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“Your eyebrows. Groom them a little,” Chen voices, perplexed but rigid.

His own are furrowed, lips pursed, eyes lancing Kyeongsu’s but the corners are yielding. He leans back, mien unwinding as he now regards Kyeongsu with openness. The shift of his face is jarring. In the cut light seeping through the blinds, he seems to glow.

It’s unsettling, strange, the discrepancy of what Kyeongsu had expected coming here and who he met - a man who is compact, crisp and with a face oddly candid, oddly quirky.

In the same vein, it’s evident that nothing about him aims to deceive. His smile is not ill-meaning, not a trace of malice. His frown is deep where it should be, where laughter blooms and anger stays at bay. Kyeongsu realizes at this very moment, 2 pm, his legs together as he sits in the office of the biggest gambling boss, that it makes sense for Chen to have an empire under his reign.

“Just do that and you’ll be one of my men,” he says. There is a smile on his face now, curled, kittenish, symmetrical. His lids pinch with joviality. Perhaps he gets a kick out of owning people.

“I’ll see to it, Sir,” Kyeongsu replies. His voice isn’t firm, robotic as if vowing allegiance to a general, like he’s been taught during his service. Instead it is just strung with relief.

 

 

 

 

His father taught him how to operate a crane - climb up the ladder two bars at a time, never take more than one hand off the rail, the oiled slip of his fingers over the control, braking the motions so the goods don’t move inside the container. He taught him how to gut fish so that the eggs if there are any, stay intact. A quick death too, less blood spilled, how to take the scales off, hold the blade so that it has no chance of slipping and slicing his fingers off. He taught Kyeongsu how to make his mother laugh - those corny jokes that corny emcees say on corny reality shows - and she’d double over with a harmonious screech and open jaw, her eyes swallowed whole by hilarity as she held on her belly for dear life.

Kyeongsu is used to salt and waves, lilting ends on people’s tongues, the barks of boundless herds of dogs colouring through the moonlight. The husky thunder of ship horns. The tumble of soiled money in the cupped hands of insatiable men. The subsequent daffodil smiles, lips cracked. Sometimes, the sting of decay emanating from the threadbare pockets in their chests.

It’s all home. And he’d left it.

 

 

 

 

Jongin is out with all of his three pups, a flurry of creams tied to a string that drags him from bush to bush. His grin never falters, even though the rest of his face is still in a deep slumber.

Kyeongsu descends the three steps out of the building. He approaches the dogs, passing by the enthusiasm of licks at his hand, and unclips the leashes from the collar. They run off, as fast as their short legs allow, which is still terribly slow. They slip on the dewy grass and fall on their butts. Jangga doesn’t even bother getting up and just takes a shit there.

With a terse chuckle, Kyeongsu rises and meets Jongin’s eyes.

He didn’t sleep. Kyeongsu didn’t either. He had heard all the shouts and cries through the thin walls. So Kyeongsu offers a smile, a real one, meant to comfort. Jongin returns it.

They don’t say anything. Jongin is not nearly awake enough to sustain a conversation. So they just look on at the squabbling pups, running like mad through the small, sparse garden rounding the block. There are barely any people on the street - they are not bothering anyone.

Kyeongsu lingers just until his phone buzzes in his pocket, signaling that it is time for him to head to the bus stop. He waves to Jongin, then turns, takes a deep breath of the fresh morning air and puts one foot in front of the other.

 

 

 

 

 

There is a single watch in this room, and it is resting on Chen’s wrist, gold upon ebony. It’s quiet enough for the tick of it to be heard, the drift in sync with the minute twitches on Chen’s face.

It’s an hour before sunset, before the night is to begin. All four halls are prepared.

Kyeongsu stands at the very end of the row, where people of what he thinks are of lesser importance stand - he’s appraised this by the brashness of their attire. Next to him stands a very tall man wearing a snapback and a huge hoodie. Maybe the boy who polishes Chen’s shoes. The shimmer of them propped on the desk earlier was blinding.

One of the men dressed in a suit is talking numbers, a few names he’s heard on the news, sales reports, banks, all things that Kyeongsu is privy to because Chen told him that he’s not paid to sit his ass in the driver’s seat until someone plops on the backseat. He has never wanted to be useless.

“Hey, you’re new,” the tall boy bends to whisper. His voice is gruff and invasive, for it is poured right down Kyeongsu’s collar.

“I’m the driver,” Kyeongsu responds tardily, as quiet as he can. He makes it so his mouth nearly doesn’t move - Chen’s eyes twirl all over the room, at each face, intermittently. He catches and holds the gazes. All the while, his ears don’t stray from what the man in front has to say.

From beside him, a laugh bursts, humoured but not very. Chen looks over, but doesn’t react. ”You’ll never be just a driver. I’m Chanyeol, by the way.” Still poured down Kyeongsu’s collar. He makes to offer his hand to Kyeongsu, but that is too showy, so he briefly offers a shake - just fingers to Kyeongsu’s palm, lax by his hip and between them.

“Kyeongsu,” he offers in return.

“Nice to meet you!” he whispers, progressing into a scream by the end. The whole room probably hears.

Chen’s voice slashes through the air, a near shout, abounding with ire. The man startles, squirms, fishing for an explanation that he doesn’t have. It stretches for three broken sentences, three lazy blinks from Chen before the double doors burst open. They hit against the stopper before one of them rebounds back shut.

The entrance of the figure is hurried, determined. Kyeongsu sees colour in his apparel, in his gait, nearly psychedelic. Round glasses are sliding down his nose, two little pigtails in his hair and the shape of a contained laugh carving his cheeks.

Swiftly, his body is draped across Chen’s over the chair, then their faces are hidden away from the rest of the room. A suitcase is left by the door.

Chanyeol snorts next to him. Otherwise no one bats an eye.

The two shift, and from this angle Kyeongsu can see Chen beaming, giggling even as his arms wrap around the newcomer and squeeze, bringing him in close. The muscles of his arm contracting are visible through his shirt, the shadow of force on silk. And the man giggles too, bounces on his lap, and they are just about to fall off the chair before Chen’s hand grips on the edge of the desk and brings them back straight. Then there is the moist, snappy sound of kissing, lips being released and sucked on.

The room has great acoustics. It’s meant for meetings after all. The sound travels with strident clarity.

They disentangle after a while. Chanyeol is now wearing an amused smile. Another one is on the man to his right. A few perfectly neutral, a few averted, a few of barely concealed disgust.

The young man is nearabout pressed on the table before they put a stop to the spectacle.

He slides off Chen’s lap, revealing him with hair in disarray—tips bleached a dirty blonde—and a red to his lips. It is bowed and curled so tight at the corners, pleased, satisfied. It’s a gorgeous smile - Kyeongsu observes with detachment. The kind he sees on billboards, aiming to sell something. The clothes of the man are messed too, patterned shirt out of his pants. They are full of rips, ample stripes of thigh visible, braided strings of black on the skin. Fishnets, Kyeongsu recalls. The glasses are atop his hair, pushed up until they are resting at the base of the pigtails. They are lopsided now, floppy.

He turns to face the rest of the people. He beams and his mouth a starkly infantile quality about it. His face too. His jaw is smooth, uncut, skin bright. “Hello, kids,” he waves, two fingers peeking out of an overlong sleeve, and a wink, obnoxious and horridly loud.

Some people nod, and Chanyeol openly snorts this time. The man’s eyes slide to Chanyeol he blows him a kiss and pivots, catches the rest of Chen’s office chair and tugs, making it slide up until his mouth meets Chen’s again. This time it’s soft, not showy, and it seems to mean so much by the heaviness of the looks they share afterward.

Another wave then, same two fingers, same wink. “Bye, kids.”

A great deal of the ones present bow. Chanyeol doesn’t. Kyeongsu looks around confused, something burned in his core from the blatant display of such affection.

“Who is…” Kyeongsu begins. He halts. Perhaps he has no right to inquire.

“Boss’s husband,” Chanyeol says. Dazedly, Chen is still staring at the door.

“What?” Kyeongsu’s eyes widen. And perhaps he says it too loudly, for a few gazes draw to him. Hopefully not Chen’s.

“His name’s Baekhyeon,” Chanyeol continues, disregarding his little outburst.

“But our country doesn’t…How can they be married?” Kyeongsu still presses. Something shifts in Chanyeol, finding that it is just a legal matter which is bothering Kyeongsu. His reaction is deemed satisfactory.

“We wanted to. That’s how,” replies Chen. The enunciation is resolute, but he’s still wearing the curly grin and the crescent eyes. It sounds like a vow.

Kyeongsu keeps his head down for the rest of the meeting.

 

 

 

 

 

Hall One is nestled at the base of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Yongsan-gu, all marble and buffed wood and at the mercy of Chen’s gentle but scheming words.

Hall Two is on the last floor of Once in a Blue Moon, where the jazz is softest and distracts less, the money hidden under the floor tiles, squishing underfoot. Cheongdam-dong and cigarette-thin neon lights.

Hall Three, The Timber House, hosted by Park Hyatt Hotel, under the minimal tutelage of the owner of the whole conglomerate. It is the tamest of the halls, conducted by Suho, a man teeming with pretense and tremendous cordiality. A wholehearted devotee to noblesse oblige.  Simply a short, breezy walk away from the Trade Tower. Kangnam and the lavish oppression of its skyscrapers.

Hall Four is in Gwangjin-gu, slapped over the high ceilings of Paradise Walkerhill Casino. In the crux of the body of the hotel another room of games is hidden. A man of semi-western blood is in charge of it.

Kyeongsu bumps into him just as he enters the restaurant, his eyes still seeking the floor. The foreign aspect of him is obvious—from the blue of his eyes—an ashen azure, to the diluted copper wash of his hair. The exoticism ends in the wide, rounded folds of his eyelids. The rest of his features are of Kyeongsu’s kin. His smile is a broad one, so welcoming, how only a mildly intoxicated smile can be, too disarmingly frank.

“Kai,” he offers all of a sudden, a hand proffered to Kyeongsu, and he says his own name with a melodious inflection on the vowel. The music starts again, along with a deafening string of cheers just as Kyeongsu shakes his hand and introduces himself. He is sure Kai hasn’t caught his name, but he opens his arms—there’s a small glass on one of his hands—and says a very loud and very warm “Welcome”, again with a silvery deviation to the tone.

Kyeongsu smiles then and bows a little. He doesn’t know the age of anyone here, but he deems it best to keep himself as polite as possible.

Kai passes by him then, stumbling, and goes to ask someone where the bathroom is.

Kyeongsu stares ahead at the mass of people sprawled in booths and around tables already. The lights are low, tinted, the clinking of glasses rising above the voices here and there, a few yells, bouts of laughter. Kyeongsu stares, mildly dumbfounded. A rush of cold air comes from behind him, then someone is throwing an arm around his shoulders, the weight following. It knocks the breath out of him.

“Ah, Kyeongsaeng!” a baritone voice booms. Kyeongsu looks to the side to see Chanyeol leering down at him with a borderline maniacal simper. “You came! Was worried you were gonna mouse your way out of this.” He presses then, the nook of his elbow around Kyeongsu’s neck. The muscle is bulging and strong. It nearly feels like a threat. It could totally snap his head off.

“Kyeongsaeng?” He looks up at Chanyeol.

Chanyeol laughs, a sound sloping upwards, to a tone that doesn’t send shivers down Kyeongsu’s spine. “I’m older than you. So you’re my dongsaeng. I’ll take care of you from now on!”

He’s so loud.

His palm pats on Kyeongsu’s chest, then goes up and pinches Kyeongsu’s cheek. Kyeongsu boils.

“Let’s fill your tummy!”

Then he presses, and Kyeongsu has to take steps forward along with Chanyeol. He feels protected, because there are gazes on him, unfocused, glassy, food dripping from mouths, but they are on him, and somehow Chanyeol’s proximity seems to make the blatancy of their ogling a bit more diffused, more mannerly.

Now Kyeongsu doubts Chanyeol is in charge of polishing Chen’s shoes.

He’s seated on the bench of a booth, just two more people at the long table, and then Chanyeol basically dumps himself next to him. Someone comes with a few plates of jeon, some meat to grill, and an entire tray of soju and beer.

It doesn’t take long to tipsy Kyeongsu, only because he loosens up considerably, because the food is great, and Chanyeol knows the perfect ratio of beer to soju. Then the karaoke starts, and he has to drink so he can laugh instead of cringing at the singing, the weird faces, and the mild stripping here and there.

All the people that probe at him are interested and good natured. They can’t wait to find out about him. Apparently, new additions to the assembly are a rarity.

Chanyeol passes by sometimes, his hoodie is completely soaked with something from the chest down, his grin even crazier - now the craziness lifted to his eyes too. “My Kyeongsaeg made friends!” he hollers. Everyone laughs, not even flinching, as though they are beyond used to the boisterousness.

After a while, too soon, he’s tired, and he slumps into one of the seats. He is still baffled at the normalcy of this. It looks like an ordinary hoesik, people unwinding from a laborious week at the office, of finally leaving.

In the port, a celebration after a closed deal doubled for a meeting regarding the next one, all of them gathered around a coffee vending machine, smoking and talking over one another. Some passed the same piece of gum from mouth to mouth. They didn’t even know his name, he was just the crane boy, and they tried to steal from him multiple times. They were all closed off, always looking in multiple directions, afraid, searching, before meeting eyes with anyone, loitering around to grab their coins and leave.

But these people are here risking it all to make something work - to have accomplishment served over their rice.

He likes it, he can live with this. On the way home, he has to fight his sleepiness by resting his forehead on one of the cold bars in the bus. But he’s fine. It was okay. For a third day of work, it was more than okay.

 

 

 

 

 

In front of Hall Four, a bunch of suit-clad figures are amassed. They appeared out of a van, all stern, their postures a pattern of courtesy, arranged in some sort of formation. Not more than a meter between them.

The clients come and go, unbothered through the doors. The glow inside is molten, a pretty amber, pleasing to the eyes. The diamonds around their necks, wrists, fingers crop the light.

Kyeongsu leans against the car. He is close enough to be able to notice the tense posture, primed to intervene, but he’s out of their sight. He slides to the right, to be able to gander better at what’s happening inside - Chen has just stepped into the lobby, by the elevators, his stride is casual.

Under his hand, wilted heat emanates from the hood of the car. Chen’s been gone for a little over an hour.

He had said it shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes.

When he nears, when he enters the canopy of the chandelier in the heart of the lobby, Kyeongsu distinguishes distress on Chen’s features, barely brushed on him, but the shadow cast by the twist is arrant, indisputable.

One of the men looks behind with a snap of a motion, just his eyes. He nods at the one next to him.

Kyeongsu’s teeth sink into his lip. The fingers of his hand begin gathering, the polish of the hood screeching weakly under the pads.

Twenty steps until Chen makes it to the door. One of the guards nears. Another three steps, the guard from the other side nears too.

Kyeongsu sighs, loosens his fist, and pushes himself off. He struts with a bit of a lag. By his clothes alone it’s obvious he has no business entering this venue as a client - and instead rushes by the path until he breaks into the light of the lobby. As he passes, his pace slows, gaze intent on Chen, who frowns, mildly so, his steps faltering. Kyeongsu looks at the arms of the men, inert by their sides, only flexed at the elbows.

His palm wraps around the hands of both men, just the tips of the fingers, and it’s easy, for all their force and training, to force their fingers backward, force a stretch that cuts their tendons. The muscles there are so weak. Kyeongsu takes it along with their strides, before he breaks any fingers, as they all turn wary to them, on guard, ready to put him to the ground, a foot through his ribs.

But Kyeongsu releases his grip right as he feels the give of impending breakage, feet still moving until he’s passing through the doors. The air inside is pigmented with expensive perfumes and flowers.

Kyeongsu keeps walking, stopping in front of Chen and bowing. He knows they are close enough for the guards to hear. “I’m sorry sir, I just….the bathroom,” he says as he walks further.

It’s enough, like this, to clear the path. For them to know that Chen is not alone. The state patrols are just around the corner, the security so tight. If they were to make a move on Chen then, he wouldn’t have fought back. No way he could.

He goes slower, around one of the corners and stays for a little while. The toilets aren’t even that way. When he returns, Chen is in the same spot, but this time talking to someone, two young women who have their pretty smiles one. They are the kind meant to charm. Chen pretends to be spellbound.

Kyeongsu comes by his side. Chen bids them a suave goodbye and turns towards the exit.

The men are gone from the entrance.

Without a word, Chen climbs into the backseat. His head hits the headrest, his eyes close.

The click of Kyeongsu’s seat belt makes him react.

“Was that…” His tongue runs over his lip, where he’s bruised it faintly with his teeth earlier. “Was that unnecessary?”

The reply comes slowly, tardy. “No.”

 

 

 

 

The layout of his home is still uncomfortable, too tight, edges too close together. He has a bed, a pretty big one that takes most of the space of the room. The scenery is pretty - short buildings pressed tight, short, fenced alleys in between and the small, sparse gardens around. The ladies of the neighborhood planted buchu here and there and some flowers too. There are benches and a table in the more open space of greenery, further away from the road. He doesn’t hear cars, but he hears trains, fast and heavy from afar, rocking the bed under him occasionally.

Through the walls, he hears silence, most often. When it’s not silence, from a side he hears the blow of the wind, the pelting of the rain, and the torn shouts of a young woman who’s made a mistake and refuses to acknowledge, and solve it, and the whispered pleas of a young man too lost.

The rent is four hundred thousand won. He doesn’t have to starve that much to pay it.

And the only thing Kyeongsu really misses is the tang of salt in the air.

 

 

 

 

 

His schedule is on a piece of paper. It’s identical with Chen’s.

Under it, is his employee agreement. Three pages crammed full of ink that tells how he is a driver. His duties are minimal. It’s necessary that he possess a driving license.

Get Chen around the whole city - to the Trade Tower, to the halls, to whatever in between. Own some mad driving skills - Seoul disregards all rules - and some simple, clean clothes that make him invisible.

On paper, that’s all that’s asked of him.

4 pm - from the Samsung Tower Palace 3 to the Trade Tower, sixth floor, where the Exo Accounting Firm is located.

Just a pretty, legal façade for the infraction happening under the shiny tables. It’s an organization of remarkable intricacy, its architecture is woven tightly with trust and driven by the blinding chase of danger. Everyone wins, even if they haven’t bet anything. The smiles, the pressed shirts, the decorative blades edging their tongues when negotiating - it is all part of the artillery. It’s not metal, but it doesn’t have to be. It takes an entirely different sort of substance to damage a mind. Kyeongsu learns all of this in two days.

This journey normally takes 15 minutes. He’s been ordered to make it in 5. Chen never has to wait for him - he has already pulled the car out of the parking lot, got it ready at the side of the street for Chen to hop in, a phone glued to his ear and his words afire.

Kyeongsu doesn’t talk to many people. He waits around, mingles, but doesn’t talk. He keeps to the suburbia, close to the blank walls, and watches how the clients tumble in. They’re all lionized by money, by functions, old, young, swallowed by furs and gems. Only the fanciest of them end up in Chen’s office - a box made out of panes upon panes of embroidered glass. Looks exactly like a cage.

Every Friday, 5 pm, there’s a meeting with everyone.

The contracts are all out on the table, a string of lawyers seated blank faced at the very first part of the rows. A sprinkling of police officers out of uniform.

Kyeongsu attends these now. He’s a tongueless spectator.

Chanyeol also comes, late by a maximum of five minutes, and Kyeongsu is immediately tucked into his shadow. He’s dressed about the same, like a rebellious high schooler, down to the gleam of his watch. His habitual grin pinned in place, albeit more scoured from sleepiness. Kyeongsu has yet to find out what his position is, that it allows such liberty and exempts him from the heft of Chen’s scrutiny.

He knows it’s best that he doesn’t hear a thing of what’s being discussed. So he doesn’t.

 

 

 

 

For Hall One, the car never goes into underground parking. There’s instead a spot reserved on the side of the road.

It’s Saturday now. A tournament is taking place inside. Chen stares out the window and up. It’s quiet in the car, a silence muddied by the homogeneous, industrial, never ending hum of a sleepless city.

Kyeongsu chances a look at him in the rear-view mirror. His shirt is unbuttoned. He swallows. The cut of his Adam’s Apple is sharp. He still stares up, brows gathered minutely. The purple under his eyes shows lilac distension by the borders of his lower lashes. Early this morning, Kyeongsu had taken him home around the break of dawn.

The clock on the dashboard cedes another minute. And another.

“I’ll give you to Baekhyeon too,” he says, the boom of his voice stark. “He’ll tell you where and when.”

Their gazes link in the mirror. Just a part of his face is stern. “Okay?” he adds. And it’s soft. His formulation earlier had been crisp, grave.

“Yes,” Kyeongsu replies, perhaps delayed.

Chen nods, once. Then he’s out of the car.

 

 

 

 

 

The cold has yet to lessen - it’s only midway through spring. Kyeongsu breathes in the biting air. It carries an aroma now, no longer the blankness of dead vegetation, and it is verdant and candied.

It’s nagging, nearly wrong for him to idle in the car, surrounded by the stifling lavishness of the interior.

In lieu, he traipses around the grounds, sees the gardens around the hotels, the sculptures, the fountains, all the while getting to see the flowers struggling to bloom.

Kyeongsu is just finishing a cereal bar when his phone pings. He reaches for it, binning the wrapper in the pocket of his pants.

Come for me, Driver-nim ^o^

Kyeongsu stares at the text for a while. He wastes a few seconds to add the number to the contact list.

 

 

 

 

 

The car has not even stopped properly when the passenger door opens and a rush of old air along with some fragrance and a winded man drops on the seat. “Hi,” the man says, all cheer. Gladness in his voice combines with some fanaticism as he fumbles with his seatbelt. Kyeongsu doesn’t get to bow and greet him before he goes on. “To Soul to God,” he says. The pronunciation is perfect, somehow.

Kyeongsu stares blankly for a breath before he scrambles for the GPS. Seoul is still too big and too unknown to him.

“Just go,” Baekhyeon says, with a dismissive hand. “It’s around Hall Two if you know where that is. Just go ahead for now.”

Kyeongsu knows, albeit vaguely, where Hall Two is. All the spindly streets are knotted together in his mind.

Baekhyeon bends forward and gets the mirror down. A shorn glance - a ribbon of sorts is dangling from his pocket. His shirt is barely buttoned. Two pencils in his hand, and through the passing lights and stolen glances Kyeongsu discerns it to be a burgundy and black one. At the corner of his eyes, gold. He applies it skillfully, hand steady as it maneuvers the colour. Under his breath, occasionally, he nags at the cut of the seatbelt across his chest.

When they are almost there, at the last stop light right before veering right, Baekhyeon turns to him and asks, “How do I look?”

Kyeongsu looks over. Baekhyeon lids his eyes, for the work to be visible, leering at him through his lashes. His eyebrows wiggle. It’s an arresting type of beauty. A smile and smooth skin and smooth hair. It really looks so soft.

He doesn’t reply.

“Ah, you’re speechless. I look pretty damn good then,” he says, with a satisfied tsk. His nose wrinkles. Either natural cuteness or attempted cuteness. “Oh, Chanyeollie is here too,” he exclaims, looking at the string of parked cars just as they pass by Once in a Blue Moon.

“Here! Come after me at 12. Bye, Driver-nim, take care!”  Baekhyeon says, stepping out. His gait is different, a melody to it, as he runs to the entrance of the building.

The silence he leaves behind swells into a static that buzzes in Kyeongsu’s ears.

 

 

 

 

 

“Come up,” Chen speaks, stepping into the shade of Grand Hyatt.

Kyeongsu never went up, inside Hall One. He’s never been inside any of the halls. Just some details have been whispered in his ear, heard from one secretary to the other in the Trade Tower, but not more.

Tonight, Chen takes him along, opens the door, and finally, after being a mere pion to this, Kyeongsu sees the games.

The atmosphere is compressed. There are mah-jong plates, cards, cards, cards, and some longer ones - Tujeon, Kyeongsu recognizes immediately, Hwatu, dice being thrown over and over on a table. People flipping coins, falls and falls. Picked up, dealt all over again.

The players are communicating so much with one another, a noise to their mouths to shroud the solemnity the toys on the table display. It seems social, flirty even, leaning in close, talking louder. It’s a tone Kyeongsu recognizes - it’s the timbre partners in crime use. Men and women dressed up, up over the skies, to veil the thrum of the hustle right beneath the velvet.

A piece of fruit brought from the plate to the patron’s mouth as he spins a Red Dragon tile. Near laughter as it is caught, then slammed on the table. The worthless ingot carries more weight than it could carry. The crack is audible.

Kyeongsu hurries to catch up with Chen, who veers and passes behind a mirrored wall and into a slim corridor. Kyeongsu has the patter of Chen’s shoes to guide him.

The office has a thick door, forged metal, decorated in an ecclesiastical manner, massive, imposing. On the edges, the swirls morph into snakes, mouths open and teeth out. Carved subtly, some of them have a drop or two of venom added at the points.

Kyeongsu’s never seen a less welcoming door in his life.

Chen is opening it, a bout of light coming from the crack, and he looks over at Kyeongsu. His eyebrow twitches.  

It’s different inside, similar to the office at the headquarters. It’s crisp and neat, halogen pelting on the polished furnishing. There are three people, heads now bowed, and a few modest reams of paper.

Kyeongsu bows to them too and keeps on after Chen to the room in the back. Darkness, yet again, pierced by monochrome beams coming from the monitors. Kyeongsu sits in the door, not a step behind it. Five people, clad in pajamas, fluffy slippers as they rest on the desk. They are all staring at the countless displays of the live footage from the hall.

There is this sleepy man closest to the door, glasses on his face and wearing a tank top. He’s sucking on a tiny straw going into a tiny juice box. He looks up at Chen as he enters. “We’re totally taking him down tonight,” he says with some cheer. The woman next to him snickers too, then reaches over to snatch the juice box from him. Their eyes never once err from the screens.

Chen turns away from the maze display of all the angles, each for a table, a few of the whole hall. Some are shaky, very personal. Probably cameras stuck to the chests of the croupiers, to the waiters, the concealed guards. The light is dim, but Chen’s face catches enough of it for the lift of his face to be noticeable.

“Just in case though, you go,” Chen says. He takes his blazer off. It’s a baggy one, the fabric of it shiny. Fashion. Busan wasn’t really into anything other than functionality. The frame of the man is big, wide shoulders, his legs long too. It’ll fit him just right. Chen drapes the cloth over the man’s feet resting on the desk. “You’ll find someone to steal some proper pants from. Don’t go in there like a beggar.”

“Yes, boss,” he replies with a grin - it’s wide, white. His eyes turn attentive then, right on the screen.

Back in the main office, Chen asks for some paper, a document of sorts. Closer - a list of attendance. He nods at the woman. “I allow you to beat the fuck out of Minho’s ass if he loses too,” he tells her, and she laughs, eyes sparkling.

Then they’re storming out to the car.

 

 

 

 

 

The supervisor is right there, right in the room, at a table, sipping a drink and looking over the hall. Their presence in the room is the weight, the permission; the witness granting them the win, the loss, the safety.

There is only a tantrum or two. It never gets to the point of losing count of them.

A few backs straighten as Chen traipses into the pretty décor of The Timbre House—patting with two fingers the person playing the piano—as he comes to sit right next to Suho. Every soul is absorbed into the greys and the ochre. Chen and Suho aren’t dressed neutral enough to fit in.

He seems surprised to see Kyeongsu in tow.

“That was usually me,” he says with an amicable grin, tugging a chair so Kyeongsu can sit too. It feels slightly wrong to sit next to them. The discrepancy in power is too much. Kyeongsu still feels weird being in the same car as Chen.

Chen scoffs a jolly ring that attracts attention. He hears a coin dropping. “I’m sure you miss me more than I miss you,” he says. Suho grimaces, nearly petulant. He doesn’t refute.

His face is composed, of an equilibrium and suavity that should be feminine, but the proportion makes it decisively masculine. His cheeks glow in a room where nothing else does.

“I like doing this.” A waiter comes by, lets a card fall onto the table. Seven of hearts. Its corner is bent.

Chen grabs it, twisting it into a cone around his finger. “You have bossing in your blood, of course you like it.”

He only stays until the card begins to rip, creases white and weak. He gets up, in unison with someone losing and cursing the heavens.

Suho remains seated. “Your inspections should be tighter.”

“I trust you,” replies Chen. “And I know everyone here. Won’t be any problems.”

Suho doesn’t bow to Chen.

 

 

 

Kai is seated in the centre.

Kyeongsu sees the man in bright light for the first time, sober too, and it’s quite a punch in the face, his beauty. Kyeongsu stares a little, just a little. His voice, his tone too is variant. Distingue and softly stuttered. The cerulean in his eyes is highly unnerving.

What he sees in his hall, however, is the number of suited people, plainly so. Guards. The games are different. There are machines, roulettes, and the one-on-one tables that are all about cards.

“I see you brought Chanyeol’s Kyeongsaeng too,” greets Kai, intent on Kyeongsu. He’s still absorbed looking at the expanse of the hall. It is huge and airy. The others aren’t nearly as open spaced, all crammed and lightless. This looks like an actual casino. The tables are coated in baize. “Hello,” he continues, in English. The enunciation is perfect too.

“He’s not Chanyeol’s anything,” Chen says, dropping into the chair. He takes a biscuit from the little plate next to Kai’s cup. Tea. “I’m the one paying him, not Chanyeol.”

“I learned tonight, that I’m a Suho substitute,” Kyeongsu voices. Now, the second time, it is somehow easier to let himself sit next to them. As they talk, Kai pushes the plate of biscuits towards him.

They are mentioning the drama happening a few tables away. All four players are family, the rich grandfather freshly deceased, and instead of fighting for the inheritance by law and fists, they do it like this, under a pretty chandelier, and the hand of the dealer rigged by some fifth mystery family member.

“Can’t wait for shit to hit the fan,” Kai says then, again in English, and Kyeongsu’s attention draws right to him, watching as his eyebrows rise when he glances over. Chen shifts, huffs again and hits Kai’s shoulder. Kyeongsu knows some English, only from whatever a few classes managed to teach him. He doesn’t understand everything.

“Enjoy the show then,” Chen sighs, blithe, putting down the papers, again - a list of attendance, and he rises like he doesn’t really want to. Perhaps Kyeongsu is curious too, how that family problem will turn out.

Outside, as Kyeongsu rounds the car, right as he touches the door handle, Chen says, “Kai’s Canadian.”

He’s the only one safe.

 

 

 

 

 

Once in a Blue Moon.

The crowd is different here. The veneer is the same, varnished, buffed, but the vibe they ferry is clearly of another kin.

They are young people, actual young ones, with unresolved acne in the hills of their cheeks and a pinch of artlessness to their language. They are sprinkled in clumps all through the crammed area of the three floors, along the flights upon flights of stairs.

The walls have a personality, the paint appearing to change from hall to hall, as though soaked through with the various melodies filling each room. On the way up, Kyeongsu hears from piano solos to opera-like singing to a harmony of oboes. The last floor is prefaced with a door, a crochet of metal wires, barely there. Beyond it, the change in ambience is subtle but unmistakable - heaped with the soot of forced luck.

There is Chanyeol behind the bar. Kyeongsu doesn’t manage to pinpoint any table in the middle, any supervisor. The players are all in order.

Chanyeol is dressed about the same, just his hair combed neater, baring forehead. He’s still reeking of casualty as he bends over, chatting up a lady dressed in a very dazzling, very short dress.

The moment she leaves with her drink, Chanyeol turns to them. It seems that he doesn’t even see Chen before his wide eyes pin Kyeongsu. He waves one huge hand and pours a mouthful of salutes on him.

Kyeongsu takes in the hall. It appears less controlled. No guards. Fewer cameras stuck to the ceiling.

A waitress comes by and hands Chanyeol a stack of papers. Chanyeol sigs the bottom of each paper before pushing it towards Chen.

Kyeongsu’s mouth parts. “I thought you were like the water boy or something,” he says, dumbfounded.  He catches Chen’s gaze. His face is tight, a fraction of confusion, before he actually laughs. It’s not a huff, but a laugh, small but genuine.

Chanyeol plays butthurt for a total of five seconds before he frowns. “Well, I do serve water.”

“Then I also thought you were in charge of polishing Chen’s shoes,” Kyeongsu goes on. Suho, Kai, Chen are all so put together. Then there is Chanyeol, who is anything but.

Kyeongsu can’t tell if Chen laughed again at this, or it is the same one, but stretched.

“Oh. No, Kyeongsaeng. I only polish glasses sometimes.” Then he swoops into Kyeongsu’s face. “This hall’s mine too.”

Chen loudly flips a paper. He winces at the attendance list. “Send someone to table six. That kid plays smartass way too often.”

“I’ll put some cuffs on him, sure, boss.”

 

 

 

 

When they’re outside, Chen looks to the right, where the crowd of the Soul to God is visible spilling in and out of the venue. His gaze remains there until he turns to Kyeongsu with a cock of his head.

“Maybe if he really worked as my shoe polisher, I wouldn’t have given him enough money to afford an ugly car like that.” The vehicle parked there is an industrial grey, its shape a mixture of poorly stacked volumes. It’s a Mercedes.

Kyeongsu grins. It looks exactly Chanyeol’s style. “Not a very handsome car.”

Chen closes the few steps to it and hops on the hood. He is a splash of colour draped over the dulled silver. “It’s hideous.”

It’s narrowly pushing twelve. He is to pick up Baekhyeon soon. Kyeongsu cuts the silence that has settled.

“How come that you showed me all of this?”

Chen looks up from his phone. It’s never out of his hand. He returns, types a few more words, then locks is and pockets it. He leans back, a hand behind himself, foot resting on the wheel.

“You’re curious. Even after I showed you around a little, you’re still curious,” he says slowly. It’s the tone to be used when reciting something from a textbook, a truth of a crass plainness. “You knew, to some extent, what you were getting into. But you’re still curious.”

Kyeongsu wants to deny, say that it would be easy to keep his distance, his everything to himself. But this too would be a textbook lie.

“It’s dangerous to keep the people close to me in the dark,” he continues when he sees Kyeongsu has no reply. “You have to trust me as much as I trust you.” It sounds deep, but he says it clinically.

Kyeongsu swallows, outwitted. His phone pings. On his right, the people draining out of the club begin filling the street.

“Remind him to stop by the convenience store. You’re dismissed for today,” is all Chen says before he swings off the car and into the hall just as a new crowd of people enters.

Kyeongsu obeys. He goes to Baekhyeon, picks him up, stops at the mart, and then listens to Baekhyeon rant about what happened during his stage - a new bass player who forgot his part - all the while he munches stuff from the bag he’s got filled at the store. After he bids him a good night, he notices the few snacks left in the passenger seat. Kyeongsu doubts they were forgotten.

 

 

 

 

 

It took a second to meet Jongin, and another to share a smile with him, a third for them to leave the building step in step.

Kyeongsu had been going out the door when Jongin did too, a door further, his leashed pups in tow, and their eyes had met.

Surprise is the first expression Kyeongsu learned how it looks on Jongin, that very moment when the realization that Kyeongsu heard everything that happened behind his walls.

Kyeongsu had greeted him with a deep bow, smiled, tried to keep the accent out of his pronunciation as much as possible. A gratefulness coming from mutual understanding seeped into Jongin’s oscitant tone as he told Kyeongsu about the stores nearby. His apartment still lacked some necessities. The presence of the previous tenant clung to the barren walls.

Jongin told him, walked with him to the Macheon Market, all the while mumbling about what’s good there. It was obvious then, from his speech, that Kyeongsu was not from the area.

Kyeongsu usually didn’t let himself think boys are cute. He never does. But Jongin, eager to show him around, occasionally grinning at the yipping pups in his hold, wrapped up in a sweater and a thick coat and black hair falling into his round eyes was indeed very cute.

To this day, Kyeongsu thinks Jongin is cute. It’s warmer, way warmer than then, but Jongin is still overdressed. Now Kyeongsu is also aware that Jongin never sounds really awake, it’s just different grades of languor.

It’s routine for them to go to the market once a week, not the same day each time, but always before noon. It’s a refreshing walk in the morning, along with the dogs, a leash in Kyeongsu’s hand too as they go through the stalls. They buy whatever is cheap that day, whatever offer they can charm out of the ajummas and ajeossis. The pups do most of the work in that regard. Kyeongsu ends up teaching Jongin how to pick the best fruits and vegetables, how to estimate the freshness of fish.

The trip concludes with them seated at an udon booth, having a bowl each. They’re not sharing a word, just the din of their slurps, hungered and hasty until it’s all finished and they bid their thanks and compliments to the ajumma. He has a cup of instant coffee, the three in one kind that comes in a packet as Jongin nurses hot chocolate that also came in a packet. It’s the environment, the buzz of the market that makes it taste so good, so hearty.

A couple of such breakfasts in, Jongin spills it all out. It’s about a love that consumed him whole and died out as soon as it was fulfilled. His parents had wanted him married off to some other lady.

“An arranged marriage, like some drama,” he laughs. “But I ran away from that, and they disowned me, kind of. Can’t go back with my tail between my legs now.”

Kyeongsu doesn’t reply. It can be advice, sympathy, or mere acknowledgment. Quietude offers all these rolled into one.

“So you’re some hotshot abandoned heir then?” Kyeongsu asks when the bleakness has been shooed away by the barking of a very excited Jangga in Jongin’s lap.

Jongin chuckles. His lips shape prettily around it. “Might end up a beggar, might end up a chaebol.” Janggu barks and reaches into his lap too. He bites at Jongin’s hand, upset that he didn’t get petted like Jangga. “Right now, I just want to be a dog dad.”

Kyeongsu snorts, choking lightly on the last sip of his coffee. “You’re a great dog dad.”

Jongin beams at him.

 

 

 

 

On the way home, he never forgets to stop by the convenience store for his lotto ticket. He never buys more than half of what this meal costs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hall One, the office: Kyeongsu’s been ordered to find the name of someone on one of the lists when a man enters, smile in place and he sees Chen’s face instantly contort into something of a nearly grotesque hospitality. The man’s countenance is doused in an air of hauteur nearly as thick as his perfume. He’s past midlife, pretension stapled firmly on his face.

Kyeongsu is irked too. He keeps to the papers.

Chen’s phone starts vibrating right in the crescendo of the conversation when the tension is about to burst into flames. “Tell him we’ll have the date another time,” he whispers hastily before he takes the man away and into the surveillance room. Half of his words are a sigh, drenched with annoyance, displeasure.

The buzzing of the phone cloaks the shake of Kyeongsu’s hand. Baekhyeon responds with a piercing cheer. So warmly, so - awaiting. “Dae!”  A word curled tightly with happiness.

Kyeongsu freezes, not wanting to let him down. He hasn’t seen it, but the sight of the light of Baekhyeon’s eyes dying must be heart-breaking.

“He can’t come anymore, “ Kyeongsu says after he gathers his voice. “I’m sorry.”

The line goes silent. A few moments too many drip down Kyeongsu’s spine.

Then the screech of Baekhyeon’s laughter comes through, utterly devoid. “It’s okay, really. Have a nice day, Driver-nim, see you tomorrow.”

The call ends. Kyeongsu listens to the tune until it dies too.

 

 

 

 

 

Some shady people are trickling out through the back door. Staff only. No tag of identification on them.

The wheels of the car haven’t yet come to a stop. The men scramble to get into a van. They’re dressed well, but there is no dignity to them.

Instead of braking, Kyeongsu accelerates. Chen is in the back, slightly tired from a doing a few rounds in the offices. He only registers what Kyeongsu is onto when he has to swerve to the main street. The steering wheel pivots with ease under Kyeongsu’s dictation. It’s right after the last rush hour, roads rarefied, and it seems the people in that van aren’t great drivers either.

Kyeongsu’s reflexes have been well polished - he’s been driving since very young, illegally too, through the stone roads of his village.

Chen is cursing little things under his breath, dragging himself to the middle so he can watch where Kyeongsu is going. He rarely curses in fact, a soft one here and there, purely for literary emphasis. He doesn’t get impatient, doesn’t try to change the manner Kyeongsu is handling this.

He is prepared to chase them down entirely - the tank is full after all, but in their haste to get away, they take a few wrong turns and drive themselves to a dead end. It’s just a handful of fenced houses scattered around, stripes of open land in between. The road isn’t even paved properly.

They wouldn’t have run if they haven’t had gambled against someone who won’t have such shit anyway. Three men in the back, perhaps armed with some garbage like pipes or bats, peeling knives.

Kyeongsu has a minute to worry. It’s just the two of them. 

Chen slithers his way into the passenger seat. He’s lithe enough for him to easily slip into it.

He looks over at him, clueless. There’s something about the falling light in an open field, a gleam falling on the bridge of his cheekbones, highlighting him. His eyes are bunched, the lashes at the corners twined together darkly. A smirk, nearly feral and all too savvy pulls at his lips.

“Now what?” Kyeongsu asks.

“I worked as a taekwondo instructor to get myself through college, you know,” he voices, turning to Kyeongsu. His hair, fluffy and parted to the side, a wave worked into it, falls over an eyebrow, the one lifting now.

“I didn’t,” Kyeongsu smiles in the end.

“You don’t need to help” he falters, gesturing to the car ahead. They seem to be fighting among themselves. “I just need the guy in the front. He’s the boss of these bums. They’ve tried to steal from me before.” His mouth curls differently at the word ‘steal’ and Kyeongsu somewhat shivers. It’s the first time he sees pure malice on him, pure power.

He’s the one out first, Kyeongsu scurrying after him.

Then the guys step out too. Two dudes armed, as he expected, with some shitty plastic pipes. The said boss is right behind them, in the middle, looking up.

There is no fight that cannot be won with words. This is an exception. Nothing courtly, civilized about it.

Chen shrugs his blazer off, lets it fall on the hood of the car. Soft steps on the gravel, picking up speed, momentum and Kyeongsu doesn’t remember blinking before he already has a dude disarmed, aiming the taken pipe at the other one. They’re drunk off their asses, Kyeongsu finally realizes. That explains the driving too.

Kyeongsu gets in on the action too, skirting through them to get to the snickering boss. Kyeongsu only has to grab his tie and twist it around his neck, twice, and tugs as he settles behind him. There’s very little he can do from this position, especially when there’s pressure on his thyroid.

Chen gets to him after pushing the other two together, bumping heads and chest and falling together in a jumble of wails. He seizes the trembling man for a jiffy before he elegantly knees him in the balls. As he goes down, the tie slipping from Kyeongsu’s hand, Chen gets the phone out of the man’s pocket. “Send these fuckers one more time and I’ll make sure you’re charged with their murder,” Chen says, wretchedly calm. He kneels by the boss and pats him on the cheek with the phone. “Let’s not see each other again, okay?”

He gets up, beckoning Kyeongsu as well with a small wave. He takes his blazer off the hood and gets into the car.

Kyeongsu is beside him. He hasn’t picked the back seat. There’s a dissonance in their dynamic with this.

They stay a bit more, to see that boss stops thrashing and holding his junk. One of the dudes is passed out, half out the car. Then the boss starts moving again, and it’s somewhat so ridiculous, this waggle, how pathetic this is, and before he knows it, Kyeongsu is chuckling, and soon, Chen’s own peals are mixing with his, as they wail, all miserable.

He’s heard Chen laughing before, either truly on the phone with Baekhyeon, or so disturbingly artificial that it hurt. But like this, harmonizing with his own, it gives him some warmth.

 

 

 

Kyeongsu was in the last year of university when he fucked up.

It wasn’t a big university, just something local that taught him well. His professors knew him by name. He pushed through, finished it. It was not even in a field that could ever warrant any big pay - nothing above basic comfort.  

He couldn’t wait to get out, to escape the hovering of people wanting their loss back. As he’d counted down the days, he never stopped running, never passed any secluded area in fear of being caught and getting beaten into a pulp. They wouldn’t have let go of him until they disabled him, broken his bones into powder and snorted it up their nose.

Kyeongsu talked back, only one time, in the face of a tertiary vermin of the boss. Shit was about to go down when they trusted a kid with that, he’d said. It was reckless of them too. It was not entirely his fault.

He was petrified by his own audacity after he blurted it all out, which lagged his bolting. The hit of that bat on his shoulder, Kyeongsu will never forget, the prompt inflammation of the muscle, crushed, ripped, bleeding from within, before he managed to get away.

Now Kyeongsu doesn’t remember what he’s studied at the university there. The face of a colleague or two he can recall - the ones with the starker features, eyes too small, ears too big, but not a speck of a persona attached to these images. He wasn’t exceedingly excited about his studies, just something to be done, another paragraph in the exposition.

He could flee, marginally escape the wrath of his debtors, right after he graduated. Kyeongsu didn’t even take the diploma with him to Seoul.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a younger night when Kyeongsu brings Baekhyeon to the Soul to God. Barely anyone is clumped around the entrance.

Baekhyeon is slightly sleepy, his shoulders not yet squared and his mouth mildly puffy. He’s freshly woken, the imprints of bedding peeking on his skin from the open—and wrongly buttoned—shirt.

With his goodbye, they have exchanged a total of five words this time. As he gets out of the car, a soft tune winds in his breath.

Kyeongsu has nowhere to be, not now. Only Hall Three’s open tonight, some heavy, isolated business that Suho is mainly in charge of. Thus Kyeongsu loiters about, fishing for an aim before he parks the car away from sight and goes inside too. It’s pretty damn crowded already, so much that Kyeongsu can’t even distinguish the décor. It’s tasteful though, timbers and velvets, from what he sees through the gaps between people where hands and hips don’t quite meet.

Baekhyeon is easy to spot, right on the little stage as he talks up with a man hunched over a guitar. Kyeongsu remains hidden so that no incidental gaze from Baekhyeon can catch him. He takes a seat on the stool before the microphone and smiles. It captures the attention of the whole room, holds it, reigns it. Right at the will of his too pink mouth, his too white teeth.

His introductory pleasantries transition directly into singing - perhaps it was singing from the beginning - slow and raspy and so controlled and unlike the way he speaks. He’s so beautiful, right there on the stage, something as soft about him as it is exquisite. He has no hard edges, nothing but brilliance.

He stays song after song, little gestures, mimicry added to the lyrics, ageyo, here and there, and creamy, heavenly falsettos. He lets the instruments come through sometimes, and he sees, how none of the people at the tables are chewing when Baekhyeon’s brows are furrowed and his head thrown back, the longest, highest note spilling out of his chest.

Kyeongsu stares at the shape of his lips, the distinctly innocent contour of them, endearing as they undulate around ad-libs. The whole stage lasts maybe over an hour, and Kyeongsu hasn’t moved at all. He’s not drowned by the milieu, if anything, the air seems starved for his voice, just like Kyeongsu.

He misses the buzzing of his phone in his pocket, doesn’t see Chen summoning him. He hastens off in the end, after three missed calls, losing the acapella petering notes of Baekhyeon singing something in English, beautifully enunciated.

It’s the first time he has a slip at this job, the first time he’s late. Before he gets to apologize, before he can string his apology together, he gets silenced by the stare Chen is giving him. He knows why Kyeongsu is late. He knows.

Kyeongsu can’t tell if there is anger or reprimand there, his judgment ailed by the tides of fear coursing through him, but he doesn’t regret a thing.

 

 

 

 

From home, they call at least every fortnight, putting him on speaker. Kyeongsu twists around in his bed –he’s still not used to it, having only slept on the floor all his life. He can let his accent show through, cozy on his tongue as he throws remarks at the childish bickering of his parents.

They’re both seated outside - Kyeongsu could never miss the noise of an evening by the shore, crashing waves and crickets piling high in the air.

He asks about what other amusing thing their elderly crazy neighbour has done in the meantime, listens to his mother rant on about what sprouted and what didn’t in her garden. In turn, Kyeongsu tells them about Seoul, about how different it is - more foreigners, more agitation. He doesn’t mention his job, just something about Chanyeol, and how overprotective he seems to be of him, and he mentions Jongin too - it’s quiet tonight, his wife’s car wasn’t in the lot when he arrived.

The call ends. Kyeongsu still hears the crickets and the waves until a small bark and the patter of claws on the floor pierces through. Then silence settles, crumpled into the darkness.

This is his new life, Kyeongsu reminds himself, turning over and scanning the QR code on the lottery receipt. He’s got one number right.

He’s not on the run now - he hasn’t abandoned his responsibility, his parents. He’s farther away, away from bodily harm, away from the devastatingly relieved smile his father displayed every time he came home from university in one piece. The hug he was clutched into afterward spoke of surprise as if yet again he couldn’t believe Kyeongsu is still okay.

They know where Kyeongsu is now, they have more than a hunch, of course. Of course. Their fingers are brocaded from slashes from bills, and the occasional grip around a metal pipe. Not the sort of people to slack on keeping tabs of the ones accountable to them.

Yet here, it is so much easier to fall asleep.

 

 

 

 

It’s the first of the many such conversations that Kyeongsu has to have. He already knows now, when Chen hands him the phone, buzzing as Baekhyeon’s name pre and suffixed by a string of hearts is put in his hand. Chen never does it at once. First, it seems as though the skies fall on his shoulders, a terrible wash of sadness over his eyes before he pushes the phone towards him, crosses his legs, and continues roughing up the client in front of him with his words.

Baekhyeon twists immediately, once he hears the news, becomes cheery again, waves it off with a little scoff. But the seconds between the news and this reaction get heavier, leaden, abridged from dolour. He never forgets to leave a warm farewell to Kyeongsu, this frontage quavering at the end.

Each time, Kyeongsu is left with an empty feeling in his chest.

 

 

 

There is Kai too, Suho, Chanyeol, and one more man, well built, and with a kind, vacant smile, vacant eyes, both sharp at the tips. He’s dressed in a suit that is definitely a uniform. Xiumin, is how Chen addresses him. Not his real name, obvious from how it takes a few nearly unobservable seconds to react to it. He’s the head of the guards.

Kyeongsu stays to the side of the conference room in the Trade Tower. When filled with a handful of people like this, it appears intimidating, as though the walls of it are eager to listen. Two women are present, one of them named Juhyeon, and Kyeongsu recognizes her as one of the lawyers.

The crumbs of the conversation he catches are about a Japanese dude coming over, to negotiate, one who has a small gambling ring himself. They brought him over, got to win him over, but it’s different because this leader is - once Kyeongsu hears the name, his ears perk.

“I know him,” he’s saying before he can stop himself. He’s gotten goods to deal illegally from some of his ships. He knows the name, he knows the face, although he hasn’t spoken to him one-on-one. As long as he stops buying these goods, it’s okay to get him on their side. They can rely on him, get some support just in case that things go wrong.

“How?” Suho inquires. Chen’s gaze is off him, suddenly lowered, and Kyeongsu wonders if—

“He was an associate of sorts at my previous job,” he replies, careful.

Chanyeol’s gaze is the one turning lucid, oddly, understanding all of a sudden that Kyeongsu had been part of this business they’re trying to rid the Japanese dude of. His façade is of such aloofness, cheeriness, tinted with the occasional craziness - but he’s cunningly attentive.

After he doesn’t elaborate, across the room the suspicion withers from the fold of their scrutiny.

“I suggest we send Kyeongsaeng in,” Chanyeol says, sugar over the pet name. The rest of his words are serious, cut. It slashes like an order.

Chen is quiet. Everyone is quiet. Then Chen sighs, quite long, a buildup of held breaths. “Juhyeon, clarify our conditions to him.” He turns. “You’re coming with me.”

On the way to the parking lot Kyeongsu hastens to fall in pace with Chen. “But why do we need him so much?” Without his will, it spilled out with the word ‘we’ and Kyeongsu catches his tongue between his teeth. It’s soon swept away by the breeze.

Chen only grants him an answer when they’ve reached the car. “Because if I am to go down,” he begins, his arm lifting to gesture in front of him, capturing the whole building in it, “this doesn’t go down with me.”

 

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu’s done this before, stepping in to smooth the crudeness of some port people. It’s one thing to talk to the higher-ups, and another to talk directly to the people coming in contact with the goods; making sure they’re sealed properly, that the number that’s been agreed on is respected. On a few occasions, he’d been quite brazen in order to convince someone to not take some cargos, to avoid some sellers - ghosts of the port, ones who fill the vat of the ship with dirt so it weighs more.

It’s not hard to warn the man off. The felonious trades in Busan offer good money, exceptionally so, but the risk of angering two countries at once isn’t worth the risk. Kyeongsu’s resentment towards this whole ordeal comes through as he exposes the guts of how the business works, a ripen anger, the buds of regret. He hopes it’s lost in translation.

A call is made at the end of the meeting. The man takes his hands off Busan and reaches over to take Chen’s instead into a shake, sealing a partnership.

 

 

 

 

 

They live on the fiftieth floor. The light where Baekhyeon is still awake in the building gleams brighter than all the others. Kyeongsu does all the decors, rounding the car and opening the door for Chen, who seems to have fallen in a superficial slumber. His gaze is heavy, tired, but there’s the effervescence of relief leveling the tightness of his face. He takes a step ahead, then another. He smells of Baekhyeon’s cologne, faint and worn. It’s as if his skin is soaked with it. One more step—the last one, a bit of alcohol in his breath, just a bit—just courtesy.

Until his forehead comes to drop on Kyeongsu’s shoulder. Kyeongsu stills, lips parting. The weight of Chen is tentative. A hand comes to squeeze his waist, the tips barely felt through the layers and layers of fabric. “Thank you, Kyeongsu,” he mutters there. He stays, stays, all the weight on Kyeongsu now, and it’s nearly skin-to-skin as his face shifts, the tip of his nose along Kyeongsu’s throat. “You can take the car home.”

Then he sidesteps him and walks towards the building.

 

 

 

 

 

Jongin is tied to the foot of the bench by the leashes as the pups run around him. He looks up, hearing the drop of a car door, the flash of the headlights as he locks the car. His eyebrows raise. It’s so late, well over midnight, and he’s still here in the warm air.

Kyeongsu smiles at him, amiably, as he bends down to untie him, all the while rubbing the little heads of the pups. They like him, it seems. They are so well groomed, their fur clean. The herds of dogs in the port had big ones, always hungry and so attentive, and he used to spend a lot of his modest earnings from his part time job on buying them food. However, Jongin’s dogs are well fed, well washed, not a scar through their fur. He smooths down the fabric of his suit once he rises - his other one is the dry cleaning.

“Gonna sleep here tonight? Shall I bring you a blanket?” Kyeongsu inquires when Jongin blinks for too long.

“I don’t need a blanket,” he mumbles, and picks up the dogs, one by one, and dumps them in his lap and over his chest. “See? Better than a blanket.” He’s too drowsy to even talk properly. Kyeongsu tugs him up, gathering all the leashes on one hand and keeping the other fastened in Jongin’s hoodie to direct him. Before Jongin goes in, he tells Kyeongsu “Good night, Monggu,” instead of hyeong, and Kyeongsu enters his apartment chuckling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An hour later Kyeongsu is sitting cross-legged on a chair slurping ramyeon directly from the pot as he unseeingly scrolls through the news on his phone. It pings with a message from his bank alerting him that a hefty sum has just been deposited in his account. The long noodles dangle over his lips and back into the pot as he stares at the numbers.

He recalls his mom and dad sighing over that patio couch set, and with bleary eyes, mostly asleep, he musters to order it for them. His ears this time, however, carry a hiss, reminiscent of the falsetto Baekhyeon soared into in the middle of a chorus, the moan of a tryst. It quells him into a deeper drowse than pitch-black stillness.

 

 

 

                                          

It’s early evening, pleasantly warm. Kyeongsu’s been asked to wait in front of the gates of a high school. It’s a short wait, for he already plucks from the mass of students the drawl-y steps of a kid walking towards him. He must know the car. He slides in the backseat, headphones on his ears and a small nod offered to Kyeongsu. The whir of the music escaping from them permeates between them.

“Luck personified,” he’s introduced as by Kai, up into Grand Hyatt. “Or Sehun, if you prefer that.”

Sehun scoffs. It’s depthless. He likes the praise.

“Watch,” Suho whispers in his ear on the way to the table. He deals himself, handing the cards with comfort, as though they have no weight and no edges.

Sehun drags himself there a few minutes later, occupying the last chair. He tosses a few lines of meek small talk to the other players before he divvies the cards.

This brat, with his expressionless face and all, doesn’t lose once. He takes his time, fiddles, fondles, yet his hand always beats.

There is a fourth stranger at the table, a lost one who came here from the catacombs ridden with cops. Freshly bailed out but determined. He’s wagered with the middle-aged woman in the middle. It’s a hell of a contract between them, a factory and an entire brand  handed over this. The third person is irrelevant.

Sehun’s cards shepherds this business according to plan. Suho’s hands are completely clean.

 

 

 

 

After it’s over, Sehun remains there, gangly limbs stretched over the freed space on the chairs, on the table. Suho is looking proudly at him. The boy yawns and smiles, tired and soft and he’s cute, beyond the crisp lineature of his facial structure, to the droopy, not quite confident mien of a man not fully grown.

Chen descends into the hall. He orders something for them then, equally proud, tousling Sehun’s hair. Suho did the same thing, previously, and he shied away with a little sneer. But to Chen, he’s obedient.

Kyeongsu idles around too - Chen is meeting someone, and it’s not quite yet time to pick up Baekhyeon. He gathers a stack of cards from the shoe and checks out the design on them. They’re thick and glossy. Obviously not something from the closest convenience store.

Sehun picks two as well, puts them in front of Kyeongsu. He’s not even blinking, his expression irenic, but he’s somewhat impish. They throw cards back and forth until Sehun strings him into playing blackjack with him.

By the time the food arrives, Kyeongsu’s learned a few tricks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu gets lost, twice, the alleys twisting around him, and so he is a little late, and not exactly the right location. It’s long into the night, nippy, darkness blurred grey by fog.

Baekhyeon is wearing red, though, an arresting shade of it, bright enough that it is impossible to miss. Too much is unbuttoned, the circular shadow of his belly button visible above the waistband of his pants, the eminent dashes of his collarbones holding a lilac, wide collar around his neck. His smile rounded rouge, the blush of his cheeks dappled over his nose.

The backdrop doesn’t suit him. This is so far from his usual place, the streets rowdy and crumbled and Baekhyeon is not the right kind of mess to fit here.

Kyeongsu is out of the car, walking towards Baekhyeon. There is a moment when he ponders putting a hand on his arm to aid the wobble of his legs, but he doesn’t, for Baekhyeon just then turns around, slowly focusing on him, then he grins - his lips are lustrous, too slick, definitely something on them.

“Kyeongsaeng!” he says, high and chirpy. It’s how Chanyeol says it, but higher, thinner, and it’s confounding, how much he likes it like this.

Kyeongsu bypasses him and opens the car door, the back one, in invitation. Baekhyeon shakes his head, then slaps a hand over his forehead as he goes dizzy from the motion. “No no no,” he chants and throws himself in the passenger seat instead. He makes no move to fiddle with the seat belt, shuffling back and forth in the seat, looking to sink into it just right. Kyeongsu reaches over to put it on for him. He’s drunk and awfully sweet-smelling, as though sugar was spilled on him, rancorous, his simper is libertine, loose. He’s drunk Jager, Kyeongsu can tell now. Chanyeol likes putting the stuff in everything.

Kyeongsu is not even out on the main street when Baekhyeon flounders, turns a little and mumbles, “I’m so hard.” He pushes down his zipper and opens his pants a little as he slumps, legs deep under the dashboard. “Where’s Dae?” he drawled later on, a few minutes into the drive. It’s a whine, quite pitiful, a kid too lost and too demanding. “He promised to come.”

Tonight was different. Tonight Kyeongsu dropped Chen off with Chanyeol and a modest horde of Xiumin’s men in tow in front of a tall building by the periphery of Seoul. Chen is partly alone in this, partly afraid. It’s something critical, reigning the thugs to the nines who think they are better. Kyeongsu has slid himself a full magazine into Chen’s breast pocket. He has a small gun, functional, legally owned, and empty. He needs the weight there, for courage, a dollop of sass. Kyeongsu’s fingers still reek of the iron candor of potential harm.

“He’ll come later,” Kyeongsu replies.

Baekhyeon makes this sigh, this sound, drawn by a dying breath, ripped from within and tinted with pure disappointment. It’s one of the saddest things Kyeongsu’s ever heard.

“He will,” Baekhyeon says, sagging. Kyeongsu chances a glance - and his eyes are closed, the slight shimmer on his lids catching the moving light. Maybe, besides kohl, moisture lines his lashes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It had been frosty that morning, small white spikes on the empty branches, lineate puddles on the ground. Kyeongsu didn’t even get to unwrap the scarf around his mouth to ask what they were disembarking that day when someone grabbed him by the nook of the elbow and he was slammed against the cold wall of a container. His spine fell between two ridges, the shock absorbed first by his shoulder blades before the crown of his head hit too. He’s held immobile as Kyeongsu regained focus.

It’s Taeyong, a youngling like him, just slightly more of a pushover. “Shit, you’re so dead,” he whispered, so much dread laced through it that Kyeongsu had shivered. It burned, the eyes of the boy, hooded and way more awake, enlivened by the flames of fear more than any eyes should be.

His mouth, Kyeongsu still remembers it, chapped but with a lovely wave to it, hooded with a scampy shadow above his lip from budding adolescence. “So dead.”

“Why?”

“Just run, fuck. Run.”

Should’ve been a scream.

Maybe, if Taeyong screamed at him instead of whispering it so softly, so brokenly, if his cold-bitten cheeks didn’t glow so bright from the beams of the rising sun, Kyeongsu would have understood, would have run that very moment.

“Why?”

It became just a cloud, with no one to hear it, for it was Taeyong who bolted, his footsteps wide and hurried. Not a second later, a hand was on his collar, looking to take the air away from him.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu had lost 1.5 billion. Kyeongsu owed them 1.5 billion won.

He hadn’t checked the weather forecast and hadn’t placed the cargo properly. There was a violent storm, and it just slipped.

He’d slotted the containers alone. It was only him and a barely bribed watchman there last night, whistling a sorrowful tune as Kyeongsu fiddled with the controls of the crane. The goods sank three thousand metres in the Sea of Japan, only because they were containers that would be taken off the ship first, in a side port, a discreet little delivery. They weren’t even tied.

They wanted compensation. His head, his organs, his home, anything. For the freight was genuine this time, real products, not counterfeit ones, obtained without tax, some stolen, some gotten over the border through the fields.

Nobody tells him what was in there really. Could’ve been diamonds, paintings, furs, ingots, fucking rocks, and dust. Could’ve been full of money. Maybe an envelope on the bottom of each container, a one-sentence secret nestled in them. Could’ve been people. Could’ve been nothing, and they are looking for a scapegoat out of boredom. Cruelty can be quite entertaining.

A foot to his back threw Kyeongsu in front of the boss, the one who now had a bunch of a displeased Japanese high-asses on his back and an all too sizeable dent in his earnings. The boss regarded him with disdain, thinly smudged over his features. It was all for Kyeongsu. The watchman received maybe a box of fish just to allow Kyeongsu to use the crane. Taeyong is usually the one who made sure everything is placed properly inside the container, that the goods are safe. But this one was already sealed, well balanced. Taeyong didn’t even stay.  

The office was already empty before he even started. They all left after signing the delivery of the shipment to the port, off to drink for sealing their biggest deal yet.

So it was just Kyeongsu. Kyeongsu who lost it.

He thought he should tremble, he should fear, but instead, he felt just a numbness, finality clogging his senses. It was the sheer impossibility of it, of him, at that moment, only a foot out of university, of ever obtaining that sort of money.

The boss looked at him. It’s weird. He’s never looked at him. He’s ordered him around without ever acknowledging he’s more than a set of craning abilities. His gaze had gone up and down Kyeongsu’s kneeling form. “Is your family healthy?”

“Yes.”

“How many members in the country?”

“About…about a dozen.”

Boss had relaxed in the chair. It was a shitty, creaky chair, but the desk was opulent, big, trying to overcompensate for something. Kyeongsu had seen the tremble in the man’s arm. He will break that damn desk in half and chase to murder him with its pieces. “That’s not nearly enough kidneys and livers to save you.”

Plain devastation washed over him, steady, resolute, all the while his mind was so serene, to calm and empty. He kept thinking of water, sea foam, a pretty storm swallowing the riches, and Kyeongsu’s life along with them, salt and bubbles. It’s not an ugly sight, just big, grandiose.

And so he said. “I’ll pay it back.”

The boss had laughed, with true mirth, the kind offered to a dumb dog chasing its own tail. “When?”

Kyeongsu couldn’t think of numbers, of time. All he had was the vague, delusive fathoming of a mass of money that he had to gather. Perhaps it’s not so hard - it took so little to be lost, can’t be that hard to win back. “Before I die.”

It appeared enough for the boss. It’s not immediate gratification, the whole of loss is not immediately plugged, but there was an agreement, a promise there. He’s not stupid, he knows who he is asking this of - a rawboned, wingless boy. There was nothing he could squeeze out of Kyeongsu. So he allowed it.

Kyeongsu had been sent out of that room by another foot to his back. He had collided with the opposite wall, bruised his ribcage, and he hasn’t taken a proper breath since.

On the train to Seoul, two little bags on the rack above his head, Kyeongsu thought of all the ways he could get it

Become an idol, become an actor. Write a book, become famous for it. Seduce an heiress of some corporation. Have the right person injure him and ask for moral and physical damages. Murder - or assassinate someone important enough. Hitman would suit him, he looks innocent and harmless enough.

Telling the authorities of the whole business was out of the question. It could have everyone convicted, crammed into putrid jails. But that wouldn’t be enough. None of them would get life for this crime, not enough decades to forget the wrath either, and when they got out, when he got out, no way they’d let him live.

On the train, Kyeongsu was 25 and thinking how in 25 years, if he offered 5 million won a month, he’ll be free. Just one more half of life like this, and he’d be free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baekhyeon gets in the car, soundless. Silence form Baekhyeon speaks volumes. The smile he sends Kyeongsu is tight, merely corners and no swell.

He doesn’t say a destination right off the bat either. He offers few breaths, tinted by vowels in places before he asks to be taken to the Trade Tower.

After the first stop light, Kyeongsu realizes that this is only the second time he has seen Baekhyeon during the day since he saw him for the first time throwing himself in Chen’s embrace. Sunlight suits him.

Kyeongsu goes up to the headquarters with him. He has some schedules to check, to where he must go with Chen for meetings. In the office, everyone seems weirded out by Baekhyeon’s presence - maybe it’s a rare occurrence or just his demeanour.

He hears some shouts, but the room is insulated enough that nothing too articulate escapes.

He sees, blurry through the glass panes, Chen looking down, completely unmoving, straight in the chair. He’s frozen. Whatever Baekhyeon is telling him is petrifying.

When it’s over, when Baekhyeon steps out, he closes the door and sags against it. He takes a deep deep breath in, as though he hasn’t had one since he stepped into the room.

Then he is blinking his eyes open and looking directly at Kyeongsu. He opens his mouth, to seemingly say something. He doesn’t. Instead, he passes by Kyeongsu. “I’ll take a walk back,” he murmurs.

Chen is still there, still the same, and it’s somehow even more terrifying, even sadder. He slips out of the trance quite easily when Kyeongsu knocks on the door when it’s time to leave.

 

 

 

 

 

At midnight, it still bothers him.

As Baekhyeon approaches the car, he has a minute hesitation, of whether to pick the backseat or the passenger before he picks the passenger. He’s in better spirits, a glow to him, as always, and his voice smoothened as he offers a greeting that Kyeongsu returns with utmost courtesy. He takes another street, a detour, for he knows by now that Baekhyeon likes watching it.

“Are you okay?” Kyeongsu pushes out finally, whist right in the middle of the intersection, half a honk roaring past his words. He has to busy himself. His hand tightens around the wheel. He has to veer, and he inevitably looks to the right. He thinks his question fell on deaf ears, or it is ignored.

But Baekhyeon is staring at him, a lost look in his eyes, nearly blind - as though he’s thinking about the answer, as though he couldn’t wait for someone to ask him this. The road ahead is straight again.

“He’s wearing my shirt today,” he begins. “So, he still loves me, I think.” A laugh then, desiccated, resembling the one he displays in greeting when Kyeongsu is the one picking up Chen’s phone. This time, though, it elongates, prologueing a scoff. “He’s too busy to fall out of love with me, anyway.”

Kyeongsu’s hand relaxes. He’s not - Not wrong. There are moments when Chen’s asking how Baekhyeon dressed, what sort of makeup he was wearing, was he humming on the way? Things he could ask himself, if such questions weren’t only slipped in the short rides on the elevator when Chen was allowed to breathe, to think outside of the heart of the organization.

The building comes into sight.

“But are you okay?” Kyeongsu presses, gentle, polite as he can, but he looks at Baekhyeon, holds his cherry heavy eyes.

“Yeah.” A lip bite, unsure and soft. He doesn’t want to sink his teeth into it, doesn’t want to be confused about this. “I am.” A smile, a swell to it. “Goodnight, Kyeongsu.”

 

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu comes home with a red BMW and as he parks it, he sees Jongin out on the bench, turning to peak at the glare of the headlights. It’s just him, his foot tapping and head bobbing. No dogs around. Kyeongsu seeing him, finally feels the tiredness crashing down on him.

He falls on the bench next to Jongin.

Jongin looks up and smiles, drowsy as ever. As the soft sound of crickets emanates around them, Kyeongsu relaxes, unbuttoning his shirt. The night is pleasantly warm, but not humid, just as the margin of spring should be. At last, Jongin offers him an earbud and Kyeongsu only delays taking it out of exhaustion. He has one more cereal bar in his pocket—it seems he only lives off of these nowadays—and breaks it in half, giving it to Jongin.

The sound of their munching is quite loud above the dreamy music. There are some strings - a harp, Kyeongsu guesses, behind the husky, lean voice of a woman drawling something. It’s in another language, sinuous and breathy, soft consonants. Kyeongsu cannot pinpoint the language, but it must be something sad, broken, like the inhales between each verse.

Another song just the same, another one, until Kyeongsu is lulled and comfy. Jongin, next to him, is in the same state. They are shoulder to shoulder, even if there is some distance between their hips. Their weights just drift towards one another.

Before sleep claims Kyeongsu, he shakes the earbud out and glances up. The light in Jongin’s apartment is out.

“I think she’s fallen asleep,” Kyeongsu says. It’s rough, he has to clean his throat.

Jongin’s eyes blink open, barely, and follow the trajectory of Kyeongsu’s. “I hope so.”

They get up, and stumble towards the entrance, a few limbs numb and tingly. When they stop in front of Kyeongsu’s door - it’s the first one, they both murmur a thank you followed with a slumbering smile.

It’s unclear what they’re thanking for. Perhaps for understanding. Jongin never voices that the reason he’s staying out like this is that he doesn’t want to see his wife, to fight again, so he waits for her to fall asleep before he enters. Kyeongsu is grateful that he has someone to return to, a constant, an infinitesimal source of merriment, but guaranteed, and to bask in the feeling of offering someone comfort.

Or maybe he’s too ready to care about whoever makes sure he doesn’t dine alone. He’s met a million people in the past few months, moved to a huge city, and he wasn’t expecting, like this, to starve his loneliness so much that it is starting to take big, selfish mouthfuls out of the malnourished meat of his heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three women and two men are each dispersed at separate tables. They’ve done the same formation at each Hall, playing with a loose hand, a spattering of stocks left on their contracts. They never drink, but they laugh with whoever is at the table. To the other players, they pretend to be drunk.

“I poured that myself,” Chanyeol says. “It’s clarified lemon juice on the rocks.” He makes a face at the words. Which is why they probably picked such a drink.

On the screen, one of them leaves. It is a blackjack table, the croupier concealed among the clients. “He just pulled out,” Chen says then.

“Two more will pull out,” Chanyeol says, taking that table off the screen and maximizing on the other four left. “They have a pattern.”

Right then one of the women loses. Chen scoffs. Her long red hair bounces as she thanks the clients at the table, too polite for the enactment of inebriation. Then she’s out. Kyeongsu can nearly hear the click of her heels

“These are the shittiest spies I’ve ever seen.” Chen plops himself on a desk, staring with a sour expression at the main screen. “We definitely deserve their best men, what’s up with these buffoons?”

“These motherfuckers are their best men,” Chanyeol says with a laugh. He looks at Kyeongsu to check if he is amused too. He is, not that his face shows it.

The gaming resumes for another sliver. Another woman pulls out. Then Chen says, “Do we assimilate them or terminate them?” It seems more to himself. The last man lingers. A signal sent to the remaining woman. Might as well be their leader.

“I don’t think they’re worth anything,” Chanyeol says. It’s his hall that his brigade has come twice to. He’s observed them more.

The last man leaves. He’s won something, terribly little, a patch of land somewhere if Kyeongsu recalls correctly. Can’t even grow a potato plant on the surface. “Watch them a bit more. I’m not in the mood to scold these worms right now,” Chen orders with a small sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the headquarters, Kyeongsu is in the chair across from Chen as he signs some papers. He keeps scorning. There are so many zeroes gathered on these documents that they look like nests of centipedes.

He’s only halfway through the heap before he pushes it all away from himself and declares a coffee break. Kyeongsu mixes a little cup for himself and one for Chen, as per the main secretary told him how Chen likes it - as much coffee as sugar. He puts both cups on the desk, then takes the seat. It’s a bit until he goes for Baekhyeon.

Chen closes the lid of the laptop and rummages in the drawer for something. He takes his contacts out, puts them in the case, and slides some glasses on instead. The frames are slim, black, curling elegantly over his features.

Kyeongsu pushes the cup towards him and he immediately cradles the small paper cup. The steam fogs up the lenses. He takes a sip. It causes his mouth to curl - the undulation of minute, genuine pleasure. Kyeongsu wasn’t expecting him to be into instant coffee, one of the cheapest brands at that.

Kyeongsu has a taste of his own.

“Do you have any addictions?” he queries. It is sudden, and his eyes are on Kyeongsu. It appears a dreadfully thought out question.

“I don’t think so,” Kyeongsu replies after a minute of searching. He really has no addictions. “Tofu?”

Chen smiles into the cup. “Tofu addiction?”

“I don’t have anything else,” Kyeongsu says. An addiction, a dependency usually has a bad connotation, but the way Chen asks about it, it is poised as anything but.

“Find one,” he says. He puts the cup down. It’s empty. “It’ll do you good.”

“Is tofu not good enough?”

“Does it feel like enough?” He stretches over and takes Kyeongsu’s cup. He takes a gulp and frowns for a second. “Whoa,” he says. The contours of wonder on Chen are so jarring - cute. Really cute. Kyeongsu’s mouth barely resists grinning.

Kyeongsu doesn’t respond. The question seems to be his, to take it home and solve it. Homework. Chen keeps sipping his coffee, his mouth squelching softly after each one as he tastes it. A little sugar, a little coffee and a lot of milk powder. It’s very rich.

“What about you?” Kyeongsu intones it carefully - it’s intimate after all, what constitutes a vice, a pleasure.

He lowers the cup, then his eyes fall again on Kyeongsu. Behind the lenses, he seems softened, sanded. He licks over his lip.

“Baekhyeon,” he states, and it’s sure, so sure in his mellow tone, as a simper, natural and inevitable blossoms on his face.

The worse is that Kyeongsu can see exactly why, exactly how easy it’d be to be addicted to Baekhyeon. He really hopes this understanding doesn’t show on his face. Maybe a bit, just a speckle, is caught, for Chen is getting up and reaching for his coat.

“Let’s go earlier.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re both out of the car, in front of Soul to God. Baekhyeon’s set should have finished about fifteen minutes ago. Then there he is, laughing, quite loudly, distinctly, along with some girl who keeps poking teasingly at his chest. His cheeks are bunched and glowing, the light docking right on the apples of them.

He’s not even free of the crowd when Baekhyeon sees them.

Kyeongsu chances a look to the side. Chen is smiling too, biting his lip, kind of shy, kind of overwhelmed, and then Baekhyeon grins right back, luminous, blinding the night, and running forward into the open of Chen’s arms as he jumps into his embrace. “Dae!” he says, loud, and he buries his nose into Chen’s neck. There is some short sucking noises - the peppering of kisses- and some giggles from Chen, probably from where Baekhyeon’s legs come around his waist.

Kyeongsu tries not to stare, not to pry, really, but it’s a sight to behold - alone, neither of them is this happy, ever. This is only the second time that he sees them together, and it is as stupefying as the first time.

He bows when Baekhyeon catches his gaze - one eye, the other mushed closed against Chen’s cheek, then he gets back into the car.

They’re whispering to one another as they tumble into the backseat. Baekhyeon seems to say something in Chen’s ear, close and hushed, while Chen chuckles - not fully blow, just these little husky sounds that make it seem as though his chest is chirping out of pure contentment. Then the sound quiets.

“Home?” Kyeongsu has to interrupt.

“Yes, please!” says Baekhyeon, a plop preceding it. He just released the suction on Chen’s earlobe to say that.

Kyeongsu swerves onto the little shortcut - streets thinner, more wrinkled.

The making out in the back escalates slowly - their voices petering out to nothing, the raising notes of fabrics rubbing together. The wet noises come afterwards, soft at first, barely there, barely going above the bedlam of distant traffic, but then there come the breaths, shallow and quick and greedy, before the suckling resumes. The light falls just right, as Kyeongsu has to check the rear view mirror, to see a hand bunched in Baekhyeon’s hair and the red glitter over where his tongue is over Chen’s lips. A moan then, and Kyeongsu can’t tell whose it is, who started it and who finished it, solely a purr of a contented heart.

Kyeongsu accelerates, concentrates on the road - not busy on a weekday after twelve. He steers and brakes with diligence. Not that that they care, for they end up tangled, hitting limbs and heads on the walls of the car constantly. Could be the clack of teeth, could be an elbow colliding with the window.

Baekhyeon’s pleasure sounds as good as his talent, Kyeongsu learns. The memory is already sticky and explicit in his mind.

He’s been already waiting a few minutes for them to stop, and they don’t. There is the enhancement of breaths, pants really, and the squelch of ardent mouths, and Kyeongsu tries not to squirm in his seat.

“Home,” he says, loud and crisp and flat enough.

They halt, a few moans later, part, and Baekhyeon starts laughing. “Thank you, Su. Bye!” he says, all cheer, and Chen scoffs, warm and endeared, and slides to the edge of the seat.

“No need to stay too late,” he says before he’s out and the door shuts behind him.

On the way to The Timber House, he lowers all the windows. The air inside is nubilous, too thick, and he clears it out, filling the car with the petty, kaleidoscopic pollution of Seoul instead.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu is in the surveillance room for hours keeping an eye on the spies. They’re easy to pinpoint—too orderly, too unenthusiastic—and no one engages in illegal gambling with such nonchalance, so little drive. It’s the same pattern they follow, roaming a bit, too many bathroom breaks, looking at the people, interacting too much with the dealer.

It’s not staggeringly engaging, it’s easy, between the soothing of a hand and the next for Kyeongsu’s mind to drift, and of all things, it chooses to replay some smiles. He’s seen plenty of smiles before, but none of them are so arresting, seem to move slow, to bloom so fully.

Chen’s smile - when Chanyeol makes a frighteningly convincing representation of a kicked puppy when he’s ignored. Baekhyeon’s, right after he gets into the car, merry and fulfilled, the flush of happiness on his cheeks. Then these smiles interlocked, sent to each other, and there is a stirring in Kyeongsu’s gut, like the pangs of extreme hunger combined with the dread, the anticipative void of waiting to be swallowed by rolling thunders mid-summer.

 

 

 

The voice is rough, ragged, but somewhat high. It snickers, and it scratches deeply at Kyeongsu’s resolve. He stills, right in the middle of the sidewalk, while that voice threatens to murder his family if he slips one more time and doesn’t send the whole sum. It was short of a few thousand won. Three packs of ramyeon. Kyeongsu’s meals for two days.

Kyeongsu modulates his tone, fights to speak over the barbed mass of fear lodged in his throat and promises to not do it again. The call ends.

These are not exactly educated people, people who know empathy beyond avarice.

There’s been some calm, a pleasant spring - he’s forgotten he’s on the run, in debt to people he should have not even associated himself with in the first place.

He’s not very far from home, and it’s late afternoon, warm and sunny enough. He calls home as he walks. He asks his mom how her garden is doing, how she cares for them, what shows she listens to, if his father’s health is okay—yes, he’s just gone for some octopus at the market—and she tells him a stupid joke one of her friends said, and it’s dry and silly and Kyeongsu is far away from home and alone, and it never feels more natural to shed a tear, lone and flimsy, while laughing in the street.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything is gleaming and white and scented - intentionally so, like a field of something, unlike his building that wears the moist fragrance of mouldy flowers. He rings at the door, calm, hands coming together in front of himself.

It takes a while until Baekhyeon responds - Kyeongsu’s called, but he didn’t answer. The door is opening and Baekhyeon is looking at him curiously, diffused. Unavoidably, from the sheer garishness of it, his gaze strays and falls on Baekhyeon’s clothing - a robe, silky, red wine, as deep as his newly dyed hair, the artificial sparkle of it blinding, fastened meekly with a black, same fabric, ribbon. Leaves a stipe of skin visible, where his sternum dips, where the soft swell of his chest butterflies outwards. His breathing is ever so slightly laboured, a thin, intermittent puff escaping the cordial parting of his lips. There are marks on his fingers, ink, and a line of black on his cheek, short. From the corner of his eye, he sees the phone forgotten in a corner, left to charge.

“Dae forgot something?” he asks before Kyeongsu has a chance to justify himself. A snicker. “Happens often. Come in.”

Kyeongsu steps ahead with hesitance, quickly leaving his shoes by the door. He barely looks away from the floor - the furniture is all light wood and ochre accents, but it misses rigidity, splashy cloths, books and other trinkets speckling the angles. As he passes by a bedroom, he sees inside the myriad of paper littering the bed, a keyboard next to it. Under Baekhyeon’s breath, an inaudible melody thrives as he leads Kyeongsu further inside.

The study hosts a desk, placed beside the window in a similar manner to the one at the headquarters. Kyeongsu came with instructions to look into a drawer for that file. There are too many drawers, some of them locked. He makes to call to get the exact location.

Baekhyeon notices his lost look. “He probably has no idea where it is either,” he says, shaking his head fondly.

Kyeongsu describes what he’s looking for. Baekhyeon helps him search for it.

He bends over to look into a low shelf when Kyeongsu turns. It’s the right angle to catch the incremental raise, jiggle leading to the beginning of his butt, the thickening curve leading up the inside of his thighs. The expanse is dusted with fine hairs, a few scratches along his calves, and a bruise, withered and round, pastel high on his thigh, where it is plumpest.

Baekhyeon makes a triumphant sound. Kyeongsu recoils, looking away.

Baekhyeon has the same melody on his grin as he approaches him and offers Kyeongsu the sought envelope. The lapels of his robe pulled apart, exhibiting more flesh. Little welts are mottled on his chest, the divots of his collarbones, his neck, spilled ink on cream, branding him as Chen’s.

“Let me give you a drink before you leave. Can’t imagine running through this heat all day,” he says. It’s hot in the apartment too. Would explain the scanty drapery.

Kyeongsu trails after him into the kitchen. That fridge looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. He estimates it’s about the size of his bathroom.

He thanks Baekhyeon for the offered glass - it’s juice, an off-range. He’s about to take it, preparing himself for the fermenting acridity that will be pooling in his mouth for hours afterward. But then he catches the sight of the wedding band on Baekhyeon’s finger on the glass—a wide ring, rounded entirely with sapphires, lined gold, worth a billion fortunes— garish and imposing.

He demurs, his hand falling back to his side. A long second later, Kyeongsu bows and rushes out.

 

 

 

“You could’ve gambled your way out of that hole you dug for yourself,” Chen says one day, casual as the winds lazily blowing outside. He’s tired, the papers in his hand probably blurring in front of his eyes. It’s the first time after Kyeongsu is assigned to accept clients, play with a few people for control, check the assets. “It would’ve taken three won bets, three dead cocks.”

It’s a rarity, he’s learned, but quite the fun one, to bring some archaic games into play. They’ve managed to make a betting room in Hall Two, cock fights, specifically, and some arrow throwing. There was a theme, and it was stellar. His rural upbringing allowed him to know exactly which one of the roosters was going to lose. In the other games too, he steered the bets just right.

“Kai told me you basically ruled the hall.” his eyebrow lifts. No malice in the slope, but pure curiosity. Suddenly, Kyeongsu craves the taste of cheap vending machine coffee on his tongue.

Kyeongsu has no reply really. His lips rub together. He really cannot get a word out.

“Do they know that you’re mine?” Chen asks once more, folding closed the papers in front of him. It’s a peculiar way to word it. It sounds as if it means more. Kyeongsu’s hopes get up up up, frothing caustic up his larynx.

“They didn’t bother looking for me as long as I was never late with a payment.”

“They’re sucking you dry, aren’t they,” he laments. It’s a sigh. Near pity. Or maybe parental, again possessive, protective, empathetic. There is no more room for any more esperance inside Kyeongsu.

“I’ve lost them a lot.” Kyeongsu wants to laugh. It just feels good, right now, to finally voice this, to be out in the open, out of him. He approaches the desk, grabbing clipped papers too, arranging them in little stacks.

“I can get you into Kangwon if you prefer so.”

Kangwon Land Casino. Kyeongsu knows exactly how much a bus ticket to Jeongseon-gun costs.

“I don’t need that.”  

Chen’s hand brushes by his. The back of it is smooth, silky. His fingers, Kyeongsu knows, are a toughened mess. “They won’t come looking for you,” Chen says.

“It’ll take me at least twenty years to repay them, at this rate.” No bitterness. It’s a fate he’s long come to peace with.

“It won’t. And twenty years is a very short period to have you by my side.” This time it is not an accidental brush. This time it is deliberate, coaxing, Chen’s thumb going over the back of his hand. Then his pointer finger, his middle finger, his ring finger, the sapphire, and Kyeongsu is so confused and so tired and so wanton that he cannot bring it in himself to react in any way.

Chen retracts the touch. It’s a reluctant drag. Kyeongsu has no time to catch his gaze, to read him, before he is getting up, reaching for his blazer and throwing it over his shoulder.

“Wanna go to bed,” he mumbles, stretching his arms above his head as he yawns out.

Kyeongsu follows suit. The conversation, along with the tension, is left behind in the office to rot into nothing.

 

 

 

On occasion, Kyeongsu looks down at the halls. From the very first time, he’s likened it to a masquerade, well oiled, well-polished, and fatally indulgent.

The players are all doused in riches. Gold looks like straw. Silver like tinfoil. Diamonds like sugar. A lot of sugar.

Kyeongsu’s had the entire hand of the woman from table twenty in his coffee just this morning.

All the halls are lairs for money to pile and for empires to crumble into anarchy. It’s a breathtaking spectacle, for the one having a seat beyond the florid bars of the mezzanine.

The building themselves are fragile - houses of cards made of either Jokers and Aces or credit ones.

It’s a business that feeds so many people.

 

 

 

 

Baekhyeon is waiting in the usual spot in front of the building under that tree. It bloomed fully, the foliage dense. He’s dressed up, beautiful as ever, rocking from one foot to another. Chen hasn’t told him yet, hasn’t called him to say that today is a ditch too.

He rarely shows his disappointment at being stood up. He tries to swallow it. He’s one of those people who thrive on company, who need a mouth ready to smile at any given moment at his antics. He considers it a weakness now, a defect, something that should be corrected, as though he’s defective.

Kyeongsu knows this kind of people. He is one himself, but his current circumstance is strong, restructuring.

So Kyeongsu takes him anyway, the car already moving before he can inquire where Dae is.

“Where would you like to go?” Kyeongsu asks instead. It’s Saturday, the streets are full and bursting. They could go anywhere.

It takes a while, for Baekhyeon to narrow his eyes with a hum as he stares at the slowly passing world. Kyeongsu isn’t accelerating, not when they have no idea where to go.

“Ministop,” Baekhyeon says eventually, and some laughter follows.

“The convenience store?” Bafflement coats the query.

“The convenience store. Let’s go.”

Then he’s guided up into a tall neighbourhood with concrete-fenced houses and narrow streets, unfurling slowly until the store comes in sight. It’s near the outskirts of the city, but pretty and quiet, resembling the area Kyeongsu lives in.

Baekhyeon is jumping out of the car then, and going inside, throwing a cheery response to the cashier - a young woman with purple hair. Kyeongsu smiles too, at her, then follows after Baekhyeon, who is at the ramyeon aisle picking cup after cup and throwing them into Kyeongsu’s embrace. Then it’s sliced cheese, some snacks, and then at last, after only a fraction of hesitation, three bottles of fruity soju.

Everything tumbles onto the little plastic table outside after Baekhyeon fills four of the ramyeon cups with water. He seals the caps with the unopened chopsticks as he leans back in the chair. The plastic of it is so thin that it allows to being sunk into, to mould around the occupant. Baekhyeon’s phone is on the table, the timer running as he insists on a specific time for the noodles to cook.

“Exactly 3 minutes with the cap, and 2 without,” he instructs, pointing menacingly a pair of chopsticks at Kyeongsu.

“Duly noted,” he acquiesces, fiddling with the cup in front of himself. Baekhyeon reaches over to lay two slices of cheese in it, then two into his own. It dissolves into the broth.

“Cheers!” he says, knocking his cup into Kyeongsu’s with an urgency to it, all hunger, and Kyeongsu bites down a laugh.

The way he eats is loud and noisy, like it is the best thing ever. His image, his face, his clothes, makes it seem like he is this sassy, princess-y person, but it’s all contradicted by his behaviour, rough and raw. He makes sure to encourage Kyeongsu to eat his own, and it does indeed taste very good - this is a brand that never made it all the way down to Busan, and it’s way richer than any of the others he’s tasted.

Baekhyeon has splatters of broth on his face from the rapid sucking of the noodles, freckles of salt, and he wipes at them absently with the back of his hand. His lips are stinging - these are some spicy noodles, the margin of them enhanced, darkened whilst the breadth of them is swollen and oily.

Soon, it’s over, Baekhyeon lying in his chair with a hand patting his belly - he’s wearing a dress shirt, the cut of it crisp, stripy with black and white and motley, large flowers. It’s see-through, and it’s easy now, with how open his jacket is, to see how the skin of his chest catches some of the soft light as he takes shallow breaths. The waistband of his pants is crisp, somewhat elegant. He really dressed for a date, he really dressed to hang off of Chen’s arm.

“Let’s play something,” he says suddenly, getting up. That turns out as some improvised Jenga with corn puffs, stacking and stacking, and the night is warm, some cute pop song is drifting in from inside the shop, and he finds that Baekhyeon’s laughter is purely infectious, for it crawls and crawls within him and breaks all the resolve and settles warm, next to the soup in his belly.

It’s when Kyeongsu is moving a piece that Baekhyeon bends forward and blows into the little tower and it all promptly but gracefully collapses all over the table, ending the game. Baekhyeon then begins plucking each piece and shoving it into his mouth, yellow powder gathering around his lips. He opens one of the soju bottles and pours some into the little paper cup.

He sniffs it. Kyeongsu gets the waft too - so sweet upfront.

“I think I would’ve won,” he says, maybe to pick an argument, to see Baekhyeon defensive. He picks one puff for himself. It’s sticky and stinky and great.

Across him, Baekhyeon finally sips the cup, barely a lick as his face twists. “I’m a singer. No way you would’ve beaten my lung power.”

“I used to dive.” Another puff to add to the puddle of gloop growing on his tongue.

“No way,” Baekhyeon’s eyes widen a little, baring more of his warm browns.

“I’m from the southern coast. I took advantage of all that ocean.” He switches to Busan saturi. It’s still comfy, even after he forces himself to think of every word before saying it to make sure it ends up clean, schooled.

“Okay, Kyeongseng is the winner,” Baekhyeon cedes, then he pours some more soju. He gulps it greedily from the cup, small and numerous sips that he runs down with some of the chips, more powder brimming over his mouth. A drunk Baekhyeon, Kyeongsu finds, is soft and puppy-like, and a little sad, true to himself. Soon, his eyes are glazed and curved, the ends dropping. More than sadness, it seems to be his default expression, droopy.

“This is where I met him.” He points towards the store, leaning back in the plastic seat. It creaks dangerously. “I was working as a cashier, night shifts. He wanted me so much then. He really couldn’t keep away from me.” He smiles, his look going distant, clumsily so. “And he came every night and just bought one little snack and stayed out here and just stared at me at first.” He brings his two hands together, thumb and index aligned to make a rectangle. “From right here, the view is great.” Kyeongsu looks over - he sees the girl perfectly, hunched over the table with her phone in hand, making faces at the screen. “Then, one day, he spoke to me. He told me I’m beautiful, of all things.” He turns to Kyeongsu then. “I wasn’t. I was fat and never shaved because I didn’t know how to do it right and I was also too lazy for it, my clothes were all jagged and baggy because I spent all my money on video games. My hair was this sordid mess from a failed perm.” A laugh then. “And I cut the ends of my bangs myself with some nail clippers just so they would get out of my eyes.” His nose wrinkles, quite tightly, in distaste. “I really don’t know what he saw in me, but he insisted I was beautiful. And he followed that with every imaginable buffoonery just to make me laugh.” A full blown laugh follows this time, at whatever he is reminiscing. It’s pure, unadulterated, the sounds from his chest rough and choked and solely mirthful. “He was so fucking dumb about it. But it worked. It really worked. At that time, I didn’t even know I liked men.” He then takes the last few gulps directly from the bottle to wash off the mashed chips clinging to his palate and between his teeth. “I think he likes money more than he likes me now. Or power. He likes power more than he likes me. He’s got Seoul under his foot, how could I compare, right?” He’s not asking anyone. “Otherwise how come he never has time for me anymore?”

Silence, turbid and breezy, crickets and the sound of moving gravel under wheels from down below. It gathers and weighs on Kyeongsu’s tongue, all the things he wants to say to contradict it because he’s seen, he’s heard how much Chen’s face twists when he cancels a date. It’s unadulterated pain, always. But even if he knows, it’s not his place to say otherwise, to interfere with spousal matters.

“Maybe I should become ugly again? He’d come right back to me. I’ll go get some nail clippers.” He really makes to get up, nearly breaking that poor chair, just as Kyeongsu reaches out to grab onto his wrist. It’s gracile and smooth, and pleasant. Kyeongsu lets go immediately.

Baekhyeon looks back, now the direct halogen light from the shop hitting his face. It looks a bit sickly, wispy and withered, but his cheeks are still full of warmth, the dew of drunkenness still over his eyes.

Kyeongsu can taste the bitterness, the cuts of the chips all over his mouth. Perhaps there is a little blood. “He would never push through all of this if it wasn’t for you.”

Baekhyeon then drops in the chair next to him, close, and the light is behind him, an auric halo around the rebel tips of his hair. This time, it is a collapse, he just throws himself expecting to not be caught. “I know. He needs someone to come home to. He needs a reason to own a home in the first place.” He burps then, short and afterward his eyes drop shut. “I’m just not his world anymore,” he voices. Then he licks his lips, catching the debris of all the junk he’s munched on.

The drifting song comes to an end, and another starts, and Kyeongsu recognizes it—it appears on the radio when he’s on the bus often—as being sung by a super popular girl group. Baekhyeon’s mouth opens and hums along, not words, but just little syllables to replace them, a small movement in coordination with his hands.

“Kyeongsaeng,” he says right in the dance break of the song, “Don’t you have any love troubles? Chanyeol whines to me all the time about how hard it is to make you talk.”

Kyeongsu laughs, again, short. He breaks a piece of dry ramyeon off and plops it in his mouth. “I think I talk plenty.”

“Haha,” Baekhyeon laugh-says, each syllable pronounced drily. “You’re known as this owl-eyed ghost that just slaps people in the face from time to time with snide remarks.”

“Oh.” He widens his eyes purposefully. “They’ve got it right then.”

Baekhyeon leers at him, maliciously ponderous. Then he reaches over, takes the other bottle of soju and toys with it. “I heard you are a talkative drunk. I’ll get you drunk now, so you pour out all your woes to me, okay? And it’s really not fair that you get to see me so wasted while you’re all sober.” He fiddles with the cap, his hands too dirty and oily from all the snacks. So it slips.

Kyeongsu laughs, really laughs while Baekhyeon pouts at the bottle. Kyeongsu takes it from him and places it back on the table, as far away from Baekhyeon as possible.

“I’ll call a driver,” Baekhyeon tries, eyes intent and coaxing.

Kyeongsu shakes his head, resolute as ever. “No.”

Baekhyeon deflates, defeated, soft in the chair. “Promise I’ll tell you sometime,” Kyeongsu says, to soothe his moping. He feels the heart of his lips, for it’s really nice that Baekhyeon is that interested, wants to know about him this much.

“Okay,” Baekhyeon ultimately says and breaks a piece off the noodle block in front of him. “One thing, though.”

“Just one.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

Mirth bubbles over. It’s said so childishly, so suspiciously. “No,” he responds, still laughing.

“You’re not lying? I’m firing you if you’re lying.”

“I’m not lying.”

“Then I’m not firing you.”

Soon, Baekhyeon collapses, seeming as finally all that alcohol has gotten to him. He’s so lightweight and he’s sleepy already, just about falling off the chair and taking it along with him. It’s easy to get him to the car. Before they go away, Baekhyeon waves to the store, in slow motion, and with a deep melancholy he says, “I’ll see you again, my friend.”

On the way, he turns the radio a little higher, and this time he sings, really sings along with the lyrics, some off-pitch, some words improvised, but some end up clear and beautiful, like even if he isn’t sober, his voice remains professional. In front of the building, even after they have already arrived, they stay in the car until the song ends. Then it’s quiet.

“Do you kiss on the first date?” Baekhyeon asks, unbuckling his seatbelt. It’s thrown so casually, half in the tune of the bygone song, so Kyeongsu doesn’t linger on it, doesn’t let it scare him.

“Barely at the sixth.”

Baekhyeon whistles. “There’s time for that.” It’s all joking and breezy and Baekhyeon is drunk. Kyeongsu looks up at the building - at their apartment, the lights are all off. Baekhyeon seems to know, but he doesn’t acknowledge it, doesn’t let his eyes drop. They’re back in the city, back home, away from the hill with the convenience store, away from Baekhyeon’s youth, and he’s composed himself accordingly.

“Shall I come with you upstairs?” Kyeongsu still asks as he sees Baekhyeon swaying a little outside of the car.

“You can ask me that again on the twentieth date,” he says. Then slams the door shut. A second later, before the blast of loudness even gets to die, the door opens again. “Good night!”

Then he’s gone, stumbling towards the building, his gait still beautiful, though, his silhouette having a suave contour.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu is just reaching for some water, still panting after running around after Jongin’s dogs for half an hour and being finally inside when he gets a text.

How much did he drink

Chen. Kyeongsu gulps the water slowly, his breathing seizing.

A bottle.

No reply comes afterward.

 

 

 

 

“I suggest we burn him at the stake,” Chanyeol peeps, chipper as fuck. “And invite all our enemies to the show too. We can pop some popcorn by the edges of the fire.”

“Or we could be a bit classier and just end him via carbon monoxide poisoning in his villa. Although it won’t be nearly as fun. And I want fun!”

The sound of a high-five slashes through the room. Chen doesn’t even bother with a sigh, eyes still on the stack of papers in front of him. “Minho, Chanyeol, out,” he says, sing-songy and oh so incisive. They both recoil, resolutely shutting their mouths as they bow and sneak themselves out of the office. They’re too big and bang their heads on the doorframe and nearly take the wall down.

Chen drops the files as soon as the patter of steps ebbs. He stares outside. The window frames just sky, settled on a tired shade of blue. He sighs. It is deep and musty from all the fretting.

Automatically, Kyeongsu pivots to the little stand to mix some coffee for him. “My style?” he whispers, cautious.

“Your style.”

Kyeongsu complies, fast and thoughtless. Chen reaches eagerly for the steaming cup.

“Where does your vote go? The stake or the poisoning?” he asks after a sip. He makes the same grimace each and every time - curly, satisfied, features whelmed. Now it doesn’t pass his cheeks as if his grin is too tired to climb all the way up his face.

“I mean, they’re pretty much the same thing. Except one reeks of barbecue,” Kyeongsu speaks, and he sees Chen’s face wringing tighter, disgust, and then he laughs, all the while shaking his head.

“I’m hungry. Can’t believe my stomach just rumbled at this thought.”

Now it’s Kyeongsu’s turn to make the disgusted face. It’s mirrored back and forth between them until it dies off.

“I really have to shut his mouth,” Chen voices, as lost as his expression. “I don’t know where I mistreated him to the point of him going to sell me out.”

“I would stuff his mouth full of all that money you gave him.”

His eyebrow lifts, a wrinkle above the bone flashing. “Not bad, this one.”  He would continue, but he doesn’t in favour of taking more and more tiny sips, a short slurp before each.

Kyeongsu can almost hear Chen thinking, the vibration of the mayhem going on inside his mind wrinkling the air.

“You could arrange it so only he goes down.”

“What about the resentment?” Swift, dismissive.

“Then I suggest a guillotine.”

Chen laughs. Happiness. Kyeongsu’s never seen this kind, this level before.

In his eyes, a square of sky reflects.

“I don’t think I’ll engage in murder anytime soon.” He gets up, stretches. His belt is undone, the silver buckle slim as it flops down his hip.

Chen hasn’t gone home. He’s been here since yesterday afternoon. “Take me to Baek. I miss him. So much.”

It’s unadulterated, plain, soulful. It’s a salve to Kyeongsu’s ears. He simpers out of gladness.

Chen gazes at the clock. “I may catch a song too.”

Kyeongsu raises and follows.

 

 

 

 

Indeed, the show is not over.

“Wanna come up?” Chen asks, casual.

Kyeongsu stills. Chen hasn’t said anything to him yet about how Kyeongsu went on a date with Baekhyeon instead of him. No way that didn’t faze him.

He declines.

“Okay.” Chen slides out. Before the door closes, he says, “Leave the car.”

Kyeongsu scampers to do so, giving Chen the key and watching him jog inside.

Kyeongsu turns, orienting himself for the nearest bus stop. Then, from inside, some cheers carry, hoots, loud and riled, and Kyeongsu finds himself going upstairs too.

He only goes up to the door, doesn’t step past it. Pretty much as he did the last time.

Baekhyeon sounds and looks beautiful. The whole hall erupts in awws when his voice cracks at the summit of a high note, his reaction so cute. Kyeongsu laughs too.

Baekhyeon spots him, a refrain later, and sends him a smile, losing the note as his lips stretch around it.

He’s soon back to Chen. He only has eyes for him. They don’t falter up until the stage is over.

Kyeongsu walks home. It takes an hour, maybe more. The night air isn’t cool enough, but his grin is frozen on his face.

 

 

 

Hall Two is smack in the liver of Seoul.

It is deserving of Chanyeol’s chaperoning. He is loud enough, lively enough. Something unresolved about him, but also an innocence mixed with confidence. It’s an intriguing concoction.

He’s Baekhyeon’s best friend. They’ve known each other since middle school.

Kyeongsu has to pick up Chanyeol once in awhile, mostly because he is in the area, and he likes the princely treatment. Also when he tries too many of his own cocktails.

Circumstances have it that Kyeongsu is in the presence of both at the same time. Kyeongsu feels on eggshells.

Chanyeol’s too observant behind the rows and rows of pearly whites. It’s the knowing look, however, an acknowledgment backed by no intention to divulge anything.

Kyeongsu knows how secrets ferment, bubble up into a spirit, so ready to spill and catch flame. It is like evisceration, whenever Chanyeol stares at him for a moment too long.

Baekhyeon is behind the bar with Chanyeol as he plays with the glasses. Chanyeol is teaching him how to juggle with the bottles, a bit of ice sculpture. It’s one of the bars downstairs, not up in the Hall, so there are spectators. Kyeongsu is part of them, beyond amused at how Baekhyeon takes his failures and successes. He doesn’t break anything at least.

He manages a whole repertoire - flipping the bottle into the air, the pouring, the sculpture. An impeccable presentation. He jumps in place, then turns to Chanyeol, looking up at him, chin pointed, lower lip jutted, eyes droopy. “Pet me,” he demands, high with sass.

Chanyeol bites down the guffaw that Kyeongsu just knows, knows, would’ve been deafening, and goes into his tippy toes, now towering about two heads above Baekhyeon, and says, “No! You pet me!”

“But I’m puppier!”

It becomes aggressive, jabbing and mock-snarling until they’ve backed themselves into one another. They get to do the petting, Baekhyeon climbing onto a counter to reach and Chanyeol using his gigantic hands to ruffle Baekhyeon’s hair into oblivion. They’re laughing.

Chanyeol knows it’s not his grin Kyeongsu is relentlessly fixating on.

 

 

 

Baekhyeon sometimes falls asleep in the car. Especially on weekends when his set runs later. The traffic is sluggish. Baekhyeon is too tired to fight the ease of slipping into a shallow nap.

At the stop light, Kyeongsu stares.

At first, he doesn’t even catch himself. Look left-to-right, linger a moment on the cleave of his mouth. Linger another moment when yellow spills on the high of his cheek. When his legs come up, bent, knees close to his chest, a patch of skin revealed between the waistband of his trouser and his shirt. A rub at his eyes, barely fisted hands, smudging makeup all over.

The nights get warmer and warmer, stifling, and Kyeongsu finds that he cannot wait for a stop light to turn red so he can stare.

Kyeongsu stares, and he cannot look away. The honk of the car behind is terrifying, a jolt that reaches alarmingly deep.

 

 

 

 

Pulled into depths, thrashing, but noiseless, serene, the bubbles of air, fairytale-esque and pretty bubbling up from the gaping of their mouths. Then the vividness dwindles, desaturates, then beatings come, shouts, Baekhyeon crying, just his eyes, burrowed under the ice of tears, and Chen shouting too. Gun shots, the clank of blades colliding over and over, collapses and grins so many grins at having them surrounded, the torture devices out as he they both are linked together. The two of them collapsing, but far away, distant, and their eyes have lost the force, but not the will to look for one another.

Kyeongsu gasps and rises to with a jolt, his limbs moving to the colder side of the bed, registering the wetness of sweat all over him. His heart is still pounding, pinched by dread, and the frozen terror of not being able to do anything.

He knows it’s irrational, partly stupid, but the faces, the thugs in the dream are people who’d actually do this. They’d come from Busan all the way here, raid their homes, raid the offices, the halls. Could catch Baekhyeon just to threaten Chen with him. Pull a hefty ransom, money, shares.

Kyeongsu hasn’t talked to either of them today, hasn’t seen either of them today.

Before Kyeongsu knows it, he’s reaching for his phone and dialing the last of them who is in the contact list.

He is not greeted with any words after the dialing tone ends. Kyeongsu is already asking “Are you okay?” and his voice is raw, skinned by the petering pants. Maybe it sounds like this to himself for he can barely hear anything besides the pounding of his heart. “Please tell me you’re okay. Both of you.”

He’s pretty sure Baekhyeon picked up, but then Chen’s voice comes. “We’re okay.”

Kyeongsu is allowed to breathe freely. Tension ebbs out of his body. He offers no other word, just ends the call.

He’s afraid to sleep for the rest of the night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midday, before he should be at the Trade Tower, Kyeongsu is shopping in Dongdaemun.

He’s never really noticed any pattern of a dress code. There is a vibe of sterility to the garments that doesn’t come from the cut of them, but rather from the fabric, its ability to mould around the body and adulate it.

Kyeongsu still aims to make himself as nondescript as possible, blacks and dark greys, navy, so even the night won’t see him. Doesn’t make it any easier to pick. The market is full and huge. He doesn’t buy without checking the quality of the textile, without dealing the lowest price with the seller. He hasn’t found anything yet.

His phone buzzes with a text. He fully expects it to be from Chen for an early pickup, but it’s actually from Baekhyeon. Smack in the middle of the screen, a waving bear sticker.

A runnel of wails appears right after, each in its own bubble, butchered orthography, and other half-faced emojis. It ends with a pic.

I burned my pinky TT

In his picture is his finger, sporting a sizeable patch of angry red. Kyeongsu squints, and it takes a while to discern through all that mess that he’s actually used a remixed version of Busan saturi in the texts.

He retracts himself to the side, so he’s not blocking the flow of the people through the market.

Put some soy sauce on it, he says back and pockets the phone. He keeps looking for thinner clothes, the summer is picking up, stifling, and he wants linen, if he finds something plain enough, if not cotton.

Oh my god, English but spelled with Hangeul, it actually works!

Kyeongsu is deep into a stall.

Another sticker. A cat dancing in glee with sparkles around it. Kyeongsu chuckles. It’s such a Baekhyeon-y manner of communication.

He finds it, airy fabric, shirts, and matching pants, reasonably priced. But the colours - Kyeongsu stares a bit more. He never tires of black, and this is - before thinking, he snaps a picture of the two suits, one a brick red with some faint blue designs on it, the other a deep cream with red motifs.

Which one?

The message is read, and it takes a little for uneasiness to encumber up in his throat—this is not appropriate, not—and the reply comes so slow, all the while for Kyeongsu to shift and finally register how loud the market is, how many people are moving, unbridled. It comes at last.

Both!

Not looking like a cloud of gloom would suit u

Sticker with a bunny, thumbs up, horridly enthusiastic. Kyeongsu, again, feels the rumble of amusement, this time mixed with relief, with a sense of ease. He lingers some more, assessing the offer. They’re not that expensive, and the material is good.

He buys them both.

I’ll be less of a gloomy cloud then

It’s just colour. He didn’t expect this mere prospect to make him this buoyant.

 

 

 

 

 

“That’s table twelve,” Suho hums, gaze intent on it. It has three players, mah-jong. Three players that have made a reservation, have a contract secured in the office, but they’re new. They’ve come to Seoul just for this.

Chen tsks, donning a foul expression.

Suho is alarmed. It’s a layer of bleakness on his visage, so unbecoming that he seems another person entirely. He surveys the other clients, brows pinched low, dark irises held between tightened lids. It’s a slow night, but the patrons are regulars, of importance. A commotion isn’t desirable, nor for the other player to catch on.

“Go up and watch this,” Chen mutters to Kyeongsu when a second round begins, some drinks ordered to the table. Chen swings by the bar to grab a glass—peach iced tea, impersonating whiskeys, other alcoholic ambers—and goes to the table, plopping himself on the tapisserie of the chair with a measured sneer and a flurry of greetings on his tongue.

Beside him, Suho relaxes, visibly so. He pats Kyeongsu on the shoulder to send him away.

Through the camera, through the pixelation, it’s not hard to place how Chen wrings the cheating right out of them. He’s cheating himself, just so that the one fair client doesn’t fail. He seems a green player too, and Kyeongsu’s watched enough such games now to be able to pinpoint the stagger of newness.

They back off, the two cheaters - they’re terribly smiley, their drinks weak and many. The game ends fast - two rounds of ten minutes later, the fair player winning more out of luck than skill, along with Chen. Kyeongsu promptly doles out the winnings, the contracts, before the table even has the chance to register the outcome.

Fury comes, a bubble of it. First a sigh, a kind of a bunched expression. They’re slum amateurs, where everything’s fair if everyone isn’t. Before long, there is the slamming of glasses - Kyeongsu checks, they’ve bid quite a lot, if they came to the city just for this, of course, they betted enough. Then there is a hand grabbing onto Chen’s jacket, fat short fingers and the voice rising, high enough for the words to be blurred, unintelligible.

Kyeongsu curses softly, already going down into the hall, and into one of the private booths where Suho is usually dealing, reporting the uproar. Suho excuses himself, makes a short phone call, and then there are men, with the definite rigidity and languidness of bodyguards, coming to take the loudmouths away. It’s quiet, with the way they act, the pour of profanities stopping from the very first second they got their arms twisted, albeit gently, discreetly, and are escorted out.

Chen apologizes then to the whole place, still grinning, even while he’s wearing the wrinkle from where he’s been grabbed.

Kyeongsu is by him. “Erase their transaction.” A command slipped through clenched teeth.

The fabric of his jacket tore along the lapel. Nicked by a dentate, unfiled nail, and opened by fury. Chen made no move to defend himself. He had his arms poised in front of his torso, his head, not even tensed. Otherwise, he didn’t fight back at all, with either words nor with fists.

He switches to calmness in a blink, as though nothing happened. They leave The Timber House, going down to the parking lot. The men are there, held right next to the car. They’re trembling now, with the force of the guards binding them immobile.

Chen stares at them, his face suddenly softening. He takes a few steps up to the face of the one who first laid a hand on him. “This may be a dirty establishment, but we don’t play dirty,” he says. It’s for them, yet it seems poised just for Chen to hear.

A cock of his head to the guards, charged with meaning, then he gets into the car.

 

 

 

Hoesik. A few birthdays jammed together on a late weekday night. 27 for Choa, who already has cake all over her dress and an unstoppable beam on her face.

It’s at the same local yet again.

It only dawns on Kyeongsu that it might be part of the company’s properties after he slurps his fifth drink. He mutters an “Ah,” into his glass, now empty.

He reaches for another, probably someone else’s, there is some lipstick on the rum. It has so many things in it that he cannot distinguish what it is. His tongue is tipsy too then.

The second time, the third time, he still had some sort of inhibition. Don’t talk too loud, don’t forget the ages, the ranks - he’s just the driver. But not anymore. Kyeongsu enjoys all the foods - better than the discounted stuff he gets for himself, and the drinks, and the grins, because this is a party, a real one, not pretend to bond, but actual bonding where there is no structure to be followed.

Chen is present too, sober, of course, except for the stray tinges from the mixed glasses, some of them left with a ring of alcohol on the bottom. As Kyeongsu blinks, in front of him a game of spin the bottle eggs together. It soon loses the bottle, confessions shouted all over, dares ending up sticky, some too daring.

Kai is just then getting up from the bench across from Kyeongsu, taking off his blazer. Underneath there is a shirt of a washy mauve, unbuttoned, rips over the chest, and there is all this bronze skin, blond hair, and blue eyes that Chanyeol jolts in his seat beside Kyeongsu and shouts, drunk off his ass, that, “I’d go so fucking gay for you, man!”

He startles, gawks at Chanyeol, his mouth parted. The others start laughing one-by-one, until there is a deafening chorus of mismatched guffaws. Someone snorts a whole can of beer.

Kai recovers quickly, doing a little twirl in place, hips in an exaggerated sway. He pulls at his collar, shows neck, shows collarbones. His eyebrows wiggle, smug, as he bites his lip.

More shouts ensue, clumped alltogether and soaring. “I’d go gay for you too,” they’re saying, in various forms of decency.

Chen laughs, eyes shut into lunes and hidden under his fringe. Kyeongsu’s gaze, as tipsy as it is, searches for him. The fear of refusal never really dies down. Delight, from all this boisterous acceptance, looks astonishingly gorgeous on Chen.

Kai’s basically being bullied into a corner by all these confessions, barreling into him one after another until he registers that undressing isn’t going to make them stop.

Chanyeol’s arm is around him - still around him, but Kyeongsu’s gotten used to the weight now, nearly craving the warmth of it. He peeks expectantly at Kyeongsu. Kyeongsu is kind of very happy and only a little afraid, so he takes the shot glass in front of him and downs it— definitely Chanyeol’s, it’s straight Tanqueray—and he looks at Kai, in the eye. Then to the right.

“I’d go hetero for Kyeongri,” he bellows. It takes a little for all the inebriated minds to catch onto it, but then there are cheers and some hoots, pats on his shoulder that are miscalculated and send him into the table, more hoots blared right into his ear, reeking of booze and acceptance.

In response, Kyeongri is blushing as she tries to act seductive like Kai did before.

It’s the first time he’s said this aloud, let it out, and it’s so nice, too nice, surreal, that he gets to say it in such environment, to be met with cheers and a sloppy hug from Chanyeol. These baggy hoodies of his are very very very soft. Kyeongsu wants to sink into them and right into Chanyeol right now because he’s sure this is the best hug he’s ever gotten.

Suddenly Juhyeon, barefoot, her heels left somewhere, bends over the table where Kyeongri is and shouts in her face that, “I’m so fucking gay for you too!” and Kyeonri stares. In the end, it’s her who reaches up and plants her lips on Juhyeon’s. Juhyeon, drunk, looks absolutely stunning, all red lipped and pink-cheeked and the mess that is her hair.

This development is met with silence until Juhyeon climbs on the table to get closer to Kyeongri and the room bursts into noise again. A few remarks of, “Fucking finally,” make it above the uproar.

Kyeongsu is drunk enough to allow himself to fixate on Chen. His posture is just as slumped. He giggles randomly when he catches something too weird happening in. He kind of looks like a proud mom, encouraging whatever stupid activity they’re engaging in with nods and claps and little praises.

Having bigoted allies is such a no-no. Some of them will go on a murder spree if they don’t agree with the kind of genitals the boss likes.

That’s not the case. That’s not the case and the joy it brings is obvious.

Yet through the haze of his view, he still picks up how something shifts in Chen’s gaze once he links it with Kyeongsu’s. It’s not heavy, not guarded, as it was before, but basically a makeover in the way he looks at him, bright, attentive. Might be from the flashing speckles of the disco globe. Might be. Kyeongsu looks over again a song later and the change is still there. Kyeongsu cannot escape the pull of it.

Chanyeol suddenly dropping next to him, mostly on him, and is coaxing him into playing a little titanic game, to sober up, as if that makes any sense. He pulls on Kyeongsu’s sleeve. The spell he had ongoing with Chen is broken.

Kyeongsu is the one who loses, but Chanyeol bats his lashes and offers to be his sorta-knight and drinks half. Chanyeol definitely needs more salvation from somaek than he needs, judging from the uncontrollable twitches of his head. He doesn’t let him play another round.

Later on, after he’s swayed clumsily to a few songs, he comes face-to-face with Kai, somehow now even more undressed without being actually naked, and it must be something about the light and the closeness that makes Kyeongsu gape, then get on his tippy toes to cup his face.

“I know someone who looks just like you. I swear. Just like youuuuu-,” he drawls, both louder and longer, for it has to reach over the newly started song. “Except the eyes, and the hair. He looks just like you.”

He drops back, his calves burning, and takes Kai with him. He is already laughing. His laughter is different. As though he’s laughing in English. “And who’s cuter?” Kai asks, making a face, plumping his cheeks. Aegyo and semi-foreigners don’t go that well together, it appears.

“Jongin!”

“That’s not me.”

“Jongin’s so cute.”

“Ah,” Kai says then, all mopey. “I’ll change that, okay, Kyeongsaeng? You wait. I’ll climb to the top of that list. I’ll be the cuuuutest,” he promises, shaking Kyeongsu by the shoulders. After he has Kyeongsu thoroughly dizzy, he goes off, hollering, “Any of you dears who proclaimed gayness because of me wanna suck my dick?” It’s all in…not-Korean, so there is just like one person who understands him. A hand rises somewhere, though.

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol takes him home in his ugly car with an increasingly distressed designated driver. They’re both in a pile in the back, all the way slurring a fight about how damn ugly this car is. Chanyeol is defending his choice like an overprotective hen.

He doesn’t comment on the state of Kyeongsu’s neighborhood, or the building—it shakes in the wind, Kyeongsu is sure of it—and he knows this is not something that escapes Chanyeol. This is the slightest bit worrying. Hopefully he’ll forget about it by morning.

As a goodbye, he kisses Chanyeol on the cheek.

Chanyeol ewws.

Kyeongsu giggles.

 

 

 

He’s a regular—Monday, Tuesday, Saturday—after 8, until 10. He hurls a different name every time—ones he’s stolen from hookers—he’d confessed.  

He’s recently inherited all there is to inherit from his family, except for the ruling abilities. The company too big for his tiny shoulders, on the cusp of capsizing along with the rest of his kingdom. Repeatedly, he reaches out for Chen, wanting to buy him along with the whole system - all the halls, all the employees, in order to secure some sort of funds, to stabilize.

This man is essentially harassing Chen, all the while playing the well-behaved, well-leashed client. Chen doesn’t know how to handle him yet.

Kyeongsu is waiting on Chen in a lounge, a flavescent mist heavy inside, as he is discussing some financial gibberish with a flock of associates. He handles it with tact, abundant amounts of it, sprinkling salt over them before he makes the wounds. So that he only has to press just a little, for the flesh to part and sizzle. It is all elegant, clean, in a manner that brings defiance to thrashing in pain. Kyeongsu never tires of watching this extravaganza.

The meeting isn’t over yet when this man walks into the establishment. Kyeongsu recalls what name he gave last and comes up blank. Just Mr. Chaebol then.

As soon as Chen registers his presence, he cusses, the exclamation blending flawlessly into the rest of his speech. In the same sentence, he ends the gathering, sends the associates their merry way.

Baekhyeon is to arrive soon. The set of a singer he really likes will be tonight.

Too late for them to decide on the next course of action, Baekhyeon slips into the venue. What terrible timing.

They cannot be seen together. Mr. Chaebol will use any link to Chen to manipulate him.

Baekhyeon is perceptive, however. A short nod and a hand gesture from Chen and he looks away, climbs up into a bar stool instead. He chats up the bartender swiftly. When a small platter of fruit is put in front of him, it just so happens that Mr. Chaebol appears right next to Baekhyeon.

He’s mildly drunk. Baekhyeon is dressed as flashy as usual, shreds of bared skin where his clothes aren’t too tight.

Kyeongsu recognizes this behavior - being drawn to a man and being mad about it. The entire approach is condescending, the ridicule manifested in a breaching of personal space, a slur of candies used instead of names.

Turns out, that doesn’t daunt Baekhyeon at all. He munches on his half of a strawberry and leans in, being just as crass and classless whilst keeping the subtleties. His way of removing the guy’s touches appears like a caress.

Kyeongsu is sitting quite far away from Chen, on standby, and he has a good view of this interaction. Chen has ordered him some lemon sparkling water as a prop for his façade as a customer.

He doesn’t seek for approval, and perhaps meddling into this is risky, but Kyeongsu is irked, so irked about how this man is acting towards Baekhyeon. And Mr. Chaebol doesn’t know Kyeongsu.

So he rises, steps ahead, puts confidence, gladness to his stature, utterly dissimilar to the de rigueur stiffness of approaching his boss. When he’s behind Baekhyeon, near, he begins with a laugh, “I sat there for nearly half an hour waiting for you to spot me and you still didn’t,” he beams, coming between him and the man. He is taller, reeking of expensiveness. A frown tries to crawl on his face. Kyeongsu immediately notices the punctures of Botox fillers all over it. Typical socialites. He has privilege coursing inky blue through his veins. Makes him slightly cadaveric.

Baekhyeon turns away from that cyan glower unfazed, though, prepared with a beam of his own for Kyeongsu.

He dares a touch to Baekhyeon’s hair, brushing it away. He looks into his eyes, searching for contacts. Baekhyeon prefers coloured ones if he has to wear any at all, but today they are plain ones, clear, adding a sheen to the chocolate of his pupils. Maybe, maybe this is not just an act, before he catches on, before he lets himself lean into Kyeongsu’s touch. He pulls back, leaving a cirrus of bright hair over his eyebrow, cloaking the diverted tilt of it.

“Look at my killer eyeliner,” he says, blinking rapidly at Kyeongsu to make his point. “Wouldn’t have been visible through glasses.” He laughs then, smug and sassy, and it catches the attention of a few patrons. Baekhyeon’s laughter is that melodious. “That’s why I didn’t see you. Forgive me?”

He hops off the bar stool, his arm hooked with Kyeongsu’s. He doesn’t leave the man dumbfounded there, instead turning and waving, his pretty fingers glinting bronze and silver form the multiple thin rings he’s wearing. “Bye dear,” he says, flirty and sarcastic.

Chen’s gaze scorches on him. He wears a sweet smile as well, but dulled, calibrated to kill, or at least to pierce a little.

Baekhyeon sits next to him during the performance. Halfway through, Mr. Chaebol leaves, and so does Kyeongsu. He waits outside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few people dressed in formal clothing carrying blue boxes filter out of the building. In their wake follows a younger one, attired in blue and a forcefully straight face. On the left lapel of his jacket stays a small flower pin.  

It’s early enough for the front of the Trade Tower to not be shadowed by its own tallness. It’s serene and calm.

Chen hums quietly, the aftertaste of the song last played on the radio. He makes no move to get out of the car, he lingers, elbow on the armrest, his composure insouciant.

The prosecutor gets in his car too, and both the van with the seized goods are out of sight. It’s too quiet, vexing. Then the barely audible whispers of Chen’s fingers over his phone.

“Tax evasion. Embezzlement. Nothing really new,” he cites, answering Kyeongsu’s unvoiced concern. “Two tickets to Macau, tomorrow,” he hears next, his tone switching to the phone, callous.

“You have a passport, right?”

He does. He’s rushed to make one right after - to run. Be gone. He does.

“Yes.” And he answers to more than just that question.

 

 

 

 

This investigation is caused by that traitor. He’s given away a lead, something overstepping the semantics that holds all this gambling within the border of legality. Still, its blatancy is unnerving. It’s foreseeable how the fresh prosecutors would have the momentum to tackle this business. But they’re imprudent, too courageous.

For two weeks, the halls are to be closed.

It’s not even evening when Chen’s phone starts ringing continuously. He mutes it. From where it’s placed on the dashboard, Kyeongsu sees too the names flashing on the screen. Seldom, Chen’s eyes drag to it.

“Don’t pack too heavy,” says Chen before he gets out to skip towards his apartment.

It’s not like Kyeongsu even has with whatto pack heavy.

 

 

 

The days are shorter mid-fall.

Macau has casinos and too many lights and a looseness, a vivacity that is overwhelming. Kyeongsu’s vision is filled with rhapsodic nuances. He blinks again and again, and yet they don’t clear from behind his eyelids.

He twirls around a rented car, one that was already waiting at the airport.

The first thing they do is eat something, Chen leading the way. The restaurant is pretentious, the ceiling too high.

Chen is dressed loosely, not fashionably so, but just pure comfort, some softer jeans, and a fine sweater. Yet he still fits among the people clad to the nines.

It’s automatic how Kyeongsu’s eyes go to the cheapest possible dishes - he’s not even skimming over the names of the dishes, but the prices listed on the other side instead. He’s not above getting plain rice and a glass of water.

The server comes over too soon, and Chen is already speaking in what Kyeongsu can faintly distinguish to be Cantonese. He’s gone then, taking the menu from Kyeongsu’s hold too with a small bow.

He doesn’t know why he’s so stiff, perhaps because this is oddly intimate. He’s eaten with Chen before, takeout at the office, something sweet from Parris Baguette across Hall Three, but now they’re not on the run. There aren’t other people around to converse with. There is only Kyeongsu in front of him, a muted phone in his pocket and no pressure whatsoever.

“You’re uncomfortable,” Chen says. He’s molten in his chair like he has no skeleton, and he’s just a pillowy heap of attentiveness.

“I am.” Try to mask it with a grin, then he accidentally grins for real, sheepish.

“With me or with the place?”

Kyeongsu swallows. “Not with you.” The only truth he can provide for now. What he feels with Chen is not described as discomfort. It’s something else, something that remains unknown.

“You won’t be paying for a thing.”

“But-“

“This is a business trip. The expenses are not of your concern.”

He’s talking formally. These statements cannot be challenged. Kyeongsu looks down at the tablecloth. It must be worth about as much as his rent for a month.

“Okay.” His voice is small.

“I’ve travelled here a few times. It’s nice.”

Kyeongsu figures as much. He knew his way around the city without a glitch. The language rolls without a stutter from his tongue. From the small fragment that he’s seen. Kyeongsu agrees that indeed, Macau is very nice.

“Okay.”

Chen confronts his gaze until he smiles and says it again. “Okay.”

 

 

 

Kyeongsu doesn’t know how many days pass. Nights feel like days, and days feel like nights. Chen drags him from place to place with such speed that Kyeongsu doesn’t even have the time to check the clock.

They go into casinos, real ones. They are allowed to enter without identification as long as it’s not through the front door and Chen offers his name. He stays and watches, from a place high up, for a few hours. Except for Hall Four, none of the other halls do roulette, machines, none of the things that are obviously used for winning money.

Kyeongsu sees the City of Dreams, the Ruins of St. Paul’s, the Venetian Macau, an assortment of restaurants, of places that carry an European vibe that he doesn’t know the name of.

He’s never been overseas before, and now he’s brought to a place as magical at this one. He ogles everything, a delight to how his gaze whips around to make sure he doesn’t miss a sight. He takes pictures too. Out of reflex, his phone is out capturing frames. It’s an old model, and the quality is mediocre, but that doesn’t stop Kyeongsu. Likely, he won’t come back here ever again.

Sometimes, he feels Chen looking at him. His expressions are in harmony with the situation, a matching response for what Kyeongsu is up to. His eyes, however, have a bit of heaviness—not from exhaustion, not from stress—a droop and an arch. It’s the characteristic that he’s acquired since that hoesik when Kyeongsu declared his sexuality. It shows clear, limpid in his brown eyes as he peers at Kyeongsu over their meal.

Kyeongsu tires not to read a thing in this.

At night, as he scrolls back through the pictures. He sends some to Baekhyeon. He could’ve sent them to Chanyeol, but for some reason, his finger picks Baekhyeon first. Small conversations string together over the pictures. It’s usually right after Baekhyeon’s set should be finished, and he is too bouncy and talkative. The time allotted to him in this is brief, a few minutes of darkness, but to Kyeongsu, it feels like Baekhyeon’s been here with him all long.

 

 

 

Chen is rarely drunk because he wants to be. He’s annoyed at his own state, at the ineptitude of his legs as they try to carry him. It got the deal done, though, secured tightly with a cluster of signatures and a few discreet bribes. He’s not cursing at least.

Kyeongsu is by his side, walking close, prepared to straighten him with an arm whenever he needs. When Kyeongsu gets them through the door and into the hotel room, they’re greeted by a ringtone. Chen staggers, listens to the crest of the song before he walks towards the phone to dig it out from a drawer. He accepts the call and puts it on speaker, then throws it on the bed. Chen’s sigh ends just when the phone lands into the linens.

The drift of Baekhyeon’s voice is lagged. It has to pass an ocean and the pain in his throat after all.

“I miss you,” it starts with and Chen stalls. It’s clashing from when Chen says it - with ease, with use. Perhaps, Baekhyeon never admits it to himself. Kyeongsu doesn’t like the sound of it.

“I don't see you for days even though you sleep next to me. Now it’s not much of a difference. I don’t see you all the same,” the sound of shuffling, rustle of a breath rubbed by the nightlife of Seoul. “So why do I miss you so much now?” spoken to the wind, away from the receiver. “I think it’s because you really are gone. But then you’re just as gone when you’re in the same country as me and—”

More noises in the background, someone saying Blue, then the thrum of jazz. He’s inside Hall Two, perhaps a floor lower. “I just want you here.”

There is music now, real music, a contrabass and a saxophone dovetailing.  Kyeongsu is still by the door.

Chen then plunges onto the bed, bouncing a little as he sinks into it right beside the phone. His eyes close, then he opens them again, slowly, as the song reaches a dawdle, drags, allows for Chen’s words to maybe, just maybe be heard. “I love you, Baekhyeon.”

He looks over at Kyeongsu, sad and helpless. He’s cowering, begging to be relieved of some sort of anguish.

Baekhyeon laughs, distant and fake, woven with the petering notes of pulled strings and the buzz of the audience. Then the line goes dead.

Macau keeps humming between them. Too slowly, the screen blackens too.

“Do you think he doubts it?” his query is curled by his intoxication, informal, and desperately bare.

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” dashes Kyeongsu to say. It’s rigid, biting with certainty and frankness. Might not serve as an answer exactly, but a fraction of that unsettlement vanishes from Chen’s face. His eyes close again.

Kyeongsu bows and leaves.

 

 

Chen takes him to a restaurant specializing in tofu and other soy dishes. It’s downright shabby compared to all the others – a meagre fortified tent. Kyeongsu picks a piece off each plate and takes a moment to preen.

Chen tries it too, with less drive than Kyeongsu does, and he has the joy of watching Chen turn from unimpressed to completely enamoured. It gives him a childish, captivating vibe.

“I can see how you’d be addicted now,” he says with wonder after he takes a sip of his tea.

There is a ripped poster on the wall behind Chen, the upholstery of the bench he’s sitting on is old and holey. He’s wearing a thin T-shirt, the elongated crests of his collarbones subtly poking through. His cheeks are full, his lips curled. Happiness makes him so gorgeous.

It’s the last day before they leave. Kyeongsu discovers this facet of Chen, honest and spontaneous, the smell of food fogging the air, and it adds another layer to the adoration Kyeongsu has for him.

 

 

 

It’s stale at home. Kyeongsu enters, blinks at the fine sheet of dust accumulated on the furniture and steps back out.

He knocks on Jongin’s door. It’s his wife who opens. Kyeongsu greets her for the first time. She’s a young thing with an adorable smile that slips right off after Kyeongsu asks for Jongin.

He trudges out, not a glance to her, as if she doesn’t exist and simpers at Kyeongsu with enthusiasm. He takes the dogs too, and they go for a walk. Kyeongsu is concerned, truly, for him. They fight a lot, some real fighting and not just hurled words; bruises on Jongin, and some on her, albeit shaped differently, as though from restraint than offense.

Jongin doesn’t lie to him. He admits to not being okay, to not knowing how to escape, and Kyeongsu lets him whine and be sad about it. Kyeongsu’s got a shoulder and a chest for Jongin to cry on, and he gladly offers them.

Kyeongsu buys his lotto ticket and gets some coffee. They take a lazy shopping trip. Jongin helps him carry the groceries.

When they get back, she’s already gone off to work. The pups are all tired.

“Wait,” says Kyeongsu before Jongin enters his apartment.

Kyeongsu goes inside, only to come back out with a little present. He’s got him something from Macau. It’s not a souvenir, not a landmark in a glass case, not a fridge magnet. He didn’t want to return empty-handed, and couldn’t think of anyone else to get it for.

“I’ve been told they are very good at isolating noise,” Kyeongsu explains as Jongin fiddles with the box to get the earphones out. They’re good quality. Kyeongsu didn’t skimp on that.

Jongin likes them. He doesn’t say it, but his smile is so ample and so grateful. It’s a sweet smile that he should be smiling every day.

Kyeongsu gets a tight, tight hug, and that feels like a great welcome.

 

 

 

The call comes the second day after he’s stepped back in Korea. He’s cussed at, threatened - the usual. They know how he looks, his name, his background, what desk he sat at all through high school. The voice is a different one, and Kyeongsu recognizes it - of a simpleton, middle-aged, with pipe dreams turned into ash before fructifying. His voice is low, and his enunciation lazy, blurred. He’s just the scarecrow, handling words and sums that are never his to own, pierced firmly in front of the main boss, to shield him, to keep him cool in the shadow.

Kyeongsu listens, just listens as it gets angrier and angrier and attempts to crush him. He’s entombed, they make sure he never forgets.

Perhaps he needs this fear. He needs to know how much he’s beholden, how much he needs the money, to stay in his line. Not overstep anything, because there will be no one willing to pay him as much as he’s paid now.

He reaches home. Yet again, no food, cupboards barren, the sink leaking, and Kyeongsu stops right there, gazing ahead.

He’s estranged in a faraway city, in a small, paper building, owning two pairs of socks so that he can wear a pair while the other dries, and it shouldn’t feel like this is enough. It should not. He should not have conditioned himself that he’s worth so little.

But there’s no time to break down now. He has to be in the surveillance room in Hall Three in a few hours, and sleep, going on, is more important.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s 5 am when he gets a text from Chen to pick him up. Kyeongsu is alert enough at this hour, but lost, for he’s never been in this neighbourhood before and the street lamps are meek. Kyeongsu wanders around, searching. Chen isn’t answering his phone.

The eerie silence of people deeply slumbering is brimful in the air, fissured by the violets of an awakening sky. It’s nippy, moist. Not a person on the street.

Kyeongsu considers returning to the car before he gets lost even more in the coil of alleys when he makes another step and basically bumps into them. It’s the moans the registers first, high and derailed with pleasure, where he frenetic kisses permit for a sound. They are barely hidden in a corner. The light only falls on the exposed skin, on where there is wetness, the silhouettes otherwise fused together.

Baekhyeon is caged under Chen, pressed to the wall of the building clinging, grasping.

Kyeongsu remembers how Jongdae curled a few fingers over his shoulder and pulled him in, his grasp devoid of any command, only overture punctuated in the press of his fingers, in the touchless drag of the tip of his nose over Kyeongsu’s cheek when he got drunk on some deceivably sweet foreign drink. Kyeongsu was just as drunk, after having downed a few shots of what seemed liquid fire. He’s pinned him to the door the same way he’s now pinning Baekhyeon to the wall, even if for a different reason.

And then, in the reflection of the glass, he had seen the glint, warning sirens, of the ring on Chen’s finger. Then the flat of his hip slipping to the front Kyeongsu’s jeans, kindling, by accident.

He thought it had been a dream.

Currently, the couple of rings are tinkling on their twined hands. Baekhyeon remains to the wall, for leverage, given the weakness of his knees, the openness and rapidity of Chen’s mouth over the bared skin, his clothing pulled tight at the nooks from Chen pulling at it. Baekhyeon’s head tilts to the side, presenting his neck for Chen to bury into, nip at. He peers at Kyeongsu, purblind, wheezing.

His lips gather in a grimace, lids flickering before he brings Chen back with a tug on his hair. His mouth goes over Chen’s, lips stacked, abrading with force as they slide along his cheek, then down, into the estuary of his neck. Chen responds by grabbing a handful of Baekhyeon’s ass, bringing him closer, to have their lower bodies aligned, fitted against one another.

He can’t tell what makes them decelerate, grips loosening and kisses softening. It shallows down to little pecks when some distance sneaks in between them, some air. They both look over at him, flushed and with looks so heavy they are void, gone, endless.

Kyeongsu hasn’t seen Baekhyeon since before he left for Macau. He’s missed him. Now he gets to see him with the sediments of a thorough kiss smeared gooey around his mouth, tinted coral from the memoir of some lipstick. Chen’s a copycat of that.

Maybe there is an invitation, an implication, individual in their gazes. Kyeongsu ganders from one to another, confused, aroused, until he links them, makes them look at each other. The realization dawns on them with a crash, smoke and sparkles and the sizzle of ire. The night, previously calm, is now haywire, and Kyeongsu feels as if he doesn’t belong, not in this moment, not in this space.

“Take us home,” he hears at last. He doesn’t know whose voice it is, too soft in the middle, and cutting around the edges. Kyeongsu bleeds, a little, from somewhere. He doesn’t look up to check.

 

 

 

It upwells steadily, rivulets in tandem with each smidgen of attention, of touch from both of them.

Kyeongsu lets it be, lets it happen, lets it keep him awake at night, wondering, wishing. When the time will come, right before this growth takes a hold of him, he will tie it, cut its supply, and sequester it deep inside, a souvenir of a place he would have liked to visit. Or stay for good, a billion eons and then some. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s cut himself.

 

 

 

 

The cars change often. Some are actually collaterals, some are in temporary possession just for the heck of it, a test, a taste. Two are under Chen’s real name, one under Baekhyeon’s.

Kyeongsu likes them, has always liked cars, always liked the control, exercising his finesse in manipulating them. It’s a mindless enough activity which allows for a blank mind when his reflexes are haywire.

Seoul.

Seoul has plenty of streets, plenty of lights for Kyeongsu to venture through. To engage in random races with the driver who just happens to stop next to him at the stop light.

He’s in Chen’s second car, a dark blue Mercedes CLS550, wooden, glazed accents all over the interior. Glides like a wet dream. It’s all within the speed limit, reined and beautiful as his eyes stray over the streets.

He’s never dreamed of coming to a big city. Busan is big enough. He’s never dreamed of anything other than a middle-class life, big gardens and a smattering of friends to entertain his nights. Never of a pressed suit, or playing games, luxury cars, earning friends that are willing to do so much for him.

Never of love, either.

He doesn’t need such delusions. There is the glitter of Seoul, the stumbles of his life just regaining its balance. It suffices, like this.

 

 

 

It’s Kyeongsu’s day off, and he’d been home, just setting dinner on the table.

Chen’s busy looking over one of the halls. There’s a tournament happening, impromptu. His phone keeps pinging with messages from Chanyeol as he complains about a throng of patrons who have no idea how to play.

He’s in pajamas, hand-me-downs from Seungsu, frayed and thin and he opens the door like this when he hears a few knocks. His door has no peephole.

It’s the first time anyone comes here, to his apartment, and it’s Baekhyeon of all people. His face morphing into relief, followed by a simper as he takes in Kyeongsu.

“Oh, phew, it’s not the wrong door,” he says. It’s novel and gentle, the touches of nervousness quirking here and there Baekhyeon’s mien.

Kyeongsu, perfunctory, steps out of the doorway for Baekhyeon to step in.

Now, Baekhyeon gives a real smile, untainted. He expects for it to droop as Baekhyeon sees his apartment. It’s poor, so obviously poor, chipped and parched. His food is poor too, his clothing, he doesn’t even have cable beside the non-cable channels on the TV. In the bathroom, he has the scratchy kind of toilet paper. It’s clean and sparse but for different reasons other than style.

It doesn’t come. Instead, Baekhyeon dutifully takes his shoes off, and steps into the kitchen - there is nowhere else to even step into, bumping into the tiny counter right from the door is inevitable. His socked feet are together, palms overlapping in front of him as he peers at Kyeongsu with a pouty kind of grin. It’s oddly pressuring. “Sorry to barge in like this, Driver-nim. I forgot I didn’t have to sing tonight.” It’s calculating. He’s left half a breath to continue that. I didn’t want to go back home. And Kyeongsu just understands.

He looks him up and down. Leather on his legs, a long blazer, open, fashionably ripped, his hair tousled, curled mildly, highlights on his cheeks and shadows on his eyes. He is all dressed up to go to the bar, to claim all the hearts and instead, now, he is just with Kyeongsu, who is lonely enough to fall for anything.

“The soup will get cold,” Kyeongsu says, as a greeting, as a welcome, as assent.

“Soup?” He perks up, as though the smell of it wasn’t strong enough in the room, and licks his lips, makes a cartoonish puppy face at Kyeongsu. Jongin’s dogs stand no chance. Kyeongsu nods and moves over to the pot to scoop another bowl of rice and places it on the table.

It’s doenjang jjigae, some egg rolls, gim, the last of his kimchi. As modest as it could be. Baekhyeon dutifully fits himself in the chair, back bowed as he stares at the plates.  

“May I?” he inquires, spoon just about to dip into the soup. He’s hungry, he always is. He never eats before the concert. The singing makes him forget about the hunger. But now there is no singing. He probably hasn’t eaten for half a day.

“You may.”

 This triggers a charade of pleased sounds and way too many compliments for his cooking. He’s too loud of how tight the walls are, but they always felt still too big, too much, even as they suffocated him. It’s nice, for the first time to have it filled with Baekhyeon’s loudness. He’s too gleeful, like this is the best thing ever, and Kyeongsu barely nibbles his own portion in favour of watching Baekhyeon.

When he’s done and pleased, he leans back, takes his jacket off - the shoulders are cut off, little circles of skin peeking smooth and bright on each side. His fingers drum on the table, nails on the plastic tablecloth. The sound is dull. “Finish up,” he says, looking at Kyeongsu. He’s left enough of each sided dish for Kyeongsu to finish his rice with. It looks oddly calculated, this too.

“Or else?” Kyeongsu inquires, fiddling with his chopsticks.

“I’ll fire you, of course.” But there is a pout resurfacing after his utterance, and for Kyeongsu, this feels loving, like when his mom urged him to eat his porridge when he’s sick. It’s the same feeling, fuzzy, swirling in his stomach with warmth.

So Kyeongsu obeys, eats up, and he doesn’t remember his food being this good before.

 

 

 

 

 

The atmosphere is weighted down by the respite for time to pass. Kyeongsu’s phone is still buzzing updates from Chanyeol. It’ll be a while until this tournament dissolves, likely past sunrise.

And so Baekhyeon sticks around, blinks sleepily at the monitor of Kyeongsu’s old, démodé laptop where an episode of a long family drama is playing, that they happen to watch fragments of occasionally. It’s the kind of drama that doesn’t require keeping up with each episode. There is not much plot anyway.

It’s pushing two now, Baekhyeon becoming more and more reactionless. He leans onto Kyeongsu, lax. His mouth curls, snips a chortle where the show wants one. And this is intimate, just sharing laughter with someone, when Kyeongsu is sleepy too, unguarded.

They are both leaning on the edge of the bed, seated on the floor on a small rug, Kyeongsu’s hand along the edge of the mattress, behind Baekhyeon. And at some point, just the position, just softly, Kyeongsu’s hand going up before catching a cramp, his fingers brushing by Baekhyeon’s hair, recoiling immediately at the contact.

It relaxes by accident again, the same touch, and this time Baekhyeon submits back into it, Kyeongsu’s fingers threading between the strands and ending up on his scalp. He keeps doing it, keeps massaging Baekhyeon’s head, playing with his hair, thumbs by his temples. It rises in intensity until Kyeongsu cannot do it absentmindedly anymore, instead focusing on what causes Baekhyeon’s eyelids to flutter, his mouth to part. He’s careful with it, the fibrils feel tender, worn from all the colours they went through. It has a different weight, different bendability, an obedience to curling. He emits some hums akin to purrs at some point, the beams of the show over his features as he laughs. His cheeks glow. And this is when Kyeongsu retracts his hand.

It falls in his lap, fingers coiled into a tentative fist. In the drama, a year passes. Then Baekhyeon’s hand - smoother, prettier, comes over his own, prying the tension away. It’s careful, soft even. It’s just the contact, no pressure whatsoever, and Kyeongsu’s fist dissolves.

Baekhyeon shifts, stretches back, a few pops from his spine as he twists over the margin of the bed. His arm falls behind Kyeongsu, a mirror of how Kyeongsu’s was positioned earlier. It’s not an accident from him, however, when it descends, digits amid Kyeongsu’s over-long tresses. A few circles on his scalp, pads soft, the movement of the strands moving along. Then a bit of weight, a bit of scratch.

“Doesn’t it feel nice,” Baekhyeon says. His attention seems to be on the drama, for his voice is modulated low, in tune with the piano music decorating the sorrowful scene. He’s driving Kyeongsu crazy and it takes him so little focus.

His nails card through now, flipping the tufts in all directions, and there is a pleasant tingle around his follicles. “It’s nice.” Kyeongsu admits, too low even for his own ears.

A grin. Might be from the show, might be because of Kyeongsu. “You ever do anything nice for yourself?”

The gentlest stress of the fingers on the side of his head, around the ear, and Kyeongsu doesn’t argue, doesn’t resist it when it pushes him into leaning his shoulder onto Baekhyeon’s, touching the patch of bared skin. His scent assaults his nose, infuses into his memory, mars.

“I don’t know,” Kyeongsu replies. Nothing comes to mind. He can’t even think about it. There was empty and empty from the effort of recalling things that didn’t happen.

“Then let me.” A halt, touch broke, terrifying in the heart of their moment, their intimacy. “Or anyone, really.” He amends, tone straightened, buffed by the brinks. The fingers are back, circling. Kyeongsu melts into him, the force of relief, lulled.

“You, for now,” he responds, and it tastes weird to himself even, for the breath he uses on it is saturated with Baekhyeon’s scent, the dulcet spice his skin carries.

Baekhyeon turns and requests his gaze. The light is dim, flickering, moving when brown meets brown. The light changes, black-to-black, a reddish brown, unpolished gold. It’s too long of a contact, too long and too heavy, and Kyeongsu has no will and no strength to look away. He’s held right there, so easily, by the equable pace of his blinking, his eyes so weighty that his lashes never meet the fold of his lid.

“What about for later?” His hand dips, thumb rounding the shell of Kyeongsu’s ear, his index along his jaw, so light that his skin struggles to sense it. “Still me?”

“Who else?” there’s the smidgen of self-pity creasing his words. He doesn’t mean to, but the ghost of this is never leaving him.

“Dae?” It’s a sound so short, like it requires no air, just a heartbeat to say. It fans sweet over Kyeongsu. He wishes, though, that Baekhyeon didn’t say that, didn’t make him pull away, put distance between them.

Because, yes. If Chen would do this, it would be just as awfully nice. But this is not a time to acknowledge that, not now, in the dead of the night, when reason is too dormant not to be dream-like.

The tension only truly shatters a moment, a shift later, when Baekhyeon’s head whips back to the laptop, and he laughs at the exchange of angry yells of the characters. It’s a clean cut, cauterized, the drop of the subject. Kyeongsu breathes again, and this air, unblemished by Baekhyeon, feels almost lacklustre.

At 3, Baekhyeon leaves. He refuses Kyeongsu’s offer to get him home and instead wishes Kyeongsu a quiet good night, and a thank you.

The door closes and Kyeongsu tries not to yearn.

 

 

 

Suho is Kim Junmyeon. And Kim Junmyeon is the son of the prime minister.

On his arm is a dazzling young woman. Suho is looking at her with all the deserving dazzle. They’re engaged, purely out of love.

She is the daughter of the freshly elected president, who happens to be addicted to gambling.

Kyeongsu did think Suho looked the slightest bit familiar, he’s flashed once or twice in the news. The Suho who rules Hall Three is different from Kim Junmyeon. This shift, so precise, from a face to the other, from this character to the other is fearsome. He plays so well. Too well. It’s a skill that inspires mistrust. Yet both personas seem equally genuine, just separated.

Chen isn’t fazed the least. He knew, of course.

The parley with the politicians goes smoothly, Chen and Suho working perfectly together from the other side of the low table. It doesn’t look like a fight. There is Joseon style ceramic all over the table, brass bowls, wide platters of artful, fancy foods. Above it, arrows rain from one side to the other. Two of them are down, too jovial from the drinks. Two big ones are left.

Chen’s hand is in a fist, not clenched, but tense enough for a shake to course through it.

He wants to make it legal. The gambling, in this form that he has established. Contracts talked and sealed in a place far away from any cards, and dice. It’s safe, safer. It’s a pleasure that deserves to be allowed.

Kyeongsu doesn’t keep count of these meetings. They all happened at royal restaurants, all the drinking cups slim and the walls painted with flowers. There is ease to the slant of Chen’s eyebrows as he engages in such mild manipulation. It’s tender, a caress even. He convinces them of everything that’s good about it, how much capital this would bring to the economy - luck always sells. He could’ve gone for a harsher tactic, blades out, blackmail with footage of them dealing with cash on the table. It is all an artifice after all, so pretty that all the eyes on it eagerly succumb to blindness. Ignorance is bliss, especially when you feed on it.

But they’ll betray the moment they’re free of duress. Chen doesn’t want that.

Not everyone is sated when Chen excuses himself. The fight was lost yet again a few drinks ago. Disappointment drops on his face in small, familiar angles.

Outside he’s smoking. Kyeongsu sees him steal that cigarette from the pocket of one of the bodyguards. He asks someone passing on the street for some fire.

“Didn’t know you smoke,” Kyeongsu voices. He steps next to him. They’re in a parking lot, trash cans and oil stains on the asphalt. Kyeongsu is comfy here.

“I don’t,” Chen says, cut, for he rushes to take another drag. The light of the flaming embers is faintly draping over his face. “I used to, though.” Another drag, hungry, the phantasms of fire chained into pretty vines as they spill from within. He coughs, once, short. “Ah, I missed how disgusting this is.”

He stares at Kyeongsu, and it is something daring, testing in the way Chen blows a cloud of smoke directly in his face. Kyeongsu doesn’t cough, doesn’t shy away. He’s used to this. The port was full of smoke.

A kind of realization dawns on Chen, softening his features. He drops the cigarette, cinders weaving through the air on the way down, then steps on it until it dies. It was only half smoked.

“Do you know my name?” Chen says then. His hands slide inno his pockets. They are probably freezing.

Kyeongsu swallows. There is an itch in his throat. “I do.”

“Who told you it?”

“Baekhyeon told me half, Chanyeol told me the other half.”

Chen grins then, smiles, a huff of amusement dripping between his lips.

“Okay. Okay then,” he says after long. Kyeongsu frowns. The inquiry is peculiar and it must, it has to mean more.

“I was curious about it,” he blurts with impetus. Maybe it is the wrong thing, maybe it is, something about that smoke, something—

“Okay,” comes Chen’s reply, and he looks at Kyeongsu now. His eyebrows are dropped at the ends and his grin…his grin is pleased and Kyeongsu really can’t look away.

His phone beeps, he doesn’t need to check, he’s assigned a special tone for Baekhyeon. It’s not even words he sends, but stickers, emoticons, pictures of baby animals, sweets.

“Go,” Chen says, and it does not sound like an order this time.

 

 

 

 

Baekhyeon has him picking him up from a different location. He starts talking before he even gets into the car. He had a guest on the set with him tonight, a girl not even out of high school with the greatest voice. He cannot wait to senpai her into being a phenomenal singer.

Kyeongsu grins, slowly, each praise from Baekhyeon adding to the curve of it. When his tone changes to a higher, feminine one, meant to mirror her timbre Kyeongsu actually chuckles because Baekhyeon fails miserably at that. And he knows it. And he’s bashful about it.

The red lights aren’t long enough.

 

 

 

 

There is no one, nothing that will pay him this much if he fucks up.

He cannot pull away from Chen, put distance between them, nor close the small gap left.

He cannot risk Baekhyeon, stare and fall, stare and fall, stare and crumble.

Busan has a leash on him.

 

 

 

 

It’s Saturday night. Kyeongsu has to run to the closest convenience store before the draw for this week’s lottery closes.

He’s still panting, sweating under the collar as he gets home. His longing crawled leisurely all this while. It reaches the apex now, when he’s delirious from exhaustion, vulnerable, finding a bowl of rice that has caught mould on the kitchen counter. The rumble of the train passing by. His bedding is still wet—it’s rained this afternoon—his mattress is bare. He doesn’t have another set.

Kyeongsu wishes he wasn’t alone. Kyeongsu wishes he wasn’t-

 

 

 

 

Turns out, Chen is Sehun’s legal guardian. He has a piece of paper, wrinkled and stained presented to him, asking for a signature.

“Don’t read it,” Sehun mutters.

Chen reads it. “Don’t ever do that, ok?”

Sehun scoffs. It’s all an act. Nothing Chen cannot see right through.

He’s not wearing his uniform this time. He’s in jeans and a hoodie. Not shabby garments. The seams are tight, the tailoring good. Chen must be paying him per game, per night, per month. He definitely doesn’t get anything out of the actual gambling.

Kyeongsu has yet to see him lose. Worth his status as the Cheat, when he’s placed strategically at the tables to regulate the finer wagers.

He is a good kid, mannerly.

An hour after Sehun enters the game room, he leaves out of there on a stretcher.

 

 

 

 

It’s the hideous look of helplessness. Kyeongsu knows it by heart. He sees it in the mirror, morning after morning after all.

So Kyeongsu steps forward first, just when Chen turns to go out. He doesn’t raise a hand, but instead, he lets Chen’s shoulder hit into his, for a part of his chest to press against Chen’s.  

Everyone else is in the same state, the same trembles of ire thrumming through them, all fists clenched. Chen is about to fissure from it, break and fuck knows what he’ll do if he really leaves.

He’s stopped, but he’s pushing. He’ll run Kyeongsu to the ground and still go if he so wishes.

Yet Kyeongsu can’t think of anything good enough to deter him. “He’ll be okay.” He’s as feeble as his words.

Chen is glaring at him. He’s actually glaring at him, steely and incisive. Kyeongsu barely keeps himself from cowering.

“I heard his bones cracking.” Blinks, horror, reminiscence, ossified, scaling over his eyes. Kyeongsu registers the bitterness in his breath. “The doctor said he’s malnourished.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“Why is he malnourished? Why are his bones made out of chalk? Didn’t I give him enough?”

“You did. You give everyone enough. It’s not your fault.”

“Then I let him gamble with that son of a bitch. I let him. I knew he had a problem, this isn’t a first. And I let him.”

“You didn’t know the other player bailed out.”

“Should’ve known that.”

It was a private booth, filled with people with anger management issues who also have no qualms about assaulting someone. It’s not like they’d get accused. For them, it’s just a way of blowing off steam after a stressful day at the office. A necessary evil.

The atmosphere is deflated. The others present, Chanyeol, Suho, a few dealers, have their gazes lowered, but their ears, attention are piqued on the two of them.

“Let’s just stay until he’s out. He’ll be okay.”

Chen’s eyes close and for once, it isn’t pretty. It’s escapism, knotting into himself, fighting to keep himself together, and now Kyeongsu does the same thing Chen did to him that night, snaking his arm softly around his waist, squeezing a little, letting him know of his presence, of his support. Chen sags, giving in after a few pained, nearly agonal breaths.

He relents, lastly, he stays, dragging himself back into the waiting room and taking a seat. He looks ahead at the sign, alight, announcing that the surgery is taking place.

A short snap to Suho. “Tie him up. His arms, his legs, make sure he never steps on anyone again.”

A deadness to his words, even the malice is gone, just the ruins, just apathy now as he says them. Suho’s face is similarly twisted. “Of course,” he answers.

Then Sehun is out, the doctor saying his rib is going to be fine, his organs are mildly bruised, a small rupture there that will heal soon.

Chen raises and dismisses everyone.

 

 

 

He sags in the passenger seat beside Kyeongsu. He doesn’t say anything. The engine is off, Kyeongsu’s hands are away from the wheel and in his lap.

“Anywhere,” Chen mutters.

Anywhere. Kyeongsu doesn’t know that many places.

 

 

 

His eyes slide to Jongin’s window out of reflex. The light is off.

Chen doesn’t react to the sight of his apartment until his shoes are off, pressed together neatly beside the door. It’s a whittled frown. “You’re not having it any better.”

“It has a roof at least,” says Kyeongsu. He automatically speaks quieter.

Chen’s lips purse. He nods stiffly.

Baekhyeon has the night shift at the bar after his set. He won’t be home until morning. Taking Chen to an empty apartment, quiet, where his fury could have frothed over with no one to tether it wasn’t an option.

Kyeongsu guides him into a seat at the small table. Warms up some rice in the cooker, some kimchi, a fried egg. It’s all he has right now. Two bowls, one plate and a glass of water. The table is small enough to look full just with this.

Chen stares at it, not even blinking.

Less and less steam rises from the rice.

Kyeongsu moves along with his chair on the other side, adjacent to Chen. He picks up a spoonful of rice, lays a piece of kimchi on top and holds it up to Chen’s mouth.

“You want to go back and smash that guy’s face.”

Kyeongsu knows the light in his kitchen is too white and too weak - he’s bought the cheapest bulb after all, and he knows nobody looks good in it, but Chen is still gorgeous. He’s all sharp shadows and soft lines.

“You’re not going to do that, though. You’re not going anywhere, not beating anyone up.”

The benumbing frenzy he is in drains out little-by-little. The sleet in his eyes clears as well. He gives another nod, a single strand of hair gliding down from his forehead. It tangles with an eyelash. Kyeongsu is that close.

He blinks, long, tight.

Kyeongsu nudges the spoon again. Under the pressure of the metal edge, his lips part.

He takes it, intent, a lick of his lips after Kyeongsu pulls away. He makes to put the spoon down, leaving it for Chen to help himself, but Chen’s hand closes around his—that damn ring—and holds it there.

“Give me more,” he says, and it’s a whisper, the rasp of still unchewed food, and it sounds so pleading, so coaxing. So Kyeongsu does, Kyeongsu gives him more until he’s completely relaxed, back rounding in the worst possible posture, and his default, easy kittenish grin is back in place, crumbs of dried yolk by the margins of his lips and pepper flakes on his teeth. All the plates are clean.

As Kyeongsu washes the dishes, he notices Chen staring ahead. There’s a long nail protruding through the nail there. Kyeongsu pierces onto it all of his lottery tickets. It’s a fat wad full of losses.

Before Kyeongsu can comment something about it, Chen’s already left the kitchen.

Kyeongsu finds him fallen onto the bed after he’s done putting everything back in place. There is nowhere else he could’ve been. His eyes are closed, the rise and fall of his chest deep, even.

Kyeongsu stays by the door, watching him twist softly. His clothes tug at him, press and restrain.

He takes the three steps necessary to reach him, reach for his tie and loosen it. He blinks at Kyeongsu, barely enough to warrant focus. He keeps gazing at Kyeongsu, allows him to continue, eyelashes fluttering instead of a nod.

Kyeongsu moves lower, to his belt too. It’s an expensive one, the brand stamped all around the inside, thick and wide. The clink of the buckles sears through the quietness. He pulls on it until Chen rolls to the other side and he can take it off completely.

Chen snuggles into the sheets straightaway. They’re heavy and fluffy, so Kyeongsu doesn’t have to turn on the heating at night. It’s just on the brink of winter. Come morning, the grass outside will be beclouded with hoar.

Kyeongsu doesn’t know what to do after Chen falls asleep. He is sleepy now too, his lids heavy. For a moment he considers taking a blanket and sleeping on the floor.

A hand creeps over his, laying on his wrist. Chen thumbs the protruding bone there, smooth circles, slow.

“Just stay here. Sleep,” he says, imperceptibly in his lordly tone, but with such a softness to it.

Kyeongsu can never go against Chen’s words.

He gets rid of his suit, careful as to not wrinkle it. He hasn’t even bought an iron. Then he says fuck it and takes his pants off, remaining in his undershirt and his boxers as he climbs into bed. He keeps to his side, looking up, sinking into the pillow—he’s brought this from Busan. His dad made them, filled them with real feathers.

Kyeongsu can’t fall asleep right off. There is someone next to him, sharing the air. It’s a first. He turns on his side, knees bent, and the bed is small, so small. Chen’s head slides off the pillow and into the space between the two. His forehead is on Kyeongsu’s chest.

Like this, with the smell of Chen’s shampoo—Baekhyeon’s—filling his nose, he falls asleep.

 

 

 

They wake up slightly tangled, Chen’s unsocked fit seeking warmth between the press of Kyeongsu’s calves. Chen’s hair is wild and firm in all sort of directions from his hair product, his shirt unbuttoned even more and twisted around him, his slacks undone and falling low on his hips.

They both have the blanket up to their neck. It’s chilly in the room.

Maybe it’s the drowsiness, the pure bliss of fresh slumber, the day, the worries not dawning on him yet, that makes this so easy for Kyeongsu to admit it to himself that he likes Chen.

His eyes fall shut. He squeezes them. What a damn mess.

Then Chen wiggles his toes between Kyeongsu’s calves and starts laughing devilishly, and Kyeongsu relents, finally sliding off the bed and into the shivering cold as he pads to the bathroom.

 

 

 

The bets are on illegal guns. All the players have a weapon or two stashed on them.

It doesn’t even take place in one of the halls but in some remote place, shoddy, a garage or warehouse of sorts. The games should have been watched through cameras, the bids doled out automatically. No one on site.

But this deal has only been accepted for it is no good to have the illegal weapon dealers on the bad side. They are cocky gangs who play with dangerous things. Chen only came along in order to appease the leader, his presence there to ensure that there will be no manipulation.

Six people are present.

Not unexpectedly, it breaks out into violence. Sore losers. Kyeongsu stares down at the unfolding fiasco for too long, given by the time some blood spills Kyeongsu cannot see Chen anymore.

He must have left already, meting out the damages.

Kyeongsu should have been in the car.

But he is still there, inside the venue, in a place that is tied to the game room. An incensed man catches sight of him. He has a blade, shining in his brandishing hand.  

Kyeongsu takes steps back. He doesn’t know this building, but he follows the broken exit signs as best as he can. The first door is blocked, the second isn’t, and Kyeongsu is running out into the night, disoriented.

It doesn’t even look remotely similar to any place he parked the car. The area in front of him is vacant. The street farther away is deserted, and Kyeongsu really doesn’t remember where he left that damn car.

He gulps down breaths of air and keeps running, aimless, if only to escape the grumbling man behind. The tip of the weapon reaches him, slashes. He doesn’t notice until it starts seeping through his clothes, his shirt sticking to his skin. The scenery opens, still crumbling expanses of cement, but as he starts to slow down, succumbing to the pyre of fatigue, the voice following him continues to fade. Then there’s the hum of an engine as his legs give out.

Arms wrap around his shoulders, lifting him and then hurling him in the back seat.

Baekhyeon. Kyeongsu blinks and blinks, unsure if he’s seeing right.

“Got you, sir,” Baekhyeon jests, pulling the car into motion. Kyeongsu sees his eyes in the mirror, trained on the road. They’re bare, no shadows.

Kyeongsu tries to find the position that makes sure he doesn’t bleed so much. It is also the position that hurts the most. At a stop, Baekhyeon turns to offer him a smile, a real one, lips lissome and stretching square and dimples in his cheeks, deep and cute. “We’ll get to the hospital soon,” he says. Assurance, so much assurance. Kyeongsu grins back, forgetting for a moment to hold onto his wound.

Baekhyeon accelerates, twisting the wheel with confidence. He must be going way over the speed limit.

Kyeongsu shifts, slumping so that the bleeding on his back is stopped by the surface of the seat. Baekhyeon’s eyes twitch reflexively, focused, determined.

His presence is demulcent. It always is. Beyond midnight, when he’s overjoyed, eyes brimming with stars and smile bountiful, so full with what he’s feeling that it inevitably spills over and soaks into Kyeongsu too.

This is when Kyeongsu allows himself to fall—dizzy from blood loss—to tip over the edge and into the claws of all the attraction that’s been fermenting for so long.

Kyeongsu likes Baekhyeon. Kyeongsu likes Baekhyeon too.

 

 

The lights in the hospital are bright and white, washing even more of a pallor over Kyeongsu. He gets a few stitches done—he’s been cut in three places, two from his hip and along the flank—one closer to his lower back, and one on the back of his arm from the shoulder down. The medic works fast, mechanically, and Kyeongsu watches the procedure while it is done to his arm, marvelling at the numbness. He really has no qualms about seeing blood.

He turns over to be worked on his hip, on his back, and now he looks at Baekhyeon perching on the empty bed next to his. His legs dangle off, a rhythmical sway to them. His socks have strawberries on them, small and red on a pastel mint background. They have smiley faces.

Huff-by-huff, Kyeongsu finds himself laughing. He looks higher, to Baekhyeon’s face. Of course he’s immune to the wrath of the light. He’s radiant and motley as always, smiling at Kyeongsu his cerise grin. His eyes catch an ashen colour, a lazy brown as he blinks gently at Kyeongsu.

He winces then, the needle prodding at an area not yet steeped with the anesthetic. Baekhyeon clenches his fist and says “Hwaiting!” like he has to endure some extreme life event or something.

The steps are loud on the tiles. There’s a specific kind of shoe that Chen likes wearing, a specific heel to them, a platform, higher on the ankle, black and lacquered—for my enemies to see their pathetic faces in when they fall to my feet—Kyeongsu’s still not sure if he was joking or not. So it’s unmistakable now, the sound. The pace is punctuated, urgent.

Baekhyeon jumps off the bed as he sees Chen, waving a little, three fingers wiggling in sync.

Then Chen is here, looking down at Kyeongsu.

It’s a moderate injury. A lot of skin cut, quite shallow, even though it reaches a few layers into muscles. More than anything, it is a good scare. Chen still regards him with an expression so pained, his eyes so black that Kyeongsu feels the need to smile at him, to assure him that he’s fine.

Blades hurt less than the blows of bats, feet, and fists. He’s more used to those. The slash of a blade feels fancy, sparing.

He looks at Chen and there it is, the automatic, unrestrainable mellowing of his gaze, washing affection all over Baekhyeon. “It’s really not that bad,” he says.

Chen’s eyes close tight, the corners bursting into rivulets of tension. It’s awfully akin to the reaction he has when he has to deny Baekhyeon, when he cancels a date, when he misses a concert. Baekhyeon reaches for his hand, his slim, long fingers going between the straight, slightly angular digits of Chen’s. They grab firm, tips fading of colour, thumbs over the back of the hand.

It’s beautiful. Kyeongsu cannot stop glimming. It warms him, fends off some of the tremblor coursing through his body.

“You shouldn’t have been in there,” Chen says. It’s vapid with admonishment.

“I know. I was just— I was curious.” Not straying from the hands. A little twist, a clench, enough for the veins prominent down Chen’s forearm to twist.

“Don’t ever disobey me again.” Madness again, now semblant to the one displayed when Sehun got hurt. He inhales, turns into Baekhyeon a little, some of his weight transferring to him. “I don’t want to see you for at least a week.”

Then they’re taking him home, Baekhyeon driving as Kyeongsu lies quietly in the backseat.

At night, it’s Chanyeol who texts him how to care best for it, so it heals fastest.

From Baekhyeon he gets a please don’t put soy sauce on it! :O

 

 

 

Kyeongsu doesn’t know how much rest he’s been missing until he gets it.

He can’t do much when the incisions are this fresh. Kyeongsu stays in bed, sleeping all the lost sleep.

Two days later, mindful to his wounds, he cleans the cobwebs that gather in the corners, the dust fallen on the furniture, the floors. He goes to the market, makes a few different kinds of kimchi with whatever discounted veggies he can put his hands on. The stalls are getting sparser and sparser as the cold settles.

He gets deliveries, three times, all paid already, and Kyeongsu doesn’t have to ask to know it is from Chanyeol. It is expensive food: hoe, yukhoe, abalone, even a jar of fancy Yuja Tea. He asks Jongin to come over to share it with him. They share some stories too beside the dishes.

 

 

 

Chanyeol takes him to get the stitches out a week later. He makes comments about how he looks badass with the faint scars that will remain behind. His eyebrows wiggle obnoxiously.

Kyeongsu’s taken one too many painkillers, so he laughs along with Chanyeol. After lunch—Chanyeol really wanted pizza—he drives Kyeongsu home. On the way, Kyeongsu asks him, maybe he knows, how come Baekhyeon was nearby that night.

Nobody told him that, what an oddity it was.

Chanyeol hesitates, only visible in the drop of his grin. Lucidity glasses his eyes. “He has thing for when Chen has to go anywhere kinda alone. There was once when he was really alone in a similar situation and he went missing for two days. He was okay when we found him, but Baekhyeon just - “His expression is pained, wrecked. Kyeongsu understands that better than any words. “So he trails behind sometimes, just to be there, near him.”

Kyeongsu’s hands come together, grabbing at one another. “Oh.”

 

 

 

 

Other days, he calls home, puts it on speaker next to himself and turns on the TV. It’s the first time he turns it on. It’s an old model, a box prefaced by a piece of shitty glass, but it conveys the images just the same. He doesn’t have cable, but the shows his parents favour don’t need it. He munches on some fruit too, while he watches, hearing the commentary and the bickering of his parents on the other end. There is laughter then, a lot of it, and Kyeongsu nearly, so nearly feels as though he is home with them, without a worry, his head on his mom’s shoulder and with the ocean at his doorstep.

Before he falls asleep, he hums whatever he remembers from Baekhyeon’s songs. They becalm him, and Kyeongsu heals.

 

 

 

“Are you okay?” asks Chen, sliding into the car.

“Yes.”

“Keep being so.”

 

 

 

Kyeongsu’s first day back ends with the both of them in Soul to God.

Baekhyeon is behind the bar tying his apron. “Missed me on the stage,” he greets with eyes only for Chen. Kyeongsu comes out from behind him and Baekhyeon’s mouth parts a little before he beams. “Welcome back, Kyeongsaeng!”

Kyeongsu bites a smile and looks down.

“Missed you in general,” Chen says, and Baekhyeon giggles, taking a few steps behind a corner so Chen can crowd him into it with kisses. He’s released flushed and with a spring in his step. He hops back over the bar.

He beckons Kyeongsu closer, hand waving furiously. Chen looks over at him with the same expectancy. He pats the stool next to himself.

Golden light falls on Baekhyeon from above. The tips of his hair shine, his cheeks too.  Kyeongsu’s mouth goes dry.

Baekhyeon picks up a few glasses from the hooks above, some tall, some fat, and aligns them on the counter.

“So I learned a few tricks,” Baekhyeon begins, turning towards the display of bottles. “You gotta taste test them for me.” Chen laughs out of pure joy to have Baekhyeon, to hear and see him. Kyeongsu distinguishes this laugh so easily.

“Not me,” he says, hands up in defense.

Baekhyeon has a few bottles under his arm, and turns to pout for a second - it isn’t an unexpected answer. Next, his focus snaps to Kyeongsu. A wicked, nervy grin quirks his lips.

“I’m on duty,” Kyeongsu hastens to say.

Another pout, just as fast, thrown to Chen. Even the corners of his eyes drop. He looks unnervingly pitiful.

“Okay,” relents Chen. “He’s off duty,” and he gives Kyeongsu’s shoulder a squeeze, thumb pressing in the soft valley of his collarbone through the shirt. Baekhyeon’s face flourishes.

“This will be great!”

It turns out what Baekhyeon has been working on is mixing drinks. Juices and types of ice and waters and fruit nectars and diverse kinds of alcohol. He pours sample after sample, waiting for Kyeongsu’s verdict after each.

Kyeongsu just has a ridiculously high tolerance, not a ridiculously pretentious preference. To him, they all seem good, sweet, mellowing the sting of the alcohol until his chest is warm, ablaze with comfort, and he’s pretty much moaning appreciatively into each glass he’s given. He wants to reject them now, for no room should be spinning with this speed, and his tongue is being very disobedient to him. But Baekhyeon keeps promising one more, just one more.

This one has rose water something, and Kyeongsu downs it, and is pouring praise all over Baekhyeon by now.

“My my, you’re making me blush,” he preens, nonetheless basking in the offered words.

“You’re gorgeous when you blush,” he says, perfunctory, and with roses in his throat. “Isn’t he?” He regards Chen, who is drinking something bright red. It’s with determination, and perhaps sincerity, so frank and so open, that he means no harm, but he wants -

Chen peers at him curiously. “He is.”

“Your cheeks are redder than mine, though,” chips in Baekhyeon.

“No way.” He pats them, then pinches them to see if they can get any warmer. He feels no difference. His head hits the counter. “Just give me more of the…the seventh one, I think. It was so good.”

He’s given one, but he cannot drink it.

Chanyeol shows up, and Baekhyeon presents him all the favourable results he’s gotten from Kyeongsu. He doesn’t even need to bribe Chanyeol or anything. All he has to do it tell him to add these drinks to the menu. Chanyeol owns Soul to God after all, and he’s Baekhyeon’s puppy.

From where he’s resting on his outstretched arm, all he sees is Chen’s chest, his neck. He laughs, and his shirt quivers. Kyeongsu stares at the movement until he drifts off.

 

 

 

Kyeongsu isn’t left on the couch. Nor on a blanket on the floor or in a recliner.

They get him into the main bedroom instead, unfastening the buttons of his shirt and letting him plunge into the bed. The world keeps whirling chaotically, and Kyeongsu grabs a fistful of the sheets to anchor himself a little.

He’s in Chen and Baekhyeon’s bed. It wholly consumes him.

They both stumble into the room, hair damp and messy. Their clothes are thin, sheer, letting the hollows and the hills be visible.

“What did you even put in the drinks?” whispers Chen, coming to a stop near the foot of the bed.

Kyeongsu remains unresponsive. The mattress dips close to him, next to his hip. Baekhyeon is above him, close, very close. Something wet touches his face, scented. Baekhyeon cleans his face gently with the tissue, his fingers massaging the skin. He pulls away afterwards. Kyeongsu groans. He liked it.

“He just had too many. They were too good.” His hand twists with Chen's and he tugs him until they drop on the bed. It’s a very big bed, Kyeongsu notices hazily. Not a standard size. He looks at where Baekhyeon is halfway on Chen, their noses rubbing together, and it’s blurry as if it is oceans away.

Baekhyeon does something and it makes Chen squirm and chuckle. Baekhyeon bends over him. “Shhh. He’s sleeping,” he chides in an airy voice. Chen is still moving, some small, yippy sounds escaping from his chest. Baekhyeon’s mouth closes over his, some force to it. Their lips slot over and over in shallow pecks. 

Kyeongsu tugs the comforter up and over his eyes. He would like some kisses too.

He turns away. Fortunately, he only has to blink twice before sleep claims him.

 

 

 

 

The sun is still far from rising when Kyeongsu wakens. A headache trickles at the back of his skull. Nothing unbearable.

Baekhyeon and Chen are balled together on the other side of the bed, mostly uncovered. Kyeongsu’s gotten too much of the duvet. They seem so small like this, placid, sedate.

Kyeongsu takes himself out of the bed as gently as he can. He then arranges it so that they’re covered up to the chin. Baekhyeon nestles into it, his hold onto Chen lessening slightly.

It’s hard to look away from them. Kyeongsu allows himself a few more seconds, enough to commit the image to memory, then he sees himself out.

 

 

 

“These fucktards are gambling the custody of their child,” Chanyeol says, his tone wrung. Chen makes a face, along with everyone else in the surveillance room.

“Seems better than seeing them throw swords at one another in the court,” Minho drawls easily as he lifts a leg onto the desk. Chen regards him with patience, with sympathy. It’s no secret that Minho’s parents are divorced as fuck and he only ended up in this hellhole just to escape that bloody catfight.

“Not gonna argue with you,” Chanyeol continues in a tinier voice, his arm sneaking around Minho’s shoulders.

They watch more of the game. They’re both bad, probably read how to play in the car on the way here. A coin flip would’ve been easier.

“We’re not doing this again,” is Chen’s last words to the room before he walks into the office. The man won. The woman appears too pleased with the outcome.

Once the door closes, Chen steps up to him. Light drapes pretty over his face. “I hope you slept well.”

Kyeongsu did. He really did. Maybe it was the mattress, the drunkenness, the happiness.

He wasn’t cold.

“I did.”

 

 

 

Kyeongsu is invited to a gala.

Laissez-faire, he’d expected when he came here. To have no eyes, no mouth, be naught but a meat sack of driving functions. He did not expect to be absorbed, be forced to matter, be a part of the grand scheme of things, a tag of importance hanging from his carotid.

“You got promoted,” Chanyeol whispers to him, or at least tries. It still sounds like he’s shouting. He’s dressed in a suit for the first time. Kyeongsu sizes him up and down. It doesn’t look bad at all.

Kai is coming from behind him, hitting him in the shoulder so he moves over and he can stand in front of Kyeongsu, eyebrows risen admiringly. He’s dressed up as well - his attire tight, made of some nearly translucent fabric. He’s so awfully attractive that Kyeongsu winces.

Kai, the rascal, makes a face as though he knows exactly why Kyeongsu’s wincing. He coos then vanishes, his endless legs carrying him away in a balletic prance.

“Congrats!” billows Chanyeol in the same tone he had when he laid eyes on Kyeongsu for the very first time.

Nothing official. His employee record still only lists him as a driver, but he gets to wrestle a share of patrons now, the smaller ones, and also to watch over the halls.

Kyeongsu nods his thanks, willing his cheeks not to betray him now with a blush. He takes in the room. This is some charitable event of sorts - just people with a lot of money mingling to make even more money, and the rest of them, especially Suho, seem right at home among the attendees.

Kyeongsu keeps to them until Chen shows up along with Baekhyeon. They smile to one another, the thoughtless, ingrained one. However, there is premeditated distance between them.  

“I have a good eye,” declares Baekhyeon, the smoky rasp of his voice pricked by mirth as he narrows his eyes at Kyeongsu, gaze going up and down. He’s helped Kyeongsu, via text, to pick this suit. It’s from the same market in Dongdaemun, less than a hundred thousand won. Chen looks at him as though he approves as well.  

Chen sneaks a hand into Baekhyeon’s, squeezing, then smooths his thumb tenderly over it before he leaves, a salute already on his tongue.

“I’m here to charm someone,” leans in Baekhyeon to whisper. He winks, the warm, shimmery maroon on his lids flashing. There are producers attending, some bosses of some entertainment companies. Baekhyeon wants to bring his name in their attention.

He commences this by stealing some food, then running after Chanyeol and forcing him to do love shots, except Chanyeol is too tall, so Baekhyeon hops on a chair in order to reach all the way there. Kyeongsu chuckles, some of the discomfort ebbing. He feels out of place. He entertains the sight of Baekhyeon fascinating the pants off someone for a little longer before he goes to trail after Chen.

 

 

 

 

He’s not being introduced to anyone; he just adds his two cents to the discussion occasionally. He appraises them, the wealth visible on their clothes and on the tails of their words. Adversely, it’s a combination that appears cheap, sunken.

Too soon, he’s tired. Too soon, he’s bored. He has no patience for ass-kissing, nor for congenial threatening. Their skin is glued on too tight for him to have any chance of sneaking under.

So he wanders off. Finding Baekhyeon is the easiest thing. It’s his general obnoxiousness. His tone, his appearance.

Baekhyeon is already hooking an arm around his before Kyeongsu’s eyes even get to settle on him. He excitedly tugs him from tray to tray since he’s tried everything—obviously, crumbs thoroughly dot his exaggeration of a suit—and shows him exactly which hors-d'œuvres are best. A flute of champagne after another one in his hand, getting wobblier and wobblier. Kyeongsu tastes one, just a tiny lick, and it's too light and too sweet and too plummy. All it does is tickle down his throat, make him itch for some real alcohol.

Baekhyeon yawns once, twice, three times in quick succession halfway through the first speech. He loudly slurps from his glass, nods amen as if in a church.

Kyeongsu doesn’t miss it the way Chen leans up to discreetly whisper something into the ear of a young man on the other side of the room. It’s just business, but it looks like more. It has to look like more. The catalyst of a friendship is the fantasy of it.

Baekhyeon doesn’t miss it either. He pretends to be making faces at Chanyeol, standing a bit further away. But that is not a look he’d give Chanyeol. His eyes are too droopy, his cheeks and nose dusted rose.

He’s trying to coax Kyeongsu into singing a little duet with him, utterly drunk by now. Chen makes it to them, someone in tow - faceless, they’re all faceless, and talks up Baekhyeon as if they’re not married, as if they don’t love each other to pieces. It’s cold little pleasantries meant to quench the silence, but not to acquire a new acquaintance.

Baekhyeon plays along. Baekhyeon introduces himself, shakes his hand, flirts with him and the faceless man. A third person appears, and that is when Baekhyeon turns around. He stalls, swivels. A hand runs through his hair, tangles with product and stays there.

He starts giggling. He sounds like he’s suffocating, searching for air. “Yeah, I knew what I was getting into. Yeah. Right.”

He finds that breath. He takes it in, straightens, grins. One breath and he begins walking.

Kyeongsu looks at his retreating back, then at Chen, smothered by a crowd. His demeanour is the one only reserved for business, but it’s brightened. He’s onto something.

Kyeongsu hastens after Baekhyeon.

He’s not even at the elevators as Kyeongsu catches up. “Kyeongsaeng!” Baekhyeon says, glad and big, as though he hasn’t seen him in ages. He seeks for support, disguises it as a hug, his limbs wind clumsily around Kyeongsu.

They go up into the hotel, away from the hustle of the party in the lobby. He has to fetch the key card from Baekhyeon’s pocket to check the floor, the door. Baekhyeon giggles at the prodding. He’s pliant. Stunning.

His only purpose is escorting Baekhyeon safely. He doesn’t make it past the doorstep when he grabs Kyeongsu, fingers merely curling on the jacket of his suit, and his hold is so lax, fingertips not even pulling the fabric. He holds, stays, waits.

Kyeongsu cedes so easily, especially when Baekhyeon is done up like this, given up, his eyes full of hurt.

As he stumbles in, still drunk, he stops when he catches sight of the bed. So big and so tall, and maybe Kyeongsu craves it too, to sink into such a bed. He’s pretty sure he has the springs of his mattress imbedded on his back.

“Wouldn’t it be a waste not to fuck on this beauty,” Baekhyeon mutters with such bluntness that it slams into Kyeongsu. It’s said with true remorse, not a stiver of playfulness. “Well, it’s not like that takes necessarily two people.”

Without untying the laces, he toes his shoes off. It takes a few tries. He turns to Kyeongsu and all he does is look, blinks once, beckons him closer just like that.

Baekhyeon guides him to the bedroom bench, white leather, hard, uncomfortable. He sits straight, spine tense. Baekhyeon fits a few fingers under his chin, after his nails, long and filed scratch over his Adam’s Apple. They’re cold. Kyeongsu shivers.

“Please, look at me.” He says it softly, a plea that is so desperate it has lost nearly all articulation. Kyeongsu doesn’t dare deny that. All he sees is Baekhyeon.

The thumb of his hand glides by Kyeongsu’s cheek next, prudent, doting, the swell of his thumb slotting in the valley of his under eyes where purple exhaustion rests. “You’re not disgusted by this, are you? Men? Me?”

Kyeongsu doesn’t speak, can’t speak. He doesn’t know how Baekhyeon interprets his silence. The hand on his face doesn’t let him move. Another skim of his thumb, going all around his cheek, lighter, warmer.

Then something must give him away.

Baekhyeon raises back to full height, his touch leaving him haltingly, in a caress. He begins disrobing, socks first, as he rounds towards the bed. His shirt drops, tugged over his head after he undoes a few buttons. The scrawny tie from around his neck, a pretty salmon, falls into the pile as well.

Kyeongsu tries to resist, not look, not see, not anything. Baekhyeon’s shoulder blades come together, the crests of the bones moving under the skin, aglow from the light, from within. He doesn’t stand a chance.

Baekhyeon settles onto the bed, legs spread, pants still on, the elegant fold of the zipper, the hidden button resting over his bulge, outlined to the side by the asymmetrical pull of the fabric over his legs. He touches himself over the material, thin, pale fingers over rich black, up until his hand has to angle, to fold around the growth of his cock. He encases it, presses it down, does quick, small swipes around where the head pushes.

His other hand comes from beside himself to the waistband, opening the button. It remains there, heavy, inert on his stomach as the thumb of the hand working over his hand hooks on the key of the zipper. Kyeongsu hears it going down tooth-by-tooth, hears Baekhyeon’s excitement heightening along with it.

It’s the hand left on his stomach, the one reaching down to cup over his boxers, get even closer, a push originating from the wrist. He twitches. His feet press into the mattress, the muscles of his inner thighs tense.

They’re gone, trousers and boxers, in a blink, thrown somewhere. All that’s left on Baekhyeon is the ring on his finger.

Kyeongsu feels like drowning.

Baekhyeon doesn’t say a thing as he touches himself, his fingers secure around the length, pulling the foreskin along it, fingers parted to cover more surface area. The sight is of a certain daintiness - gentle persuasion of pleasure, all from the motion of his hand between his legs. It brings a sound, brings a breath out of him, the first globule of satisfaction falling from his mouth coinciding with the one now dropping down his length. It’s a shiny, short trail before the swipe of his hand wipes it, smears it.

There is no silence anymore after this point. Baekhyeon doesn’t allow himself a single moment of muteness, breaking into little moans, shuffles, the bedding twisting around him as he wants it. He works himself until he’s dripping wet, a lisle of precome coursing weakly but continuously down his cock. Only flashes of it are visible from Kyeongsu, the rest of it obstructed by his hand, by the speed of his jerking, but it’s enough to catch the sight of the redness of the shaft, the lace of pulsing veins risen to the surface. There is the minimal, rhythmical bulging of his fore and middle finger as they go over the protrusion of the head, the thumb of his other hand over the slit. It doesn’t dig, it rounds.

The pace is steadfast, his wrist flicking, fingers twisting to stretch the foreskin over the head, glide it back down with a tightening as it passes the corona.

His legs tremble and gather, moans halting as he runs out of air, when he cannot even remember to suck in another lungful. His knees drop inwards, pulled by the tenseness of his thighs, quaking. His back curves, only enough for the push of his belly to round in presentation to Kyeongsu, his hips pushing into his fist. The skin here is bright. His happy trail is light, just a tease.

The fullness of his mouth is so pretty cleaved like this, baring the points of his canines, glinting in the light. The pinkness of his lower lip catches between the pearly whites, and he bites down, insulates a groan inside. The flesh surrenders to the pressure, and when he lets go of it that side is swollen, noticeably so, glistening.

This is when Kyeongsu’s mouth parts too, and something dense and leaden seeps from his chest, seemingly scratching all the way over his lips.

Baekhyeon’s eyes find his, hold on tight, clear amidst the frenzy of his writhing. Beautiful and black and molten and his mouth never quiets, never lets Kyeongsu look away.

He barely registers the presence behind him, the weight settles on his shoulder.

Baekhyeon pinches a nipple, rolls it, reddens it and keens.

Two thumbs go up and down Kyeongsu’s neck, deliberate, cogent. It’s just a whiff, thinned, of that cologne, that Kyeongsu detects before he goes rigid.

Chen is behind him.

He’s chained in place from two sides.

Chen leans into him, his arms sliding around his neck, head fitting beside his as they both watch Baekhyeon. He’s writhing now, eyes shut and a crease between his brows. His hands are fervent, one of them dipping lower, to his balls, even lower, to the patch of darker skin, hidden from light in the valley of his cheeks, rubbing. His stomach is quivering from the pull of snipped inhales. He’s so lost in his own pleasure, so pretty too, all sprawled out like this, blissed out, and seeking relief, completion.

Chen is breathing down his neck, steady, as if unaffected. Kyeongsu has to shift to accommodate the fill of his cock. He doesn’t in fear of Chen catching his reaction.

Baekhyeon comes, head turned to the side and forehead twisted, mouth open as it is muffled by the pillow nearby. His hand still works over his length, pumping, tighter than ever, centred along the head as the streaks of white spill over his stomach, some gliding to the side and onto the sheets. His legs still tremble, his breath is shorn by the pulses of his stomach, of the short, rapid bucking of his hips into his hand.

His body slackens, just the clean now, drawn, deep breaths after as the shocks subside. His eyes still don’t open. The sound of his pants is tinted, a ghost of a note caught in it, the dwindling pleasure, the dwindling bliss still there, spilling over the margins of his mouth. It’s red all over now, a bit uneven, a rosebud on the vellum of rapture on his face.

He doesn’t awake. His hand, pretty, soiled, slips down to his hip, fingers long and curled slightly as they rest on the skin. It paints a shadow on it, fanned out, contrasting, and now Kyeongsu notices how the low light catches the faint sheen of sweat on him, lucent on the high panes of his body.

Kyeongsu feels the burn, the sear through his chest, going downward, petrifying him, as though he hasn’t taken a breath in eons. He senses Chen’s presence departing. Kyeongsu closes his eyes for a moment, a weight so heavy on them, and when he opens them, Chen is bent over Baekhyeon, his lips pressing to Baekhyeon’s forehead. It’s a long press, with the peaks of his lips, and his eyes flutter shut. When he pulls away, he also arranges the pillow under Baekhyeon’s head, so he rests comfortably. Baekhyeon shifts, making a small purry noise, his mouth closing in a soft pout.

Chen’s fingers, two of them, run through the mess on Baekhyeon’s stomach. His body turns then, but his gaze doesn’t, anchored, sliding across the length of Baekhyeon’s body up until it reaches his feet - little toes curled, then it snaps onto Kyeongsu. It slices right through. His face is perfectly blank, not even a cleave to any of his features, luminescence falling sharply on the precipices of his face. His gaze is a storm otherwise.

Kyeongsu has spent enough time by his side now to recognize that Chen is lost now, too much is happening, the froth of conflict murky in his irises.

He approaches however. His steps are quiet on the carpet, his gait tentative.

It is unnerving. This is not a reaction. This is just. Just nothing.

When he’s close enough, Chen’s hand lifts to his chin. Kyeongsu is still seated, still frozen, his cock still pulsing. Chen towers above him, in control, his silken suit wrapped crisply around his frame, ashine.

His pointer finger slots into the give of the flesh under Kyeongsu’s chin, right after the bone. They pass farther, his thumb and pointer contouring around his jaw, the joint between them pressing on his windpipe gently. Kyeongsu doesn’t dare look away. For a second, the pressure heightens, his short, thin inhale cut, a minimal, tingly sear of suffocation, phantom or real, going through his chest. He wouldn’t put it past it. He’s heard what the rage of jealousy can push people to do. It blinds. It takes reason away. Chen could strangle the life out of him this very moment and it would be justified.

But it lessens, the pads of the fingers along the bone releasing with a dandle, up until he pushes slightly, lifting Kyeongsu’s chin with the bridge of his hand. His other one comes up and traces the length of his lips. It’s sticky, coated with come, but feathery as it pursuits to smear, to coax, until Kyeongsu gives in and parts his lips, taking in the two digits. The alkaline smell is strong, fresh, the bare sting of it filling his nose.

Chen’s face shifts, crumbles, and it’s a mess that Kyeongsu still can’t read. He goes ahead and licks the come off, cooled, the texture inhomogeneous. It dissolves on the pressure of his tongue, and he licks between the digits too, sucks them clean, up until Chen’s expression becomes articulate, clear, and there is the blow of arousal under all the strata of foment.

He swallows. It’s a smidgen of cum diluted in the pool of saliva in his mouth, and it is weighty— it’s finality—the swift bob of his Adam’s apple grazing the palm of Chen’s hand. He retracts his fingers, glistening with spit.

There are remains left on the corners of his lips, and he swipes his tongue over it, gathering every drop of the bitterness. It’s thick and viscous and ambrosial. Kyeongsu keeps hunting for more even when it’s obvious there’s nothing left, inordinate.

“You like it,” says Chen.

It goes off like a gunshot.

“He’s yours,” are the only words Kyeongsu can muster. Are the only words Kyeongsu’s mind can think. They taste of Baekhyeon.

“He is.” The confirmation dithers. Not from unsureness but from- “Leave.” It teems with thorns, one poised prettily over each sibilant. It tickles. “We’ve got an early start tomorrow.”

From his pocket, he procures a key card. He holds it out to Kyeongsu. It’s the clean hand.

So Kyeongsu takes it, bows and leaves.

 

 

 


Sehun is fully healed now. He’s delayed that by participating in a football game at school and getting one strong hit to his stomach, but now he’s all good. He’s dressed in his uniform, thieving sips from Kai’s cup of tea. He drinks it with honey and milk and vanilla, Kyeongsu knows. Kai has coddled him so much with it while in the hospital that he’s now addicted, not that he’ll admit it. He looks at Kyeongsu with a flutter of shyness.

“Borrow me your car, hyeong?” Then slower, with rosiness creeping up his face. “I have a date.”

Sehun is old enough to have a license. He’s gone through two grade retentions.

“I don’t own-”

The drop of keys on the table, some of the tea splatters, and Sehun pouts at the loss. “Have it,” Suho says, gesturing towards the keys.

“You shitting with me?” Sehun mutters, staring with awe at them. He’s still mostly pouting.

“Language,” Suho berates at once, and this time Sehun outright gapes, then grins, so overwhelmed that he can’t even say thank you.

From the back, Kai comes, holding his backpack. “No more gaming. Now get your new car and go study,” he says, all in English and Sehun frowns at him, head falling to the side.

“Exactly,” Kai exclaims, then puts both hands on Sehun’s shoulders and drives him out.

He’s left with Suho. The hall is not open yet. It’s just them.

“I have a date too?” tries Kyeongsu. This is a neat little trick.

Suho looks at him with a straight face. Then he simpers his winsome, sterile simper. “They both have cars.”

Kyeongsu shuts his mouth.

 

 

 

 

Chen is not mad at him. Kyeongsu doesn’t feel a crumb of animosity from him.

Instead, Chen’s forearm grazes by his now as they walk through the corridors. His smile is softened, devoid of any trace of the asperity of boss/employee relationship, of the mild distance of camaraderie. When he orders Kyeongsu around, there is a gentleness to it, the ends filed down of sharpness.

Kyeongsu doesn’t know what this is. It could be that he’s mocking him. Could be that he’s forcing himself to be overly nice, and this is a manifestation of repressed spite.

As of now, he’s sieged by love and tugged in too many directions. All Kyeongsu hopes is that, when he snaps, it won’t splatter on anyone.

 

 

 

“Whoa,” says Baekhyeon in wonder, looking left to right, “how did I end up here again?”

Kyeongsu will probably never get used to seeing Baekhyeon framed by his hallway, stained plaster behind him and a radiance to the havoc of his hair.

“I think you came here,” Kyeongsu replies. Before this, the last thing he’s heard from Baekhyeon was his groan as he came. Baekhyeon is peering at him with his usual deviousness, usual cheer, and it’s if that never took place at all.

“Oh,” Baekhyeon gapes, still in character. “That might be it.”

“Might be.”

Baekhyeon grins, huffs then, and lifts up the bag he is holding. “I brought food.”

“You may enter then.” Kyeongsu steps aside, lets him in, and takes the bag. He looks in it. “You brought ingredients.”

“Well, yes.” Jaunty, everything about him. Kyeongsu’s sure it wasn’t so sunny outside a minute ago. “Your cooking talent is that exceptional.”

“Flattery gets you fed often, Boss-nim?” Kyeongsu asks, already in search for the only dukkaebi he owns. He figured out what Baekhyeon wants immediately after he saw the sweet potato and the watercress.

“This is a premiere actually. Can’t believe it’s working.”

“Me neither.”

 

 

 

 

He’s as boisterous this time around as he dips his spoon into the bowl, taking the mouthful without even bowing on it. It’s merely a heap goguma-bap and he praises it like it’s the finest dish in the whole entire world. Kyeongsu puts a slice of green pepper on his third spoonful. Baekhyeon dislikes spice. This one has none, only the taste of freshness.

Kyeongsu is accustomed to making enough for three people. He’s been working on the portions, but still, he miscalculates often, making too little for himself, too much, not exactly for two meals but not for just one either, then sometimes, exactly for two. Kyeongsu never liked eating alone.

Baekhyeon’s legs are hitting his under the narrow table, grazing Kyeongsu’s calves. The floor is cold, and Kyeongsu doesn’t have another pair of slippers and Baekhyeon is only wearing socks, so he has his toes hooked on the spindle of Kyeongsu’s chair. Kyeongsu grins into his rice. It’s from the stupid face Baekhyeon makes as he yet again manages to burn his tongue. Definitely.

 

 

 

There is a single thing left to do before Kyeongsu can get dressed to go to work. He doesn’t remember where he’s left the small shaver, so he does two rounds around the house, bumping into Baekhyeon each time. It’s inevitable at how tight the place is.

He finds it, and hastily slathers a thin layer of gel on the edges of his eyebrows. He bends to glare into the mirror.

A second later, Baekhyeon bursts into laughter. Kyeongsu startles and nearly drops the blade. “Dae told you to do this?”

“Yes.”

“He was fucking with you, oh my god.” He’s still laughing, his whole body getting into it. “He did this to a few more people.”

Kyeongsu has no time to wash his face off the bemusement before Baekhyeon is coming towards him. The bathroom seems to squeeze them together, the walls, the crappy light, the closed air.

“Give me, I’ll do it for you, since it’s my fault for not training my husband properly.”

He takes it away. And then he comes near enough to study it. Kyeongsu has just the right amount of farsightedness to make this process difficult, since it’s a task that requires some precision. Baekhyeon’s hand is on his face, cold too, moving his head to tip backward, for light to pelt bright on his forehead. The other occasion Baekhyeon’s hand was on his face like this was-

“Done!” Baekhyeon declares, squinting, measuring. He’s so close, the triumph puffs sweet on Kyeongsu’s skin. Up close, his lips are smooth. His lips are always smooth and covered in some sort of balm, hydrated, unlike Kyeongsu’s, Chen’s, that are always sporting a crack or two. Kyeongsu wants to touch them.

Baekhyeon ruffles his hair, then cards it backward, away from his eyes. “We can go now.”

 

 

 

“Namsan Tower,” instructs Chen absently. He’s typing on his phone.

It’s Sunday evening. Chen slept the night at the office.

“In the vicinity or the restaurant?”

“Restaurant. There’s another bratty baby chaebol nagging me.” His face doesn’t, but his words tighten with annoyance.

Kyeongsu locks his seatbelt, turns on the engine. The car doesn’t move.

“How about I take you home?” dares Kyeongsu.

Baekhyeon’s voice was really bad today from a sore throat, so he stayed home. There is a movie he kept saying he wants to watch with Chen. Baekhyeon attempted to text him the trailer of it, line by line, along with stickers and sound effects.

He knows he is loved, but he doesn’t feel so. It’s a maddening combination.

“Namsan Tower, Kyeongsu,” Chen sighs, tired and dry.

 

 

 

Kyeongsu himself falls asleep in the car while waiting for him. He blearily wakes at the sound of a honk, and Chen is already back. Kyeongsu wants to inquire why he didn’t awake him as soon as he returned. It’s not an answer he feels like hearing.

Chen doesn’t say much, probably exhausted from all the palaver. Kyeongsu takes him home, where nobody will be up waiting for him anymore.

 

 

 

Chanyeol grabs onto his arm and keeps him seated.

“Stay with me,” he whispers, wide eyed and melodramatic. There is a triad of novices occupying a table and hell might break loose any time now. It’s pretty much mind-numbing babysitting.

Kyeongsu has some mercy and sits back down. Chanyeol smiles, triumphant, and slides a glass of orange juice towards him. It’s settled into comfort between them now, after he’s seen Chanyeol’s face in so many states, freshly woken, maimed by pillow lines, and his mouth full with food and him nearly black-out drunk when he gets cuddly and sticky. They’ve had lunch together countless times.

He’s narrating in a commentator fashion the happenings unfolding at the table in Kyeongsu’s ear when he gets a text from Baekhyeon. This week’s special transcended back into words. Just one actually.

come

No termination, no politeness, raw and needy and it’s so easy for Kyeongsu to imagine Baekhyeon whining that out. He smiles, he laughs even, for it was never so vivid, so easy to imagine this, as if he’s saying it right into Kyeongsu’s face.

Too late, he notices Chanyeol surveying him. He can never hide a thing - his eyes are too big, too expressive, yet nothing was truly decipherable in them.

Chanyeol doesn’t ask him anything, but he keeps looking. It’s a kind of care, to not voice it, let it remain in the confines of Kyeongsu’s chest.

“I don’t,” he begins, but he loses the courage. “I’m not a homewrecker,” he settles on. He hopes so, hopes so much that he really isn’t. Before it leavened to this, he said he can be the bystander of this idyll, will just think about it while on the bus, and forget it once someone else smiles at him. It doesn’t happen so though. It grips him tight and doesn’t let go.

Chanyeol smiles, finally an admittance. His heart is so soft, and he gives his all to his friendships. Perhaps he needs this so much, needs for Kyeongsu to confide into him, to know that this is not some unrequited friendship.

“I don’t think you’re wrecking anything,” he says, still in the commentator tone.

Candour, candour is something that Chanyeol can never ever fake.

Kyeongsu titters, animation frizzing up within his thorax.

Chanyeol continues his narration and doesn’t let Kyeongsu go until he’s snorting the juice through his nose from laughter.

 

 

He finds Baekhyeon quite drunk. He must have lingered by the bar, tasting some of his own concoctions.

“Kyeongsaeng,” he drawls, the last syllable of it dying in his throat. He swallows. “I let someone touch me tonight.”

Kyeongsu doesn’t brake in time and passes on red. The car lurches to a stop deep into the intersection. He’s reprimanded with a few honks.

“She bought me a drink, put a hand on my thigh, bent over a bit so I could see down her shirt,” he relies in the same dragged manner. “It felt good. Being wanted. That’s why I let her.”

 They’re in front of the Tower Palace when Baekhyeon speaks again. “It was a woman. I like women too, you know.”

His hand falls on his leg, glissades down, inmost. It seems impersonal, unmeaning. Probably where she’s touched him.

“Dae would never even think of touching a woman. This hurts him. I know it hurts him. Being a woman is the only thing he could never be for me.”

Shame. Shame is a sight so ugly, so devastating on Baekhyeon.

He peers at Kyeongsu though his dark lashes. The sheen of moisture over his pupils catches all the light. He’s asking Kyeongsu to agree with him, to agree to his shame.

“Let’s get you up.”

 

 

 

They go inside - the windows are open and it’s cold. Smells of deep night and the drifting particles of urban turmoil. He lumbers with Baekhyeon into the kitchen, searching for some water for him when he seems to lose balance, or the hold of his spine, and comes crashing softly into Kyeongsu’s chest. He lurches from the collision, until he comes to a stop shoulder-to-shoulder, thigh-to-thigh with Kyeongsu. His head turns. The peak of his chin is illuminated.

“Do you think I’m hot, Kyeongsu?” he asks, warmth on Kyeongsu’s skin. If he turns his head, if he looks at Baekhyeon, his lips will touch the skin. So he looks ahead, stares ahead and wills his legs to support him, to not give up on him now. “Mmm?” a hum, seeking the inlet to a hymn. “At least that I’m pretty?”

Babbles, fraught with yearning, all puffed with a sting onto Kyeongsu’s skin. He’s so close that he can taste it on his lips too, mixed with something uniquely Baekhyeon.

His hand wanders up, touches right under Kyeongsu’s chin, the middle and the index, and presses. It’s different from when Chen did it. It’s more elegant, gentler, and now Kyeongsu doesn’t fear the intent - he can’t be searching to crush his windpipe. Kyeongsu is forced to look into Baekhyeon’s eyes and he recognizes it at once - Baekhyeon’s not drunk. His eyes are serene and dark and lined with shimmer. “Do you like me?”

Caught. Just caught. When enunciated like this. He doesn’t reply. He stares and stares, at the vulnerability draped all over Baekhyeon’s face. Ticks and ticks, the roar of a running ambulance from down below. “I really hope you do,” he mutters, the link of their gazes breaking as his head falls, tugged by despondency.

This is what breaks Kyeongsu, what makes him step even closer, and tilt his head just right. It starts with a modicum—the bridge of his lower lip against the point of Baekhyeon’s cupid’s bow—the delicate press of skin. There is no way to escape this. He’s swallowed the key right after he entered and locked the door, damning himself to a play of joy or dissolution. The water bottle drops from his hand, his hand frozen from it, and when it comes along Baekhyeon’s nape, he shies away, a fraction, comes even closer and opens his mouth, the lodging of his lip between Kyeongsu’s even deeper, so Kyeongsu can suckle on the whole, smooth distension of it.

It’s not just weight this time, this time it is intentional, the press of Baekhyeon into him, one arm looping around Kyeongsu’s waist as he turns them around, coming with his lower back to the counter. The shape of Baekhyeon’s lips, felt like this, with his own, covetous and stained by the speed and discoordination that comes with too much eagerness, too much want. The arrest of Baekhyeon’s teeth on his lower lip, barely there, barely closing, and the timid sweep of his tongue over the taken flesh, and Kyeongsu moans, revels in it all.

Baekhyeon let’s go. The grab of his fingers, now Kyeongsu feels, bruises over his shoulder. His mouth is stung and wet and far, far from satisfied.

His palm moves down Baekhyeon’s back, feeling the valley, and then coming to rest on the curve of his hip. He’s warm and solid, right here, a real presence. Not some mirage his loneliness came up with. Here is Baekhyeon, in his hold, for real, demanding to be desired.

Kyeongsu intends to search his eyes, intends, but when he looks higher up, all he sees is the umbra of his lashes on his cheeks. He’s looking down, at where Kyeongsu is breathing over his lips, keeping them moist. It lifts, suddenly, right at Kyeongsu, and it’s too close, way too close to be comfortable for eye contact, but it also suffices, just this flash of smoulder vitrifying the brown of his eyes.

“More,” Kyeongsu whispers, a beg ripped by his breaths escaping out of him, and Baekhyeon, so fast, complies, bends to take Kyeongsu’s mouth, his body in his arms too. All the kisses string into one sequence, one touch, harsh and wanton as they round the entire kitchen, splay onto every surface. Things fall, some fabric rips, and their teeth clack as they alternate between who dominates and who relents. Until, at last, they fight together, a kiss of an unimaginable depth, soaring beyond the meaning of two pairs of lips crashing. Their bodies twining, each chasm completed by the other’s presence.

It all comes to a halt, a jarring standstill, when Kyeongsu moves to unbutton Baekhyeon’s shirt to gain more access to his neck, to earn more of the purrs that he offers in exchange of Kyeongsu’s licks over the length of his throat.

He doesn’t push him away, doesn’t push himself away. He just stops. It’s loud, surprisingly so, the slide of his curled hand from Kyeongsu’s collar down his front. Rough fabric and overheated skin. A saw cutting through bone.

“That felt amazing,” Baekhyeon whispers, vowel lost in frenetic pants, the dents of Kyeongsu’s teeth left on his lips. He brings his pointer finger to touch them. It presses, and merlot spills around it. “Felt so good. My heart is beating so fast.” The palm slides down, taps there. One of the buttons is nearly slipping through. The skin looks smooth underneath. Kyeongsu was so close to touching it, to feeling this rapid heartbeat Baekhyeon is talking about.

He opens his eyes, pupils narrowing slowly, as though he is forcing himself to dissipate the syrupy spell. “Feels just as good as when Dae does this to me.” A laugh, hollow. “Not that he does it often now. Maybe once a week?” His head shakes. His hair so well gelled that it barely moves. It is strained, taut. The words are hurting him.

He’s hopped onto the table, Kyeongsu between his legs. His knees part from Kyeongsu’s waist, breaking contact. His hand gently comes to comb away the strands falling into Kyeongsu’s eyes. All the lights behind him are off, just this one from the kitchen still on, and he has no idea how he looks, if he really is as wrecked as he feels, but Baekhyeon is still carding his fingers through his hair, his breathing still awry, and his lips a tumid, scarlet mess.

“You’re beautiful,” he says then, his scrutiny scalding over Kyeongsu. “Dae thinks so too. If only he saw you like this.” A smile, stretched until before it shows teeth.

From his hair, his palms sweep over the skin down, until they rest around his neck, and there is enough pressure, and it’s impossible, impossible for Baekhyeon to not feel his frenzied heartbeat. A small nod, his smile catching a little more curve, the point of his canine showing. “It’s not fair though, that only I get to see you like this.” The touches drop. Baekhyeon’s hands retract to himself and into his lap - he’s hard as fuck, the curl of his bulge confined by the seam of his tight pants. Absently, tenderly, his thumb reaches over to rub at the band on his ring finger. Suddenly, it seems as though the whole world goes black and white and the only glow, the only colour left it the overt blue of the sapphires. “It’s really not fair.”

“Will it be?” This isn’t his voice. Just a raw little imploration. “Fair?”

What this means, what Baekhyeon understands, clear as day now, is that he wants to be in, wants to be part of this, explicit. This seems to satisfy Baekhyeon to no end, so much that he cannot even smile, his whole face twisting, overwhelmed. He nods then, doesn’t say more, but holds Kyeongsu’s gaze in earnest.

“It’s late,” he smiles then, warm and stupidly polite, like the one he flings Kyeongsu in the rear view mirror after he plops himself in the backseat. “You should go home. You must be tired.”

Kyeongsu opens his mouth, ready to retort, that he’s anything but tired, with so much life coursing through him. Baekhyeon’s gaze falls to the underside of Kyeongsu’s face. Then he gulps, the roll of his throat smooth- his Adam’s Apple doesn’t protrude at all, and if he squints, Kyeongsu can see the shyest tint of red left on the skin there, the panoply of wet patches where his kisses have been.

Kyeongsu doesn’t trust his mouth, nor his hands, for he sees the residual want all over Baekhyeon, all beautiful and, and he might reach out, step off the high, narrow ledge of the border and collapse into blissful chaos. Ruin this all.

It’s- it’s unendurable. Kyeongsu bows and leaves.

 

 

 

He wants to believe that he really, truly hasn’t wrecked anything.

The days pass the same, as if nothing is wrong. Kyeongsu clings to the delusion.

 

 

 

Chanyeol twirls around with the bottles and the glasses as he fills them, mixing the drinks. He only puts on such a show when he’s mildly bored.

Kyeongsu perches on a stool at the bar, eyes on the remaining little spy from that sly ring. They pose no harm now, it’s merely fun to observe them attempting to be sneaky, “undercover”.

The night is lazy too, games sparse and the bets slim. The new instrumentalists on the stage are quite skilled.

“It’s really not that much, you know?” Chanyeol speaks, putting a glass of something neon coloured in front of him. Kyeongsu reaches to take the tiniest sip to check for traces of alcohol. It’s the one thing he cannot trust Chanyeol with.

“It’s clean,” he says, as if offended. Then he settles right in front of Kyeongsu, only the ledge of the bar between them.

Kyeongsu takes a more daring sip. It’s sour, sweet, coconut-y and a little fizzy. “So, what’s not much?”

“If we put in half a billion each, it really isn’t much at all. Suho gets as much pocket money per week,” Chanyeol says.

Kyeongsu freezes, emmarbled. He thought this was not something so easily discovered.

Chanyeol is looking at him kindly, composed. He wants to help.

“If you didn’t notice, Suho is rich as fuck. We’re rich too, kinda, without the ‘as fuck’ part.” A laugh, gruff and pretty fills a jiffy. “We won’t even lend it to you, but give. You won’t owe us anything.”

Kyeongsu stares, overwhelmed. He’s witnessed Suho’s generosity first-hand after all. He’s so goddamn tempted to say yes, of course, take it and get rid of this constraint. He’s thought of asking, of begging for money. It’s not that hard to kneel, not that hard to break down, not when despair incessantly pelts over him.

He takes another sip. It’s lost all taste. “I’ve thought of murder,” he says. To confess to such a grave thing while the low din of a viola wings through the air, it makes it not so bad, nearly fitting. The air here must’ve heard a lot. “If I kill them, there is no one to be indebted to. Just two people, scare another five. I even thought of methods, how to cover it up. Shoot a bullet through their chest, make it seem as though one drunk enemy did it. It’s so easy to get a hand on a firearm in the port. Push them to drown -  I know for a fact this boss has a water phobia.” At this Kyeongsu actually finds it in himself to laugh. He laughed then too, when he was 19 and climbed the ladder of the crane for the first time, and the watchman shouted this fact to him. “Poison. Poison is pretty easy too. Everyone eats.” It would be disguised best with fish. “Stick a foot in front of their path, trip, crack their skull on the ground. Most people would laugh at this death before crying.”

Chanyeol’s gaze doesn’t waver, it’s steady and attentive. Elseways, his face if blank, not a smidgen of tension on it. It’s better, way better than he expected - perhaps more than disgust, perhaps outright fear to receive in response to this.

“Then I’ve also thought of going out into the ocean and looking for the fucking containers or die trying.” Kyeongsu knows how to swim, how to dive. By the same expertise he would know how to drown himself as swift as possible. “But killing would free me of one thing and charge me with another. Same as taking money from you would, even though you won’t be coveting my kidneys on a daily basis.”

It is all the result of duress, elbow after elbow jabbing between his ribs while their hands pose around the necks of the people dearest to him. There is no choice to even make. It has been all decided by his mistake long ago.

“So no.” Chanyeol’s lips purse, tugging down at the corners. It’s a comical expression, just pure acceptance blending with some faint resignation.

“Shall I make you another one of these?” are his words, eyes pointing to the glass in front of Kyeongsu. It’s nearly finished. Kyeongsu hasn’t even noticed.

He grins at Chanyeol instead of replying, and it seems to be wide and genuine enough to wipe away the scum of the previous discussion.

 

 

 

 

It’s a hoesik bigger than all the others, everyone gathering, down to the people who are left behind to wipe the ashes left on the tables at the end of the night. Kyeongsu meets around thirty people and forgets their names one-by-one after each of his sips of beer. He doesn’t need to introduce himself. He’s already known as Kyeongsaeng, and something about him being Chen’s shadow or some remote body part.

Kyeongsu sees him everywhere. On top of tables along with the people who have climbed to dance there, or turning vegetables on the grill for the guards lining a booth, singing a little duet with the girls from finances at the mic. He’s happy, Kyeongsu can tell. Which means he’s not even whiffed a skerrick of liquor.

Kai jumps from behind a plant—probably even he doesn’t know what he was doing there—and regains his footing as he raises before he runs towards Chen shouting “Dad! Dad! Dad!” in various levels of whininess. He takes Chen clumsily into his embrace, grinning tipsily down at him. The height difference makes the interaction kind of ludicrous.  

They waltz together. The song playing on the system is a trap hip hop thing and neither of them know how to waltz but their feet tangle carefully and they are serious enough in their attempt to kind of pull it off. Someone throws a shoe at them at the end of the performance, when Chen drops Kai from where he has him bent over sensually on his arm. Chanyeol throws a piece of lettuce because that’s what he had at hand. Kyeongsu claps too.

He’s a great boss, Kyeongsu thinks, not for the first time. Not for the twentieth. He fell for him around the fifth maybe? Kyeongsu asks his glass. Beer is a great listener. Not very good at giving answers.

He stays a bit more, up until he tires making sure he’s as far away from Chen as possible. Out, it’s cold, too cold, and Kyeongsu allows himself to shiver for a few gulps before he goes to the car. He’s got no intention to drive, so he crawls in the back.

Kyeongsu blinks, trying either to wipe away the mud of buzz of the beer or to coax himself into a short nap. He’s on the cusp of neither in the end, half an hour later, when the door opens and Chen slides beside him.

He doesn’t say a thing, but Kyeongsu’s composure shatters to pieces. He smells of coldness, fresh.

“Should I call you dad too?”

They’re in this little box on wheels. Where did the outside world go? Where did Kyeongsu’s filter go?

“This mafia is yours. Just like me. Shall I call you dad too?”

Chen hums. He rarely hums. Must be a fragment of a chorus that stuck in his head from inside. It speaks of nervousness.

“If that’s your kink.”

It’s not. Or it might be. Kyeongsu doesn’t really know his kinks. Seems like a form of pickiness.

“Do you think he’s asleep?” Kyeongsu blurts. Easier for his thoughts to do a 180 than stew in stagnation. He’s wearing something comfortable, nothing around his windpipe, but there is still a stutter.

It’s been a handful of nights since he’s kissed Baekhyeon. The bar is closed for a few days for  some minor renovations, and so, he hasn’t seen him. Baekhyeon hasn’t texted him either.

He feels Chen’s eyes on the side of his head - the temples, where he is most vulnerable. “Who?”

“Your love,” Kyeongsu replies. It’s drawn out, not by drunkenness, but by jealousy, by confusion. Asperity.

“Probably not,” Chen says after a long pause. “He hates cold beds.”

“I hate them too,” Kyeongsu blabs, a jerk response.

What he gets in reply is the sound of fabric sliding on ridges of leather, a scratch similar to the winds of oncoming storms, then into view comes Chen’s thigh. The outline of it is defined, even squished under its own weight. It comes closer, up until it is pressed with Kyeongsu’s entirely. Hs arm rounds Kyeongsu’s shoulders, the left one, the bent of his elbow lax on the slope. His palm then falls on Kyeongsu’s head, dead weight, but gentle as it has Kyeongsu’s head slotting into the crook of Chen’s neck. Even through all the smoke and food smell, he still distinguishes that smell of them, and he has to revel into it, has to capsize.

He feels the poke of Chen’s nose into his hair. Everything about him is so soft, so beautiful too, from the happiness the night brought him, or from whatever this proximity makes him feel. “I hate them too,” he says belatedly, there. His grasp tightens, bringing Kyeongsu closer. He doesn’t know how he is so obedient, to his own desire, to what Chen is instigating, maybe he’s at the end of his strengths, and Chen is just so alluring in his frankness.

“You’re afraid of me, aren’t you,” Chen says, dispirited.  The hand moves, passes through the strands of Kyeongsu’s hair. It’s long now. “Isn’t this why you’ve been avoiding me?” It rings strained, and also like a confession, like he knows and Kyeongsu freezes, his heart hammering sloppily in his chest.

“Because you kissed him?”

He speaks as if he’s drunk. He crushes Kyeongsu as if it is power what he’s drunk on.

“Don’t be afraid.”

Then the movement continues, insists, pets Kyeongsu until he relaxes. His presence is comforting in itself, too sturdy and too lenient.

His hand comes to touch Chen, his chest, over the clothes, only with fingertips. The firmness of the flesh is barely distinguishable through the layer of clothes, but it is there, solid. He reaches the nape, over the opened collar, and he stops there, cupping and rubbing hesitantly. The skin is smooth, up until it meets the short hairs. Kyeongsu teases these, climbs until the strands are long enough for his fingers to tangle. It’s repetitive and absent-minded. And he gets actually warm and it’s such a simple, basic thing, this warmth, and he’s been wanting it so bad.

He lifts his head, only a fraction, and looks up. Chen’s gaze is already questioning his own. A second on his eyes, then lower. Then it stays there, rests obsessively on Kyeongsu’s lips. His eyes are lowered enough for his eyelashes to fan under his eyes, in the faint light coming from the street lamp and through the window. It looks ethereal, illusory, a patch of craquelure.

His fingers contract on Chen’s nape. The flesh dips. He’s tugging him forward, Kyeongsu realizes, but he doesn’t dare to take it further, to close the-

Chen’s lips are on his. Soft, dry, amazing. He parts away, allows for Kyeongsu’s mouth to register it, crave it, before he comes back to reclaim Kyeongsu’s lips and caress them.

He’s angled delicately by the hand Chen has encompassed around his face, to bring him closer, make their mouths get to the wetness. Kyeongsu mirrors it, for he wants closer, he wants faster too. There is the dulled stink of alcohol between them, and now the one of drying spit, the vigour coming with dwindling drunkenness. And relief, so much relief in having intimacy after being bereft of it.

Kyeongsu finds, unlike with Baekhyeon, Chen cedes, Chen lets him nearly corner him, make him small as he leads the kiss, has his way with him. He whimpers at some point, the first one to make a sound, and Kyeongsu’s hand tightens impossibly over where he’s grasping his shoulder, arousal singeing down his spine.

The roil of pleasure makes Kyeongsu stretch, throw one leg over Chen and settle into his lap and dredge the kiss until he’s sure he’s taking a part of Chen with him. Their hands slide together, and Kyeongsu is hit with the ring, gets to finally feel it. The edges are smoother, but still the stones scratch. His fingers, his palm keeps rubbing at it, keeps seeking to harm itself, all the while he has Chen’s tongue under his rule.

They part for air, a necessity apparently. Kyeongsu gets to see what Chen looks like after being well-kissed. The increscence of his lower lip, bitten over into a cherry ruin. He’s breathless, his clothes wrinkled, his gaze abysmal, aflame. Two pink lines are on his neck, scribbled by Kyeongsu’s nails.

All these times, he’s seen what he looks like after Baekhyeon has his way with him, the same smears of reds, the same gloom of desire over him, the same neediness, but this is the slightest bit different. This is what pleasure given by Kyeongsu looks on him.

“What I’m afraid of,” he says, because it is only now evident to him, “is that he only kissed me because he misses you. That you only kissed me because you miss him.”

He’s drunk after all. Kyeongsu tastes it. It was fresh too. Could’ve been a shot he grabbed on the way out of the party. As much as he hates it, Chen procures courage from alcohol all the same.

“That you’d only want me when you’re drunk.”

Chen grimaces. Kyeongsu feels the pull of it under his hands. His face remains elegant even like this, even when taut with umbrage, symmetrical and polished. Kyeongsu already wants to pet his frown away.

“Not true,” he says. “It’s really not like that.”

He has both arms around Kyeongsu’s waist, overlapping, locking. Kyeongsu cannot go anywhere. Chen blinks at him, gentle sincerity shining in his eyes. “We’re not playing with you. You don’t deserve that. It’s just,” he runs out of air, not out of words. “Maybe we are a little afraid too.”

He grins then, that one where the corners of his mouth are so twirled, the seam of his lips becoming this cartoon-grade expression. It’s asking for understanding.

Kyeongsu dips and presses a kiss to it, gratifies it, so it smoothens out in something less burlesque. “Don’t leave him cold too much,” Kyeongsu says, because Baekhyeon is part of this too.

Chen reaches for his lips, captures them, coaxes Kyeongsu’s to move, then lets him conduct. His style of kissing is fairly querulous. He looks to rile up, then back off, just as a means to get some force, domination to weave into the Kyeongsu’s handling of him. He hasn’t noticed this behaviour previously, when he’s seen him entangled with Baekhyeon, this little ladder he enjoys arranging them on. Chen wants to submit. This is as unexpected as it is beguiling.

“I won’t,” his vow tumbles when Kyeongsu permits him, “I won’t.”

“Take care of him?” and this time Kyeongsu bites, this time, the swell of it is at the mercy of Kyeongsu’s teeth, a warning nearly, and Chen nearabout crumbles.

“I’ll take care of him.”

Kyeongsu kisses him until he can’t moan anymore, losing coherency on that too, only by being rough.

Then Chen embraces him. He’s held, truly held. Kyeongsu hasn’t realized he’s been falling apart all this while until Chen gathers him together.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu pulls over in front of Chen’s building. He’s talking into the phone, something with a lot of listening and snippy answers. He checks the clock - it’s a few minutes until Baekhyeon shows up.

He sees him jogging over then, a thick scarf around his neck, but his coat open. He bursts into the car with a smile and the zing of winter. His conversation ends at the same time, the throw of Chen’s phone quite loud on the seat. He has likely hung up, no adieu, no courtesy, to immediately slide over and poke his head through the space between the two front seats.

He presents his cheek to Baekhyeon and taps it. Baekhyeon, twittering, wrinkles his nose then stretches to poke the tip of it in the allotted spot on Chen’s cheek.

Chen yelps. “Told you to bundle up properly.”

Baekhyeon whines, and rubs his nose. The squelch of a little kiss, probably planted right there.

Kyeongsu bites a smile, shifts, and unlocks his seatbelt.

All the dates, the ones that didn’t get cancelled, had Kyeongsu delivering Chen at the destination, then getting out, handing off the key, and going home. Per routine, he prepares to do just that, raising a bit from the seat to twist and bid his farewell.

As he faces Chen, he finds it with an expression so deadpan it’s ridiculous. “You’re not going anywhere,” he blurts after a few blinks, only punctuated by Baekhyeon’s short sniffles. It is his bossy voice.

“Yeah. You’re coming with us,” Baekhyeon says, equally flat.

It takes a few counts for Kyeongsu to process it. Both pairs of eyes on him, and he flusters from that he finds - the both of them blinking lazily, lips formed into a soft, natural pout. With reluctance, he settles back into the seat, tugging his seatbelt on.

“Where to?”

“The Ministop,” provides Chen. Kyeongsu knows what Ministop he’s talking about.

He’s slightly lost actually, since he’s only been all the way there once, and now, since the end of the year isn’t all that far away, the city is full of decorations and colourful lights. It looks nothing like it did then.

Chen picks his phone up with a hiss, and starts speaking, boisterous and flattering, while Baekhyeon is looking out the window.

Kyeongsu’s right hand is still cold. He’s been outside for a long time, looking over the perimeter of Hall One for a specific guest that is very unwelcome. Even though in the car it is  warm, his fingertips are still prickling, still cold. He takes if off the wheel once the road ahead is straight, and curls it in his lap, clenches it rhythmically into a fist. It still doesn't lessen, and then he searches to put it in front of the fan of the air conditioner, reaching for it.  It’s green light and the curve is tight - and then a touch to it, his fingers, his palm, Baekhyeon’s hand under it. It’s warm, actually warm, and Kyeongsu startles, the steering wheel tugging a fraction from his grip. He regains it a few seconds later, when he affords to look over and catch half of Baekhyeon’s smile.

He lowers it on the armrest, Baekhyeon still clasping his hand as it slides lower and then softly kneads his fingers. His skin is smooth, and the slight scratches of his nails tickle.

A moment of confusion overtakes him when he glances at the narrow, steep street ahead and it sort of looks like all the narrow steep streets of Seoul, but then a squeeze if offered to him, a little pat of the thumb on the pat on the back of his hand. So it’s the right street.

Chen’s call ends with a little sigh. Then the tune of the phone being turned off. He pokes his head again in the front. His hair brushes by Kyeongsu’s temple on the way. He growls, this fragmented, breathless sound from his throat. “You bundle up too, goddamn.”

Kyeongsu condones himself a chuckle. Joy. “Yes, boss.”

Soon, they’re there, in front of the Ministop. Baekhyeon is the first one to get out. He rounds the car, quick on his feet, and opens both the driver’s and the back door, making a little grand gesture as he urges them out. Kyeongsu’s never received such decors.

A plastic table and plastic chairs are still outside, but they pass right by them, and instead get into the shop. Not even a few steps in, Baekhyeon is already throwing bullshit into both their arms.

Then they’re seated at one of the two little tables at the back of the shop. The first thing Chen does is gulp down his coffee can. The ramyeon is not even done yet.

“You always do this?” Kyeongsu asks after he’s full. Hunger makes him quiet. But being sated, his blood sodden with salt and everything bad for him, he can allow himself some room.

Chen steals the chopsticks from Baekhyeon’s hand to reach and pluck a chip and plop it in his mouth. Then he returns the chopsticks.

“No,” Baekhyeon provides even though his mouth is full and there is black sauce around it. It’s not really funny, but Kyeongsu still laughs.

“Our next date isn’t going to be a health hazard,” says Chen, opening a bottle of flavoured water and putting it in front of Baekhyeon.

But he said our and it was somewhat brusque, laden. Kyeongsu’s throat locks. “Our?”

“Date.” Baekhyeon. The English pronunciation, not the Engrish one, his puppy eyes fluttering at him.

“I thought…I thought maybe you just wanted to drink, not that this is a…” Kyeongsu’s mouth clamps shut. He can feel the widening of his eyes. The vertigo of confusion, of disbelief reels through him.

Chen begins chuckling first, then Baekhyeon follows. “You’re so cute, oh my God,” Baekhyeon melts right into Chen, and Chen melts right into him, falling together into a puddle of laughter. Kyeongsu wants to dip himself into them.

“Uhm,” he starts, but then, suddenly, he’s smiling too wide for whatever words might have come to him to be spoken. He’s smiling, grinning. This too, he senses, is a smile at its fullest. Kyeongsu really doesn’t think he’s ever smiled this hard.

His hands come to cup them, to pinch them, the muscle cramping the slightest bit.

“I wasn’t asked,” he still mumbles from between his hands.

Chen perks up, then sharply turns to Baekhyeon. “I thought you asked him.”

“I thought you asked him.”

“I’m his boss, if I asked him maybe he took it like an order or something.”

“Then why didn’t you say you didn’t ask?”

“Cause I thought you asked!”

“But I didn’t ask.”

It’s rapid-fire, a dizzying succession of higher and higher remarks as their faces get closer and closer together. Kyeongsu’s sure he’s never seen Chen’s eyebrows so riled up.

But he is so content now. This is bickering, real bickering. He’s comfortable with both of them, has seen both of them with their guards down, but like this, huddled into a bubble of utmost comfort, he’s never seen. And it’s great. Really great. Homey. Peppy.

To Kyeongsu, their relationship feels nearly dysfunctional at times. Anguish here and there, more silence than fights - which is even worse. But then they’d be together, actually in each other’s presence, and it was always as though the storm didn’t even come. It’s clear now, that the seed of it all was simple absence. Simple longing. The way they fit together makes it so stark how they’re incomplete without one another.

And if there’s one thing he’s learned from Baekhyeon all this while, is that there is no reason to take living so seriously. It’ll be over in a blink anyway.

So he leans back, watches the banter that is now getting kind of violent, with finger jabs at tummies, and speaks over them. “You can ask me now.”

Baekhyeon, who was well in his way to strangling the biggest gambling boss in existence, stops. “Oh,” he breathes.

Chen’s mouth just forms the word, but he doesn’t say it. They are both a little out of breath.

A look goes back and forth between them, then a purse of lips, a nod.

“Do you want to go out with us?” they say, in actual unison, Baekhyeon’s voice a little ahead from eagerness. They both stare at him in earnest, still semi-tangled in the poor plastic chairs.

It would really hurt like a bitch for him to smile again, especially after he’s barely made the other one go down. He fights tooth and nail to keep it from spreading on his face. Then. “I’ll think about it.”

The melting of their expression is slow, lazy for a few counts, then it downright collapses. It looks so bad, distorted.

Baekhyeon is the first to recover. “I’ll attempt to bribe you with sausages now, ok? We need that answer,” he mumbles, getting up and wandering through the aisles.

He remains with Chen, who is confused more than anything. Unsure.

It’s not like Kyeongsu said no.

Baekhyeon is back soon enough, holding a sizeable wad of sausages and he puts them on the table in front of Kyeongsu as an offering.

“You could’ve said no if you didn’t want to come,” says Chen, staid and with some crumbs of detachment. Baekhyeon flows back into his seat, but a little straighter now.

The atmosphere is so solemn. Kyeongsu can’t believe they had as little confidence in this fitting together as he had. The wobble of fear didn’t bypass them.

“Yes, yes of course I want to date you. Yes,” Kyeongsu offers, right before the tension is close to cracking into discord.

The pair keeps staring.

“Yes,” Kyeongsu says once more, as clear as he can muster.

Then they erupt into whines, Baekhyeon throwing snacks at him while Chen tips his head back to whine more.

“Who taught you to play us like that?” Chen’s saying. “I’m sure none of my halls did.”

But he’s smiling, both of them are, and it’s to him, just about as full and wide and warm as they smile to each other. Kyeongsu likes warmth more than he likes anything.

They linger in the shop a bit more, and as he finds out, Baekhyeon is basically crazy for all these sausages, and he ends up winning most of them back from Kyeongsu as they play-rock-paper scissors for them. Chen comments how rock-paper-scissors is the only game that cannot be rigged.

When Chen yawns for the first time, smacking his lips together afterwards as he tries to blink some wakefulness into himself, Kyeongsu remembers that tomorrow it’s Saturday, and jogs over to the counter to get a lotto ticket. He brings it back to the table, to the both of them, and fills 5 columns, applying all the techniques he’s learned so far to guarantee him as many right numbers as possible. It feels like a big thing, to do this under their gazes. It’s a display of his dejection, of the pressure that he’s under.

He has one more column to fill, and as he thinks about the numbers, he finds himself chewing on his lip.

“Can’t wait for the sixth date,” Baekhyeon burst. Kyeongsu startles. Baekhyeon’s dazedly staring at him.

“What happens on the sixth date?” Chen inquires, piqued out of his somnolence.

Baekhyeon makes exaggerated kissy noises into the air, wet, puckered squelches, and Kyeongsu remembers he’s the only one who actually drank, a few tiny sips of peach soju. Enough to inebriate him. Kyeongsu isn’t the only one who laughs, Chen is doing it too.

“I like a man of principle,” Chen says, sombre. It totally seems as though he’s just said it to occupy his mouth with it instead of pouting, like Baekhyeon is doing right now.

“I don’t. I already have one man of principle. I don’t want two men of principle. That’s too many principles.”

“But not too many men,” says Kyeongsu, getting up with a tap on Chen’s hand. He’s too adorable when he’s sleepy. Kyeongsu needs to get him to bed right now.

“Not too many men,” Baekhyeon chirrups and sprints to fit between them.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu dawdles in front of his building, playing with Jongin’s dogs, just Jangga and Jjanggu. They’re both wearing cute sweaters. It’s indeed cold enough for that. Jongin is so wrapped that he’s barely visible.

“Hyeong,” he greets, muffled. It sounds like an unarticulated whine, but the thinness of it could have only been applied to one word. “Never seen you grinning like this. Your teeth will get frostbitten.” Still muffled, and Kyeongsu chuckles. His eyes are still so dopy. They could never lie. Even his intent is dormant. “Something good happened?”

The dogs crowd around his legs. Their feet might be cold.

Kyeongsu bends down to pick them up, off the frozen ground and pets them. If something good happened. It’s been countless days when it was obvious Baekhyeon felt unimportant, even unloved. And he thought, he feared, that the moment Chen paid enough attention to him again, he would be dropped, just as unneeded. He’d be demoted to just being the driver the moment Baekhyeon grinned Chen’s way. He feared that the attachment he’s built with Chen is only temporary, frivolous, and null outside of the dangerous circumstances.

Kyeongsu thought he was the placeholder, a filler, overstretched from cranny to cranny of Seoul.

But this is not the case. Kyeongsu’s smile refuses to stop ripping his face.

Two little tongues lick under his chin, and then Kyeongsu remembers to reply. “Pretty damn good.”

Jongin offers a bit of a nod, half of one, and gives up. “You’re covered in fur,” he mumbles, then yawns, envelops Jangga in his arms and turns to enter the building.

 

 

 

Soul to God. Kyeongsu is waiting for Baekhyeon. He’s out of the car - Baekhyeon’s, Lexus RX 450h, white. It still seems to carry the stench of his spilled blood from back then, when Kyeongsu needed rescue, and the weight of the revelation he had.

His phone rings. It’s that number, burned into his memory, even though he never added it to his contacts. He considers not taking it, as ever, but then who knows what this may trigger. Hence he accepts it.

The tone is different. It’s seething, the curl of a snake, and it begins by telling a minor harm that could be in his father's way on the way to work - dropped pieces from surrounding buildings. It escalates to dropped advertising signs, an astray motorcycle, someone not respecting the red light, a fire at the workplace, a fight between drunk friends that goes too far. Too much detail, too realistic, for Kyeongsu knows exactly the route his father takes every day. All of the scenarios are plausible. They could all be arranged. An accident - no one would doubt it, because no one doubts fate, no matter how staged.

The last thing he hears is, “I’ll leave you some change to get some clothes for the funeral.”

The call ends. “No, please-“ Kyeongsu chokes to no one.

It’s a placid night, blue and bright. It’s at a moment like this that Kyeongsu breaks down, shakes, all the strength leaving his body. He sags against the car, trying to get a grip on himself. He doesn’t manage.

He may be hearing something, melodious and breathless. Baekhyeon, then his worried face right there, still pretty, and then Kyeongsu clings because someone is here with him, he’s not alone, not alone, not alone, not - Baekhyeon holds him, tight to his chest, and Kyeongsu, finally, truly cries.

 

 

 

A selca of Baekhyeon has just popped up on Kyeongsu’s phone. His face is twisted in a manner that conveys nothing. There’s a tuft of hair curled over his forehead. Comma hair, Chanyeol told him it’s called. Edited on are two bubbles of pink on is cheeks and one on the tip of his nose.

Kyeongsu smiles at it.

Something drops on his table. Kyeongsu startles, then observes the object. Chen’s phone, sporting the same picture. Chen ganders back and forth between the two screens, before it crosses to Kyeongsu, so slow that his face has the chance to make up an expression before their eyes link.

This is still new and fragile and unsteady.

But Chen is really beautiful when he smiles, even when he snickers. Kyeongsu mirrors it wholeheartedly.

 

 

 

 

The halls are closed around the holidays. Logic tends to fly out the window when force fed happiness via decorations. So Kyeongsu is home.

He is nearly rapping on Jongin’s door—he knows he is alone too, her car is gone and the light is on and there is noise—when he gets a text asking him over. Kyeongsu stalls from glee.

It’s Baekhyeon, his emoticons in tow. For a heartbeat, he ponders saying no. 

He still stares at Jongin’s door. From inside, he hears the dogs yip cutely, and also Jongin’s soft laughter. The walls are paper thin after all.

Another text arrives, from Jongdae this time, and Kyeongsu swallows, his chest squeezing, squeezing taut. It seems too soon to go over at their home. At the place they’ve built together, where a marriage resides. They haven’t even had a second date. A second trial. And if there’s anything this needs, it’s trials.

By accident, a mishap, the box he’s holding drops. It’s the present for Jongin - a pair of simple gloves. She always steals his. It even fell right in the centre of the mat, as if placed there intentionally.

The decision is made.

 

 

 

 

Snowflakes have just started falling. Kyeongsu lets a few die in the palm of his hand as he waits at the bus stop. Next to him, there’s a couple sharing pecks and a scarf, a bulky purple wrapped around both their necks.

When in Busan he went on a date nearly every Christmas Eve. It was to appease his mother, to make something of a night that demanded celebration. It wasn’t bad. He went out with high school friends, but nothing foamed up from there. He ditched that act entirely after his mom caught on - there must be a reason for the fact that none of the girls, as perfect as they were, ever stuck to Kyeongsu. That played out better than expected. He didn’t have to come out. One day his mother just switched from crying about wanting a nice daughter-in-law to a nice son-in-law, seamless and casual as though it was the most trivial of things. Then he had to suffer her obnoxiously assumptive winks whenever any male colleague from school came over to their house to study.

Seoul, as he sees it through the bus window, is way more animated about it, way more remindful. It’s like the whole city is hell-bent on playing cupid. It’s not a bad sight at all.

It all crowns with him in front of the Samsung Tower Palace 3, looking up at it caressing the fallen skies. A few ribbons of hesitance are still around him. He breaks one, a step, he breaks another, one more step. And then, he’s running.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu rings the bell. The wait now feels overlong.

He misses them. He hasn’t seen Chen, hasn’t seen Baekhyeon in nearly a week, with him being the one supervising Hall Four in Kai’s absence, he went back to Canada for a while. Never has a week felt this tedious.

The tune of the bell is too cheery - it aims to drag Kyeongsu in some kind of fairytale when he’s prickled by vexation already. The door opens suddenly. Chen’s hand is on the handle, and Baekhyeon tucked underneath his other arm. They are both wearing pajamas bottoms, Baekhyeon in a nearly unbuttoned collared shirt and Chen has some wife beater on. It’s warm in their home, Kyeongsu remembers. They can sashay around disrobed like this.

They’re slightly heaving, their open smiles aiding it.

He wants to bow, and maybe that is too formal. He wants to say hi, and maybe that is too casual. Chen and Baekhyeon are still as well, staring at him with openness.

Without a word, Baekhyeon comes forward, pushes the collar of his coat away and then his hands, warm, pretty fingers, cup his cheeks. They are red, whipped by cold - the walk from the bus stop to here wasn’t so short. Feeling courses back into the flesh. It’s comfortable, alluring, and Kyeongsu leans into it.

Over Baekhyeon’s shoulder, he sees Chen still there, patient. He’s fixating on where Baekhyeon is touching him, rubbing circles on the peaks of his cheeks with his thumbs as he also drags him forward. By the time he’s to the edge of the foyer, Chen is beyond amused, and Baekhyeon is very proud of his handiwork of bringing the life back into Kyeongsu’s face.

Baekhyeon gets on his tiptoes and plants a kiss on his forehead. It stamps there with a humid, doting smack. Chen dashes right after him and puts a kiss over Baekhyeon’s on Kyeongsu’s forehead.

This is the first time they are outright affectionate with him in the presence of one another. All the tension dispels just like that, with Kyeongsu finally stepping in and in the end offers a wave, a hi, exactly Baekhyeon style with a wink thrown in there for good measure.

Baekhyeon looks at him like a proud mom, then grabs his hand and draws him in.  

The apartment has a sweet redolence, of vanilla, caramelized sugar, baked goods. There are decorations too - string of golden pearls wrapped around a few trinkets littering the shelves, then in a corner in the living room, lights spiral around a sad artificial plant that topples faintly to a side.

“Who did that?” Kyeongsu inquires, peeping at the flashing tree.

“Depends. Do you like it?” says Baekhyeon, impish. Chen is behind him, unfastening the scarf around Kyeongsu’s neck. The touches are gentle, and his fingers ghost by the skin of his nape. Then he comes in front of him, he fiddles with the buttons of Kyeongsu’s coat. For a second, he has the intention to push him away, for he’s had this coat for a while. The wool is worn, ravelled, little beads of debris sprinkled by the seams. The buttons have been resewn over and over, glaring by how the colour of the thread is mismatched. But he doesn’t. He lets Chen take it off of him. He seems to have no reaction to the state of the fabric.

“It’s…sufferable,” Kyeongsu answers, eyeing the tree again.

“Then I made it,” Baekhyeon giggles, pokes his tongue out. Chen throws the coat in his hold at his face, and he whines.

“I made it,” Chen amends, with wannabe sternness.

Kyeongsu laughs then, from happiness, from the joke of this all. It rings disparately through the air, not hollowed, not seeming to pass right through the walls here. “Okay, I like it.”

It’s not like in Busan they really did this. There were not many decorations, especially not in his home. At this time, he was lucky to maybe get the day off, and laze it away at home in pajamas. Nothing festive.

He takes a few steps ahead and looks out the window. Seoul aglow under and above him. The view is similar to one of the hotels, of the office from Hall One. Similar, but different, for behind the glass, Kyeongsu is in the company of different people. He’s relaxed this time.

He doesn’t hear it - the floors here don’t creak, when Baekhyeon jumps him, hands on his shoulder as he turns him around.

“Look at us, we’re prettier,” he kind of scolds, his grin in Kyeongsu’s face. There’s something in his hold, that he reaches over and stretches over Kyeongsu’s head. He doesn’t get to inquire what it is before he’s manhandled—rotated again—Baekhyeon is not using any force on him, it’s all nearly suggestive, light. He sees in the reflection in the window - a headband, a huge red bow on top. Beside him, Chen and Baekhyeon are wearing matching ones.

“Now we’re all each other’s present.”

Chen rolls his eyes dramatically, the action picked up by the glass in an offset triple. Even Baekhyeon cringes actually, softly so, like his face doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

“I would’ve brought something if I knew you’re into this,” Kyeongsu says. He likes the weight of the band on his head, as obnoxious as it is, and he likes it on the two of them too. But still, this could’ve been more formal.

“It’s new-ish to us too.” Chen has a hand in Baekhyeon’s hair, twisting a wisp around his ear. It has a curliness that refuses to die. Perhaps he got it permed. Chanyeol is sporting the same kind of unruliness. “Since he came back.”

Baekhyeon shies away, ever so slightly, because of the tuft of hair Chen uses to tickle Baekhyeon’s nape with.

“Where did you go?” Kyeongsu inquires. He steps ahead too, wants to do this too. And so, on the other side, he grabs several strands as well—it has a different smell, definitely permed—and glides it by the rim of Baekhyeon’s ear. He has a few very small moles there, of a lovely dusky shade.

He squirms. “United Kingdom,” a tone terribly patriotic, derisively so. “Studied music.” Then he bursts out laughing and runs away from them, clutching at his neck protectively.

Chen and Kyeongsu share a triumphant smile. Baekhyeon moues.

“So it this where you came from when…”

“Yup. I made a great impression, didn’t I?”

Kyeongsu decides not to answer that. The sight of the skin peeking from under his shredded jeans, from these damn fishnets will be forever burned in his head.

“Now that explains a thing or two.” Such as the clarity of his English pronunciation, the way his speech seems to forego any kind of hierarchy from time to time, a comfort to his display of affection, the things he prefers eating.

Something rings, shrill, and Baekhyeon jolts. “The pie!” he says and disappears into the kitchen then, exclamations left in his wake.

“Can he be trusted with that?” Kyeongsu voices. He knows about the mediocrity of Baekhyeon’s kitchen adventures from the numerous texts he sent accompanied by sad, crying faces. Kyeongsu is impressed by how someone can be so kitchen-clumsy.

“It’s the one thing he knows how to do,” Chen says. It’s softer now, as he gazes at Kyeongsu. It’s comfortable, truly comfortable. The pitch of his voice is so different from the one he uses during work hours. Now he is home, not the boss, as far away from a suit as possible. Kyeongsu never knew that maybe he’s never really heard his voice.

“Jongdae,” he finds himself saying. Two syllables, sapid in his mouth. No honorifics.

Chen smiles then, pearly whites all bared, corners of his lips quirked all the way. No room to stretch it more. “You can keep calling me that.”

“So low?”

Both Baekhyeon and Chen have five years on him. He wouldn’t have guessed with Baekhyeon, for his demeanour is so carefree - but this too, more than anything, is a sign of being grown up, and properly so. But even if Chen was younger than him, he still wouldn’t have talked to him informally.

The age gap is quite big, and Kyeongsu thinks he probably won’t ever be truly comfortable to talk down to them.

“You can talk to me, to us, however you like.”

“However I like.” There isn’t a way he thought of. But if they allow the lowering of this thin barrier.

They’re moving to the couch. It’s way bouncier than his bed at home. The rest of the apartment can be seen from this angle, everything is open, impeccable. It’s like from a magazine.

“I won this place.”

Kyeongsu’s eyebrow raises from surprise. Chen’s expression is of proudness.

“At what?”

“Baccarat. Punto Banco. The first hand.”

“You never play baccarat.”

“I did. Once. And it got me this.”

“Hopefully, Baekhyeon won’t set it on fire.”

Chen’s eyes widen mildly. He gets off the couch - the kitchen so far has been frightfully quiet. “Honey!” he shouts.

 

 

 

 

It’s all western food. Some sort of mash potatoes and a steak. A clumsy pie is cooling lazily on the counter.

Baekhyeon makes a grand gesture at the whole arrangement and begs them to pretend it’s the most delicious thing they’ve ever eaten even if it isn’t.

He didn’t need to pout so hard. It’s actually pretty good, even if the fork and the knife feel foreign in Kyeongsu’s hands. He makes sure to dump as much praise as possible on Baekhyeon. His embarrassed smile makes his cheeks dimple and that is so precious Kyeongsu cannot get enough of it.

Chen is just as dazed.

He gets extra dessert after the pie—over spiced but good—when Baekhyeon brings out a bag of marshmallows. They toast them on a chopstick, with a lighter because they don’t have a gas stove, but an electric one. They clink the chopsticks, cheer with them.

He keeps being touched. A hand on his elbow, a chest pressing to his back, a shoulder lining up with his. Kyeongsu cedes some touches of his own as the night progresses. They let him, lean into it, grinning when he does.

He wants to attribute the fluttering of his stomach to this eggnog thing Baekhyeon has made him drink. Kyeongsu cannot pronounce it without Engrish-ing the living daylights out of it, but is has some alcohol in it, and a creamy sweetness and Kyeongsu might’ve had too much of it.

Then an hour later Chen winds an arm around his waist, and Kyeongsu just about vibrates with glee, so it’s definitely not from the eggnog thing.

 

 

They don’t give him any hints as to how and when this night is supposed to end.

Chen begins yawning mid-sentence, then Baekhyeon, and they have this mini fit of yawns and lazy blinks.

This looks enough like a hint. The both of them are dressed in loungewear, while Kyeongsu has his outside clothes, the belt tight around him.

He gets up, with the intention to bow and leave.

“Where are you going?” asks Baekhyeon, catching onto Kyeongsu’s wrist. It’s not unlike the way Kyeongsu held onto him when he was determined to march into that shop for some nail clippers - the first time he’s touched Baekhyeon. He shivers. He’s grasped with purpose, with force, to keep him there.

“Home?” He’s not sure. He really isn’t sure.

“But we’re here.” Petulance maybe. The downturn of his eyes. Baekhyeon really really hates being left.

That reasoning really tugs at him, really makes him grin. Home, where he would need to pile three blankets on himself and wait for sleep to claim him. Or home here, defined by the simple fact that this is where Baekhyeon and Chen are.

“Stay,” Chen chimes in. “Really, stay.”

Kyeongsu pries his wrist away, and fast, before Baekhyeon’s face has the chance to fall, twines his fingers with Baekhyeon’s. He likes them, likes holding them, likes having them tangled with his own. It feels secure.

Chen, where he is splayed on the couch, his eyes half-mast, is peering at where their hands are joined. His expression - Kyeongsu is sure he’s wearing the same one when he’s looking at them holding hands as well, molten and content.

This is not more than assurance. The want simmers in them too, dusted with reluctance or of sheer fright for how much of a mess this can become. It’s worth the risk.

Kyeongsu stays. He gets in between them, a thigh of each thrown in his lap. It’s not him versus them anymore. He’s on the same line.

“Were you really going to leave?” asks Baekhyeon, sullen.

He’s distracted by the weight of the legs thrown over him. One thigh thinner than the other, but the curves are equally shapely. “Well, it’s a beautiful night,” he responds, monotone. It’s still snowing, flakes pudgy enough to whiten the darkness. A promenade through that doesn’t sound that bad.

Baekhyeon hits his calf with his foot. “After we wooed you so much you were going to leave because of snow.”

His intonation is flat. That’s what dejection sounds like from Baekhyeon.

Kyeongsu is prepared to disprove that, his tongue rolling a few words for that until Chen moves closer, pressing his front to Kyeongsu’s side. “Just be ours already.”

Baekhyeon’s cheek is on his shoulder - he nods, vehement, enthusiastic, the motion tickling Kyeongsu. Chen’s hand lands on his thigh, fingers parted and, pressing, rooting.

There is a mellow luxation right between these two words. Be ours. Both too heavy to string to one another without dropping at the corners.

Kyeongsu slips through that crack and smiles, bright, and awkward like his mouth never ever has before.

Whoever’s mouth is closest to his reaches over to take it, his grin giving in grudgingly to the claim. It’s Chen’s, from the shape and fill of it in between his own, from how whimsical the technique is. It doesn’t lose deftness, however, nor fervour. It’s all there in the wet mess that his tongue paints over the cushion of his lower lip that he suckles right back.

It’s Baekhyeon who moans, though, a throaty, slippery puff of breath released near Kyeongsu’s ear. He’s close enough to see in detail how Kyeongsu ravages Chen’s mouth.

He doesn’t allow himself an inhale before he switches. It’s a short journey, merely a change of angle to find Baekhyeon’s lips. His kisses are eager and wanton and Kyeongsu missed fighting against them. It’s playful, down to the tickles Baekhyeon leaves around his waist to distract him, make him leave little nips. He tastes the same, warm and curiously saccharine, like no mouth should taste. It’s exactly what Kyeongsu couldn’t stop thinking about.

Kyeongsu breaks free to twist and stipple pecks over Chen too when he tugs at his clothes. His simper is glazed crimson. It heartily obeys for Kyeongsu. There are some sounds too, not moans, because they don’t get the chance to grow into that. They’re hardly snippets of melodies, generous and emollient, that get swallowed along with scarce breaths.

A furore of tangles latter, Kyeongsu finds himself looking down at Baekhyeon and Chen laying pressed together on the couch. They barely fit. Kyeongsu rests a knee in between each pair of legs and looks down at them. They’re both wearing a tessellation of merriment and horniness. Their lips are stung and puffy, cleaved into a delicate grin. It’s all Kyeongsu’s craft, he’s made them so, and Kyeongsu is sure he’s never seen anything more gratifying.

“You too,” he says, reining his voice to form words in place of groans. He pokes their cheeks and pushes until their faces turn, lips aligning.

“Bossy,” Baekhyeon murmurs, coy, before he kisses Chen.

The use, the coordination is evident. Noses don’t bump, hands don’t conflict on their way to cupping napes and jaws, there is no dispute over who gets to suck on the lower lip and who gets the other one. When they shift, it’s swift, falling exactly back in place on the other side, the dominant switching along, a tongue retreating to let the other in. It’s a movement of such gentleness that can only come from soul-crushing love.

“Thank you,” whispers Kyeongsu. For what, he doesn’t know, but it just feels right.

They untwine. Baekhyeon squints at him. “You know; this wasn’t the sixth date.”

Chen buries in his neck, biting over where Kyeongsu left a faint mark, the revenant of a too hungry kiss. It’s in reprimand.

“This wasn’t a date. I never said anything about kissing outside of them.”

“I wasn’t complaining,” wails Baekhyeon, but it is directed at Chen, who finally takes his teeth away.

He resurfaces and peers merrily at Kyeongsu. “I wasn’t complaining either.”

Peck. Peck. Kyeongsu likes so much that he has to give everything in pairs.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu isn’t wearing jeans anymore. Low on his hips settle a pair of blue cotton pajama bottoms. He is ordered to do a twirl as Baekhyeon and Chen debate whose trousers they were originally.

“Mine,” Baekhyeon claps all of a sudden. Kyeongsu is at his fifth twirl or so and getting dizzy. “No way your butt could’ve filled that.”

A yelp. Chen has just elbowed him in the ribs. “Well, there’s no way you fill my butt either.”

Baekhyeon gasps, offended to hell and back.

Kyeongsu turns and steps in before this gets a chance to ascend into a generic martial catfight. “You’re such old men.”

“Wanna call me daddy?” peeps Baekhyeon immediately.

“Not calling you daddy. Bed,” he says, adding a hand on the lower back of each of them. It’s so late and Kyeongsu is dangerously sleepy and who knows what he might do if these two keep quarrelling and talking about filling butts.

They all sprawl on the bed. Kyeongsu sighs, appeased. He’s the middle one, getting spooned by Baekhyeon while spooning Chen. The lights are off, just the mild glow carried by the snowflakes from the streetlamps, a luminous orange washing over the windows. And they are holding hands, little massages here and there, twists, coquetry.

Kyeongsu falls asleep.

 

 

 

The following afternoon, when Kyeongsu is back to his apartment, he finds a small present left on the doormat. It’s signed with a paw print. Inside is a mini cactus.

 

 

 

Chen holds onto him the same way he holds cards - fingers by the edges, a hold careful, as if toying with gold leaves, and a purpose, an intent that is intensely overt.

When he’s driving, Chen’s arm on the armrest next to Kyeongsu’s, twined, and his fingers drawing circles on the inside of Kyeongsu’s wrist where the skin is translucent and responsive, while he’s talking on the phone.

They cocoon themselves in the back of the surveillance room, watching a quite entertaining game as Chen’s head falls on his shoulder, turns, then mildly nips at his neck, his collar opened, and all Kyeongsu can do is quake, squeeze at Chen’s side. But still, when he moves, when Kyeongsu relaxes and allows, it is Chen who lets out a little mewl, tenuous as it passes through his lips and right into Kyeongsu’s skin.

As soon as the lights turn back on, as soon as the light hits them, Jongdae reverts back to being Chen, the slope of authority on his brow as he deals the contracts.

 

 

 

 

A tsk, wet and strong, disdain hitting a tongue on a bared row of teeth. “Fucker just put cash on the table,” Minho spits.

“Out,” Chen says with a tidal serenity. He didn’t even turn towards the footage. “Out, right fucking now.”

His jaw clenches. Angles tauten over his complexion, misshapen. It’s rage stemming from pure panic, benumbing him into torpor.

No one enters with a dime on them into the halls. It’s what turns gaming into gambling. It’s what keeps Chen out of prison.

So it’s Kyeongsu who turns on his heels and runs, grabs the motherfucker by the collar, subtly so, as a too good friend would, and hurls him out out out.

                                                            

 

 

The photo pretends to be depicting the ridiculous lyrics scribbled on the notebook.

Said notebook is resting on red silk. The entire expanse of Baekhyeon’s legs fits into the frame, the fabric pooled in his lap from the rise of them, bent somewhat inward, one towards the other, for shadow to well at the juncture between his legs. Out of focus, at the cusp of the picture, his two little feet, toes curled.

Kyeongsu cannot read the words scribbled on that paper. He cannot even see anything else besides Baekhyeon. The door falls shut, and Kyeongsu jumps, vying to lock the phone before he realizes it’s Chen.

His visage must be wrung into something very close to agony if Chen’s tiny scoff is anything to go by. He follows that with a show of dragging his gaze down Kyeongsu’s body. It’s with appreciation, building and building so that by the time he reaches Kyeongsu’s thighs his mien has plunged into lust.

Kyeongsu reaches for him, caging him in his embrace and climbs his way up his neck to his lips. He’s ever so slightly taken aback by Kyeongsu’s manhandling, by his ardour, so it takes a few seconds for him to become pliant, responding. Then he curls snug around Kyeongsu, lets his mouth be sought.

These kisses, these touches are different, though. They have a resolve.

“He does all of this intentionally doesn’t he?” Kyeongsu asks, releasing the bite he has on Chen’s neck, half-hidden under the collar. He’s being rough, he knows, he feels it by the give of Chen’s body against his.

Kyeongsu’s frustrated enough as it is, but this teasing, this teasing deranges him.

“Maybe,” Chen replies, the second part of the word lost into a mewl. Kyeongsu’s hands have descended to his butt.

“Your husband,” Kyeongsu says, a squeeze emphasizing the term, fabric gathering in his hands before he feels the softness of the flesh. “He’s made me like this before.”

“I saw.” He pushes back into the fondling. Kyeongsu drags him closer, pressing himself into the desk with the motion. Their hips slot. The pads of Kyeongsu’s fingers fall into the fracture of his cheeks.

“You liked it,” Kyeongsu pants, with a twinge of awe, first for the fact that his sexual attraction to Baekhyeon, to both of them, was that obvious, and second, that Chen is this turned on by having his ass played with. It’s hard, barely yielding, the muscle tensing under the skin.

“I loved it.” That underscoring cuts the rest of his words, for Kyeongsu kisses him then, directs him by his nape, the polished cut of his jaw held by the length of Kyeongsu’s index along it. The tip of his finger moves back and forth along the edge of his ear. “I love it now too,” he still remembers to say, very little air in it, given all has been stolen by Kyeongsu.

And love, this word, sounds, looks, weighs differently when it’s spoken by a stricken, swollen pair of lips into another.

“Is this his intention?” Kyeongsu inquires, grinding up against Chen. Numerous fabrics are between them, but still, it’s the protruding curve of his cock against Kyeongsu’s and it suffices, it’s enough for Kyeongsu’s eyes to flutter shut and for knees to go weak.

“Maybe,” Chen moans softly, ruts against him just as softly. “Isn’t this too soon?” He still has enough sense in him to reason.

Kyeongsu’s hips swipe firmly against Chen’s, over and over, their erections pressed, arrhythmic but dizzying. He retakes his mouth. “No. Fuck. We’re not stopping.”

“Okay.” They twist and Chen is perched now on the desk, his legs open and Kyeongsu between them. Kyeongsu tugs his shirt out of his slacks and slides his hand under, fingers prodding, kneading. His knees squeeze on Kyeongsu’s hips, and he uses that for leverage to grate their erections together in small increments. Kyeongsu’s nails rake gently down his back.

Chen reaches for his fly first, unzipping it and letting the waistband droop. The heel of his palm meets the slope of Kyeongsu’s cock through the underwear, fingers wedging between it and the insides his thighs as he applies tentative pressure. Kyeongsu’s forehead drops to his shoulder, his hips canting, searching. Chen noses into his neck as he plies Kyeongsu’s length.

He withdraws, in need of a breath. On Chen’s throat, he’s painted a lamina of saliva, left to glisten and sink into his pulse. He peruses Kyeongsu with such craving, eyes loaded to the brim with it.

Kyeongsu palms the expanse of his thighs, the outside of them, until he reaches the hips and dips into the gathering of his groin. His harness is restrained by the material, creating tension, a bit of a tent. Kyeongsu undoes the button of his pants and tugs on one side enough to have the zipper going down on its own. Kyeongsu fits his hand around him, cupping tight the stiff shape, rubbing down with the heel of his palm.

They’re even now, positions mirrored. Chen’s forehead leans onto his, then twists to get a kiss that doesn’t end until Kyeongsu’s lungs are burning and his lips are soaked through.

“Do to me what you like, what makes you moan. Kiss me like you like Baekhyeon to kiss you,” he babbles in haste. He doesn’t realize he talked informally to him until Chen groans, responding already by tugging down Kyeongsu’s underwear.

Kyeongsu cannot scamper to do the same fast enough when Chen’s hand is on his cock, twisting already, coaxing as much precome as he can before he glides the hand down. Kyeongsu inhales shortly, sneaking his forearms under Chen’s thighs and lifting enough to be able to grab the band of Chen’s underwear along with the one of his pants and get it down. His cock springs out, and Kyeongsu only spares it a glance - it has a nice proportion, uniformity, and he fits his hand around it the same way Chen is doing on his own.

Their working arms cross, while the others are draped over necks. In minute respites, when the tugging slows, they meet in kisses that Chen coordinates, Kyeongsu complying the whims of his tongue.

The twists are hard to keep up with, the rotation of his wrist, urgent, as his fingers curl in a nearly claw-y way to have the pads of the fingers gliding the foreskin. He needs an intricate stimulation rather than speed and roughness. When Kyeongsu manages to copy this, to coordinate himself enough to do so through the cloudiness of the pleasure, Chen’s spindly moans heighten, gliding slithery over the parting of Kyeongsu’s mouth. Kyeongsu can barely kiss him when he’s like this, too smelted to keep himself up.

Kyeongsu passes a threshold where he’s only mumbling half-enunciated pleas for Chen to not stop, keep the speed, all small mewls that Chen seems to understand, follow, for he’s doing the same, asking Kyeongsu to continue the just like that.

Even as his grip loosens on Kyeongsu, the range of motion diminishing until it’s just his fist wrapped around the head and a portion of the shaft, the flicks of his wrist are rapid enough for Kyeongsu to lose modulation as well, to melt and to pant on Chen’s shoulder. The upwelling of his orgasm drags, holds him suspended for long behind the brink, then right on the ledge of it as Chen tugs his foreskin completely over the head, clasping. A small bite dips under his jaw, chain reaction from where Kyeongsu squeezed around him too, and that has Kyeongsu coming, air cut off as he falls into Chen. He also comes a few seconds later, when Kyeongsu’s orgasm passes the crest and is left with the onslaught of aftershocks. His hand is covered in come as it slides down Chen’s cock, perpetuating that beautiful overcast look he’s giving Kyeongsu.

“We made a mess,” says Kyeongsu, a small pant between each word. He’s got his own come sticking to his shirt. It’s a black shirt.

Chen peers, unseeing, at the white spatters. The angle made it so all of his come ended on Kyeongsu’s hand.

“I believe this was his intention then,” Chen says.

Kyeongsu looks at himself, looks at Chen too, pants open and dragged down, cocks out and softening, the stench of cum fogging up the air, and they’re in an office, a glass one at that.

Kyeongsu starts giggling. He looks ridiculous enough that Chen joins in as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Chen is still in the hall.  Kyeongsu is exhausted and coming home to crash.

Chanyeol’s ugly car is parked in front of his building. By his door, he finds Baekhyeon, a bag of something in his hand. He smiles, warm and square, teeth out, and Kyeongsu likes this too, this innocent, non-naughty Baekhyeon too, and his insides turn into fluff.

He hasn’t seen him in four nights, and so he allows himself to climb onto him and hugs him, holding him there. There is a general frailness to Baekhyeon’s body, his bones seem to poke, along with the muscles, slim, from under his skin. He doesn’t know where muscle pokes, where bones poke. Just a solid warmth. So it feels like he can squeeze him.

He hasn’t seen him in four nights, and before, that wasn’t so much, but now-

“Missed you,” whispers Kyeongsu, “So much.”  These are the kind of confessions Baekhyeon cherishes most. Kyeongsu lets him know, tells him just how important he is.  

Baekhyeon’s arms come around his shoulders, bring him in. Kyeongsu’s face rests on his jacket, a weird material that is both sleek and puffy. It’s cold on his cheek.

“You could’ve entered,” he says, mildly chiding. “Don’t stay out in the cold like this.”

“I didn’t,” Baekhyeon huffs, moist by his ear. It oddly feels like a kiss. “I got info from Chanyeol of when you left.” A pause. He lets Kyeongsu squirm in this, bask in the level of care. Then he continues, another peck to his ear. “Besides, it’s locked.”

Kyeongsu pries himself off, giggles a little, joy taking a hold of his mouth. “So what?” he says, by stepping Baekhyeon to get to the door. It’s locked indeed, but it just needs a quirkier flick of the hand, a tinge of force before it opens anyway. Kyeongsu only ever uses his key to lock it, never to unlock it.

Baekhyeon’s eyebrows shoot up, disappearing under his fluffed fringe. “Don’t teach me that. Maybe you’ll wake up with me in your bed in the middle of the night or something.”

Kyeongsu forgoes untying his shoelaces, and instead unceremoniously toes them off. He stops. “Oh no,” he mouths in reply, dry and sarcastic and sounding clearly, loudly, like a please do that.

Now Baekhyeon turns bashful, his downturned smile, bunching little crests on either side of his chin and Kyeongsu is so endeared that he has to step forward and take the bag from him. It’s a small place. The scent of food fills it completely and Kyeongsu’s stomach growls.

It’s a box of assorted twigim, even the stuffed peppers and chicken. A single pair of chopsticks is in use, held between Baekhyeon’s fingers as he picks each piece and gives one to Kyeongsu and one to himself, alternating.

They’re on the floor, in front of the bed, sitting on the pillow as Baekhyeon cleans his face yet again with one of those tissues of his. He cleans his own too, wiping away the glitter off his eyes. Bare-faced Baekhyeon is too adorable.

“Kiss me,” he says and Baekhyeon drops everything at hand to lean forward and kiss him, slow and lazy, lips brushing with contentedness. The touches just roam, don’t press. Dandle and pleasure. They haven’t gotten to the frantic part. Right now Kyeongsu really likes Baekhyeon’s mouth, and his cute wittiness, and the way he outright coddles Kyeongsu. He’s so sleepy right now, and there is a rare charm to being intimate in this state.

“You have great lips, Driver-nim,” he singsongs, actually pretty, like this is the lyric to some anthem, and Kyeongsu likes it so much that he has to quench the tremors of giddiness whelming him by kissing Baekhyeon again. His touches braid around him, soft and encompassing, until there is nothing left of him but Baekhyeon’s doing, his will.

They drag into the bed, Baekhyeon following, and when Kyeongsu makes to set his alarm, Baekhyeon takes the phone out of his hand and says, “I’ll be your rooster.” Then winks, and Kyeongsu can’t decide between smothering Baekhyeon and smothering himself.

Instead he listens, revelling in a presence beside him, opiating, and a hand draped over his waist.

 

 

 

 

This alarm turns out to be Baekhyeon’s loud guffaw, accompanied with Chen’s through the phone as they both laugh their asses off at a pic Baekhyeon took of him in his sleep, drool down his mouth and his brows pitched.

Kyeongsu has a hard time pretending he is mad. “I need new boyfriends.”

 

 

 

“You live in a place that is literally called a palace, yet you keep showing up at my hut,” yawns Kyeongsu.

It’s his free day, about noon, and Kyeongsu is covered in fur. Jongin’s poodles have taken too much of a liking on him.

“But our prince is here,” responds Chen. The line seems stolen right out of Baekhyeon’s mouth. Baekhyeon makes a proud face as though he’s thinking the same thing.

They’re draped one over another, grinning at him. Kyeongsu’d locked the door before leaving in the morning. Baekhyeon used the trick, it appears, given they’re standing in his foyer.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu hears the sink running in the background, his mother shouting over the din of it. She’s got a big bunch of fresh spinach that she’s very happy about. Kyeongsu will forever cheer her on market findings and her negotiating abilities. She can get stuff basically free. Not even Chen is that good.

She inquires if he’s eaten well too, wanting details, when the hem of his tee shirt starts cutting on a side while the other is bared and a kiss stamps itself firmly on his neck. Kyeongsu totters over his sentence, getting back on track with it for another few syllables before another smooch assaults him, this one wetter, longer. The phone slips a bit from his grip.

Afterward, Kyeongsu can barely speak. Kiss after kiss after kiss are inscribed onto his skin, smacks and drags that tickle more than entice, all the while he has to fake coherency to his mother, who’s now asking about bills and whether he gets bullied at work or not. They’re all serious topics and Kyeongsu hesitates answering them in fear of giving moans instead of words when it advances to them seeking to leave bruises on him. Lastly, she wants to know if he’ll come home for Seollal. Kyeongsu barely hears her when Baekhyeon sighs softly in his other ear. He doesn’t know what gibberish he responds with, if it’s ambiguous enough because he most likely won’t go home for Seollal, and that’s something that needs to be laid down gently.

The call ends abruptly when she begins panicking over the sink overflowing. Kyeongsu lowers the phone and glares over at Baekhyeon because he is closest and his hands are on Kyeongsu’s cheeks, threatening to pinch. He must’ve learned this shit from Chanyeol.

Kyeongsu blindly reaches at him, and pinches his nipple through his shirt, hard, in punishment. “Look what you did while I was talking to my mom,” he laments, motioning vaguely to the crotch of his pants. Then he turns and Chen, who has an equal fault in this, and he is looking at him…expectantly. So Kyeongsu pinches him too, scolds him too, for right now he is not the boss. Maybe he’ll never be the boss again. His mouth kitty curls.

“We didn’t do anything bad, though,” Baekhyeon dares say, still clutching at his chest. His eyebrows wiggle as his gaze fixates on the crotch of Kyeongsu’s pants.

“What’s with all this horniness? I thought you were old men.”

“No no, your oppas are still going strong.”

Oppas. Kyeongsu waits for his eyes to roll at that, but he finds that it’s not really-. Oh. This info is filed away for later use.

“Very strong,” adds Chen, flinging a leg over his. The three of them are pressed together in Kyeongsu’s bed. Tangling is necessary to ensure no one falls off.

He’s had this mesmerism ripening for all this while - all these small little touches and these wide smiles and flutter hearts and Kyeongsu is sure, so sure, that this passed well over the border of a crush long ago. So it doesn’t feel rushed to him when he blurts, “I wanna suck you off,” to the wall ahead.

Not a word from them. The mattress is old, feels everything, and he can easily discern the tenseness of the bodies beside him. They seem to lock. “I wanted to, for a while. To try that.”

“You’ve never…?” asks Chen, pulling away from the crook of his neck to glim at him. His eyes are cute, cutest when he is surprised. Kyeongsu’s feelings bubble and bubble low in his gut.

“I’ve never.”

Not everything. In high school there was a boy or two to play with. It was at the age where any touch felt good, but it never got to be more. Then later, Kyeongsu didn’t even allow himself to like anyone. It was so easy to turn out wrong, for him to be the only one who didn’t want to hold hands in winter just to preserve some heat. What were the chances for them being gay too, to like him back too? He’s tried some online things, found a boy all the way over in Daegu, texted him night after night, showed videos, pictures of each other, words that never crossed from filthiness and into sweetness. A few of these, boys that all he remembers now of is the burn of a screen in his eyes, the dejection of wanting to feel skin. To this day his heart leaps into his throat when he hears certain message pings.

“But you kiss us so good?” says Baekhyeon. Baekhyeon’s surprise shows more on his mouth than on his eyes. It parts, hangs open slightly. So precious.

“Yeah, frustration teaches you that.” He never really thought about this either. He was just gently giving it all to the moment. Sexual prowess may come from wishing too much for it to happen.

“So who do you want to blow?”

It seems a dragged question. A question that only exists because there’s three of them. It still feels chimerical, this arrangement, this little chain of affection they have for each other. For some reason, this makes Kyeongsu giggly.

“Both of you, obviously.”

It leaps into a bicker between them, Chen getting all pouty and Baekhyeon jabbing slender, sharp, malicious fingers at him. This war is taking place over his chest.

“Since I touched Dae’s dick last,” interrupts Kyeongsu,” your turn,” he says to Baekhyeon. “Plus, you get the sloppier blowjob because you’ve been such a damn tease all this time and I’m just mad about that.”

“You’re not,” Baekhyeon retorts.

Kyeongsu doesn’t reply but kisses him instead. The gentility is there, as well as the objective, showing through the slowness, the drag of their lips, and the depth of it. There is the shimmy of hips, misaligned, thigh between thigh, and the dandles over the nape, a tug into hair for guidance. It’s a medley that has the both of them panting too fast, rolling together until Kyeongsu is on top of him.

It’s dark between their faces. Kyeongsu’s arms are around Baekhyeon’s head for support and his hair is a curtain sealing all the light out. Baekhyeon’s eyes wear a bedimmed lustre, the same as his mouth. Kyeongsu lays a quick peck on the little mole above his upper lip before he descends.

Here it’s more curiosity, savouring, than what he’s had with Chen in the office. Kyeongsu makes sure he tastes every kiss he places on Baekhyeon’s skin as he bares it bit by bit.  He pushes his sweater up - it’s of a fuzzy baby blue. His tummy is pale, a slim plushness to it, the musculature behind appearing in the faintest grooves. His belly button is tiny, shallow, the happy trail sourcing from it sparse. Kyeongsu tries to catch all the moles - they’re all small, barely tinted, and spattered on the whole expanse of him. Kyeongsu cups the dip of his waist, where the soft flesh has no resistance whatsoever. He massages it gently. Baekhyeon smiles, tight, refusing to acknowledge the tickle. Kyeongsu smiles back and stoops to press that smile right in the middle of his stomach, going up and taking the sweater with him until it gathers under his pits.

It’s Baekhyeon who takes it off, remaining balled and tangled in one of his hands.

The cut of his shoulders is pronounced, a fine edge, same as the protrusion of his collarbones. Kyeongsu starts with a peck in the hollow where they meet, hands splaying out on the pectorals. He thumbs the areolae in circles, and Baekhyeon’s back arching slightly, a breath cutting short. He moves his mouth to it, seeing the greyed fuchsia of it, the roundness mildly puffed and the small nub before laving his tongue over it. He’s sensitive, very much so, gauging by the sudden canting of his hips into Kyeongsu. He bites accidentally on the nipple when this slams a fresh wave of arousal into him. Baekhyeon moans then, and Kyeongsu is close enough to feel the susurration of it through his chest.

He raises to look at him. He’s all molten and soft and so damn beautiful. His face has a smile of such contentment, the curve of it so easy as though it only requires happiness to hold.

Kyeongsu is so endeared that he has to take his gaze away, meet Chen’s, and share it with him. Baekhyeon’s hips push again, implore, and Kyeongsu complies by pampering his other nipple as well, all the while having his hand going up and down from his shoulder to his waist, over and over, until it memorizes the relief of his torso.

Baekhyeon starts moving, questing, rather than just being responsive to Kyeongsu. His legs go around Kyeongsu’s waist, and he presses, ruts up, forces their erections to press. Kyeongsu chokes out a moan, a spot near Baekhyeon’s navel feeling the wrath of it before he gets a hold of himself and stills Baekhyeon with hands on his thighs.

Baekhyeon whines, looking over at Chen. “Tell him to go faster.”

He is composed still. His shirt in place, hair falling straight over his eyes, orderly. Then there is the enamel of lust adumbrating the last tinge of pigment in his eyes and the salient push of his cock in his pants to confute all this collectedness.

Baekhyeon’s face is rubescent and his chest heaving, gaze consumed by desire and he’s pouting. It’s oddly comical. “Go faster,” Chen says in his ordering tone, albeit broken and tremulant.

“No, boss,” Kyeongsu replies. He’s been lovelorn for a lifetime. Not rushing with this now.

Baekhyeon nearly cries.

Kyeongsu already misses the taste of his skin, so he dips to have a mouthful of the side on his hip, near the hill of his hip bone. His fingers hook on the waistband of his pants and his boxers, dragging down until he has an ingress to the entirety of his happy trail. The last kiss he places is on the teensy rise before his cock, the protruding contour of his cock touching briefly under Kyeongsu’s jaw.

In his periphery, Kyeongsu catches Baekhyeon’s hands seeking purchase in the sheets. He gets a hold of Chen’s hand instead, tangling and holding tight, tips fading white.

Kyeongsu lets go of the fabric, the band snapping back.

Baekhyeon says his name, this lengthened, miserable form of it, thinned with frustration. It’s a plea that Kyeongsu cannot deny.

He takes his pants off, one motion, easy from how Baekhyeon’s legs are already off the bed. There’s even more skin now, and Kyeongsu doesn’t waste another second in going down his thighs, one side mapped by his hand and the other by his mouth. The texture of the skin is different here, subtly so, but just as soft, just as pale.

When he reaches the seam of the boxers, he lets his nose slot into the hollow juncture between the thigh and the hip. A distant scent of freshness is in it, flowery, clean, a combination of his body wash and laundry detergent, then something warm, luring. The material is satiny, elastic, thin, so pleasant. Kyeongsu runs his palm over it, over where it holds the stiff curve of Baekhyeon’s cock pressed to a side.

Chen slides closer, takes Baekhyeon to his chest, an arm around his shoulders as Baekhyeon curls around him, looking for shelter.

Kyeongsu takes his boxers off too, not even all the way. They remain on an ankle, the dark blue of them contrasting with the thinness there. Kyeongsu trails the expanse of his leg, the outward curve of his calf before it meets the knee and then lower down, thickening and thickening until it joins the shadow going between his butt cheeks and disappears.

Baekhyeon’s knees bracket him, risen and opened as Kyeongsu is on his shins in front of him.

There are these two symmetrical lines uniting between his legs, uniting somewhere under his balls, where a tendon pokes, and the rest of him is just prettiness, just like Kyeongsu remembers from that night at the hotel. His cock is pink and swollen, the skin of it pellucid enough for Kyeongsu to see the colour of the veins braiding up it. The seam going between his balls has a faint tint as it goes over them, then lower, where there is the shadow gathered in the faint depression of his hole.

“I’m firing you if you don’t-“ begins Baekhyeon, strangled, right when Kyeongsu gets his hand around him, tugging the foreskin down and bending to have a taste, a wide, thorough lick on the underside, ending with a wiggle with the tip of his tongue over the rim of the corona.

Baekhyeon’s and Chen’s eyes are on him, heavy, too heavy to hold, and a second later he does it again, tastes it again - it’s good, the implication, this power, so good, and Kyeongsu’s wanted for so long. Baekhyeon’s head falls, his face turning and burrowing into Chen’s shoulder and weirdly, it’s his hair that he grabs, fingers tangling into the black locks and yanking. In his other hand he’s clasping the sheets, and a moan, creamy, pretty, is poured down Chen’s neck.

Kyeongsu accommodates the weight and the fill of him in his mouth gradually. His tongue laps at the precome, a wan bitterness to it, and lets the piquancy of him permeate his cheeks, brew into sweetness, as he hollows them around the shaft. There is movement, these minuscule twitches of Baekhyeon’s hips, along with the throbbing of his cock, the pulsation gliding through the veins. It’s again, Kyeongsu likes it, wants it is so curious, that he involuntarily starts grinding down into the mattress.

Chen is there too, as though anchoring Baekhyeon for his hips do seek, to push into Kyeongsu’s mouth, the angle of it pressing his tucked lip to his teeth, and it’s somewhat abusive, just taking and Kyeongsu is proud to have caused this, to be good enough that Baekhyeon doesn’t even have the patience for his ministrations, that his mouth is that good.

The deepest he goes, the head of Baekhyeon’s cock pressuring both on the back of this tongue and the roof of his mouth, filling so much that Kyeongsu cannot breathe anymore and the index of the hand he has wrapped around the base pressing to his lip. Baekhyeon comes when he drags up, the tightness of his lips enough to drag the foreskin along, and the head falling in a place where he could actually suck and steal the orgasm out of Baekhyeon.

The movement of the shooting is weird in his mouth, hitting nearly, and Kyeongsu rolls it around on his tongue, a tiredness to his jaw, a rawness at the edges of his lips and on the inside, to make sure he doesn’t graze Baekhyeon.

He opens his eyes then, Baekhyeon is a puddle, eyes closed, melted, fused into Chen, but Chen’s eyes have never been sharper, needier.

“Gimme,” he whispers and Kyeongsu doesn’t think, reaching over and crashing his lips to his. It’s a scraping of tongues this time, this time Chen yearning to taste, to soothe the prickling Baekhyeon left in his mouth, his palate and cheeks rubbed like that.

“Your turn,” Kyeongsu thinks, murmurs, his lips not even disentangled from Chen’s as his hands go down his chest, just as slow, just as patient, just as loving. He kisses down him all the same, spoils him all the same.

His skin is a tone darker, but just as smooth. It hides harder muscles, the creases deeper. His nipples, as Kyeongsu kisses them, swell into his mouth along with the sounds Chen makes. Kyeongsu undoes one more button of his shirt, one more, one more, kiss kiss kiss for each one, and when he reaches his pants, he takes them off without preamble, along with the boxers and swiftly cups his balls. His hand fits better between his legs, they’re slimmer too. The thickness of his shaft, when Kyeongsu ascends to it, fills the ring of his fingers, allows for shorter motions, as he remembers.

Kyeongsu cannot resist to get one more kiss from him, not when his mouth is shiny like that, the taste of Baekhyeon still faintly on it before he slides down, lips dragging in the middle of his chest until he reaches his cock. There’s a faint scent to him too, the same fruitiness, the same body wash, that clings to his short pubes.

He can swallow more of him, have him reach deep enough that it truly feels like suffocation, whilst the girth causes an ache in his jaw. And here Kyeongsu pulls back, lets his hand take over, remembering the daedal motions he liked, precome pooling in his mouth as he gets lower to suckle on one of his balls. He can push all he wants into this, can moan as much as he likes. His thighs working to give him leverage as Kyeongsu opens his mouth and has the underside of his cock slide between them and the flat of his tongue.

He comes with a pretty cry, lips locked and eyes shut, come pumping down Kyeongsu’s tongue. It’s viscid and strong, and through all the saltiness and the bitterness, Kyeongsu can see himself acquiring a taste for this, have it become an everyday craving.

Baekhyeon, finally awake, enlivened as he holds a molten Chen this time, presses his pretty fingers, way too pretty fingers to Kyeongsu’s mouth. He cannot resist taking them in, welcoming them to glides softly over his come-fraught tongue. His thumb presses at the corner of Kyeongsu’s lips, saliva smeared there too, and tries to mollify the ache. He simpers at Kyeongsu, dazed, lustful,  and murmurs, “You did so well, Kyeongsaeng.” It’s praise, real praise and Kyeongsu moans around the digits, unbridled, and they fall from his mouth until just his middle finger, at the dip of the first knuckle remains hooked on the ledge of Kyeongsu’s lower teeth.

“If you were so careful now, I can’t wait to see what you’re gonna do on our wedding night. “

“On our wedding night you’re fucking my face,” he says, cock-wrecked voice and all.  

Chen groans.

Then they get him off too, one mouth supplying kisses to his own and another one on his cock. He barely gets a suck, a tug, before he comes, too riled up to hold it anymore.

He sees when he wakes up at night to go to the bathroom that he’s stained from mouths all over, a pigmentation as though he’d been beaten. It’s eagerness and Kyeongsu then has a hard time falling asleep even in between two bodies for he is smiling so hard.

 

 

 

 

The sixth date happens on the first day of spring. They do it by the textbook. There’s a movie, a dinner, a three-way wooing ritual of sorts, lots of footsie and it ends with them in the car, interlaced in the deepest, hottest make-out session it can be without actually removing any clothes.  

Kyeongsu’s heart is fluttering merrily in his chest.

 

 

 

It’s on purpose, obviously so, when Baekhyeon sends them seclas, seemingly of something, while the background has him, somewhat denuded, somewhat displayed. He sends pictures of what to put around his neck, an array of necklaces, chokers, what’s on his fingers, the sheerness of his clothes sometimes. Voice messages, hums that that seem too delighted.

He’s gorgeous, he thinks first and foremost. Gorgeous.

Kyeongsu swallows, usually, pockets his phone, tries to go back to work. But then he catches the gaze of Chen, his phone in his hand.

So now they reply with one with the both of them, bitten, ravished, covered in come and closed in the office.

 

 

 

 

 

Spite blossoming within the viscera of a conglomerate isn’t unheard of. It latches and spreads like mildew, nourished by the esurience of its followers.

Someone standing a few steps above such pandemonium ambles into Chen’s office, jovial and confident, on a weekday afternoon.

Suho is here too, mulling over some monetary spills. His hands halt mid-air once he catches sight of the man. He squeezes his eyes shut for a second - this man bankrolls a lot of his father’s popularity. They’re nearly friends, if they believe their own lies enough.

Chen tenses all the same once he recognizes him. Whatever this man requests must be granted.

What he wants is to simply steer a game between two youngsters – heritors who already have an array of possessions, of functions at the bottom of the tier. Yet from down there, they’re aiming spears, one of them being a reform that will eat up way too many funds.

This conglomerate is heavy on export, their marketing on point, not to mention having very few competitors. He needs that affiliated. It’s for expansion, for the greater good to dust off the lice clogging the circuit.

Chen listens with the rapture he would listen to a bedtime story with, except his jaw is clenched. Suho is a ball of nerves beside him. It only shows in the finger he keeps tapping on the armrest.

“So you’re asking to have him wager off this branch?” says Chen after the man finishes delivering his solicitation. The way he holds his hand is posed bizarrely, as though it is resting on a scepter. Chen despises this kind of people. Kyeongsu watches his phony, vacated grin becoming spiky.

“They are all your regulars,” the man says. Then offers the names. Chen looks at Suho. He nods. He knows these people; he knows all of them.

This could be bad, could be very bad. It’s not a small deal. Might get them bombarded with so many lawsuits that none of them will see the light of day ever again.

Then also, this is someone they can’t pull away from. Too much support comes from him.

“Send someone to toy a bit with them. Easy.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Once the man leaves, Suho jumps. “He’s desperate. He’s cornered.”

He says it calmly, though, with the aid of knowing too much of that backstory. He just wants a chain reaction. If the other company flops too, he’s going to get the market dominance.

These are not dumb people. They wouldn’t let themselves scammed like that.

But this man, this businessman, cornered like this, is even more dangerous.

“I will really think about it,” he tells Suho, kind and soft, and gets up. Suho needs to be by himself when he’s stressed.

 

 

 

It’s pretty outside. Sunny, flowers painting the verges of the road. It smells nice.

Chen takes his hand.

“You’re considering it,” he says after he notes that Kyeongsu can’t relax.

“They called yesterday. They described what my mom was wearing as she took a stroll with her friends,” Kyeongsu recounts. It weighs right there, onto him. It’s hard, hardest, to live with such fears.

Chen steps closer and takes his face between his hands. Yet Kyeongsu cannot look at him.

“This guy will give me at least a billion, right?” he asks the ground. He’s wondering, more than anything. There’s no time to even consider if he really can pull it off, if he’s good enough for it. He doesn’t even consider this a risk, but finally something, an escape route, no matter how tight and barbed it is. Better than nothing.

“I want to be free.” Finally, he says it. Since that day three years ago, he says it, and his eyes burn.

“I could pay it for you.”

“And how fair is that? It’ll still feel like a debt. Do you know how pressuring it is to take that kind of money from you? If it happens - and it can, I’m not delusional, that the three of us break up, and it goes ugly…No, Dae, it can. Of course it can. It’s a possibility, no matter how careful we are. But I’ll still be tied to you. I’ll still drop to my knees for you if you asked. Even if I end up hating you, I’d still get my mouth around your cock just because I owe you.” It’s all mechanical, a swirl of sentences in his head ever since Chanyeol poised the same offer, ordered and glazed with ice. He brings sex into this because this too is part of the things that he’s thought of. All he owns is the flesh on his bones. Monetizing himself might not be such a great business given how slim the market for men fucking other men is, but for some, a hole is still a hole. Still something to sell, still something to pay back with.

“How would that be any different?”

Silence and the breeze of spring, vernal. Then Chen’s arms come around him. “You really think a lot about this.”

Kyeongsu huffs, clinging to Chen. He’s warm. He didn’t even realize he was feeling cold. “What else would I think about?”

“Me. Baekhyeon.”

Kyeongsu really clings this time. “I never stop doing that.” Chen squirms against him from the cheesiness overload.

“I’ll make sure you never stop doing that.”

 

 

 

 

Baekhyeon is on the stage in a concert hall. An actual concert hall that is full of people who came only to see him. There’s velvet all over the walls, but it doesn’t compare to Baekhyeon’s voice.

There are some other singers behind him, accompanying instruments, to background his songs.

Kyeongsu and Chen have front seats. When it ends, they are the first to raise, the loudest to clap. Baekhyeon winks at them before bowing to the audience.  

Backstage, they smother Baekhyeon with a huge bouquet of flowers.

“I fucking hate flowers,” he says, even as he takes them all, drowns into them all. His grin is massive and jubilant and utterly infectious.

 

 

 

It’s not settled until Chen secures the payment, until he appraises the level of their playing abilities.

They’re casual gamblers, pretending it’s not a coping mechanism. They also have the recklessness of not treating their goods as if they’ve worked for them themselves. So their hands are light, generous if that quenches their caprice.

“But would they give in and play like that?” Kyeongsu inquires once he finds that he will indeed get his billion. It’s a fat sum, and now it presses Kyeongsu down with doubtfulness.  

“Depends on your acting skills.”

“And gaming skills,” Kai chirps, not raising his head from his phone. “Wait, wouldn’t Sehun be better for this?”

“Sehun can’t lose even if he tries,” Chen deadpans. It’s bullshit, albeit true. He wants Sehun out of this.

“But Kyeongsu can win if he tries?” Kai asks. The same nonchalance, so it lacks any bite. Kyeongsu simpers at him.

“He’s not alone in this.”

Kai grins, genuine. “Of course not.”

It rings clearly through the entire meeting room, acquiring a nod from everyone present. Chen’s arm is settled around Kyeongsu’s waist – encouragement, assurance.

Hence the planning commences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chanyeol leans in to sniff him, loud and snoopy. His nostrils flare. “You smell like them,” he says, coming in closer to Kyeongsu’s collar.

 

“We’re not goddamn dogs,” he mutters, taking steps away and turning towards the desk. The list of attendance isn’t compiled yet. Nor anywhere to be found. Chanyeol’s grin, from afar, is even creepier.

 

“No. You’re the penguin, Baek’s the pup and Dae’s the crocodile. Or squirrel.”

 

Kyeongsu frowns, both at the seeming absence of the list and at Chanyeol’s words. “We’re also not part of a goddamn zoo.”

 

“But you’re one of them now, aren’t you,” he says, not asking, as he comes along and hikes one thigh on the edge of the desk, his whole weight following as he tips to peer at Kyeongsu, seizing his eyes.

 

They haven’t really spoken labels, meanings, haven’t limited his worth to them. But he finds that he blushes, smiles, the clumsy kind as if being caught having a crush.

 

“I guess I am.” His cheeks fill with his grin, peaks roseate. Chanyeol surges to pinch them, grabbing pieces between his index and thumb and twisting as he shoves his creepy smile into Kyeongsu’s face. He’s cooing, baritone kissy noises speckled all over Kyeongsu.

 

“Good thing I recced you, Kyeongsaeng!”

 

Kyeongsu pushes him away. It hurt. “You what?”

 

Chanyeol halts, his face morphing into the perfect depiction of a deer caught in headlights. The desk creaks under him. He looks away.

 

Kyeongsu remembers the day he got a phone call. A voice he couldn’t attribute to a man or a woman barking about being rehired. Before Kyeongsu could tell the person off, that they got the wrong number, that he isn’t who they think it is, the voice said something about a raise in salary. Then the sum. A hefty sum. Kyeongsu, at once, with hope, begged the person to let him take the job instead.

 

The next day he hopped right on the train.

 

When Chanyeol’s drunk, and sassy, peevish, his voice pitching higher, longer, unlike his natural rumble. When Chanyeol, tired, clings to Kyeongsu and demands to be fed. It’s familiar, that pitch.

 

“It was you,” Kyeongsu says. He looks down, and that damn list is right there. “It was really you.”

 

Still no response from Chanyeol.

 

“But why?”

 

Chanyeol relaxes, unfurls, the scope of his shoulders back to their full stretch as if he came to terms with what he’s just confessed. “There is something in one of these containers that really really shouldn’t have made it to Japan.” Busan saturi. Perfect, genuine, even the inflection of slight crudeness.

 

“And what was that?”

 

It’s clipped, resolute, how Chanyeol tenses, the firm, unyielding kind. He has absolutely no intention of answering that, and there is no way to deter that.  

 

“Still, it turned out for the best,” chirpy, raw, clean Seoul dialect. For a second, Kyeongsu wonders if he imagined him talking in Busan saturi. “Love looks good on you, my dear Kyeongsaeng.”

 

He launches into another cheek pinch, shorter, and then he pulls away. He makes a face. “And you really do smell like them. They wear like the stickiest cologne in existence. Even I am soaked through after Baek gets like…into my range of vision.”

 

If Chanyeol wants the topic closed, forgotten, Kyeongsu can offer him that. For now.

 

He tries to sniff his clothes too, discreetly, to check. He hasn’t noticed anything, not that he wears any scents, but maybe, behind the cheap-ass laundry detergent he can notice some of them.

 

Chanyeol smiles at him. What makes his smiles sinister is that they make him look even happier than when he laughs. “Cling tight. Baek always gushes to me about how Dae gives some mean head. You don’t wanna lose that.”

 

“He’s right,” Kyeongsu says, at once, not even thinking. Just a little, his eyes glaze over thinking about it.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes widen, then he hops off the desk. “Oh my god, my innocent penguin grew up!” He comes around to envelop Kyeongsu in a hug, his hand petting Kyeongsu’s hair. Kyeongsu really likes sinking into his hoodies. Afterward, he punches Chanyeol in the heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a few days, Kyeongsu observes the two men. He looks over their records, tucks in his memory the mannerisms they employ at the table, the curl of the words offered to the other players, the way they hold the liquor, the cards.

It’s easy to spot the beginning stages of it.

Replay. Replay. Replay.

That’s the addiction.

 

 

 

 

There are worse things to be the slave of than your own pleasure.

But nothing kills you faster.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re tall, both of them, young and sanguine.

One of them is older by a few springs. He’s gone through a failed marriage. The cicatrix of it is nestled protectively in the silk of his breast pocket. From there, it has a say in any and all actions of his conduct. He’s aloof and angry. Seongyeol.

The other one feigns interest. He probably wants to leave and become a painter or a dancer, and pretend starving is delightful or something. Too much pressure on him to live a life that was never his. Hyeongwon.

He’s the one Kyeongsu has to make lose. Now he doesn’t feel so bad about it. This man wants freedom as well.

There isn’t a stronger wish.

 

 

 

Kyeongsu joins them for the first time at a poker table. Both of them are working with a few million.  

Seongyeol’s whole presence is robust, level. He takes his time before placing his bet, lets the other player rile from the wait. When he shows his cards, he nearly doesn’t let them touch the table. Be it wood, glass, ceramic, Seongyeol doesn’t let the cards touch down. Perhaps the fact that the surface isn’t coated in green wool is off-throwing.

Kyeongsu copies that. All the reactions that Seongyeol shows in response to his surroundings, Kyeongsu assimilates them, showing them right back.

It’s a wispy film of fear, of unsettledness. A natural backlash to the illegality of the practice.

This means he hasn’t gambled for that long, and there is some self-preservation instinct left in him.

Kyeongsu presents himself, smiles, shakes Seongyeol hand. All through the game, he leaves all the necessary hints for Seongyeol to believe that he’s nouveau riche, has a herd of angry, crazy exes, and that life is extremely boring.

Seongyeol believes, not because Kyeongsu acts that well, but because this is a man who has no energy any more to detect, nor care for lies.

 

 

 

Hyeongwon makes the decision first, then takes a few moments to let himself come at peace with it. His hands shake. It’s from excitement, however, not from trepidation. His reaction is the same, whether it’s a win or a loss. If it’s a loss, the last one, he doesn’t get up. Instead, he stays, twirls his daiquiri as he watches the game continuing between the other players.

It’s then that he turns serious when the someone else’s assets are at stake.

Kyeongsu approaches him when it’s a win. He makes friend with him the second time he calls him a son of a bitch.

Hyeongwon thrives on the anger he causes.

 

 

 

He doesn’t join them table for table, or night for night. Kyeongsu is a drunkard tormented by ennui. It bodes well to see him always in one of the halls, but not to have each time a coincidence to meeting with them.

As a croupier, he is given Taemin once, who couldn’t really keep up the act. He talked to Kyeongsu as if he’s not a patron. Kyeongsu can never gauge whether Seongyeol is drunk or not, whether he is focused or not. He doesn’t know how much of his cover is blown tonight. Hyeongwon is never sober.

Except for this mishap, the puffery keeps building.

 

Kyeongsu begins wagering garages. Then full garages. Then land, abodes, and then, a few shares he owns at a major corporation.

 

They match up. Hyeongwon makes a call on the spot, has arranged for the next time to play on a few cars as well. Seongyeol has an extensive lineup of goods signed off already, but nothing of that touches that branch he’s after yet.

 

They get more and more invested. Kyeongsu arrives and salutes them like he would lifetime buddies, drops his ass in the chair, his cards on the table, and lets them reap his riches. They get their claws on more assets, even more money, even though they are numb to its value by now.

They’re washed ashore by the throes of luxuriation, gasping for air before pulling themselves back under the waves. The modus operandi of enslavement. Can’t even feel the bridles.

That is until Kyeongsu begins winning everything back.

 

 

 

 

 

He doesn’t allow himself to be careless when a douceur over brimming a billion is promised. Puppeteering a collapse is not that easy. And Kyeongsu has to make sure that he doesn't end up tangled and strangled by the strings.

 

He’s in Hall Three, going over some motions with Chanyeol. He can barely focus on Chemin de Fer when the emerald glare of baize he’s gotten used to in Walkerhill is absent. He takes another gulp of coffee and pushes through.  

Kyeongsu is squinting at the cards as they move. It takes too long for Kyeongsu to notice that these are not, in fact, Chanyeol’s fingers on the cards anymore.

Baekhyeon grins pixyish at him.

Kyeongsu leers at him, disoriented. He shakes his head. “Boyfriend Two,” he says, greets, and wills his lips awake enough to give Baekhyeon a smile. Baekhyeon deserves to only see smiles.

 His eyes widen. They’re bare. “I’m Boyfriend Two?” He points a pretty index at himself. “But why?”

“You seem to have a knack for labelling things this way around here.” Kyeongsu leans his head on his hand. It’s heavy. From here, he has a nice view of the hidden cut of Baekhyeon’s jaw.

“So Boyfriend One is…”

“Dae,” Kyeongsu responds. He looks to the left, and he’s here too. And pushing a steaming espresso towards him, the layer of crema thick on top. He’s been drinking a cold, sad canned coffee so far. Kyeongsu has to hold himself before he melts right off the chair.

“But why is he Boyfriend One? I’m the oldest?”

Kyeongsu takes a sip and rejoices. “Because I fell for him first.”

Baekhyeon gapes, giddy, merry.

“Have you seen Jongdae?” reasons Kyeongsu. He’s pretty much crushed Kyeongsu from that very first day he demanded him to groom his eyebrows.

 Baekhyeon composes himself. “I have. You’re right. I see where you’re coming from.”

Chen growls, this high vibration coming from his chest. It sounds like an embarrassed purr. He crashes into Kyeongsu, his forehead stopping on his neck.

“You can’t handle how much of a charmer you are?” whispers Kyeongsu into his hair. Still, with his other hand, he slurps another sip of his espresso.

Baekhyeon coos and then grabs a bundle of cards from the shoe and attempts to faro shuffle. He spills them, of course, and Kyeongsu and Chen stare at him with amused expressions until Baekhyeon whines and thrusts the cards towards them in a pile. Kyeongsu cannot do it either, but Chen can. The flitter of cards in his hands is clean and rapid. He puts the deck down, perfectly aligned.

Kyeongsu peers at it. “I feel very gay right now,” he says, then tipples the last of his coffee.

He’s awake now. Chen is curling into him.

Baekhyeon bends over the table to reach them and give a cheek peck to each. Kyeongsu hasn’t had a pair of lips on him in days. As Baekhyeon settled back on the other side, his shirt drops back down. The skin of his waist, his hip is clean. It isn’t sporting vignettes from too many, too loving fingers anymore.

Kyeongsu really can’t have that.

“Oppa,” he drawls.

He doesn’t need to say more.

 

 

 

 

They’ve sullied all the offices except for this one. Chen has a thing for that. He has a thing for seeing come stains on his documents, for the linear bruises left by being pressed into a desk, for the use of a necktie to toy with his air supply.

There is a lot of touching between them, a lot of tension, their kisses deep and their pants tented as they rub against one another with any chance. Kyeongsu is the added spark to both of them, making them glide smoother, and he knows their dynamics now, knows where he stands. Kyeongsu has never felt intimacy like this, doubled, and his heart so full in his chest that he has no more room to breathe.

When they are inside the office – the air stale and Chanyeol, thankfully nowhere to be seen, Kyeongsu rushes forward and wraps his arms around Baekhyeon’s waist. Now they have a place to slot, a cranny of their own, and brings him close. With the other one, he unbuttons the collar of Baekhyeon’s shirt and opens it until it catches on the neck of his sweater. He moulds his lips to Baekhyeon’s neck, the plump of them there, a big kiss ending with a short suck, wet and encompassing. Baekhyeon sags against him, falls into his embrace, his neck open and offered and a fluttering of his eyelashes, his eyes rolling with the sudden promise of pleasure.

Chen, at the front of the room, leans against the desk, his legs parted and hands gripping the edge by his hips. The fill of his cock becomes pronounced, fast, and the twist of it under the shimmer of his leather pants attracts so much attention. Kyeongsu’s teeth are over Baekhyeon’s pulse, rabid and pleading, as the arm he has around his waist tightens, brings him closer into Kyeongsu, his ass flattening to Kyeongsu’s front.

Threesomes are a thing that maybe they’ll never get used to. Two people can dance; three’s nothing but a flounder. Kyeongsu is still new to this, to this manifestation of want, but he’s figured by now that Chen loves to be bossed around. And this is exactly where he fits between them – having Chen obeying him while he obeys Baekhyeon, lavishes him, while he uses Chen.  

So he orders his mouth on Baekhyeon. Tugs his pants open harshly, and Baekhyeon, grateful, offers a rock of his ass over Kyeongsu’s cock. His hold on Baekhyeon falters, his mouth escaping a sigh that fans cold and icy over the wet bruise flowering on Baekhyeon’s throat. He shivers again, tensing.

Kyeongsu controls that too. Kyeongsu controls the fit of Chen’s lips around Baekhyeon, his words gentle, winnowed over the fresh welt on Baekhyeon’s throat. He trembles when Chen sucks like he’s told to suck, when he goes all the way down and gags. It’s okay, Chen likes that. He never reaches for air immediately afterward. Instead, he lets a bit of that panic, a bit of that dizziness stay with him before he goes back to slurping the precome beading on Baekhyeon’s cock all over again.

There’s a specific movement that Baekhyeon’s legs do when he’s close. It’s a squeeze of his outer thighs, a push of hips, as though his body is trying to insulate the build up between his legs, to make sure nothing escapes. Kyeongsu catches right onto that, fending off the purchase Baekhyeon’s hands have on his to reach down and pry Chen off him with a caress under his chin, over his jaw. He feels the curve of Baekhyeon filling his cheek as it retreats.

It’s a new development, a new finding, that they like it when Kyeongsu talks during sex. He’s never considered himself good at dirty talk, but given his past sexual experiences were all in text form, he might have a knack for it. Kyeongsu’s deep voice, and a crass verbosity, a tad of pressure on his fingertips. Kyeongsu could be spewing the stupidest shit, but it is all in the tone. So when Kyeongsu now says “Oppa, let me stretch your pretty hole,” Baekhyeon melts so bad into him, weakens to the point there is nothing of him but docility, even when he’s regarded as the one in power. Baekhyeon bends over so fast, elbows on the desk, his ass up and offered.

“Pants,” Kyeongsu murmurs with displeasure. Chen scrambles to get them off Baekhyeon. His mouth is still wet and battered and Kyeongsu knows his kisses taste best after he sucks Baekhyeon. Kyeongsu will have a taste of that after he quenches the wiggling butt presented to him.

He rakes quickly through the pooling of Baekhyeon’s trousers around his feet. He usually has a packet of lube on him. He says it’s to take off his rings sometimes when they get stuck. Kyeongsu would believe him if he wasn’t staring at his fingers splayed on his own butt cheeks right now, parting them for Kyeongsu out of impatience.

It’s never not shiver-inducing when Kyeongsu inserts a finger into Baekhyeon. It’s indeed pretty, Baekhyeon’s entire colour scheme, the ashy pink of his hole grabbing onto Kyeongsu’s digit. He fingers him with patience but with coarseness, dragged but angled, a bit jabbing. His pads go over Baekhyeon’s prostate, and he’s loud, he always is, beautiful, but Chen, from behind him moans and goes around the table to kiss him. Baekhyeon’s moans have a flavor as well, a feel to them when he’s too fucked out to properly kiss.

 

The squeeze around the three of Kyeongsu’s fingers is cramped, the lube beginning to gather into the grooves of his last knuckles. There is enough force and enough rhythm to Kyeongsu’s hand to have his butt juggling with each thrust of Kyeongsu’s palm.

 

From behind, that tightening of his thighs looks adorable and enticing at the same time, his sack hugged by the slim domes of plushness high on his inner thighs. Kyeongsu retracts his hand, utterly sodden with lube.

It’s not just the taste of his cock on Chen’s tongue anymore. There is the bite of it, and, as he thought, the raggedness of the moans he’s had to swallow. Kyeongsu kisses him while he fists his cock, doing all the swivels that he likes, making sure he’s as hard and as wet and as intoxicated as he could possibly be. He’s minimally divested – shirt open, pants open, but still on. Kyeongsu dodges all that fabric and gets to a nipple to leave a nip, leave some redness.

“Fuck him,” Kyeongsu instructs, staring him down.

Baekhyeon hears and he moans. All this while, as Kyeongsu maddened Chen, he’s had his fingers up his ass, burrowed as deep as they can go, as prodding as they can be. It’s not enough. It’s never enough. Baekhyeon’s fingers are lovely, slim and dainty and utterly useless at fucking him properly.

Kyeongsu climbs onto the desk and retrieves Baekhyeon’s collapsed form. His hands are still supporting him on the wood, but his face is now on Kyeongsu’s chest, at the juncture of his neck. Kyeongsu palms his hips, the small valleys prefacing his ass, then lower, grabbing the mounds in his grip. He goes inward enough that his fingers wet yet again with the lube.

He gets to feel the exact moment Chen slides into him, from the parting of Baekhyeon’s mouth against his throat, the stress of his hips forward for a millisecond, then back, pushing into Chen, taking him in. Kyeongsu’s hands get trapped between Chen’s hips and Baekhyeon’s ass cheeks. After Chen retires, drawing a moan out of Baekhyeon along with him, he takes his hands away.

He gets to watch over Baekhyeon’s shoulder, while his lips are on his ear, Chen’s brows gathering and his chest heaving. The hold he has on Baekhyeon’s hips is tight, little indents where his fingers press. The contractions of his muscles low on his abdomen, so close to where he’s connected to with Baekhyeon, have a mesmerizing rhythm, a strength. He basically fucks Baekhyeon into Kyeongsu’s embrace, fuses their ribcages together one profound thrust at a time. It’s patronizing, somewhat, the way he fucks Baekhyeon, resolute to give all the pleasure he can give.

“Is Dae doing good, oppa?” asks Kyeongsu. He’s the only one forming words in a room full of voices. Kyeongsu feels a drop of precome falling form Baekhyeon’s cock and onto the fabric of his pants, permeating. He can hear his mewls right where they form, at the base of his chest, and they rip heavenward, unctuous as they graze Kyeongsu’s ear.

“Yes,” replies Baekhyeon mindlessly. “Yes.”

“Then let Dae fill you up, since he’s fucking you so good, okay, oppa?”

Baekhyeon has no bones left in his body. There’s just the quake of Chen driving into him. Kyeongsu wraps his arms around his back, settling down to his waist. Chen’s eyes, completely unseeing, scrape down to where Kyeongsu is fondling Baekhyeon’s butt, then they climb up the slope of his spine, and meet Kyeongsu’s gaze. He’s bending in a heartbeat, claiming his lips in a thorough, wheezing kiss. Baekhyeon is whimpering into him while Kyeongsu suckles on Chen’s tongue.

When Chen is close, it only shows on his face. It’s a sudden blanking, wiping clean as if his face doesn’t know what to do with itself anymore. It’s peaceful, the strike of liberation over him, eyes shut softly, a tremblor to his lashes and a burst of ruddy over his cheeks. His hips still work in a frenzy, albeit in smaller, centered motions.

Baekhyeon sighs, tenderly, elatedly when Chen fills him. It’s a sublime sound, one that has Kyeongsu responding right back, his own cock throbbing painfully in the confines of his pants.

Chen pulls away, inhaling shortly. Kyeongsu beckons him closer, cups his jaw and kisses him until he softens and pulls out of Baekhyeon. “Good,” he murmurs to Chen, all praise. “Very good.”

He smiles lazily at Kyeongsu. Abashed, proud. Beautiful.

Baekhyeon whines. He’s stabilized his breathing slightly. The press of his chest against Kyeongsu’s isn’t as irregular as before. But his cock, where it’s pushed into Kyeongsu’s stomach, is just as hard and throbbing.

“Oppa,” he gripes. Kyeongsu hopes that Baekhyeon will never stop loving being called so. The pleasure it causes Baekhyeon delights Kyeongsu to no end. He’s sure it has something to do with the fact that Baekhyeon is bi. “May I fuck you?”

Words don’t do it for him anymore. Baekhyeon’s hands go down his body, skipping any preamble with tugging his pants open and his cock out a second later. Kyeongsu hisses, lungs locking as Baekhyeon works him, pumping precome out. Kyeongsu grabs onto his hips to anchor himself. “Yes,” he gasps and turns around.

He doesn’t get to see the white remnants smeared around the bright, puffy pink of his hole, he doesn’t get to see a thing, but gets to feel it instead when Baekhyeon pushes his hips back and swallows Kyeongsu to the hilt with a moan.

Kyeongsu takes a moment to compose himself, to make sure he can stand on his own feet before this arms snake around Baekhyeon and hold him close, flattened to Kyeongsu’s front. There is a minute angled to his back to ensure that Kyeongsu is lodged deep inside of him. On the down stroke, the head rubs dead on Baekhyeon’s prostate – the texture of the area is different, Kyeongsu can tell. His motions are iterant, enslaved to what feels good, to what makes Baekhyeon lose his voice, lose his breath, lose himself.

He cannot come from this alone, however. That’s why Kyeongsu hasn’t touched him thus far. But he’s close now, so close and he cries out for a touch to his cock. Kyeongsu orders Chen over, takes him out of his lustful daze, from where he’s staring at where Kyeongsu is penetrating Baekhyeon and has him on his knees yet again, mouth open.

It’s all rough. Chen is gagging and Kyeongsu’s hands are bruising Baekhyeon’s hips. It’s fitting, in the name of feeding this office sex fantasy. This isn’t at home, where they are vanilla and giggles and hickeys that never get to ferment into purple from their soft pink.

The upheaval of his pleasure is vaguely picturesque - a spread of hues and sounds that mercilessly claws at Kyeongsu’s attention, shuts it there, isolates it. He has no need for air anyway, not when there are Baekhyeon’s grunts to live off of.

It ends the same way it started - with Kyeongsu behind Baekhyeon, his ass on his cock, and Chen kneeling in front of him, face full of Baekhyeon’s length. As Kyeongsu spills into him, he makes the same sigh, the superb one, and Kyeongsu crumples against the desk, taking Baekhyeon with him.

They stay for a few moments like that, in a silence stained by petering pants.

“And to think we’ll be having amazing threesomes like this for a lifetime,” says Baekhyeon with awe. His ass is full of cum and still around Kyeongsu and he kind of chuckles and this is a bad combo. Still, that sounds great. Kyeongsu cannot wait for a lifetime like that.

He pinches Baekhyeon’s nipple to make him yelp.

Chen chuckles, his lips wearing a pearlescent sheen, and his eyes crease cutely.

 

 

 

 

On the fourth Saturday since this started, Hyeongwon puts the branch on the table.

It takes place in Hall One. Kyeongsu feels calmest here.

Floors, ceilings, windows and a door. Still a box, still a trap. The décor is nice, though.

Kyeongsu looks at the cards.

Seongyeol wins, Hyeongwon loses, and Kyeongsu has no idea what his own cards are worth.

Seongyeol doesn’t blink. He takes a sip of his whiskey, cracks his neck and asks to be dealt another hand.

Hyeongwon laughs, twisting on the chair and gets his feet on the table.

In the end, it’s the paradigm of idiocy to think a game of chance doesn’t play you more than you play it.

Kyeongsu laughs along, full and clamorous enough that Seongyeol joins in too.

 

 

 

He meets Hyeongwon outside.

He grins at Kyeongsu. He’s beautiful when he grins, when he chuckles.

And from now on he’s free too.

Such a colossal loss cured him of the dependency. No need to this sort of escapism, not anymore, not when he’s just liberated himself of the object of his stress.

The last time he sees this man, they’re both sharing a grin. Freedom.

 

 

 

He blurts it just as the door is opened to him, both Baekhyeon and Chen gathered in the foyer. “Come with me to Busan.”

Nobody reported to them how it went. He’s ordered so. Kyeongsu ran straight here to break the news himself.  

“Aw, are we gonna sleep in the bed baby Kyeongsu slept in?” is Baekhyeon’s response. He snatches Kyeongsu’s hand and tugs him inside. Not that Kyeongsu wasn’t going to barge in. Baekhyeon just wants to hold his hand. Their fingers intertwine.

Kyeongsu giggles—and he hears—this is how it should sound, without the bounds, without the gloom. “I don’t think we’d fit. And my parents don’t know that I-“

“Love cock?”

“That I love you.”

Kyeongsu doesn’t even realize what he’s said, but both Jongdae and Baekhyeon freeze, halt, their eyes dropping open in the same lazy expression of bewilderment.

Kyeongsu blinks, lastly catching on. His mouth opens too, to say something perhaps. A small, condensed huff of joy gets out. He has no intention of taking these words back.

He’s known them for almost a year. He’s loved them for at least half of that. The confession is overripe.

“Fuck that was smooth,” says Jongdae.

“My panties are soaked through,” adds Baekhyeon. They’re both in a state of less stillness, but still quite surprised.

“And they do know that I love cock, yes. Unfortunately, exactly with these words.” A reminiscing scoff. It had been because of bajiu - the only thing strong enough to completely obliterate any shame he might have had and say it like that.

They loosen, begin smiling too - so many smiles tonight, finally, finally. Baekhyeon is gorgeous and Chen is gorgeous and Kyeongsu is fucking free so he steps ahead, takes Chen’s hand too, intertwines his fingers with his too.

“Ravish me now?” he asks, looking from one to the other.

“Yessir!”

Then there’s a flurry of kisses and torn clothing and marred skin and Kyeongsu nearly too happy for it to be true.

 

 

 

 

In Seoul, he’s toughened, skin and mind covered in scales. By now, being submerged in glass shards merely tickles. But it’s also so much easier to smile.

 

 

 

 

 “We could kill the dude off and run with the money,” Baekhyeon suggests around the lollipop filling his cheeks. He looks at the stretch of ocean unimpressed. Chen’s face is cut by the shadow of one of the cranes. The lattice of its neck drapes over his cheek.

“Nope,” replies Kyeongsu. “No murder and no running.”

He looks down the lane edging the water. Only one cargo ship docked. Cigarette butts on the ground, fishnets balled in crannies and a maze of containers along the side. It’s right as Kyeongsu remembers it.

“You want to go alone?” Chen asks. Kyeongsu hears waves and affection.

“Yeah.”

Gravel crushing underfoot, then Baekhyeon is turning. He takes the lollipop out of his mouth, places it into Chen’s, and then throws himself at Kyeongsu. He places strawberry-flavoured kisses all over his face, leaving sticky, saccharine trails. “Hwaiting!” he says. He gives him one more kiss, right on the lips so Kyeongsu can taste the sweetness. His eyes are sparkling.

He retrieves his candy from Chen before giving him a little squeeze to the side. Then it happens all over again, and Kyeongsu gets to taste another pair of sweetened lips, gets his heart even chirpier. His lip-lock with Chen only ends because they both begin chuckling.

That lollipop ends up in his mouth. Baekhyeon and Chen both singsong him a “Hwaiting!”

Kyeongsu has to swat away the gull that came to stand on the briefcase before he grabs it and marches towards the building.

 

 

 

There is no way his mom will ever be fooled.

She grabs him from the doorway, hugs him for a few seconds before she peeks over his shoulder, then pushes him away. Kyeongsu moues. He really missed his mom, yet she is more interested in frowning at Baekhyeon and Chen.

“There’s two of them,” she says, her eyebrow rising at Kyeongsu.

“This is my boss, and this…my other boss.”

Baekhyeon makes a smug face. Chen keeps his composure, as nervous as he is.

His mother huffs. She has that insightful, cheeky smile on her full lips that Kyeongsu inherited from her. She’s figured it all out.

“Well, Boss and Boss, welcome.”

 

 

 

A week later, after Kyeongsu’s father has taught the both of them to gut fish like pros, Kyeongsu finds out where their families are. His mother asked, whispered to him as they were washing the rice, what her in-laws are like. Kyeongsu had no reply.

They are all sprawled on the floor bedding. The roar of cicadas travels through the window. Kyeongsu listens to it a bit more before asking.

Baekhyeon tries to wiggle his socked toe into Kyeongsu’s sock. Both pairs of socks are Kyeongsu’s. “Mine are still in the UK. They’ll probably never come back here.”

 He’s heard him talking on the phone in English often. It was always with a smile, with enthusiasm.

He turns towards Chen, who is almost slumbering, head pillowed on one of Kyeongsu’s childhood plushies.

“I’ve been adopted by a couple in Hong Kong when I was seven. Then they didn’t like me, so I gambled for enough money to leave the country, then to sustain myself and then somehow Exo happened.”

He whispers it as if it’s nothing, as if it’s mild nuisance he’s encountered on the commute yesterday. Kyeongsu’s chest tightens. He turns on his side, taking Baekhyeon along with him since they are tied by the sock. He cards his fingers through Chen’s hair. Baekhyeon gets to his cheeks, cupping them tenderly.

He knew this story, of course, but as his gaze links briefly with Baekhyeon’s, Kyeongsu sees in it about as much ache as he’s feeling.

Chen blinks his eyes open at them. “What?”

Baekhyeon’s lip plops out from between his teeth. “Love you,” he whispers. There is nothing else Kyeongsu can say either. They bombard Chen with it until he squiggles and begins holding them down.

“Cuddles cure everything. Now shut up,” he mutters.

 

 

 

Kyeongsu visits all the streets and all the places he’s missed. He takes Baekhyeon and Chen along, both dressed in borrowed clothes as they trail after Kyeongsu like lost puppies.

Before they leave, they stop at a little restaurant right on the beach. The food is the same, a saltiness to the vegetables and a tinge of seaweed in everything. The ajumma reminds him that he still has the hand of her daughter promised to him, and Baekhyeon and Chen begin wailing inconspicuously in saturi. They slaughter the dialect. Kyeongsu can’t understand a thing, so he stuffs their pretty mouths with pieces picked off the grill instead.

 

 

 

 

They stay at a pension before leaving. The sea is close and he’s not alone and Kyeongsu has never felt more at peace than now.

That is, until Baekhyeon bursts out of the tiny bathroom and declares that tonight he will delight them with a strip show.

They aren’t protesting to it, no way, but Baekhyeon still takes his sweet time getting the both of them on the bed, linking their hands and declaring that they aren’t allowed to touch themselves, nor one another. They nod.

The show starts with Baekhyeon lifting the bathroom robe, sneaking his leg out through the slit and gliding his hand down it, fingers slightly clawed so it ripples, makes the plushness of the flesh known. He begins humming then, no lyrics, just a melody that is a lisle of enticed vowels as he rotates his hips in sync with it. It progresses to higher notes, but husky, ragged, and more and more skin, now tinted from sun exposure, and supple, soft.

It’s a beautiful little spectacle that has their hearts filling more than their cocks. Kyeongsu circles his thumb over the back of Chen’s hand.

But Baekhyeon, suddenly, is touching himself. He presses, pinches, fondles – his neck, his nipples, his ass, the insides of his thighs. The hums have broken down into sighs, then moans.

It gets so bad that they have to plead for him to stop, to let them touch each other at least.

Baekhyeon cedes, lastly, when he’s hard and pressed to his stomach. The patter of his feet on the carpet as he nears the bed, the rub of skin on skin from his thighs touching together with each step, then he’s between them on skin, Baekhyeon’s hand dragging down the valley of his hip while his other one is over Chen’s nape.

 

 

 

 

The afterglows are always long, always impossibly blissful. There are doilies of wet hair strands matted to his forehead and two bodies knotted with his own.

An ear is filled with the din of crashing waves, and another with breaths that are in harmony with his.

 

 

 

 

Kyeongsu puts the lid on the pot, turning the heat to medium. The hum of it bubbling fills the kitchen.

Baekhyeon materializes in front of him as soon as his hands are free. “Making food for daddy?” he blinks. The little shit.

“Is that what you call me now?” Kyeongsu grins though, gives it all away, as his lips stretch into that cordate shape that always has Baekhyeon’s gaze going misty.

Baekhyeon groans and tugs at his shoulders, bringing him in for a kiss. He’s better with these than with words.

Occupied with Baekhyeon, Kyeongsu doesn’t observe Chen sneaking out of the kitchen. Baekhyeon gets a hold of his hips, his back, his caress kindled. His mouth is insistent on his, and Kyeongsu can do nothing but get so invested into it that he barely feels Chen’s touch on the hand he has on Baekhyeon’s waist to bring him in.

He brings the hand to cradle Baekhyeon’s face and there is a ring on it

“What,” he starts, half-kissed onto Baekhyeon

Kyeongsu never really liked his hands. They got things done, but they have no aesthetic qualities. Now there’s a band of sapphires on one of his fingers, a blinding blue and a golden rim. It’s a sight of such dissonance that it is marvellous.

“Am I just being proposed to? This is so unromantic. I want a redo.”

Baekhyeon hits his chest, reminding him that they were in the middle of something, and bites under his jaw. “It’s romantic as fuck. He put mine on a sausage and slipped it into my pocket at the bus stop and then he disappeared. I should’ve married the sausage instead.”

Kyeongsu wants to think of a reply, but indeed, Baekhyeon is right there, hard and pressed too close, so he swoops to steal one proper kiss before facing Chen.

“Great proposal, honey. Yes. Come here.”

“Did you just say yes?” A surprised Chen is the cutest Chen.

“Of course I said yes. It’s sapphire, I’m rich. Come here,” Kyeongsu wails-demands.

“Shit, you really love us,” whispers Baekhyeon.

“Like you wouldn’t believe.”

 

 

 

Kyeongsu hears the distinct sound of little barks and paws on pavement. Then Jongin’s soft, awkward laughter and a raspier voice.

Chen trails behind Kyeongsu with the same level of curiosity.

What they find is Baekhyeon sprawled on the ground as Jongin’s pups jump and bite at him. They seem so hyper. Then next to him there is a small pile of sausage wrappers. So that’s why they love him so much.

Kyeongsu and Chen look at each other, equally enamoured, all the tiredness and the stress crumbling off of their shoulders. Baekhyeon resurfaces at some point, a few small leaves in his hair, and a white woolen pup licking his neck. His hair is wild, poofy, and his lips spread in the biggest, squarest beam.

Jannggu is chewing and yanking at the hem of Baekhyeon’s pants. The fabric rips a little.

Baekhyeon looks up at them with pleading eyes. “Can we keep them?”

Kyeongsu’s eyes slide up to Jongin, who is beyond amused. He offers a nod, a bow, and a nearly apologetic smile. Then Baekhyeon’s arm loops around Jongin’s calf. “Their daddy too. He’s the pup captain.”

This is when Chen starts laughing. Kyeongsu stares at him. And he realizes, by the complete fondness of Chen’s face, that this is why he fell for Baekhyeon. This is what makes him so damn precious.

Jongin appears pleased with being called a Pup Captain. His cheeks dimple and he takes in a breath.

“Hyeong,” begins Jongin with impetus, “She left.”

He bites his lip.  Maybe he didn’t want to blurt this out right now, with these people present, but he couldn’t stop himself.  

Kyeongsu’s mouth opens. He doesn’t know what to say. He’s really happy for Jongin. Restrain is not something that should be lived with. Then he notices he’s dressed in his work attire - he works for a tiny, local real estate agency. He should be in the office right now.

“This is…it’s great,” Kyeongsu voices. He beings smiling in the pause between the words. It really is great.

Jongin nods his head, enthusiastically, his hair flopping around. “I quit too, without a plan,” he says, gesturing vaguely to himself.

“Are you Jongin?” asks Chen, who was previously quiet beside Kyeongsu. He talks in formal speech to him, amiable.

“Yes, I am,” he bows, shortly, then he looks at Kyeongsu. “Who is…?”

Kyeongsu swallows. “Boyfriend.” Better than saying another term.

Jongin nods again, then he turns towards Baekhyeon, who is sprawled on the ground. He cannot even be seen from all the furry pups on him. “Then who is…?”

“Also boyfriend.”

Jongin’s eyes round. It’s probably the most awake Kyeongsu’s ever seen him. Then he points an accusatory finger towards Baekhyeon. “Please don’t flirt with my dogs. That’s cheating.”

Baekhyeon says something resembling “They’re the ones flirting with me!” but it’s muffled, so it might not be that.

Chen, besides him, swallows a tiny huff. “Jongin, do you have a driving license?”

“Yeah.”

“Great. We have a friend from Canada who is still not used to driving in Seoul. Would you be interested in helping him with that?”

Kyeongsu tries not to snicker. Jongin’s eyes are really wide now. It’s endearing.

“How’s…how’s the pay?” Drivers, the ones not working for a mafia, don’t make much at all.

“Kai manages to get his car damaged some way or another about twice a week. If you can lower that number at least a little, the pay will be very handsome.”

The pups are slobbering up Baekhyeon better than Kyeongsu and Chen ever can. Jongin yips his consent in the same manner Monggu would.

 

 

 

 

“Are you really just going to save everyone?” Kyeongsu asks, jogging to catch up.

“Yes,” replies Chen, breezy. “Everyone needs a bit of rescue sometimes.”

Kyeongsu is carrying the last box of his belongings from his apartment. The cactus is on top of it.

Baekhyeon also struggles to catch up, holding onto a folded blanket, just to liquefy into him with a whipped simper.

“We have an amazing husband,” whispers Kyeongsu.  

Baekhyeon throws his unoccupied arm around his neck. “Amazingest.”