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One.

 

It takes a long while: six years since they first met, and he played his part in Seon-woo's heartbreak, 4 years since they embarked on an adventure, barely two since he broke Seon-woo's heart again, like a bad habit he couldn't get over—

It takes three minutes.

"If the honourable Minister for Health cared about facts," Seon-woo says, as he leans back in his chair—completely relaxed, though Seung-hyo knows he's taken two painkillers today—"Then we wouldn't be in this position. Secretary-nim, may I suggest that you convey to Minister-nim that we are, in fact, tired of his bullshit. Every request- reasonable and unreasonable—has been complied with. If our esteemed government doesn't want to get dragged through the mud on the nightly news, starting from—" he makes a show of glancing at his watch, "oh, let's say, three hours from now, then they'd better get their act together."

Secretary Han of the Ministry of Health visibly blanches.

"You wouldn't," he blusters, "You need us."

"Respectfully, Secretary-nim," says Seon-woo, as he adjusts his glasses. He looks perfectly bored. "We really don't."

"You're too small a firm for anyone to pay attention to you," says Secretary Han with a contemptuous glance in Seung-hyo's direction. "Ex Hwajeong is not the same as Hwajeong."

"But my sister-in-law is still my sister-in-law," Seon-woo says, "Forgive my bragging here, but she's very fond of me. Korea Wave is the most influential news program currently on air, isn't it?"

Secretary Han gapes at him, goes red and then white.

Seung-hyo, who knows perfectly well that Choi Seo-Hyun is in no way going to let her darling brother in law set the agenda for her news program thinks—I could suck your dick right now.

The thought hasn't coalesced when— an image, of him on his knees, and Seon-woo above him—

It streaks through him, brain to spine to balls, ears buzzing, and every other thought wiped clean.

"Excuse me for a few minutes," Secretary Han is mumbling, already half way out of his chair. "I have a call to make."

Seon-woo smiles, the same sweet, boyish smile that Seung-hyo has seen every day nearly now for four years.

"Of course, Secretary Han," he says, "Please do take your time—we have six minutes left on the clock for this meeting."

Hapless Mr. Han hurries out of the room, and Seon-woo turns to him, eyes bright and laughing.

"Do you think it'll take 6 or 3? Twenty on three."

"Forty on six," he says, on auto pilot, surprised his voice still works—that he's still in his chair and not on his knees, making a fool of himself.

Seon-woo hums and looks at his phone.

He smiles.

"Hyung!" he says, "Eomma's making crab soup for dinner, want to join? It's your favourite."

He nods; so much for a working voice, he thinks, heart beating frantically in his chest.

"Cool," Seon-woo's saying, "I'll tell her to expect us around 7."

Secretary Han comes into the room.

Seon-woo shoots him a triumphant look.

It absolutely does not help the situation in Seung-hyo's heart or pants.

So yeah, it takes six years, or three minutes, depending which way you looked at it.

Either way, he's screwed.

 

Two.

 

He is not screwed.

He is not screwed because he's not a horny adolescent, but a sane, pragmatic man in his late thirties. An inconvenient crush on a co-worker—funny, how that seemed to be the sum total of his romantic engagements this last half decade—it was bad enough when it might have only resulted in a sexual harassment lawsuit, but this would be an exponentially higher magnitude of stupidity. The things he stood to lose—the best working partnership he's ever had, the foundation of the empire he's going to build—and more than that, more than that—Seon-woo's friendship, his trust, so hard won— well, it wasn't even a choice.

That momentary madness in the meeting room: he was tired, overworked, undersexed—he couldn't even remember the last time he'd had someone in his bed—that was all.

He should just bite the bullet and get on one of these dating apps or hook up apps or whatever.

Or do that meditation thing that Sunwoo Chang-ssi was always trying to sell him. Or take the weekend and go hiking in the hills. White water rafting—

Besides, there was just no way that Seon-woo had ever considered him in a romantic or a sexual way. Was he even attracted to men?

(Should he find out? How?)

--white water rafting—

"You seem distracted, hyung", Seon-woo says, breaking the endlessly rotating hamster wheel of this thoughts. They're on their way to a meeting with the research team at Seoul National University. If the test results that they'd sent out two days ago were as good as they seemed on paper, they were on the brink of a breakthrough that could potentially transform hundreds of thousands of lives, worldwide. If New Life could swing the commercial production of this latest model.  It could transform Seon-woo's life, he thinks- a less abstract and much more personal win.

"Oh, just thinking about those specs that the Taiwanese guys sent us," he says. Seung-hyo didn't lie, as a rule—it made everything excessively complicated—but there were necessary exceptions. For instance, like now. Seon-woo's dressed in that diabolically well fitted dark grey suit and white shirt combination that always made Kang Kyung-ah say things like, oh it's really hot in this room right now, perhaps Ye-sajang should take a coffee break so we can all recover, or some people should really ask themselves before they dress for work whether the rest of us mortals deserve this torture, what do you think Gu daepyo-nim? Over the years, Seon-woo had gone from being shyly embarrassed by her teasing to parrying it with his own—a game of chicken that he usually lost, because Kang Kyung-ah was shameless. Seung-hyo usually adroitly escaped from being pulled into it, sometimes by the very simple but effective method of shutting the door on them. But perhaps, perhaps—what if he said—casuallyYou're looking nice today—that was the kind of compliment that friends gave each other, wasn't it? It wasn't—your shoulders seem exceptionally broad today, or  have you been working out more these days, because your arms certainly look like they have, or Have you always worn that cologne and has it always been this sexy or am I having a blue-balls induced psychological breakdown—

He'd completely missed whatever Seon-woo had said in reply.

"Uh," he says, intelligently. "Yes, I think that's fine."

Seon-woo gives him an astonished look.

"You just said last week that it was completely unacceptable. When did you change your mind?"

"About what?"

Oh god.

Seon-woo's expression becomes concerned.

"Hyung," he says, "Are you feeling alright? You've been travelling for last three weeks, and you got in late last night. I can take this one myself, you should take a—"

"No," he says, brusque—a little too curt, because Seon-woo's face falls.

"I'm tired," he admits, sighing.  "But let's take this one, and then maybe I'll ask Kyung-ah-ssi to reschedule the rest of my day."

Seon-woo nods and gives him a small smile- concern and relief mingled.

This was  what he stood to lose: the best friend he'd ever had.

Seung-hyo didn't have friends; he had networks. The few exceptions were people he knew from college or earlier; none of them in the same line of work as him. Corporate life was not where one found  those kind of relationships, at least not someone as ambitious as him.

But somehow, in Seon-woo, he'd found both work partner and friend. He'd respected his competence and integrity from the start and admired his resilience in the face of the unlucky hand life had dealt him; had liked the man who'd wheeled himself a few kilometres to rescue a friend in trouble—had thought then, that if there was someone who loved him like that—

The line between ambition and greed—that was a tough one to walk, he'd found.

They had progressed from "Gu daepyo-nim" to "Gu Seung-hyo-nim" to "hyung", when they were alone or among family—he still remembers the first time that Seon-woo had called him that, at a picnic No-eul had organized. Seon-woo had  flushed, a little, as though he hadn't meant to slip up but had met his eyes steadily enough—Seung-hyo hadn't remarked on it, and instead had carefully tried out "Seon-woo-ya" later that day, and had been rewarded with a quiet, pleased smile.

He'd almost ruined it all once before when No-eul and he had decided to part ways. Seon-woo blamed him for it, he knew. And he'd been transparent in his attempts to get them back together; at one point Seung-hyo had been genuinely worried that Seon-woo would never be able to forgive him.

(Another part of him had wondered, whether now, since he was out of the way, whether Seon-woo and No-eul would—

He hadn't dwelt a lot on how that would hurt—he wasn't the kind of person to waste his energy on disaster hypotheticals—though why that would have been disastrous, he hadn't quite thought through.

Fool. )

But Seon-woo had eventually seemed to let it go. Seung-hyo suspected that it more because No-eul had very obviously moved on, when she started dating that teacher, than anything he had done to earn Seon-woo's forgiveness.  The break-up had hurt of course. When he'd embarked on their relationship, it had been with the full knowledge that their personalities and outlook toward life were quite different; but he'd hoped they'd be able to bridge it, together. But the honeymoon phase of their relationship had lasted the precise time it had been long distance. After that, it had been—difficult. At some point, he'd had to admit he didn't have the time for the kind of investment the relationship needed. Or the harsher truth: that he did prioritize his work more than anything else in his life. He didn't blame No-eul for wanting out. He did, if he was being honest, blame her a little for expecting him to be something other than he was—the person he'd always been. But the hurt and anger had faded (too easily?)—today he was happy enough to be No-eul's friend if she wished to renew that part of their relationship.

And now this: Seon-woo adjusting his collar, as he stares out of the window, the perfect, sharp angles of his jaw and cheekbones, and line of his neck as he tilts his head a little, resting it against the pane—all of it raising Seung-hyo's blood pressure by at least 2 points this fine summer morning. 

He shoots off an email to Kang Kyung-ah and asks her to check if she can reschedule his entire travel schedule so that he's out of the country for a few weeks. Distance would cure this madness; that and work, before he did something foolish.

("Do you want to go for dinner tonight?" – Seon-woo would say yes—after all, they'd had many dinners together—and after, when he was dropping Seon-woo home, what if he leaned across and—)

He could count himself in the handful of people that Seon-woo guarded in his heart, he thinks, and that is enough. It is.

 

Three.

 

It isn't enough.

It isn't enough because here he is, one year later, spying on what feels like something sacred—

Seon-woo and Jin-woo are huddled together on a bench in a hospital waiting room, staring down at the newest addition to their family: Seol-hee, 3 hours old, 53 cms, 3.2 kgs, fast asleep, cradled in Seon-woo's strong arms. He's smiling down at her with an expression of absolute adoration—an expression identical to the one Jin-woo's wearing as he looks at his brother.  

Seung-hyo had driven himself and Seon-woo down to Gangneung, after a frantic call from Jin-woo. Seo-hyun and he had been on their way back from a brief weekend trip, when she'd gone into labour, 2 weeks before she was due. Luckily, they'd been less than twenty minutes away from Gangneung Hospital, and once they'd reached, Lee No-eul had been there to take care of the rest of it, organizing everything and making sure Jin-woo didn't get himself thrown out of the hospital.  Choi Seo-hyun was resting now, after the (nine months and) three and half hours of labour that had produced what was clearly going to be the most spoilt, if perfect, child in the world.

("I don’t want to see your face or your dick ever again!" he'd heard her yell at Jin-woo, to his absolute delight. Jin-woo hadn't looked fazed- perhaps he was still too dazed to have registered it.)

He'd left Jin-woo and Seon-woo to have some private time with the baby on the pretext of getting everyone something to drink—now he hovers, half out of sight near the stairwell, not wanting to interrupt.

I'm in love with him and it's not going to go away, he thinks, with an odd sort of ache in his chest.

The last year had been a torment; a constant attempt to rein in his feelings before they ran away from him entirely. He'd restrained himself through endless meetings where Seon-woo's presence was sometimes the only thing that kept him from losing it entirely; through Sunday lunches with eomeonim and Seon-woo; through Seon-woo's subjecting himself to experimental technology— why had he agreed to that, he couldn't bear it, but he would because Seon-woo could—through Seon-woo's bright laughter in the sunlight in their post -basketball game picnic brunches, and through the days when Seon-woo would turn up at work, a thin thread of tension in his shoulders the only indicator he allowed that he'd had a rough night, which he still did, sometimes—in short, it had been hell.

It's a relief to think that he can stop fighting it.

He's in love with his best friend, and that's just the way it is.

"That child is going to be a brat, if we're not careful," says a voice at his shoulder. He turns, startled—it's No-eul, of course. She glances up at him, a wry smile on her face. "Those two haven’t the foggiest idea of parenting," she says, nodding toward the brothers. "It isn't Jin-woo's first time," he feels compelled to contradict. She glances at him, raising an eyebrow.

 "Eomeonim didn't do everything that she did for you to say that," she says.

He flushes- she's right, of course.

"I just meant—"

She turns away.

"I know," she says, "You're not entirely wrong either."

"They'll manage," he says, recovering. "We're all there to help."

She nods, face softening.

"I'll just—" he starts, gesturing toward the brothers.

She falls into step beside him.

Later, as they say their goodbyes, she says, abrupt, "Don't be a stranger, Seung-hyo-ssi."

He nods at her, conscious of Seon-woo watching them from the car.

"Call me," he says, "When you come up to Seoul next. Let's catch up."

She nods, and when he holds his hand out, she shakes it.

 

Seon-woo chatters about the baby and the arrangements to be made back home—they'd already moved to a new place in anticipation, and only the final touches were left—through most of the ride, before falling quieter, as they near Seoul.

"Hyung," he says, suddenly, "I've never thanked you properly."

"For what?"

"I know it was you that got me into SNU's first test subjects list after my surgery. It would have been so much harder for me without that."

Seung-hyo says, quietly,  "It isn't something you owe me thanks for."

"Why do you say that?"

"It cost me nothing," Seung-hyo says. "Kindness isn't what people who have everything give when it costs them nothing. I was problem solving."

"Problem solving?"

He keeps his eyes on the road.

"No-eul was upset," he says, "I wanted to ease that. And of course, I wanted someone I admired and respected to have access to the best resources available. I knew someone who could make it happen. So I made a call."

"I still call it a kindness," Seon-woo says, softly. "You didn't need to do it."

"Besides," Seung-hyo says, after a minute, "I should thank you. If I hadn’t started thinking about how to solve your issue, I might have never done the research. New Life might never have existed. And it wouldn't have taken the shape it has, if you hadn't come in."

"Oh that's true," says Seon-woo, "I accept your thanks."

Seung-hyo turns to him.

Seon-woo's wearing a shit eating grin.

"See, hyung," he says, laughing now, a little pool of brightness in the dark of the car, "That's how it's done. It's that easy."

Seung-hyo turns his gaze back to the road, shaking his head, warm all over, inside-out, as Seon-woo sighs, leaning back against the headrest. After a few moments of quiet, when he glances up at the rearview mirror, Seon-woo's eyes are slowly drifting shut.

Seung-hyo fiddles with the radio until he finds something soothing, and keeps his eyes on the road.

 

 

Four.

 

It might have continued that way—Seung-hyo content to leave things as they were between them—only Jin-woo goes and almost gets himself killed. In suitably stupid and heroic fashion of course—something about rescuing a child from a burning building on his way to work, and almost dying of smoke asphyxiation in the process.

He keeps his feelings about that to himself when he sees Seon-woo: white-faced and quiet, refusing to be dislodged from his brother's side at the hospital. It's also the first time he thinks: I want him to know that he'll never be alone in this world as long as I'm there.

The next day, he has Secretary Kang begin to shortlist residential properties.

She looks at his specifications- 5 pages, neatly indexed and cross-referenced—he'd had plenty of time last night, alone in his room, having been sent away by Choi Seo-hyun and Seon-woo.

"Uh huh," she says, "Right."

"Is anything the matter?" he asks, politely.

"No," she says, "I can't say that it is. Except, you know."

"What?"

"Nothing," she says, and then, because she's never learnt to hold her tongue—"I believe the progression is normally flowers and dinner, and then, a few years later—"

"Get out, Ms.Kang," he says, calmly. "And if you ever—"

"What am I?" she says, "Stupid?"

She rolls her eyes at him and stalks to the door, waving the papers.

"I'll need two weeks," she says, over her shoulder.

"One," he says, because he's annoyed.

She pauses, hand on the handle.

"It'll become three months if you continue that tone of voice with me," she says, and then shuts the door in his face.

 

Five.

 

As the house he's building for—them—takes shape, finds himself, several times, on the brink of making a full confession of it to Seon-woo. But each time, his courage fails him.

He tries his best to gauge Seon-woo's feelings. They've never discussed dating or romance—and Seung-hyo had decided a long time ago that unless Seon-woo mentioned it, he never would. It isn't that he thinks Seon-woo incapable of sexual desire or romantic feeling—he knows full well that he is. It's just that Seon-woo has, very obviously, shut himself away from it. Part of it is the hurt of No-eul's rejection, Seung-hyo knows; part of it is the way society treats disabled bodies.

Seon-woo never looks: that reflexive, unconscious, split second evaluation that most people do- men or women. He never does that, with people of any gender. He barely looks in the mirror, except to make sure that he's presentable.

It hurts Seung-hyo on some deep level; but he isn't so vain as to think that he could be the exception. Besides, there are many reasons that people chose to live asexual lives—who is he to judge or demand that they change it for him? If it comes to a point where Seon-woo becomes aware of his feelings—and even—perhaps—reciprocates them on some level, he decides that it will be entirely on Seon-woo's terms.

 

And then the house is done and—well, he doesn't kid himself that someone as smart as Seon-woo wouldn't understand the meaning of what he's done. But he doesn't want to pressure Seon-woo in any way—if he invited him over, just the two of them, it might become awkward. Better, he thinks, to make it seem entirely ordinary—just a millionaire with money to spend, throwing a housewarming party.

Alright, he's  a coward.

 

But he'd been right: it doesn't go well.

Seon-woo had been hurt, somehow, by the thought that someone would want him exactly for who he was. Seung-hyo didn't pretend to understand it entirely—but there were only two choices—either he'd let this ruin their friendship by retreating or he could do what he'd promised when he'd built this house: stay by his side, if Seon-woo let him.

 

It's barely 6 am on a Sunday, so he's surprised when eomma pads into the kitchen, yawning, Nighty in her arms. She sits down at the counter, burying her nose in Nighty's scruff, and making cooing noises.  

"Up so early?" he asks, as he sets the water to boil. "I thought you'd be tired after last evening."

"I saw the lights on in your room past 3 am," she says, "Where are you off to now?"

"Basketball game," he explains, as the water starts to bubble.

"Ah," says eomma, accompanied by a knowing smile.

When he doesn't say anything, she prods. "So?"

"What?"

"What did Seon-woo-ya think, that's what" she says, making a face at him as she ties up her hair in a loose knot. "Seung-hyo-ya, don’t try to be coy with me, I gave birth to you."

"He liked the house," he says, neutrally.

"He liked the house," she repeats, incredulous. "Seung-hyo-ya?"

"Eomma," he says, "I told you already, he's never—he doesn't think of me as anything but a friend."

"Why don’t you just tell him straight?" eomma scolds, as he pours the boiling water into the tea cup, sending a small cloud of sweet-smelling steam into the air above it. "I didn't raise any son of mine to be a coward."

He leans forward to scratch behind Nighty's ears.

"I told him," he confesses, finally, not looking at her. "Last night."

She puts the cup down.

"Seung-hyo-ya," she says, quietly, laying one hand over his.

He shrugs.

"It's alright," he says, "This was always a possibility. The most likely outcome. It doesn't change anything for me."

"Is he upset?"

He nods.

"Are you scared?"

He sighs.

"Eomma," he says, "Stop it, ok."

"It'll be fine," she says, optimistically. "You'll see. He's had a shock. It'll take him a while to adjust to the idea."

"I'm off," he mutters, but he leans over to kiss her cheek before he leaves.

 

Despite his attempt at stoicism, the truth is, there is a knot of misery in his gut that tightens when he reaches the court and finds that Seon-woo isn't there. It's not like him to be late. Perhaps he'd decided to skip the game today; perhaps he'd decided he didn't want to see Seung-hyo.  But none of the others seem to think so, so he pushes away the thought, striking up a conversation with the team instead.

He's just talking about one of the newer prosthetics they're testing now when he hears a soft, "Hyung..". It's Seon-woo. Relief crashed through him in a tidal wave.

"Hi," he says, and if it comes out slightly breathless, it's alright, nobody will notice.

"Hi," says Seon-woo, softly, and gives him a tentative smile.

He smiles back, but before they can say anything more to each other, the others are demanding their attention—the game is about to begin. He moves aside a bit, and after a team huddle, Seon-woo looks around—Seung-hyo raises his hand, and walks forward.

"Your laces are undone," he says, kneeling to knot them.

A hand on his shoulder—Seon-woo's expression is—

Seung-hyo's heart does something extremely strange in his chest—like it'd turned into an Olympic level gymnast, backflipping thrice in the space of a minute.

I'm going to kiss you someday, he thinks, with sudden clarity. I'm going to lay you down on a bed of roses. I'm going to—

"Thank you," Seon-woo is saying.

There's a faint flush to his cheeks, as though he could hear Seung-hyo's ridiculous thoughts.

He feels the tips of his ears heat, so he nods, and gets up quickly.

They were in a public place, after all.

Seon-woo's family was here.

He reaches out and squeezes Seon-woo's shoulder.

"Go get them," he says, and he knows he's got the stupidest smile on his face.

It can't be helped; and perhaps it doesn't matter, after all, because Seon-woo huffs, eyes glinting,  "Hyung, have I ever lost you any money?" and zooms off at what would be an alarming speed to anybody who didn't know him like Seung-hyo did.

He's going to win.

 

Six.

 

Well, of course, nobody's being laid in a bed of roses any time soon: for one, Jin-woo practically kidnaps Seon-woo right after the game—which they'd won—and drags him away, leaving Seung-hyo stewing, and thinking extremely uncharitable thoughts about his future brother-in-law.

But Seon-woo calls him that evening, and they meet for dinner at Seon-woo's favourite pojangmacha. Even Seung-hyo admits that the ahjumma who runs it serves the best fish soup he's tasted, maybe ever.

"I was very rude yesterday," Seon-woo says, bluntly, after they've ordered two large bowls of soup and rice. "You’ve been nothing but good to me, and I've repaid you with hurt. I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to apologize for, Seon-woo-ya," he says. "I put you in a difficult position. But like I said—nothing has to change, I promise."

"How can you say that?" Seon-woo asks, with a tinge of exasperation. "Of course, everything's changed."

"Why?" he counters. "My feelings for you didn't develop because I expected reciprocation."

He smiles wryly. "If anything, I was 90% certain you wouldn't."

"90%?"

He huffs, "There's a little bit of hope in every situation. I'm not going to deny that I felt it."

"It's the 10% that's the hardest to bear," Seon-woo says softly, looking down.

Seung-hyo knows what he's thinking.

"Hey," he says, "Don't worry about it."

"What kind of friend would I be if I didn't?" Seon-woo says fiercely, glaring at him.  

"Soup's getting cold," Seung-hyo says, nudging his bowl toward him. "I'd like you to be a well-fed friend, first. You get cranky when you're hungry."

"Unbelievable," Seon-woo mutters, but he scoops a spoonful, and tastes it.

Despite his irritation, a pleased expression steals over his face.

"It's really good today," Seung-hyo says, having swallowed his own spoonful. "Shall we order some more, you think?"

"Don't try to distract me," Seon-woo says, going back to being irritated. "You've-you've—"

"I've caused you trouble," Seung-hyo says, sympathetically.

"Yes!" Seon-woo exclaims. "You have no business being—" he stops, then finishes, rather lamely, "—the way you are."

"Which way is that?" asks Seung-hyo, amused. He scoops some more soup: ah, perfectly spiced. It really was so good.

"Perfect," says Seon-woo, bitterly.

He drinks some more soup.

Seung-hyo studies the bend of his neck, and the set of his shoulders. A giant wave of affection washes over him.

After two minutes of silence broken only the occasional clink of cutlery, Seung-hyo says, "Am I allowed to improve my odds to 80:20?"

Seon-woo looks up at that, and then looks away, and then back.

He looks nervous.

Don't be, Seung-hyo wants to say, it's me.

"I've never dated," Seon-woo says, finally. "I've never. In a romantic relationship. I don't know how to—whether I'd be good at—and I don't know—I don't want you to think I'm leading you on. I don't want to hurt you. I couldn’t bear it."

He says the last bit in a rush. It's the least eloquent Seung-hyo's ever heard him. It's hopelessly endearing.

"Dating isn't leading the other person on," Seung-hyo says, hastily. "It's where you try to figure out whether you are suited for each other. "

Seon-woo looks conflicted. "But we're friends," he says, "If I hurt you—"

"Seon-woo-ya," he says, "What if I hurt you?"

"You wouldn't," Seon-woo says, immediately, and then looks surprised at himself.

"I'd try my best not to," Seung-hyo agrees, "But it's not guaranteed. My track record isn't great, as you know."

"That wasn't all your fault," Seon-woo mutters, and looks down hurriedly when Seung-hyo's eyes widen. "Shall we get more kimchi?" he blurts. "It's so good! Ahjumma!"

Seung-hyo tries not to laugh, but it's difficult—there's too much joy bubbling within.

He waits until more kimchi reaches the table, and then puts some in Seon-woo's bowl.

"So," he inquires, "Are we dating now?"

Seon-woo stabs at the kimchi with his chopsticks.

"If you like," he mumbles, almost too soft to hear, eyes on his food.

When Seung-hyo says nothing, he looks up . There's a faint line of pink dusting his cheekbones, and he inhales a little sharply as he meets Seung-hyo's eyes.

"I like," Seung-hyo says, "I like very much."

 

 

There's still no bed of roses in anyone's near future: they talk some more about it, and agree that it's best to take it slow. It's extraordinary, Seung-hyo thinks, three weeks later, as he meets Seon-woo's gaze across a table, how much slow could feel like plummeting off a cliff in slow motion.

It's No-eul and Min-ho's wedding reception; he's there as Seon-woo's date. It was hilariously awkward, but No-eul had been quite matter of fact when she'd called to invite him and said, "I'm putting you in as Seon-woo's plus one, you'd better not stand him up."

When they'd talked about it, they'd thought to ease the rest of the family (Jin-woo) into the idea—this was more like being pushed into ice water without warning. But it was No-eul; there was no possibility of refusal.

So here he is, staring at Seon-woo across the dinner table, weighing the risks versus the reward of initiating  a game of footsie under the table, with Jin-woo right there beside Seon-woo, glaring daggers in his direction every alternate minute.

Jin-woo had taken the news of their dating with as much grace as Seung-hyo had expected- none at all. Seon-woo had downplayed his reaction, saying, only, he'll come around, you know how he is, but Seung-hyo had privately tacked "in another fifty years" to that sentence. His standing hadn't improved when he'd invited the family over to lunch last weekend. Jin-woo, he thinks, had been unprepared for the house—that immutable declaration of Seung-hyo's intent. He'd sat there, quiet, letting Seo-hyun carry on the conversation, and only responding politely enough when addressed by Seung-hyo's parents.

Seung-hyo could understand his anger— that Seung-hyo had once again, willy-nilly, overturned Jin-woo's life, and this time it wasn't work or a friendship—it was Seon-woo, who was Jin-woo's brother, and child and soul, and there were maybe, a sum total of three people in this world other than himself that Jin-woo would entrust Seon-woo's happiness to. Seung-hyo wasn't one of them.

Still: he couldn't regret his own decision. And it wasn't like Seon-woo had agreed to move in with him. Maybe that would never happen, though Seung-hyo would do his best to make it happen. Jin-woo would have to figure it out himself. Or not.

Ok, so, maybe, it wouldn't even be this century.

He's regretfully giving up on the idea of footsie— there was no point unnecessarily aggravating Jin-woo— when Seon-woo says, suddenly, "Would you care to dance, hyung?"

There's a small dance floor—a tent, really, because this was an open-air event— set up a little to their left. There are a few couples, swaying lazily to something soft, romantic that the live band was playing. The newlyweds had already done their rounds; people were already beginning to leave.

Seung-hyo's conscious of a pair of dark eyes set in a cadaver-pale face sending firebolts in his direction.

"Yes," he says, "I'd very much like to."

 

"Have you been practicing?" he asks, smiling, as they walk slowly toward the tent, sleeves brushing against each other's. Seon-woo's looking particularly handsome tonight, in a navy tux; Seung-hyo's is the more conventional black.

"No," Seon-woo says, "I'm probably going to step on your toes."

"I'll let you and won't even complain," Seung-hyo says, smiling at him.

Seon-woo rolls his eyes at him—but Seung-hyo doesn't care. It's a beautiful night, and he has Seon-woo in his arms (finally!), as they travel small circles with their feet,  mostly swaying gently in place. The band's playing something that's all violins and sweepingly romantic melody; Seung-hyo's only conscious of the occasional brush of Seon-woo's cheek against his, the faint whiff of his cologne, and their hands clasped together.

"I'm going to take you dancing," he whispers, "When we go back. Next week. Tomorrow."

Seon-woo chuckles a little, ducking his head, his forehead bumping against Seung-hyo's shoulder.

"Don't you like it?"

"I do," Seon-woo says, tilting his head, "I like it very much."

 

So, as summer turns into autumn and then winter,  they add dancing to their already full routine of work and travel and family meals and basketball games. They add movie dates and coffee dates; dinner dates and breakfast dates; art exhibition dates, Formula 1 dates, baseball game dates, theatre dates and park dates. The latter is just Seung-hyo making Seol-hee's regular outdoor time also date time. Everything is  potentially date time, he figures, they don't have the luxury of making extra time in their twenty- hour days; every minute apart from Seon-woo seems a minute wasted.

It has its downsides; daily work lunches now take an average of 7 minutes more than usual, and include commentary like get a room, you two from Ms.Kang, and sometimes, park dates with Seon-woo and Seol-hee also include Jin-woo.

He runs into Choi Seo-hyun one day, quite by accident as he's leaving a business meeting in a downtown Seoul hotel. They decide to have a quick lunch together at the bar.

"I'm sorry about Jin-woo," she says, as she neatly spears a cube of feta cheese. "He's being an ass."

"He's naturally very protective of Seon-woo," Seung-hyo says, choosing safety. "It isn't unexpected."

She gives him a thoughtful look.

"I think," she says, and then stops, waving a hand. "Doesn't matter."

"No," he says, intrigued, "Go on."

"I think you'll find that it's Seon-woo who'll have trouble letting go," she says. "You should be prepared for that. He's more overwhelmed than he seems."

He nods—perhaps she was right.

"I'll never force him to do anything he doesn't want to," he says, "I can guarantee that."

"Hmm," she says. "Love can be its own kind of coercion. Plus," she adds, "You have your whole thing going on."

"What thing?"

"This larger than life, prince-in-a-fairytale or romance novel hero thing."

"I have not!" he exclaims, feeling vaguely insulted.

"Anyways," she says, not really paying attention. "Tread carefully."

"I am!" he says, exasperated. "We're treading so slow we're—"

He stops, flushing.

"Ohhhhhh," she says, "No, that's not what I meant, though, y' know, props to you for the patience. I've seen the way you look at him, so if you haven't yet, y'know—"

"Ms. Choi," he says, feeling like he'd let this conversation get completely out of control, "Please."

"Like I said," she says, grinning, "Romance novel hero."

She looks at her watch and makes a face.

"Ok, got to rush," she says, "This was lovely. Let's do it again."

She leaves in a whirl of Burberry and Chanel no. 5, stiletto boots clacking on the floor as she rushes across the lobby, and out the doors.

No, he thinks,  poking at the slowly wilting lettuce in his plate, let's definitely not.

 

He turns over what she'd said in his mind—that perhaps it was Seon-woo who was having trouble imagining a life somewhat separated from Jin-woo. Seon-woo hadn't said anything that indicated it. In any case, he wasn't pushing Seon-woo to make any kind of decision—they hadn't even kissed for God's sake. And that was fine, it really was. Seon-woo was only slowly coming out of his shell—these days, he allowed himself to look, more often than not ( and be looked at—Seung-hyo can admit to being absolutely shameless in this regard)— and letting this simmer between them was its own pleasure.

Seon-woo would tell him when he was ready for anything more; until then, he would continue to be in the most chaste relationship he'd ever had since that time in grade 3 when Jang Yeo-bin had knocked him over, sat on his chest and demanded that he be her boyfriend for the next school year. (He had, for one week, and then she'd forgotten about it.)

It was fine; the roses bloomed every year, and would be waiting.

 

Seven.

 

The roses are in full, obscene bloom, but they haven't done more than hold hands and smile at each other foolishly. Seung-hyo begins to wonder if he's failed some test. But it doesn't feel like it—if anything he thinks he's made progress, a hunch strengthened when Jin-woo calls him to ask whether he has any opinions about how they should celebrate Seon-woo's birthday.

"Do you," asks Jin-woo, sounding like he has a gun to his head, "want to host it?"

Seung-hyo isn't above letting him stew for a minute before he says, "No, Jin-woo-ssi, I think you should do whatever you feel is best. I'll be happy to join, if invited, of course."

"Fine," says Jin-woo, "Our place, 8 pm. Please don't bring any gifts larger than a wine bottle. "

He hangs up, leaving Seung-hyo to stare at the ceiling, and contemplate the many ways in which he could make Ye Jin-woo miserable, if he wasn't aware that it was the one thing Seon-woo wouldn't forgive. Still, it was pleasant to imagine it.

The phone rings.

"Seon-woo-ya," he says, "I was just thinking of you."

"Don't lie, you were thinking of ways to murder Jin-woo hyung," Seon-woo says. "I just wanted you to know I'm completely ok with extremely large gifts. Especially in money."

Seung-hyo laughs.

"It's a surprise," he says, "You won't get it out of me so easily."

"Oh no," Seon-woo intones, "How will I bear it. Alright, later, hyung."

 

A gift for Seon-woo.

He wants to shower him in rose petals.

He wants to whisk him away to a holiday by a beach.

He wants to bring him home and wrap him in a blanket.

He wants to kiss him till he forgets his own name.

He wants to take away every moment of pain in his life.

Alright, he's getting ahead of himself.

He makes a call.

"Ms.Kang," he says, "What's a wine that will convey how much I love the recipient of the gift but how much I hate his brother?"

"It's 11 pm and I'm not paid for this," she says. "Solve your in-law crises yourself. Goodnight."

In the end he settles for a pair of hand-crafted cufflinks in silver, elegant and understated. It isn't particularly romantic, he knows, but he's hoping his other offer will compensate.

 

"I'm ordering you to take a week off," he says to Seon-woo. Seon-woo laughs, "And that's supposed to be your birthday gift?"

"Yes," he nods, "I'm giving myself a week off, too. Coincidentally."

Seon-woo's eyes widen but then his face dims.

"No…," he says, regretfully, "I don't think it’s a good idea."

They're outside the gate of the Choi-Ye residence, post birthday celebrations. Seon-woo's face is flushed with happiness and too much wine.

"We can't just both take off at the same—"

"I'm the CEO of the company," Seung-hyo says, "I can do whatever I want. I can even make it a by-law in the company charter."

"It's irresponsible," Seon-woo says, though he sounds desperately like he wants to be convinced.

"Precisely," Seung-hyo says, smiling. "Let's be totally irresponsible together."

"Hyung!"

He reaches out for his hand, and twines their fingers.

" Eomma and Abeojinim are going off to visit my aunt in Canada in two weeks. It'll be just the two of us, and Nighty. We've been working too hard. Let's just relax for a while and do nothing."

"Nothing?" Seon-woo's smile is knowing, though tinged with some shyness.

"Nothing that you don't want to do," Seung-hyo clarifies. "And everything that you do."

Seon-woo's fingers tighten in his.

"Ok," he says, "But you're going to tell Ms.Kang, I don't have the courage."

"It's part of the birthday gift package," he says solemnly, "Protection from dragons and secretaries."

"Ok," says Seon-woo, laughing, "Ok."

 

It's got to be perfect, of course—this is the first time that Seon-woo may actually stay over at the house. And they'll be together, alone. Seung-hyo spends two weeks quietly and methodically making sure everything's in place—all of Seon-woo's favourite food, entertainment, even clothes—anything he may want, anything he may think of to want. It gets so bad that eomma threatens to leave early—"I can't take this anymore," she mutters, when she opens a kitchen shelf to find eighteen different flavors of tea and none of her own favorite. "Where's my tea, Seung-hyo-ya!"

"It must be there somewhere," he insists. "Seon-woo likes mint too, so I'm sure I—"

"Jagi," she tells her husband who's just wandered in, with Nighty perched on his shoulder like a gargoyle, "Call the local hospital. Our son needs to be committed to psychiatric care."

"Don't be like that, dearest," says his father. "He's just in love. I remember when I first started to court you—"

"I'm off," says Seung-hyo, hurriedly.

 

Seon-woo walks in,  takes a look around and says, dryly, "You've been driving everyone up the wall, haven't you? Do eomeonim and abeojinim hate me? "

"What gave it away?" Seung-hyo asks, mildly chagrined.

"You hate orchids and that's an orchid right there," says Seon-woo, pointing at a rather evil looking plant with bright purple flowers.

"I—" he starts, and then shrugs. "Nobody hates you."

"Uh-nuh," says Seon-woo, cheerfully, as he walks slowly to the couch and seats himself.  "I can name at least five Principal Secretaries."

"Pretty sure I have you beat by several hundreds of people," Seung-hyo says, settling next to him.

"If only they knew," Seon-woo muses, grinning at him. "So, what's the plan?"

"No plan," says Seung-hyo. "I've taken a holiday from making plans. But—"

Seon-woo laughs.

"It's a nice day," Seung-hyo says, "Do you want spend some time in the pool?"

Seon-woo nods, enthusiastic. They'd already used it before, but at that time the entire gang had been there-the basketball team, whom he'd invited over for a barbeque two weeks ago. For some of them, it had been the first time inside a pool, and the wonder and excitement of it had been amazing to behold. Seung-hyo had been doubly glad then—that he'd had the pool installed to be accessible and second, that he'd invited them over.

 

Seon-woo might have been some sea-creature in a previous birth, Seung-hyo surmises, he loves the water that much. They're floating together in the water, at the shallow end, Seon-woo secured to an inflatable chair, looking completely blissed out. His body feels weightless like this, he'd told Seung-hyo, like it could do anything. It's a warm day, but the water is the perfect temperature, and a cloudless blue sky above.

"Hey," he says, "Want to dance?"

Seon-woo turns towards him, "What?"

"Dance. In the water."

Seon-woo's face lights up.

 

It's shallow enough that he can tread water lightly, and Seon-woo's inflatable vest and buckle can hold him up, with his arms on Seung-hyo's shoulders. They flounder a little, at first, until they work out the balance and grip—and then they're moving slowly, together, round and in and out, in small circles, Seung-hyo leading.  Seon-woo splashes water onto him, suddenly, and he jerks back, and then they're playing and dancing, and laughing through it all, until he feels his back hit the wall of the pool, and then, Seon-woo's leaning in, and he's leaning forward, and they're kissing.  It's soft, easy, warm and sweet, and salty from the water and the sun. When they come apart for some air, he moves, pulling Seon-woo along with him, back into the middle. This time, when they come together, both of them are smiling into the kiss. They move like that through the water: slowly, lazily, nuzzling and tasting each other. He  drags Seon-woo sideways with him, toward the lowered steps of the pool, backing him up, so he can rest there.  It's shallow enough that Seung-hyo can stand in the water, which comes up to mid chest. "Comfortable?" he whispers, dragging his lips against Seon-woo's flushed cheek. Seon-woo nods, and drags him back in for another kiss, fingers gripping the back of his head—not so sweet, this time. Hungrier, as Seon-woo's strong arms wind themselves around his shoulders and back, pulling him closer—or as close as the vest will allow. This time when they break apart, they're both breathing a little harder. Seon-woo's eyes on him are bright and searing. God, but Seung-hyo has to—he leans in again, nerve-ends sizzling. It's- it's dizzyingly good, the taste of Seon-woo, and the little sounds he makes into their kisses, the way his hands cling to Seung-hyo, move restlessly between his head and shoulders and chest, caressing his sun-warmed skin. They kiss like that until Seung-hyo feels his toes become prune-like, shrinking.

 

"Hey," he whispers, nuzzling at his temple, and Seon-woo's eyes flutter open. He looks a little dazed.

"Hyung?" whispers Seon-woo, sounding a little overwhelmed.

"Yeah," he says, husky, "Ok?"

Seon-woo nods, blinking rapidly. A small smile trembles on his lips, as he caresses Seung-hyo's face, dragging his knuckles from temple to cheek, before his fingers come to rest against Seung-hyo's lips.

Seung-hyo leans forward again, pressing their foreheads together, mouths a breath apart.

"Shall we go in? I'm making your favourite for lunch today."

Seon-woo chuckles. "Hyung," he teases, "What happened to no plans?"

"Some plans," he says, darting in for a kiss, a butterfly touch to Seon-woo's lovely mouth, reddened now, soft, in a way that sends a fresh curl of heat through him. "Few."

 "But I want to stay here."

"Then we'll stay here."

"Why aren't you ever this easy at work?"

"You aren't, either. Don't think I've forgotten that memo you sent me last week."

Seon-woo chuckles. "You deserved that," he says, fondly.

"Tell you what I deserve," Seung-hyo says, leaning in again- but Seon-woo's pushes a hand against his chest.  Seung-hyo eases away. "Want to get back in the chair again?"

Seon-woo nods, so he hauls it toward them and helps Seon-woo strap himself in. Seon-woo sighs, happily, leaning his head back over the edge. His skin glistens. Seung-hyo wants to lick him all over.

"I'm going to take a few laps," he says, instead. "You ok?"

Seon-woo nods, eyes closed, lips curving into a smile.

 

By the time they go back in and finish showering, they're both hungry, so Seung-hyo improvises: eomma's actually left quite a lot of food neatly packed in the fridge. So it's spicy crab soup and freshly steamed rice, with a side of seasoned sprouts and stir-fried zucchini- they clean it all up.

Seon-woo groans, resting his head on his chin, eyes shut.  "Hyung! I can't move from here. I'm so full."

"Do you want me to carry you to the couch?"

Seon-woo cracks an eye open- "Can you?"

"Probably not," he admits. "You're no lightweight."

"Some boyfriend you are," Seon-woo says, shutting his eyes again, before they snap open as he realizes what he said.

He's never used that word before.

Seung-hyo leans across the table, grabbing Seon-woo's hands and tugging him forward a little so he can place a quick, firm kiss on his mouth.

"I'm an excellent boyfriend," he says, as he draws back.  "I'm even going to do the dishes.

 "Putting dishes in the dishwasher isn't hard labour."

"Do you want to do it instead?"

"I'm on vacation."

"So am I…"

"I don't know how your fancy dishwasher works…"

Seung-hyo laughs.

"I'm going to have to figure it out myself," he admits, ruefully. " I haven't used this one since we moved here."

"Let's just do it the old-fashioned way," Seon-woo huffs. "Where are the gloves?"

The dishwashing exercise just ends up with the two of them covered in soapy water.

"Oh man," says Seon-woo, dismayed, as though he hadn't brought it on himself by his schoolboy behavior.  Not that Seun-hyo's complaining—the wet t shirt clings to Seon-woo in very interesting ways.  "I should have brought another spare shirt."

"I've got spare shirts."

Seon-woo smiles at him. "I'm sure."

"Best boyfriend."

Seon-woo rolls his eyes, and turns away, already pulling off his shirt.

Seung-hyo tries and fails not to gawk at the long (long) line of his back.

He turns away.

"Hyung?"

"Coming," he says, "Let me just put these away. There are spare shirts in the closet in your room."

When he doesn't get a reply, he turns around to find Seon-woo staring at him with an odd expression.

"What's the matter?" he asks.

Seon-woo shakes his head, smiling a little. "Nothing," he says, "I'll go get changed. Hate wet clothes."

 

 

Afterwards they decide to watch a movie—Seon-woo chooses some old American cowboy flick—but at some point, they both doze off, lying beside each other on the large pull-out bed. When he wakes up, it's already late afternoon—Seon-woo's still fast asleep beside him, snoring a little. He finds that  Nighty had crept into the bed with them- he lies huddled at Seung-hyo's feet.  He allows himself the sleepy indulgence of watching Seon-woo for a while, before he digs out his phone and catches up with the news, and resists the temptation to check his emails. He hadn't been lying when he'd said they'd both been working too hard. It still felt peculiar- to have a day like this with no particular agenda other than to relax with his—boyfriend.

He realizes after a while that he's just scrolling through his phone without actually taking in a word.

"What's so funny?" Seon-woo says, voice thick with sleep. "Is politician being stupid again?" He smothers a yawn. "Gosh, hyung, what time is it?"

"Past five," he says, putting away the phone, and turning on his side, toward Seon-woo.  "Slept well?"

"Mmm," comes the drowsy reply, as Seon-woo's eyes flutter shut again.

Seung-hyo finds himself snaking out a hand to brush his cheek.

Seon-woo tilts his head into the touch, eyes still closed.

It feels like permission, so Seung-hyo shifts a little closer, thumb caressing his cheekbone lightly.

After a minute, Seon-woo opens his eyes, smiling sleepily at him. "Hyung," he says softly, "Won't you kiss me?"

"What if I don't want to?"

'That's not your don't want to face."

"Do I have one?"

"Oh yeah," comes the reply, accompanied by a soft chuckle. "You definitely do. You're not as good at hiding your emotions as you think you are."

Seung-hyo considers that for a moment. "I don't feel the need to pretend with you," he says, finally. "I don't think I ever have. Though I have hidden, sometimes."

Seon-woo's eyes on him are warm. "You don't have to do that anymore."

"I think I do," he says, shifting a little closer, "Or we'd end up in jail for public indecency."

He swallows Seon-woo's laughter with his mouth, sliding a hand into his hair.

Seon-woo's warm palm comes to rest against his collar bone, thumb caressing the hollow of his neck, as they trade sleepy-sweet-warm kisses.

"Wait," Seon-woo, whispers after a few minutes, "Help me—"

They shift around until Seon-woo's more comfortable, pillows against his back, so he can slide his hands around Seung-hyo and hold him closer, pressed together from torso to waist.

Seung-hyo can feel his arousal growing, and tries to shift away—but Seon-woo's hand slides to his ass, gripping it, and pulling him in, making him gasp, softly.

"I'm not going to break," Seon-woo says, softly, "You don't have to be so careful with me."

He nips at Seung-hyo's lips, and licks them, soothing—

"Seon-woo," he breathes, hopelessly turned on. "Are you sure?"

His answer is Seon-woo's tongue in his mouth, seeking and exploring, without hesitation.

 

It feels urgent-but unhurried, in some way—they have time, all the time, Seung-hyo thinks, hazily, as clothes get discarded, thrown away, and they explore each other. Seon-woo's hands on him leave a trail of fire down his spine, and he feels his dick harden some more, hips jerking in response into the vee of Seon-woo's hips, seeking friction. Seon-woo moans into his mouth- but he's not hard, Seung-hyo realizes. It's not a problem, Seung-hyo can wait—he can do better than just wait—

"Seon-woo," he breathes, kissing the soft skin under his ear, "Can I suck you?"

Seon-woo's breath hitches.

Seung-hyo waits.

"It'll take a while," Seon-woo says. The flush on his cheeks now is embarrassment, he thinks, not arousal.  "I might not be able to orgasm."

"I know," Seung-hyo says, stroking a palm along his ribs, "But shall we try?"

He whispers into Seon-woo's ear, "Do you have any idea how long I've wanted to have your dick in my mouth?" and is rewarded with a shudder, as Seon-woo licks at his lips. "Hmm?"

Seon-woo nods, yes, eyes fluttering shut as Seung-hyo kisses him, deep and filthy, before he draws away. They make some more readjustments of the pillows so that Seon-woo's propped up comfortably, before Seung-hyo settles in the vee of his thighs. Seon-woo had changed into shorts earlier, and he slides them down, smiling as he bends down to place gentle, slightly moist kisses to Seon-woo's navel and then slowly downward. Seon-woo's hands clench and unclench in the sheets beside him- he reaches out and places one of them on his head.

"Tell me what feels good to you," he says, meeting Seon-woo's eyes as he looks up. "Ok?"

Seon-woo nods, licking his lips—his expression of nervous anticipation is utterly disarming.

Seung-hyo proceeds leisurely, directing his mouth first to his hipbones, and slowly licking and kissing down to his groin, taking note of what made Seon-woo gasp, and what made his fingers tighten a little in Seung-hyo's hair. He kisses his thighs, the soft inner skin there—that gets a groan— and further downward, near where the skin remains puckered and hard around the stump of the bone, first one and then the other. "Hyung," Seon-woo breathes, strangled. "Seung-hyo."

"Mmm?"

He raises his head—"Not good?"

Seon-woo tugs at his shoulder, "Come here," he husks, "I want to kiss you- want to-"

He ends up practically sprawled across Seon-woo, kissing until they're both breathless.

"Still want your cock in my mouth baby" he whispers, when they pause, "Please."

Seon-woo shudders beneath him, and pushes at him blindly, face flushed, and Seung-hyo slides downward, kissing down his chest, until he settles once again in the cradle of Seon-woo's hips. This time, he doesn't tease as much;  starts working Seon-woo's cock, which still lies quiescent between his legs. It takes time, as he licks and sucks and strokes, lost in the taste and feel of him,  pausing every now and then to nuzzle and kiss (and relieve his aching jaw), as Seon-woo's cock slowly hardens, but remains half-hard. Seon-woo's very quiet, above him, fingers stroking his scalp, gently.

He looks up—Seon-woo's got one hand flung over his eyes, and he can see his throat working, as he swallows hard.

"Sweetheart," he says, the endearment slipping from him. "Are you—doesn't this feel good?"

Seon-woo shakes his head, slightly, throat bobbing up and down—

"Hey, hey," he says, sitting up, "Look at me, Seon-woo."

Seon-woo takes a deep breath, and lowers his hand, eyes suspiciously bright.

"Don't you like this?" Seung-hyo asks.

"I'm sorry," Seon-woo says, voice rough. "I don't think I can—"

"Don't apologize," Seung-hyo says, immediately, "There's nothing to be sorry for. If this doesn't feel good we can try something—"

"No!"

Seung-hyo's heart sinks.

"Sweetheart," he tries again, "Seon-woo, it's fine. I know it's not easy—"

"What do you know?" Seon-woo says, jaw clenching. "Do you know how it feels like to lie here and not have your body respond the way you want it to—fucking useless piece of meat—"

"Seon-woo!"

"What?" he says, "Am I not allowed to hate my body even for a minute? Do I have to be perfect here too?"

"That's not what I meant!"

Seon-woo shakes his head, hands crossed over his chest, looking away, and then bending his head.

"Look," says Seung-hyo, trying to salvage the situation. "This is just one thing—what if we—"

Seon-woo looks up then.

"This isn't something you have to win at," he says, quietly. "My body isn't something you have to conquer."

He'll feel the pain of it later, Seung-hyo thinks, struck dumb, his ears buzzing oddly.

Say something, he thinks, say something.

He can't seem to form a sentence.

It's Seon-woo who breaks the awful silence.

"I'd like to leave," he says, and then, his mouth twisting, "Can you fetch me my clothes?"

He nods, numbly.  He retrieves the shirt and shorts , handing them to Seon-woo, who says,  quietly, "Could you step outside for a bit?" 

"Call me if you need any help," he says,  the words sounding forced, even to his own ears, "I'll be outside the door."

He picks up his shirt on the way out.

But Seon-woo doesn't call- of course not. The legs are something he can wear by himself, and Seung-hyo's installed handles by the bedside that would help him lever himself off it—still, he can't help but wait outside.

The door opens.

Seon-woo's dressed, looking perfectly composed, face a blank slate.

"I'll drive you home," he blurts, "Let me get the—"

"My cab's going to be here in two," Seon-woo says.

"Seon-woo," he says, "Please. Don't go. Can we talk about—"

"Not right now," Seon-woo says, "Just not today, hyung."

He walks slowly down the corridor, leaving Seung-hyo rooted to the spot.

 

Eight.

 

Seon-woo doesn't answer his texts or pick up the phone, when he finally gives in late into the night and makes the call. He knows that he should give Seon-woo the space he asked for—that would be the right thing to do, but he finds he can't.

He gets into the car and drives.

He parks outside their gate, turning off the lights.

It's 1 am.

What is he doing?

The house is dark, there's nobody awake.

Seon-woo's room is on the ground level, though his window isn't visible from here.

It doesn't matter- there's no way he can knock on their door tonight.

He picks up the phone and checks his messages.

Seen: 19:30.

No response.

He's going to get arrested. Some neighbour is going to report a suspicious vehicle.

He can't move.

Seon-woo, he thinks, heart in tatters, I'm sorry.

It's almost 3 am before he gets himself together and manages to drive away.

 

 

He's brushing his teeth groggily when the doorbell rings. It's barely 7 am; he'd stumbled out of bed after a nightmare in which he'd been falling, falling, falling had startled him awake, heart and head pounding.

Had he scheduled some delivery he'd forgotten about? Wiping his face, he goes to answer it, head still fogged over.

It's Seon-woo.

It's Seon-woo holding a giant bouquet of long-stemmed red roses in one hand, and a bag of what smells pork buns in the other.

"Do you mind if I come in?" Seon-woo asks, finally, after a minute of utter silence, where he gapes at him foolishly. "Or do I have to do this at the door? I don't mind."

"What're you doing here?" Seung-hyo croaks.

"What does it look like?"

It looked like an apology—it looked like the apology that Seung-hyo should be making, but somehow it was Seon-woo on his doorsteps with roses—

He blinks, rapidly, trying to deny the sudden moisture in his eyes.

"Come in," he says, and then, reflexively, "Let me carry those—"

"No," says Seon-woo, "I have to do this properly."

 They're in the hall, facing each other.

"Alright," he says, "Give me the roses, then."

Seon-woo holds them out, and he takes them, burying his nose in their sweet scent, trying to calm his frantically beating heart.   

"The ahjumma at the flower shop said I couldn't go wrong with these," Seon-woo says, softly, "But I thought you'd probably be hungry too."

He hadn't eaten last night—but of course, Seon-woo wouldn't have either.

"I am," he says, "Lets eat before they get cold."

They walk to the kitchen silently, the rose petals soft against his palm.

Bed of roses, he thinks, and wants to laugh now, at his foolishness.

 

In the kitchen he finds an empty vase, and fills it with water, as Seon-woo sets the pork buns out in a bowl, along with the sauce.  He puts the flowers in, and places the vase on the table, and then starts the coffee maker, before moving to the kimchi fridge.

"What would you like?" he asks, "There's some good radish, or do you want some eggs instead? That sounds better, doesn't it? Or both. Maybe both."

Distantly, he's aware he's babbling.  

"Hyung."

It should have been impossible for Seon-woo to creep up on him, but apparently that's what had happened while he was trying to choose between cucumbers and radish. He puts a hand on Seung-hyo's wrist, and takes the still empty bowl  out of his suddenly nerveless hand, setting it down on the counter as he shuts the door.  

"The radishes are good," Seung-hyo says, stupidly. "Eomma got a fresh batch from that place you like so much."

Seon-woo's hand is still holding his wrist. He looks down at it.

He hadn't thought he'd ever get to touch Seon-woo again, or be touched by him.

"You don't have to apologize," Seung-hyo says, "You did nothing wrong."

"I shouldn't have said what I did and left you like that," Seon-woo says, softly. "That was cruel of me."

"I made you uncomfortable, it wasn't wrong to leave."

"Hyung," Seon-woo says, "If we're going to do this, you're going to have to get used to the idea that I'm not perfect. "

"But you are," Seung-hyo says, and he can't help the way his voice cracks, "You are."

The hand gripping his wrist slides up his arm, as Seon-woo steps closer.

Seung-hyo whispers his name, shakily, and then they’re in each other's arms, clinging together in a rib-crushing embrace, faces buried in each other's shoulders. When they finally ease apart, a little, Seon-woo rests his forehead against Seung-hyo's. "Hyung," he sighs, "Let's fight about this after we eat, ok? "

Seung-hyo smiles, nodding—but neither of them are letting go—instead they stand there, arms wrapped around each other, gazing at each other, as though trying to see if the other had changed overnight.

Seung-hyo badly wants to kiss him, though he knows that would be a stupid move right now. It was strange how they'd only kissed for the first time yesterday, but he already feels bereft;  as though eighteen hours were eighteen years instead.

"Cucumbers," he says, "Let's have cucumbers and the eggs. Why not?"

"Alright," Seon-woo nods, smile growing wider, "Why not?"

He heats the skillet while Seon-woo gets the kimchi, and soon enough they're both tucking in, like the starving men they are, eschewing conversation for food, but also unable to stop smiling at each other.

"Me first," says Seon-woo, as Seung-hyo pours out the coffee.

Seung-hyo nods, "Ok."

"I'm crazy for you," Seon-woo says, softly. "I thought I should tell you that first, because I might have given the wrong impression yesterday."

Seung-hyo feels his cheeks heat.

"No," he says, "I know—that is—I hoped very much—I thought I'd ruined it," he finishes. "I wasn't sure you'd forgive me."

"I let my insecurities get in the way," Seon-woo says, softly. "I wanted so much to be able to give you pleasure, and my body wasn't cooperating. And then, when you tried to be understanding about it, I lashed out, even though I knew, in my heart that you didn't mean—"

"I was thoughtless," Seung-hyo interrupts, reaching for his hand. "You were right. I wanted everything to be perfect for you, but I was also so sure I knew the best way to do that—that I—I let that get in the way. I'm so sorry, Seon-woo."

Seon-woo twines their fingers together.

"You always treated me as a full person," he says, slowly. "Right from the start. That's why I liked you, even way back then. But for a moment, yesterday, you felt like someone else. Though I know, in my head— why—it's because sooner or later, everyone who loves me, they want to save me. They want to spare me pain. They do it with the best intentions and out of love, but it makes me feel less of a person, and more just a- a body. It just felt like that and I was already upset, so it felt worse--"

"I'm sorry," Seung-hyo says, quietly. "I'm sorry I made you feel that way, sweetheart. I promise I'll do better. "

Seon-woo smiles at him, eyes bright. "Then you're going to have to let me fuck up too," he says. "You can't just put me on a pedestal. I don’t want to be up there," he says, fiercely,  his grip on Seung-hyo's hand tightening painfully, "I want to be here, with you, where I belong. "

Seung-hyo nods," Yeah," he says, smiling through his tears, "Let's do that, then."

Seon-woo reaches out to wipe them with his thumb.

"I don’t know much about romance novels," he says, husky, "but I think this is where the kissing happens?"

"I don't read romances," Seung-hyo huffs, as he pulls him into a kiss.

 

They end up spending a long time in the pool again, until it gets too warm. They make lunch together—though it takes far longer than it needs to because they keep fooling around—but after a hearty meal, they fall asleep, waking up only when the first stars are already out.

"Stay over?" Seung-hyo asks, nosing at Seon-woo's temple, as they cuddle together in the bed.

"Baby sitting duty tonight," Seon-woo says, regretfully. "I should get going. Hyeongsunim will be mad if I'm late."

Seung-hyo sighs, staring up at the ceiling.

"Of course, I have time for a quickie," says Seon-woo, and bursts out laughing when Seung-hyo jerks up from his pillow, only to shove at him, which quickly escalates to playful roughhousing. But Seon-woo has far more experience at this with Jin-woo, besides being absolutely shameless about using Seung-hyo's carefulness to his advantage, so he quickly gains the upper hand, and Seung-hyo finds himself held against Seon-woo's chest, hands twisted behind his back, locked in Seon-woo's grip.

"Got you where I want you," Seon-woo laughs, eyes sparkling, and then Seung-hyo finds himself being thoroughly kissed. He lets it happen: he lets Seon-woo take charge, arches into him, as Seon-woo pulls him closer, until he's half cradled against Seon-woo's chest, half sprawled on the bed. He lets him angle his head, and tilt his jaw, and lick into his mouth; lets him slide a hand into his shorts, and stroke him, rough and too dry.  "Wait," he gasps, "wait—"  He tugs Seon-woo's palm to his mouth, and licks at it, getting it wet before releasing it, and Seon-woo sighs into his mouth, as he resumes stroking. It's not a perfect angle, but it's fine, it's more than fine, because he's got Seon-woo's searing gaze on him, and Seon-woo whispering in his ear,  hot and demanding, won't you come for me, hyung, please, and he does, with a shudder, all over Seon-woo's hand.

"Oh," he says, faintly, when his brain comes back online, "I should get some towels and—"

"Shh," whispers Seon-woo, against his cheek. "Let me kiss you some more."

"Yes, please," he says, dreamily, and tilts his head up to receive some of the sweetest kisses of his life.

 

Seon-woo's phone rings.

"No", mutters Seung-hyo against Seon-woo's mouth. He's got Seon-woo propped up against the pillows as they make out lazily, warm and cozy in the bed. "Tell them to call that babysitter."

"She's got to prep for her finals," Seon-woo says, smiling, as he places a quick, close mouthed kiss on Seung-hyo's lips. "Sorry, hyung."

Sighing reluctantly, he draws back a little, raising a hand to brush Seon-woo's mussed up hair into order. "Can I drop you home?" he asks.

Seon-woo nods, looking a little shy.

Seung-hyo looks at him inquiringly.

But Seon-woo only shakes his head, refusing to answer.

 

When they reach, he insists on walking Seon-woo to the door.

"Ok, hyung," Seon-woo says, "Goodnight."

"No kiss?" Seung-hyo asks, feeling reckless. "What kind of boyfriend are you?"

Seon-woo rolls his eyes, but leans down for a quick one; a barely there press of lips.

Seung-hyo sighs, but decides not to push his luck.

 "What do you want to do tomorrow?"

"Oh, now I'm allowed to make plans?"

"I'm on a holiday," Seung-hyo says, "Besides I can't do all the work in this relationship."

Seon-woo chuckles, and fine, Seung-hyo was going to push his luck. He hadn't got where he was without taking some risks—

Seon-woo's just softening some more in his arms when the door opens and someone yells, "Get out of my way, I'm late!"

Seung-hyo nearly falls off the steps as Choi Seo-hyun shoves him on her way out.

"My doorstep is not for you to make out like teenagers!" she yells over her shoulder, as she slams the gate shut behind her and disappears.  

"Oh my god," groans Seon-woo, mortified. "I'm never going to live this down. This is all your fault!"

"I'll take full responsibility" he agrees. "But since we're already—"

"I'd tell you to stop corrupting my baby brother," says a voice, "If I didn't know that there was nothing left to—"

"Jin-woo hyung!" Seon-woo yelps, "will you please stop doing that!"

Two pairs of identical dark eyes look at him with radically different expressions- Seol-hee is already gurgling happily, reaching out for Seon-woo.

"Hey baby girl," Seon-woo coos, as he takes her into his arms. "Missed me?"

"You're late," scowls Jin-woo, "I've got to rush."

"My apologies," Seung-hyo says, politely.

He's aware that he doesn't sound sorry.

Jin-woo flounces away without another word.

"Tomorrow?" he asks.

"Let's go fly kites," says Seon-woo.

"It's not kite flying season," Seung-hyo says, non-plussed. "I don't even know where to get one."

"You don’t know how to make a kite?" Seon-woo asks, sounding genuinely shocked. "Seol-hee, darling, never grow up to be this useless, ok?"

Seung-hyo rolls his eyes.

"Fine," he says, "You can teach me."

Seon-woo's eyes are warm and fond as they meet his.

"Yes," he says, "Perhaps I will."