Work Header

Once bitten...

Work Text:

The first time it happens, Jihoon blames it on the break-up.   

He didn’t even want to go out, not really. He’d just wanted to lie under the covers and wallow in misery, but apparently there’s only so much of that Seungkwan was willing to tolerate.

The guy had actually cancelled his own plans for the weekend and driven an hour to Seoul to drag Jihoon out of his apartment, insisting they go try a new club in Hongdae everyone’s been talking about, to ‘celebrate’. 

“He was an asshole, and you broke up with him—we should be celebrating,” he’d said, and Jihoon, in an effort to believe it was true, and desperately wanting to move on, agreed.

The club wasn’t his scene. One of those huge, converted warehouses in a shitty part of town, exposed ironwork above their heads, wired up with disco lights, strobes and reflectors. A writhing throng of college kids and scenesters filling the dancefloor, shouting conversations at the bar, one of those places where it was too loud to think.

Jihoon, who is by his own admission, a compete lightweight, is already most of the way to drunk when they get there, and then Seungkwan buys them a few quick rounds of shots and he crosses over into completely hammered.

Somewhere between the whirling coloured lights and fake smoke and sickening throb of music, his memory gets foggy.  

Very foggy.

He doesn’t remember when he strayed from the dance floor, or how he managed to get home without being mugged, and he certainly doesn’t remember walking into a tattoo parlour. But apparently he did, because when he wakes up in bed on Saturday morning, there’s messages on his phone asking ‘Where are you?’ and ‘Hope you got home ok?’ and a gracefully snaking vine of red roses inked all down his right arm.

He freaks out a little, because it’s his first tattoo, and it’s huge and it’s everywhere, and there’s a strict no visible tattoo policy at work and he doesn’t know how he can even begin concealing it. Then he steps in the shower and, somehow, manages to wash the entire thing off.

Watching the ink slide off his arm and swirl down the shower drain, he thinks—Huh, panic over I guess—and proceeds to forget the entire thing.

A mere three weeks later, it happens again.

The room he’d been forced into sub-letting is pretty bleak; it’s practically the size of a walk-in closet, with just enough space for a bed, a bedside table and a dresser, not to mention, a single tiny window overlooking a frankly depressing view of a construction site.

Jihoon tries not to spend more time there than he has to, so when a few guys from work invite him out for drinks on Friday, he jumps at the chance to avoid it for a while.

He needs to expand his circle of friends anyway because he’s new in the office and he knows he can’t keep third-wheeling on Seungkwan’s plans with his boyfriend, so he tags along with high hopes for the evening.

Unfortunately, the invite turns out to be not as innocuous as it first seemed.

After a few oddly probing questions over cocktails, it soon becomes apparent his colleagues are not reaching out to welcome him to the fold. They’re grilling him, trying to find out why he gets paid more than they do. When Jihoon politely declines to answer a question—it really isn’t anyone’s business what he made at his previous job—the atmosphere turns chilly.

All told, it’s kind of a depressing experience.

Jihoon loses track of how many drinks he’s had once he’s left alone at the bar, and when he wakes up the following morning, he’s lying face first on the couch with his flatmate hovering over him, saying, “That tattoo is sick.”

Leaping to his feet, Jihoon rushes off to get a good look at his back in the bathroom mirror, and gasps at what he sees.

It’s a dragon, black and red and green, sneaking up his spine and curling over his right shoulder. It is, in fact, very sick. It’s detailed and vibrant and very expertly done...and it’s also not real.

It’s just another drawing it seems, that smudges and fades as he runs a hot flannel over it.

Again, he forgets all about it.

Sure, it’s a little weird to think someone doodled on him while he was drunk off his face, possibly the same person who doodled on him last time, but it’s not a real tattoo. There’s nothing permanent left to overanalyse, except...

It was a pretty sick tattoo.

There is perhaps cause for Jihoon to panic a little the following Saturday, when he wakes up in his bed and spots another tattoo—thick dark lines in complicated swirls peeking out from under the strip of Clingfilm strapped to his stomach.

It’s worrying, because he knows from research that Clingfilm is used to prevent a fresh tattoo from scabbing and drying out, so if this is just another drawing, why would they bother?

It is, thankfully, just another drawing. One that is already smearing from the heat of his skin, ink blending together into a indistinguishable blob.

The entire weirdness of the situation, however, is a lot harder to dismiss this time.

Clearly he has been harbouring some pretty strong desires to get tatted, and clearly someone has been kind enough to humour him in his drunken stupor. He just can’t figure out who.

He doesn’t know any tattoo artists personally, doesn’t recall ever stepping into a tattoo parlour either, and according to his bank account and the contents of his wallet, he’s not paying for this service, so whoever this person is, they’re spending a lot of time doodling on him for free.

Which is weird, whatever way you slice it.

There’s not much he can do about it though; it’s not like he can visit every tattoo shop in the area and be all like ‘Hey, did you doodle on me with a sharpie?’ so he’s just going to have to live with the knowledge that he’s harbouring a secret tattoo desire and resolves to stay home on the weekends.

That resolution lasts a mere two weeks.

Going out to bars is pretty much all Jihoon can do to kill time right now.

He doesn’t know anyone in Seoul, and everyone at work seems to be a complete dick or at least a decade older than him, either settled into married life or burdened with familial responsibilities. And, well, he’ll be the first to admit he’s not the most talkative of people—it takes him a while to feel comfortable around someone before he can speak his mind—so he’s always found it hard to make friends through the regular avenues.

It was easier in college when you everyone was thrown together in the deep end and people went out of their way to get to know you. But now he’s in his mid-twenties, a fully-fledged adult, and suddenly nobody wants to put in the time to make friends.

So he starts going out on the weekends again, and when he wakes up on the Saturday after his birthday to a massive skull design on his bicep, he’s shocked to realise he actually does remember something of the previous night.

Not any names or faces exactly, just a vague recollection of him stumbling into a shop with chequered black and white tiles, and demanding to be tattooed.

He thinks his actual words might have been ‘Ink me! Ink me now!’, and someone sitting behind a desk sighing and saying ‘Dude, he’s back again.’

There was laughter over the sound of heavy metal music, then a gentle hand descended on his back to guide him over to a padded leather bench, before a husky voice said, ‘What’ll it be this time little man?’

He doesn’t remember anything else, but he’s mortified by the fact that he’s obviously been returning to the same tattoo parlour, time and time again, and wasting the same guy’s time.

He makes a decision then, and resolves to stop drinking all together, because clearly his inebriated psyche cannot be trusted to make sensible decisions.

And of course it works; for a whole month, there are no further doodle incidents. He wakes up every Saturday morning to clean, unmarked skin and breathes a sigh of relief.  

If he catches himself staring at someone’s tattooed sleeve on the subway, or searching up tattoo ideas during his free time and sketching out his own design, well, that’s just a bit of harmless fun. It doesn’t mean anything.

Tattoos are cool and all, but he doesn’t like the idea of committing to something so permanent.

When his flatmate decides to throw a party one Friday, Jihoon figures it’s safe enough to join in the fun and have a few drinks. Just a few... to help him loosen up.

It’s been well over a month since his last tattoo-related incident, and he’s pretty sure the weird urge is out of his system. Besides, he’s just chilling in his apartment—it’s not like he can do anything stupid and leave in search of a tattoo parlour. Right?


He wakes up the next morning to a kaleidoscope of geometric patterns stretching all the way from his collar to his hip, and honestly, more than anything, Jihoon is scared by how badly he wants it to be real this time.

It’s a really impressive tattoo.

It isn’t real, of course. It’s just another doodle from his mysterious tattoo artist, but after he takes several photographs of it, and after he jumps in the shower to wash everything off, he flicks through his wallet to check nothing’s missing and he finally, finally gets some answers.

Tucked behind his credit card is a blank appointment card for a Tattoo Studio in Hongdae called Th-Inkolgy, and on the back, scribbled in a black Sharpie is the message:

‘We really need to stop meeting like this :)

Three transfers later, Jihoon thumps down off the bus, his hangover pounding away in his temples like a jackhammer, a box of artisanal cupcakes in his hands.

Google had been supremely unhelpful about what constitutes an appropriate apology gift—apparently ‘What do you buy a tattoo artist who humours your drunken ass’ is not a common search phrase—but he didn’t want to come empty handed, so he’d gone with what he considered to be the safest option.

Now that he’s here though, he’s beginning to regret not picking up a tray of donuts instead. Donuts would have definitely been more universally appreciated.  

It’s too late to back out now though, so he pulls out his phone and taps into the navigation app.

Th-Inkolgy turns out to be a ground floor studio wedged in between a liquor store and a bakery, the usual stink of nicotine and stale beer overlaid by the heavenly waft of freshly baked bread.

The front of the shop is plainer than Jihoon expected—nothing to advertise the services on offer except a neon green sign on the second-floor window—but inside the studio is clean and brightly lit, its walls awash in colour with displays of the artists’ designs.

Jihoon casts his gaze around as he inches his way in, pleased to find the place empty except for a guy seated behind the counter—feet propped on the desk, peroxide blonde hair falling loosely over his shoulders.

The guy seems engrossed, flicking through a magazine, sucking on a Chupa-Chup, but he immediately snaps his eyes up as Jihoon approaches, switching the lollipop to the other side of his mouth, his cheek squirreled into a half smile.

Hoonie,” he says like they're the oldest of friends. “Back again so soon? Don’t tell me you’re actually here to make an appointment?”

Jihoon is shocked where he stands, but he plays it off as best he can, “No. I—I actually came to apologise for wasting your time. I’m really sorry, I don’t why I keep coming here when I’m drunk, it just happens. But I really appreciate you humouring me with those amazing doodles. I don’t remember much, but I do remember you being really patient with me, which is more than I deserve."

The guy gives him a surprised grin, blinking fast.

“Okay, first of all—you’ve got the wrong guy. Seungcheol's the one who inks you. I’m just his receptionist. You know, Jeonghan. Secondly, you’re giving me whiplash with how shy you’re being right now. You are nowhere near this shy when you come in, I feel like I’m talking to a complete different person.”

Jihoon blinks. He’s lost, feeling green and stupid and entirely in the dark, “What...what did I do? Was I really loud and aggressive?”

Jeonghan grins up at him, white plastic straw bit between his teeth.

“Nah man... You really don’t remember?”

Jihoon smiles, uncomfortable. “No, sorry—I don’t carry my alcohol very well.”

Jeonghan takes a breath to speak just as a man emerges from around the corner, a large white bandage on his neck, blood spotting through.

Jihoon turns, pretending to study the tattoo examples in interest while the man approaches the counter to settle his payment, only for Jeonghan to call out, “Hey Cheol! I’ve got a problem customer out here who wants to complain about your work.”

For a second, Jihoon thinks he’s talking about the guy at the counter, but then he realises Jeonghan is staring right at him, smirking.

“Wait, what—no, that’s not why I’m here!” He chokes out, but Jeonghan just crows with laughter.

The man who emerges from the backroom is wearing a battered back t-shirt and jeans with tears across both knees, and a baseball cap pulled low over a head of unruly black curls. He is…handsome, surprisingly—strong jaw, full lips, eyes of a baby deer—one of those faces you’d be forgiven for lingering over.

That is of course, if you were okay with getting your face smashed in after, because everything else about him screams thug.  

He honestly looks like a criminal—one of those low-level enforcers the Jo-pok hires when they don’t want to get their hands dirty, with shoulders wide enough to block a doorway and arms big enough to pretzel Jihoon’s spine.

In fact, he looks like he’s thinking about doing just that.

There’s a dangerous gleam in his eyes. A murderous gleam even, and it’s aimed right at Jihoon and his artisanal cupcakes.

Jihoon’s breath lodges painfully in his throat as the guy approaches, anticipating a punch, a serious spine pretzelling that will leave him walking around like that chick from The Excorcist. Improbably however, the guy stops in front of him, does a double take, and then breaks into the softest, goofiest smile.

“Oh hey. It’s you—aww, hey.”

Jihoon’s throat is dry, his tongue rough, and he swallows a few times before he says quietly, “Hi.”

Which isn’t exactly the wittiest opener in the history of conversation, but fuck, circumstances are a little exceptional at the moment.

The guy, Seungcheol, steps closer, staring at him like he’s never seen something so fascinating.

“How are you? Are…are you okay? I wasn’t expecting to see you back here to soon.”

“Uh—" Jihoon starts, but doesn’t know where to go from there. He can feel himself blushing several mortifying shades of pink.

“He’s sober.” Jeonghan offers, after an awkward moment.

Seungcheol’s grin just gets wider.

“Yeah, I can tell.” He gives Jihoon a quick look up at down, stalling at the box he has in his hands, “What’s with the cupcakes?”

Jihoon flinches, his hands tightening compulsively around the box.

“The—they’re f-for you—” Is he actually stuttering?  “An apology for wasting your time. I... I would have come earlier, but I couldn’t figure out who you were for a while, and I only found your business card in my wallet this morning.”

Seungcheol nods slowly, “Well, I do love cupcakes. But there’s really nothing to apologise for Kitten.”

Jihoon blinks, flummoxed. “But…I’ve been coming here for months, and I never paid you.”

Seungcheol scratches his nose, face scrunched. “Well, that because I technically didn’t ink you. I just drew on you with a Sharpie. And honestly, it was good practice for me. Not a lot of people are ready to sit patiently while you practice your freestyle on them.”

Jihoon blinks dumbly some more, eyebrows climbing high. 

“You drew all those freestyle? That’s amazing.”

He means that as a genuine compliment, but now Seungcheol’s staring at him like he’s grown a second head, fascinated and increasingly amazed. It goes on for so long, Jihoon begins to fidget under the weight of his scrutiny.

Seungcheol snaps back to himself after a minute, chuckling softly, “Sorry, you’re just—very different when you’re sober.”

Jihoon nods, teeth in his lip, still trying to hold the smile. “Yeah, so your colleague has informed me. I must have been a real pain in the ass, huh?”

“No, not at all. You were just—” The guy makes a vague gesture that Jihoon has no idea how to interpret. Then laughs a little, “Uh, hey, you want some coffee? I was just about to take a break. Wanna join me?”

It catches Jihoon off-guard, his grip tightening on the box of cupcakes. But Seungcheol doesn’t seem to recognize no as a possible answer, motioning for Jihoon to follow him out back.

There’s one of those beaded curtains hanging over the doorway to the staff room, which Seungcheol just glides through with complete ease. Jihoon on the other hand, well—he’s never had much luck navigating bead curtains gracefully. He once got caught up in one in IKEA and ended up trapped for two hours, and he thinks he’s already reached his embarrassment quota for today, thank you very much. So he waits until the beads have settled a little, and then does what he always does when he’s faced with a perilous bead curtain—he launches himself through!

He reaches the other side safely, but without his dignity intact because of course Seungcheol was waiting on the other side and watching the entire thing.

If the guy wasn’t laughing at him before, he’s definitely laughing now. Not out loud exactly, but he’s bent double, one hand clutching the kitchenette counter, looking like he’s about to cry.

“Oh my god, what the hell was that?”

Jihoon frowns, straightening up a little, “Laugh all you want, but I’ll have you know that’s an accident waiting to happen you have hanging there. I had a near death experience with bead curtains once.”

“R-really?” Seungcheol croaks, sobering up a little, looking torn between sympathy and amusement.

“Well, I wasn’t in any actual danger,” Jihoon demurs, staring down at his shoes, “But it was very traumatic. I needed three IKEA employees to help untangle me, and they didn’t even offer me any free meatballs after.”

Seungcheol seems to think Jihoon’s traumatic experience is hilarious, because he’s actually crying tears of laughter.

Doing his best to ignore him, Jihoon sets the cupcakes down on the counter and flops onto the couch, glowering into the middle distance.

Seungcheol is only just settling down when he hands Jihoon his coffee, snickering and coughing.

Jihoon can't think of anything else to say that’s not going to be laughed at, so hides behind long sips of his coffee, carefully eyeing the man across from him in quick flickers and glances—noting the tattered edge of his shirt against his smooth shoulder, the easy sprawl of his legs, the raspy stubble on his cheek.

Each time Seungcheol lifts his hand to take a sip, the light catches on the ink-black tattoos on his forearm, and one in particular catches Jihoon’s attention. Not because it’s intricate or well designed, but because it’s the exact opposite. It’s clearly supposed to be a Yin and Yang symbol, but it’s poorly shaded in, and the edges are a little lopsided.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Seungcheol says, reaching down to trace the edge of the design, a self-conscious movement like he’s waiting for Jihoon to smirk or laugh, “That’s one shitty tattoo.”

Jihoon balks, “Oh, no—”

“It’s okay, I know it’s shit,” Seungcheol waves him off quickly, “It’s the only time I ever tattooed myself, and probably why I never tried again.”

Jihoon gives the tattoo a closer look.

“It does look pretty crappy.” He offers, and then gasps, mildly appalled at himself. He hadn't intended to just say it out of the blue like that. “I mean, compared to the drawings you did on me, it doesn’t look as professionally done. Can’t you get it touched up or fixed or something?”

Seungcheol purses his lips, “I could—and I have thought about it. But it was my first tat, and what really got me into the whole thing. It serves as a reminder of how far I’ve come since I got out.”

Jihoon squints at him, then asks, before he can stop himself, “Out of...the closet?”

Seungcheol sort of laughs, mouth curling up on one side. “Prison.”

Jihoon twitches backwards, his eyes getting big.

“Pri-prison?” He echoes, and then wants to rip out his tongue because in addition to the appallingly obvious horror, his voice actually cracked right there, and he shouldn't be allowed to speak to anyone anymore, clearly.

“Yeah, I got done for grand larceny, among other things,” Seungcheol says, scratching at the back of his neck sheepishly.

There's a pause, and Jihoon wonders if that's all he's going to get. It definitely only feels like half the story.

Then Seungcheol says, a strange cornered expression on his face, "I was only seventeen, and I sort of fell in with the wrong crowd, and that’s not an excuse—I was old enough to know what I was doing. But I served my time and I like to think I’m a different person now.”

“Of course,” Jihoon says, bobbing his head like an idiot.

There’s a lot to think about there. Primarily, what the hell is larceny?

He’ll have to look it up later.

“So,” Seungcheol says eventually, angling away to grab a cupcake. “You’ve just started a new job, right? How’s that going?” He asks, sounding genuinely curious.

“It’s—” Jihoon’s grip on his cup slips a little, “Wait, how did you know?”

“You mentioned it once, when you came in,” Seungcheol tells him, deftly peeling back the cupcake casing, “Said you were from Busan originally, and that you moved here for work.”

“Oh,” Jihoon blinks, a little surprised with his drunken self’s aptitude for lying.

It’s on the tip of his tongue to correct himself, to say, well no actually, I moved out here to be with my boyfriend, but then I found out he’d been cheating on me a week after I arrived and I couldn’t afford to move back home right away so…

Nothing keeps him from parcelling out the entire pathetic tale save for the anticipated sting that comes from probing a fresh wound.

“Yeah, I… it’s okay,” He hedges.

“You don’t sound so sure about that.” Seungcheol says, making the cupcake disappear with two hearty bites.  

Jihoon laughs, rubbing his face with his hand, never anything but tired when he talks about work.

“I suppose it’s not what I was expecting when I moved out here. I mean, the work is the same as what I was doing back home, and I still enjoy that part of it, but…I dunno, I guess the atmosphere takes some getting used to.”

After a brief pause, Seungcheol counters, “Sometimes it’s not about the work, but the people you work with.”

“Yes, yeah—exactly.” Jihoon nods enthusiastically, relieved to find someone who understands. “I get that every workplace has a unique office dynamic, and I’m still new to the team, but I feel like a lot of the obstacles and resentment thrown my way is because I’m younger than everyone else and earning more. Which is really not my fault. If they have a problem with being undervalued, they should really be taking it up with management, not trying to make my job more difficult just to prove a point.”

Seungcheol kind of hums, his face angled down, “That sucks. I had the same issue in the last place I worked. I was renting a room in another studio, and there was a lot of other tattoo artists there with really big egos and not a lot of talent who seemed to think I was poaching their clients. I wasn’t, but I just happened to arrive when business was slow, so they blamed me and set about trying to make my life hell instead of trying to find new ways to drum up business. They would get the receptionist to cancel my appointments last minute, spread lies about me to clients, and even started posting fake reviews about my work. Real petty shit.”

Jihoon narrows his eyes a bit, thoughtful, “How did you handle it?”

“I tried to handle it professionally at first,” Seungcheol tells him, reaches for another cupcake, “Approached the studio owner about my concerns. He tried to mediate with the other artists, but you can’t reason with unreasonable people, so I had them taken out.”

Jihoon tries not to react too outwardly to that, but he’s never been very good keeping things off his face. Right now, he’s pretty sure his face is saying oh sshhHHHIIIITTT!

Seungcheol meets his eyes, smirking a little bit. 

“I’m just kidding. I didn’t really do that. I just doubled down and worked extra hard, let my work speak for itself, then I took most of their regular clients with me when I left. You just seemed so nervous about the whole prison thing, I thought I’d fuck with you a little.”

Jihoon huffs out a surprised laugh, watching Seungcheol inhale his second cupcake.

“You know, I’ve always been curious how prisoners manage to get tattooed in prison. Isn’t it illegal to have that kind of equipment on the inside?”

Seungcheol nods, sucking a smear of buttercream off his thumb,

“Oh yeah, but you’d be surprised how resourceful prisoners can get. The guy who lent me his pen so I could draw this repurposed the motor from an electric toothbrush. I don’t know how he managed to smuggle the ink in, but he had a pretty neat set up considering the circumstances. It wasn’t very hygienic obviously. Or effective for larger pieces.” He taps the design on his arm, “Hence the shitty tattoo.”

Jihoon cants his head to the side, considering. “Which one’s your favourite one?”

“Oh that’s easy, it’s this one here—” Seungcheol says, and the lifts up his T-shirt and launches into a monologue about the third, or was it fourth tattoo he had done.

Jihoon nods along, pitching in hmms and oh yeahs when it seems appropriate, even though he’s really not paying attention anymore.

There’s definitely something big and dark spanning across Seungcheol’s left pectoral, with some kind of scroll or cameo design, and there’s another dark shape trailing down his right flank, but Jihoon’s a little too busy trying not to stare at the guy’s abs to make out specific details.   

How does a guy whose job is to essentially draw all day get abs like that?

It doesn’t seem fair, or possible. Unless…

Unless they’re not real.

Unless they’re tattoos?

No, wait, never mind. There’s definite rippling muscle movement going on. Those abs are the real deal, and they’re pretty fucking—


Seungcheol jerks his head up, a sweet boyish grin on his face. “Thank you.”

Jihoon comes back to himself after an extended interval of filthy-minded reverie, just fast enough to stop himself from replying with, ‘No, thank you!’

Jihoon makes noise about leaving because Seungcheol has an appointment at two, but Seungcheol explains it’s just one of his regulars, a friend even, and he probably wouldn’t mind Jihoon hanging around to watch if he’s free.

Jihoon is free, and deeply curious, and since ‘Mingyu’ has no objections, he sits on a stool and watches Seungcheol get down to work.

It’s all surprisingly interesting Jihoon finds, watching the tattoo take shape, listening to Mingyu’s explanation of what the design is supposed to signify.

There’s a lot to take in too. Jihoon’s attention is flitting between what’s happening on the bench and the heavy leather-bound portfolio book Seungcheol gave him to flick through, so he’s not really paying attention when Mingyu asks him a question, and Seungcheol answers:

“Jihoon’s a virgin.”

Jihoon gapes at the back of his head, shoulders flinching up.

“Uh, excuse me? What the fuck, no I’m not. How do you get off saying shit like that when we literally just met. I’ll have you know I’m very sexually experienced big boy. In fact, I could probably teach you a thing or two. So, yeah.”

The room is quiet for a moment, before Mingyu bursts out laughing and Seungcheol twists in his stool to give him a bemused look over his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” He says, banked laugh in his voice. “I only meant in the context of tattoos—that you were a tattoo virgin, because Gyu was asking if you had any. That’s all.”

Jihoon crosses his arms over his chest, not liking the hot tight feeling in his chest, a petulant set to his mouth. “Right, well—I obviously missed that bit. But my point still stands; you don’t know me, so you shouldn’t be answering questions on my behalf. I could have a secret tattoo on my butt you don’t know about.”

Seungcheol opens his mouth, and then closes it. “D-do you?”

“Oh my god, no, my butt is off limits.” Jihoon says, a little abashed.

“Why’s that?” Seungcheol asks, oddly casual.

“Just. It just is. I would never let anyone defile my ass in such a way. It’s...wait…” Jihoon pauses, brow furrowing. “We’re still talking about tattoos, right?”

Seungcheol’s already grinning at him, so wide it’s almost blinding. The kind of grin that is just seconds away from bursting into laughter.

Jihoon tries to scowl at him, but he doesn't think it's really working because Seungcheol just looks more entertained.

“So, I should probably get going. I’ve taken up a lot of your time.” Jihoon says, after Mingyu’s left, and two other clients have come and gone, and Seungcheol’s bought him lunch because his stomach rumbled embarrassingly loud, and Seungcheol is obviously the kind of good-natured person who feeds strangers who barge into his studio and demand tattoos.

Seungcheol, his shoulder against the wall, gives the impression of shrugging.

“Not at all. I always enjoy your visits.”

Jihoon flashes a hesitant look, shielded and defensive, and asks, “Listen, if I said or did something awful while I was drunk, I just—”

Seungcheol shakes his head immediately, biting his lip. “You didn’t, honestly. You were very pleasant.”

Jihoon smiles, the expression feeling lost on his face. It’s probably only because he was expecting to hear a different end to that sentence, and something as inane as ‘pleasant’ sounds weird to him. Not Seungcheol's tone—that’s completely normal, but just the phrasing. Something.

Then again, Jihoon has a habit of overthinking. It gets him into trouble more often than not.

“I guess I have to take your word for it.” He shrugs, looks away from Seungcheol’s mysterious smirk.

Seungcheol walks him out to the front of the studio, where they proceed to just stand there, smiling at each other, the afternoon sun in their eyes.

It’s all terrifically awkward until Seungcheol shoves his hands into his pockets and says, “You should come visit again. I do mostly walk in appointments, so my schedule is pretty flexible. And I’m kind of new to the city myself so, you know, maybe we could hang out?”

Jihoon looks at him as if he’s grown a second head, certain he’s joking.

Today was enjoyable, a change of pace, and Seungcheol seems like a pretty cool guy, but Jihoon very much doubts he’s the type of guy Seungcheol willingly hangs out with. Because, seriously, what would they even talk about?

But then Seungcheol fishes out an appointment card from his back pocket and a Sharpie from behind his ear and scribbles something down, hands it over.

“That’s my personal number. Give me a call when you’re free.”

Jihoon takes it, nodding dumbly. “Yeah, sure—that would be great.”

He’s still staring at the card ten minutes later, sitting on the bus, when he realises he completely failed to give Seungcheol his number. Which means the ball is officially in his court, and god, he hates that. He loathes being the one who initiates plans; it always feels like he’s bothering people.

He saves Seungcheol’s number in his phone anyway, but he’s already resigned himself to the fact that they’re never going to hang out again.  

The sixth time is a by-product of an interminable work schedule and one ‘satisfactory’ performance review from his manager, so it’s not technically Jihoon’s fault.  

He’s been working late nights for the past two weeks to meet their latest project deadline, chipping in where he wasn’t even expected to just to ensure the proposal was up to spec, so he was expecting some recognition of his efforts when it came to his quarterly review. But no—apparently he has some things to work on before he can be considered for the project leader position, namely his tendency to micro-manage. Which is such bullshit, honestly. If he’s micromanaging, it’s only because he refuses to stand around and wait for other people to fuck up.

By the time the weekend rolls up, he's worn out and more than a little depressed and mentally cataloguing the booze he has stowed away in the kitchen cabinet. He plans to drink it all, even the Crème de cassis that Seungkwan gave him as a joke.

Getting shitfaced might seem like a ludicrous overreaction to a mediocre review, but Jihoon’s always prided his ‘exceptional’ work record, and getting overlooked for a position he can, and was been doing before he quit his last job, is a kick to the balls.

It’s perfectly acceptable to want to drown his sorrows with some top-shelf tequila, and god help anyone who tries to stop him.

By the time he wakes up the next morning, disoriented, with a slant of late-morning sun making him squint, that thought gets whittled down to simply: help!

His head feels like a block of wood that someone is pounding on, and he’s pretty sure something crawled into his mouth while he was sleeping and died there. Yawning makes his head throb even harder and the smell of his own morning breath if making him gag, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he has absolutely no idea where he is.

He’s in bed, yeah, and a glance over at the night stand reveals his keys, wallet and phone, but there’s nothing familiar about the room he finds himself in. Nor in fact, the T-shirt he’s wearing.

It’s at least four sizes too big to be anything he’d own, and he has no idea who Megadeath are, but there’s a skeleton leaning on a for sale sign telling him ‘Peace sells… but who’s buying?’

Jihoon lets panic wash over him for a couple of minutes, uncharacteristically surrendering to it because he doesn't have the energy to resist at the moment. Then he climbs out of the strange bed and pads out into the unfamiliar corridor.

He keeps drawing blanks as he investigates the rest of the apartment, though he’s abstractly pleased to find the place has that lived in touch.

There are dog-eared paperbacks on the shelves, a thriving assortment of plants dotted around the living room, water rings on the coffee table. It’s fresh and clean, but not sterile—not, you know, a serial killers home.

He has no idea who’s apartment this is but there’s only one lock on the door, so yeah, he’s not being held against his will or anything. He can leave whenever he wants to.

It’s cool and blue-lit in the kitchen, wide clean windows and the sun just above the level of the trees in bars of rainbow. Jihoon’s standing in front of the refrigerator, studying the junk magneted to the front to get some idea of who’s apartment he’s in, when the front door rattles and swings open and Seungcheol appears, a flood of sunlight spilling into the apartment behind him.

He has a pear bit between his front teeth, his hands juggling keys and coffees and a pastry bag, and he hikes his eyebrows when he spots Jihoon, wide-eyed and transparent. Seungcheol does what he can to smirk with a pear in his teeth. He puts down the coffees, chomps off the pear and says with his mouth full:

“Morning Kitten. Hope you slept well.”

Jihoon has no answer for that—possibly because he’s sure he’s still sleeping, but more likely because Seungcheol’s just standing there in sliders and jeans and nothing else, broad, well sculpted shoulders narrowing to hard chest and stomach.

“Sadly, I didn’t get to draw on you this time,” Seungcheol goes on, taking another bite of his pear, “You passed out pretty much the moment you walked through the door.”

Jihoon looks at him in amazement for a second; he’s too stunned to feel anything like embarrassment right now.

“And you... brought me home?”

Scratching at the back of his head, Seungcheol shrugs, “Yeah, why not. I mean...I just live above the studio, and you’re not exactly the heaviest person to carry. I didn’t even have to set you down to fish out my keys.”

His voice is light, tinged with laughter so that Jihoon won’t be insulted, but Jihoon’s capacity for offense is overwhelmed by a sudden memory of him bursting into the studio like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, announcing ‘I’m back bitches!’ and Jeonghan turning away from a bewildered customer and sighing.

He doesn’t remember anything else, but he thinks he caused enough of a scene to warrant a swift kick up the ass and a night in the gutter. Not a nice nap in a stranger’s home.

He must share some of this out loud, because Seungcheol laughs and shakes his head helplessly.

“What would you do if a little stray kitten came meowing at your door? You’re not going to tell it to scram, are you?” 

Jihoon does his best not to blush.

Getting teased because of his size—Jihoon’s been battling that his entire life, but somehow he still hasn’t quite mastered the fine art of playing it cool when someone decides the tinyness makes him extra super fucking adorable. His shoulders go stiff, and he huffs out, “I’m not a kitten. I’m a grown ass man.”

Sort of angling his head to the side, Seungcheol smiles a little bit.

True, but you sure looked like a kitten when you decided to curl up on the floor and have a little nap in my studio.”

And just like that Jihoon is blushing. “I tried to sleep on the floor?”

Seungcheol nods, very seriously, “Yes, you were very tired.” Then breaks into a grin and points at the tray of coffees, “One of those is for you. Want some breakfast?”

Jihoon thinks about saying no, he does, but he’s still riding the precarious edge between drunk and hungover, where everything’s fucked up and nothing seems real, so he finds himself answering:

“Yeah, sure.”

Jihoon takes a cup out of the tray and moves gingerly to sit at the breakfast bar, watching Seungcheol move around the kitchen, pulling milk and eggs from the refrigerator, clattering a couple of plates onto the counter, poking at the coffeemaker.

He sips his coffee, steady and slow, trying not to think about anything, but that doesn't really work for long. He’s experiencing an almost overwhelming urge to blurt out, Look, I know this is your house, but if you can you put a fucking shirt on, that would be great.

Biting the inside of his lip bloody mostly cures him of that, though after he inspects every inch of the kitchen from his seat, he can’t help but let his eyes wander over Seungcheol’s impressive stature, the various tattoos on his back and shoulders.

He’s not as heavily inked as Jihoon expected him to be, not head to toe like he’s come to associate with those passionate about the art. The largest pieces are a biomechanical inking on his left shoulder that merges into feathers, a geometric wolf design on his right flank, and another dark shape over the cut of his right hip, barely visible where his jeans are riding low. The rest of him runs tan and smooth all the way down to the waistband of his Calvin Klein’s, just peeking over the tops of his jeans.

When he reaches up to fetch a jar from the top cupboard, Jihoon glances at the heavy muscles in his arms, and thinks damnI bet he gives really good hugs.

“How do you like your eggs?”

Seungcheol suddenly asks, turning to look at him expectantly, and Jihoon forces clarity back into his mind.

“I don’t mind. Whatever you’re having,” he says quickly, swallowing hard as Seungcheol absently brushes his hand across his own stomach.

Seungcheol’s having Egg’s Benedict apparently, which is clearly his default Saturday morning breakfast because he prepares it like a pro. Even the Hollandaise sauce, which usually curdles for Jihoon like a bitch, is perfect.

Jihoon demolishes his portion, washing it down with two extra mugs of coffee. He lingers over the third, watching Seungcheol still tucking neatly into his.  

He has a much better view of Seungcheol’s tattoos now, but there’s an distinct line of scar-tissue over his shoulder that’s really captured his attention, and Jihoon’s curiosity is enough to burn a hole through him where he sits.

Seungcheol must notice him looking at it though, because before Jihoon can summon the courage to ask about it, he says, “It’s not what you’re thinking.”

Jihoon twitches backwards, his eyes getting big,

“Oh god, it’s a bullet hole, isn’t it.”

Seungcheol glances down at his plate, looking strangely wounded all of a sudden.

“Yeah, but, I didn’t get it from some massive shoot out with the cops or anything.” He says, voice low, his heavy eyebrows beetling down. “It happened long after I left prison, I wasn’t even involved. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—just hanging out in a bar with some friends when some drunk idiot decided he didn’t want to pay his bar tab. I was pretty lucky actually—the bullet ricocheted of the wall before it hit me. If I had have been shot head on...”

He trails off, pursing his lips and shaking his head, as if cheating death is on par with having to politely refuse a second helping of dinner at your grandmother’s house. Oh no, no more for me thank you. I’m saving space for dessert.

“Did it hurt?” Jihoon hears himself say, still staring at the scar.

It’s the stupidest thing he’s ever asked—outranking that time he was twelve and asked his parents for 3D glasses so he could look at the world in 3D. The flat look Seungcheol levels his way seems to suggest so at least.

“No, actually, it was like the gentle caress of a butterflies wings—”

“Okay, sorry, that was a dumb question.”


“I just—” Jihoon stalls out, frustrated. “I’ve never met anyone whose been shot before. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen a gun—in real 3D life that is.”

“Well you’re in luck—”

“I knew it!”

“Just kidding. I don’t have one.”

“Oh, thank god—”

“—My father always told me why shoot someone when you can beat them to death with your own bare hands.”

“Jesus Christ—”

“That was also a joke. My dad would never say that. He’s a Geologist, if he wants to hurt someone he just bores them to death talking about his job.”

There is a pause, perfectly timed for effect, and then Jihoon and Seungcheol both burst out laughing.

Jihoon plasters a hand over his face because he knows he look really dorky when he is laughing that hard. Seungcheol on the other hand is really kind of perfect like this, all loose gaping mouth and smashed eyes, dimples for days.

He’s ridiculously, endearingly handsome.

Something beeps loudly behind them then, fracturing the moment, and Seungcheol slowly drags himself away, still laughing, to sort through his laundry.

Jihoon watches him go, thinking this has been the weirdest day of his life and it’s not yet noon, when he recognizes the navy shirt and Levi’s Seungcheol’s pulling out of the tumble dryer. They’re way too small to be Seungcheol’s.

“So that’s where my clothes got to.”

Seungcheol head snaps up, and his face flashes dismay for an instant before he composes himself, saying fumblingly, “Yeah, uhm, you spilled something blue and sticky on them, I had to throw them in the wash. But don’t worry, I emptied your pockets first. Your phone, wallet and keys are on the dresser.”

“Yeah, I saw. Thanks.” Jihoon flushes instinctively, realising with embarrassing swiftness that Seungcheol probably helped him undress last night—that he carried him up two flights of stairs and unlaced his shoes and tucked him into his bed, when anyone else would have just pushed him out onto the sidewalk.

Now he’s doing his laundry, folding each article of clothing carefully and grinning over how small they are.

"So, uhm, I’ll go get dressed?" Jihoon says, when Seungcheol hands over the small pile of clothes, and sweet merciful Christ, he didn't mean for that to come out like a question.

The corner of Seungcheol's lip curls up, general mocking kind of thing that Jihoon figures he probably asked for. But instead of saying yeah, he just jerks his head towards the couch. “Or you could stay?”

When Jihoon continues to perch on the edge of his stool uncertainly, he laughs and says, “Sunday’s my day off. I usually just chill at home and sketch out some designs for my portfolio. If you’ve got nothing else planned, we could—”

“Do you want to sketch on me?” Jihoon blurts out, stupidly, because from the startled look on Seungcheol’s face that is clearly not what he was about to suggest.

“Uh, really?” Seungcheol blinks, “I was just gonna suggest we watch a movie, but if you’re okay with me practicing on you, that would be amazing. Trying out new designs on paper is nowhere near as helpful as seeing how they flow on skin.”

Jihoon licks his lips, “Sure, I’m up for that. If it helps you practice, it’s the least I can do.”

“Okay, I’ll go get my pens!” Seungcheol says, wide grin bursting across his face as he speeds down the corridor, looking for all the world like a giant puppy that’s been told he gets to play fetch in the park, all day.

Jihoon feels a laugh twitching at the corners of his mouth, stupidly endeared to Seungcheol in that moment.

Seungcheol’s still grinning when he comes back, carrying a box of Sharpies in every colour imaginable, and wastes no time in directing Jihoon over to the couch. He gets him settled lengthways, instructing Jihoon to prop his right leg on his knee so he can draw on Jihoon’s shin.

Jihoon goes along with it, albeit reluctantly, thinking to himself—why did I think this was a good idea? This is a terrible idea. I’m not even wearing any pants! But once Seungcheol gets to work, he finds the entire process weirdly soothing, Seungcheol’s precise movements combined with the swipe of the pen against his skin evoking some serious ASMR vibes.

The design Seungcheol’s sketching out it is—well, Jihoon doesn’t know if it’s supposed to mean something. It’s too early to say. He thinks it’s really pretty though, even if he’s not completely up for having it carved into his flesh anytime soon.

“So...uhm…is there anything you won’t tattoo?” Jihoon asks, distractedly, trying not to stare at Seungcheol’s arms and the smooth lines of his shoulders.

“Design wise? No, not really. I’ve never turned down work over a design, but I have turned away people over placement. I don’t tattoo faces, or eyeballs, regardless of how confident the customer is about it. More often than not, they’re gonna have regrets and I don’t want any part of that.”

Jihoon nods, “But there’s gotta be some pretty tacky designs out there you loathe seeing. Butterflies for instance, or those bird silhouettes that everyone and their mother seems to have.”

“I dunno, I kind of like butterflies.” Seungcheol says, smiling up at him through his lashes.

“Tribal tattoos. Carpe Diem…” Jihoon goes on, and is treated to a heavy sigh.

“Alright, you got me there,” Seungcheol chuckles, “I do find that pretty loathsome, but I can’t really complain, those kinds of pieces make up the bulk of my business. I can’t afford to be pretentious about it.”

Jihoon narrows his eyes a little, “Well, in that case, do you mind drawing me an infinity symbol with a love wedged into the curve.”

“Hey—” Seungcheol says with a joking edge of sharpness. “That’s not funny Jihoon, that’s not funny at all. I’ve tattooed 40 infinity symbols just this week. I’m seeing infinity symbols in my fucking sleep.”

Jihoon bites into the inside of his lip to keep a straight face, then has to turn his face into the couch cushions to conceal his laughter.  

He gets it under control after a minute and lifts his head to see Seungcheol grinning down at him, soft around the eyes.

“I’m glad you came over last night.” Seungcheol says, returning to his drawing. “Before you showed up, I was beginning to think I’d scared you away for good.”

Jihoon bites the inside of his cheek, unsure how to answer for a second.

“What made you think that?” he asks eventually, keeping his voice carefully neutral.

Seungcheol breathes out a laugh. “Well, for starters, it’s been over a month since you stopped by, and you never called me.”

Jihoon’s face heats, creeping twisty thing happening in his stomach.

“I wanted to,” He scratches at the back of his neck. “But I wasn’t sure if you really wanted me to.”

Seungcheol seems to be considering that, eyes scanning Jihoon’s face, eyebrows tipped up, kind of questioning and helpless.

“Why wouldn’t I? I gave you my number.”

Jihoon rubs his face, feeling slightly overheated, “Yeah but, people do that sometimes. They say, hey we should hang out, but they don’t really mean it. They’re just, you know, being polite, not really expecting you to bother them again.”

Seungcheol blinks and then smiles. “Well, I was being sincere. I like hanging out with you.”

“Really?” Jihoon's voice comes out all awed and young-sounding, and he hates that, this stupid-green-behind-the-ears feeling that follows him around everywhere.

Seriously, he sounds like a kid who’s been invited to a much cooler kid’s birthday party.

He clears his throat and tries to sound like an adult again. “I find that very hard to believe Seungcheol. It’s not like I’m a very interesting person to be around. I don’t even have any tattoos…or bullet holes. The coolest thing I’ve ever done was go swimming with sharks, and that only happened because I fell overboard on a family vacation in Jeju.”

Seungcheol visibly bites his lower lip, his eyes wide with held-back laughter. 

“Believe it or not Jihoon, there are no pre-requisites to being my friend. And I for one happen to find you very interesting.”

Jihoon gives him a loud disbelieving snort, which is probably very rude, considering that’s one of the nicer things someone’s said about him—he should just accept the compliment and shut up.

When Seungcheol finishes the design, he leans back against the armrest, circling his wrist and cracking his knuckles in a vaguely familiar way. “Well, what do you think?”

Folding his leg in, Jihoon skims his fingers over the drawing.

It’s a Phoenix in flight, blue and orange and black, its tail feathers tapering into a wispy design that lines up perfectly with the veins on Jihoon’s ankle.

“That’s beautiful,” Jihoon murmurs, honestly blown away by Seungcheol’s talent, “I almost want it to be real tattoo.”

“Almost?” Seungcheol titters, capping his pen. “Obviously I have to work harder.”

After that the ice is pretty well broken. 

Seungcheol has his number now and messages him regularly, inviting him over for dinner and drinks and movie nights, and slowly but surely, Jihoon feels less awkward about accepting.

For a while, there is still a small, insecure part of him that can’t understand why Seungcheol would even want to hang out with him, that expects Seungcheol to get bored of him one day, but Seungcheol keeps surprising him, proving time and time again he’s an entirely different person than Jihoon was expecting.

Yeah, he has a pretty interesting job, but he doesn’t act all cool and all-knowing and pretentious about it. And while they don’t have a lot in common, instead of seeing that as an obstacle, Seungcheol really embraces their differences, treating Jihoon’s niche interests like an opportunity to explore something new.

They’re never going to have the same taste in films or music or even fashion, but it doesn’t matter because Seungcheol’s comfortable enough in his own skin to not let those things define him. 

Even at work he seems to be a generally easy-going guy, taking the world as it comes and not complaining too much about anything. Which goes a long way in handling some of the more difficult clients he gets.

On the rare occasion Jihoon swings by when he’s still mid consultation, he’s always amazed by how patient Seungcheol is with his stupider customers, calmly explaining for the umpteenth time why he needs to see their photographic ID, why they can’t go soak in a bacteria infested hot-tub after, or why tattooing their favourite quote in teeny tiny spidery font is going to look like shit in a year.

He seems to be pretty affable dude all round, but he’s no push over either.

He still gets some pretty rough customers showing up; heavily tattooed thugs that arrive a few minutes before closing time, striding in like the own the place. Jihoon hadn’t been there when one tried to aggressively negotiate a discount on an intricate piece Seungcheol spent twelve hours and two sessions tattooing on his back, but he did arrive in time to hear Seungcheol say “You’ll pay what we agreed on or I’ll carve my work out of your fucking flesh.”

Needless to say, the guy paid up and left without another word, but the most alarming thing had been how Seungcheol had immediately brushed off the encounter, saw Jihoon standing there and said, “Oh great, you’re here. I was thinking we could get Tacos for dinner,” and Jihoon realized, with a simple kind of amazement, that he’d made friends with this man. Or maybe Seungcheol had made friends with him.

It didn’t really matter, he decided.

There’s this a casual get-together at some guy’s apartment one Saturday. A guy Jihoon’s only met twice.

Jihoon couldn’t really see himself going when Jeonghan first invited him, because even though Junhui seemed like a nice guy, he doesn’t feel comfortable just inserting himself into other people’s plans. But then Seungcheol had called and said, ‘You’re coming, right? Please say you’ll come.’ and he couldn’t bring himself to say no.  

There’s a red cooler propped open on the coffee table, beers floating like Halloween apples in the melting ice and a massive spread of sushi and cold cuts in the kitchen, but Jihoon has no appetite for anything not in liquid form.

It’s not that he’s nervous per se, it’s just that except for Seungcheol and Jeonghan and the studio’s current guest artist, Minghao, he doesn’t really know any of the other guests.  

There are around twelve or so other people, and though they’ve all been pretty friendly and welcoming, Jihoon’s default reaction to meeting new people, especially in groups, is to stand back and observe. So he spends the first hour tucked into the corner of the couch, rolling his beer between his palms, chilled glass slipping and icing, happy to have something to occupy his hands, something to bring to his mouth when he can't think of anything to say. 

Half his beer gone before Seungcheol slumps into the space next to him.

“I recognise that look.” He says, waving a finger between Jihoon’s eyes, “You’re one beer away from forgetting this entire night, which shouldn’t be possible as I’m pretty sure you’ve only had the one beer.”

“Not even,” Jihoon sighs, holding up his half-empty bottle.

“Aww, kitten—are you a lightweight?” Seungcheol asks him with an engaging grin. It's weird, it sounds like a compliment.

Blushing, Jihoon picks at the label on his beer. “You might find this hard to believe, considering how we met, but I actually don’t enjoy drinking all that much.”

“I do find that hard to believe,” Seungcheol tells him, sounding as regularly amused as ever. “Why drink if you don’t enjoy it?”

Jihoon takes a sip of his beer, swallowing slowly. He can feel the drink kicking in, but he's not as drunk he as needs to be in order to sound smooth. “I only drink in social settings to, you know, help me relax a little. Otherwise I can come across all uptight and awkward around new faces. Or so I’ve been told.”

“Whose been lying to you.” Seungcheol coos, eyebrows up.

Jihoon smiles, kinda hazy and distracted, staring at Seungcheol's hands for some reason.

“I think you of all people should know how socially difficult I can be when I’m sober.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Seungcheol says, kind of emotionless but that only makes him sound more sincere. “I don’t think that at all.”

Jihoon looks up, feeling dizzy all of a sudden. Seungcheol is smiling cleanly now, evenly, and when he reaches over to pull the bottle out of Jihoon’s lax grip and sets it aside, Jihoon lets it happen.

“You’re pretty shy, but that doesn’t necessarily make you socially unapproachable, it just means you need a little more time to get comfortable around someone. There’s nothing wrong with that. If anything, I think that shyness adds to your charm—a real cute personality quirk, you know. If someone says you need to drink to suppress it, they’re being a shitty friend.”

Jihoon shakes his head, licking his lips unconsciously. “It wasn’t a friend. It was my boyfriend actually. He said I was more fun when I was drunk. More interesting.”

Seungcheol tips his head to the side, resting against the seat, and gives Jihoon a look that tightens his skin, all shadowy calculation. Jihoon feels it hot under his collar, his fingers itching at the hem of his shirt. Seungcheol's full attention is difficult to withstand for too long.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but he sounds like a complete dick.”

Jihoon laughs through his nose, sounding pretty dumb to his own ears. “Oh yeah, he was. Absolute dick.”

“So, you guys aren’t still—” Seungcheol hesitates, his mouth bent slightly up instead of down.

Jihoon swallows fast and says, “Oh yeah, no, we’re not—we’re not together anymore. I dumped his ass four, maybe five months ago?”

Seungcheol seems somehow pleased by Jihoon's response, a different kind of calculating respect in his eyes when he looks at him.

“Good.” He says, casually smacking his palm down on Jihoon’s thigh.  

Jihoon smiles, dropping his gaze automatically. He rarely gets to see Seungcheol’s hands out of those black nitrile gloves he wears in the studio, and he’s amazed to see a tattoo there he’d missed before: an ace of spades just below the knuckle on the third finger. He runs his index finger over it gently, petting it, trying to feel out where the ink has raised the skin—then realises all at once what he’s doing when Seungcheol’s hand flexes over his thigh.

When he jerks his head up, Seungcheol is looking at him with a sleepily intent look on his face even though he is still half-smiling.

Jihoon can feel blood rushing to his cheeks when, suddenly, the lights are dimmed, and everyone is gathering around them in a circle and…chanting? Singing?

It’s bewildering, and he has no idea what is going on, but then Jeonghan is elbowing his way through the crowd, carrying a tray of glowing somethings, and Jihoon has just a second to wonder if he’s going to become part of some kind of satanic ritual, before he spots the cake.

Happy Birthday Cheol! Is scrawled across the top in icing, and suddenly everything makes sense.

“Something wrong?” Seungcheol asks, after he’s blown out his candles and the lights are back on, and Jeonghan’s taken the cake away for slicing.

Jihoon wishes he had the beer back in his hands. He settles for pinching the hem of his shirt.

“No, I just…I’m sorry Cheol, I had no idea it was your birthday.”

Seungcheol snorts, shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it.”

An air-filled laugh catches in Jihoon’s throat. “How can you say that? I came to your party and ate your food and I didn’t get you anything. I didn’t even get you a card. Oh god, I didn’t even wish you Happy Birthday. Is it too late to say that? Happy Birthday man.”

Seungcheol's mouth curves ever so slightly, “I’m twenty-eight, Jihoon. I don’t expect people to make a big deal about my birthday. Normally I wouldn’t have celebrated at all, but my birthday happened to coincide with the studio’s one year anniversary, so Jeonghan kind of insisted we have a joint celebration.”

“It’s the studio’s one year anniversary too?” Jihoon gasps.

A hesitant smile, “Uh, yeah….did I forget to tell you that?”

Jihoon frowns and swats him with the back of his hand, “Yes, yes you did. Now I owe you two presents, and I feel like the worst friend ever.”

Seungcheol raises his eyebrows, lets the corner of his mouth curl again, and Jihoon remembers suddenly that right before the lights were dimmed, they were doing something really similar to flirting.

His whole body rushes with heat, quick hard shiver. He fidgets a little in his seat, and then he goes still as Seungcheol takes a pen that's lying on the coffee table and grabs his hand.

“What are you doing?”

“You wanted to get me a present right?” Uncapping the pen between his teeth, Seungcheol touches the tip to Jihoon's palm, smiling to himself a little. “I can’t think of a better present than some more freehand practice on my muse.”

Jihoon cocks a disbelieving eyebrow. “Muse? Really.”

Seungcheol shrugs, “You inspire me to be creative and shit, right? That makes you my muse. Check your dictionary man.”

Jihoon can’t help his snort of laughter, but there’s a flip flopping feeling in his stomach that he’s pretty sure has nothing to do with the absurdity of that statement, and everything to do with Seungcheol’s hand closing gently over his.

Jihoon decides to go home to his parents for Christmas, because the alternative is spending it with his housemate which is just...nope.

He likes the guy just fine, but he thinks they get along much better when they’re not constantly in each others faces. His parents have been making noise about him visiting anyway, so he does his Christmas shopping early, packs his bags and heads home for a week of parental coddling.

The first thing they ask him about is work, which Jihoon has been masterfully lying about all along, but the second thing they ask about is the new guy he’s seeing, which throws Jihoon a little.

He isn’t seeing anyone and says as much, but his parents just exchange this knowing little look, like he’s lying to them or something.  

It probably doesn’t help that he keeps smiling every time he looks at his phone, but that’s only because Seungcheol keeps sending him stupidly hilarious messages.

He’s gone home to Daegu to spend Christmas with his family too, but he’s clearly bored out of his mind because he’s on his phone 24/7, texting Jihoon shit like ‘hey, is this you?’ with a picture of a random cat attached, and ‘no, don’t do it! You have so much to live for’ with another picture of a cat perched precariously on a roof. He even sent a whole five-minute video of him petting and snuggling a stray kitten he found outside his family home, which he apparently convinced his parents to adopt and name, you guessed it, Jihoon

Jihoon isn’t sure what to make of that, but when he replies with ‘Stop kissing stray cats, you’re going to get rabies’ Seungcheol doesn’t miss a beat when he answers with ‘Don’t be jealous. You’re the only kitten for me :)’

And okay, maybe Jihoon’s parents aren’t completely wrong to think he’s seeing someone, because a lot of these exchanges with Seungcheol do usually end with Jihoon blushing furiously and flipping over his phone.

He meets up with a few old friends while he’s back home too.

Jihoon hadn't seen much of them since he left for college, just an ever-more-infrequent exchange of emails and text messages, but Soonyoung and Wonwoo were his best friends in school, and it’s good to catch up.

Jihoon doesn’t have a lot going on right now, so he ends up telling them about Seungcheol, the sharpie tattoos and his embarrassing drunken escapades. It really doesn't seem all that funny to Jihoon, but the guys keep laughing their heads off, so he guesses it must be.

When he shows them a few of the pictures he’s managed to take of Seungcheol’s free-hand works though, Wonwoo especially seems interested in seeing more. Apparently his boyfriend has been trying to get a coverup of an old tattoo on his back, but never really found an artist who could alter it just the way he was envisioning.

Jihoon’s not entirely sure Seungcheol can, but he puts Wonwoo in touch with him anyway, and a few days after he gets back to Seoul, Wonwoo sends him a text thanking him for the recommendation.

Jihoon doesn’t think much of it, until he arrives at Seungcheol’s shop that Friday and Jeonghan points a finger at him and says, “Are you trying to ruin my hustle?”

That pulls Jihoon up short.

He’s about to ask what he means, but Jeonghan’s continuing, “I had a nice little laid back job here. Seungcheol paid me to answer a few phone calls and order a few supplies every few weeks, but ever since you sent that friend of yours our way, the phone has been off the hook. We’ve had more walk-ins in one day then we’ve had all month.”

“But I only recommended you to one person,” Jihoon offers, scratching his head. “Just a friend from back home whose boyfriend needed a cover-up.”

Jeonghan makes a chuffing noise, exasperated. “Yeah, well, he’s got a shit-ton of followers on Instagram, and they all want Seungcheol to tattoo them now. He’s booked up for the next four months.”

Jihoon squints at him, “And that’s not a good thing?”

Jeonghan makes a face. “Uh, no—”

“Of course, it is.” Seungcheol’s voice cuts in suddenly.

Jihoon turns towards the doorway and his eyes get big as he takes Seungcheol in.

Seungcheol looks like he hasn't slept in a week, hair messily unwashed and dull purplish bags under his eyes, a compression bandage wrapped tightly over his right wrist. He’s smiling though—but then again, he always seems to be smiling at Jihoon.  

“Thank you, Jihoon, I appreciate you recommending my work. It’s been great for business.”

“Jesus Cheol,” Jihoon breathes, “You look like shit.”

“That’s because he doesn’t know when to say no.” Jeonghan says, cursing as the phone starts to ring. He picks it up then smacks it back into the cradle without answering, “Guess how many infinity symbols he’s tattooed this week.”

“It doesn’t matter—” Seungcheol begins, waving a hand dismissively, but Jeonghan’s talking over him, declaring, “A hundred and twelve.”

Jihoon recoils, faintly horrified.

“Don’t…don’t listen to him,” Seungcheol says, pushing off the wall, “I’ve had a lot of cool, custom work sent my way too. I’ve even got this reporter from 10 Magazine who wants to feature my designs in an article she’s writing. Isn’t that awesome?”

He’s excited about that, obviously, but he still looks exhausted; his smile is too tight, and there’s a fine tremor in his right hand that he can’t quite get under control.

Is it bad that Jihoon wants to give him a cuddle? Just a little one even.

“Would you like to draw on me?” Jihoon offers instead, knowing artistic deprivation when he sees it.

Seungcheol sighs, expression melting into something like relief then, his dark eyes lighting up. “Always.”

“Cheol, this is Seungkwan, my best friend. Seungkwan, this is Seungcheol. You know, the…the guy who doodles on me?” Jihoon says, feeling a little out of his element.

He hadn’t expected to bump into Seungcheol on his night out with Seungkwan, but Seungkwan wanted to try this new bar and Seungcheol just happened to be hanging out there with a few guys, and when Jihoon spotted him across the room and waved, Seungkwan whipped his head around and said, “Uhm wow, who is that?” and apparently an introduction was necessary.  

Jihoon went along with it, even though he wasn’t sure how to go about it.

He’s used to making friends through his already established friend group, so it’s a novelty to be introducing an old friend to a new friend he made all by himself. He’s not entirely sure what the situation calls for if he’s being honest—does he have to supervise them now? Lay the groundwork for some pleasant chit chat in case they stall awkwardly? Or can he go back to sipping his cocktail?

God, it’s so complicated!

Thankfully, Seungkwan is a social butterfly and immediately dives into conversation, saying all the right things without having to think about it.

Jihoon's always admired that about him, his ability to carry a conversation so effortlessly, to engage people. Although he has plenty of resentment for it tonight, especially when Seungkwan jerks his head towards him and says, “Jihoon never stops talking about you by the way.”

“Really?” Seungcheol says with a blink, clearly surprised to hear that. “Good things I hope.”

Seungkwan makes a sound that is distantly related to a laugh, “Oh yeah. He’s a regular little fanboy. He’s always telling me how much fun you are, showing me those designs you draw on him. He keeps pictures of them all you know, in a folder on his phone labelled cool stuff. It’s very cute.”

Seungcheol tips his head towards him, smirking in a way that seems vaguely foreboding.

“Is that so?”

Jihoon makes some tiny huff of acknowledgement, not admitting to anything and says, “I’m regretting this introduction already.”

Seungcheol just grins, looking Jihoon up and down with what looks like sudden fondness, then reaches out a hand and gives Jihoon a little scritchy-scratch under his chin. Jihoon tolerates it blissfully for ten seconds before he catches Seungkwan’s astounded expression and remembers ‘Oh wait, that’s right, I’m not an actual cat’ and swats Seungcheol’s hand away.

“Okay, so, you totally underplayed how handsome he was,” Seungkwan tells him, after they leave the bar in search of somewhere to eat.

Jihoon’s fucking around on his phone, trying to check the reviews for a restaurant across the street, so he’s not really paying attention. “Huh?”

“Seungcheol.” Seungkwan laughs, bumping into him. “I wasn’t expecting him to be quite that hot. And I definitely wasn’t expecting the adorable crush you have to be reciprocated.”

That...that gets Jihoon’s attention.

“What? Really, you think he’s into me?” He asks, stunned. Then, with more urgency. “And I don’t have a crush on him, oh my god. We’re just friends.” He huffs, which should have been the first thing he said.

Seungkwan snorts; he plainly doesn't believe him. “Well of course you’re going to deny any attraction; God forbid you ever do anything the easy way. But you can’t be that blind Jihoonie. You can’t be telling me you didn’t notice the way he was checking you out.”

Jihoon frowns, feeling defensive and no idea why.

“He wasn’t checking me out. He was just…looking at me, because I was talking to him.” He says, feeling sort of weird and shaky, his arguments wavering. “Besides, he’s not really my type. And I’m definitely not his.”

Seungkwan glances at him, and shakes his head. “Fine, have it your way. But I know what I saw back there, and I think you guys would be really cute together.”

Jihoon dismisses that idea right off the bat—he has to—because there is no way that would end well.

Knowing he might be harbouring a teeny tiny crush on Seungcheol is something he can handle—he’s used to having silly crushes that lead nowhere, and Seungcheol’s a funny, surprisingly sweet, good-looking guy—who wouldn’t have a heart boner over him? But just the thought of Seungcheol showing the least bit of interest in him is actually stressful.

He likes being friends with the guy, likes how uncomplicated things are between them. Seungcheol’s one of the few people he can be himself around, who has first-hand experience of his grumpy social stuntedness and likes him anyway, and he’d prefer not to ruin the most perfect platonic relationship he’s ever had by exposing his big dumb teeny tiny crush.

And if he’s being completely honest, Jihoon doesn’t think he’s in the right space of mind to juggle the intricacies of a new relationship right now. He’s only just recovered both emotionally and financially from his last stab at an adult relationship, so it’s probably best to wait a year at least before he starts thinking along those lines. 

The thought resurfaces a few weeks later though, when he’s finally packing up to move to his new place.

He managed to find a one-bedroom apartment on the other side of the city—cheaper and cleaner and closer to work, and since he’s pretty settled in Seoul now, he saw no point in delaying the inevitable. His flatmate didn’t take the news too well though, seeing as he was obviously living quite comfortably off Jihoon’s rent, and instead of doing the decent thing and letting Jihoon move out at the end of the month, he wants him gone ASAP so he can start mooching off someone else.

It leaves Jihoon only a week to sign a lease, pack his shit and buy some new furniture, which is kind of hard to manage when you have a full-time job—something he mentions to Seungcheol offhandedly. Just, you know, venting.  

Seungcheol though, bless his giant heart, obviously took it as a meow for help, because he calls up the next day, saying, So listen, I’ve actually got a guest artist booked in for next week, so I’m free to help you move.”

If Seungkwan hadn’t put the idea in his head, he would have thought nothing of it. Or at most, thought ‘wow, Seungcheol’s a really good friend’, then accepted the help and bought Seungcheol a gift to say thank you. Now though, he can’t help but think ‘What does this mean?! Is it a sign? Oh my god, was Seungkwan right? Does Cheol **heart boner** me?’

Seungcheol is literally just offering to help him move a few boxes and his stupid brain is overthinking the kindness of the gesture, wondering if Seungcheol’s only offering to help because he wants to flex his biceps or something, prove what a great boyfriend he is by willingly doing something so mundane with his downtime. He even pictures an outrageous scenario where Seungcheol arrives shirtless, picks up a heavy box and says, ‘Where do you want me?’, and himself getting all breathless and saying something provoking like ‘My ass preferably.’

This line of ridiculous thought is not conducive to making sensible decisions, which is probably why Jihoon panics and turns down Seungcheol’s offer, insisting he can handle the move on his own.

It shouldn’t be too difficult; most of his stuff is still in a self-storage centre, so he just needs to hire a moving van and transport it to the new building and up the elevator. Exhausting for one guy, sure, but manageable.

Then moving day comes around and it all goes to shit.

It’s been raining non-stop the entire week, and it’s just his damn shitty luck that some irresponsible idiot decided to move the ‘Wet Floor’ sign in the lobby, so when he slips and falls and fractures his elbow when he goes to pick up the keys, it puts the whole move in jeopardy.

Asking his parents for help is out of the question because they live a five-hour drive away and both have commitments, and he can’t ask Seungkwan because the guy is out of town for work, and since he needs to vacate his old room ASAP, he has no choice but to ask the only other friend he has in Seoul.

And Seungcheol (seriously, bless his giant heart) comes to the rescue immediately.

He gets everything transported over by Saturday evening, which was all Jihoon was expecting help with really, but then he spends the rest of the weekend unpacking shit for Jihoon too, assembling some of the larger pieces of furniture and doing a massive grocery shopping so Jihoon won’t ‘strain’ himself.

Jihoon spends the whole time just sitting on the couch, directing Seungcheol where to put things and feeling especially useless.

Anytime he tries to help or lift something heavier than a glass of water, Seungcheol drops what he’s doing and rushes over, looking incredibly distressed, like he’s just caught Jihoon trying to climb into the bathtub with a plugged-in toaster. And when Jihoon huffs and says “At least let me make you a sandwich or some coffee or something” he literally picks Jihoon up and plants him back on the couch, whining, “For the love of God Jihoon, stop moving. You need to rest.”

He’s developed a crazy protective streak over Jihoon’s injury, and while Jihoon would normally resent anyone trying to mollycoddle him, Seungcheol’s protectiveness is endearing to him for reasons that he can’t quantify.

That is of course, when he’s not taking advantage of Jihoon’s heavily medicated state.  

When Jihoon wakes up after a drug induced nap to find the guy in hysterics in the corner of the room, he figures he must have said something pretty embarrassing in his sleep. Seungcheol, of course, won’t tell him what, but he keeps cracking up every few minutes and won’t even look Jihoon in the eye.

After he leaves though, and Jihoon’s getting ready for bed, he looks in the mirror and sees Seungcheol has drawn a giant penis on his face, complete with pubes.

It’s the most juvenile prank Jihoon has ever experienced in his life—all the more when Jihoon remembers answering the door to the pizza guy looking like this, and apologizing for the way Seungcheol was grinning like an idiot behind him—but it serves to settle something important for him in that moment.

Seungkwan was wrong. There is no way Seungcheol’s into him.

Guys who have a crush on you don’t draw male genitalia on your face.

Only friends do that.

In June, Seoul weathers through a record breaking heat-wave, the sunlight coated yolk-yellow and every spare inch of sidewalk packed with people and fruit stands and ice cream carts.

The heat makes it intolerable to lounge about indoors, even after the sun sets, and any hope of escaping it by taking a dip at an outdoor pool, or heading to the park to enjoy a picnic under the shade of a tree is stymied by the fact that everyone else in the city has already had the same bright idea.

Thankfully Seungcheol’s apartment has an expansive roof terrace they can retreat to, and after Jihoon heads over to the local garden centre and picks up a few things—a parasol, deck chairs, some paper lanterns and potted plants—they transform the space into a cute little rooftop garden.

They spend most of their evenings up there, just shooting the shit, a cooler of drinks between them,  watching the gold light sink down the sides of the building. Then one day Jeonghan idly suggests ‘We should have a barbecue this weekend’ and everyone is all over the idea.

Jihoon volunteers to prep the food, because even though it’s a Saturday, Seungcheol’s got appointments till three, and anyway, Jihoon has a spare key now, so he can let himself into the apartment and get everything ready while they finish up.   

The lamb chops and chicken he picked up from the butchers are already marinated, so all he really has to do is season the lamb chops and string the meat and vegetables on skewers, and though he'd be perfectly happy with just that, he throws together a homemade slaw using a few ingredients Seungcheol already had in his fridge.

By the time he’s carried everything up to the roof and successfully lit the grill, it’s gone four, and he can hear the squeal of the store shutters closing from down below, the sound of Jeonghan chatting away to someone on his phone. When he pokes his head over the edge to ask him to bring up the cooler on his way up, Jeonghan just grins and tells him Seungcheol’s bringing it up. Then he winks, and turns on his heel and…strolls away down the street.

Which…huh. Okay.  

Jihoon figured Jeonghan would be joining them for dinner—the barbecue was his idea after all—but it looks like it’s just him and Seungcheol tonight. Whatever. That’s cool.

Except…what the fuck was that wink about?

Shaking his head, Jihoon turns his attention back to the grill, busies himself rotating skewers and setting the table, setting out the plates and forks. He's just added the vegetables to the grill when Seungcheol arrives up, carrying the cooler.  

He’s got something else in his hand, but that's all Jihoon has time to register before Seungcheol comes up behind him, pulls back his collar and drops an ice cube down the back of his t-shirt.   

“You gotta stay hydrated Hoonie.”

Jihoon yelps and arches his back, swearing an impressive blue streak even by his own standards. When he spins to whack Seungcheol in the arm, he finds the guy has already retreated to the far side of the roof to bray like a donkey, safely out of range of retaliation.

Jihoon scowls at him, flicking his hand down his back to dislodge the melting ice-cube, “You giant asswipe. Do that again and I’ll skewer your balls and grill them next.”

Leaning back against the ledge, Seungcheol smirks at him, laughter still dancing in his eyes.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You’re so fucking cute when you’re angry.”

Jihoon feels a smile tugging at his lips and quickly turns back to the grill, wrinkling his nose to try and quell it.

“Just try it again bitch—I’ll fucking show you cute.” He mutters darkly, which Seungcheol just so happens to hear and naturally treats as a challenge.

By the time the meat is cooked and they’re sitting down to eat, Jihoon has been ‘hydrated’ another four times and has only managed to slap Seungcheol once.

He gets his revenge in the end though, by daring Seungcheol to put the extra super spicy chilli sauce on his lamb chop, a feat Seungcheol is bound by the laws of manliness to accept, even though it nearly costs him the use of his sinuses.

Jihoon leaves him to guzzle water in favour of the futon, stretching out with his t-shirt bunched under his head to catch some rays. He only gets to bake for ten minutes before Seungcheol’s huffing at him though, calling out, “Hey—you better be wearing sunscreen. It’s really fucking sunny up here and I don’t want you getting my beautiful canvas all burnt.”

“Take it easy Buffalo Bill, I re-applied before I came up here.” Jihoon laughs, turning to lie on his stomach.

Seungcheol grumbles something under his breath and disappears downstairs.

A few minutes later, Jihoon is dozing when he hears footsteps approach and quickly glances over his shoulder, squinting almost blind against the sun. Seungcheol's face slowly comes into focus and naturally he's smirking, watching Jihoon like he's a dog doing tricks.

“If that’s another ice-cube, you’re fucking dead.”

Seungcheol shakes his head, waving a bottle of sun lotion into view. 

Jihoon rolls his eyes and holds out a hand to take the bottle, only for Seungcheol swat it away and kneel up behind him.

A post-meal rub-down from his annoyingly attractive platonic super pal it is not what Jihoon was expecting today, but he really wouldn't mind getting used to. Seungcheol’s hand are big, and very very warm rubbing at the knobs of his spine, and very quickly Jihoon feels like his skeleton is off somewhere doing something else and he's just a pile of goo sinking into the futon.

He lets his eyes fall shut for a few seconds, and when he next opens them, the sky’s gone dark and he’s lost god knows how many hours just napping there.

Seungcheol’s stretched out on the futon next to him, head propped up on an elbow. His free hand is tracing a ticklish little pattern up and down Jihoon’s back: over his shoulders, then back down the ridge of his spine to circle the dimples in his lower back.

Jihoon lies still for a few minutes, trying to follow the movement of Seungcheol’s fingers over his skin, but he can’t make out any pattern. Eventually he’s curious enough to ask, “What are you drawing?”

Seungcheol stills his hand, sliding it up from the dip in Jihoon’s spine to tap his fingers contemplatively on his shoulder for a second. “I uh…I wasn’t drawing anything.”

“Oh.” Jihoon blinks, wide awake now, his thoughts honing into clarity again.

He tries to stay relaxed when that ticklish touch starts up again, but it’s different now when he knows there’s no purpose behind it—that’s Seungcheol's just touching him, because he wants to. He realises he is holding his breath and lets it out carefully, so as not to be detected, and hears Seungcheol let out a deep sigh of his own.

When Seungcheol reaches down, hand ghosting across the swell of his ass, Jihoon's heart thuds unevenly, jarred right out of place. Before things can get interesting though, Seungcheol’s changing course and tapping him lightly on the shoulder.

“C’mon, let’s head down and watch a movie or something.”

“Okay,” Jihoon mumbles, feeling disappointed, then angry at himself for even being disappointed in the first place.  

Seungcheol’s just a friend—a friend. Just because he’s spent the last how many hours running his fingers down Jihoon’s naked back doesn’t mean he’s looking to upgrade their relationship status. He’s always using Jihoon’s body as a canvas—it doesn’t mean anything.

Nevertheless, Jihoon’s cheeks are burning hot as he rolls over, a thin band of sweat at his hairline, and he’s almost dizzy as he pulls his t-shirt back on, bad enough that he tries to fit his head through the arm hole three times.

By the time he gets it on and gets up on his feet, Seungcheol has doused the embers on the grill and is standing by the stairway, waiting for him.

There’s an indecipherable expression on his face, gaze overly intent considering the hour. He does that sometimes, just looks at Jihoon like he is a puzzle of some kind. It makes Jihoon a little uncomfortable, because he really isn’t as interesting as Seungcheol seems to think; no good reason for anyone to stare at him that much.

“What?” Jihoon asks, a faint look of worry clouding his features as he slides up next to him, scanning over Seungcheol’s face with searching eyes. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Seungcheol shakes his head roughly, as if to clear it, and Jihoon watches with mute fascination as the tips of his ears turn bright red.

“It…it’s nothing,” Seungcheol tells him, letting out a deep breath. He palms the back of his neck, then says, a little haltingly, “Can you close your eyes for a second? I wanna try something.”

Jihoon clears his throat, vaguely discomfited. “Uh, okay? Sure.”

He squeezes his eyes shut, not sure what he’s getting himself into, but trusting Seungcheol all the same. Then he immediately regrets it when Seungcheol cups the back of his neck and quickly slips an ice-cube down the back of his shirt again.

“Motherfucker!” Jihoon yells, eyes springing open.

Seungcheol’s already making his escape down the stairs, laughing but also taking them three steps at a time, like he knows Jihoon will actually kill him. Jihoon takes a moment to compose himself, then reaches down to pull the bag of ice out of the cooler and heads downstairs to exact his revenge.

Seungcheol is so flat out busy in July he has to switch to appointment-only, which somehow gives him more time to hang out, but less flexibility.

It kind of sucks because Jihoon used to enjoy just rolling up to the studio after work, and if things were quiet Seungcheol would just close up early and they’d grab dinner together. Now with Seungcheol’s commitments and Jihoon’s current work schedule the only day they both are free is Sunday.

They make it work though, and at Seungcheol’s insistence, Jihoon crashes at his from Friday through till Monday so they can make the most of the weekend. Which is why he’s in the studio on Saturday morning when the reporter from 10 Magazine comes in for her final appointment.

Jihoon had only seen her briefly when she came in for her first session a few months back, just long enough to say ‘Hi’ and for Seungcheol to say ‘This—this is Jihoonie.’ and for her to look at him tenderly and say ‘Aww.’

So it kind of throws Jihoon a little when the session ends, and he complements the completed tattoo, and she just smiles sweetly and says, “Do you really mean that, or are you just bigging up your boyfriend’s work?”

Jihoon feels himself tense all over and can’t say anything for a moment, because that’s…that’s a pretty a huge leap to make considering they’ve barely interacted.

He’s trying to wrap both his brain and his mouth around the word 'boyfriend,' and it's a damn near impossible task, but mostly he’s waiting for someone to butt in and correct her, for Jeonghan to snort or for Seungcheol to laugh awkwardly and deny the whole thing.

Instead of any of that happening, Seungcheol just slaps his ass on his way past and says, “Hoonie is a man of very discerning taste. If he says it’s good, he means it.”

The reporter just laughs and they both head outside to wrap up the interview, leaving Jihoon to linger by the counter, rubbing his ass and feeling like his brain is moving at half-speed.

“Okay, why are you freaking out?” Jeonghan pipes up, snapping Jihoon out of his reverie.

Jihoon turns towards him and finds the guy leaning forward, watching him closely, elbows braced on the counter.


“About that boyfriend comment she made,” Jeonghan says, eyebrows rising pointedly, “You very obviously freaked out.”

Jihoon rocks back and forth on his heels quickly, near-panic skittering across his nerves. “I didn’t freak out. I—I was just surprised she jumped to that conclusion when she barely knows me.”

There’s a long pause, then Jeonghan says, his voice slow, “Why is any of what she said surprising though?”

“Because Seungcheol and I are not together? We’re just friends.” Jihoon says with his throat abruptly constricted.

Jeonghan cocks his head, a darkish smile creasing his face.

“What?” Jihoon huffs, defensiveness springing through him. “We are.”

Jeonghan keeps smiling up at him for moment, Cheshire and clever, like Jihoon is missing something pretty obvious, then he shrugs, “Fine, maybe you are just friends. But you can’t blame the woman for jumping to conclusions when you’re walking around in a T-shirt that is clearly not your size and keep blushing every time Cheol looks at you for more than two seconds.”

Jihoon feels him flush, the skin on his arms prickling.

“No I don’t.” He hears himself murmur, in the smallest voice ever.

Jeonghan just awwws at him.

He doesn’t seem inclined to say anything more, and he doesn’t really get a chance either when Seungcheol returns, throwing an arm over Jihoon’s shoulder. “I think that went pretty well, don’t you?”

He’s smiling when Jihoon looks at him, and so of course Jihoon has to smile back. Inside his head though, he's completely lost his bearings, overly conscious of how close they’re standing, angled in close enough that he can smell Seungcheol’s aftershave, see the tiny white-thread scar just tracing the line of his eyebrow, almost taste the little half-smile that curves Seungcheol's lips. Then Seungcheol leans in, squinting, and says “Are you okay? Your cheeks are really pink right now.” And Jihoon's brain shuts down entirely.

When it reboots again, he finds himself lying on the bed back in his own apartment, his phone resting on his stomach.

He doesn’t remember if he walked home or caught a bus, but he’s lost three hours just bouncing around in his own mind.

When he checks his phone there’s six missed calls from Seungcheol and a message saying ‘Dude? Where did you go? I thought you were going to stay the night?’ and a further message from Jeonghan saying ‘I was only teasing! Please come back! Cheol will actually murder me if he finds out I upset you! He keeps giving me dirty looks!’.

Jihoon types out a reply to Seungcheol assuring him he’s fine, that he just has a bad migraine, and sends Jeonghan a frowny face. Then he swipes over to a browser and downloads the first dating app he finds.

He has zero interest in dating right now, but if he’s made his little crush on Seungcheol so obvious a random stranger has picked up on it, clearly he has to divert his attentions. The only way he can think of doing that is getting back into the dating scene and fast.

Three stops later, Jihoon steps off the bus and crosses the street to double back, feeling ten kinds of stupid.

The meal was exquisite, the restaurant an upscale place downtown you had to reserve two months in advance, and his date had been witty and charming and an impeccable dresser, his ideal type in more ways than one. But despite his best effort to connect, Jihoon hadn’t really felt that spark. Hadn’t felt much of anything, really, beyond the need to end the evening as quickly as possible.

His date must not have gotten that vibe from him though, because when they finally paid their bill and stepped out into the night, he actually leaned in for a kiss and Jihoon had leaned so far back he might have invented a new yoga position.

There was obviously no way to recover from that—and when they parted without so much as an ‘I’ll call you’, Jihoon was astounded by how relieved he felt. Strange, considering that it had actually been one of his better dates.

But he’s beginning to think that’s what he needed? An experience to put the whole thing in perspective.


Maybe Seungkwan had been right after all; god forbid he ever do anything the easy way.

As it so often does these days, his unguided mind strays back to Seungcheol, wondering if there’s a chance he’s still up. He catches himself fidgeting and playing with his phone as he walks, flicking through the pages of apps without looking for anything in particular. He curses himself for indecisiveness, and thumbs back to the call log.

Seungcheol picks up on the second ring, sounding affectionate. "Kitten."

Jihoon blushes hard and fast, almost painful. "That nickname’s getting old."

Seungcheol makes a faint humming sound. "Is it though? I can hear you blushing over the phone.”

“Fuck you,” Jihoon says off-hand. He has his head tipped back, eyes on the stars. “I was just calling to see if you were still awake.”

“I am,” Seungcheol says cheerfully, “Are you coming over?”

Behind Seungcheol's voice Jihoon can hear faint tinny sounds of an action movie, all explosions and screams. He can easily picture the scene: Seungcheol with his legs crossed on the coffee table and his neck at an extreme tilt pinning his phone to his ear with his shoulder, maybe bitching back and forth with Jeonghan in that casually cruel way the two of them have. Jihoon yearns for it, that empty spot on the couch next to Seungcheol.

“Yeah, want me to grab anything on the way?”

Seungcheol makes a small humming sound. “I could kill a bag of Doritos.”

When he makes it to Seungcheol’s place, the bleary neon sign burning through the tree cover spark little fires in Jihoon's belly, thinking home without being in Busan for the first time in his life. The feeling only intensifies as he slips through the front door and spots Seungcheol kicking back on the couch, sketching something out on a drawing pad.

He’s dressed in sweats and a thready T-shirt, face half-shadowed under a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, but his grin is showing plainly. Jihoon is so happy to see him, he doesn't even have the words—just enough sense to toe out of his shoes before lobbing the bag of Doritos at him.   

Seungcheol catches it easily, though he makes no move to rip it open yet. He seems to be focused on Jihoon for the moment, giving him a slow once over.

“Why are you looking so… sexy?”

Jihoon pauses in the process of shucking off his jacket to glance down at himself. “Oh, uhm, I had a date.”

Seungcheol is quiet for a second, fiddling with the packet, then says with a weird unplaceable note in his voice, “So, uhm, how’d it go?”

“Honestly? Not good. It was…it was kind of embarrassing actually.” Jihoon answers, managing to sound more amused than anything.

Lifting his eyebrows, Seungcheol asks, “Yeah? In what way?”

Jihoon pushes a hand through his hair to mess it up a little, and kinda smiles.

“In the—he leaned in for a kiss while and I tried to shake his hand—way.” Hand on his face, he digs his fingers into his eyes, trying to blot out the cringeworthy mental image of the moment with little success. “We tried to laugh it off, but everything got so awkward after I actually got on the wrong bus just so I could leave earlier.”

Seungcheol coughs out a hard laugh and says, “But if he was leaning in for a kiss, he obviously thought things were progressing well. Yeah, maybe it ended on an awkward note, but there’s probably still potential there. He could still call you.”

“Fuck, I hope not. He was a nice guy, but the whole time I was with him I just wanted to be here.” Jihoon says without thinking, and immediately bites his tongue so hard it bleeds.

There is a moment of fraught silence where Seungcheol just stares at him, eyes dark and piercing, filled with the kind of intelligence that takes in everything. Jihoon twitches, fiddles with his hands, his throat ducking fast. He feels heat in his face and hopes to God he hasn’t chosen this of all moments to start blushing.

Then Seungcheol says, smirking a little, “I left a t-shirt out for you on the bed. If you wanna slip into something more comfortable.”

Now Jihoon is quite sure his face is red; the way Seungcheol says that, it sounds like an invitation to get naked.

“Yeah, thanks.” he says, weakly.

He pads down the corridor to Seungcheol’s room and changes quickly, dropping his clothes on a chair and pulling on the buttery soft band-t Seungcheol’s left out for him. He’s got nothing but his boxers underneath, which is usually how he lounges about in Seungcheol’s place, but he feels stupidly aware of it tonight. Especially after he steps back into the living room and Seungcheol stops stuffing corn chips into his face to check him out much more blatantly than he usually does.

Jihoon crosses the room, angling to take the far side of the couch, thinking it best to put some distance between them, only for Seungcheol to swing an arm out and beckon him into his usual spot.

“Don’t be shy, come here.” He smirks, something so sweet and fond in his eyes that Jihoon's knees feel honest-to-god weak.

Blushing, Jihoon pads over and settles in, smiling slightly as he tucks himself against Seungcheol’s side, this new infection of nerves calmed out of him for a moment. Seungcheol’s arm, heavy and warm along his back, reminds him of something, but he’s not sure what. It makes him feel sleepy, the warm spot on the couch next to Seungcheol’s body welcoming.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Seungcheol flip through Netflix, streetlight and neon bleeding through the blinds, striping his face green, and that’s the last thing he remembers, before his eyelids feel too heavy to keep open.

It’s Jeonghan’s 28th Birthday in October, and to celebrate he seems intent on getting to the top of the liver transplant list because he suggests a bar crawl of all things.

Jihoon kind of got over the novelty of bar crawls after his first year in college—they’re never much fun when you’re the guy who gets poleaxed at the first bar—and he’s pretty sure most of the guys have outgrown it too, but Jeonghan is the birthday boy, and if he wants to shorten his lifespan, then so be it.  

By the eighth bar, most of the party have made an ass of themselves one way or another, except for Jihoon and Seungcheol; Jihoon because he’s been carefully moderating his intake, and Seungcheol because he obviously has seven livers and twice as many kidneys.

Jihoon actually had to dip a pinky into Seungcheol’s drink at bar #6 to check he wasn’t just knocking back water, but no—it was straight up Vodka, and yet Seungcheol was managing to hold perfectly coherent conversation while everyone else was fighting over who got to wear a traffic cone on their head.

When they spill out on the sidewalk after bar #10, Jihoon is at least three times as exhausted as he's ever been in his life, but he doesn’t want to be the first to dip.

Everyone is loitering in a loose knot on the sidewalk, half-heartedly hailing cabs, fighting over traffic cones and talking about where they should head to next, so he heads over to a nearby Seven Eleven to grab a can of Red Bull, something to keep him going.

He cracks open the can while he’s standing at the check-out, waiting to pay, and barely manages a sip before the guy standing behind him is pointedly clearing his throat.

Jihoon turns his head, mouth open to apologize, thinking maybe he cut the queue without realising it, only to spot a familiar face.  

He blinks, thinks for a moment, oh, it’s Sehun, small fucking world, and then right on the heels of that, oh wait, it’s that asshole Sehun.

“Hey.” Sehun says, smiling a little, shifting the basket in his right hand to the left.

Jihoon looks him over with a weird sort of detachment.

He’d expected some kind of anger to come bubbling up to the surface whenever they crossed paths again, which would have been a natural reaction to seeing the guy who begged you to uproot and move closer to him, then seriously fucked you over. But the tight, achy feeling in his heart he’d carried around for months is completely gone now, replaced by an emotion so watery it barely deserves examination.

That alone is enough to surprise a “Hello,” out of him, and then he’s turning to face the check-out again, a little bewildered by his own no-fucks-given attitude.

But of course, Sehun isn’t satisfied with being brushed off so easily. He shuffles a little closer and clears his throat again, then throws a "So, how have you been?" at him, and Jihoon can't pretend he doesn't hear the very-hopeful undercurrent beneath the words.

He’s debating how to answer that without encouraging further conversation, when suddenly Seungcheol is there, draping a heavy, warm arm around Jihoon’s shoulders. 

“So, listen—the guys are talking about heading over to this club in Cheongdamdong, and I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of wrecked. I was thinking of just grabbing something to eat and calling it a night, what do you think?”

“Oh god, yes—I’m exhausted.” Jihoon groans, slumping against him.

Seungcheol laughs, reaching down to take the can out of his hand. He downs half and hands it back, and Jihoon, tipping his head back to drain the rest, spots Sehun in his periphery watching them, narrow-eyed, trying to figure out how closely they fit.

Seungcheol notices him too, and pauses in pulling out some change to frown and say, “You thirsty or something? The fuck you looking at?” which has Sehun quickly averting his gaze and Jihoon snorting Red Bull up his nose.

They’re back out on the street, waiting for their Uber when Jihoon, shivering from the cold and as close to tipsy as he’s been in months, finally gives into temptation and inserts himself into Seungcheol’s personal space, tucks himself against Seungcheol’s chest and jams his face into the bend of his shoulder.

Seungcheol huffs out a laugh, caught off-guard, maybe, but his arms immediately come up to wrap around him, pulling him in closer.

After a few minutes, Jihoon lifts his face, studies Seungcheol with his lower lip pulled between his teeth, gaze darting from Seungcheol's mouth to his eyes, searching for some kind of clue.

“Why do I get the feeling this isn’t the first time I’ve randomly cuddled you?”

“It’s not.” Seungcheol half-shrugs. “Not really.”

Jihoon groans, hides his face in Seungcheol’s shoulder. “This is why I kept coming back to the studio when I was wasted, isn’t it?”

Seungcheol chuffs a laugh and tucks his chin over Jihoon’s head, his hand skimming then slipping into his back pocket. “Yeah, but in your defence, you were very drunk. And in my defence, you were very adorable.”

Jihoon huffs in half-hearted protest.

“Correction—are very adorable.” Seungcheol says, a smile in his voice, and Jihoon huffs some more.

He doesn’t know how to feel about that. How does one feel about suddenly knowing they’ve been getting drunk and asking for cuddles from random strangers? Embarrassed doesn’t seem to cover it. Mortified isn’t sufficient either. And honestly, he doesn’t feel either of those things right now.

He just feels warm and safe and cared for.

The next morning, Jihoon wakes up inch by excruciating inch, dragging himself upwards against an overwhelming black tide. The space on the bed next to him is empty, but the sound of rushing water in the en-suite assures him Seungcheol hasn’t wandered far.

Sure enough, a few seconds later Seungcheol comes padding out of the bathroom in a pair of boxer-briefs and nothing else, looking handsome and bed-headed, though possibly even more hungover than Jihoon feels, which is strangely heartening.

Jihoon watches him approach the bed in a vague trance, drawn by the specific kind of peace on Seungcheol's face, the looseness in his body.

He wants to say something—I’m sorry about the cuddling, or maybe even, at the risk of ruining our friendship, you should know I really like you, or perhaps he should be completely honest and just say those boxers are way too small, I can see the outline of your dick and wow. Except Seungcheol doesn’t even give him a chance to string the words together before he’s climbing back into the bed and flopping down beside him.

“I need another two hours.”

Jihoon can’t process what that means right now; Seungcheol’s face is inches away from his, eyes closed and lips parted a bit, a tiny scar on his brow that Jihoon wants to feel under his fingers. He has to shake his head to dispel the urge, and only then does he catch up with the conversation.

“Two hours?”

“You don’t have anywhere to be, do you?” Seungcheol asks him without opening his eyes.

“No.” Jihoon mumbles, turning on his side to face him.

“Good. Let’s sleep for another few hours and then we’ll get brunch.” Seungcheol says, yawning into his elbow, then he rolls over, throws an arm around Jihoon’s waist and commences spooning.

Jihoon obliges him, confused but not as badly as he wants to be. He is maybe kinda slow on the uptake but he is trying to get better at that.

He takes stock of the moment his life has brought him to, white swashed ceiling and wrinkled grey sheets, the calm feeling spreading through his chest and the heat rushing all over his skin because Seungcheol is touching him everywhere. Seungcheol is holding him like it means something, and Jihoon thinks that is probably because it does.

It’s safe to say it’s not a decision he makes overnight. It’s a choice that’s been 14 months and 123 doodles in the making. So while it might seem like he woke up one Friday and decided ‘That’s it, I’m getting a fucking tattoo’, he’s actually had a lot of time to think about it.

A lot of time to think about a lot of things actually, but the tattoo is currently the only thing he’s 100% certain of right now.

When he makes it to the studio after work, Jeonghan in his customary pose lounging behind the counter, leafing through a magazine in between calls.

“Hey Hoonie, Cheol’s just finishing up if you wanna head out back.”

Jihoon clears his throat, “Well, uhm, actually, I came to book an appointment.”

Jeonghan snorts, not looking up, “Yeah, yeah.” When Jihoon continues to wait patiently at the counter, he does a quick double take, eyes widening a bit. “Wait…are you serious?”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’m finally ready to get one. Nothing too big though—maybe just the size of my hand, over my hip? I’m not committed to the exact placement, but I can’t have it anywhere that will show through my shirt.”

Jeonghan just stares at him, his mouth slightly open.

Jihoon rubs his eyes and counts to five, then pouts, “I’m twenty-six Hannie, I can get a tattoo if I want one.”

Jerking upright, Jeonghan scrambles to fetch the appointment book. “Right, of course. Sorry. When do you want it?”

“When’s the next available appointment?”

Jeonghan’s eyes flicker over the appointment book—then he’s flipping pages, past December and January, and it’s not looking too promising.

“Cheol’s booked up till February, but if you don’t want to wait, we’ve got a guest artist in next week—”

“No.” Comes Seungcheol’s voice from the doorway, and they both turn their heads to see him snap his gloves off and ball them up. “Open up a slot for me somewhere. Anywhere. I…I don’t care who you have to cancel. Or wait, what about next Sunday? You free next Sunday Hoonie?”

Jihoon blinks at him, “But…Sunday’s your day off.”

“I don’t care,” Seungcheol says, bestowing a smile that is half fond and half exasperated. He reaches over to snag Jihoon’s wrist, starts tugging him towards the back room while he calls over his shoulder, “I’m taking a break Hannie.”

The back room’s dimmer than usual, on account of a broken LED panel on the ceiling, but Jihoon doesn’t miss the weird glittering look in Seungcheol’s eyes when he settles down next to him on the couch.

“Okay, so, what are you thinking? You got some pictures for me?” He asks, pulling the pen out from behind his ear.

Swallowing, Jihoon says, “Uh no, I didn’t bring any references. I figured I would let you freestyle and surprise me, like you usually do.”

Seungcheol's expression deserves to be cast in bronze. Dictionary definition of shocked, boggled eyes, open mouth. Jihoon patiently waits for him to get over it, and then has to snap his fingers in front of his face, making him blink, at least.

“R-really?” He says, voice sounding kind of scraped up. “You’d let me, permanently ink a design of my own, on your skin?”

Jihoon nods, “Yep.”

Seungcheol continues to stare at him for a long moment, a wild look on his face, then he huffs out a laugh, dragging the baseball hat off his head.

“I dunno Hoonie... I’m touched you trust me that much, but maybe we should sketch out some things first? You know, be sure? This is going to be your first tat, maybe your only tat, and I think you should go in there 100% confident with your design,” He scrubs a hand through his hair, which is an ebony crash of bed-head at this point. “I could live with disappointing anyone else, but not...not you.”

Sighing, Jihoon reaches over to pull the pen from Seungcheol’s hand and tosses it over his shoulder.

“Cheol, I trust you. I’ll love whatever you draw. I know I will. So please... man the fuck up.”

Seungcheol blinks innocently, endearingly, then bursts out laughing.

Jihoon’s always had a decent skin care routine, but in the week leading up to his tattoo, he goes all out. Exfoliating, toning, moisturizing the hell out of every inch of his skin, until the smell of Shea butter is permanently burned into his nostrils and people are stopping him at work to compliment him on his glow.

He just wants to be prepared, you know. It's his first tattoo, and he's really excited. 

Well, he thought he was pretty excited, but apparently his excitement pales in comparison to Seungcheol’s excitement.

The guy is literally vibrating on that spot when Jihoon rolls up on Sunday morning, talking a mile a minute as he leads Jihoon into his studio, showing him the colours he’s planning on using and waving his hands through the air like he’s amped up on something other than a ridiculous amount of caffeine.

Jihoon just nods and smiles, catching every third word and hoping he doesn't look as fond as he feels right now because Seungcheol is...well, he's fucking adorable. There's no two ways about it. He's the biggest, softest, sweetest tattooing ex con ever, and Jihoon is getting a serious heart boner just watching him get all excited about Jihoon's first tat. 

When they finally get down to business though, Seungcheol zones into professional mode, directing Jihoon into the right position as he snaps on some gloves.

Jihoon had wisely picked out some soft jogging bottoms to wear, so he could tug them down easily over his hip. Once he gets settled on the bench though, and Seungcheol starts sketching, the elastic keeps riding up, inching closer to the design and forcing Seungcheol to stop every few minutes to tug them down before they can smudge his work.

After the sixth time it happens, he tugs them down perhaps a little too far.   

Jihoon had forgone wearing underwear as it just seemed like another obstacle to navigate, but he’s regretting it now because he’s kind of on display here. His dick is just on show.

Not that Seungcheol’s paying any attention of course, because the guy has developed tunnel vision for Jihoon’s hip.

Even after he’s finished, leaning back to assess the design and smearing Vaseline onto Jihoon’s skin, his gaze is fixed solely on the area of skin he’s working on.

Consummate, oblivious, professional.

“Alright, I’m ready. You ready?” He asks, twisting away to pick up his tattoo pen.

“Yeah,” Jihoon breathes out, “Let’s do this.”

Seungcheol grins and leans in, resting his hand on Jihoon’s stomach, under his t-shirt and—oh fuck—that’s…that’s unexpected.  

Jihoon squeezes his eyes shut, trying to seek out the pain, the sharp pinch where the pen is buzzing and humming over his hipbone, but it’s no good. All he can concentrate on is the placement of Seungcheol’s hand, the thumb itching low near his beltline, palpably warm even through the glove.

There's a stretching hot thing happening in his stomach, starting right there, right where Seungcheol is touching him, and it’s growing, spreading all over his body as time ticks by.

It probably doesn’t help that Seungcheol keeps murmuring really sweet shit under his breath as he works—“beautiful” and “fucking gorgeous” and “so pretty”. Jihoon’s not even sure what he’s referring to—the tattoo taking shape on his hip or Jihoon himself—but his dick doesn’t seem to care.  He can feel himself getting hard, and the persistent buzzing heat pulsing over his hip is only speeding things along.

Somehow, miraculously, Seungcheol doesn’t notice, but by the time the buzzing stops, and he’s wiping down the last spotting of blood away, Jihoon can feel his dick pressing up against his stomach and he knows it’s only a matter of minutes before Seungcheol looks down and says ‘Uhm, dude?”

He just hopes it won’t be as embarrassing as he’s imagining it in his head.

“—And we’re done. That wasn’t too bad now, was…Aw hey, what’s wrong?” Seungcheol says in vague alarm. He sets the pen down, pushing himself up to lean over Jihoon. “Was it too painful?”

Jihoon shakes his head, his mouth parched, terribly aware of Seungcheol's hand still braced on his stomach.

"I’m fine, I just—I need a minute to calm down."

Seungcheol begins to pull back, palm scraping in an arch above Jihoon’s belly, but then stops, looks really confused for a second, lines pulling across his forehead. He doesn't react right away, and the moment stretches, spinning out around them like rings dilating in water.

Jihoon holds perfectly still, having utterly no idea what the situation calls for. Do you talk about something like this? How in the hell would you go about talking about something like this?

‘Yeah, so, I’m aroused. What of it? Are you just going to stand there, or are you gonna help me out?’

What a fantastic way to ruin a friendship.

He watches Seungcheol instead, breath netting in his lungs as the confusion clears glacially off Seungcheol's face, only to be replaced by something altogether too amused.  

“Is that cause of me, or do you have some pain kink I don’t know about?” Seungcheol asks, with a sweetly mocking smile.

Jihoon glares up at him, face hot.

Great, so, Seungcheol’s taking this altogether better than he was hoping, but that doesn't help the wild jumping feeling in his chest, this free-fall. He squirms on the bench a little, huffing with the world’s cruelest mixture of arousal and mortification

You, asshole, and don’t look so smug about it.”

Seungcheol chokes out something that sounds halfway like a laugh and all the rest like relief, then he’s getting a handful of Jihoon’s jogging bottoms and yanking them down, down past his thighs.

“Well then, in that case, you won’t mind if I just—"

He trails off, not giving Jihoon time to think before he’s pinning his hips to the bench, leaning down and licking a hot stripe up the length of his cock.

Jihoon honest to god mewls like a wildcat, hips bucking up under Seungcheol’s hands. Then the other man takes the head of his cock into his mouth and sucks, goes down on him without another word, and Jihoon almost loses it right there.

Two hours later, Jihoon has two hands wrapped around the headboard, thinking it’s a damn good hindsight on Seungcheol’s part to suggest a Sunday appointment, because there really would have been no way to disguise what they were doing from anyone in a fifty-metre radius.

Yeah, Jihoon has always been a little on the vocal side during sex, but Seungcheol seems hell bent on making him scream.   

He’s already brought Jihoon to the brink of orgasm three times—first with his mouth, smiling up at Jihoon through his lashes all the while, then with three fingers, so clever and sure pushing in and out of Jihoon’s hole, then with both—sucking him off and stretching him open, until Jihoon was clawing at his shoulders and threatening him with grievous bodily harm if he didn’t hurry up and fuck him already.

By the time Seungcheol got his cock out and dicked around with a condom for a few minutes, the bastard, Jihoon was so wound up he thinks he might have even cried a little.

It’s a little fuzzy now, but he remembers glaring at Seungcheol with something warm and salty tracking down his cheeks and Seungcheol going wide-eyed and fumbling with the lube, saying ‘I’m sorry baby, imma fuck you right now. Swear to god.’

Seungcheol made it up to him though, his cock was absolutely worth the wait.

He fucked Jihoon for the first time right there on the tattoo bench—Jihoon on his back with his legs wrapped around Seungcheol's body, his jogging bottoms hanging off one ankle.; Seungcheol bare to the waist, jeans tugged down just far enough, his hands braced on either side of Jihoon’s head.

Jihoon could only lift his head long enough to watch the first slick press in, the slow draw out, catch the winded expression on Seungcheol’s face as he bottomed out and grunted “Fuck, Hoonie. Been a while, has it?” then he’d gone lax and loose limbed, let Seungcheol do whatever the hell he wanted to him. Let him bend him practically in half and pound him hard enough that their skin slapped and the bench creaked dangerously.

It was impossibly good, every inch of Seungcheol’s bulk pressing him down on the bench; Seungcheol groping him greedily, hands sliding down his thighs, on his waist and ass and dick, fucking him still. Jihoon could only cling to his shoulders and hold on for the ride, moans jerked out of his lax mouth until Seungcheol crushed their mouths together in the last few moments before he came.  

Then Seungcheol has taken him up to his apartment and took his sweet time fussing over Jihoon’s tat, smearing it with ointment and wrapping it up, before he got them both properly naked and settled on the bed for round two.

Seungcheol didn’t want to expose the new tat to anymore friction, so he guided Jihoon onto his hands and knees and fucked him from behind, two hands curled around Jihoon’s shoulders, using them as leverage to drag Jihoon back onto his cock.

It’s where Jihoon finds himself now, mindlessly rocking with two fistfuls of sheet and his hair plastered to his forehead. He’d bitten his lip raw trying to keep quiet, but now he’s babbling through each thrust with swear-riddled nonsense; a constant litany of ‘yes, yes, fuck me fuck me fuck me’, ‘right fucking there’ and ‘fuck, I love your cock.’

Normally he would have felt ridiculous about the porn movie cliché of it all, but there is no room for that in him, not right now. Especially not when Seungcheol bows over him so they’re pressed flush together, interlaces their fingers over the sheets and tells him, “That’s it, beautiful, lemme hear you”.

When he comes a second time, every sensation lines up perfectly to make it the most intense orgasm he’s ever had; Seungcheol’s hand closing warm and sure around his cock, Seungcheol’s mouth skidding hot down the line of his throat, and Seungcheol’s thick cockhead pivoting right into his sweet spot.

Jihoon fuzzes out momentarily, vision whiting out as the high lingers and then wears thin, as Seungcheol groans like a man wounded and spills hot and wet inside him.

When he returns to himself Seungcheol has eased him onto his back and is braced over him, watching him intently through half-lidded eyes, his lower lip pulled between his teeth.

They are both quiet for a minute, Seungcheol's thumbs rubbing the point of Jihoon's hipbone slowly, almost meditatively, breathing out steady and calm.

Jihoon is drifting, feeling diffuse and floaty with astonishment, wondering how long he has to wait before asking Seungcheol to fuck him again if he doesn't want to seem like a slut, when Seungcheol sighs and says:

“Look, I know I’m not your type, but do you think maybe we could try—”

“Woah, what?” Jihoon cuts in, swallowing past a sudden, thick wedge in his throat. "Who said you weren’t my type?”

Seungcheol smiles, his head bowed.

“You did, actually. When you came to the studio asked for a cuddle and then you said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not my type, you just give really good hugs’. It’s kind of the reason why I never made a move on you, I didn’t think you’d be interested.”

Jihoon gives him a bewildered look, half-irritated that he’d what somehow cockblocked himself.

“I say and do a lot of stupid things I don’t mean when I’m drunk Cheol. You’re not meant to take it as gospel.”

Seungcheol looks kind of surprised, his mouth curling at the edge, “Are you saying I don’t give good hugs?”

Jihoon tries and fails to suppress an eye roll, though he reaches up to rest a palm at the back of Seungcheol’s neck, briefly thumbing through the damp curls there.

When he tugs at Seungcheol’s neck and pulls him down, and it’s so sweet the way Seungcheol moves it’s like he’d been waiting to be asked. Like he’s just been waiting for his chance to kiss him properly. He bows over Jihoon, lips parting eagerly long before his mouth finds Jihoon’s in a crash of a kiss, swallowing Jihoon’s little whimper with a pleased sound of his own.

“Now,” Seungcheol says, very seriously, pulling at the edges of the microspore tape. “Remember, the redness is normal. It’s gonna be a little red while it heals, so it will look different in a few days.”

“Okay, okay, I know. Please, I wanna see.” Jihoon whines.  

Seungcheol grins and pulls the cling film back, and Jihoon immediately rushes over to inspect his first piece in the bedroom mirror.

It’s two Koi Fish—one black, one white, circling each other in sea of soft orange and blue scales. A beautiful twist on the Yin and Yang motif in the faintest rendering of watercolour.

Jihoon touches it with care, tracing around the outside with the tip of a finger while Seungcheol watches on.

“Well?” Seungcheol calls out from behind him, fidgeting restlessly, “Kind of in suspense here Hoonie, tell me what you think. Do you like it?”

Jihoon smiles, meeting his eyes in the mirror. “I love it.”