Actions

Work Header

Achilles Come Down

Work Text:

Achilles, Achilles, Achilles come down, won't you get up off the roof?

Eric sits on the edge of his bed, clutching the pretty piece of clothing he was just given between his tensed fingers. Though the fabric is soft, even pleasant to the touch, it feels like it’s burning his skin like acid.

The same acid that seems to coat his tongue and makes it hard to swallow the bundle of nerves blocking his airways.

The sky is melting into a dark shade of grey – it hasn’t been a sunny day, but with the lack of warmth comes the yellow, red, and brown paths of dried leaves, and the comfort of sweaters, so he welcomes fall with open arms and a relieved heart.

It won’t be long before Juyeon comes so he forces himself up and clenches his teeth as he puts aside the flowery blouse his mother told him to wear tonight, after carefully folding it so it doesn’t get wrinkled. You know how pretty you used to be with clothes like these, ‘Jae? He leaves the words with the blouse on his bed and removes his large shirt and does not spare a glance at the mirror before he can get a glimpse of himself, to grab the nude binder he oh-so-hates. It reminds him of everything he isn’t, everything he is, everything he aches to be, and leaves him breathless, but he can’t seem to breathe without it either.

His phone rings just when Eric does the last button of his white, ill-fitted shirt – it has to be oversized Eric, it’s more stylish, Chanhee said when he hesitated to buy it. He has the passing thought that in a few years, when he doesn’t have an ugly beige binder to hide under his clothes, all will be so much better, when he can just choose not to do his shirt up to the last button and not feel shame creep up his cheeks at the thought that god, he’s such a fraud.

I’m here, coming soon?” Juyeon says as soon as Eric picks up, and the latter hums, and stalls for a second, before he can answer.

Juyeon sounds just like he does every day, Eric can feel the excitement in his tone, his sweet tone that he knows by heart, and if Juyeon ever talked in a slightly different tone, Eric would’ve picked on it right away. He knows that Juyeon will know, just as fast, that the joy isn’t shared the moment Eric will open his mouth, so he needs to steel his heart.

“Coming right up, let me get my things!” Eric blabbers in a way he knows similar to his usual self, fast and overexcited, but he cringes as he hears the slight tremble that reveals his actual state of mind.

Juyeon simply hums. His tone sounds even gentler when he speaks again, “I’ll wait, take your time.” And Eric knows Juyeon knows, but he’s grateful that he doesn’t call him out.

You're scaring us, and all of us, some of us love you, Achilles, it's not much but there's proof.

It takes him just a moment before he finally readies himself and finds the strength within himself to get out of his bedroom – his childhood bedroom, one that he starts to dread staying in, and coming back to, and feeling trapped into a past self he wants to forget, a past self he can’t let go of yet, because independence is not within his reach as long as he hasn’t made the jump to grab it; he’s not sure he wants to grab it, yet.

“Juyeon’s here?” his mother calls from the living room when she hears Eric’s bedroom snap closed.

Eric simply hums, in the hope to just leave the house without facing her. It’s not that he’s scared of her, or that he’s particularly angry at her, but he knows what’s to come when she sees him and he’s everything but what she wants him to be.

And it comes. His mother turns around on the couch and takes a look at him, says nothing, but the twitch on the corner of her mouth is visible, and the slight frown is telling. Disappointment, his brain supplies him.

“Oh, you didn’t wear the shirt,” she mutters, disappointment, her voice confirms him.

Eric wants to get mad, yell at her to face the truth, but he doesn’t want to make her sad, so he smiles just the way he usually smiles at her – patient, loving – to please her, and blurts out the lie he has just spent minutes thinking of, while Juyeon patiently waits for him, “I didn’t want to get it damaged, it’s too valuable. I’ll wear it when it’s really important, I promise.”

His mother doesn’t seem too convinced, but because he promises that one day, it’s enough to reassure her for now.

“Right. Come home early? Do you need money?” she asks, ever her caring self, her love for him overflowing – and that’s why though he wants to get mad, he never can, always grits his teeth, and keeps protecting her.

“I have enough left, don’t worry. Don’t try to wait up for me or you’ll end up falling asleep on the couch,” he says and glances at the door, hesitates before he walks up to the couch and wraps his arms around his mother’s shoulders, a lump growing at the back of his throat. He feels guilty and frightened suddenly when he realizes he’s so eager to leave her and forget all about what she wants for him. “I love you, mom. Have a good evening,” he whispers as evenly as he can, leaving an affectionate kiss on her cheek.

She chuckles. “Of course, I know. Mom loves you too, princess.”

And he hates that he resents her for not trying, and he hates her for reminding him in subtle ways.

He simply briefly tightens his arms around her and stands back up straight to walk away, a rushed “See you later!” thrown over his shoulder, to leave the house. The breath Eric releases as he closes the house’s door behind him is shaky and does nothing at emptying his lungs of the feeling of guilt.

A honk echoes in the street and the sight of Juyeon’s soft smile through his car’s window does, emptying his lungs of the feeling of guilt, that is, and finally he’s breathing again as he leaves his past self behind.

You crazy assed cosmonaut, remember your virtue, redemption lies plainly in truth. Just humor us, Achilles. Achilles, Achilles, come down, won't you get up off the roof?

 “Did you eat already?” Juyeon says in lieu of greeting once Eric opens the car’s passenger door and slides in the seat.

He snorts, buckling his seatbelt as he answers, “Yeah, this stomach needs to be full because I’m planning to get so wasted, I might get disgusted by the idea of alcohol forever.”

Juyeon rolls his eyes and starts the car, frowning as he gets out of the alleyway – Eric can’t help it when his friend’s focused face sends his heart into a whirlwind, but he swallows the desire that has been bugging him more and more the past few months. “Right, and if you finish your night in the bathroom throwing up, don’t count on me to hold your hair.”

“As if,” Eric retorts immediately, nudging Juyeon’s arm with his elbow and taking his phone out of his jeans' pocket to keep himself from ogling his best friend openly. “You would help even your arch-nemesis. That’s your biggest flaw, but well, can’t help it. Main character syndrome, et cetera.”

Juyeon laughs wholeheartedly at Eric’s playful jab, and it makes him a little proud to be the one behind this sweet laughter. He casts a side-eye glance at Juyeon, feeling himself blush a little, and diverts his eyes back to his screen immediately.

“You look good, Eric,” Juyeon says with this sincere voice of his. When Eric lifts his head up to give him a shy smile, Juyeon is looking at him. His intense eyes, so black they’re hypnotizing, make his fingertips tingle.

“Eyes on the road, don’t get us in an accident, Kevin would kill us for missing the show.”

Juyeon chuckles and focuses back on the road, and Eric lets out a silent breath.

Silence floats in the car for a little while, and he leans his head against the window, to look at the city lights that become more colorful and stronger as they drive further into the center of the city, where no one ever goes to sleep. The sidewalks become filled with people, and he watches people in suits waiting for their buses, groups of high schoolers not yet out of their uniforms walking to the arcades, couples on dates.

He’s not quiet, not usually. He never likes to leave silence reign, but tonight he finds himself wordless, almost apathetic, tired of his own voice. He doesn’t want to hear himself talk, excited, and notice how high-pitched his voice is.

You look good, Eric, Juyeon’s words replay in his head, and he wants to cling onto them and make himself feel like he believes them.

There’s an itch, under his skin. Something that makes him self-aware, self-conscious.

“Eric,” Juyeon calls, bringing Eric’s eyes onto him. Hearing him call him by his name makes his heart jolt in his chest. His best friend is not looking at him, but he knows all his attention has been on him the second he entered the car, he can nearly touch the palpable worry that seeps out of him.

You worry too much, Eric thinks but doesn’t say it out loud. Juyeon always worries about him – always has. Sometimes, he wishes there were more than sincere and fond friendship behind his worry, but he reprimands himself every time for it, because friendship is all they have and he’s lucky enough not to have lost it yet.

Eric hums to tell Juyeon he’s listening when the latter doesn’t speak further.

“What kind of day is it?”

They have a thing, when they don’t know how the other is feeling nor what they need, but don’t want to push each other to speak when they’re not yet ready to. Eric wonders if he wants to answer, a day where I don’t feel like talking. Juyeon would be okay with it, and simply smile at him and do his best to distract him away from whatever is wrong, okay with not knowing exactly what’s going on until Eric is ready to tell.

“A day where I feel ashamed,” he replies instead, the feeling becoming worse a second before Juyeon hums and takes a hand off the stirring wheel to pat Eric’s thigh.

Instead of looking at him sympathetically and making him feel more pathetic than he already does, his best friend stops at a red light and softly but firmly says, “then you choose: we ditch everyone, and you hide, or we don’t, and you fight it off.”

Though it sounds almost patronizing, it makes Eric feel better – because Juyeon loves to protect him, but never overprotects him, and it is clear in the way he gives him the choice that he wants Eric to fight, but ultimately, he would go along with it with no judgment if Eric didn’t feel ready.

Juyeon squeezes Eric’s thigh before letting it go when the light goes back to green.

“No,” Eric replies in the end, his voice small, “no, let’s go. I don’t want to miss out on the show.”

Achilles, Achilles, Achilles, come down, won't you get up off the roof? The self is not so weightless, nor whole and unbroken.

It’s only a little past 9PM when they park near the bar. It’s a hole in the wall, hidden in a quite shady-looking labyrinth of narrow streets – only people who know it’s here come here. Their place, so familiar to them it feels like a second home. They walk through the badly lit streets and get away from the main street, where it’s only light and pop music pulsing like a giant heart. They let themselves be swallowed by the shadows, that only the somewhat outcasts dare to graze and mix with, and soon enough they can hear their footsteps – the heels of their polished shoes slamming against the irregular pavement – through the music muffled by the buildings.

Juyeon has a cigarette hanging at his lips as he walks leisurely beside Eric, his arm wrapped around the smaller boy’s narrow shoulders. Eric sometimes wonders if he hates how small Juyeon makes him feel, or if he loves it so much, he’d kill to keep this feeling. When Juyeon drapes himself over Eric and shields him from everything and makes him feel like he’s the most precious to him, it’s always a delight to be reminded of how dear he is to Juyeon, despite everything. Yet sometimes it makes his skin crawl, makes him reel in disgust – at himself.

It’s a little bit of both, tonight.

Halfway between petulantly and child-like, Eric snatches Juyeon’s cigarette from where it’s pinched between two of his fingers and brings it to his own lips, while the older boy laughs, surprised.

“You know, if you wanted one you could’ve just asked,” Juyeon mutters, but doesn’t try to get his cigarette back and doesn’t even light himself another one.

Eric simply sticks his tongue at him after blowing a puff of smoke, and they continue walking through the maze-shaped backstreets.

He is hot, under Juyeon’s embrace, but doesn’t shrug him off, feeling at ease despite the thick leather jacket the older is wearing and that should feel a bit uncomfortable against his neck. As they reach the bar’s entrance, a bright purple neon sign shining above it, they come to a stop.

Juyeon silently reaches for Eric’s hand, the one holding the cigarette, and his heart halts before running on without him when instead of just taking the tube from him, Juyeon covers the back of Eric’s hand with his own large palm and bring it to his mouth, to take a drag of the cigarette directly from his fingers.

Eric can feel himself burst into flames, a stinging ache pulling at his guts, and his thighs tense against his will, as he can only watch wordlessly the neon purple lights reflect on Juyeon’s smooth skin and highlight all the right angles of his face. His mouth is dry and before he notices it, he’s licking his lips, but bites the inside of his cheeks, telling himself to get a grip before Juyeon raises his eyes and spots the desire that makes his stomach churn, because he knows his own gaze strained on his best friend’s lips around the tobacco tube, so close, too close to his finger pads, surely is unequivocal.

He is left confused, beet-red, his breath shallow when he looks away as Juyeon’s long lashes fan his high cheekbones and he releases the cigarette, deeply inhaling his long drag, and then blows it above Eric’s head. He feels like the smoke seeps right into him and fogs his mind even more.

Two months ago, he wouldn’t even have batted an eyelash at this kind of gesture – today, it makes him clench his fist around the fabric of his jeans and wish Juyeon would do something that’s way past the boundaries of their precious friendship. The feeling of shame makes a great blend with the yearning that shoots through his chest when his sight fills with the image of him grabbing Juyeon’s hand like he just did, and instead of leading it to his mouth to have a smoke, he takes it somewhere that leaves no space for anything platonic.

Eric almost topples over as Juyeon releases his hand like nothing happened – and really nothing happened, to him at least. He is dazed, struggling to get out of his vivid vision, and it makes him almost sick to think that Juyeon is entirely oblivious to his state, when he feels so utterly disgusting.

He takes the last drag of the cigarette to ground himself and crushes it, nodding with a crooked smile at Juyeon, who’s raising an eyebrow, silently asking if he’s ready to go in.

Remember the pact of our youth: where you go, I'm going, so jump and I'm jumping since there is no me without you. Soldier on, Achilles.

Inside, the place is just like it always is. Dark, somewhat rustic, there’s really nothing special to it, but it’s comforting, and its atmosphere welcomes them like old friends. It’s early still, so it’s not too crowded, though all the tables are filled. Sunwoo’s the first to notice them and wave them over with a grin, eyes drooping in a way that tells Eric that his friend has at least had two drinks already.

“Took you two long enough,” Changmin says when they reach the table, and Hyunjae pushes the others a little to leave them a spot to sit – Eric takes it, while Juyeon simply snatches an unoccupied chair from another table, with a polite smile to the two girls sitting there. “You just missed Kevin and Chanhee.”

“Ah, Chanhee’s also performing tonight?” Eric asks, silently thanking Sangyeon when he slides the beers they have already ordered for them towards them.

Younghoon hums, his gaze strained on the stage with anticipation. “He wasn’t supposed to, another queen canceled last minute so the boss asked him to. It’s been a long time since he last did it, right?” he says, diverting his eyes away from the stage to smile at Eric, who nods, endeared.

Younghoon is the last addition to their group, but Eric quickly took a liking to him the more Chanhee brought him along with them. It was a surprise, really, to see him again just a few weeks after the night they had met him. A year later, Younghoon seems just as enticed by Chanhee as he had at the beach, and he is just as gentle with them all as he had been when they had invited him within their circle.

Only Jacob is missing tonight, it seems. Eric looks at Hyunjae, who’s deep in a conversation with Haknyeon, laughing but a little subdued. They’re all aware that ever since Jacob went back to Canada for at least a year, Hyunjae has been struggling a bit, so they’ve been trying to cheer him up. Eric often feels himself ache for him – whenever he tries to imagine Juyeon leaving, even if not forever, his stomach twists with anxiety, so he supposes it’s the same for Hyunjae, who he has never known not in love with Jacob, though he has never ever confessed. It would have been a disaster if he had, with Jacob going lengths to avoid any romantic relationship.

Eric sighs. He can relate well too much to whatever Hyunjae must be feeling.

Glancing at Juyeon, he finds him listening gently to Hyunjun, who’s ranting about a professor – Hyunjun is taking the same course as Juyeon did, so they often complain about their classes together.

“You’re quiet today, Eric. Doing okay?” Changmin whispers when Eric lets his eyes roam the place, letting himself be lulled by the noise of his friends talking between themselves and the other customers’ chats and laughter, the few clatters from behind the counter where two bartenders are bickering while there’s no one to tend, and the door opening a few times while the bar slowly gets more crowded.

“A little tired, is all,” Eric dismisses Changmin’s worry, knowing well that he’s not the type to insist. And he doesn’t, simply putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing it a little, before he focuses back on Sunwoo, who’s spouting nonsense, unsurprisingly, but he laughs along with the group, though he hasn’t heard a thing about his friend’s story.

He lets himself fall back, content with watching, instead of doing the talking like he usually would, and silently sips on his beer.

His friends are unapologetically themselves. Unapologetically boys.

He finds envy boiling in his guts, so that’s when he gets up after drinking the last drop of beer in his bottle and mumbles he’s going out to have a smoke, though it has maybe only been fifteen minutes since he has been sitting. But he’s feeling bitter for no reason, so he needs fresh air.

“Ah, wait,” Hyunjae stops him, also getting up, “coming with you.”

Eric nods, and glances at Juyeon, hoping a bit he’s going to follow too, but the latter has fallen back into the ongoing conversation. He sighs and goes out with Hyunjae, reaching for his cigarette pack in his pocket and getting two, bringing one to his mouth and giving the other to his friend.

Hyunjae lights both cigarettes once they’re out, and they stay silent a second or two, before the older boy opens his mouth.

“If you’re about to ask if I’m okay, don’t waste your breath,” Eric cuts him off before Hyunjae can speak, and the latter chuckles, holding his hands up.

“Fine, fine, I won’t ask,” his friend says, wrapping an arm around Eric’s shoulders. “One of those days?”

Eric sighs – he sighs an awful lot, today.

“Hm. How’s Jacob?” he says sourly, to divert the conversation away from himself, and immediately feels a pang of guilt when Hyunjae winces and then gives him tight-lipped smile.

“Ouch. Could’ve just said you don’t wanna talk about it, dude.”

“Sorry,” Eric mumbles, lightly shoving his shoulder against Hyunjae’s chest, and the hold Hyunjae has around his shoulders tightens, signaling him the apology has been accepted.

“I guess this cigarette goes to us, depressed and lovesick fools,” Hyunjae jokes, self-deprecating, and he takes a drag, blowing it to Eric’s face.

Eric retaliates. “I’m not a lovesick fool,” he protests while his friend rolls his eyes.

“Lie to Juyeon, this oblivious fuck, not to me, baby.”

“I hate you, you know?” Eric whines, but burst out laughing nonetheless, weirdly comforted by Hyunjae’s aggressive honesty. He still shoves him away from himself, a hand flat on his chest. “Ooh, Hyunjae, growing boobs, are we?” he teases when he feels his friend’s muscular chest through the fabric of his cotton shirt, patting it.

Hyunjae pushes him away, snickering, and protects his chest with prude hands. “That’s sexual harassment, mister Sohn Eric.” Eric kicks him in the ankle, making his friend scamper away a little. “Sangyeon’s been dragging me to the gym. No idea if it’s because he needs a new gym buddy now that Jacob’s away, or if it’s because he’s trying to distract me,” he explains eventually, when they have stopped play-fighting.

“And it’s working?”

“Don’t know. But at least I’m growing boobs. Maybe I should start doing drag too, I won’t need paddings like Chanhee or Kevin.”

Eric snorts, choking on the smoke of his cigarette. “If you want, I can give you my tiddies, they’re quite perky.”

“Keep them for the flat-chested twinks,” Hyunjae retorts, elbowing him in the ribs. “Let’s get back inside, I’m freezing my ass.”

“What ass?” Eric attacks, but follows Hyunjae back inside.

“Shut up, you’re no better. Want another beer?”

“No, something stronger.”

He wonders a moment if he should thank Hyunjae for cheering him up with his antics, but he stays silent in the end and only smiles gratefully at him when he leads him to the counter.

“It’s going to be fine,” he says, right before they join their friends again, squeezing Hyunjae’s arm, “right?” And he’s asking for both of them.

“Of course, Eric. Don’t worry so much, alright? Let’s just enjoy the show.”

Loathe the way they light candles in Rome but love the sweet air of the votives. Hurt and grieve but don't suffer alone, engage with the pain as a motive.

The lights turn neon around 10PM and the nineties rock tunes that have been playing in the background cut off, and that’s when the night really begins. The bar is overfilled by that time. Most of them are still sitting at their table, near the stage, but Sangyeon, Younghoon, Sunwoo, and Changmin got up to watch the show from the dancefloor. He can’t see them anymore, since most customers are gathered under the stage to cheer for the show, but he easily supposes all four of them are in the front row.

Kevin is the first queen to appear on the platform, or rather, La Lune appears. Eric has always been quite impressed by the character his friend has created – at first, it started with an obsession for a French Pierrot La Lune in a children song he had learned as a kid, when he lived in Canada, Kevin told him once, that had grown into a fascination for the Italian Pedrolino and the Commedia dell’Arte. Eric isn’t sure he understands to the full extent Kevin’s love for the character, always feeling quite small next to Kevin or Chanhee’s knowledge on arts, but he’s breathless as he always is when Kevin – no, La Lune – comes up on the stage perched on twelve inches stilettos, covered in a puffy white clown gown that despite its shapeless form, elongates her figure until she looks like she towers over the crowd.

La Lune’s persona is so full of confidence and charisma that seems so distant from who Kevin is, shy, insecure, and soft. Yet, it’s undeniable that La Lune is Kevin, and her androgynous painted white face merely is a mask that helps him express all the beauty within himself he is otherwise too timid to show the world. Her makeup is delicate and pretty, yet leaves a strong impression nonetheless, eyes lined in black, eyebrows concealed and replaced with two pink shadow dots that make her look melancholic, the tip of her nose sky blue, and her lips overlined in bright red. Glitter tears are drawn on her cheeks and make her look like she has just jumped from the moon to land on earth.

She looks ethereal, shining under the neon lights directed to the stage where she lip-syncs to lyrics that are quite scandalous – the lights pour down on her and reflect on her mostly white outfit in a mesmerizing way and blend beautifully with the colors on her face and the curls of her cotton-candy pink wig.

Eric enjoys the ten minutes performance she puts out, cheering and laughing hard enough to fall into Juyeon, who has migrated next to him, when she pretends to stumble with an exaggerated and dramatic face of surprise. She is quirky, funny, and campy, and everything that he knows Kevin to be, but every time he watches La Lune on stage, he can only understand too well the love Sangyeon holds for his boyfriend.

All of them yell, chant La Lune! La Lune! La Lune! over and over with deafening claps when she disappears with a theatrical bow and mimes to fall over her heels on her way out, and Eric grins at Juyeon when the latter is emboldened by alcohol and blows a whistle loud enough to pierce through the crowd.

“Anyone wants anything to drink?” Eric asks when they have calmed down to let the other drag queens perform. Chanhee is coming in the latter part of the show, his performances always milder and more sensual, perfect to finish the night, in the bar’s boss’ opinion, and not that they don’t enjoy the other queens, cheering just as loud for them, but they let themselves be more excited when it comes to their friends.

Hyunjae, Haknyeon, and Hyunjun all nod and ask for more beer, and when Eric looks at Juyeon, his best friend is getting up. “I’ll come with you, need to pee,” he says, a bit unstable on his long legs, which makes Eric snicker as he follows him to the bathroom.

He’s silently grateful to follow Juyeon there, because he often finds himself too anxious to use the men’s restroom by himself – though he’s aware that people usually don’t blink twice at him, especially when most of them are drunk, still, he always feels like they know the second he goes for the stalls instead of the urinals. Juyeon is used to it enough not to be weirded out by Eric trailing behind him on his way to the restroom, and it’s even likely that he expected it, and only drapes himself over the smaller boy’s back, despite the discomfort of the heat inside the bar.

Even if he’s with Juyeon and he feels safe with him, he’s relieved to see no one other than them in the restroom.

“Why do I keep drinking beer? I feel like my bladder’s gonna burst,” Juyeon mutters as he detaches himself from Eric to go straight to the urinals, while Eric cackles a bit too loud, and disappears in the cleanest stall he can find.

“Men are animals, can’t you bunch pee straight?” Eric gags as he discovers the state of the toilet seat. Unfortunately, he has no choice but to squat, even if it means his thighs are going to be sore tomorrow.

“Gotta get used to it,” Juyeon teases from the other side of the door, “you know alpha males need to pee everywhere to feel all big.”

Eric snorts as he flushes the toilets and opens the stall door. “Giving up, I’m drawing the line here. I will repress everything and forget about gender altogether,” he deadpans, staring right into Juyeon’s endeared eyes, watching him from where he’s leaning back on the sink, and they both burst out laughing.

“Stop saying bullshit, and let’s go back before we miss Chanhee. And I’m thirsty, now,” Juyeon replies when they have stopped cackling like geese.

Today of all days, see how the most dangerous thing is to love, how you will heal, and you'll rise above.

As midnight is around the corner, the neon lights take a reddish color and the atmosphere becomes sultrier. Kevin and Sangyeon have come back to the table, and Kevin, still wearing his drag persona like a second skin, kissed both Eric and Juyeon on the cheeks, leaving bright red kiss marks on their faces that they haven’t bothered wiping off, and it mirrors Sangyeon’s mouth, so dark it looks like he’s also wearing lipstick – well, he is now that he has been thoroughly kissed by his boyfriend.

La Sodoma, Chanhee’s drag persona, rarer to encounter since he doesn’t perform regularly like Kevin does, walks up on the stage, languid and predatory. If La Sodoma also takes inspiration from the Italian arts, as Eric remembers from Chanhee’s passionate babbler a few years back, she is drastically different from La Lune. And where Eric feels dreamy and filled with childlike wonder whenever he looks at La Lune, he’s all awed envy and admiration when he watches La Sodoma challenge binarity and stereotypes.

Chanhee’s love for high fashion is obvious in the way he dresses La Sodoma. She’s both masculine and feminine, not wearing any padding and sporting a lithe and void of curves body with pride, flat-chested and hipless figure undeniably boy, and tucked crotch and never-ending legs breathtakingly ambiguous. She wears latex thigh-high boots with heels so high and thin, it’s a wonder she seems so stable on her feet, and the outfit is similar to playboy bunny leotards, with a cropped leather jacket that stops right above her cinched waist. It’s minimalistic in a way that screams luxury and brings the work on the makeup out.

The inspiration tonight seems to be leaning towards a rockabilly aesthetic, her jet-black wig styled in a quiff and her face painted ostentatiously, eyes accentuated with a flamboyant cat-eye, her brows drawn thick, dark, and so long they nearly reach her hairline, and her mouth overlined with red in a more natural way than La Lune, but still overdramatic.

She smirks and bats her fake eyelashes at the crowd, wrapping long manicured fingers around a microphone. Chanhee loves to sing, so he does it whenever he performs as La Sodoma, and everyone in the crowd cheers when the drag queen on the stage sings the first words to Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, her signature song. Sunwoo and Chanhee had worked hard on rearranging the song to make it more “modern, queer, and villain,” as per Chanhee’s words, than Marilyn Monroe’s version.

And it works, she’s sultry, burlesque, and unattainable.

Eric was a little shy the first time he saw Chanhee as his drag persona, a bit too young, a bit too ill-at-ease with himself, to understand the appeal of the need to be provocative, challenging, and pridefully yourself. He had blushed when Juyeon introduced him to his college friends and Chanhee had looked so comfortable with the glares sent his way for not caring in the least about his androgyny. He had spluttered, slightly outraged, when Juyeon explained for the first time what Chanhee’s drag name means, but the latter had just kindly smiled and said, “I learned about an Italian painter in high school, he was nicknamed the sodomite because he liked boys a bit too much, but he wore it proudly and now he’s known as Il Sodoma, centuries later. You’re young and uneasy with yourself, so I understand why you’re embarrassed. But you’ll learn not to be ashamed of bothering a few people, because we can’t change who we are anyway.

Three years later, as he’s not a high schooler anymore, but starting his second year of college, and a whole lot admirative of the eleven boys who surround him like a family and a home, he understands the appeal of pride.

Eric smiles brightly at La Sodoma when she looks towards them, her smirk widening happily until she’s grinning, as the last notes of the song fade into the applause from the crowd, and she struts away from the stage.

A fit of jealousy he’s accustomed to is churning in his stomach. Eric gulps the last of his disgustingly sweet drink and feels happy with how his ears buzz from all the alcohol he has drunk. He’s a bit light-headed but it feels like a cottony bubble is wrapped around him, and he feels good in a melancholic sort of way.

Chanhee comes back to the table hanging at Younghoon’s arm, despite being much taller than his boyfriend, perched on his high heels, and Changmin and Sunwoo are trailing behind them. In a similar fashion as Kevin did, Chanhee kisses Juyeon and Eric on the cheek and soon, they both wear twin red lipstick blotches like a ridiculously applied contouring on their cheeks.

“Man, I’m about to lose my balls,” Chanhee complains, ungracefully sitting at the table with his thighs spread open, wiggling uncomfortably on his chair, and doing a great job at shattering into billions of pieces his enticing image. Younghoon’s blush is obvious when he pushes Chanhee’s long legs together, and they all snicker as Chanhee gives an impish look at his boyfriend.

“You’re the one who chose the leotard, as old-fashioned as it is,” Kevin quips, his tongue mischievously playing with the straw of his cocktail. “You could’ve gone for the free-balling lifestyle I chose to go by,” Kevin continues, wiggling his absent eyebrows at the other drag queen.

“Ladies, I love you both, you know it,” Changmin interrupts before Chanhee can retaliate, “but I really don’t want to know more about your dicks and balls.”

A chorus of cackles echoes from their table, and Eric lets himself be filled with the ease of his friend’s banters, grounded by the hand Juyeon rests on his thigh, unconsciously.

Achilles, Achilles, Achilles jump now. You are absent of cause or excuse. So self-indulgent and self-referential, no audience could ever want you.

Nearing 1AM, Eric finds that he has been dozing off on Juyeon’s shoulder for a while, when his friend gently shakes his shoulder to tell him they’re going home. The bar’s just as noisy as when he started getting sleepy, now that the drag show is over, iconic band songs are playing and most customers are dancing. In a daze, he notices that Sangyeon, Kevin, Haknyeon, and Hyunjun aren’t there, so he guesses they have joined the dancefloor.

“I think I better take Eric home, I think it’s past his bedtime,” Juyeon tells their friends, who all chuckle, while Eric blinks, a bit confused. “There go his plans to get wasted.” Eric would protest, but his mouth is a little furred, so he stays quiet and just gets up as well.

“I’ll walk you out, I need a smoke,” Chanhee says, and soon enough Younghoon and Hyunjae also get up for the same reason, while Sunwoo and Changmin are too engrossed in each other to notice them leaving.

Eric simply watches Juyeon gather their things for him and then follows him, aware he’s being useless but his mind too foggy to do something about it.

Once they’re out and the fresh air fills his lungs, he finally gets a bit of his senses back.

“Stay for a cigarette, before going home?” Hyunjae asks, and they both easily agree.

Now that he has sobered a bit with his slumber, but he’s still a little drunk and a little sleepy, Eric finds that he’s a bit moody, so he stays quiet as he smokes and just listens to Hyunjae, Younghoon, and Juyeon talk.

He startles when he feels a warm hand on his neck, before he notices that it’s just Chanhee leaning to whisper for him only to hear, “Heavy heart, or sad drunk?”

Eric feels the corner of his mouth twitch but feels at ease with the soft scratch of Chanhee’s manicured nails on the base of his hairline. “I’m fine,” he lies, and his friend is obviously not fooled.

Chanhee smiles at him in a way that makes Eric feel infuriatingly younger. “At least talk about it with Juyeon, don’t keep it all for yourself, okay? I’m glad you wore this shirt tonight, I told you it’d fit you well. You look very handsome, Eric.”

For no reason at all, Chanhee’s words make a lump grow in his throat and tears sting his eyes, so he pinches his lips and nods. His friend doesn’t seem too bothered by his lack of answer, going back to their other friends’ conversation.

A cigarette turns into two before they finally leave with friendly hugs, promising to get all together the next day.

“I drank a bit. Do you feel up for a walk or do you want me to call a designated driver?” Juyeon asks when they’re silently walking side to side in the narrow streets.

“Depends,” Eric diverts his eyes from the tip of his shoes to look up at his best friend. “I don’t want to see mom. Can I crash at yours?”

Juyeon smiles and nods, catching his hand and intertwining their fingers. “You’re always welcome.”

“Then let’s walk, you don’t live far enough to spend money on a designated driver,” Eric says with finality, aware of the drunken drawl in his speech, but pleased to hear the brokenness of his voice. It sounds husky and masculine, and he wishes it were always like that.

“Okay.” And as always, Juyeon accepts to go along with whatever Eric wishes to do, seeming unbothered by the idea of coming back the next day to get his abandoned car. A rush of love spreads through him, and though he tries to make the feeling simmer down, it’s impossible.

He loves his best friend, the one person he can’t lose, too much to ignore it.

You crave the applause, yet hate the attention, then miss it, your act is a ruse. It is empty, Achilles, so end it all now, it's a pointless resistance for you.

It’s only a fifteen minutes walk from the bar to Juyeon’s place. Soon enough, they reach the main street, pop songs welcoming them back. It’s crowded with people entirely different than the crowd they have just left. Naturally, Eric lets go of Juyeon’s hand to bury his fist in his denim’s pocket.

They stay silent, surrounded by nightlife and a city that never sleeps, until Juyeon breaks it.

“Should we get snacks on our way?” he asks, and Eric is relieved he’s not asking again if he’s fine.

He’s tired.

“Yeah. And something to drink, I definitely didn’t get wasted enough,” Eric smiles, and ignores the way Juyeon clenches his teeth to hold back a nag.

So, they enter the first convenience store they find and make a quick job at getting junk food, beer, and two bottles of soju. The idea of eating and drinking with Juyeon, safe at his best friend’s place is almost enough to make the weird weight on his heart disappear entirely, and he catches himself smiling a bit.

When they come up to the cashier to pay, Juyeon gasps, “ah! Wait, we need cheese, too,” he explains, determined, and disappears back into the store, leaving Eric to the cashier. He shrugs, starting to put the foot into a plastic bag, in the meantime.

“Card, or cash, si-” the cashier starts to ask as he looks up, before he cuts himself off and squints at Eric, whose heart plummets to his stomach, “miss…? Um.”

He’s used to it. Really, he’s used to it, so he shouldn’t feel shame crawl under his skin, he shouldn’t feel anymore the pines and needles prickling at his neck, nor the urge to leave and hide. In the end, he just smiles, embarrassed, unable to answer and his eyes drop to his feet as he gets his wallet out of his pocket.

“Sir, it’s sir,” Juyeon’s voice says casually behind him, startling him. His friend smiles politely at the cashier, putting the cheese down for him to scan, and takes out his own wallet. “And card.”

Eric is angry.

He numbly puts the cheese into the plastic bag, with the other groceries, and closes his wallet, watching Juyeon pay instead.

Not at Juyeon, but at himself. He’s angry at himself, for letting himself get scared by his own shame, when Juyeon did it so easily, when the cashier was maybe a bit insensitive but not purposedly bigoted. He could’ve done it, but instead, he could only let Juyeon stand up for him.

He’s angry, and embarrassed. Of himself, and for his friend.

He wonders if perhaps, Juyeon also gets embarrassed when people get confused about Eric.

He hopes not.

“Can you cut my hair, tomorrow?” Eric asks when they’re out and walking in the residential street where Juyeon lives. He surprises himself with how strained and choked up he sounds. He doesn’t look up, but he feels Juyeon stare at him.

Their shoulders brush.

“Do you really want to?”

Not really. He had kept his hair short for about five years, before he thought himself ready to let them grow a little, emboldened by his friends who all seem to never question who he is, because he likes the idea of tying them into buns, likes how manly it looks on some boys.

“It was a mistake.”

It really didn’t feel like one, when Kevin cut his hair just a bit so they would grow prettily and not messily, nor when Juyeon applied the red dye on his hair, or earlier, when he tied back the strands falling to his chin in a bun. It really feels like one, now, though.

“Do you really want to?” Juyeon insists, and Eric finally looks up at him. He knows his face is red with shame and his sight is blurred with tears. He must look pathetic, to Juyeon.

The one person he really wishes would find him attractive, as a man. The one person he really wishes he would impress, sometimes.

“Please.”

Juyeon purses his lips, but nods eventually, looking at him sadly when a broken sob spills past his mouth and he catches him in his arms, ever the gentle him.

“Okay.”

Achilles, Achilles, just put down the bottle, don't listen to what you've consumed. It's chaos, confusion, and wholly unworthy of feeding and it's wholly untrue.

Around 1:30AM, Eric is sitting on Juyeon’s balcony chair, wrapped in a soft blanket, and staring down at the blurred streetlights. He can hear his best friend move around his apartment, getting glasses and boiling water for noodles.

He sniffles, his nose a bit stuffed from crying a bit a moment ago.

Juyeon hasn’t said a thing, since he led Eric to the balcony, their preferred spot to pour their hearts down to each other, so he knows that Juyeon’s determined to have him talk. It’s nice to have a friend who cares enough to let him stay quiet when he needs yet keeps him from bottling his feelings down when he’s going around in circles.

He hates it sometimes, that he won’t be left alone to indulge in his worst thoughts, when he feels bitter that despite Juyeon’s affection for him, despite all his friends’ love for him, he must fight and overcome shame and disgust still.

He tries to take a deep breath, but he notices his breath is a bit shallow, and he’s suddenly too aware of the uncomfortable tightness of his binder. It’s stifling and the weight on his heart is suddenly heavier because he wants to get it off but feels desperate to keep it longer.

Eric is awakened from his thoughts when Juyeon puts down two steaming bowls of ramen on the balcony table, opening the few other snacks they bought, and mixes soju and beer with expert hands.

“Eat up,” the older boy says, pointing at Eric’s bowl with his chin, as he dives into his own.

Eric nods, and does so, trying to get in control of his breath, and waiting for his best friend to be the first one to speak up. He simply slurps on his noodles, feels the heat of the broth unblock his stuffed nose, and sniffles ungracefully.

He realizes belatedly that it’s a bit early, still. That Juyeon brought him home and left their night-out because of him, and he’s not even being pleasant, funny, nor talkative.

“Sorry,” Eric mutters into his bowl, not daring to look up.

“Hm? Why?”

He straightens himself, leaving his noodles unfinished, but keeps his head down, and gnaws on his bottom lip.

“I don’t know, ruining your night I guess,” he explains, sheepish, “we left early because of me. And now you’re stuck with me and my annoying moodiness.”

When Juyeon stays silent long enough to make him jittery, Eric eventually gazes up at him. His friend is frowning at him, seemingly looking for his words.

Eric waits, scared that Juyeon is about to get angry at him.

But he doesn’t. Instead, his friend just turns on his chair to fully face Eric and leans towards him, staring at him intently in the eyes. “I was under the impression that you’d known that no matter what, you come first for me,” Juyeon says, with a soft smile tugging the corners of his lips up, that doesn’t quite reach his thin eyes, but feels sincere. He diverts his gaze towards a stray strand of hair framing Eric’s face, and tucks it behind his ear. “Remember how we used to say we are like Achilles and Patroclus? I will wear your armor and fight for you, no matter what.”

Eric swallows, and his throat hurts.

“It’s a bit cliché,” he retorts half-heartedly, feeling his sight blur again, but looking up to keep his tears from spilling again.

When Eric was sixteen, and Juyeon eighteen, the younger boy had waited anxiously for his friend at the end of their school day. It had been hard not to stumble and fumble on the words he wanted to confess to his childhood best friend first. Can you call me Eric, from now on? Juyeon, albeit confused, had nodded, and emboldened by his unassuming air, he had blurted out for the first time, I’m a boy.

Remember when we were kids and watched Troy? I know it’s a bad movie, but we used to pretend to be Achilles and Patroclus, he had continued, red and intimidated by Juyeon’s unmoving gaze, his attention solely onto him. He hadn’t needed to say more for Juyeon to follow him.

Of course. I will wear your armor and fight for you, Eric.

At eight and ten years old, they had watched the American blockbuster and had pretended to be the closest war companions; at sixteen and eighteen years old, they both knew better, but chose not to address it.

At twenty and twenty-two years old, Eric puts out the small flame that shines like hope in his heart and doesn’t say that Juyeon’s words sound like he’s telling him he loves him in a way that’s a lot more than the closest war companions, that this cringy and cliché comparison can be innocent between children and teenagers but holds a lot more as adults.

“I know it’s cliché, but it’s still the truth,” Juyeon chuckles, ruffling Eric’s red hair. “I’ll follow you in each one of your battles, and I’ll wear your armor until you’re willing to wear it yourself.”

And Eric can’t help it, that he is entirely gone for Juyeon’s words and lets them reach him deep in his guts, even though he receives them as a lover, and Juyeon confesses them as a brother.

You may feel no purpose, nor a point for existing, it's all just conjecture and gloom. And there may not be meaning, so find one and seize it. Do not waste yourself on this roof.

It starts raining around 2AM. It’s a sort of chilly rain, that pours softly on the city and makes the streets’ asphalt shine in the same yellowish-orange hue of the streetlights. It feels calming to be lulled by the sound of the rain when there’s barely any noise in the residential area, to feel the cold of the night wrapped in a blanket and sheltered by the balcony above Juyeon’s floor.

They have eaten most of the snacks they bought earlier and drank a few drinks. Eric doesn’t feel senseless though, just a bit dizzy and foggy, but aware.

Juyeon looks like a peaceful cat, next to him. They have brought the balcony chairs together to face the view – not that there’s much to see, except for dots of light in the horizon and a few windows turning black as the night goes.

The sky is a vast black, there are no stars, nor the moon shining up here, and even the clouds hiding them can’t be seen. It makes Eric slightly dizzy, to feel like he’s staring up at a bottomless hole, and that even if he squints and tries to make out the nuances and shapes of the dark gray clouds, he can’t.

“Maybe you should just stop caring about your mom’s feelings, and be more selfish,” Juyeon says after a while and brings Eric back to earth, as he continues the conversation that had died down when Eric admitted that he craves for the next step to his journey, but he is held back. “And not only her. Just be more selfish.”

Eric looks at Juyeon thoughtfully, and feels his hands shake and anxiety spread through his chest. He lights up a cigarette to busy his hands.

“I can’t, Juyeon,” he says, a tremor in his voice that reveals his inner panic. Immediately, Juyeon is closing his large palms around one of Eric’s hands to ground him. “I don’t want to give up on the only family I have left, just because I am not…”

Eric cuts himself off, at the same time Juyeon takes a deep breath to interrupt him.

“You’re normal. Don’t say you aren’t,” his friend says a bit angrily, furrowing his eyebrows. “Don’t say things about you that you wouldn’t think about other people, you know it’s your fear speaking, not you.”

“Sorry.”

Eric feels the tears pooling in his eyes again, and the sobs clawing around his lungs, and this time the build-up is too strong to swallow his pain back.

“I can’t do it, it’s too hard,” he confesses finally, his voice cracking with his emotion and his breath coming short, and this time he doesn’t try to hold back, lets himself go into Juyeon’s arms.

His best friend catches him and rests a hand on the back of his head to lead his face into the crook of his neck, taking his burning cigarette away from him, and then he drapes himself over him like he’s trying to shield him.

Eric tries to focus on the musky and strong smell of Juyeon’s perfume, on the warmth of his skin, on the gentleness of his fingers when he traces abstract shapes on his back through the fabric of his shirt, but his chest is tight, too tight, and the pain and uneasiness it brings him makes him frustrated.

He’s hiccupping into Juyeon’s embrace and his lungs are empty, and he doesn’t know how to breathe anymore, as if he has forgotten entirely how to do it.

Eric claws at Juyeon’s back, digging his nails into his shoulder blades through his cotton shirt, trying to struggle against the way his heart and ribs ache.

“Eric, Eric,” Juyeon calls, when he notices the younger boy’s ragged breath, trying to detach him from himself to put space between them, “Eric, stop, get it off.”

Eric shakes his head, still hiding in Juyeon’s neck, and resisting his friend’s attempt to get him off of himself. He can barely hear a thing of what Juyeon is saying, deafened by the sound of his irregular gasps and sobs, and he hears himself choke like he’s not in his own body anymore.

“Eric!” Juyeon ends up yelling to snap Eric’s attention to him – he sounds a bit scared. He’s not trying to put a bit of space between them anymore, gone back to rubbing his back comfortingly. “Please, you won’t calm down until you get it off.”

“I can’t,” Eric sobs, tightening his arms around Juyeon and squeezing his eyes shut. He keeps trying to inhale the reassuring scent of Juyeon’s skin, but it ends in gasps.

“Can I?” Juyeon murmurs in his ear, sounding unsure, and through his unfocused state, Eric registers the shivers that litter his back as he feels Juyeon’s fingers toying with the hem of his shirt.

Tense, breathless, and in pain, Eric eventually nods into Juyeon’s neck, and right away his best friend’s hand travels under his shirt, and he would stop to think of how pleasant his soft finger pads feel against his own skin, but he can only feel a headache pulse against his temples as another wave of tears spill on his cheeks when Juyeon’s fingertips reach the straps of his binder and pinch them to undo it.

The second Eric’s chest is free of its restraints, he gasps around a profound intake of air and feels shame crawl up his spine, while Juyeon’s hand is still buried under his shirt, drawing lines along his skin, and he listens to him as Eric slowly calms down now that he can breathe again.

“I’m sorry,” Juyeon apologizes in the end, once Eric isn’t crying anymore and only sniffles a bit, hidden into Juyeon’s embrace. “I pushed you and hurt you. Sorry for making you feel like you have to give up on things you don’t want to let go of.”

Eric shakes his head. “Don’t. It’s not your fault.”

“It’s not yours either, hm? All of this, it’s not because of who you are, you… you have every right to exist,” Juyeon states, and Eric is surprised to hear how his deep voice is cracking with emotions, “not everyone might think so, and it might feel pointless, but.” Juyeon cuts himself off suddenly, lets out a shaky breath, and Eric listens, nuzzled into him, with a trembling heart. “But some of us, a lot of us love you, and please, don’t give up for the people who don’t, fight for the people who do, until you’re one of us.”

Eric closes his eyes, tightening his arms around Juyeon’s broad shoulders, and sorry to feel his friend so distressed because of him.

The small flame that shines like hope within himself grows a bit too strong, and neither the rain pouring down on the city, nor his earlier torrent of tears have managed to put it down.

Hear those bells ring deep in the soul, chiming away for a moment, feel your breath course frankly below, see life as a worthy opponent.

When Eric checks his phone, his lock screen indicates that it’s past 3AM. He’s buried in the soft blanket Juyeon gave him when they came home, more to hide than because he’s cold. They have changed into pajamas, or well, Juyeon did, and then lent an old band shirt to Eric. The shirt is already a bit oversized when his best friend wears it, but it looks huge on Eric, so that’s why he always specifically steals this one shirt whenever he crashes at Juyeon’s. He has stolen it so many times in the past, that he probably wears much more than Juyeon does actually.

He’s not too bothered about not wearing pants, the shirt long enough to cover him mid-thighs anyway, but he’s a bit uneasy about not wearing his binder – though, rationally he knows that his chest is small enough that it’s unnoticeable under such a big shirt, and that Juyeon has seen him with fewer clothes than that.

He’s not even too bothered about the idea of Juyeon seeing him, he’s simply uncomfortable about knowing this is still his body.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie. He’s worried about Juyeon seeing him, not because he doesn’t trust him, but because he longs for Juyeon to find him attractive like other boys, and it shouldn’t be a worry really. Juyeon doesn’t see him as something other than a friend, and Eric knows Juyeon doesn’t question him, that he never does.

But Eric can’t help to be anxious about the men he likes; he is anxious to know if they really see him as a man despite his body, even when they explore the curves he wants to get rid of. If he will, one day, be loved as a man.

He wants to wear his hair long and still be easily recognized as a man. He wants to be able to remove his clothes and still be desired as a man.

“Sleepy?” Juyeon asks when it has been a while since either of them has said a word.

“Hm, no,” Eric replies, taking a deep drag of his cigarette. “Thinking.”

“About what?” Juyeon is watching him carefully.

In the past hour, they have been a bit more light-hearted. Getting all his sorrow out lifted a weight from his shoulders, and though he’s still not as overexcited as he usually is, Eric feels much better than he has the whole evening.

“I don’t really want you to cut my hair,” he confesses, bringing them back to the unfortunate encounter with the confused cashier from earlier.

Juyeon chuckles, looking at Eric’s red hair, still tied in a small bun. He brings a hand to the crown of the younger boy’s head, to run his fingers through the loose locks falling from Eric’s blue tie to gather them back.

“Don’t, it really suits you well, like that,” Juyeon says, grinning at him, in this cat-like way that makes him look lazy and gentle.

“But… I’m not like you guys,” Eric continues his train of thought, chewing on his lip and glancing down before staring back into Juyeon’s eyes. “Like you, Juyeon, or even Chanhee, any of you all. You could wear skirts, but nobody would question your gender, if I do, I’m back at square one.”

Juyeon doesn’t answer, pursing his lips. He probably has nothing to say, and well, there isn’t anything to say, really.

Eric continues after blowing the smoke trapped in his lungs and putting his cigarette out in the ashtray in the middle of the balcony table, “I really like my hair like that, but obviously, people get more confused than when I keep them short.”

“Eric, you’re allowed to do what you like, and look the way you want to, no matter how other people see you,” Juyeon tries to reassure him, and it makes Eric a bit frustrated, though he understands what his best friend means.

“No, Juyeon, you don’t understand,” he sighs, more angrily than his friend deserves. “I need people to see me as a man. I know I should just be myself and do what I like, and that other people shouldn’t matter. But I need it, I… hell, if people are confused when I’m trying my best to look like a guy, how can I hope that one day I’ll find a partner who won’t hesitate when he sees me without…”

Eric cuts his rambling off, blushing. Sex and crushes haven’t been taboo between them since they stopped being hormonal and awkward teenagers – well, since Eric stopped freaking out whenever he noticed that his best friend, older than him, had started experimenting on his own, when he started high school, while Eric was still in middle school. It was a weird phase in their friendship, when Eric was a bit too childish and more interested in video games and baseball, and Juyeon was becoming more aware of himself and his same-aged friends. Then Eric had grown up and understood much more about not only himself, but about his own best friend as well.

His best friend, who really wasn’t interested in girls, and curiously blushed a lot when he looked at boys. Juyeon aged seventeen, soccer team’s captain and eye-candy of the school, who had avoided answering to Eric, at the beginning of the latter’s first year of high school, when his naïve fifteen self had asked why Juyeon wouldn’t give a chance to the girl who had just confessed her crush to him.

After, it had become easy to confide in each other about boys they liked, about first kisses, and each one of their other first times.

Lately, Eric has been too shy to share, though. He avoids the topic like a plague, because he has found that he stopped looking up at Juyeon as a best friend to catch himself imagining under the shower how his large hands would feel or looking a bit too closely at his mouth when he speaks.

When he looks at Juyeon, who is oddly silent after Eric’s rant, he’s just frowning at his glass, distractedly spinning it on the table.

Eric clears his throat. “I’m sorry. I got a bit mad for no reason.”

Juyeon shakes his head, still frowning at his own glass. He opens his mouth to say something before closing it again. Eric blinks at him, confused.

Seeing that Juyeon stays quiet, Eric continues, awkward. “So, yeah, point is. I know I should do whatever I want, but unfortunately… I’m barely confident about being a guy, so it’s hard to imagine anyone would want me like that.”

“I’m sure people do,” Juyeon says after a while, still not looking at his best friend. “I don’t think that it doesn’t happen, but that you can’t see the way people look at you, yet.”

Eric nods, open to Juyeon’s words. “Yeah, probably.” He can’t deny that his anxiety has a lot to do with how he perceives other people’s gaze on him.

“I do.”

“Hm?” Eric hums, confused, not getting what Juyeon is referring to.

He watches his best friend gulp, his Adam apple bobbing visibly. He notices that Juyeon’s blinking rapidly at his glass and that his hand around it has started shaking slightly. But he waits before asking if he’s okay because he seems to have something to say.

“I do, see you as a guy.”

Eric’s heart starts hammering, his blood rushing to his ears. The tiny flame in his stomach that has been shining like hope the past few months suddenly grows a lot bigger, but he wills himself not to see meanings Juyeon doesn’t intend in his words.

“I know, I trust you, Juyeon,” he replies in the end, impressed that his voice still sounds casual, though he feels dizzy.

“No, I mean. That’s what you’re not seeing. That there are people who want you that way,” Juyeon murmurs, looking awfully vulnerable and like a gust of wind could make him break, so far from his usual unbending stance. “I do. Want you,” Juyeon confesses and spins Eric’s world upside down as he finally looks up at him and pins him down on his chair with the way he’s looking at him. “As a guy,” he finishes in a breath.

Today of all days, see how the most dangerous thing is to love, how you will heal, and you'll rise above crowned by an overture bold and beyond. Ah, it's more courageous to overcome.

Eric stares shell-shocked at Juyeon, his lips parted and his eyes wide, deaf to the sound of rain droplets falling around them, remnants of the earlier downpour, his own heartbeat too loud, too fast to hear anything else.

After a moment, Juyeon diverts his eyes back to his glass, grasping it like his life depends on it and bringing it to his mouth to swallow the last of his drink in a gulp.

“Juyeon…” Eric breathes out, with no idea what to say, how to reply, how to tell Juyeon he feels the same.

“You don’t have to say anything,” Juyeon stops him quickly, still looking away. “You don’t have to do anything about it, I just wanted you to know. This doesn’t have to change anything.”

Eric feels a wave of warmth spread through him, when he realizes that his best friend just bared himself to him but is willing to let Eric choose not to acknowledge it, though it must hurt. For the simple reason that he wants Eric to know some people do want him the way he longs them to.

He smiles a bit, his heart running at the speed of light, and slightly dazed. “It changes everything, Juyeon.”

Eric’s heart stills as Juyeon flinches, understanding his best friend didn’t receive his words the way he intended them.

The older boy gets up, looking like a deer caught in headlights and like he doesn’t know what to do with his long limbs. “Sorry, I… sorry. It’s getting late, we should go to sleep.”

Eric also gets up, goosebumps covering his bare legs when the blanket falls off as he keeps Juyeon from running away, putting a desperate hand on his shoulder, and holding him back. “Wait, Juyeon, no, I meant, it changes everything because,” Eric takes a deep breath before continuing with ringing ears, “I feel the same.”

When his best friend turns wide, disbelieving eyes towards him, the younger boy feels a sheepish smile tug at the corners of his mouth.

“It looks like you didn’t notice it but,” Eric licks his lips and lets the hand he put on Juyeon’s shoulder fall along his arm to wrap his fingers around his friend’s ones, “I’ve been doing my best to grab your attention, the past few months.”

Juyeon opens his mouth to say something, but no sound goes past his lips.

Eric takes a step forward. “Everyone and their grandmas have been teasing me about it, it’s a wonder you seem so shocked.”

“I…” Juyeon starts, seemingly with no idea how to finish. “It’s not like you’re any better,” he chooses to say, in the end.

It makes Eric snort, and soon enough Juyeon grins at him.

“I can’t say it isn’t true. I really thought you wouldn’t ever see me as more than your annoying best friend.”

“You’ve been much more than a friend for a while, now,” Juyeon whispers, closely watching as Eric takes one more step forward, until they’re just a breath away from each other.

“How much time is a while?” Eric asks, his eyes dropping to Juyeon’s thin lips.

His best friend’s voice is a bit husky when he answers, “Remember last year, when we went to play baseball and you wore your old high school team uniform?”

Eric looks up, surprised, at Juyeon. That was just before his first year of college, a bit more than a year ago. His mouth dried by the knowledge that it has been that long since his best friend has started looking at him differently, he blurts out the first thing he can think of, “you’ve always had a thing for athletes, you used to have a crush on your entire soccer team.”

Juyeon snorts, nodding. “Right, baseball pants really bring the ass out in men, no wonder I fell for you. Or maybe it’s because I just happened to notice that the boy I grew up with is really pretty even when he’s all sweaty and sunburned.”

He feels a blush burn his cheeks, but doesn’t look away from Juyeon’s eyes, watching him like he’s precious and he wonders how he missed the love shining in these pupils, because now that Eric knows, Juyeon’s feelings seem to be overflowing from them.

“Close your eyes,” Eric croaks out, and hauls himself up on his tiptoes when Juyeon lets his lids fall shut.

He kisses Juyeon chastely on the lips, testing the waters, with his heart swelling in his chest until it feels like it’s going to shatter his ribcage. His best friend’s lips are chapped and pliant against his, and Eric instantly craves for more.

You want the acclaim, the mother of mothers (it's not worth it Achilles). More poignant than fame, or the taste of another (don't listen Achilles). But be real and just jump, you dense motherfucker (you're worth more, Achilles).

Eric lets his own eyelids fall shut when Juyeon’s broad hands fly to his waist and bring him flushed against himself, parting his lips to let the younger boy lead the kiss. It feels unreal to be kissing his best friend, when just minutes ago, he was so sure his feelings were unrequited.

As his calves get a bit sore from standing on his tiptoes, Eric puts his heels down until his feet are flat on the floor, but Juyeon immediately follows like he’s avid to taste more of him.

Eric’s hands travel up the expanse of Juyeon’s arms, until his palms are framing the base of his neck, where his skin is scorching hot. He grazes the taller boy’s bottom lip with his tongue and is met with Juyeon’s, that taste like alcohol, ash, and mint, and is unimaginably soft and delicate.

Kissing Juyeon feels like how his hugs do, and much more at the same time. He puts all his care, gentleness, and love in the way he tickles Eric’s lips with his tongue, in the way he curls his fingertips around Eric’s waist as if he’s scared he’s about to disappear. And it endears him, because he’s not about to disappear, now that he has tasted familiarity and thrill at once on Juyeon’s mouth.

When they part, Eric blows a sigh on Juyeon’s glossy with spit bottom lip, feeling a bit light-headed, his legs so weak he fears his knees will give up on him. He curls his toes against the tiles of Juyeon’s balcony floor when he opens his eyes to see that his best friend is already looking at him dazedly.

“Pinch me,” Juyeon murmurs, and his warm breath tickles Eric’s cheek. “Pinch me, I’m not sure I’m actually awake.”

Eric furrows his eyebrows, before bursting into laughter, harshly slapping his friend on the arm. “Dumbass,” he says with a smile so wide he sounds a bit ridiculously in love.

Juyeon snickers and leans down again to steal another kiss from Eric that makes flowers bloom inside his guts until he feels utterly shaken.

“It’s getting late,” Eric affirms against the corner of Juyeon’s mouth, “we should go to bed.” He’s aware of the double-entendre in his words and ignores as best as he can the flush that creeps up his neck, because anticipation is starting to make each one of his extremity tingle.

His eyes flutter shut again when Juyeon traces a path from his lips to right under his jaw with fleeting pecks. Eric’s heart pulses like it’s about to blow up inside him, erratic and unstoppable. Eventually, Juyeon hums against his skin, evidently aware of what Eric is asking for, though he doesn’t acknowledge it out loud.

Eric doesn’t need him too, because Juyeon’s checkered pajama bottoms are thin and they reveal easily enough how Juyeon feels about going to bed, especially when they’re still flushed against each other.

They part, pretending not to know each other’s intentions, acting coy though they both can’t fool the other, and they clean the balcony table and take an excruciatingly long time brushing their teeth, as if they’re really getting ready to sleep.

Eric thinks they’re acting ridiculous, in their shyness, and it’s amusing and a bit frustrating. Because they know each other by heart, have seen everything about one another, yet they both seem too scared to go too far and cross the line.

You will not be more than a rat in the gutter (so much more than a rat). You want my opinion (no one asked your opinion), my opinion you've got. You asked for my counsel (no one asked for your thoughts), I gave you my thoughts. Be done with this now and jump off the roof.

They don’t leave the lights on and bury themselves under the blankets on Juyeon’s bed, like they usually do when Eric sleeps over. The only thing that proves that something has irreversibly changed between them is that Juyeon wraps his strong arms around Eric and pulls him into his embrace, and immediately dives back into his mouth.

They do nothing more than kiss lazily for a long time, long enough that Eric completely loses track of time, tasting Juyeon’s mint-flavored toothpaste on each other’s tongue.

But quickly enough, Eric finds himself pressing his knees together, clenching his thighs, digging his nails into Juyeon’s shoulders as the latter starts wandering back down to his jaw. Shivers run down his spine and a shuddering breath spills past his lips when Juyeon sucks on the thin skin of his neck, right above his collarbone, and pushes him flat onto his back.

He wants Juyeon’s hand, the one shyly balled in a fist next to his head, to reach down and touch him but he feels anxious to ask. Instead, he buries one of his hands into Juyeon’s hair to feel their softness and ground himself while his best friend draws moans out of him with the way he’s bruising his neck, and his other hand runs down Juyeon’s chest.

Eric is far from inexperienced, but he feels as unsure of himself as he did on his first time, because he’s with Juyeon, and it’s the first time he’s with someone who gives him the promise to want him as a man. His hand shakes a bit as he brushes Juyeon’s navel through the fabric of his pajama shirt at first, and then directly, when his hand slips under the shirt.

He hears Juyeon suck up a breath in his neck when Eric’s fingertips toy with the trail of hair that makes a path from his navel to the hem of his pants, following it along until his nails are taunting Juyeon’s skin right above the elastic of his underwear.

“Okay?” Eric asks in a broken voice, as he feels Juyeon stop mouthing at his neck, in shuddering anticipation.

His best friend hauls himself up on his elbows to hover above Eric and stares at him. Eric can make him out in the dark thanks to the streetlights that seep in the bedroom through the window and sees him nod silently.

Juyeon catches his lips again like he can’t get enough of him when the younger boy’s fingers finally slip under the hem of Juyeon’s underwear. It leaves Eric trembling and yearning when he feels the stiffness of his best friend’s shaft under his palm, and he wraps his fist around Juyeon, tentatively smearing precum around him. Juyeon harshly bites Eric’s bottom lip when he feels his thumb play with his dick’s head, and Eric can only mewl, rubbing his thighs together to feel some friction when all he wants to do is spread them and wrap them around Juyeon’s hips.

Breath ragged, voice strained with his pleasure, Juyeon whispers against his cheek, “Can I touch you?”

It makes Eric gasp softly, his hand around Juyeon’s cock coming to a stop. “Wouldn’t that make you uncomfortable?”

His question seems to surprise Juyeon, and he cups Eric’s face to look at him in the eyes, through the dark. “Of course not. I’m attracted to boys, not cock and balls specifically,” he answers bluntly, which makes the younger boy snicker a bit, though his best friend is being serious. “Are you comfortable with me touching you?”

Eric swallows and nods, clearing his throat. “I really, really would like it a lot.”

“Will you tell me where not to go too far?” Juyeon inquires after softly kissing the tip of his nose and making Eric’s heart melt into a puddle of love. He nods, smiling, and traitorous tears sting his eyes, but he keeps them at bay to devour Juyeon’s lips.

Can you hear me Achilles? I'm talking to you, Achilles come down.

Eric bites his lips, harshly breathing in through his nose, and pierces the skin in Juyeon’s neck with his nails when the latter pushes his boxer briefs down his legs and two long fingers slide to his crotch. It’s barely a touch, merely a brush, but he has been getting so frustrated on his own, that when Juyeon’s fingers graze the wetness of his hole and smear it, he feels himself clench around nothing and his thighs fall open on their own, as his back arches on the mattress.

He mewls and pushes the balls of his heels into the bedsheets as Juyeon circles the right spot at the perfect pace like he knows too well what he’s doing.

“How come you’re better at this than straight men?” Eric blabbers a bit unconsciously, pushing up to meet Juyeon’s fingers halfway, his eyes squeezed shut and his eyebrows furrowed as he chases his pleasure. Juyeon snorts before kissing him.

“Straight men are more attracted to dicks than gay men, I fear,” Juyeon quips, bringing out a laugh that’s a bit out of breath from Eric, and being perfect at what he does best: making Eric feel safe in his care.

Juyeon swallows the gasp Eric lets out when he pushes two fingers in, and soon the younger boy is panting into his best friend’s mouth, feeling a climax that he deems too early coil in his lower stomach, clawing at Juyeon’s back, bare after Eric impatiently removed his shirt from him when Juyeon was ridding him of his underwear.

“Wait, wait, I want you,” Eric moans out fumbling a bit on his words, and Juyeon stops short, inhaling deeply before releasing a trembling breath.

“Okay. Sure?”

“Yes, yeah, please.”

After Juyeon has fished a condom out of a drawer in his nightstand and Eric has rolled it down onto his best friend’s cock, it becomes significantly harder to think coherently, and it all happens fast – nobody ever lasts long on sleep-deprivation and not entirely sober.

The older boy buries himself into Eric, and the latter wraps tense legs incredibly tight around his hips, trapping him there like he wished to earlier. Their pace is slow at first and makes Eric’s heartbeat run irregularly, and then they grow impatient until there’s no place left for harmony, both in a race to reach for their climax.

They breathe their pleasure into each other’s mouth, tickle each other’s skin with ragged moans, Juyeon bites bruises on his neck and Eric carves red marks onto his back and shoulders. They’re entangled, to a point where it’s impossible to know where one begins and where the other ends, and Juyeon’s hands are careful not to travel up, resting around Eric’s waist, after the latter drew the line at his ribcage. The band shirt Juyeon lent him is pooling around his chest and covers him where he wants to stay hidden, and his best friend doesn’t try to push past that limit.

Juyeon comes first, his face buried in Eric’s neck, grunting brokenly under his ear. He kisses him, out-of-breath, tenderly, lovingly, as he makes Eric come undone with his fingers a moment later, hiccups and whines spilling from his mouth.

As Eric comes back from the bathroom a bit after Juyeon and finds him waiting for him in bed, he tells himself that, really, nothing has changed much in the span of a night. As he slips into his best friend’s arms, under the blankets that Juyeon lifts up for him, he tells himself that, though it feels like nothing really changed, his world might still feel a bit turned upside down when he wakes up in a few hours.

Ultimately, Juyeon’s still his best friend who protects him but never overprotects him, people won’t stop getting confused about what to call him before a long while, and he’s still not ready to leave his past self behind out of love for his mother. It won’t even be the last night he will spend overthinking his own existence.

“Juyeon, let’s not cut my hair, later. I like them long,” Eric murmurs into Juyeon’s chest and feels him smile against the crown of his head, humming sleepily, and running a hand into his red hair.

But whereas he started the evening hopeless, he finishes the night with a light heart, feeling loved for who he is, no matter who he is.

As long as he has Juyeon, and his family of eleven ill-fitting boys, perhaps that instead of giving up for the people who don’t love him, he can fight for the people who love him, until the day he feels like he loves himself enough to fight for himself. In the meantime, he has Juyeon to wear his armor and lead the battle for him.

“Are we boyfriends, now?” Eric asks, just to hear it from Juyeon, though he already knows.

“Achilles and Patroclus were lovers, not war companions,” Juyeon mumbles, his voice rough with slumber.

“Idiot. I love you.”

“Hm. Love you too.”

Throw yourself into the unknown with pace and a fury defiant. Clothe yourself in beauty untold and see life as a means to a triumph. Today of all day see, how the most dangerous thing is to love. How to will heal and you will rise above, crowned by an overture bold and beyond, ah it’s more courageous to overcome…