together a very difficult puzzle. He puts a jar of spices down so hard on the counter that the glass almost breaks. “What - how did you get in here?”

At least that makes his mom’s gaze slide back to him again. “You gave me the code and a spare key, Chanyeol,” she says, and half-smiles. “Just in case. Remember?”

She sounds more amused than disturbed so far. That’s a good sign. Probably.

Out of the corner of Chanyeol’s eye, Baekhyun coughs and abruptly stands up. “I’m gonna… go change,” he says, voice more awkward than Chanyeol’s ever heard it, and ducks over to scurry to the couch so quick that he flashes out of Chanyeol’s field of view with a blur.

By go change, Baekhyun meant put on a shirt. That much is obvious by the way he snatches his pullover from where he was airing it out on the back of the couch. He pulls it over his head in one smooth movement, stomach muscles flexing before they’re covered by fabric, and Chanyeol has to snap his head back to look in his mom’s direction while his cheeks flush.

For her part, she still looks incredibly amused. “Baekhyun,” she calls as she puts her mug down, and of course she knows who he is. Chanyeol wants to die. “Are you staying for breakfast?”

Baekhyun freezes. His red hair is still very much mussed over his forehead. “Uh…”

“Because you can, if you want to. I’m sorry if I interrupted you two.”

“No, I, uh.” Baekhyun coughs again. “Actually have a schedule to get to. So I think I’ll be leaving now. If that’s okay.”

Chanyeol knows for a fact that Baekhyun doesn’t have a schedule, because it’s what he said to Chanyeol literally three minutes ago, but he keeps silent and just watches as Baekhyun picks up his things and throws him a wide-eyed glance. What the fuck, is the question clear in his eyes, and Chanyeol can only wince in response. Because he has no idea what’s happening either.

He doesn’t dare to look at his mom again, just keeps his gaze on Baekhyun as the idol walks to the door and stops out of some ingrained habit of politeness. “Bye, Chanyeol,” he says, then pauses. “Nice meeting you… ma’am.”

“Likewise,” Chanyeol’s mom quips, and Baekhyun nods and makes his escape.

Which leaves Chanyeol. Alone with his mother. Who just caught him making breakfast for a very shirtless male hook-up.

“So,” she says, arching an eyebrow and leaning back against the wall. “Do you have something you want to tell me?”

“I’m bisexual,” Chanyeol offers weakly.

“Chanyeol. You came out when you were fifteen. I know that.”

The embarrassment is starting to really catch up to him now, pooling in the heat around his ears, and Chanyeol shrinks back like he might disappear if he tries hard enough. “I’m… really bad at dealing with breakups?”

That makes his mom’s amusement soften into something more concerned. “It’s a little soon,” she says, coming into the kitchen and looking up at him. Her face is so open, warm and soft. “But I’m glad you seem to have moved past Sooyoung.”

“I’m—”

“I just didn’t know you were… shacked up, so to speak. Is that what the kids say these days?”

“No, Mom,” Chanyeol hurries to say, face burning. “It’s - totally not like that. I promise. It’s - we just—” he gives up. “Why are you here?”

It’s not like he’s going to say to his mom that no, we aren’t dating, we just meet up every couple days to fuck for stress relief. So he just deals with the quirk of her mouth as she takes another sip of her coffee. “I wanted to meet you since I’m off for a while,” she tells him. “I called you half an hour ago, but you never answered.”

“Oh.” Chanyeol gulps. It’s probably because half an hour ago, he had Baekhyun’s dick in his mouth. “Sorry about that.”

She laughs. “It’s fine, Chanyeol.”

“And, um, sorry you had to walk in on… everything.”

Chanyeol. I said it’s fine. You’re a grown adult, anyhow.” His mom comes a little closer, smiling in that careful way of hers, and her voice is soft when she says, “It’s just been so long since I’ve seen you properly.”

And that makes Chanyeol’s heart do a little lurch inside his chest. Because it has. His mom is always so caught up in doing things for the company, and whatever breaks she gets rarely match up with the time Chanyeol takes off from his own work, so it’s a terrible combination to add to both their already-busy lives. With the time Chanyeol’s spent away from the mansion lately, he hasn’t seen her in a while. The realization pangs deeper now when she’s looking at him with a gaze fond enough to hurt.

“I know,” he says, quiet, then reaches down to pull her into a hug. “I’ve missed you.”

She lets him, arms circling around Chanyeol’s waist. “I’ve missed you too,” she eventually says back. Her voice is faint and a little muffled in Chanyeol’s chest. “I’m sorry, Chanyeol. I know I haven’t been around enough for you and Yoora.”

Chanyeol’s stomach squeezes. “Mom, it’s okay. I know you’re busy.”

“Too busy, sometimes.” She pulls back and gives him another smile, but it’s sadder this time, something affectionate but fragile. “Sometimes I wonder how differently I could’ve done if I didn’t get myself into business.”

Like this - looking down into his mom’s delicate features - Chanyeol can see the age in her face, the subtle lines around her mouth and forehead. She’s almost sixty now. The company has given a lot to her, but it’s also taken a lot, and Chanyeol can feel a knot around his gut that only tightens when his mom steps back and blinks to hold back a few tears.

That, combined with his and Baekhyun’s short conversation from earlier, is what makes him blurt out, “Why don’t you ever let me do more work for you?”

The words take his mom off guard. She just stares at him for a moment.

“Chanyeol,” she finally begins, and at least there’s some of that mom-tone back in her voice. “If you’re talking about the company, you’re already doing more than enough for your age.”

“But I’m not just some employee, Mom. I’m your heir. You can give me more responsibilities than just investing and some general management.”

His mom frowns at him. “I don’t want to stress you out the way I did to myself when I was younger.”

“I won’t be,” Chanyeol protests. “I manage pretty well with the work I get, right?”

“Chanyeol—”

Mom. I’m twenty-five, not eighteen.” Chanyeol shakes his head and gives her his best pleading look. “You can make me do more stuff. I don’t mind. I need to learn more before I take over anyway. I…” he pauses, remembering the way the still-forming wrinkles in her skin creased with her smile, and finishes, “You don’t have to take everything on yourself.”

That makes his mom fall silent again.

They just stay like that, for a while, silence only broken by the sound of Seoul’s traffic outside that can’t fade even thirty stories up a high-rise. Then Chanyeol’s mom steps forward. She reaches up before he can barrel on and curls a hand around his cheek: soft, and tender, and so loving Chanyeol’s chest aches.

“You’ve grown into a wonderful young man, Chanyeol,” she murmurs. “Your father would be so proud.”

Chanyeol swallows.

He doesn’t know what to say to that. He never does when his dad is brought up, because he isn’t sure if he should be comforting her or changing the topic before she gets sad again. So it’s a good thing when his mom just drops her hand and goes on.

“I don’t keep work from you because I think you’re not capable, you know that,” she says, aiming a weary smile at him. “I know you can do a wonderful job. You’re going to be an incredible executive - even better than I am now, I’m sure.”

Chanyeol makes a noise of confusion. “So why…”

“You’re young, Chanyeol. You still have your whole life ahead of you.” His mom shrugs, and a lock of greying hair slips out of her loose bun, soft and silent. “I just want you to enjoy your youth while it lasts. You’re going to take over for me eventually, yes, but what you should be doing right now is having fun and experiencing what most young adults experience in their lives.”

“Mom,” Chanyeol says, voice edging out into petulance. “I’m not going to die if you give me a bigger role in the company.”

To his chagrin, all that line does is make his mom laugh. “Thank god for that, hmm?”

“Mom! I’m serious.”

“I’m serious too.” Chanyeol’s mom unwinds her scarf from around her neck and drapes it over the back of an armchair. She comes into the kitchen, rolling her sleeves up to her elbows as she goes, and adds, “You should relax once in a while. Take a vacation. Jeju’s peak season is coming up, isn’t it?”

There’s definitely a degree of irony somewhere in his mom telling him to take a break, but Chanyeol ignores it for now. “You’re sure you don’t want to divide up some work to give to me?” he asks.

Chanyeol’s mom gives him a last indulgent smile. “I’m sure.”

“Absolutely, positively sure?”

“One hundred percent,” she promises. “Now—” she puts her hands on her hips and looks down at the mess of ingredients on Chanyeol’s counter. “I can help you finish these eggs. And I’ll eat the second portion if that’s alright, since your original guest is gone?”

The teasing curiosity in her voice is enough to make Chanyeol blush again. “Yeah. Of course.”

He gets the chance to watch something he hasn’t watched in a while: his mom going into chef-mode as naturally as she does business, washing her hands at the sink and re-tying her hair up into a tighter bun. Chanyeol organizes the supplies as he waits, placing everything neatly by the stove in just the way his mom likes it. It’s familiar. It’s nice. It reminds him of being thirteen and learning recipes from his parents in their newly luxurious kitchen.

His mom’s comment about Chanyeol’s guest still tugs at him, though, so it’s almost involuntary when she turns around and he blurts out, “You know Baekhyun?”

All she does is raise her eyebrows. “I work in media and entertainment, Chanyeol. Of course I know Byun Baekhyun.”

“Oh.” Her tone is so matter-of-fact that Chanyeol starts to wonder if even he’s underestimated Baekhyun’s popularity. “And you’re not bothered… I mean, you don’t mind that…”

Chanyeol’s mom smiles. For a second, Chanyeol thinks she’s going to reach out and caress his cheek again, but she only shakes her head and meets his gaze head on.

“I want you to be happy, Chanyeol,” she says - as easily as anything - and there’s a note in her voice that makes it clear she’s talking about a lot more than just Baekhyun. “That’s all I’ll ever care about.”

 

---

 

Baekhyun doesn’t often wake up in the middle of the night. But somehow, he’s blinking open his eyes in pitch-darkness now anyway, mind still muddled by the drag of sleep across his consciousness. The room he’s in is filled with cold air, but the cocoon of blankets he’s huddled under is warm - it wraps around him like a soothing touch, almost coaxing his eyes closed before he forces them open again.

It takes him a moment to remember where he is. Chanyeol’s apartment. Right. Chanyeol’s bed.

It takes him another moment to realize that, when he flips over and stretches his fingers across the mattress without even meaning to, Chanyeol isn’t there anymore.

“Huh,” he mumbles.

And then Baekhyun hears it: the unmistakable sound of what woke him up in the first place. It’s faint, and it comes through the walls only just barely if at all, but there’s no way Baekhyun’s music-tuned mind wouldn’t be able to recognize it. It’s the muffled keys of a piano. Soft and muted, but still very much obvious.

Interesting.

By the time he slips out of bed and pads out into the living room, Chanyeol’s still sitting in front of the instrument, lip between his teeth and brows furrowed as he scribbles on a piece of sheet music.

Baekhyun stops right at the entryway and just takes a few moments to watch. The clock on the wall says it’s well past midnight, and moonlight is spilling through Chanyeol’s enormous glass windows brightly enough to glow. It runs along Chanyeol’s silhouette like silver water, illuminating the fluff of his dark hair, the focused pinch in his expression. He’s in a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, and he’s leaning so close to the papers below him that his nose is almost touching them. The bend of his back is horrendous. Baekhyun’s going to have to teach him proper posture soon.

He watches Chanyeol for only a few seconds more before deciding to speak. “What are you doing?”

His voice comes out all sleep-soft and raspy, completely out of his usual tone, but it startles Chanyeol into whirling around anyway. “Baekhyun,” he says, alarmed. “You’re awake?”

“Newsflash, Chanyeol. You’re playing a grand piano at 3:30 A.M.” Baekhyun leans against the wall and quirks an eyebrow. “I think anyone would be awake.”

“Oh. Oh. I’m so sorry, I - thought the walls would be soundproof.”

And really, Baekhyun can’t even pretend to be mad like this. Not when Chanyeol looks so mortified and so much like a troubled puppy that it’s almost pitiful. “It’s okay,” he says, walking forward until he’s close enough to peer upside-down at the scrawl of Chanyeol’s handwriting. “Just tell me what you’re working on.”

Because - even though he’s had this thing with Chanyeol for more than a month now - he hasn’t ever noticed that Chanyeol’s into music too.

Not that it would be important to notice for their relationship. If it can even be called that. But Baekhyun’s curious, and interested in knowing, and maybe, sort of, according to popular opinion, attached. That’s what Minseok said last week when he caught Baekhyun sneaking away after dance practice to go to Chanyeol’s place again: You’re getting attached. And it’s what Taeyeon’s gaze says, loud and clear, every time she has to cover another mark that Baekhyun’s clothes can’t quite manage to hide. It’s what Jongdae’s sceptical glances mean whenever Baekhyun not-so-discreetly checks his phone during their lunch dates.

It’s also, unfortunately, what the comment sections in every single Naver article and Pann post say, although what’s different is the platonic meaning to it. Byun Baekhyun is attaching himself. Byun Baekhyun is latching onto new money. Byun Baekhyun is weaving together a safety net by being friends with Park Chanyeol in case his career fails.

Somehow, he and Chanyeol have become Seoul entertainment’s new favourite topic - both inside and outside of the industry.

It’s more than a little intimidating. Even for Baekhyun, who’s long since gotten used to the feeling of rumours clinging to him like a second skin.

But Baekhyun doesn’t think about any of that now as he squints at Chanyeol’s papers. The careless loops of his writing are a bit hard to read, but it’s obvious that it’s a half-finished song, with all the messily filled-in notes and rests on a printed five-line staff. “I didn’t know you wrote music,” Baekhyun says, propping his chin up in his hands as he leans over the glossy piano. “What an unexpected hobby.”

Chanyeol gives an awkward shrug. “I do it sometimes. I’m no professional.”

“Something you do for fun, then?”

“Kind of,” Chanyeol admits. Then he bites his lip and says, in a rush, “But I wish it wasn’t.”

Well. That’s new. Baekhyun raises an eyebrow.

He knows it’s probably only the lull of the late night that’s making Chanyeol so honest, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to let the topic drop. “You’re interested in doing music,” Baekhyun guesses, and when Chanyeol stiffens, he adds, “professionally?”

“I…” Chanyeol slumps a little. A breath of air whooshes out of him like he’s a deflated balloon. “Yeah. I know it’s stupid.”

“Hey, it’s not stupid. I do music, you know.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Chanyeol hurries to say, waving a hand. “I just mean - it’s stupid for me. With the company and all.”

Baekhyun hums. “Still not stupid,” he says. He reaches out and plucks the first sheet of music out of Chanyeol’s pile, running his eyes over all the notes with trained ease.

And sure, it’s still messy, and a little rushed from the overload of inspiration that Chanyeol was probably going through while writing, but it’s also about a hundred times better than what Baekhyun was expecting. “Hey, this is pretty good.”

Chanyeol straightens. “You really think so?” he asks, and he sounds so eager all of a sudden that Baekhyun has to hold back a laugh for fear of offending him.

“Yeah. Especially if you’re doing it as a hobby.” Baekhyun puts the sheet back down. “Why do you think wanting to pursue this is stupid?”

“I mean - I have my whole career set out for me at this point. I’m already working in mass media production. And music management is a big part of that.”

Baekhyun tilts his head. “Doesn’t that just make it easier, if you want to go down that path? With your connections and all, I mean.”

He can instantly tell he’s said the wrong thing when Chanyeol tenses up again, bunching his hands in his sweatpants. “No,” he mutters. “It makes it harder.”

“How come?”

“Because I don’t look like a promising new recruit. I look like a bored rich kid looking for the billionth new way to waste my time.”

And oh, that makes sense. Baekhyun snaps his mouth shut. He didn’t even consider that; didn’t even think about how it’d probably be entirely too hard to get taken seriously by producers when Chanyeol’s already in such a prominent position in the industry.

And now Chanyeol’s gone rigid, face creased into something that’s half-frown and half-scowl, and all Baekhyun really wants to do is smooth it all out.

So honestly, he can’t be blamed when he nudges Chanyeol and says, “Hey, scoot over.”

Chanyeol blinks. Then he stares up at Baekhyun, eyes disconcertingly wide. “Why?”

Baekhyun just grins at him. “I’m going to show you how a professional would perform your song. Just for fun.”

“You… know how to play piano?”

“I’m a little rusty,” Baekhyun confesses, pushing Chanyeol aside himself as he settles down into the plush piano bench and stretches out his hands. “But I think I can still manage.”

Chanyeol seems to be stupefied into silence, so Baekhyun just sets the sheet music up on his own on the stand. He squints, taking in the notes, the way Chanyeol’s pencilled in neat chords at the bottom for the harmony. Runs everything through in his mind once.

Then he puts his hands on the keys and plays.

Baekhyun was telling the truth - he is a little rusty on the piano, even if he still learns his own songs on it for his concerts. So he starts off slow, testing out the feel of Chanyeol’s music with his fingers. It’s a simple enough song, steady and uncomplicated, and Baekhyun gets the hang of it as he goes. He plays the chords through once, then starts again with the main melody in his head until he’s falling into a familiar rhythm, as smooth as practiced choreography, as easy as breathing.

Chanyeol didn’t add lyrics on the sheet music. So Baekhyun makes up his own while he plays, softly singing out whatever comes to mind as the notes flow into his brain. It’s mostly nonsense. He sings about streetlights, and clear skies, and angels falling from heaven. He sings about hidden blessings and destiny. He sings about feeling alive.

He sings a love song, because that’s what Chanyeol’s music feels like in his head: something delicate, and heartfelt, and so, so sweet that it hurts.

Too soon, the bars end and Baekhyun has to stop. He almost forgot that the song isn’t even finished in his concentration. He swallows around his dry throat, taking a second to bask in the feeling as the last notes fade out, then turns to Chanyeol, a tiny smile already pulling at his lips.

“Well,” he starts, “that was basically how it would g—”

His voice dies out. He blinks.

Because Chanyeol’s staring at him, eyes completely unreadable but so piercing that Baekhyun almost feels like it cuts straight to his bones.

He can’t do anything but stare back. They’re held in place like that, for a while. The silence around them is suffocating, thick enough to be cut with a knife, and Baekhyun has absolutely no idea what’s going on.

So he’s really just grasping at straws when he clears his throat, tears his gaze away, and blurts, “You know how I became an idol?”

And then, thankfully, the weird tension between them seems to dissolve. Because all Chanyeol does is huff out a laugh as he leans back. “No, tell me,” he says. “How?”

“Well, I started off on the traditional route. Got scouted while I was studying for entrance exams and all. Because I’m so talented that people can sense it just from my aura. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” Chanyeol agrees, tone appeasing.

“And then, well, you know how it goes.” Baekhyun lifts a shoulder in a shrug. “I went to go audition at the company on the business card I was given. I actually met one of my best friends there that day, and we both told each other that we were a hundred percent sure the other person would pass. But then, what do you know, we both ended up passing.”

Chanyeol smiles at that, something soft and genuine. “That sounds really nice.”

“It is. He still brings it up sometimes.” And Jongdae does, if only to remind Baekhyun of his ever-convenient best friend privilege when he needs it. “So the company contacted me,” he goes on, watching the way Chanyeol nods at his words. “They told me they’d take me in and cover everything - the training I’d need, and the living costs, and a dorm where I could stay. Everything. Just to make sure I’d debut as their celebrity. And…” Baekhyun worries his lip between his teeth. “I turned them down.”

That obviously isn’t what Chanyeol was expecting. His eyes are round in astonishment when Baekhyun chances a glance at him again, and it’d make Baekhyun proud of his own storytelling skills if he didn’t feel a bit queasy from sharing something so personal.

”Why?” Chanyeol whispers, sounding thunderstruck.

Baekhyun clears his throat again. “A lot of reasons. University. A more stable career. My parents - they wanted me to study to become a lawyer, and I was at that age where you didn’t really know how to argue back.” He brushes a strand of hair out of his eyes, then coughs. “So it was dumb of me, but I felt too much pressure and I got really, really scared, so I rejected it. I thought I was making the smart choice, you know? Securing my future, and all that.”

Chanyeol bobs his head like he understands it perfectly. And maybe he does. “But you still ended up where you are now,” he says, and it’s not a question.

“Yeah. That was all thanks to my brother.” Baekhyun smiles at the memory: himself, going through some angsty teenager phase in his locked room, and Baekbeom threatening to break the door down unless he told him what was wrong. “He told me how much of a coward I was being. How I’d given up on my dream before I even gave it a shot. Then he knocked some sense into me - metaphorically, of course,” he adds, grinning when Chanyeol snorts. “He made me call the company and practically beg them to give me a second chance, and I guess it must’ve been my lucky day, because they allowed me to take the offer again. And, well.” He gestures lamely at himself. “Here I am now.”

“Because you stuck through it,” Chanyeol says quietly.

“Because I stuck through it.”

Chanyeol nods. He seems to be struck into silence again, but it’s far from awkward this time. It’s just peaceful, and Baekhyun lets it envelope them for a while, revelling in the silence of the night.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is…” Baekhyun pauses. “Sometimes you need a violent brother in your life. Or a sister. Or a really convincing dog.”

That makes Chanyeol break into laughter, and he doubles over the piano as he cackles, holding himself up by his arms. “You ruined it,” he wheezes when he comes back up for air. “Seriously. All the meaningful stuff is useless now.”

“Oh, no,” Baekhyun says, but he’s smiling.

He lets Chanyeol finish laughing before he pokes him in the side again. “Okay, in all seriousness, I put effort into that whole speech. You get what I’m saying, right?”

Chanyeol straightens. “Of course,” he says, very solemnly. “I need to go to my sister’s house so I can see my dog again.”

Chanyeol.”

“Kidding, kidding. I get it. And thanks.” Chanyeol quirks his lips at Baekhyun, small but sincere. “I need to stop being a coward like teenage Baekhyun, so—”

“So you can write a song for me, Park Chanyeol. Maybe I’ll even put it on an album.”

And for some reason, that half-joke of Baekhyun’s is what makes Chanyeol stop and start staring at him again, in that unreadable, burning way of his.

At least the silence doesn’t last nearly as long this time. The spell breaks, and Chanyeol breathes out another laugh. “Yeah,” he says, rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “The media would sure have fun with that.”

“They wouldn’t unless we give them something to actually talk about,” Baekhyun counters, and it makes Chanyeol snort again.

There’s a lull in the conversation after that. It’s comfortable, and Baekhyun can feel his eyelids start to droop as time goes on. His sleepiness is finally starting to catch up with him, and he yawns, using the sleeve of his pullover to muffle it as his head falls onto Chanyeol’s shoulder.

“Baekhyun?” he can hear Chanyeol say, but it sounds like he’s speaking through a tangible fog in Baekhyun’s mind. “Can you do me a favour, please?

“Hmm?”

There’s the shuffling of papers right in front of him. Baekhyun’s eyes slip closed.

“Sing the song again. The same one you were singing before.”

Baekhyun yawns again. “Okay,” he mumbles, and as Chanyeol starts to play the harmony on the piano, he sings out his meaningless lyrics again.

Except like this - in the dead of night, with the moonlight still spilling in despite the ink-dark sky outside, Chanyeol’s warmth pillowed under Baekhyun’s head - they don’t seem all that meaningless anymore.

Chapter Text

“You’re later than usual today.”

That’s the only thing Sehun says to Chanyeol when he slides into the booth across from him, wind-ruffled and panting, jacket halfway off his shoulders. There’s already a slice of cake in front of Sehun on the table, and he reaches out with his fork and takes a delicate bite as Chanyeol catches his breath.

“What do you mean, later than usual?” Chanyeol protests, pulling his face mask down over his mouth. “I’m almost always on time!”

All Sehun does in response is raise a perfect eyebrow. “Keyword almost.”

“Almost is still most of the time.”

“Sure, sure,” Sehun says, waving a hand as Chanyeol unzips his bag and pulls his laptop out. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s 2:20 P.M. right now when we agreed to meet at 2.”

That shuts Chanyeol up. He ducks his head, abashed, as Sehun pretends to shake his head all disapprovingly, then focuses on booting up his computer as Sehun just continues to eat his cake.

He didn’t even order anything for Chanyeol while he was waiting. Some best friend.

At least the cafe is as nice as always - it’s not the one Jongin rented out for them before, but a fancier, quieter one in Gangnam, the exact same place where the infamous photo of Chanyeol and Baekhyun was taken all those weeks ago. It’s a favourite of Chanyeol and Sehun when they need somewhere lowkey to meet up. The cafe’s location makes it so that its customers are mostly affluent, and affluent people tend to mind their own business most of the time. If only because they know what it feels like to be watched.

All of that is helpful for the both of them. This time, Chanyeol was the one to suggest the afternoon tea session to catch up - and for good reason, too.

Which makes it all the more embarrassing that he was so late.

“Sorry,” he mumbles, typing in his password to unlock his profile and making a face when he gets it wrong in his haste. “People kept staring at me while I was on the way here. And I got stopped by a pair of girls.”

Sehun’s fork pauses halfway to his mouth. “You what?”

“I got stopped by a pair—”

“No, yeah, I heard that part.” Sehun frowns at him, then flicks a strand of black hair out of his eyes, gaze bemused and questioning. “What I mean is - I know you’re not unknown and all, but you’re not exactly a celebrity. Why are people stopping you?”

That makes Chanyeol grimace. He sinks further into his seat until his face is almost hidden behind his laptop screen. “Don’t you know the answer to that already?”

“You…” Even just out of the corner of his eye, Chanyeol can catch the moment the realization dawns on Sehun’s face. “Is it because of Byun Baekhyun?”

“Not so loud,” Chanyeol pleads, which is more than enough of a confirmation.

“You’re kidding,” Sehun says, still very much loud.

“I’m not. I wish I was. Did you know those girls even asked me for a photo? Like, what do they want to do, absorb Baekhyun’s scent through being near my body?”

Sehun snorts. He puts another forkful of cake in his mouth, then wipes at his lips with a napkin, all grace and poise.

“Worth a shot,” he tells Chanyeol. “You have been having a lot of contact with his body lately.”

At least he has the decency to lower his voice when he says that.

Chanyeol slumps over the table, mushing his chin into his arms as he waits for his desktop to load in. “Thanks for the support,” he deadpans. He doesn’t need a reminder of how interested the media is in him and Baekhyun right now, how much of a buzzing topic they’ve become, but it seems like everyone’s keen on making him remember anyway.

He guesses it’s a little understandable, with all of Baekhyun’s popularity and the weight of Chanyeol’s own family name, but still. A few pictures of what seems like a budding friendship between them shouldn’t be that interesting.

Across the table, Sehun quirks his mouth at Chanyeol like he can read his mind. “You know how the tabloids are,” he says, voice matter-of-fact. “All nosy and shameless. They latch onto anything they think can grab people’s attention.” He shrugs. “You guys are just that unlucky thing right now. Give it some time, and they’ll get over it sooner or later.”

“Sooner, hopefully,” Chanyeol mutters, thinking of the way Baekhyun’s expression keeps pinching every time he gets a notification on his phone these days.

“I wouldn’t count on it. I barely keep up with idols, and even I knew who Byun Baekhyun was.” Sehun downs a gulp of his tea, then meets Chanyeol’s eyes, half-amused and half-entertained, and continues, “And his rumours, of course.”

And really, Chanyeol’s had enough of rumours. If he never hears another rumour again, it’ll be too soon.

“Can we move past this topic?” he says, only sounding a little like he’s begging. “I asked you to meet up for a reason, you know.”

For a moment, Chanyeol thinks Sehun’s not going to let it go. He knows the curve to his best friend’s lips all too well. But thankfully, Sehun just nods, glancing down at Chanyeol’s laptop as he puts down his cup. “I guess that’s why you brought this thing here.”

“Right.” Chanyeol clears his throat. “I wanted to ask you to listen to something.”

“A song?”

Chanyeol hesitates, then decides screw it and clarifies, “My song.”

That piques Sehun’s interest. Chanyeol can see it in the curious sharpening of his gaze, the way he straightens up almost immediately as he hears the words.

“Well, let’s hear it then,” he says, and Chanyeol passes over his headphones.

It’s not like Sehun - as his best friend - doesn’t know about Chanyeol’s weird push-and-pull relationship with music. But Chanyeol’s still ridiculously nervous for some reason as he clicks open the program he uses, tapping restless fingers against his knee while he waits for it to load.

He’s shown Sehun songs before, sure, even the terrible ones that he wrote back when he was still doing everything for fun and figuring out how it all worked. But this feels different somehow. Like it’s more personal. More of an important thing to Chanyeol.

Maybe it’s because something in his attitude towards his music has finally shifted. Or maybe all the nights Chanyeol stayed awake working on the song are just starting to make him lose it.

Eventually, the program finishes booting itself up, and Chanyeol plugs in the cord to his laptop while Sehun slips the headphones over his ears. “Listen,” he starts off awkwardly. “I know it’s a full song, but I’m still not sure what I’m going for with it. So don’t expect much.”

Sehun just gives him a blank look and taps the side of his headphones, and that’s Chanyeol’s cue to hit play.

He sits back, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth as he watches Sehun listen. His friend’s expression is flat on the best days and totally unreadable on the worst, so he has no idea what his reaction is if he has one at all. Chanyeol gets so nervous about it that he flags down a waitress and orders dessert for himself just to have something to do, eyes flitting over to Sehun every other second to try and figure out his thoughts from his furrowed brows.

But Sehun doesn’t say anything, even when more than five minutes pass and Chanyeol’s plate of tiramisu arrives. He just keeps listening to the song on loop. Long enough that Chanyeol manages to get halfway through his own cake.

“It’s a three minute song,” Chanyeol blurts when he can’t stand it anymore, even though he’s not sure if Sehun can even hear him through the high-quality headphones. “How many times are you planning on listening to it?”

He doesn’t expect Sehun to answer, or even react in any way, but he does - pulling the headphones off his head and placing them down carefully by his mug of tea.

“Chanyeol,” he begins slowly, staring straight into Chanyeol’s face. “What song is this?”

Chanyeol blanks. “Uh. My song?”

“You wrote it? All of it?”

“Yeah,” Chanyeol says, and frowns. “Why? Is it really bad? Because I told you, I just finished it and I’m not sure what I—”

Sehun cuts him off with a shake of his head. “No,” he says. “It’s just…” his gaze has gone all contemplative, considering and laser-sharp, and Chanyeol has no idea what to expect for his next words.

“It just doesn’t seem like your usual style.”

Well. Whatever Chanyeol could’ve guessed, it probably wouldn’t have been that.

“What do you mean?” he asks, only sounding a little peevish. “I always write love songs.”

“I know. It’s not that. This is just…”

“Just?”

Sehun actually hesitates, and his voice is unsure and very, very quiet when he completes, “More genuine.”

That leaves Chanyeol speechless.

Genuine. Somehow, it wasn’t a word he thought of to describe the song stuck in his head that wouldn’t leave him alone until he scribbled it down by the grand piano. It wasn’t the word that came to his attention when he played it out on the keys at 3 A.M. And it wasn’t the word that crossed his mind when Baekhyun joined him, sleep-rumpled and soft, and managed to sing out a version of the song that Chanyeol didn’t even know was perfect until he heard it.

But it’s also not wrong, Chanyeol thinks, because genuine is definitely one way to describe the way Baekhyun sounded when he sang.

And Chanyeol’s probably cheating, now that he thinks about it. Because he said he wrote the song when he didn’t. Not completely. He wrote the melody, and the harmony, and the notes on the bars.

But the lyrics - they’re the best of what he remembered falling from Baekhyun’s mouth.

“Genuine is good, right?” he says weakly, dropping his spoon onto his plate with a muted clang.

Sehun purses his lips. It’s kind of terrifying that Chanyeol still has no idea what he’s thinking. “It is,” he says, passing Chanyeol’s headphones back over to him. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to freak you out. It just caught me off guard.”

Chanyeol swallows. That makes two of us. “It’s okay. As long as it’s not terrible.”

“Far from it,” Sehun tells him, starting to smile a little now. “It’s really good, hyung. I could totally imagine hearing it on a radio station or something. I like it.”

That makes Chanyeol’s heart swell. “Thanks, Sehunnie. That means a lot.”

“No problem.”

And then they fall into silence for a while, only broken by the clinking of Chanyeol’s plate as he scrapes his dessert onto his fork.

Eventually, Sehun clears his throat again, waiting for Chanyeol to blink up at him with his mouth full before he speaks. “So,” he says, raising his eyebrows. “You can’t tell me I’m the only plan you had for today. What else are you doing after this?”

Chanyeol gulps down his mouthful of cake. “Uh. I’m meeting Baekhyun at my apartment.”

“Later tonight?”

“In, like, an hour.”

Sehun just sighs. “Of course you are. Sometimes I wonder if you guys are hookups or newlyweds, with the way you’re always seeing each other.”

And, well. That makes the back of Chanyeol’s neck prickle for reasons he can’t explain.

“Hey,” he mutters. “Just because you’re in a steady relationship doesn’t mean everyone else has to be.”

He kind of regrets it the second the words come out, because the mention of Junmyeon, even indirectly, makes Sehun’s whole face soften out into something fond and mushy and warm. “Don’t be jealous,” he quips, but it sounds less teasing and more wistful. “‘Steady relationship’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

Chanyeol pretends to barf into his tiramisu.

And that lets them fall back into their familiar routine of teasing and bickering - with any stray thoughts of what writing a genuine love song means cast far, far away from Chanyeol’s mind.

 

---

 

“I feel bad sometimes,” Baekhyun says out of nowhere two hours later, when they’re both still sweaty and catching their breath on Chanyeol’s bed after an intense workout session. “Doing this on your bed, I mean.”

Chanyeol peeks up at him through his hair. “Isn’t it where this stuff is supposed to be done?”

“I don’t know. Don’t you have, like, ten thousand thread count sheets or something?”

“Ten thousand - where did you get that idea?” Chanyeol half-heartedly chucks a pillow in Baekhyun’s direction, and Baekhyun laughs, rolling over until he’s almost falling off the edge of the mattress to avoid it. “That’s just obnoxious at that point,” Chanyeol protests, sitting up to comb his bangs out of his eyes. “I’m not that bad, am I?”

All Baekhyun does is give him a flat glance. “You have a Jacuzzi on your balcony. And a grand piano in your living room.”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Your lights aren’t even controlled by light switches or anything. You just use iPads.”

Point proven. Chanyeol flushes, then ducks his head in a vain attempt to hide it. “They’re tablets,” he mumbles, like that changes anything. “And it’s not like I installed them on purpose. They just came with the apartment.”

Baekhyun just looks at him in a way that clearly says do you really want to have this argument? “Chanyeol,” he says, all patient, “you’re a real-life Tony Stark. Admit it.”

“Minus the cool superhero part.”

“Minus the cool superhero part,” Baekhyun agrees. Then his smile goes a little sly. “And, you know, the part where he’s d—”

Chanyeol yelps to stop Baekhyun from finishing that sentence, then impulsively tackles him in embarrassment when he starts cackling at the reaction, pinning Baekhyun back down into the sheets with his hands at Baekhyun’s wrists and Baekhyun’s hair spread out in a fire-red halo on Chanyeol’s pillow. And it’s a bad idea, because - something in the atmosphere shifts, stills all of a sudden. Baekhyun’s breath fans hot into Chanyeol’s personal space. He stares up at Chanyeol, chest rising and falling, cheeks still a little red from exertion.

His eyes are dark again. Even without any of the smoky makeup Chanyeol’s grown to associate with Baekhyun, they’re fierce enough to make Chanyeol gulp.

“So,” Baekhyun starts, voice already pitching lower, “are you up for round—”

And - of course - that’s when Chanyeol’s phone rings.

He groans, rolling off of Baekhyun and face-planting it into the mattress to try and quell the burning in his ears. It doesn’t help that his ringtone is still that stupid cartoon theme he was too lazy to change after Sehun set it as a prank.

Chanyeol can almost hear Baekhyun’s eyebrow raise from where he’s still lying on the bed, and he does his best to ignore it as he sits up once more, fumbling around for his phone until he’s bringing it to his ear.

“Hello?” he croaks.

“Chanyeol,” his mom says back, and Chanyeol almost trips off the mattress. “Sorry, are you busy right now?”

It is his mom. Chanyeol blinks as he goes to double-check the contact name. She doesn’t usually call him, and especially not during office hours like now, when she’s usually too overloaded with meetings to even send a text. This is an anomaly.

Too late, Chanyeol realizes that his mom is still waiting for a reply. “Oh, no,” he says hastily, “I’m not - no. Not busy right now.”

“Oh, good. I wouldn’t want to interrupt like I did last time.”

God.

The flush comes back, full-force, and Chanyeol can only hope Baekhyun doesn’t take any note of it.

“Anyways,” his mom goes on, all nonchalant like she didn’t just reduce her son to an embarrassed mess again. “I was just thinking. Remember when I told you to take a vacation?”

“Yeah?”

“And mentioned how Jeju’s peak season is coming up?”

“Um.” Chanyeol has very little idea where this is going. “Yeah?”

“Well, I just got an email from the villa caretaker confirming the biweekly check-up, and it reminded me.” His mom pauses, and Chanyeol only has about a second to put the pieces together before she offers, “Why don’t you go visit for the rest of the week? Take a break.”

Whatever Chanyeol was expecting when he answered the phone to his mom’s voice, it wasn’t that. He actually pulls the phone away and stares at it for a second as he processes. Long enough for his mom to say “Chanyeol?” again, voice coming out tinny through the receiver.

The Jeju villa. Right. He almost forgot they even had one, with how rarely they use it.

Chanyeol clears his throat as he puts the phone to his ear again. “You want me to go to Jeju?”

Across the bed, Baekhyun’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead, but Chanyeol ignores it in favour of listening to his mom’s hum as she thinks of her next words. “I think it’d be a good idea,” she says, earnest. “The villa hasn’t seen much use since Yoora got married, and you’ve been doing so much wonderful work for the company lately. You deserve to unwind for a while.”

Chanyeol decides not to mention that at least ninety percent of the reason for his productivity is the sex with the man she caught in his kitchen last time. “Shouldn’t you be the one to go instead of me? I mean, you’ve done a lot more…”

“Chanyeol,” his mom sighs, fond but exasperated. “You know that if I could, I would.”

That pangs in his chest a bit deeper than it should. “Mom,” he protests. “You should take a break too. You need it more than me.”

“Maybe, but it’d be impossible for me to leave the company right now. We’re coming up on the end of the second quarter, too, and—”

Mom.”

Chanyeol’s mom gives a good-natured huff. “Chanyeol. This isn’t about me. I’m asking you, okay? Do it as a favour for me. I’m sure the caretaker is getting sick of cleaning up an empty house for no reason.”

“But…”

“No buts. I’m telling you to go have fun.” His mom pauses to take a breath again, and her tone is a lot more teasing when she adds, playfully, “You can take your cute idol boyfriend too, if you want.”

Boyfriend. Boyfriend? “Boyfriend?” Chanyeol asks, voice cracking in the middle of the word. “What boyfriend? I don’t have a—”

“Go to Jeju,” his mom says, with good cheer. “Mom’s orders.”

And then she’s hanging up, and Chanyeol’s left to listen to the dial tone with his eyes wide and his heartbeat still banging a mortified beat inside his chest.

It takes too long for him to pull the phone away from his ear. He coughs, pressing the power button with a little more force than necessary, then puts it down on the nightstand.

The word boyfriend is still buzzing in his ears like a cursed wasp, so Chanyeol nearly jumps when he hears Baekhyun clear his throat and say, “So.”

“So,” Chanyeol echoes uselessly.

“What was that about?”

“It was about—” a lot of things, Chanyeol thinks. A request, and an order, and possibly the worst misunderstanding to ever occur on this earth.

He can afford to be a little dramatic. Which is why he blames it on the fact that he’s still not thinking quite right when he blurts, “You mentioned earlier that you have a few days off, right?”

Baekhyun tilts his head. “I do,” he says slowly. “Until the end of this week.”

It’s Tuesday afternoon. Which gives that five days. Chanyeol has to wonder for a second if his mom knew this, somehow.

“And… you don’t have any plans yet?”

“Not really. My parents are on their own vacation and my brother’s busy with his kids.”

“Okay.” Chanyeol pauses for a second, then thinks, screw it. He doesn’t think about what he’s asking or what types of things it could imply. He just says, all in a rush, “Then-do-you-want-to-go-to-Jeju-maybe?”

There’s a beat. A very long one.

Then Baekhyun blinks and narrows his eyes a little. “I’m getting the impression that that’s not a hypothetical question.”

“Well.” Chanyeol’s cheeks burn. “It’s… not?”

“Your mom called you to ask you to invite me to Jeju Island?”

The disbelief in Baekhyun’s voice is enough to make Chanyeol cringe as he puts his hands up. “No, no,” he says, waving frantically. “I mean… not directly? She just said I should go. Or, um, she ordered me to. We have a villa there.”

That makes Baekhyun breathe out a laugh. “Of course you do.”

“Sorry, it’s stupid. But it’s just - I’d rather not have to go alone, and there wouldn’t be any costs, so if you have nothing to do anyways, then—”

“Chanyeol. Stop rambling.” Baekhyun smiles at him in that attractive, quirky way of his, and Chanyeol cuts himself off, dropping his hands and slumping against the headboard. “I can’t say a trip isn’t tempting. Did your mom really say it was okay?”

“She said I could… bring a guest.”

“I heard you say ‘boyfriend’,” Baekhyun points out, voice amused.

Shit. Chanyeol’s face is back on fire. “That wasn’t about you.”

“Then who was it about?”

“Just - someone. It was a mistake. Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay, sure,” Baekhyun says, obviously not buying it. He shifts a little, and his too-large shirt slips off his shoulder before he pulls it back again. Chanyeol’s so distracted by the flash of bare collarbone that he almost misses it when Baekhyun continues, “Well, if ‘boyfriend’ isn’t actually in the job description, then I’ll take you up on that offer.”

Chanyeol blinks. And then he stares.

“Wait, really?” he says, unable to keep the shock out of his voice.

“How come you’re always so surprised when you’re the one who asked?” Baekhyun laughs. He tips his head to the side, and his eyes sparkle a little, dark and amused. “Yes, really. Unless you’ve changed your mind all of a sudden.”

Chanyeol shakes his head. “No, of course not, it’s just - you’re okay with it?”

“Of course I’m okay with a free vacation. Isn’t that what I should be asking you?”

“It’s okay,” Chanyeol says, determined if still kind of embarrassed. “You just have to get ready for a plane ride. Like, tomorrow.”

The corner of Baekhyun’s lips pull up. “I’m more than used to short notice plane rides,” he tells Chanyeol. “So I guess we have a plan.”

And that’s that.

For the record, it went a lot smoother than what Chanyeol was expecting when the wild idea first popped up in his head. Even if it was mostly by his mom’s suggestion. Baekhyun’s agreement came so quickly that it caught him off guard, and Chanyeol only gets the chance to think about it now - what it means and what it might bring.

Jeju Island. With Baekhyun. His regular hookup and sort-of friend.

Chanyeol, for one, has no idea what he’s just signed up for.

“Well,” he coughs out, awkwardly fiddling with the blankets on the bed. “That’s settled, then.”

Baekhyun’s still grinning, more than a little cheeky. “So it is,” he says, leaning down and propping his chin up on the mattress to look at Chanyeol.

“So…”

“So let’s continue from where we were before we got interrupted.” Baekhyun’s grin goes wicked. “Got enough energy left for round two?”

A stronger man than Chanyeol would’ve refused. A stronger man would’ve known to take a break; maybe ponder the implications of taking a hookup on an island vacation.

Chanyeol, unfortunately, is not that stronger man.

So he leans forward, helpless in his own orbit, and lets himself be pulled into the already-familiar rhythm of Baekhyun’s gravity all over again.

 

---

 

SM’s hallways have always been a little creepy to Baekhyun. They’re all perfect white plaster and cold, unfeeling floors, the type of minimalistic that would probably be called sophisticated chic but looks to Baekhyun more like something out of a dystopian movie: distant, and detached, and oh-so-unsympathetic to the plights of the artists within its walls.

It doesn’t help that they’re also empty right now. Baekhyun pulls his mask down his face and squints at the door numbers he passes. He should be sleeping - he should definitely be sleeping. It’s close to eleven P.M., and he has an early-morning plane ride tomorrow that he needs to go meet Chanyeol for.

But here he is anyways, strolling through the halls of his company during after-hours, all just to fulfill a stupid on-the-whim idea that seized him that morning when he opened his Twitter app.

No one ever said idols were chosen to debut for their intelligence.

“Weird,” he mumbles to himself now, still narrowing his eyes at every identical door he passes like that’ll help him figure out which one he needs to go through. Baekhyun’s pretty sure this is the right floor. He’s been here enough times that he should definitely know by now, but it’s not his fault SM’s halls all look the same. He vaguely remembers being brought here after studio sessions during pre-comeback season, with Minseok shoving headphones on his head so he could take his first listen at his new songs, so it must be—

He stops. Room 520.

There’s a logo on the placard next to the door, a perfect, clear-cut circle that looks like a sharp-edged fusion between a Y and an X. But more than that: there’s the name Lay printed in neat letters under the design.

Bingo.

Baekhyun still knocks, just to be sure. And also because he’s polite.

“Come in,” a soft voice calls from inside, slightly accented but as warm as ever, and Baekhyun grins as he pushes the door open and lets himself in.

“Hyung!”

Yixing looks up from where he’s crouched over his laptop. He has a mess of papers spread all around his elbows, and the electronic piano he’s bent over is doubling as a writing desk. “Baekhyunnie,” he says, sounding surprised but happy. He slips his headphones off and blinks. “What’s up? It’s late.”

Baekhyun wags a finger at him. “Yet you’re still working.” He closes the door behind him with a click, then walks over until he can peer at Yixing’s screen. “Working on more songs again, hyung? I thought you were done for a while after Jongdae’s album.”

“Yeah.” Yixing gives him a sheepish smile. “The company wants some more samples for your juniors.”

Typical SM - always wanting more and more. “Of course they do,” Baekhyun sighs.

“I don’t mind, though. I love writing my music.”

That makes Baekhyun smile, too. “Of course you do,” he tacks on, pulling out a chair and dropping into it to prop his head up with one hand. Yixing looks exhausted but very much content, with that special light in his face that Baekhyun dubs the mid-songwriting glow, and it only makes Baekhyun more glad for his friend’s success as a producer. “How’s your work going lately, hyung?”

“Good. A little tiring, but good.” Yixing’s dimple shows in his cheek as he looks down at his sheet music, and he says, “I really like what the team has been putting out so far.”

“Of course you do,” Baekhyun teases. “You’re leading them, after all.”

Yixing laughs. “That doesn’t mean they don’t have their own talents,” he argues back jokingly, reaching out to pull all his papers into a semi-neat pile. “What about you, Baekhyunnie?”

“What about me?”

Yixing gathers up the stack and shuffles everything together. “How’s your work? I know you didn’t just come to visit me so late at night for the sake of it.”

“You wound me, hyung. You don’t know that.”

That makes Yixing give him a look that’s half-deadpan and half-fond, and Baekhyun relents, straightening and putting a hand up in resignation. “Okay, okay, you caught me,” he says, waggling his fingers. “I kind of have a request.”

“Oh?” Yixing looks curious. “What is it?”

Baekhyun bites at the inside of his cheek. “It’s more of a mini favour to ask,” he admits slowly. “Actually… it might be a favour on your side. As in it benefits you. Actually a suggestion—”

“Baekhyunnie.” Yixing cuts him off. “Just tell me.”

And so Baekhyun tells him.

Except by the time he’s done, Yixing looks even more confused than before, eyebrows inching up his forehead and mouth pursed into an O shape not unlike his team’s logo. “Wait,” he says, blinking twice before brushing the hair out of his eyes. “You’re asking me to—”

“Yeah. I mean, if it’s possible.” Baekhyun rubs at the back of his neck.

“So this is a…”

He’s not sure what professional jargon Yixing’s about to come up with, and he doesn’t think he’ll understand it anyway, so he just says, “I heard you might need it anyway, right? Jongdae tells me you guys have been searching recently.”

“We have.” Yixing tilts his head. “And it’s definitely possible. I’m just wondering why this is coming from you.”

Baekhyun winces. He was kind of afraid he’d hear that. “Oh, you know,” he attempts, waving a nonchalant hand. “Just helping out a friend and all that.”

“A friend?”

“Yeah. A… good one.”

Yixing pulls his headphones off his neck completely to stare at Baekhyun, and his voice is a little more contemplative when he asks, “Is this about your boy toy?”

And really, Baekhyun can’t be blamed for nearly falling out of his chair at that.

He only recovers by grabbing the edge of the table, making a few sheets of Yixing’s music flutter to the floor before he manages to pull himself up again. “My - hyung!” His ears are burning. “No way. You know about that too?”

That makes Yixing laugh again, something tinkling and pleasant. “I have ears, Baekhyunnie,” he tells him, grinning. “Even the producers get a share of the infamous SM gossip, you know.”

Great.

“Well, it’s not about that,” Baekhyun mumbles. “Not exactly.”

“Then what is it about?”

Baekhyun hates being questioned by Yixing. If only because he makes it look completely innocent and harmless, when Baekhyun knows he’s hiding his mischief behind that guileless face of his. “Just - it’s just a lucky coincidence. I know you guys have been looking, so I connected the dots. Because I’m nice like that. That’s all there is to it.”

Yixing hmms. “If you say so,” he says, then bends down to pick up the papers that fell earlier. “But we’ve been friends for a while now, and I’ve never seen you do this for anyone else before.”

“Hey! I do it for plenty of—”

“Baekhyunnie.” Yixing gives Baekhyun an amused look. “You know what I mean.”

That makes Baekhyun slump into his seat a little more. Because he does know what Yixing means. And honestly, he’d prefer not to dwell on it for longer than necessary.

“And I get it,” Yixing goes on, still looking way too amused for someone who’s probably been hunched in front of his laptop the whole day. “I’m glad you asked me, actually. You’re right about how our team’s been looking.” He shuffles his papers again. “And I’d be more than happy to give it a shot.”

Baekhyun perks up. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Yixing says, and glances over at Baekhyun, considering. “If you think this is worth it.”

The unspoken question is loud and clear between the words. Baekhyun swallows.

He thinks about nerve-wracking auditions. Walking out of SM for the first time on shaky legs. Standing on the precipice between what felt like two equally bad decisions. He thinks about Chanyeol, looking at him like he was the brightest star in the universe, just because Baekhyun was nice enough to mumble out a few lyrics to the tune of his music. He thinks about what brought him here in the first place: the magazine interview that Taeyeon covered him up for going up on Twitter, and his own words posted across a thousand fan accounts, accompanied by the ancient trainee era picture Minseok managed to dig up out of god-knows-where. I never would’ve made it through the earliest parts of my dream if it weren’t for the people around me.

“I do,” Baekhyun says.

Yixing smiles again, knowing and soft. “Okay,” he says back, and reaches into his bag before handing Baekhyun a single card. “Then I trust you, Baekhyunnie.”

 

---

 

“You’re actually up this early?”

The sheer disbelief in Jongdae’s voice would be offensive if he wasn’t Baekhyun’s best friend and didn’t know him so well. As it is, Baekhyun only snorts, clicking off his electronic toothbrush and spitting out the minty foam in his mouth into the sink. “I’m talking to you right now, aren’t I?” he says, then reaches for his towel to wipe his chin. “Seeing is believing.”

“Well, yeah.” Jongdae pauses. “Except for the part where I can’t actually see you.”

Baekhyun lets out a mock-disappointed sigh. He finishes wiping his face and reaches up to pull his fuzzy headband off his forehead. “You know, I would turn on video call, but I did just wake up, and you know what they say about idol baggage.”

“I’ve known you for eight years, Baekhyun. I doubt there’s anything of yours that I haven’t seen.”

“Semantics,” Baekhyun shoots back, and starts trying to tame the stubborn bird’s nest that is his morning bedhead.

He’s on a time crunch, if he’s being honest. There’s only a little less than an hour before the time Chanyeol said to meet him at the airport, yet here Baekhyun is: still mostly drowsy, and sleep-rumpled, and definitely not in a position where he can go outside without worrying about how he’d look in any sneaky fan pictures. It’s not even his fault. His biological clock is out of whack on the best of days, and even though he’s gotten used to waking up at the ass crack of dawn for schedules and flights, it’s like something inside him just knows he’s on break and, therefore, won’t face any serious consequences for sleeping in.

So maybe Baekhyun woke up an hour later than he was supposed to after sleeping through his alarm. Again - semantics.

He called Jongdae halfway through brushing his teeth, though, like a true best friend. A true best friend who totally forgot to inform him of the week-long vacation he’d be taking, but still.

“I can’t believe you,” Jongdae says now, in the disapproving voice he probably picked up from Minseok. Baekhyun has to resist the urge to roll his eyes as he digs through his bag for his lip balm. “Having trouble waking up at 8 A.M. as an adult? What would your fans say?”

“They’d probably find it cute,” Baekhyun tells him truthfully. “Like, oh, he’s so much of a homebody that it’s actually kind of charming.

Jongdae’s own eye-roll is practically audible through the phone. “PUBG live streams can only do so much to reverse your introverted loser narrative, Baekhyun.”

Ouch. “Don’t be jealous just because I beat you whenever we play.”

“Right, because we’ve played together so many times.”

“Well, we could play more if you’d actually agree to let me coach you once in a while,” Baekhyun mutters. Jongdae’s lack of interest in video games has always been a sore spot in their friendship - still is, with how obsessed Baekhyun’s become with them during his recent post-comeback free time. Baekhyun sandwiches the phone between his ear and shoulder, double-checking the stuff in his bag, and says, “And anyways, it’s my break day. I get a pass for sleeping a little later than I should.”

Jongdae gives an absentminded hum. “So what’s the famous homebody idol doing up so early on his break day, anyway?”

“Catching a flight.”

That makes Jongdae abruptly stop humming. “A flight?” he asks, sounding bemused.

“Yeah. To Jeju.” Baekhyun switches the phone to his other ear. “I’m going on vacation for a while.”

“Vacation?”

A laugh bubbles up in Baekhyun’s chest before he can stop it. “Are you pursuing a new career as a professional parrot or something?”

“No, it’s just - vacation? Wow. I didn’t think you had it in you.” Out of nowhere, Jongdae lets out a whistle, low and impressed and sharp enough to pierce Baekhyun’s ears. “Even with as much of a homebody you are, sometimes you remind me of Yixing hyung with your workaholic tendencies.”

Hey,” Baekhyun protests, because that’s kind of ridiculous. No one’s as bad as Yixing. “I can go on vacation.”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t. You sure are doing it now.” Jongdae’s grin is obvious in his voice. “So Jeju Island, huh?”

“The one and only.”

“You’re heading there all alone? Wait, I need to play Minseok hyung’s part. Did you already make sure to book a hotel and everything?”

“Nope,” Baekhyun says cheerfully. “Because I don’t have to. I’m going with Chanyeol.”

There’s a very long beat of silence. It gets so long that Baekhyun finishes shoving the last of his toiletries into his carry-on bag. So long, in fact, that by the time Baekhyun straightens to look at his phone resting on the counter, he starts to wonder if the usually reliable signal in his apartment has failed him for once.

Then there’s a crackle of static, and Jongdae begins, “Baekhyun…”

“Yeah?” Baekhyun squints into the mirror and smooths a finger along the bottom of his eye. He frowns. His dark circles are starting to come back again; he’ll have to ask Taeyeon for her ever-reliable concealer technique.

“Nothing. I just, you know, think I misheard that you were going to Jeju. With Chanyeol. Together.”

Jongdae’s voice is faintly accusatory, and it makes Baekhyun frown harder, switching his phone off speaker and bringing it to his ear again as he rummages through his bag for a comb. “You didn’t hear wrong, Jongdae,” he says half-distractedly, running his fingertips over all the random business cards that Minseok no doubt stuffed into his bag. “I know you’re turning into an old man and all, but twenty-five isn’t quite enough for you to start losing your hearing—”

“Jesus Christ, Baekhyun,” Jongdae huffs. “You’re older than me. And I’m not joking around. You’re going to Jeju? With Park Chanyeol?”

“Um, yeah?”

And honestly, the sheer disbelief in Jongdae’s voice really shouldn’t be there as he continues, “For your only full week of vacation you’ve gotten in the whole year?”

“It’s still May,” Baekhyun points out, feeling weirdly defensive all of a sudden. He gives up on finding his comb - it’s not like neat hair will do anything to improve his incognito-ness, anyways, so Chanyeol will just have to deal with looking at his Wednesday bedhead - and grabs his coat off the back of his bathroom door, shrugging one shoulder into it then swinging his bag over his elbow in a well-practiced sequence. “And so what if we’re going to Jeju? I hear that it’s very nice this time of the year, and Chanyeol’s got a whole beach villa just sitting there all empty, you know, because of course he does—”

“That is so not the point,” Jongdae says. “In fact, it’s so far from the point that I can barely even see it anymore.” There’s a long-suffering pause, in which Baekhyun’s mind conjures up a vivid image of Jongdae rubbing his forehead and slumping over a desk, before his friend goes on. “Look, Baekhyun, I thought you guys were just hooking up.”

Baekhyun actually coughs out a surprised laugh at that. “What are you talking about? We are.”

“Really, Baekhyun?” The exasperation in Jongdae’s voice is so thick that it could be spread on toast. “Because I’m pretty sure hookups don’t meet up every other day. They probably don’t risk their careers to stop for coffee together, either. Or stay over at each other’s places practically every single night—”

“Hey, you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t jump at the chance to stay in an apartment like Chanyeol’s if you could—”

Jongdae ignores, in Baekhyun’s opinion, that Very Valid Point. “And they definitely do not go on week-long vacations to Jeju Island to stay in a beach villa like some newlywed couple on their honeymoon,” he delivers, with an air of disgruntled finality.

Baekhyun pauses in his fumble for his keys. “I think that might be stretching it.”

The noise Jongdae makes goes right beyond the vicinity of frustrated and falls somewhere into hysterical. “It’s not stretching it. That’s exactly what you two are doing. And you know, I shouldn’t even be this surprised, with how you’ve been acting recently.”

“How have I been acting?”

“Attached,” Jongdae tells him bluntly, and there’s that word again. The same one Minseok said to him that week when he caught him slipping out to see Chanyeol.

It makes Baekhyun bristle a little as he uses his foot to nudge his apartment door open. “I’m not ‘attached’,” he objects, half-wishing they were talking in person if only so he could make air quotes around the word. “I’m not flying to Hawaii for a destination wedding. I’m going to Jeju for five days because he offered to take me.”

“He offered to take you? Come on, Baekhyun, you really can’t see that—”

Baekhyun doesn’t really want to hear the rest of that sentence. “He’s just nice like that, okay? You’d get it if you met him. It’s nothing special.”

Jongdae makes an incredulous noise. “You think an all-expenses-paid trip to Jeju Island in a villa is nothing special?”

“Not to Chanyeol. I told you, he’s nice to the point where it’s ridiculous.”

“I don’t know, Baekhyun,” Jongdae says, sounding half-sceptical and half genuinely concerned, like Baekhyun’s going to get his heart broken just for accepting a trip invitation or something. “You sound kind of attached to me.”

There are times when Jongdae’s hopeless romantic nature doesn’t show at all. Then there are times like now, when Baekhyun’s sort of tempted to hang up just to stop his best friend from making any more badly-veiled remarks. “Jongdae,” he complains. “Seriously. You know me. I’m not the type to do relationships like that.”

“Not gonna lie, it kind of seems like you already are doing a relationship like that.”

“It’s just a short vacation.” Baekhyun turns his key in the lock with a resounding click and starts heading down to the lobby. “Give me one good reason to reject a free trip in a luxury island villa.”

“I don’t know, boundaries?” Jongdae huffs again. “Hookup etiquette?”

Even though it can’t be seen through the phone, Baekhyun waves a dismissive hand as he presses the button for the elevator. “All technicalities. And anyway, he’s probably expecting vacation sex, so it works out.”

The disgusted noise that Jongdae makes is enough to spur Baekhyun into another laugh. “Spare me, please.”

“Just trying to adjust you to the truth.”

There’s a lull in their conversation after that, broken only by the rhythmic beeping of the elevator display as the numbers tick up to Baekhyun’s floor. Eventually, though, Jongdae’s the one to speak again. “I still think you’re getting yourself into something messy,” he says, at the same time the elevator doors slide open. “But okay. Enjoy your trip. Just… don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Jongdae. I’ll be fine.” Baekhyun steps into the elevator and makes another futile attempt to pat down his hair. “Stop worrying so much, okay? It’s really not that big of a deal.”

“If you say so,” Jongdae says doubtfully. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“When do I not?”

“Well—”

“You don’t actually need to answer that question,” Baekhyun interrupts in a flat voice, and at least that makes Jongdae laugh again, the sound crackling in Baekhyun’s ear as the signal is worsened by the elevator ride. “But seriously, it’ll be fine. Nothing’s going to change.”

If it were any other situation, some annoying voice in Baekhyun’s mind would probably have chimed in with, hey look, famous last words. But this situation is different. The voice is nowhere to be found, because Baekhyun’s sure in his conviction this time. All in all: a good sign.

So all Baekhyun does is rake his fingers through his messy bangs again, glance at the time on his phone, and wonder if he can pay the taxi driver a little extra to not spread any news of his ride.

 

---

 

Chanyeol has a private jet. Because of course he does. Obviously.

Honestly, Baekhyun shouldn’t be as surprised as he is when he ducks into the entrance gate Chanyeol texted him about and finds an attendant already waiting for him, cap on her head and necktie pristine against her chest. “Baekhyun-ssi, right?” she asks politely, very nearly giving Baekhyun a heart attack by making him think he’s been recognized before he spots the employee tag on her blouse. “If you’d follow me, please. Chanyeol-ssi is already waiting for you.”

So Baekhyun trails after her, feeling a little out of depth and a lot like the main character of some rags-to-riches chick flick. The attendant leads him through what’s obviously a VIP pathway, quiet and calm and nothing like the busy disorder Baekhyun’s used to seeing in airports - there are other employees dressed just like her, and they check Baekhyun’s luggage and passport in no time at all, with such efficiency that he actually feels a little bit whiplashed at the unfamiliarity of it all.

Baekhyun’s six-odd years of airport experience can be summed up in exactly two words: loud and chaotic. This particular experience is anything but.

By the time he’s brought to the lounge and sees Chanyeol sitting there with his own bags, Baekhyun’s more than a little disoriented. “Wow,” he blurts out first thing, as Chanyeol hops up in a hurry and stuffs his phone into his pocket. “Is this what being rich feels like?”

That makes Chanyeol a bit flustered. “Well,” he says, and coughs. “I don’t think you’re that badly off yourself.”

“Yeah, but I don’t have a private jet.” Because Baekhyun can see it through the window now, a pristine white mini-plane that already has more employees waiting at its foot. “Do you have a movie screen inside too? And those seats that can double as beds? A whole team of flight attendants to pour champagne and serve three-course meals?”

Yes, yes, and kind of, Baekhyun learns. Because there are only two attendants. And no alcohol, unfortunately. Not that it matters, since they smile at Baekhyun all the same and offer him a glass of coffee that does a great job at taking away the last of his sleepiness.

Who even drinks coffee in a glass? Especially on a plane. It’s way too overboard.

“This is way too overboard,” Baekhyun says aloud, making Chanyeol glance over at him from where he’s already settled and strapped into his huge leather seat.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean this.” Baekhyun makes a vague gesture at their surroundings - the spacious aisle, the whole classy, expensive aura of the plane’s interior, the grey-blue of Seoul’s morning skyline that he can see through the wide glass windows. “You didn’t have to do all this. I wouldn’t have minded just heading to Jeju the commoner way since it’s so close.”

Chanyeol pulls a face, looking vaguely embarrassed. “I thought you’d prefer flying private to risking getting recognized on a commercial flight,” he says, giving an awkward shrug. “And, well, this might work better if it’s a short trip. We don’t have to go through all the hassle of customs and stuff.”

Baekhyun bites his lip to suppress a grin. “Haven’t you ever heard of a carbon footprint, Chanyeol?”

“I - yeah, I have, but I don’t really fly anyway, so I thought—”

“Kidding, kidding,” Baekhyun says, and laughs as Chanyeol slumps into his seat and aims a half-hearted glare at him. “I’m not actually offended. Thanks for looking out for me,” he adds, doing a pilot’s salute when Chanyeol looks over. “I feel special.”

“I’m starting to regret it a little,” Chanyeol mutters.

“Aw, come on, you don’t mean that.”

Whatever Chanyeol’s about to say back is cut off by the crackle of the pilot’s voice testing out the intercom, and they both fall silent, sitting through the usual safety procedures as the flight attendants do their final check-up.

It’s actually not that different from flying first class, if Baekhyun thinks about it - minus all the extra space and the extra privacy and the extra everything. The plane rolls out onto the runway with a rumble, and it takes less time than usual for it to pull itself up into the air, but the familiar whoosh in the pit of Baekhyun’s stomach is still the same. He chews on his lip as they slowly shift into a smooth glide. No matter how many times he’s sat through a take-off, it’s always hard for him to concentrate on anything else except the free-falling sensation.

Which is why Baekhyun’s more than a little baffled when he looks over and sees Chanyeol pulling out his laptop. “What are you doing?”

“Oh.” Chanyeol blinks down at his keyboard. “I thought I’d try to work on some more songs. Since we have a bit of time on the plane before we land.”

“How diligent of you,” Baekhyun says, still mostly baffled.

Chanyeol slides his fingers over the touchpad, then shrugs again, reaching a hand up to rub at his neck. “I mean, I kind of have to be,” he mumbles. Then he pauses meaningfully. “If I want to stop being a coward and all that.”

“Stop being a…”

Half a beat late, it all comes rushing back to Baekhyun: that night at Chanyeol’s apartment, sitting in front of Chanyeol’s fancy grand piano, spilling his guts out to him in a weird motivational speech-of-sorts under 3 A.M. moonlight.

For some reason, it makes Baekhyun’s cheeks go a little hot, and he coughs as he turns back to his half-empty glass of coffee. “Oh, right,” he says, clearing his throat. “Good.”

And then Baekhyun remembers the card he stuffed into his bag on a last-minute whim in the morning.

Oh. Right.

“Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says abruptly, making Chanyeol look up from his laptop screen at him in question. He already has earbuds looped around his neck, but he pulls them away as he glances at Baekhyun, shaking his head a little to get his dark hair out of his eyes.

“Yeah?” Chanyeol answers, blinking.

Baekhyun hesitates for half a second. This… might have been a bad idea. Like he’s inserting himself somewhere he doesn’t belong.

Boundaries, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Jongdae’s whispers in his mind, and it’s almost enough to make Baekhyun chicken out of telling Chanyeol and just say never mind, good luck with your songs. But then Chanyeol tilts his head in curiosity - a startlingly puppy-like move. Baekhyun’s heart goes a little soupy in his chest. He’s always been a dog person, and of course it’s coming back to bite him in the worst of ways.

He already has the card, anyway, and Yixing’s number and email and expectations along with it. So he has nothing to lose.

Probably.

Baekhyun clears his throat again. “Listen, tell me if this is weird of me,” he says first, waiting for Chanyeol’s bemused nod before going on. “I… have a friend.”

Chanyeol looks at him like he’s gone insane. “Most people do, Baekhyun.”

“No, I mean.” Baekhyun pauses. “He’s a producer. A producer friend.”

“Okay…”

“A music producer friend. And I had a chat with him yesterday.”

That manages to give Chanyeol the first hint as to what this conversation is really about. He straightens, pulling off his earbuds completely, and stares at Baekhyun. “A music producer,” he echoes, eyes focusing.

“Yeah. His name is Zhang Yixing. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him - he leads a team at his own studio under the name Lay.” Judging by the faint recognition in Chanyeol’s widening eyes, he has heard of Yixing. That’s good. That shortens Baekhyun’s explanation by a little. “I’m really good friends with him,” Baekhyun says, deciding to just dive straight into it, “and I heard that his team has been scouting for new material and new talent lately. So I asked him if he wanted me to refer him to someone, and he said yes.”

It’s only a half-truth, but it’s worth it, if only for the way Chanyeol gazes at him with a mix of shock and gradually dawning realization. “Baekhyun,” he says, voice stuck in a strange cross between awe and disbelief. “You—”

“You came pretty highly recommended, by the way. And through the mouth of an A-list celebrity.” Baekhyun’s lips quirk up. “If I do say so myself.”

Chanyeol straightens up so suddenly he almost knocks his laptop off the table. “Are you serious?” he asks, sounding terrified and hopeful all at once. “You’re not messing with me or anything?”

“Of course not!” Baekhyun says, indignant. “I have his business card right here. He gave it to me himself.” He digs his hand into his bag beside him and snags it first try, fingers curling around the clean-cut cardstock, then hands it to Chanyeol across the aisle. “He told me you can feel free to email him some samples if you’re willing. Anything is good, he just wants to get a feel for your style.”

Chanyeol takes the card and stares down at it like it’s made of solid gold. “You’re serious.”

“Do I sound like I’m joking?”

“No, I just—” Chanyeol’s eyes meet his again, and he’s blinking so rapidly it’s almost concerning. “I can’t believe it. You really did this? For me?”

And that, bizarrely, makes Baekhyun flush. “I didn’t really do much,” he mumbles, averting his gaze. “The opportunity was there. I just made a connection. And Yixing hyung might not even reply anytime soon, he’s so busy these days.”

All of that flies right over Chanyeol’s head as he runs reverent fingers over the card, flipping it open to admire the red and black of Yixing’s sharp-edged logo. “Thank you, Baekhyun,” he says, all sincere. “Really.”

“It’s no problem.” Baekhyun coughs. “This could work out for you, right?”

“Of course it—”

Baekhyun barrels on, because he rambles when he gets nervous and for some unfathomable, inexplicable reason, he’s nervous to the point of it being ridiculous right now. “I mean, Yixing hyung doesn’t know who you are at all, and you can even submit under an anonymous producer name,” he continues. “And it’s not a full-time commitment so you can still do your stuff with your company, since he’d only want you to send him occasional material as a collaborator if it works out, and—”

“Baekhyun.” Chanyeol cuts Baekhyun off. “Even if it doesn’t work out, this means the world to me.” His eyes are so clear, earnest and genuine, and something in Baekhyun’s chest quivers at it. “Seriously. I don’t even know how to begin to thank you.”

Baekhyun makes a vague, awkward gesture to the interior of the plane around them. “I think you’re doing a pretty good job of it right now.”

“That’s different, though. I wanted to take you here.”

Chanyeol says it like it’s obvious. It makes Baekhyun stare again. He searches Chanyeol’s face, looking for the trace of embarrassment that he’s gotten used to seeing laced in Chanyeol’s features, but all he finds is just… honesty. Like he’s telling the truth and thinking nothing of it at all.

That random, stupid quiver races up in his chest again, and Baekhyun pushes it away with a stubborn vengeance.

“It’s really nothing,” he says, voice coming out softer than he meant it. “I just get it. About having dreams.”

“I know, but still. I need to thank you.”

“You can thank me by buying me breakfast later since I skipped it.”

That makes Chanyeol beam at him, smile so wide that it crinkles up the corners of his eyes. “Deal,” he says, and pops his earbud into his left ear again.

And that’s how they spend the rest of their plane ride: in peaceful, relative silence. Chanyeol throws himself into working on his songs with three times as much intensity as before. Baekhyun just keeps gazing out the window, tracing his eyes over the slowly brightening edge of Korea’s morning skyline, and tries to figure out whether the weird tension he’s feeling in his chest is something to worry about.

 

---

 

They land in Jeju at about exactly one hour after they boarded the plane. The air is cool but undeniably summery as Baekhyun steps off the metal staircase, lingering along his skin like a curious afterthought. Chanyeol helps him with his bags like the gentleman he is, then speeds them through private passport control all over again, thanking the female attendants with such sincerity that it makes them blush.

He also - coincidentally - gets to fulfill his end of the deal for Baekhyun even before they step out of the airport.

Chanyeol,” Baekhyun hisses from under his face mask, watching Chanyeol swipe his card and accept the boxed cheeseburger that the tired-looking cashier hands him. “I was, like, eighty percent joking.”

Chanyeol just grins at him. “That still leaves twenty percent serious,” he says, pulling Baekhyun’s hands over and forcing the box into his grasp. “And I have a long way to go. So I’m starting my thank-you mission with no time to waste.”

He still looks so happy, pink-cheeked and eyes bright with childlike excitement. Baekhyun doesn’t have the heart to tell him he shouldn’t be eating any junk food even on break. He’ll probably end up finishing it anyway, if only so Chanyeol doesn’t look like a kicked puppy, and he hates himself for it.

Baekhyun accepts the burger.

“Good,” Chanyeol says smugly, and tips his sunglasses back over his eyes.

He manages to buy another cup of steaming coffee and a chocolate cookie for Baekhyun before Baekhyun outright begs him to stop. He’s so pleased with himself for it too, watching Baekhyun discreetly pull down his mask and take bites of the food with an all-too-satisfied expression. Even as they walk through the terminals and meet up with the chauffeur already waiting for them, Chanyeol doesn’t stop practically vibrating with his excitement. Baekhyun climbs into the sleek silver Mercedes, listening to Chanyeol point out every little thing he notices on the streets they drive past, and wonders if this Chanyeol is the one he’s been missing out on during their hooking up.

Because if so, then it’s a real shame - delight looks good on Chanyeol. Very good.

The villa that’s the focus of their trip is only a short drive from the airport. The air is stiller and quieter when the car pulls over in front of it, only disturbed by the rustling of the trees. The chauffeur helps them unload their luggage then drives off, not even sparing a second glance at Baekhyun’s covered-up face before he leaves.

It makes Baekhyun relax a little. This is Jeju Island, after all: a vacation haven for both the wealthy and the ordinary, low-key in the exact way that every tired tourist craves. Nothing like Seoul, with its busy streets and prying eyes.

He can afford to let his guard down. Just a tiny bit.

Like he’s read Baekhyun’s mind, Chanyeol says, “Hey, ease up, okay?” His hand comes down to palm at Baekhyun’s shoulder, warm and reassuring. “We’re just here to unwind. We don’t even have to leave the house if you don’t want to.”

Baekhyun tilts his head back to raise an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t that be a waste of all this impressive scenery?”

“Not really. We can still see it from the windows.” Chanyeol grins, then sweeps a hand out towards their front. “And the house is pretty impressive too, you know.”

He’s not lying - now that Baekhyun looks, really looks, Chanyeol’s family villa is almost as nice as the high-rise penthouse apartment Baekhyun’s so familiar with. It’s clean and very much modern, all cubic lines and precise right angles. Baekhyun can see the reflection of the sun in the glass windows behind the gate. Stone-brick walls surround the whole thing in a tasteful fortress of privacy, elegant despite the obvious message of do not disturb.

“Well then, Mr. Tour Guide,” Baekhyun says, unable to stop his voice from going teasing. “I’ll throw you a bone. Show me around.”

Chanyeol is more than happy to oblige.

He takes Baekhyun through the gate and around the rooms, pointing out everything they pass like he’s actually some sort of tour guide. If tour guides for houses existed. There’s a spacious front yard filled with pebbles beyond the brick walls, a stone pathway leading up to the porch, and huge glass doors that slide open soundlessly when Chanyeol unlocks them.

The inside is even nicer, if it’s possible: made up of spotless marble floors and interior design so put-together that it must’ve been done by a professional touch. There’s even more glass around them as Chanyeol shows Baekhyun the bedrooms and the bathrooms and the wide-open living area. When they come out into the back of the villa, Baekhyun actually has to stop in his tracks as he sees the enormous window, stretching up two stories and allowing them a perfect, sunlit view of the backyard.

There’s even a rectangular pool rippling with aquamarine water. Set in limestone and everything. Because of course there is.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Baekhyun says abruptly. He sets his bags down on a square couch beside him and turns back to Chanyeol. “We’re staying in here for the whole trip.”

“That was way too fast,” Chanyeol replies, but he’s smiling again. “If only your fangirls knew that all it takes to win you over is a nice beach house.”

“This is more than nice. It’s insane. I doubt any of my fans are as stupidly rich as you.”

Chanyeol’s smile curves into something a little more impish, dimpling at the corners. “I’m sure there are more than a few chaebol heiresses out there who aren’t resistant to the charms of the famous Byun Baekhyun,” he calls, picking up their bags and starting to move towards the staircase.

“Yeah, okay.” Baekhyun swats at Chanyeol’s shoulder as he follows. “Like you’re one to talk.”

They get settled down in the master bedroom, and Baekhyun should probably be a little more hung up on the fact that Chanyeol didn’t even ask before assuming they’d sleep together, but all he can think about is how nice this is - comforting and relaxing in the best way possible. It’s been far too long since he’s had a proper vacation. He unpacks slowly, taking the time to absorb every bit of the peaceful, luxurious vibe of the villa, all the way up until Chanyeol gets tired of waiting for him and goes to wander around downstairs.

Right when Baekhyun places his empty suitcase against the wall, his phone lights up with a message. Hope you had a safe flight, Jongdae’s texted him. Minseok hyung is already stressing over your schedules for next week. Enjoy the peace while it lasts.

Baekhyun snorts. Of course his manager is working himself up again. Make sure he doesn’t tire himself out too much? he texts back with one hand.

You know it! And have fun.

Smirk emoji.

Baekhyun rolls his eyes and tosses his phone on the bed. Typical Jongdae, never missing an opportunity to tease him even when it’s not in person. He swaps his jeans for a more Jeju-appropriate pair of shorts and an old t-shirt before heading down the stairs.

He finds Chanyeol in the pool, in swim trunks and a white wifebeater, hair in wet tangles against his forehead as he half-swims and half-wades through the water.

Jeju’s sun is good to Chanyeol; it’s barely noon, but that just means there’s all the more light to wash over his skin like oil paint as he moves. Baekhyun leans against the glass doors and watches him. He’s not even doing laps or anything, just walking around in the pool in lazy, aimless circles, letting the water rush along his limbs and splash around his waist.

Eventually, Baekhyun has enough of staring and slides open the door. “Hey,” he calls as he steps onto the stone with bare feet. “Cooling down without me already?”

Chanyeol stops and turns, then shakes his head a little to get his damp bangs out of his face. He grins. “You’re welcome to join me, if you want.”

“I didn’t bring a swimsuit. Because someone forgot to tell me.”

“Oops,” Chanyeol says, and at least he sounds a little apologetic. “But come on, that’s at least fifty percent on you. What kind of person doesn’t bring a swimsuit to Jeju?”

Baekhyun slides the door shut behind him and walks over until he’s crouching on the side of the pool, just out of Chanyeol’s reach. “I don’t know, the kind that isn’t used to vacations?”

“That’s just sad.” Chanyeol flicks a bit of water in Baekhyun’s direction. “But hey, you can come in anyway. It’s not like this is a public pool.”

“You want me to skinny dip?”

That brings Chanyeol’s signature ear-reddening blush back again, and Baekhyun smirks even though Chanyeol’s grin is still fixed stubbornly in place. “No,” he tells Baekhyun, voice embarrassed but determined. “There are other options.”

“Okay, hit me. Like what?”

Chanyeol doesn’t answer. He just gazes at Baekhyun, eyes serious and very, very, contemplating all of a sudden.

“Hmm,” he finally says, leaning over until his elbows are resting on the edge of the pool. “Come over here. I need to check something first.”

Baekhyun quirks an eyebrow but listens, scooting over until he’s within arm’s reach of Chanyeol.

“Closer, please.”

He scoots over more.

“Closer.”

At this point, Baekhyun’s only a hand’s width away. Chanyeol’s dark eyelashes flutter against his cheeks. “Even closer,” he whispers, and Baekhyun swallows and shifts forward, all the way until he’s sitting on his knees with just a breath between them, close enough to inhale the same air, close enough to kiss.

He thinks that’s what Chanyeol’s about to do, for a second - close the distance between them and press his mouth against Baekhyun’s. But Chanyeol doesn’t do that. He just keeps his eyes on Baekhyun’s, half-lidded, softened by the sun and liquid-warm.

Then he shoots his hands out and yanks Baekhyun into the pool.

What a fucking asshole.

Baekhyun lets out an extremely manly yelp as he tips over. He trips in face-first, nearly inhaling a mouthful of water before he manages to regain his bearings again. Foam-white bubbles spiral around him as Baekhyun tries to get his feet on the pool floor, almost scraping his knee against the wall as he twists, everything in his vision blurring into endless blue.

By the time he breaks the surface, he’s coughing and spluttering. “That was dirty!” Baekhyun complains, splashing a wave towards where he vaguely thinks Chanyeol is. “Park Chanyeol, I didn’t peg you for the type.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Baekhyun blinks the water out of his eyes and Chanyeol’s silhouette takes shape in front of him. “You said hit me.”

“You know what I meant.”

“Hey, all I did was show you an alternative option to skinny dipping.”

“Great,” Baekhyun says sarcastically, but even with the uncomfortable feeling clogging his throat, he has to try hard to keep the ridiculous smile from spreading across his face. “Now my clothes are all wet. That’s way better.”

Chanyeol comes a little closer. He’s wetter now, too, hair dripping from the splash Baekhyun made even though it was just beginning to dry under the sun. When he sinks into the water to match Baekhyun’s height, another grin is pulling at his lips.

“All’s fair in love and war,” Chanyeol says, and Baekhyun doesn’t know if he’s imagining it, but his voice sounds softer than usual.

Baekhyun’s chest constricts at the word love. It’s dumb. A knee-jerk reaction built up by years of avoiding anything of the type to protect his career, no doubt. “I didn’t peg you for the poetic type either.”

“You know me. Always surprising people.”

“Yeah, sure.” Baekhyun throws a handful of water at Chanyeol’s face again, watching as he laughs and ducks to avoid it, and warns, “I’ll remember this.”

His t-shirt is totally soaked, plastered to his chest in the grossest way possible - but when Chanyeol steps forward again, water swishing around him, Baekhyun forgets all about it. Something about the way the sunlight settles in the dip of Chanyeol’s collarbone is hypnotic. He’s a shining figure under Jeju’s perfect sky, golden and bronze and gorgeous, and it catches in Baekhyun’s gut like a thread on a hook. He’s pulled loose. He’s unravelled.

“Feel free to,” Chanyeol says, and his voice is definitely softer now. “You can think of it as a souvenir.”

The thread goes tight; quivering, stilling. Baekhyun swallows and looks away.

“The lamest souvenir ever,” he says back, but he can’t even convince himself.

 

---

 

Contrary to Baekhyun’s brazen suggestion, they don’t actually spend the whole trip indoors. At least, not all of it. They do for the first day, mostly because Baekhyun’s so taken with the house that he insists on enjoying it as much as possible. And for most of the second day. And maybe half of the third.

But they do go out - half because of Chanyeol’s inherent restlessness, and half because Baekhyun does want to go through the full tourist experience for Jeju Island, even if it’s not the most professional one. There’s a stretch of private beach right behind the neighbourhood that the Park family villa is situated in, and they make the most of what they can get with it. Even if it’s already May, the air is still a little chilly. Baekhyun spends an afternoon lying in the sand under an umbrella and watching Chanyeol try and fail to surf with the decorative board he found in their bedroom.

They do other non-beach things, too. Chanyeol shows him around the areas he knows, pointing out the locations of coral reefs and fishing spots that’ll crowd up with the inevitable crop of tourists once summer hits. They take a short hike through a forest just near the beach beside their villa. They book a room at the most well-known restaurant to try Jeju’s famous black pork barbecue. They crash a night market on day three, eating grilled abalone and tteokbokki between pulling down their face masks until Chanyeol gets impatient and just yanks his off completely. “It’s not that big of a deal,” he says to Baekhyun, when Baekhyun gives him a what the fuck are you doing look. “It wouldn’t be the first photo of us that gets spread around.” So Baekhyun shrugs and pulls his off too, and the reckless grin Chanyeol gives him is almost worth having to read Minseok’s annoyed messages the next day. Almost.

But even with all the tourist-y things he and Chanyeol do, Baekhyun still likes the time they spend in the villa the most; messing around in the pool, lounging on the couches and watching trashy dramas just to deliver pointless critiques and make each other laugh. Baekhyun finally gets to taste Chanyeol’s cooking during the meals where they stay in, and it’s a spiritual experience. He makes a habit of updating social media and scrolling through his phone while Chanyeol works on his music with a determined sort of diligence. Baekhyun spends a lot of time like that, really - curled up in a loveseat while Chanyeol’s on the couch, laptop in front of him, headphones over his ears as he focuses on his songs.

They don’t even have sex until halfway through the third day, and even then it’s just a blowjob because Baekhyun gets bored waiting for Chanyeol to finish his writing session. That - probably means something. Something that would make Jongdae raise his eyebrows and say, what are you doing, Baekhyun? in that meaningful voice of his.

But Baekhyun doesn’t dwell on it, too caught up in how simultaneously wrong and right the entire trip feels so far. Wrong because of every reason he agreed to come. Wrong, because with every hour on the island, he kind of gets the sense that he doesn’t belong in Chanyeol’s world: one of easy luxury and quiet, steady stability. And right, because…

Because it’s Chanyeol - for some throat-tightening, stomach-lurching, vaguely-dread-inducing reason - and that’s just a whole can of worms that Baekhyun doesn’t want to open.

So he plays the fool and lets himself be pulled along into Chanyeol’s unique tide.

(It’s only five days, anyway.)

 

---

 

Because everything in Baekhyun’s life likes to come full circle somehow, he finds Chanyeol in the pool again on the night of their fourth day in Jeju. He’s just gotten off a phone call with Minseok, a necessary evil because there was another mix-up in his schedule, and he’s all restless because of the prospect of going back to work the next week. Jeju’s felt like a dream, somehow - like something in an alternate reality where Baekhyun isn’t an idol and doesn’t have a million eyes trained on him at any given time. Baekhyun doesn’t want to think about leaving. At least, not yet.

And Chanyeol - Baekhyun’s current problem notwithstanding - is always a good distraction.

“You know,” Baekhyun says, crouching down at the edge of the pool where Chanyeol’s doing languid laps in the water. “I’m starting to think you’re a mermaid because of how much time you spend in here.”

Chanyeol does another lap before stopping. He stands up, and water slides in rivulets down his bare chest, glimmering in the dark of the night. “I think it’s merman,” he corrects. “But wow, wouldn’t that be cool.”

“Cooler than being a wealthy chaebol?”

“A lot cooler.” Chanyeol swims over until he’s right beside Baekhyun, staying in the water while Baekhyun’s on dry land. “But I won’t be picky.”

“You better not be,” Baekhyun tells him teasingly. “You don’t know how many people would kill to be in your position right now.”

That makes Chanyeol’s lips pull up at the corners. “As in being wealthy, or as in being in contact with you?”

And really, Baekhyun didn’t even mean it that way when he said the line, but - well. If the shoe fits. “Both,” he answers, playing into it. “But mostly wealthy.”

“Minus the stupid, classist advantages, it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.”

That’s out of nowhere. Baekhyun blinks. “What do you mean?”

Chanyeol hesitates for so long that, for a second, Baekhyun doesn’t think he’ll even answer. It seems like a personal topic, after all - and there was a barely-there trace of bitterness in Chanyeol’s voice when he spoke. But then Chanyeol shakes his head, flinging droplets of water into the air.

“It’s just - I know I’m privileged. And really, really lucky,” he says, testing the words out on his tongue like he’s not sure if he should be saying them. “But it does get old sometimes. People are so shallow, and a lot of them would do anything to climb another rung up the ladder. Or just to get where they want. It’s tiring.” Chanyeol gives an awkward shrug. Then he seems to realize what he’s just said, because he ducks his head and mumbles, “I probably sound really entitled right now, but…”

“No, it’s okay. I get it.” Baekhyun aims a lopsided smile at him. “You forget that I’m a celebrity.”

Chanyeol pauses. “Oh. Right.”

“So don’t worry, I understand what you’re saying.” Baekhyun scoots forward a bit more, until he can dip his bare feet into the pool water, shivering a little at how cool it feels. “It’s not entitled to not like everything about your lifestyle,” he says, holding up a finger. “It happens to the best of us. Sometimes I feel like without all the glitz and the glam they pile on to make me an acceptable idol, I’m just a boring canvas of nothing.”

It’s the truth, and it feels a little more fragile than it should be, out in the night air like this. But something’s definitely shifted in the atmosphere around them.

And Baekhyun - for what it’s worth - really, really doesn’t want to scare Chanyeol off.

“You’re not boring,” Chanyeol says back, suddenly sounding weirdly determined.

Baekhyun cocks his head at him even though that stupid quiver in his chest has just made a reappearance again. “No?”

“No! Of course not. If anything, I am, once you take away my mom’s money.” Chanyeol screws up his face. “I don’t even know what I want to do with my career because of it. I’m like… a dog who only knows a few tricks, or something.”

Baekhyun will laugh at the unknowingly accurate dog comparison later. For now, he sees an opening that he’s tempted to take.

“So,” he says, putting a hand under his chin and blinking at Chanyeol, slow and considering. “What sorts of tricks does this ‘boring’ dog know, then?”

There’s a beat of flustered silence. Then Chanyeol clears his throat and turns around.

“I can point out some of the stars, if you want.”

Whatever Baekhyun was expecting, it wasn’t that. “The stars?” he echoes.

“Yeah. Like constellations and stuff. They’re easier to see here than in Seoul.” Chanyeol leans back against the wall of the pool, tipping his head until he’s right by Baekhyun’s side, and says, “I think I’m pretty okay at this trick, if I do say so myself.”

For some reason, it suddenly feels fitting - for someone like Chanyeol to be so interested in something that most average people would overlook. It’s kind of cute. Baekhyun has to hide a smile as he leans over Chanyeol’s shoulder, even if he’s still a bit stuck on wrapping his head around the 180 degree turn in the conversation. “Alright,” he agrees. “Be a good boy and tell me about the stars.”

Chanyeol coughs. What Baekhyun can see of his ears goes pink, but he recovers remarkably quickly. “Well, first of all, there’s the famous Big Dipper.”

“I know about that one.”

“Almost everyone does.” Chanyeol points a finger towards the sky. “It’s close to summer,” he explains, “so it’ll look sort of vertical, but you can see it if you look towards the horizon.” He draws a loop, circling around a patch of night. “See? It’s in the north.”

Baekhyun squints. He doesn’t see anything except the usual tiny, bright pinpricks, even if they’re a bit clearer out here away from the city. “Where?”

“Over there. It’s easier to spot if you know which star is which.” Chanyeol points again, a bit farther from where he made the loop. “Like the North Star to its side.”

“Okay, now you’ve lost me.”

That makes Chanyeol laugh. “It’s not that hard! Just try to see instead of just looking.”

“Sure, Socrates,” Baekhyun mumbles. He leans forward and squints harder, like that’ll help him pick out the constellation from what looks like a sea of indistinguishable stars.

But then he actually does see it: one point that looks twice as bright as the others. He does a double take. “Wait,” Baekhyun says, getting more excited than he should be for a twenty-six-year-old man, and points. “Is it that one? The North Star?”

“Yeah!” Chanyeol turns and beams at him, just as excited. “See, that wasn’t too difficult, right?”

“I still have no idea where the Big Dipper is, though.”

“That’s okay. It’s hard for newbies to spot it, especially if the sky still isn’t…”

Chanyeol trails off. When Baekhyun stops searching the sky and glances over at him again, he’s gone silent, brows furrowed and eyes looking lost in thought like he’s suddenly considering something.

“What?”

Chanyeol startles, then shakes himself a little. “It’s nothing,” he hurries to say. “Just had an idea.” Before Baekhyun can ask about it, he clears his throat and turns back again, pointing at the opposite end of the sky. “Next constellation: Sagittarius. My zodiac. You can’t actually see it right now, since it’s usually only visible starting from June, but it’d be right over...” Chanyeol draws another circle. “There.”

“A fire sign, huh?” Baekhyun grins. “Makes sense.”

Chanyeol looks askance at him. “For some reason, I don’t think I’ll want to ask what that means.”

“Hey, it’s nothing bad,” Baekhyun protests, because it isn’t. It just fits the grooves of Chanyeol’s personality, somehow - all passion and earnestness. But Chanyeol still looks unconvinced, so all Baekhyun does is wave a hand and prop his chin in his arms. “Can you find mine? It’s Taurus.”

That distracts Chanyeol. “Taurus,” he repeats absentmindedly. He traces a path along the sky with his finger and Baekhyun follows. “That’s a winter constellation.”

“Oh, bummer.”

“I’ve seen it, though. It’s really pretty. Its brightest star is called Aldebaran, and it’s near Orion, so…”

Baekhyun can’t help it. He laughs, just a little. “How do you know all this stuff?”

Hey, I had an astronomy phase, okay,” Chanyeol defends, reaching back to give a half-hearted swat at Baekhyun’s shoulder. “Doesn’t everyone go through weird fixations once in a while? And anyways - wait.” He blinks. “Taurus. Your birthday’s coming up soon?”

“It just passed,” Baekhyun says, amused. “It was the first week of May.”

“What? You didn’t even tell me!”

Chanyeol looks far more offended than the situation calls for. It makes another ridiculous laugh bubble up in Baekhyun’s chest for no reason at all. “You mean you didn’t see all the buses with my face plastered across the side rolling through the city?” he asks jokingly.

No. I just—” Chanyeol makes a full turn in the pool, water sloshing around his waist until he’s facing Baekhyun and frowning. “You should’ve told me.”

For some bizarre reason, the look he’s giving Baekhyun makes Baekhyun flustered. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Still. We could’ve - I could’ve at least wished you a good one, or something.”

Under the soft shadows of the night, surrounded by moonlight-tinted water, Chanyeol’s something of a vision. His steady gaze being trained on Baekhyun doesn’t help either - there’s a hint of something imploring there. Like Baekhyun’s important enough for Chanyeol to be upset at missing his birthday. It makes Baekhyun’s skin prickle.

“Well,” Baekhyun tells him, and he can’t even control the way his voice dips into something soft and pleased, quiet with charm. “Would you have given me a present, then?”

He sees the exact moment Chanyeol realizes how close they are. His eyes go a little wide, then lidded. His gaze drops to focus on Baekhyun’s mouth.

A rush goes through Baekhyun, heated and greedy.

“I would’ve…” Chanyeol swallows. His Adam’s Apple bobs. “I would’ve…”

Baekhyun kisses him.

He doesn’t even mean to do it, but Chanyeol melts into it anyway, wrapping a strong arm around Baekhyun’s waist while Baekhyun reaches up to curl his hands around Chanyeol’s neck. His skin is damp and cool from the pool water. Baekhyun pulls him in and Chanyeol follows, leaning into Baekhyun’s space, standing in between Baekhyun’s spread thighs while the water ripples around his body. The kiss deepens; turns into something electric and breathless.

And god, Baekhyun’s forgotten just how much he’s missed this - the feeling of Chanyeol’s mouth on his own, his touch on Baekhyun’s skin. All that time in their weird little Jeju bubble must have affected him. This is what he knows. What pulled him and Chanyeol into a collision course to begin with.

Chanyeol kisses him and Baekhyun sinks into it all over again, helpless, uncaring, almost like it’s destructive routine.

They kiss for what feels like hours, just there on opposite sides at the edge of the pool. The only time they pull apart is to take a breath before going back in again. Baekhyun’s so, so greedy. He wraps his legs around Chanyeol’s waist and presses even closer, until the space between them is barely there anymore, nothing more than a few slivers of thrumming heat.

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol gasps out the next time they break apart. His lips are swollen and red, obvious even in the darkness, and it sends a thrill down Baekhyun’s spine. “I want—”

“Bedroom,” Baekhyun says, not even caring about how ruined he sounds. Because he is. Park Chanyeol has ruined Baekhyun for anyone else but him. “Please.”

Chanyeol’s fingers curve around Baekhyun’s hip. A drop of silver water trails down the bridge of his nose.

“Okay.”

By the time they’re falling into the sheets of the master bedroom, Baekhyun’s riled up enough for it to hurt.

He kisses Chanyeol one last time as he sinks into the bed, pressing their hips together and revelling in the quiet moan Chanyeol lets out. He’s still so responsive, easy to tease in the best of ways. Baekhyun’s addicted to it. They fall straight into their usual routine like they never stopped at all, touching and exploring and undressing by habit.

So Baekhyun’s more than a little surprised when he hands Chanyeol the lube only for Chanyeol to hesitate and shake his head. “I’ve been thinking,” Chanyeol says slowly, cheeks flushing. He puts the tube back into Baekhyun’s hands and wraps Baekhyun’s fingers around it. “Could you do it to me this time?”

Baekhyun’s mind swiftly washes blank. “I - sorry, what?”

“Could you do it to me this time,” Chanyeol repeats, and maybe it’s Baekhyun’s imagination, but his cheeks seem to redden even more.

For all the shameful fantasies that Baekhyun would never admit to having, he’s never even considered this possibility. But now that Chanyeol’s brought it up, he can’t get it out of his mind: spreading Chanyeol open, fingering him until he’s begging for Baekhyun to hurry up, face pink and eyes glazed. Pushing into Chanyeol - fucking Chanyeol while he cries out Baekhyun’s name—

“Is this supposed to be a late birthday present or something?” Baekhyun blurts out, because apparently his brain-to-mouth filter is nonexistent when he’s aroused.

Chanyeol’s face is worryingly close to a tomato now. “No,” he insists. “I’ve just been… I’ve thought about it for a while now. So.” He squeezes his hands around Baekhyun’s. “Please. I want it.”

And - well. Baekhyun’s never been resistant to Chanyeol’s pleads. Especially not in the bedroom.

So that’s how they end up like this, Chanyeol lying on his stomach on the bed, muffling his moans into a pillow while Baekhyun stretches him open with his fingers.

The noises Chanyeol makes are intoxicating, and Baekhyun watches him through hooded eyes as he jerks and trembles. There’s a pretty flush spreading all the way down his neck to his shoulders. Baekhyun sinks his fingers deeper and scissors them, making sure to make the drag slow and torturous, and a palpable quiver races up Chanyeol’s whole body.

“Baekhyun,” he whines, and he sounds so wrecked already. Baekhyun’s erection throbs. “Please, I need - just—”

“Just?” Baekhyun asks cheekily, and adds another finger, listening to the way Chanyeol’s voice wavers out into another moan.

“I need you right now. Please.”

Baekhyun’s mouth runs dry. “Patience,” he says, even though he’s straining against his pants himself. He stretches his three fingers inside Chanyeol again, and Chanyeol whimpers. “You’re doing so good, Chanyeol. So wonderful for me. Just let me prepare you a little more.”

Chanyeol’s too far gone to reply, shoulders shivering from the praise. Baekhyun pulls out his fingers to trace against Chanyeol’s rim before pushing in again. This time, he goes deeper, way deeper, looking for that one certain spot—

Chanyeol jolts like he’s been hit by lightning. “Ah,” he gasps out, rutting against the mattress like he can’t help it. “That was—”

Baekhyun rubs his fingertips into Chanyeol’s prostate again, and Chanyeol actually cries out, pressing his mouth into the pillow and shaking like a leaf in the wind.

“See?” Baekhyun murmurs. “So good. So gorgeous.”

Chanyeol’s breathing stutters. “Not to be pushy,” he rasps, chest heaving like he’s just run a marathon. “But if you don’t get in me now, I think I might die.”

Baekhyun laughs even though he’s so turned on every nerve in his body is buzzing. “Got it.”

He rolls on a condom in record time, then hitches Chanyeol’s hips up a little before sinking into him, breath catching in his lungs at how incredible it feels. Chanyeol is molten hot around him, and Baekhyun has to press his forehead into Chanyeol’s shoulder to try in vain to steady himself. It’s unfair. He hasn’t even started moving yet, and he already feels so pent up that it’s ridiculous.

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol begs, then, knuckles going white around the sheets. “Please move.”

So Baekhyun does. There’s no slow buildup - he fucks Chanyeol hard and fast right from the start, pushing into him with thrusts so deep that Chanyeol’s reduced to a mess of moans as he mouths pleads into the pillow. It’s so, so good that Baekhyun can’t believe he’s never imagined this before. Chanyeol is so sensitive, arching up at every one of Baekhyun’s light touches, keening when Baekhyun manages to hit his prostate, entire body wracking with tremors when Baekhyun whispers praises into his skin.

Somewhere along the way, they end up face-to-face with each other, and Baekhyun gets to watch all of Chanyeol’s expressions as he gets closer to the brink. His eyes are so blown-out they’re nearly pitch-black. He doesn’t stop making those addictive noises as Baekhyun fucks him, and it only manages to pull Baekhyun towards his own orgasm; his body feels like a livewire, electrified and fiercely bright, just on the edge of crackling out.

When Baekhyun bites down on Chanyeol’s shoulder at the same time he thrusts in again, Chanyeol tenses up and comes, letting out the loudest moan so far. It’s too much for Baekhyun. He buries his head into Chanyeol’s nape and grits his teeth before spilling into the condom, feeling like a star phasing into a supernova.

They collapse in a heap together, drained but satisfied, and it’s so weirdly comforting that Baekhyun almost doesn’t want to get up.

Almost.

But he does eventually, pushing himself up on his elbows and reaching for a tissue to clean off. “So,” Baekhyun says, voice hoarse. He traces a circle into Chanyeol’s sweaty skin, obsessed with the way Chanyeol still shivers under his touch. “How was that?”

Chanyeol breathes out a shaky laugh. “Do you really have to ask?”

“I want to know.”

“It was amazing. So good. I felt like I was going to die.” Chanyeol throws an arm over his eyes, and Baekhyun can tell he’s still a little gone by the way his mouth opens and closes before he says, “I can’t believe we didn’t do that sooner.”

Baekhyun makes a noise of agreement before tossing the tissue aside. He’ll worry about it tomorrow. For now, he rolls off of Chanyeol and sinks into the sheets, pressing his cheek into the soft cotton.

“Sleep?” he asks, a bit redundantly.

“Sleep,” Chanyeol agrees. His breathing is already slowing, and his voice has softened into a drowsy mumble.

So Baekhyun isn’t expecting it at all when he says, “You’re always so good to me, Baekhyun.”

He freezes. Something in his chest - probably his heart - does a weird little jump. Baekhyun actually gets halfway to sitting up, staring over at Chanyeol’s dozing figure and blinking like that’ll tell him what those words were supposed to mean.

You’re always so good to me. It’s quiet, thoughtless, and so completely meaningful that it aches.

Except Baekhyun doesn’t have any idea what the meaning behind it is. He stares a little more, the afterglow in his mind already fading. Maybe Chanyeol didn’t realize he was saying it. Maybe he thought he was already dreaming. Or maybe Baekhyun’s just overreacting like an idiot.

You’re always so good to me - like Baekhyun has done anything nicer than sex and the odd motivational speech once in a while. Like he deserves such a real, honest, and heartbreakingly open string of words.

Either way, it’s a long time before he falls asleep, Chanyeol’s not-confession lingering on his mind like the water stains his touch sunk into Baekhyun’s clothes.

 

---

 

“I have a proposal,” Chanyeol says the next day during lunch, after way too many minutes of debating between whether or not it’s a completely stupid idea. “If you want to hear it.”

Baekhyun puts his chopsticks down and stares at Chanyeol. He’s been doing that a lot lately - staring at Chanyeol with that unreadable look in his eyes. It’s unnerving. Partly because it’s piercing enough to make Chanyeol uncomfortable, but mostly because Chanyeol never has any idea what Baekhyun’s thinking when he puts on his professional idol poker face.

“What is it?”

Chanyeol coughs. Now or never. “I rented a car. Someone’s going to drop it off here soon. We could…” he pauses, then waves a hand. “I’d like to take a drive later in the evening, if you’re okay with it.”

Baekhyun just stares at him again, and this time Chanyeol counts fourteen seconds before his eyes clear and he nods.

“Okay.”

“Okay,” Chanyeol echoes.

And that’s that.

For what it’s worth, he has absolutely no idea what’s going on. Baekhyun’s been weird the whole day so far. Not talking much, and barely teasing, and always staring at Chanyeol when he thinks he isn’t looking. Chanyeol pinned it on sleepiness in the morning, but the weirdness didn’t lessen a bit even all the way until their late lunch - Baekhyun still keeps as quiet as a mouse, still gives Chanyeol those loaded glances whenever he tries to make conversation.

If Chanyeol didn’t know better, he’d probably think Baekhyun hated the sex last night or something. But there’s no way. Chanyeol was there; he saw how much Baekhyun was affected by his noises, heard how honest every single one of his praises was. So it’s not that. It’s just… something.

Something Chanyeol has no idea about, evidently. He bites his lip as he cleans up their dishes.

Maybe the idea he thought up during their conversation at the pool isn’t such a good one, after all.

Only there’s no time to think about that by the time the chauffeur drops off the car. The sky is already edging into night when Chanyeol slides open the door to let himself and Baekhyun out of the villa, clouds dappled with beautiful dusky colours of orange-red and violet. The air is cooler, too - far from hot, but warm enough to make sure they’re not chilly in the least.

It’s a perfect day. The most perfect one so far. Chanyeol sends a silent thanks up to whatever weather god is watching over him before walking out into the yard.

When Baekhyun sees the car waiting in the driveway, his eyebrows nearly hit his hairline.

“Whoa.”

“What?” Chanyeol calls out, grinning as he presses the button to unlock the beat-up blue Toyota parked in front of the villa. “Not up to your standards?”

Baekhyun follows him. There’s amusement lighting up his face, and Chanyeol’s so glad to see it that it’s almost embarrassing. “No, it’s not that,” he says, pulling open the side door and sliding into the shotgun seat. “Just not quite what I expected from Mr. Moneybags.”

“You know me,” Chanyeol says confidently. “Always surprising people.”

The repeat of the line makes Baekhyun laugh as he shuts the door. “Of course.”

Chanyeol puts the key into the ignition and revs up the slow engine, and it’s not until he’s pulling into the street that Baekhyun asks, “So where are we actually going?”

Chanyeol grins again. “It’s a surprise,” he tells him, taking care to make his voice sound all mysterious and hush-hush. “You’ll find out when we get there.”

“That sounds ominous.” Baekhyun leans his head against the window and quirks an eyebrow at Chanyeol. “You’re not going to drive me out to some remote location and sell my organs off to crazy fans, are you?”

Chanyeol lets out a surprised bark of laughter, half because of the sheer ridiculousness of the question, half out of relief from hearing a joke fall from Baekhyun’s lips again. “Interesting guess,” he says, raising an eyebrow right back. “For what it’s worth, you’re half right.”

Baekhyun pauses. “I hope you mean the remote location part and not the organ part.”

“I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Fun.”

It’s not a short journey. Chanyeol drives and drives, until the streets turn into flat, paved roads and the buildings on the sides disappear to be replaced by grass fields and distant mountains. He drives until Jeju’s dusk finishes its transformation into night. The whole way, Baekhyun’s mostly quiet, humming along to the low sounds of the songs playing on the radio as he gazes out the window.

It’s nice. Peaceful. So nice, in fact, that Chanyeol almost feels disappointed when he realizes that it’s about time to stop.

He parks the car at the side of the road but leaves the key in, then turns to Baekhyun and makes a grand gesture with his hands. “We’ve arrived.”

Baekhyun blinks. He straightens up, turning to look out the window at the empty road, the wide expanse of grass and dirt that stretches all the way to the dark horizon.

“There’s nothing here,” he says, sounding bemused.

Chanyeol wags a finger at him. “Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong.” He reaches down to pull a lever under the seat, then adds, “Watch this.”

With a crank of Chanyeol’s hand, the Toyota seems to rumble. Baekhyun startles. Slowly, the roof of the car starts pulling itself in, withdrawing into the back near the trunk with a vibrating creak until it’s completely gone and the wind is blowing lightly through Baekhyun’s red hair.

The vehicle’s transformed into an open-air convertible. Chanyeol grins again, only because he can’t help it.

“Now look up,” he says.

Baekhyun looks up. Then he sucks a breath in.

Chanyeol, without even having to follow his gaze, knows exactly what he’s seeing - a perfectly dark, navy-blue sky, filled with the brilliance of a billion shining stars and galaxies, so incredible that it looks like it’s been pulled straight out of a movie.

“Oh my god,” Baekhyun says in awe. He looks dazed, and like he doesn’t even dare take his eyes off the sky for fear it’ll disappear. “That’s… wow. That’s amazing.”

Chanyeol smiles, more than a little proud. “I know, right?” he says, and starts the car again, driving slowly along the side of the road while Baekhyun stares up at the stars. “Stargazing is a really popular activity in Jeju too, you know. The farther you are from the city, the better it gets.”

“I can see that.” Baekhyun still sounds breathless.

“Do you think you can find the Big Dipper this time?”

That makes Baekhyun finally tear his eyes away to look at Chanyeol again. “You took me all the way out here so I could see the Big Dipper?” he asks, and his voice sounds… soft, somehow, and full of something that Chanyeol can’t quite put his finger on.

He’s also at least eighty percent right. Chanyeol flushes and coughs. “I mean, it was for selfish reasons too,” he mumbles, looking away. “You know I’m an astronomy geek.”

He can hear the smile in Baekhyun’s voice. “Sure.”

“And it’d be a waste not to take advantage of a sky like this on our last day here.”

“Oh, definitely,” Baekhyun agrees. Chanyeol looks back at him, and he’s narrowing his eyes towards the front of the road, hovering a hand over his forehead like that’ll help his vision at all. “I still can’t find the Big Dipper, though.”

Chanyeol snorts. “Come on. You can do it. It’s literally a giant spoon.”

“Exactly. I have no idea what that looks like.”

“Seriously?” Chanyeol sighs and leans over, taking Baekhyun’s hand and pulling it away from his forehead to hold it in his own. “You’re hopeless.”

Baekhyun’s palm is warm, but his fingertips are starting to go a little cold from the wind. Chanyeol curls his own fingers around his wrist to help. “Here,” he says quietly, and guides Baekhyun’s hand to point at the first star in the constellation, making a tiny loop around the pinprick of light. “See that one? That’s Alkaid. It’s the handle.”

Baekhyun’s silent for a while. Then he says, “I think I see it.”

“Good. Now this one’s Mizar. Then Alioth. Megrez.” Chanyeol moves Baekhyun’s hand to point at each star as he names it, drawing out the shape of the ladle. “Phecda and Merak. And last but not least, Dubhe.” He finishes the last loop. “There are seven stars that make up the Dipper. And here…”

Chanyeol pulls Baekhyun’s hand a little more in his direction, and it makes Baekhyun’s shoulder bump into his own. “This is the North Star,” he says, pointing towards the bright dot. “Or Polaris. It’s the one the Big Dipper points to.”

“That’s a lot of fancy-sounding star names.”

“Maybe.” Chanyeol drops Baekhyun’s hand. “They’re easier to remember once you get the hang of it.”

Baekhyun doesn’t say anything to that. He just looks at Chanyeol again. It’s the same stare that’s been following Chanyeol around all day, but it makes him a lot more nervous this close, when they’re cooped up in the cramped Toyota with barely a half a metre of space between them.

For a second, he thinks Baekhyun’s going to do something important. Like finally give Chanyeol an explanation. Or kiss him.

But all Baekhyun does is give him a half-smile before looking away. “Do you think you could drive faster?” he asks, brushing a strand of hair out of his eyes. “I think it’d be nice to feel the wind.”

“Yeah.” Chanyeol swallows. His throat is dry for some reason. “Of course.”

He revs up the engine again and presses the gas pedal, speeding up the car until it’s going highway-speed along the wide, empty road.

And Baekhyun is right - it does feel nice. Better than nice. The cold wind whips against Chanyeol’s cheeks as he drives, combing through his hair and making it flap behind his neck, and it’s relaxing and invigorating all at once. The starry sky doesn’t budge as they zoom along; just stays as a flawless, silver-blue backdrop all around them. So beautiful it hurts. Chanyeol can’t help it and whoops as he steadies out their speed, until Jeju’s horizon is nothing but an inky blur in the night.

Too late, he remembers to look at Baekhyun. “Hey,” he calls out as he turns. “Is this what you—”

Chanyeol stops. Then blinks. The rest of his question dies a violent death in his mouth.

Because there’s the unmistakable glimmer of a tear trailing down Baekhyun’s cheek, crystal-clear and shining, and it’s so thoroughly unexpected that Chanyeol nearly crashes the car.

He doesn’t, of course. He just slows it down to pedestrian speed before glancing over again. Chanyeol’s heart pounds in his throat. Baekhyun’s not looking at him. He blinks twice, and two more teardrops slip down from his eyes, almost glowing luminous under the icy moonlight.

Diamond tears, Chanyeol thinks, and swallows. Something is overwhelming his chest and threatening to suffocate him, a feeling as thick and dangerous as a tidal wave, and he doesn’t even know what it is.

So Chanyeol doesn’t say anything. Baekhyun doesn’t say anything. The car keeps moving, a single spot of blue under an ocean of light.

None of the stars look anything like teardrops, but they’re all Chanyeol can see on the drive back to the villa as he keeps his eyes on the skyline.

 

---

 

Chanyeol wakes up to the sound of his phone going off. A vague sense of deja vu comes over him as he yawns and fumbles for it, fingers brushing the nightstand three times before he manages to grab the device. He’s still half asleep, drowsy and moving on muscle memory, so it takes him a long time to remember how to silence the stupid thing.

Then he realizes that the sound isn’t the Coldplay song that’s his current morning alarm. The deja vu vanishes.

Chanyeol’s eyes blink open, and he stares at his screen for a full ten seconds before registering that it’s a new email notification. Oh.

He swipes and unlocks his phone, stifling another yawn in his fist while he opens his mail app. It shouldn’t be anything important. He logged out of his usual work account before the trip, anyway, intent on taking his mom’s advice and focusing on Jeju to unwind as best as he can for the five days. So Chanyeol isn’t expecting much as he taps on the bolded email sitting at the top of his inbox, scrolling down a little to squint at its contents.

At least - not until he actually reads what it says.

Hello, Mr. LOEY. This is LAY Studio. We’ve received and taken time to review the track samples you have sent us, and we believe your work would be an excellent match for our team. If you are open to collaboration—

“Holy shit,” Chanyeol blurts out loud, and sits up so fast he gets dizzy from it.

He reads the rest of the email with wide eyes and a quickening heartbeat. It’s not much: just a short, polite message saying that the studio liked Chanyeol’s work, and a request for further contact if he agrees to working with them as a collaborator. But still. It’s huge. Chanyeol sent over some of his best sample songs two days into arriving at Jeju, after deciding to ignore all his nerves and just go for it, but he didn’t expect a response this fast. It makes something expand and rise in his chest like a hot air balloon, elated and disbelieving.

The studio likes his songs. The studio wants to work with him. All this time Chanyeol’s spent scribbling down music and thinking it’ll never be heard outside his friend group, and then this comes and blows it all out of the water.

“Holy shit,” he whispers again, unable to stop grinning as he reads and rereads the email. Even the hasty producer name Chanyeol made up on the spot feels like a proper title now. He’s tempted to pinch himself just to check if it’s real.

And then, all of a sudden, he really needs to go find Baekhyun and thank him and say… something.

The thought makes Chanyeol half-stumble out of the bed with his phone still gripped in his hands. Baekhyun’s not in the room. The sheets feel empty without him, somehow, lonely and sad even though Chanyeol knows he’s probably just woken up earlier than usual, but Chanyeol doesn’t spare them a glance as he races out of the room and thumps down the stairs into the living area.

Baekhyun’s sitting at the dining table with his knees to his chest, a mug cradled in his hands. “Chanyeol,” he says when he spots him, and something in Chanyeol’s expression must catch him off guard, because he frowns. “What’s—”

“Baekhyun,” Chanyeol half-wheezes. He makes it to the table and puts his phone down. “Thank you.”

“What for?”

Chanyeol’s grin is splitting his face by now. He probably looks like a total maniac, but he doesn’t even care. “Everything.”

“Every—”

“Lay Studio emailed me. They like what I sent over. They thought my work would be a good match, and they want to collaborate.” And god, even just saying those words makes pride and joy swell up in Chanyeol’s chest.

“Oh my god, Chanyeol,” Baekhyun says, and he sounds stunned and genuinely happy for him, already starting to smile as he places his mug on the table and turns to fully face Chanyeol. “Seriously? That’s amazing.”

Chanyeol waves his hand, trying to release some of his excited energy. “I know. I can’t believe it.”

“Do they want you to start working with them right away?”

“I don’t know. All they told me to do was contact them. But listen, Baekhyun—” Chanyeol leans forward and clasps one of Baekhyun’s pretty hands between his own, and Baekhyun startles, staring at him with his cheeks going a little pink. “Thank you. Really.” Chanyeol puts as much sincerity into his voice as possible. “I wouldn’t have gotten here at all if it wasn’t for you.”

“It was nothing,” Baekhyun mumbles, looking flustered all of a sudden. “Chanyeol, I didn’t even do that much.”

“You did a lot. You told me to stop being a coward. You gave me the whole chance with the studio in the first place, so…”

Baekhyun blinks up at Chanyeol with clear eyes, and his voice is soft but honest when he tells him, “I didn’t do anything. It’s because of your music, you know. It was all you.”

Chayeol doesn’t think. He just cups Baekhyun’s face in his hands and kisses him.

It’s a knee-jerk reaction more than anything, but Chanyeol welcomes it, gathering Baekhyun up in his arms and kissing him with such softness that it surprises even himself. Baekhyun tenses up a little in his hold as Chanyeol kisses him. He feels warm and cool at the same time, a lovely, addictive contrast that makes Chanyeol want to hold him forever, and by the time Chanyeol pulls away, the feeling in his chest is less raw excitement and more… content.

Baekhyun’s staring at him again. His face looks like it’s stuck between a million different expressions that all go past too quickly for Chanyeol to read.

“Sorry,” Chanyeol says, sort of embarrassed. He steps back, dropping his arms from around Baekhyun. “I just… wanted to do that.”

Silence for a while. Chanyeol watches Baekhyun’s expression settle on something blank - the poker face he’s been seeing more and more, these days - and wonders if he should apologize again.

“It’s okay,” Baekhyun finally says, looking away and picking up his mug again. “What time is it?”

Weird question, since there’s a clock hanging right beside them on the wall. Chanyeol clears his throat and answers anyway. “8:20.”

“We should start packing, then. So we don’t miss our flight.”

It’s not like they even really need to worry about that, since they’re taking the private jet back to Seoul too, but Chanyeol nods. “Yeah. Sure.”

“I’ll clean up the stuff in the kitchen,” Baekhyun says, before turning and walking away.

Chanyeol watches him go, trying to shake off the feeling that he’s done something wrong - crossed an invisible line somewhere, maybe, one that only Baekhyun can see. But then the tap turns on, and the sound makes him straighten.

Baekhyun’s right. He should probably get to packing. They don’t have much time left on this island, after all.

So Chanyeol walks back up the staircase, absentmindedly switching his phone from hand to hand, and doesn’t think about the split-second panic he caught in Baekhyun’s eyes in the moment before he kissed him.

 

---

 

Chanyeol’s apartment is almost unfamiliar to him by the time he unlocks the door and steps in again. It’s ridiculous. Something in him must’ve gotten used to the Jeju villa to the point of ignorance. The space is still his home, comfortable in a way that tugs at his gut, but for a moment he looks out the huge windows and almost gets disoriented when he’s met with a city view instead of an endless beach.

“Home sweet home,” he says aloud, and drops his bags on the floor.

The vague feeling of whiplash he gets when he starts unpacking in his room shouldn’t be there. It’s weird.

The plane ride back was weird too, if Chanyeol’s being honest. Baekhyun was back to being his pre-stargazing, eerily quiet self, and he slept through the whole trip with barely a word to Chanyeol except when they parted at the airport. And even then it was an overly formal, stilted thank-you, like they’re business partners or something. And not people who know every single one of each other’s most sensitive spots.

Maybe Baekhyun was just tired after staying up so late the night before to watch the stars. That must be it, Chanyeol thinks, as he pulls his dry swim trunks out and sets them on the bed. He needs to go back to his schedules next week, and that’s enough to take the spring out of anyone’s step during a vacation.

But thinking about the stargazing trip just makes Chanyeol remember the way Baekhyun’s tears looked glimmering on his face, and it puts a restless, squirmy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

He still has no idea why Baekhyun cried. They didn’t talk about it.

Chanyeol takes his laptop out of his case and tries not to think.

Turning the device on to check the battery, though, only reminds him of the email he still owes Zhang Yixing’s studio. The squirmy feeling in his gut turns into butterflies. It’s been hours, but Chanyeol’s still giddy from the excitement of it all - the pride of knowing his music was enough to catch their attention and the happiness of finally, finally getting to do what he loves.

He’ll have to work twice as hard on his songs from now on. Maybe take some more time to learn about the whole music production process through the company. See if he can get more professional equipment for himself, and—

A thought hits Chanyeol, sudden and striking, and he pauses with a pair of socks in his hand.

He could… he could.

It’s an idea he’s had for a while, lingering at the back of his mind whenever he looked over at the tiny, makeshift studio in his office. There’s more than enough space in his apartment, and it’s never a bad idea to put it to use. He lives alone and that gives him more than enough leeway to pull off what he’s considering. Chanyeol’s just never had any incentive to actually do it. Until now.

He hesitates for only a second, thinking about the rush he feels when he gets a chord just right; the euphoria that raced up his spine at the email that morning; Baekhyun’s voice saying so you can write a song for me, Park Chanyeol, face open and soft under the moonlight in Seoul’s sky. And then his decision is easy.

Chanyeol fumbles as he reaches for his phone and unlocks it, swiping through his apps until he finds the one he’s looking for. He’s had the number saved in a note on his phone for a while now, honestly - just never been brave enough to dial it.

He dials it now. Waits for the call to connect. Holds his breath as it goes through, and a voice comes in on the other end, greeting him with the kind of genial tone that all customer service workers have perfected.

“Hello?” Chanyeol says.

Chapter Text

“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.”