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“So, how did Mr. Choi let you live?” Jongdae asks with a leer. “Or did you offer to help him after class?”

 

Jongdae makes an obscene gesture with his hand and Kyungsoo whacks him on the arm. The resulting whine from his friend is worth a little smile.

 

“I didn’t offer him anything, you dick,” Kyungsoo retorts. “He’s really nice. He told me I could drop it off by his office when I finished it tomorrow.”

 

Mr. Choi’s face is a myriad of spots and creases around small, ice cold eyes, and his forehead, when his eyebrows had shot up at Kyungsoo’s request, had been as wrinkly as his essay due that morning, which suffered a major accident when it got caught up in the bus’s doors. In his four years as a student in Theatre Kyungsoo has never asked for an extension in his deadlines. Mr. Choi had made sure to mention it back in his office, and not without a sneer that made Kyungsoo’s toes curl up in his shoes. 

 

“Mr. Choi is a bitter old fuck who lives to torment us,” Jongdae says. “Remember when he yelled at Baekhyun for chewing gum too loudly during class? He’s been traumatized ever since.”

 

“No, I’m not!” Baekhyun shoves Jongdae weakly. “He’s just… a little scary.”

 

They’re sitting in a semicircle on the slick wooden floor, waiting for their professor to show up and start the rehearsal, but she’s running late, as always, and Kyungsoo is a little too happy to sprawl on his side some more after staying up late the previous night.

 

“Baekhyun is scared of the bus driver and cucumbers,” Kyungsoo says. “Mr. Choi isn’t a big surprise.”

 

Baekhyun scowls. “You’re scary,” he mumbles. “With those big, dumb eyes of yours.”

 

Kyungsoo reaches towards Baekhyun, but he scrambles off the floor and runs to the back of the room, shrieking for safety. He cowers behind Seulgi, who only then looks up from her script.

 

“Oppa!” she calls with a little wave. “How did it go?!”

 

“It went well, Seulgi-yah,” Kyungsoo answers. “Songsaengnim was very understanding.”

 

“He didn’t rip your head off right there in his office?” Seungwan asks, next to Seulgi. “Now that’s unheard of.”

 

“He’s scary, right?!” Baekhyun stands between the two girls. “He might be an old dude, but he looks like he could squeeze my head with his hobbit hands.”

 

“I’m gonna squeeze your head like an orange if you don’t stop whining,” Kyungsoo chimes in, more teasing than malice in his tone. “Your head is already small, it doesn’t look too hard.”

 

Baekhyun brandishes a sword made of paper mache that they use for the rehearsals, and makes whooshing noises while he slashes the air.

 

“He’s an idiot.” Jongdae smiles fondly. “Why did you sleep in today, by the way?”

 

Kyungsoo’s phone beeps in his pocket. Did choi let u keep ur dignity? :3, it reads on the screen. Kyungsoo rolls his eyes.

 

“I stayed up with Chanyeol watching one of his stupid shows,” Kyungsoo explains. “And my alarm didn’t ring this morning for some reason.”

 

Shut up, he texts back. You owe me dinner for making me sleep through my alarm today.

 

“Didn’t Chanyeol’s terribly loud snoring wake you up?”

 

Pls dont eat as much as u did last time, the new text says. I won’t make any such promises. He smiles at the long string of crying emojis he gets in lieu of a response.

 

“I think I’ve grown immune to it over the years,” Kyungsoo says, “so I can sleep through a trainwreck like a baby because of Chanyeol.”

 

Jongdae’s eyes sharpen as his eyes flick from Kyungsoo to the phone in his hands. “You know you could at least pretend you aren’t texting Chanyeol right now.” He laughs when Kyungsoo opens his mouth to refute. “Don’t even try to deny it—that dumb smile on your face right now is the same one you get every time you text him.”

 

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kyungsoo mutters, putting his phone away. “I could be texting my mom.”

 

“No one texts their moms smiling like an idiot,” Jongdae remarks. He whines loudly, leaning away when Kyungsoo smacks his head.

 

Kyungsoo’s phone beeps on the floor. Baekhyun is faster and snatches it, making a low oooh sound as he unlocks it.

 

“A Youtube notification.” His smile becomes taunting. “Let’s see if your boyfriend wrote another song about you.”

 

“He’s not my boyfriend!”

 

Baekhyun squeaks when Kyungsoo pushes him to get his phone back. On the screen, there is a boy wearing a red hat with cartoonish antlers that he recognizes from One Piece, holding a ukulele that looks ridiculously miniature in his big hands.

 

Hey, guys,” Chanyeol is saying on the screen. “I’m here with a cover of Cheer Up on ukulele, like I promised last week.”

 

He’s wearing a tank top that shows off his arms, an oily sheen on his biceps that makes Kyungsoo roll his eyes. It wouldn’t look so out of place if it wasn’t the start of autumn, but if Chanyeol is famous for the covers he uploads to his Youtube channel, he’s even more infamous for wearing tank tops at any time of the year.

 

“You should tell Chanyeol to cover himself a little,” Baekhyun comments, watching the video over Kyungsoo’s shoulder, “or he’s going to catch pneumonia one of these days.”

 

“Why don’t you tell him yourself? Don’t you have lines to go over?”

 

“I know them too well by now.” Baekhyun slings an arm over Kyungsoo’s shoulders, and Kyungsoo tries unsuccessfully to shake him off. “Are you sure he’s not your fanboy when he talks about you twenty-four seven?”

 

“Take your greasy hands off him.” Jongdae swats a hand at Baekhyun. “What are you doing here bothering him and not practicing your lines?”

 

“I’ve already practiced enough times!” Baekhyun protests. “I’m gonna start reciting them in my sleep.”

 

“That would be good, so you don’t blank out in the middle of your scenes.”

 

Jongdae gives Baekhyun a withering look when he sticks his tongue out at him. “Anyways, Jongdae—don’t you think Chanyeol is Kyungsoo’s fanboy?”

 

Jongdae cocks an eyebrow. “Does that even need saying?”

 

“Shut up you two or I’ll make you,” Kyungsoo grumbles.

 

“What does he think of your little crush on our lead actor?” Baekhyun wiggles his eyebrows. “Someone’s gonna take his spot.”

 

Kyungsoo’s eyes instantly go to the boy sitting on the farthest corner of the room, legs drawn up and head bent over script on his knees. The rehearsal room feels a little too hot under Baekhyun’s smirk.

 

Kyungsoo frowns in confusion. “Why would he have anything to say?”

 

“Okay, leave him alone.” Jongdae bumps Baekhyun’s shoulder. “Go and practice with Seulgi, Baekhyun.”

 

Baekhyun’s smirk doesn’t fade as he does what he’s told. He ruffles Seulgi’s hair and her whine can be heard all over the room, just as Ms. Kwon rushes through the door.

 

“Positions, please!”

 

She’s a petite, beautiful woman, but her voice is commanding, and at the sound of the first word, the students arrange themselves into a perfected jumble.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Kyungsoo knew he’d go into the arts since he was a child. It didn’t have much to do with the fact that his father was a museum curator and that his mother was a portrait artist, because when he was growing up it seemed so boring to stay still for so long. He just knew that whatever he wanted to do didn’t involve sitting on his butt until it went numb.

 

It all changed when his mother took his little nine-year-old self to see a play, despite that Kyungsoo grumbled and whined about not wanting to see it the whole way there. But when the lights turned off and the stage was taken by the actors, Kyungsoo was enthralled. There was something about the movement of the actors and the delivery of the lines, the emotions that ran through them and rippled in the audience that got him completely hooked. Something rooted within him then, a love that he’d never experienced in his short life: a deep and complete fascination for theatre.

 

Almost thirteen years later, he’s in his junior year of college studying theatre. His devotion has never waned, even though he’s yet to land a leading role in any of the end-of-semester plays.

 

He skims through the script he’s supposed to memorize. The story is set in Joseon era, focused on two childhood best friends who are victims of unfortunate timing. Sohyun, Seulgi’s character, is part of the royal consort, while Kyunghyun, Jongin’s role, is first in line to become king. Kyungsoo plays Jisung, the next in the royal line, and Sohyun’s childhood friend, who has no interest in becoming king, but is in love with a girl from another kingdom. He watches with weary eyes as his half-brother—a known lothario who reminds Kyungsoo of Jongdae and his ever-changing cast of girlfriends—tries to win over Sohyun’s heart, who is more precious to Jisung than any other person in court.

 

“I’ve been carrying this love for a friend for a long time,” Sohyun confesses to Jisung in one scene. “I don’t know if I can do it anymore.”

 

Jisung, unaware that she’s talking about him, comforts her with a hug. “You deserve someone who loves and cherishes you,” he tells her. “Not someone blind enough to not see your beauty and virtues.” Jisung wipes away her tears, and kisses her forehead. “Even if you’re an ugly duck sometimes.”

 

Here, Sohyun pulls away and looks at him, distraught. Then, she dives for a kiss that changes their friendship completely.

 

“Hi, oppa!”

 

Kyungsoo’s pulled from the story. Seulgi smiles at him, and he flushes, because he was just reading their future kissing scene.

 

“Jongdae oppa said I would find you at the cafeteria,” Seulgi says, sitting down next to him.

 

“I was going over my lines before practice this afternoon,” Kyungsoo says. “What’s up?”

 

“Maybe we can practice together?” Seulgi suggests. “I couldn’t find Jongin anywhere.”

 

Kyungsoo’s phone beeps next to his script. It’s a text from Chanyeol.

 

are u free for dinner tonite :3

 

“He’s probably sleeping in one of the practice rooms again,” Kyungsoo says, smiling. “He does that between breaks sometimes.” Depends if you’re paying, he types into his phone.

 

“Jongin could sleep while standing,” Seulgi says.  “He’s always sleeping during class. I don’t know how he never gets caught.”

 

Soo, why r u so mean when i love u sm :-(

 

I’m not mean, Kyungsoo types back, I’m just collecting a debt.

 

“Are you texting Chanyeol oppa?” Seulgi asks, peering into his phone.

 

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo says, as he puts his phone away. “How did you know?”

 

“You have that smile on your face every time you’re texting him,” Seulgi says. “You should tell him to come visit us sometime.”

 

Kyungsoo frowns. It’s the second time he’s heard that about a certain smile on his face when he’s texting Chanyeol when he has never noticed anything of the sort.

 

“Why would you want that,” he jokes, going back to his script. “He’s noisy and always wants to participate in the scenes somehow.”

 

k i’ll pay, Chanyeol texts, just cuz i need to ask u smth

 

“But he’s fun,” Seulgi says, “and he only does that because he likes watching you act.”

 

If it’s something dumb don’t bother, Kyungsoo types back. “He just has too much free time.”

 

Seulgi laughs, but they both know it’s far from the truth. Chanyeol’s constantly busy with his job as a junior producer to the point where he doesn’t see him for days at a time, and he always looks like he hasn’t slept in three weeks when he resurfaces.

 

“Don’t lie, oppa,” Seulgi teases, nudging him with her elbow. “You know he’s your biggest fanboy.”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, and Seulgi laughs, shoving him playfully. “He’s not my fanboy,” Kyungsoo says. “You’ve been hanging out too much with Baekhyun and Jongdae. They’re a bad influence.”

 

It’s important, Soo, Chanyeol’s response reads. Kyungsoo frowns at his phone. Chanyeol usually doesn’t sound this serious.

 

“It’s the truth, oppa,” Seulgi retorts, with a playful smile. “You just don’t want to see it.”

 

“Chanyeol is just annoying,” Kyungsoo says, still distracted by Chanyeol’s text. “He still hangs out with college kids even though he graduated two years ago.”

 

“Sure, oppa, whatever you say.” Seulgi flips the pages on her script. “Okay, can we start with the scene in the lake?”

 

It’s a sweet scene, one of Kyungsoo’s favorites in the play. Jisung and Sohyun are in the lake by the palace, having run away from the servants and guards, playing their childhood games and reminiscing about their old antics. Jisung tells Sohyun then of his love for the other kingdom’s princess, and Sohyun, concealing her heartbreak at her unrequited love, advises him on how to get the princess’ affection.

 

“I don’t think I told you before, oppa,” Seulgi says, halfway through the scene, “but you would’ve been such a good Kyunghyun. I’m sad you didn’t get it.”

 

Kyungsoo swallows the bitterness tying itself into a knot around his throat. It’s been two weeks since the final cast for the play was announced, and the fact that he didn’t get the main role, despite having prepared for it for over a month, still stings like an open wound in his chest.

 

“It’s alright, Seulgi-yah,” Kyungsoo says, donning a smile. “We still get to act together, right?” Seulgi nods, and he squeezes her hand before going back to the script. “Okay, let’s go back to where we left off.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

“Hey,” Chanyeol says, when he appears by their table. He’s slightly out of breath, cheeks painted a pretty pink, and fake glasses sitting low on his nose. “Have you been waiting for too long?”

 

Chanyeol takes a seat across from him and immediately goes for the glass of water that had been brought before the beer, throwing a wink over the rim as he downs it.

 

“You know you could get your own water instead of stealing mine,” Kyungsoo complains half-heartedly. “And I haven’t—I got here like ten minutes ago because Ms. Lee wanted us to run by our lines one more time before leaving, but I already ordered.”

 

“Chicken and beer?” Kyungsoo nods, and Chanyeol’s face lights up with delight. “I had to run here,” he explains, taking off his padded jacket and hanging it on the back of the chair. “I got held up at the studio and then my bus was late.”

 

“Well, use those long legs for something,” Kyungsoo says. “I’m sure if you’d run here you would’ve been able to make it on time.”

 

“Let’s not talk about the size of anything.” Chanyeol smiles smugly. “A certain someone always gets sensitive when we’re on that topic.”

 

Kyungsoo exhales through his nose in mock annoyance. “Shut up, you giant.” He smiles as Chanyeol giggles, shoulders shaking with his mirth. “Not all of us can be as tall as giraffes.”

 

“Well, giraffes are cute,” Chanyeol says, “so I’m gonna take that as a compliment.”

 

“You walk like a drunk baby giraffe, too,” Kyungsoo says, “with those dumb, bowed legs.”

 

“Hey, my legs are sexy,” Chanyeol retorts defensively. “Baekhyun said so, and I believe him.”

 

“Baekhyun flirts with all the ahjummas at the mart.” Kyungsoo swipes a napkin over his mouth. “He could flirt with a tree if he was drunk enough.”

 

“He’s a man with taste,” Chanyeol ripostes, and Kyungsoo snorts.

 

“I watched your new video, by the way.” Kyungsoo takes a swig of his Hite, frizzling as it glides down his throat. “Did you lose your shirt or something? It’s almost winter, Chanyeol-ah, you need to stop wearing tank tops.”

 

“It’s what people like, Soo.” Chanyeol gives him a cheeky grin, adorned by a dimple. “I get a hundred comments about the songs, but about fifty of them talk about how good I look in that tank top. And I happen to like wearing tank tops.”

 

“You like showing off and flexing at every chance you get,” Kyungsoo counters. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

The beer is freezing and Kyungsoo’s fingers are cold and damp—he rubs them over his thigh, trying to heat them up. There’s another couple at the back, but it’s only them and the owner behind the counter, as it usually is on weekdays. This is the only Mexican restaurant near Kyungsoo’s student apartment, and according to Chanyeol, it serves the best tacos in all of Seoul. Kyungsoo likes it for the mellow jazz music eternally playing in the background and the general quietness that makes it easier to talk over the food, rather than the loud places Jongdae and Baekhyun prefer.

 

“And you’re adorable when you get all jealous.” His teasing fades into solemnity. “But don’t worry, Soo, I won’t leave you for my fans.”

 

“What, the three followers on your channel?” Kyungsoo asks. He dodges Chanyeol’s hand ready to pinch his cheek, and levels him a glare that doesn’t deter Chanyeol’s grin. “Don’t do that!”

 

Chanyeol gives Kyungsoo a look, the one that Kyungsoo has never quite figured out. It oscillates between amused and tender and exasperated, but also withholding.

 

 “You’re just so cute when you get mad,” Chanyeol coos, and Kyungsoo’s scowl deepens.

 

“I hate you, Park Chanyeol.”

 

“Likewise, Do Kyungsoo,” Chanyeol retorts, sobering enough to imitate Kyungsoo’s grave voice. It pulls a laugh out of Kyungsoo and a little proud smile makes its way to Chanyeol’s lips.

 

The food arrives then, and Chanyeol thanks the ahjumma with his signature charm that can disarm the coldest of countenances. Kyungsoo will never admit his wonder at the way Chanyeol has every ahjumma he knows wrapped around his not-so-little finger.

 

“So how did today go?” Chanyeol licks sauce off his lips. “Besides the whole ‘worst day of my life’ thing.”

 

“It went well,” Kyungsoo replies. “Rehearsals for the play are going well, even though Jongdae and Baekhyun are a pain in the ass as usual.”

 

“And how’s the lead actor?” Chanyeol asks, with a playful lilt.

 

Kyungsoo shoots him a deadpan look. “He’s okay, thank you.”

 

“Have you asked him out yet?” Chanyeol feigns nonchalance by picking apart his taco with a fork. “Or should I use my rights as best friend to pry his number out of him?”

 

“You wouldn’t pry anything out of anyone,” Kyungsoo counters. “You have the subtlety of an elephant.”

 

“I should inform you I got myself a date with the cute guy from the café down the street from the studio,” he proudly announces. “His name is Taewoo and we’re going out on Saturday.”

 

Kyungsoo arches a brow. “Isn’t that the third date you’ve gone on with a different person this month?” he remarks. “Maybe I should take advice from you.”

 

“Kyungsoo-yah,” Chanyeol whines. His pouty lips are shiny with grease. “Don’t say things like that. You know I’m just trying to look for someone who’s—”

 

“The one for you—yes, yes, I know.” Kyungsoo knows the speech by heart. He’s watched Chanyeol go on date after date, a repertoire of handsome, nice, and sometimes not-so-nice men, and bounce right back with a smile when it doesn’t work. He wishes he shared some of that optimistic outlook on love that Chanyeol seems to brim with. “I hope you find it soon, Chanyeol-ah, so you can stop talking my ear off about the current guy.”

 

The restaurant’s door opens then, and when Chanyeol’s eyes land on the new customer, a curtain of seriousness falls across his face. “Kyungsoo, there was something I needed to talk to you about.”

 

Kyungsoo’s brows knit together. “What about?” He turns in the direction of the door and sees a short man at the counter in a plaid shirt and khakis that he identifies from Chanyeol’s job. “Hey, isn’t that—”

 

Chanyeol’s eyes are wild and alarmed, a finger over his lips. Kyungsoo’s eyebrows raise in question. “I don’t want Minseok-hyung to see us.”

 

A loud, high-pitched sound of recognition is heard at the front, and Chanyeol’s eyes look seconds away to pop out of his head. “Hey! Fancy seeing you here!”

 

Minseok is gorgeous, with his dark hair falling over his eyes and that boyband grin, looking just as handsome as the last time Kyungsoo had seen him in a brief visit to Chanyeol’s studio. He could pass as one of SM’s arsenal of idols, but he’s simply a manager, working behind the scenes.

 

“Hello, Minseok-hyung.” Kyungsoo dips his head in greeting. “We were just having dinner.”

 

“Yeah, yeah—just dinner!” Chanyeol’s smile is tight as a string of his guitar. “How are you, hyung?!”

 

“Good, good! I was getting some food for Taeyeon.” He rolls his eyes with fake exasperation. “She had a craving for spicy food and I had to run to buy some on the way home. You know how she gets.”

 

Kyungsoo can perceive the fondness in Minseok’s words. Taeyeon is Korea’s most successful female solo artist, and it had taken Chanyeol a few weeks to stop being a shy mess while working together in her latest track. The track, co-written and produced by Chanyeol, reached number one in major music sites, and its success had come to as a surprise even to her label. But when Kyungsoo had first listened to the barebones of the song, Chanyeol’s rough voice over an upbeat piano piece, and pretended not to see the way one of Chanyeol’s eyes twitched as he waited for a verdict, Kyungsoo already knew then that it would become a hit.

 

“Yeah, she gets the weirdest cravings sometimes.” His chuckle is awkward, and Kyungsoo wonders why he’s so nervous.

 

A bell chimes and Minseok glances at the counter briefly. “Well, I guess we can catch up at the dinner party.” A small hand squeezes Chanyeol’s shoulder. “See you, guys. Bye!”

 

“Did he say ‘dinner party’…?” Chanyeol fidgets with a napkin, shoulders hunched, trying fruitlessly to disappear in his seat. Kyungsoo sniffs out the culpability from across the table. “Chanyeol, is there something you need to tell me?”

 

“There’s a dinner party at my workplace and my boss invited me,” Chanyeol rushes in one breath. “It’s… with a plus one.”

 

“And?” Kyungsoo prompts, already feeling a tightening in his gut.

 

“And he asked if I was dating someone and I don’t know why I said ‘yes’.” He swallows. “I wanna give a good impression so I told my boss I’d take someone, and you were the first person that popped into my mind.”

 

Kyungsoo’s shock is loud in the small restaurant. “What?!”

 

Chanyeol winces on reflex. “It’s just… for an hour or so…”

 

Kyungsoo gapes, eyes the size of the bowls in front of him. “Do you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend?!”

 

Chanyeol’s grimace is painfully apologetic. “Yes, please.” He clasps his hands in front of him and ducks his head. “Please, please, Soo. I don’t wanna be the only single person at the party. I’d look like such a loser and so many important people will be there. My boss will be there with his boyfriend, and he’s dating a model for fuck’s sake. Please, please, please—”

 

“What about the guy you’re seeing right now?” Kyungsoo asks, exasperation mounting by the minute. “Why don’t you take him?”

 

“We’re going on our first date on Saturday,” Chanyeol says, “I can’t drop this bomb on him. ‘Hey, I know we’ve only gone out once, but would you like to go with me to this super important dinner party where everyone is accompanied by their significant others?’ He’d probably never call me back.”

 

Kyungsoo chews on his bottom lip. Chanyeol’s eyes are hopeful and pleading, and Kyungsoo has always had a weak spot for his best friend. Those puppy eyes Chanyeol directs at him have gotten him into trouble in the past; the first time they had hung out alone, Chanyeol had texted and texted him until he convinced Kyungsoo to eat takoyaki with him near the Han river, despite the paper due the next day sitting in his laptop unfinished. He’d had to pull an all-nighter to submit it in time, working through a mild hangover and cursing Chanyeol’s existence. But when Chanyeol had delivered coffee and pastries to his door the next morning, Kyungsoo was sure he’d never granted forgiveness so fast.

 

A heavy sigh, a sign of his surrender. “Fine.” Chanyeol’s grin is ten thousand watts, all pearly teeth and victory. “But if they make us kiss or do anything weird, I swear to god, Chanyeol—”

 

“No, no, no, I promise there’ll be no kissing.” His eyes shift to the side. “But we’ll have to do some skinship to make it believable, I think—”

 

Heat spreads like wildfire from Kyungsoo’s neck to his face. “I am so going to kill you.”

 

“C’mon, Soo-ah,” he persuades him, sickly sweet, “it’ll be fun, I promise.” 

 

His resolve crumbles quickly, passing with release of his breath. “Alright, but no kissing,” Kyungsoo adds before Chanyeol’s dumb grin makes its appearance. There’s a mild, chastised version in its place. “We can hold hands. That’s all.”

 

“We always hold hands, it’ll be easy! I swear I’ll make it up to you, Soo. You can ask me anything.” He picks up his glass, and stops to reconsider his words. “Well, as long as it’s in my budget.”

 

Kyungsoo’s first thought is Jongin laughing, and his pouty lips when he’s trying to remember his lines. He pauses, putting his fork down, thinking of how to phrase his next words. “I want you to help me with something.”

 

“What is it?”

 

Kyungsoo’s entire face feels warmer once again. “You have to help me get Jongin’s number.”

 

Chanyeol blinks, and then his plush lips part in understanding. “You want me to get you Jongin’s number?”

 

It’s Kyungsoo’s turn to fidget, playing with the napkin in his hands. “Yes, I don’t know how to talk to him.” He points a threatening finger at Chanyeol. “If you make fun of that I’ll—”

 

“No, no, don’t worry, Soo.” Chanyeol waves a hand mollifyingly. “It just… surprised me. I didn’t think you were so serious about the guy. I thought it was just a crush.” There’s something on Chanyeol’s expression that Kyungsoo can’t quite read; it’s in the tightness of his not-quite smile, frozen in his face. But before he can ask, Chanyeol claps once and extends his hand. “Alright! You got yourself a deal, Do Kyungsoo.”

 

Kyungsoo grins as he shakes his friend’s hand. “If you tell someone what I just asked you, you’re dead, Park Chanyeol.”

 

“Don’t worry, Soo.” Chanyeol winks, and chuckles at Kyungsoo’s eye-roll. “This will stay with us. Well, maybe I’ll tell Jongdae, because you know he always finds out about everything anyway…”

 

Kyungsoo sighs with weariness. “Remind me why I’m friends with you?”

 

“It’s okay, Soo,” Chanyeol assures him. “I promise you won’t regret this.”

 

Once they’re done with dinner, they take the bus to Chanyeol’s apartment. Chanyeol spends the entire fifteen-minute ride talking about the arrangement of this one song that’s been frustrating him at work, but he can’t put his finger on the reason why. Chanyeol had been working on the song so much that his coworker had threatened to delete it from his computer and locked him out of the studio if he didn’t stop.

 

“I just want it to be perfect,” Chanyeol complains, when they’re getting off the bus. “It’s a special song, and—”

 

“You’re a perfectionist, Yeollie,” Kyungsoo says. Chanyeol’s grin is a perfect row of teeth. “You overwork yourself just because you need something to be perfect.” 

 

“That’s me.” Chanyeol slings his arm over Kyungsoo’s shoulders. “You know me too well, Soo-yah.”

 

Chanyeol tugs on Kyungsoo’s ear affectionately, and Kyungsoo smiles as he nudges him with his elbow on the stomach. He goes easy on him this time, because Chanyeol does look a little rough.

 

An hour later finds Kyungsoo doing his homework on the couch while Chanyeol plays his ukulele on the floor next to him. It’s their usual routine when Kyungsoo comes over during weekdays, and sometimes it ends with them ordering takeout and watching a movie until Kyungsoo has to go home or Chanyeol convinces him to stay over.

 

Chanyeol is practicing a new cover for his channel: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in the ukulele, and because he has yet to memorize the chords, he keeps messing it up while he tries to sing it, tongue tripping over the foreign words. When he fails for the third time, he starts laughing, and mimics throwing the ukulele at the tv.

 

“Why don’t you give up and try with another song?” Kyungsoo asks. “You’re gonna end up breaking that thing.”

 

“I can’t give up, Soo,” Chanyeol says. “It’s not in my blood.”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes at him. “You’re so dramatic,” he says, going back to his essay. “It’s just a song.”

 

“It’s not just a song.” Chanyeol frowns, the corners of his lips pulled down. “This song is important because someone requested it in the comments, so I need to learn it for my followers.”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head, though he’s laughing at how ridiculously dedicated Chanyeol is to his channel. Chanyeol begins playing anew, this time looking at Kyungsoo with a grin, instead of the chords in his laptop.

 

“Wise men say only fools rush in,” Chanyeol sings. “But I can't help falling in love with you.”

 

Stop,” Kyungsoo laughs, reaching out to flick Chanyeol on the forehead. Chanyeol yelps, stumbling over the next line. “That song is so cheesy, it’s embarrassing.”

 

Would it be a sin,” Chanyeol continues signing, “if I can't help falling in love with you?

 

“Chanyeol, I swear,” Kyungsoo threatens halfheartedly, picking up a pillow.

 

Chanyeol laughs, putting his ukulele down. “Was it good, at least?” His chest puffs up with pride. “I didn’t mess up the lyrics this time.”

 

“It was good,” Kyungsoo agrees, scratching his cheek. “You know I really like your voice.”

 

Chanyeol preens, grin widening with glee. “Thank you, Soo!” Something dawns across his face. “Oh, right! I have something for you.”

 

He goes to the extra room he uses as a studio, and comes back brandishing a USB in his hand.  Chanyeol hands it to him with a close-mouthed smile, then shifts his gaze and fumbles with the strings of his hoodie as he stands in front of the couch. He seems… nervous.

 

“What is that?” Kyungsoo asks.

 

“It’s sort of a present,” Chanyeol explains. “There are four songs in there that I composed myself. They are for you.” He laughs, too-high and jittery. “For agreeing to go with me to the party as… you know.”

 

“Thanks?” Kyungsoo says, looking at the USB. “You didn’t have to, though.”

 

“I wanted to.” Chanyeol’s smile grows with enthusiasm. “There’s an instrumental in there that I don’t have lyrics for yet, and I was thinking you could write them? Or not, if you prefer it just like that.” He tugs on the neck of his hoodie. “You can do whatever you want with those recordings. Take it as a mixtape of some kind.”

 

Kyungsoo has always been a man of few words, but this time, the emotions washing over him tie up his tongue. Chanyeol loves each one of his compositions, even the ones that give him a headache because he can’t get them quite right, and spends countless hours at the studio working over them. This is almost like a piece of Chanyeol’s heart in the palm of his hand, all these recordings that Chanyeol must’ve chosen with a careful eye for Kyungsoo.

 

Kyungsoo closes his fingers over the device. “Thank you, Chanyeol-ah,” he says, smiling at his friend. “I’ll listen to them well.”

 

“Always so polite, my Soo.” Chanyeol ruffles Kyungsoo’s hair, and steps away to avoid Kyungsoo swatting at him. “Now you’re gonna have to keep listening to me practice this damn song.”

 

Kyungsoo groans with mock-annoyance, and Chanyeol laughs as resumes his previous position by the couch with the ukulele in hand. When Kyungsoo glances at the USB again, though, a smile breaks into his face with all fondness that blossoms in his chest for his best friend.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Kyungsoo met Chanyeol in his freshman year, when he was a naive skinny kid, still marked by acne and the leftover awkwardness from high school. They were rehearsing for their first end-of-semester play under a gingko tree, which is bursting with colour for the start of spring.

 

Chanyeol had trailed after Jongdae, and his booming laugh could be heard over the chatter of students.

 

“This is Chanyeol,” Jongdae had said. “He has nothing better to do, so he followed me here like a stray puppy.”

 

“I had a break between classes, and I wanted to see your rehearsal.” Chanyeol pinches Jongdae’s cheek. “Jongdae is just an ass.”

 

Jongdae had whined and meandered over to a girl he’d had his eyes on since the start of the semester. Chanyeol had sat down next to Kyungsoo and read from the script on his lap.

 

“Are you playing Seungwan’s boyfriend? She’s really pretty.”

 

“She is, I guess,” Kyungsoo said, scratching his elbow. “She’s not really my type.”

 

Kyungsoo had never been good at making friends in high school, and just like his scrawny form, it had followed him to college. He could tell some people talked behind his back, despite never having talked to him—Jongdae had told him once, while he laughed, that some were even scared of him—so he preferred to keep his distance, and most people didn’t bother in breaching it either.

 

Chanyeol was a special case. He pressed closer, undeterred by Kyungsoo’s shyness. “Do you want me to help you with your lines?”

 

Kyungsoo had taken a good look at Chanyeol. His eyes were big and bulging, his hair a frizzy, curly mess, and the pointy ears sticking out of his locks reminded Kyungsoo of the elves in Lord of the Rings. But there was something earnest about the smile on his face and the twinkle in his eyes, that made Kyungsoo feel more at ease than he’d ever felt around his classmates since the school year started.

 

“Sure,” Kyungsoo had said. “If you don’t mind.”

 

Chanyeol’s grin had doubled in size. “You’re cute,” he had said. “I like you very much already.”

 

Kyungsoo had jabbed Chanyeol on his side, and Chanyeol had crumpled into a heap with a whooping laugh. That was a Tuesday, because Kyungsoo didn’t have class after noon, and by the end of the month, they were inseparable.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

 

“What are you doing on Saturday?”

 

“Why?” Kyungsoo looks up from his laptop, prying off his left earbud. “Do you wanna ask me out, noona?”

 

The library is silent on a Thursday afternoon, and Joohyun’s laugh travels over delicate like a spring breeze, pretty like the rest of her.

 

“You wish,” she says. “No, I was just wondering if you could cover Kibum’s shift.”

 

Kyungsoo works at his college’s library on the days he doesn’t have rehearsals. The library is quiet most of the time, and on days when students aren’t in their caffeine-induced zombie trance to keep them functional through exams season, he manages to do his homework and cram a few hours of revision during his shifts.

 

“Sorry, noona, but I promised Chanyeol to go to this thing with him.” Kyungsoo sighs. “It’s important so I can’t cancel on him.”

 

Joohyun’s red mouth rounds, and it reminds Kyungsoo of a cherry. “Oh, are you guys going on a date?”

 

No.” Kyungsoo sputters a laugh. It’s not the first time acquaintances mistake the pair of them as a couple, but it never stops being funny. “No, god—Chanyeol’s work is hosting a dinner party and he asked me to be his plus one.”

 

The fact that he’s pretending to be Chanyeol’s boyfriend goes unmentioned, but Kyungsoo figures that that’s neither here nor there.

 

“Sorry, I just thought you… Nevermind.” Joohyun waves his hand dismissively. “Seulgi says rehearsals are going great.”

 

“They are,” Kyungsoo says. “Whenever Baekhyun actually remembers his lines and we don’t have to stop and redo every scene like five times.”

 

Joohyun chuckles. “She said it was a shame you didn’t get the lead role. She likes Jongin, but says he’s going to drive her crazy if he keeps laughing during the scenes.”

 

Kyungsoo’s mood crashes instantly. “Jongin’s a good kid,” he says. “He just forgets he’s supposed to be looking sad during funeral scenes and not giggling.”

 

“Maybe next time you can get the lead,” Joohyun says, consolatory. “This is your junior year, right?”

 

“Right,” Kyungsoo says, pushing his earbud back in its place.

 

He presses play and lets the music fill his ears. He’s been listening to Chanyeol’s mixtape since last night, he didn’t expect the songs to be this good. Most of the songs are folky upbeat songs, all of them talking about love and unrequited love. The instrumental track has a more melancholic note, and it’s the one Kyungsoo is drawn to the most.

 

His phone beeps next to his laptop. It’s an unknown number, and he almost drops his phone when he opens the message.

 

Hi, hyung. It’s Jongin. Chanyeol hyung gave me your number ^^

 

Every sentence comes in its own block. Jongin texts with the choppy structure Kyungsoo imagines a puppy would use in its speech. It’s amusing and so, so adorable.

 

Hi, Jongin, Kyungsoo types back with shaky fingers, induced by the giddiness tickling his ribs, how are you?

 

I’m fine

 

How about coffee

 

Tomorrow afternoon?

 

Kyungsoo blinks at the screen for a couple of seconds. He’s lightheaded with the excitement that rushes through him.

 

Sure, he replies, unable to tap down a grin, That sounds nice.

 

They text for the rest of the afternoon. It’s only when Kyungsoo is on the way home that he remembers to text Chanyeol a thank you with a chain of stickers and exclamation points that is entirely uncharacteristic.

 

His reply comes hours later when Kyungsoo is about to go to sleep. He’d almost forgotten about it completely, until he sees the message on his screen.

 

You’re welcome Soo.

 

The proper spelling and whiff of formality in it gave Kyungsoo the impression that Chanyeol hadn’t written it, or had mulled over it endlessly, like when he was about to text his date of the month for the first time. But Kyungsoo was too sleepy to overanalyze it, so he texts Chanyeol one last time and goes to sleep.

 

Goodnight, Chanyeol-ah

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Jongin meets him at a Café Bene on a Thursday afternoon near campus.

 

In the dim lights of the place, he looks stunningly pretty. He has a plump lip trapped under two bunny teeth as he stirs his coffee—a mocha with too much sugar—ruining the leaf the barista had drawn on the foam.

 

“Hyung has talked so much about you,” Jongin says, after he takes a drink of his coffee. “We played basketball with him a week ago and he wouldn’t stop talking about cool you are.”

 

The praise blends into heat in the tips of his ears. “I hope he only said good things.” He leaves an unspoken or else hanging that makes Jongin chuckle.

 

“He did,” Jongin assures him, licking his spoon. “He always has good things to say about you.”

 

“He’s my best friend,” Kyungsoo says. “He’s nice like that about everyone.”

 

“Yeah, he’s really cool,” Jongin agrees. “I wish he was still in school so we could hang out more.” His eyes light up with an idea. “What if we hang out with him next time?”

 

Kyungsoo’s confusion is short-lived. “Hang out with Chanyeol?”

 

“Yeah, Jongdae and Baekhyun-hyung, too,” Jongin replies, taking a bite of his chocolate croissant. There are crumbs around the eagerness of his smile. “Seulgi and Soojung would also want to come probably.”

 

Kyungsoo realizes what’s going on then. It hits him with no small amount of disappointment, that the pretty boy sitting across from him, only considers him as a friend.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Jongdae is in the couch watching a rerun of Sailor Moon when Kyungsoo gets home that evening. He plops down next to him, and Jongdae turns to him with a smirk.

 

“How did the date go?”

 

“It wasn’t a date,” Kyungsoo corroborates, “because Jongin didn’t act like it was a date.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“He kept talking about Chanyeol and everyone else in our theatre classes,” Kyungsoo elaborates. “Like we should hang out with them next time.”

 

“Ah, Jongin can be an oblivious kid sometimes.” Jongdae scratches his neck. “But you could try again? Maybe let him know you actually want a date.”

 

“Maybe.” Kyungsoo lowers his tone to keep it casual, but the dejection still filtrates. “Or maybe he’s just not interested.”

 

“Don’t be such a pessimist dickhead.” Jongdae winds an arm around his waist. “You just have to be more direct, and not mention Park Chanyeol next time.” He gives Kyungsoo an encouraging shake. “You just should try again.”

 

All he gets a vague hum. Kyungsoo licks his teeth, and thinks about texting Chanyeol. He hadn’t told him about the coffee date, only that he and Jongin had established a friendly conversation over KakaoTalk in the past few days. Perhaps it’s Kyungsoo who had misinterpreted their friendship after all.

 

Chanyeol wouldn’t mock him, but his best friend must be out there with his own date, and Kyungsoo feels like telling him would solidify his current placement in the friendzone. He thinks of how Chanyeol would’ve handled this, laying thick on the flirting and effortlessly charming Jongin’s pants off so a second date would be already planned by the end of the first.

 

“Are you going to ask him on another date?”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head. “Not so soon, I don’t wanna seem desperate. And I have Chanyeol’s dinner party tomorrow night anyway.”

 

“Ooh fancy,” Jongdae singsongs. “Are you going to wear couple outfits or something?”

 

“No,” Kyungsoo mutters, narrowing his eyes at him. He’s suddenly afraid that Chanyeol told Jongdae about their deal, but there’s only the usual sly curl of Jongdae’s mouth. “I’m just going because Chanyeol didn’t want to invite the guy he’s seeing right now.”

 

“Another one?” Jongdae asks. “How many has it been this month alone?”

 

“As if you have any room to talk,” Kyungsoo throws back. “I stopped counting how many girls you’ve dated this year.”

 

“I only went out with five girls this year!” Jongdae corrects him loudly. “And I’m not that person anymore. Sunyoung is the one for me.”

 

“Sure she is,” Kyungsoo quips, but he believes his friend. By the way Jongdae looks at her during classes, Kyungsoo knows he’s a little more serious about her than he’s ever been with any of his previous girlfriends.

 

His phone beeps with a text from Chanyeol. Dont forget about our date tmrw!!!!111, it reads. As if he could forget about the party; his anxiety has only been growing as the date draws near. Chanyeol, as always, thinks it will be spectacular.

 

If only some of his best friend’s boldness and optimism could rub off on Kyungsoo.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The party is held at a penthouse in an upper Gangnam neighborhood. The apartment building rises towards the night sky and Kyungsoo has to crane his neck up to find the top.

 

“Cheer up, Soo,” Chanyeol says, when they stand in front of the door. “It’s going to be easy. We’ll be the best-looking couple there.”

 

Kyungsoo’s stomach is tied in a hundred tiny knots. “There are idols in there,” Kyungsoo counters. “I doubt we’ll be the best-looking people there. Please don’t let your ego get too high.”

 

“Smile!” Chanyeol gives his shoulder an encouraging nudge. “I really like your smile, and you look a lot less scary when you smile.”

 

“What if I don’t want to smile,” Kyungsoo says. “You’ll smile enough for the both of us.”

 

“But you look so cute and squishy when you smile.” Chanyeol squeezes his cheeks, and moves back just in time to dodge Kyungsoo’s slap. “I like you all the time, but even more when you smile.”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, but the comment itself etches a smile on his lips. Chanyeol chuckles good naturedly at the change. He brushes the back of their hands, so gently it’s almost imperceptible, but the message he’s trying to convey is clear: thank you for being here. Then, his fingers skid over Kyungsoo’s palm until their hands are laced together. Holding hands is as natural to them as breathing—four of his fingers encased by Chanyeol’s larger ones—even when their friends tease them about it. The weight of Chanyeol’s hand is familiar and comforting, just like the smile Chanyeol is presenting him, and it helps dissipate some of the tightness in his gut.

 

The penthouse is huge. Kim Junmyeon, Chanyeol’s boss, is one of most notorious producers in the Korean music industry, and it’s reflected in the minimalist furniture and the modern art hanging on the walls. The skyline glimmers in the distance behind floor-to-ceiling windows that span the rear of the living room. Kyungsoo can just imagine Baekhyun and Jongdae whistling at the sight and pressing their faces against the glass to see the drop to the city below.

 

Chanyeol mingles effortlessly within the crowd in expensive clothing, sharing charming smiles and boisterous laughter, while Kyungsoo tags along, offering a few words of courtesy and awkward gestures. He wonders, not for the first time, how Chanyeol can charm anyone’s pants off with a simple smile, while Kyungsoo still struggles with holding a conversation with a stranger. It doesn’t escape him how women look at Chanyeol, too; the way their eyes linger on him a moment too long, a touch of a manicured hand to get his attention. And Kyungsoo doesn’t blame them, Chanyeol looks handsome in a beige sweater and wash-out jeans, his unruly curls tamed into a slick comb that makes his ears stick out. Even Kyungsoo had taken a double look when Chanyeol walked towards him at their meet-up spot, and he’d wiped Chanyeol’s greasy grin with a slap on his arm after Chanyeol caught him.

 

“Chanyeol, you made it!” A short man with a jovial smile and glistening cheeks comes up to them. “Oh, you brought Kyungsoo with you!”

 

“Hello, Junmyeon-ssi.” Kyungsoo bows respectfully. “It’s really nice to see you.”

 

“It’s good to see you, too!” His smile turns knowing. “Chanyeol told me about the good news. I think congratulations are in order.”

 

Chanyeol clears his confusion by dragging him closer with a hand on his waist. Suddenly, Kyungsoo remembers the ridiculous fake boyfriend ruse, and it stops him from pushing Chanyeol away, flushing a deep red under Junmyeon’s coos.

 

“Thank you, sunbaenim.” Chanyeol bows his head briefly. “That means a lot coming from you.”

 

“You look really cute together.” Junmyeon’s hand settles on Kyungsoo’s shoulder. “You should stop by the studio one of these days to record something, if you want.”

 

Chanyeol is agape. “I have a few tracks that I’ve thought about recording with Kyungsoo!” His excitement sobers into cautiousness. “Well, if Kyungsoo wants to, that is.”

 

Kyungsoo keeps a polite mask over his expression as his pulse races over the mere idea. He knows Chanyeol loves to show his creations on his channel, where he’s watched by thousands of people. Chanyeol plays those songs for Kyungsoo before they see the light of day, and often it’s accompanied by Chanyeol commenting, with practiced offhandedness, we would sound great together in this. But Kyungsoo has never been that eager about putting himself out there like that; he performs plays, but he’s wearing someone else’s skin and reciting someone else’s words, and singing as he draws in on his own emotions feels like bearing something inside of him he isn’t ready to show.

 

Another thing he admires about Chanyeol, and that he wishes sometimes, in those moments where he’s all by himself, that he possessed as well.

 

Junmyeon must’ve picked up on something in Kyungsoo’s face because his tone is gentle when he says, “Chanyeol has told me, time and time again, that your voice is lovely, Kyungsoo.”

 

Chanyeol laughs, looping his arm over Kyungsoo’s shoulders. His grin is wide, but his bashfulness belies the carefree sound of his voice. “Junmyeon-hyung, stop exposing me!”

 

“I’m sorry, Chanyeol-ah.” Junmyeon’s cheeks strain, eyes cut into little half-moons. He’s adorable, and Kyungsoo knows now where the admiration and endearment in Chanyeol’s endless stories about his boss come from. “But I trust your word in that Kyungsoo is probably very talented.”

 

“Thank you, Junmyeon-ssi.” Kyungsoo nods politely, hoping to put the subject to bed. “I’ll make sure to stop by the studio soon.”

 

“Alright, I can’t wait to hear what you guys do!” Junmyeon’s perfect set of teeth appears again. “Well, now if you excuse me, I have some guests who are waiting to suck up to me. I’ll see you around.”

 

With one last pat on their shoulders, Junmyeon makes his way towards another group of guests, and Kyungsoo breathes a huge sigh of relief that sends Chanyeol into a fit of laughter. It hadn’t been as bad as he’d thought it would be, but the party is far from over.

 

Chanyeol nudges him with his elbow. “See, it wasn’t so bad!”

 

“Yes, or else you’d be dead by now,” Kyungsoo retorts, sotto voce. “What time are we leaving?”

 

“We just got here, Soo.” The pull of Chanyeol’s lips is half-apologetic, half-amused. “You’ll just have to survive as my boyfriend for a little longer.”

 

“I wonder what I did in my past life to deserve this,” Kyungsoo says dramatically, earning another laugh from his best friend. “I swear to god, Chanyeol, if anybody makes us—”

 

“C’mon, it won’t be so bad!” Chanyeol insists, fingers wrapping over Kyungsoo’s wrist. “I’m not a terrible date, if I so myself.”

 

“There’s probably a group of people that you’ve dumped who would most likely disagree with you there.” He smiles at Chanyeol’s answering snort. “I’ll admit you’re better than other dates I’ve had so far. Far better than that guy Jongdae set me up with last summer, who slipped away in the middle of dinner and left me to pay the bill.”

 

“A real catch,” Chanyeol jokes. “I always pay for your food, Soo. If that doesn’t tell you that I’m your ideal date I don’t know what could.”

 

Kyungsoo jams his fingers into Chanyeol’s tummy, eliciting a huff from his friend. “Keep going and you’ll not only be missing a date, but also a friend.”

 

“But who would you prefer? Me or Jongdae?” Chanyeol inquires. “Who’s your type?”

 

“Why are we having this conversation right now?” Kyungsoo moves to the table with snacks, and Chanyeol follows. “Why not you or Shrek? Both of you are tall and have weird ears.”

 

“I take back the date thing,” Chanyeol says. “You’re too mean to me.”

 

Kyungsoo grabs an appetizer from a tray and offers it to Chanyeol. It’s an unspoken apology, but also because he loves the way Chanyeol complies in an instant, and the lines at the corners of his eyes that show his pleasure at being fed, like a puppy.

 

“What if I make you choose? Who would it be?” Kyungsoo raises one eyebrow. “Do you even have a type?”

 

“I do have a type. The dark, brooding type.” Chanyeol licks his lips. “Remember that movie we watched—Looper? The guy with the leather jacket and tie… he looked so good. Or Tony Leung. Kim Soo Hyun is also cute. He’s more like my type.”

 

“Tony Leung is out of your league.” Kyungsoo chuckles at Chanyeol’s pout. “I didn’t know you liked foreigners.”

 

There are crumbs on the corner of Chanyeol’s lips, so Kyungsoo wipes them and sucks his thumb into his mouth. Chanyeol’s gaze falls to his lips before it drops lower to the space between their shoes.

 

“It’d be different with you,” he says, quietly. There’s no teasing in his deep tone, only a timid candor. “A date, I mean. I have fun with you in different ways than with the people I usually take on dates.”

 

“What are you saying?” Kyungsoo frowns. “How would it be different?”

 

Chanyeol’s cheeks are painted a faint blush, the tips of his ears reddened, and Kyungsoo wonders if it’s the alcohol that’s already gotten to him. Chanyeol isn’t a heavy drinker; Kyungsoo had learned this in his freshman year, a month after meeting, on one of those times Jongdae and Baekhyun had dragged them to a bar near campus. A few shots of soju later, Chanyeol had slumped into Kyungsoo, head nestled in his neck, giggling about anything and everything, and Jongdae and Kyungsoo had to carry him back to the dorm while Chanyeol sang to 2ne1’s latest hit loud enough to wake the whole student body.

 

The next day Chanyeol had been so embarrassed he’d made breakfast for both of them, and Kyungsoo had decided then he wanted to keep Chanyeol around.

 

There’s resolution when he stares straight into Kyungsoo’s eyes, no trace of the jokes from earlier, and the sudden shift throws Kyungsoo off a little. “It’s just that… with you…”

 

 “Hey, Chanyeol!”

 

A tall man walks up to them, holding a tube of champagne in one hand and a stony expression. He has the looks of a model, and Kyungsoo wouldn’t doubt it if he were; his chiseled features, and slender form clad entirely in black, stands with a gracefulness that seems inborn, and so is the tension he ignites in Kyungsoo. His companion, in contrast, is a laxed-looking guy; he greets them with a dimpled grin and a wave, half-hidden by the sleeve of his leather jacket. It inadvertently quells some of Kyungsoo’s nerves.

 

“Yixing!” Chanyeol hurries to hug the man. He gets a couple of pats on his back and a few words mumbled into his ear, that Kyungsoo recognizes as Mandarin. “I can’t believe you’re here!”

 

“Long time no see, man.” The dimples guy, Yixing, grabs Chanyeol’s hand and squeezes. Kyungsoo vaguely wonders how is it that they appear to be close, and he’d yet to know about the guy’s existence. “I arrived in Seoul a few days ago. I’ve missed you at the studio, but I watched your new video and it was great!”

 

“Thanks, man, but I’ve been so busy lately, I—” Chanyeol stops, a hand covering his mouth. “Oh, where are my manners?!” An arm wraps around Kyungsoo’s waist. “Yixing, this is Kyungsoo. Kyungsoo, Yixing.”

 

Kyungsoo’s head bobs politely. “Nice to meet you.”

 

“Oh, you are Chanyeol’s boyfriend?” the guy asks. “You’re very handsome.”

 

Kyungsoo’s cheeks warm up at the comment and the flippancy it’s handed out. He figures by the genuinity written on the guy’s face, that it’s how he usually treats everyone he meets. “Yes, that’s it,” he responds through gritted teeth. “I’m Chanyeol’s boyfriend.”

 

“Oh, you look really cute together!” The dimples appear again. “Look at you, you look so lovely.”

 

Chanyeol presses Kyungsoo to his side, and out of the corner of his eye, Kyungsoo can see him grinning wide, positively preening under the praise. Kyungsoo steps on his foot lightly, but with enough force to cause Chanyeol to jump.

 

The model guy seems to be enjoying the scene. “He’s the guy Chanyeol always goes on about.” He signals with his glass. “You know, Kyungsoo—”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I think Yixing already knows who Kyungsoo is,” Chanyeol interrupts. “Thanks for your input, Sehun.”

 

“Oh, that Kyungsoo!” Yixing exclaims. “Chanyeol is always talking what a great voice you have. Have you guys never thought of performing together at one of Chanyeol’s gigs?”

 

“Thanks.” Kyungsoo fidgets with the lapels of his coat to distract himself from the lurch in his stomach at the thought of performing in front of a crowd like the ones in Chanyeol’s gigs. “But no, I’m not really comfortable singing in front of so many people.”

 

“That’s a shame.” Yixing clucks his tongue. “I bet you’d look cute performing on stage together, with the size difference and everything.”

 

“I know it would be cute, right?” Chanyeol says. “Kyungsoo is just the perfect size.”

 

Kyungsoo squeezes Chanyeol’s hand again. Don’t encourage him. The gasp Chanyeol lets out pulls his lips into a real smile.

 

“Yeah, they’re cute, but I haven’t even seen you hold hands all evening.” Sehun squints suspiciously. “Did Chanyeol pay you to be his date so he wouldn’t look like a single loser?”

 

Kyungsoo gawks at his best friend in horror, only to find a similar look on Chanyeol’s face. Chanyeol’s mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, all his previous bravado gone.

 

“Don’t be rude, Sehunnie,” Yixing reprimands him, jabbing Sehun on his side. Sehun snickers, covering his mouth with a hand. “Chanyeol wouldn’t do that. But I think it’s cute when couples are affectionate wherever they are.”

 

“Uh, I don’t know, that’s not really us,” Kyungsoo says. His voice cracks. He wants the ground to swallow him whole. “We’re not so keen on PDA.”

 

“That’s sad, you guys would’ve looked like those cute couples on Instagram,” Yixing laments. “Right, Sehun?”

 

The man nods with a tight-lipped smile, failing to conceal his amusement at poking fun at their misery. “They sure do.”

 

Kyungsoo bites back the urge to snap at the two men to mind their own business, but his embarrassment is choking him. He thinks this is worse than the time he got drunk and sang an awful version of “Let it Go” with Baekhyun, using bottles of soju as mics, that Jongdae recorded and showed it to everyone he knew for a week until Kyungsoo threatened to break his phone in half.

 

“Thanks,” Kyungsoo grumbles. His face must be all shades of red right now. “I guess.”

 

“And we’re among couples, right?” Yixing presses on, gestures with his hands around the room. “My girlfriend is over there talking to Junmyeon, who is Sehunnie’s boyfriend right here. So don’t be embarrassed to be affectionate in public.”

 

Kyungsoo wants to groan aloud, pull on his hair until only a few strands stand on his head to let out all of his exasperation. God, this guy is really not letting it up any time soon, isn’t he?

 

Chanyeol seems to have come to the same conclusion. “Kyungsoo—”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head. “Let’s just get this fucking over with,” he murmurs.

 

Kyungsoo clings to Chanyeol’s hand like a lifeline, heartbeat quickening as he tilts his head towards Chanyeol. Chanyeol gulps, his hand lifting to cup Kyungsoo’s cheek gently, almost reverently, as he leans down to meet him halfway.

 

Thoughts of it’s just Chanyeol and I am so going to kill him after this flash in Kyungsoo’s mind in the seconds before their kiss. When their lips touch, though, in a quick, chaste peck, it’s like the rest of world has melted into white noise; there’s nothing in his mind but the soft texture of Chanyeol’s lips, the way their mouths seem to perfectly fit, and it catches him unawares, the warmth that explodes in his chest and cages his heart.

 

When they separate, after seconds that stretch into infinity, there’s an exhale that rushes through Chanyeol and grazes Kyungsoo’s mouth, the sort of heavy release long buried in someone’s heart. Kyungsoo licks his lips, his heart still beating wildly when he looks up at his best friend. Chanyeol’s expression is unreadable, his eyes lidded and clouded with something that Kyungsoo can’t figure out. Chanyeol’s thumb caresses his cheek, a featherlight touch that makes Kyungsoo feel like there are thousands of tiny firecrackers under his skin, unlike any of the other touches they’ve shared in the past.

 

“Wow, you guys look so lovely!” he hears Yixing exclaim.

 

Yixing’s voice snaps them out of a haze—Chanyeol’s hand drops to his side and the look on his face is gone, replaced by something warm and open and familiar. Kyungsoo stands firmly back on his feet, but it feels like the ground still hasn’t quite settled. What the hell just happened?

 

 “Look at you!”

 

Yixing shoves his phone in Kyungsoo’s face. There’s a picture on the screen of the two of them right in the middle of their kiss and Kyungsoo blushes all over again. He gets the sudden urge to grab the phone and stomp on it, but it passes when Chanyeol takes the phone from Yixing.

 

“Ooh, we look so cute,” Chanyeol coos. There’s no trace of the earlier intensity in his expression, and Kyungsoo wonders if he’d maybe imagined it in the heat of the moment. Chanyeol shows him the picture, grinning, and his enthusiasm isn’t dampened by Kyungsoo’s scowl, as usual. “Can you send me that, please?” he asks Yixing.

 

Yixing nods, taking back his phone. “Sure, man.”

 

As Yixing types away in his phone, Kyungsoo lets go of Chanyeol’s hand to walk towards the snack table. He badly needs a drink or two, and he grabs the nearest glass of champagne he sees. He’s sipping on the sparkly drink, eyes wandering over the pictures and paintings on the walls, while he thinks of his kiss with Chanyeol. He can still feel the press of Chanyeol’s lips on his like a stamp, and it takes everything in him not to trace it with his fingers. It fills him with confusion, his reaction to the kiss—he’d be lying if he said he’d never wondered how it would be like kiss Chanyeol, but he’d concluded that kissing Chanyeol would be like kissing a relative—or worse, kissing Jongdae or Baekhyun—, so it’d completely thrown him off balance, the way his heart had leaped when their lips met, how right it all had felt.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

He starts at the sound of Chanyeol’s voice. His brow is pinched, worry simmering in his gaze. Kyungsoo cracks a smile just to ease Chanyeol.

 

“Yeah, why? You think a simple kiss like that could shake me up? You’d need to try harder.” His teasing falls flat, but it serves to clear some of the storm in Chanyeol’s countenance.

 

“Soo-yah, don’t be like that,” Chanyeol says. “You still haven’t seen the best of my game.” 

 

This is flirting, pure and ingenuous. Lighthearted. Amusing. The kind that had been absent during his first date with Jongin, but Kyungsoo doesn’t know how to turn that charm on and off like Chanyeol does. Chanyeol pulls it out of him easily, with a teasing tone and coy smiles that he can unravel at his will. Kyungsoo can’t do that. At all. Except with Chanyeol.

 

The disaster of his date with Jongin had slipped his mind completely, and he’s almost tempted to tell Chanyeol about it, but stops himself. Saves it for another day. In its stead, he quips, “I won’t be looking forward to that,” for there are two indents between Chanyeol’s brows that spell concern.

 

“You better be.” Chanyeol’s smile is feeble and short-lived. Worry glides through his expression, brows pushed together, and the ends of his mouth dragged down. “I wanted to say… I’m sorry for Yixing. When he gets fixated on something, he’s just so insistent, and I—”

 

“It’s alright, Chanyeol.” Kyungsoo sighs, leaving his glass on the table. “I kind of got that already.”

 

Chanyeol shakes his head. “It’s not alright—I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, making you do things you didn’t want to do.” He grabs Kyungsoo’s sleeve, fingers playing with the fabric. “I’m so sorry, Soo.”

 

There’s worry etched in the lines of Chanyeol’s face, and Kyungsoo wants to smooth it away with a hand on his cheek, like he would do any other time. But somehow, right now, he’s hyper-aware of every touch, every movement, even the breaths spilled in the little distance separating them. It unnerves him.

 

“It’s okay.” He offers Chanyeol an easy smile, relaxed at the corners. “But I’m warning you now, you owe me an entire month’s worth of dinner for that kiss.”

 

Chanyeol’s laugh is relieved. “It’s the least you deserve,” he says. His voice lowers, warmth seeping into his tone. “Thank you for doing this for me.”

 

Before Kyungsoo has any chance to respond, Chanyeol plants a kiss on Kyungsoo’s head. There’s the rapid tumbling of his heart, just like it’d happened when they had kissed, that only serves to further his confusion. It’s not normal for him to be self-conscious around Chanyeol. He’s seen Chanyeol cry while eating spicy food and Chanyeol has seen him cry after a movie. It’s not normal.

 

Chanyeol tugs on his sleeve, like a child, and the sparkle on his eyes only helps to match his actions. “So we’re okay, right?”

 

Kyungsoo swallows, but it doesn’t ease his heart creeping up his throat. “Of course we are,” he asks. A smile makes his way onto his lips. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The stage lights frame Jongin’s face in the perfect way as he goes over his lines, plump lips mouthing the words to himself. Kyungsoo would write poetry about it, if Jongdae weren’t waving his hands in front of him and rudely intruding in his daydreaming.

 

“Earth to Kyungsoo,” Jongdae calls. “Can you stop ogling our lead so we can focus on the script?”

 

Ms. Kwon wanted them to get acclimated to their positions on the stage, so today they’re using the auditorium. They’re standing on one end of the stage, going through a scene together that had been interrupted when Jongin had arrived and stood in the middle of the stage to go over his script. They’ve been here for less than half an hour, waiting for their professor to arrive to start the rehearsal, but Kyungsoo hasn’t been able to take his eyes away from Jongin; he blames it on the skinny jeans he’s wearing today that hug his long, long legs in the most distracting of ways.

 

“I’m not ogling him.” Kyungsoo scowls at Jongdae’s scoff. “Dumbass.”

 

“Sure, you’re just ‘admiring his delivery’.” Jongdae air quotes with a smirk. It’d been Kyungsoo’s own words the first time Jongdae had caught him staring at Jongin during rehearsal, and he flushes every time Jongdae throws them back at him. “Or are you admiring something else?”

 

“Shut up.” His jab to Jongdae’s stomach is met with a huff. “I’ve seen the way you drool over Sooyoung every time you’re near her so don’t you dare start.”

 

“I don’t drool.” Jongdae’s frown is replaced quickly by a grin. “I’m just ‘admiring her delivery’.”

 

“You’re so lame,” Kyungsoo groans. “Why am I even friends with you.”

 

Kyungsoo goes to sit by the edge of the stage, script in his lap and legs dangling in the air. He skims through the pages where his lines are color-coded, even though he already knows them by heart.

 

“Speaking of not knowing why you’re friends with someone—where’s Chanyeol?” Jongdae sits next to Kyungsoo. “He’s supposed to bring the tracks for the sound effects.”

 

“He said he’d be here by six.” Kyungsoo checks his watch. “Actually, he should be here in a few.”

 

“So how’s the whole fake boyfriends thing going?” Jongdae asks with fake disinterest.

 

The first thing that comes to his mind is the kiss, and his stomach clenches with the same kind of unnamed feeling that had overtaken him that day.

 

Kyungsoo looks up in alarm. “How did you—”

 

“Calm down,” Jongdae laughs, waving his hand appeasingly. “Chanyeol told me not to tell anyone.”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes. Another reason to get back at Chanyeol. “It’s not going anywhere,” he answers. “It was just a one-time thing for Chanyeol’s dinner party.”

 

He’s been pushing all thoughts of the kiss aside in the days following the incident, and it had helped that Chanyeol had been too busy at the studio to hang out, but it refused to be tucked away, springing into the forefront of his mind untamed at any moment. When Jongdae had put on Spirited Away during their Saturday movie night, however, he’d texted Chanyeol to find no response, and had thought of him for most of the movie until he got a text back when he went to bed that night.

 

“Well, you’re lucky it’s a one-time thing,” says Jongdae. “We all know Chanyeol doesn’t really have a good track record of relationships.”

 

“Leave him alone.” Kyungsoo shoves him, even though the jibe still amuses him. “You know he just has bad luck on that front.”

 

It’s not that Chanyeol is a bad date, but his dates often end in lost numbers (on his part) and unrequited feelings (on their part). It’s rare for Chanyeol to date for longer than two months, but Kyungsoo has to give it to him for going on date after date, even when they fail more often than not. It’s better than Kyungsoo’s non-existent love life anyway; the last “boyfriend” he had was last year, who had ended things a week short of their fifth month anniversary.

 

“‘Bad luck’ is one way to put it,” Jongdae quips. “Although, you guys have been friends for so long you wouldn’t really have a problem, would you?”

 

He remembers Chanyeol’s words back at the party, threaded with shyness. It would be different with you.

 

“He said it would be different,” Kyungsoo muses. “Us going on a date.”

 

He doesn’t realize it has slipped past his mouth until there’s complete silence from his friend. He’d expected teasing for taking the bait and Jongdae’s thinly veiled innuendos, but they do not come. In their place, pensiveness takes over Jongdae’s features, an expression Kyungsoo has seen only a handful of times on his friend.

 

“I guess that’s because, you know, Chanyeol…” Jongdae trails off, worrying his bottom lip. In the end, he shakes his head, deciding the words were better off unsaid. “Just don’t let him read too much into it, alright?”

 

Kyungsoo frowns in confusion. “Why would he do that?”

 

Jongdae’s lower lip is sucked into his mouth as he ruminates. But whatever answer he was preparing is cut short by the auditorium doors flinging open and Chanyeol making his entrance. He’s panting, already unruly curls now a poodle disaster in his head, and Kyungsoo forgets everything else in favour of the joy that takes root within him at seeing his best friend.

 

As Chanyeol gets closer, Kyungsoo can see the flush sitting high on his cheeks from the exertion of running and Kyungsoo inevitably smiles at the sight. He would never admit it aloud, but he always misses Chanyeol when they don’t see each other for more than a few days.

 

“I’m so sorry I’m late!” Chanyeol exclaims. “I got held up with something at the studio last minute and I—”

 

“It’s alright, Chanyeol, I didn’t ask for your life story.” Jongdae’s smile belies the sharpness of his words. “Did you bring the tracks?”

 

“I did!” he says, rummaging through his backpack. He whoops and hands the USB driver to Jongdae with a flourish. Chanyeol’s size might intimidate other people, but his silliness and innocence is that of an overgrown child. Kyungsoo smacks his arm, just because he’d missed Chanyeol so much.

 

“Why did you do that?” he whines, stroking his arm. Kyungsoo knows it’s for show. “You don’t see me in almost a week and this is how you show me how much you missed me?”

 

“Who says I missed your dumb face?” He smiles to soothe his tone, and Chanyeol is quick to return it.

 

Chanyeol shrugs. “I just have an inkling you did.” He puts all of his things back into his backpack, eyes hidden from Kyungsoo. “I did miss you, you know.”

 

It’s so quiet, Kyungsoo almost misses what he’s said, but he doesn’t miss the undercurrent of something else, longing and secret, that he hasn’t heard in his friend’s tone before. Or maybe it isn’t that it’d never been there, it’s just that Kyungsoo is more attuned to these things now, as if their kiss had brought into shape things that had been out of focus before.

 

He doesn’t know how to reply, so he goes for the safest answer. “Shut up. You still owe me dinner.”

 

Chanyeol’s lips curl up with pleasure at the mention. He leaves his backpack aside and rests his folded arms over Kyungsoo’s legs.

 

“Please go easy on me, Soo-yah.” Round eyes are filled with sweetness, lashes fluttering over proud cheekbones. “I’m only a music producer.”

 

It’s their old banter, and Kyungsoo hates the relief that washes over him at the fact that nothing has changed between them after The Incident.

 

“A music producer who makes enough to live in a nice apartment in Apgujeong,” Kyungsoo teases. “But that’s what you get for dragging me into your messes. I’m not a cheap date—keep that in mind next time you think of asking me to be your fake boyfriend.”

 

Chanyeol’s plump lip is puffed out in a pout, and paired with the flush dusting his cheeks, he looks… well, cute. The term popping up in Kyungsoo’s mind takes him by surprise—it’s not something he’d normally associate with his best friend, who he’s seen crying to anime movies and has had the dubious honor of witnessing how he looks first thing in the morning countless times.

 

“I’ll ask Jongdae from now on,” Chanyeol says. “Or maybe Baekhyun. I could bribe him with some soju and kimbap to get him to do whatever I want.”

 

The image of Chanyeol and Baekhyun as a couple is so ridiculous, it rips a laugh out of Kyungsoo. “I’d love to see how that goes.”

 

He slips his fingers through Chanyeol’s dark strands and pulls lightly, relishing on the way Chanyeol’s eyes flutter, mouth parting in a silent gasp. Something swirls in Chanyeol’s expression, whirling in glossy, dark irises under heavy lids, and the shuddering breath that skates through him blends into the heat crawling up Kyungsoo’s back. With dread, he identifies the spark of arousal alighting his insides, springing up thousands of red flags in his mind. Shit, shit, shit, this can’t be. Kyungsoo lets his hand fall and the tension snaps. Chanyeol blinks once, twice, a flush painting his cheeks when he leans away from Kyungsoo, eyes wide and unfocused.

 

“Kyungsoo, are you ready?” Jongdae calls from somewhere behind them. Kyungsoo is stuck to his place, weighed down by his bewilderment.

 

“Chanyeol, what was…?” he starts to inquire, but loses traction over the flustered look on Chanyeol’s expression. Like he’s been caught red-handed.

 

A different voice calls out to him. “Kyungsoo-hyung, can you help me with this?”

 

Kyungsoo does glance over, this time. Jongin stands next to Jongdae, sending a shy wave and a pretty smile his way. It works like magic; Kyungsoo’s mouth instantly quirks at the corners at the sight.

 

A throat is cleared. Heat creeps into his face, now that Chanyeol’s gaze is finally back on him.

 

“I think I’ll just wait for you over there.” Chanyeol points over his shoulder. The tips of his ears are still a deep red. “Go now. They’re waiting for you.”

 

He gets an unexplainable urge to call after Chanyeol as he treads to the empty audience. Ignoring it, he stands up, and stumbling through the haze of his thoughts, he goes to his friends.

 

Some time later, after rehearsals are done, Kyungsoo waits for Chanyeol by the doors of the auditorium. They hadn’t talked during the rehearsal. Chanyeol had stayed rooted to his seat, even in the breaks interpolated within scenes. Kyungsoo hadn’t gone to him either, afraid Chanyeol could hear the buzz of his chaotic thoughts.

 

When Chanyeol walks through the doors, Kyungsoo takes note of his companion with a skip of his heart.

 

“Kyungsoo-hyung, Chanyeol-hyung was telling me about ‘movie club’.” Jongin encloses the term in air quotes. “I didn’t know there was one here.”

 

It takes Kyungsoo a second to react to the two pairs of expectant eyes on him. “Oh yeah, yeah, there used to be—we went every Saturday,” he says, managing a smile. “But it closed about a year ago because of low attendance.”

 

“But me and Kyungsoo kept the tradition alive,” Chanyeol interjects. “We kept going to the movies every Saturday, just like we did when movie club was alive while I was still studying here.”

 

As Chanyeol sways with his words, his arm brushes Kyungsoo’s shoulder. The touch is imperceptible, but it sends Kyungsoo into alert mode, skin prickling with self-awareness after that strange moment at the stage. But Chanyeol isn’t affected at all, it seems, voice calm and undisturbed, like the surface of a lake. It makes Kyungsoo wonder if maybe he’d imagined it all.

 

“I didn’t have much of a choice, though,” Chanyeol jests. “Kyungsoo dragged me in his freshman year and we’ve been going to every meeting since then.”

 

“Shut up.” Kyungsoo pinches his arm, and Chanyeol unleashes a mixture of a squeak and a laugh. “You loved it ever since we watched that movie with the talking dog.”

 

“It’s called Up, Soo,” Chanyeol corrects, petulant, “and it’s a cinematic masterpiece, thank you very much.” He turns to Jongin. “He loved Zootopia, but he won’t ever admit it.”

 

“Whatever you say, Yeol,” Kyungsoo relents. “At least I didn’t have a weird crush on the fox guy.”

 

“Nick was cute, okay!”

 

Jongin has been watching their banter with no small degree of amusement. Kyungsoo’s smile turns sheepish when Jongin’s attention stays on him.

 

“You can go with Kyungsoo if you want,” Chanyeol offers Jongin. “I don’t think I can make it next week.”

 

It was their deal. If Kyungsoo pretended to be Chanyeol’s boyfriend, Chanyeol helped Kyungsoo get a date with Jongin. Chanyeol is only doing what he’d promised, but it makes something itch at the back of Kyungsoo’s head.

 

“Really, can I go with you, hyung?”

 

Chanyeol’s smile is as genial as ever, but it lacks its usual luster. Kyungsoo knows his friend too well to be fooled, but if he wants this, then who is Kyungsoo to refuse. And how much he has fantasized about this, sitting in a dark theater with Jongin, their hands finding each other and their fingers entwining, Jongin turning towards him, and maybe...

 

Jongin’s puppy eyes are gleeful when Kyungsoo says, “If Chanyeol can’t go, then…”

 

“Well, I’ll leave you two to work out the details.” Chanyeol grabs Kyungsoo’s arm to get his attention. “I’ll see you on Friday at the studio, right?”

 

“What about dinner this Thursday?” Kyungsoo asks. “Are you going to be busy?”

 

“We started working on IU’s next mini album this week,” Chanyeol replies. His smile grows a fraction, and this time Kyungsoo knows it’s genuine. “We can do it next week! Don’t worry, Soo, you’ll get that dinner I owe you.”

 

It’s not about that, Kyungsoo wants to say, but he also isn’t sure what it is about. All he knows is that he has this feeling he can’t pinpoint at the idea of their weekly meals stopping.  They have rarely skipped on their tradition ever since its conception in freshman year, after evening classes and a shared love over fried, oily food.

 

“Right.” Kyungsoo nods. “I’ll ask for everything on the menu, then.”

 

“I’ll pull out my savings so I’ll go prepared.” Chanyeol gives Kyungsoo a small pinch on his cheek. It feels more like a caress than a sting. “See you, Soo.”

 

Chanyeol waves them goodbye before he leaves. Kyungsoo watches him, still trying to figure out what was going on with his friend.

 

“Hyung, are you taking the bus? Because I could walk you there, if you want.”

 

Jongin’s smile is earnest as he waits for Kyungsoo’s answer. He’s so cute. “I wouldn’t mind that at all.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

When Chanyeol was about to graduate, Kyungsoo asked him why he loved music.

 

They were having dinner in Chanyeol’s parent’s restaurant, because Chanyeol had just received the news that he was chosen to start his internship with SME that summer.

 

At the question, Chanyeol had put down his chopsticks and taken his time chewing.

 

“That’s like asking me why I breathe,” Chanyeol had said. “I love making music because I can describe different feelings in songs, even if I’ve never felt them before.” He licked his lips, and his eyes crinkled. “I get to say things with music that I can’t say out loud.”

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t know why he remembers this when he’s on his way to the studio. Perhaps because he’s listening to Chanyeol’s mixtape, and he wonders again what inspired him to write such lovely but sad songs.

 

Chanyeol is waiting for him when Kyungsoo arrives at SM’s building in Cheongdam. He’s wearing a ginormous red parka over his usual black hoodie, a matching cap taming his curls. He looks up from his phone when Kyungsoo approaches and a smile spreads over his face like the slow light of dawn.

 

“Hey, Soo!”

 

His arms open, beckoning, and for once, Kyungsoo is happy to indulge Chanyeol with a bone-crushing hug. He hasn’t seen his friend since the last play rehearsal; Chanyeol had been too busy at the studio, only replying to his texts hours after being sent and sometimes late into the night. It had added into the mounting anxiety that there was an invisible shift in their friendship in the last couple weeks after The Incident.

 

Kyungsoo’s comforted to know that his head still fits perfectly in the hollow of Chanyeol’s shoulder, and that Chanyeol holds him like he’d missed him as much as Kyungsoo had.

 

Chanyeol’s hand lingers on Kyungsoo’s nape when he lets go, stroking the hairs at the back of his head. “I missed you, Soo. I’m so glad you came.”

 

“Why,” Kyungsoo teases, “did you think I wouldn’t come?”

 

Chanyeol knows about Kyungsoo’s shyness to sing in front of strangers. After they met, it hadn’t taken Kyungsoo too long to figure out Chanyeol hardly went anywhere without his guitar. There would be impromptu jamming sessions with Baekhyun and Jongdae over cheap beer and take-out, and since the first time Kyungsoo had turned down to sing with them, Chanyeol had never asked again. One day, however, Chanyeol was playing the keyboard in his apartment, Kyungsoo had felt a sort of boldness unknown to him, and his humming had turned into full-on singing. Chanyeol’s fingers had slipped over the keys in shock, only to pick up the rhythm like nothing had happened.

 

Kyungsoo has only felt comfortable singing around him ever since.

 

Chanyeol’s smile is knowing, but he says, “I thought you’d keep me waiting forever.”

 

“When have I ever made you wait?” Kyungsoo inquires. “That’s always you.”

 

“But I always pay the bill to make up for it.” Chanyeol sounds more proud than smug. Kyungsoo tugs on his ear for the remark, and Chanyeol hisses, eyes screwing shut for an instant. “You know what, you can pay for your food from now on.”

 

Kyungsoo laughs, interrupts the quaking of his shoulders with a shrug. “Alright, but I’m not paying for your food. And you still owe me that dinner, so you’re not getting away with it that easy.”

 

“Uh, by the way…” Chanyeol starts, timidly. “Talking about the dinner party… we kind of have to keep pretending we’re dating.”

 

“What the hell, Chanyeol?!” Trepidation sinks its claws on him at the prospect of having to repeat the kiss. He can’t do this again. “Why didn’t you tell people we stopped dating or something?”

 

“Well, I didn’t know Junmyeon-hyung would be here today,” Chanyeol explains. “And I didn’t want to tell him we broke up because it’d complicate things.” Chanyeol ducks his head, hands folded in front of him. “Please, please, please, Soo. I won’t ask anything of you ever again.”

 

As important as his job is, Kyungsoo knows that the impression Junmyeon has of him is far more important to Chanyeol. And Chanyeol is important to Kyungsoo.

 

With a sigh, he caves in. “Okay, okay, but this is the last time we’re doing this.” He yanks Chanyeol’s parka towards the entrance of the building. “Let’s go, I don’t wanna make Junmyeon-ssi wait.”

 

Chanyeol’s arm rests over Kyungsoo’s shoulders in the ride up to the studio in the elevator. Fingers play with a strand of Kyungsoo’s hair, and Kyungsoo is met with Chanyeol’s face lost in rumination. He can see something else there, unidentifiable, mixed with the carefully constructed mask that Chanyeol dons sometimes and makes him difficult to read.

 

“It’s okay if you don’t want to sing today.” The corners of Chanyeol’s mouth lift in a smile, small and comforting. “I’ll tell Junmyeon-hyung we can do it another day.”

 

On cue, Kyungsoo’s gut clenches at the thought of singing in front of people. He fidgets with the strap of his backpack. “No, it’s okay,” he says, lowly. “I’m fine.”

 

Chanyeol watches him out of the corner of his eye. “Of course you are.”

 

The elevator doors open to a long hallway, adorned with portraits of artists belonging to the company and records of various certifications. Chanyeol opens a door at the end of the hallway, and welcomes him to the studio with an eager little grin and a matching glint in his eyes.

 

Kyungsoo has never been in a studio before, and his amazement must be written all over his face. An enormous panel spans the entire length of the room, littered with more buttons and controls than Kyungsoo can count, and above it, a window shows the recording booth on the other side. With a hand on his elbow, Chanyeol leads him to a leather couch at the end of the room, where a man sits with his leg crossed over the other.

 

The man looks up from his phone, and his cold stance melts into a friendly, discreet smile. It’s the model from the dinner party, looking as graceful and intimidating as the first time they met.

 

There’s none of Kyungsoo’s uneasiness in Chanyeol when he greets the man. “Hey, Sehunnie,” Chanyeol says. “You remember Kyungsoo, right?”

 

“Of course I do.” His smile broadens, eyes disappearing into crescents. “Your boyfriend.”

 

“Yup, that’s right.” Kyungsoo can hear the bemusement in his friend’s voice. He has to bite back the urge to jab him with his elbow. “Where’s Junmyeon-hyung?”

 

Kyungsoo breathes a sigh of relief at the change of topic. Sehun lingers a moment on Chanyeol’s hand in the crook of Kyungsoo’s neck, but he takes the bait.

 

“He went out for coffee,” he answers. “I need my caffeine intake before I can do anything for the day.”

 

“It’s two p.m., Sehunnie,” Chanyeol laughs. “What time did you wake up?”

 

Sehun shrugs, and says, flippantly, “Blame your boss. He’s the one who kept me up last night.”

 

Chanyeol whines loudly over Sehun’s cackle. “Ugh, I don’t want to know.” Chanyeol nudges a still laughing Sehun with his backpack to make space in the couch. “I’ll just get to work and completely forget about what I just heard.”

 

He guides Kyungsoo to sit down with a gentle grip on his hand. It’s like Chanyeol is taking extra care of him today and the thought warms Kyungsoo’s heart. Chanyeol pulls his laptop out of his backpack, and drums his fingers over the plastic as he waits for it to load.

 

“Oh, are you going to show off to your boyfriend?” Sehun teases.

 

“I’m not showing off,” Chanyeol says. “Kyungsoo’s heard all my songs.”

 

“He’s written a hundred songs for you,” Sehun tells Kyungsoo, deadpan. “They’re all so cheesy and cliché.”

 

“No, I haven’t!” Chanyeol pushes Sehun, and his facade breaks into giggles. “Don’t listen to him, Soo.”

 

Kyungsoo looks on with amusement as they play fight like a pair of children, a mess of long and gangly limbs until Chanyeol disentangles himself from Sehun.

 

Sehun’s phone beeps next to him.

 

“Yeol, hyung said you should go help him with the coffee orders,” Sehun says. “Since he’s buying for all of us now. He’s in the Coffee Bean two blocks from here.”

 

Chanyeol’s brow is etched with concern. “Will you be okay while you wait for me here?” He casts Sehun a glare. “I don’t trust Sehun.”

 

“You act like I’m evil and I’m going to do something to him.” Sehun pouts, the gesture so childlike, it softens his sharp edges. “I like Kyungsoo. I wanna get to know him more.”

 

The twinkle in Sehun’s eyes is like the cat who caught its prey, but Kyungsoo doesn’t sniff a hint of malice behind it.

 

“Sure.” Kyungsoo chuckles. Chanyeol doesn’t budge, so he rolls his eyes, musters up some semblance of nonchalance. “Go, don’t worry.”

 

He bends to peck Kyungsoo’s cheek, and scoots over to the door before Kyungsoo can even react. “See ya! I’ll bring you the chocolate muffins that you like.”

 

He blows a kiss, and giggles at Kyungsoo’s glare. Of course Chanyeol would make the most of this stupid fake boyfriend situation to poke fun at Kyungsoo. He’s so going to get back at him for this and more.

 

Silence hangs between them once Chanyeol’s disappeared behind the door, and Kyungsoo is faced with one of his nemesis: making small talk with strangers.

 

“Chanyeol didn’t mention how long you’ve been together,” Sehun says. His thumb caresses his lower lip, elbow digging into his folded leg. “He just bursted it out one day when Junmyeon invited him to the party. We didn’t even ask.”

 

Kyungsoo feels his hands go clammy. They haven’t agreed on a backstory for this ridiculous situation, and in hindsight, it was probably a big mistake. “Uh… two months,” he answers, summoning his acting abilities to get out of this alive. “Two months in two weeks.”

 

“Oh, only two months? You guys look like you’ve been together forever.” Sehun’s smile twitches ever-so-slightly. “But Chanyeol wouldn’t shut up about you any other day so it was hard for us to pinpoint when you actually got together.”

 

Kyungsoo’s brow raises in surprise, act slipping. “He talks about me?”

 

“He does,” Sehun replies, like Kyungsoo has just asked him if the sky is blue. “To anyone who’s willing to listen. So me and Junmyeon knew so much about you before we even met you.”

 

“I… I didn’t know.” He’s aware Chanyeol is, well, very fond of him, but that is how Chanyeol is about most things he likes. He pours an endless stream of attention into whatever has him completely fascinated, and Kyungsoo has always chalked it up to him being Chanyeol’s best friend.

 

Or that’s what he tells himself, at least.

 

Sehun cocks an eyebrow, gaze disbelieving. “Well, you’re very oblivious.”

 

“Chanyeol is like that with everyone,” Kyungsoo mumbles. It feels too much like he’s trying to make excuses, he doesn’t know what for. “He can talk your ear off about some random band he adores for ages, so I don’t really think…”

 

“Really?” Sehun’s head tilts curiously, and the resemblance to a cat is uncanny. “Poor guy’s been head-over-heels for you for a long time, it’s quite obvious. I’m glad he finally got the balls to ask you out.”

 

The words float over them like dense fog. Sounds fade except for the echo of Sehun’s voice, bouncing off the walls until the words lose its meaning. “What?” Kyungsoo grips the edge of the couch, white-knuckled, as if the earth was spinning too fast. “What did you just say?”

 

“That Chanyeol’s in love with you?” Sehun asks. “That much is obvious from just looking at him when he’s next to you.” He seems to take in on Kyungsoo’s face, because his hand flies to hover over his mouth. “Oh, he probably hasn’t told you yet…”

 

Kyungsoo’s heart is hammering against his ribcage. He turns away from Sehun, still trying to gather himself. Chanyeol is in love with me? Suddenly, he remembers the gentle grip on his hand from earlier, the way Chanyeol’s eyes would soften whenever he looked at him, the sneaky peck on his cheek. A twinge cuts through Kyungsoo at the possible meaning behind them, hiding in plain sight.

 

“You must be mistaken.” The harshness in his tone ricochets back to him, so he backtracks. “I’d had known if Chanyeol was…”

 

Sehun’s face pinches, bottom lip pushed out. “Yeah, sorry about that. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head weakly, but doesn’t make to reassure him. He doesn’t have the presence of mind for that right now. He can’t focus on anything but Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol, Chanyeol, Chanyeol.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Jongdae answers on the fourth ring. “Where are you?” comes instead of a greeting, before Kyungsoo can get a word in.

 

“I’m in the cafeteria,” Kyungsoo says. “Can you meet me here?”

 

Jongdae must’ve picked on his tone, because the line goes silent for a moment. “I’ll be there in ten.”

 

Jongdae finds him nursing a cold cup of coffee in a table at the far back, away from the couples and students hunched over textbooks.

 

“What the hell happened between you and Chanyeol?” Jongdae asks, taking the seat next to Kyungsoo. “There are eighteen messages in my Line chat about how you aren’t answering his calls or texts and that he’s afraid you’re dead in a ditch somewhere.”

 

Kyungsoo had left the studio before Chanyeol returned, leaving a stunned Sehun with a quiet apology. He just couldn’t face Chanyeol right now.

 

“Well, as you can see,” Kyungsoo replies dryly, “I’m not dead,”

 

“Did you lose your phone then?” Jongdae’s eyebrow arches. “He said you’re going on another date with Jongin and you didn’t bother to tell me.”

 

“It’s not a date,” Kyungsoo corrects. It’s not a date if only one person thinks it’s a date. “We’re just going to see a movie together.”

 

“That sounds like a date to me,” Jongdae says. “And you still haven’t told me why you’re ignoring Chanyeol.” He crosses his arms over his chest, leaning back in the chair. “Is he jealous about Jongin?”

 

And there it is, the way his eyes narrow inquisitively, trying to connect dots on Kyungsoo’s expression. Kyungsoo has seen it before, but glossed it over as Jongdae’s trademark nosiness, along with the snarky comments about how gross he and Chanyeol were with their skinship.

 

Kyungsoo blows air through his nose. “Someone told me Chanyeol has… feelings for me.”

 

Jongdae’s mouth drops open. “Who told you?”

 

“This guy at his job… he thinks we’re dating so he started telling me about Chanyeol having a crush on me for a while.” Kyungsoo’s finger traces the rim of his cup to avoid looking at Jongdae. His chest twinges, a feeling he’s almost becoming accustomed to now, but still as horrible as it was the first time. “I… I didn’t know.”

 

Jongdae’s usually sharp features soften, the curl of his lips as tender as his eyes. “You’re the only one who didn’t know.”

 

A supercut plays in his mind, a montage of images in grainy film: Chanyeol’s arms wrapped tightly around him from behind, his laughter rich in Kyungsoo’s ear; Chanyeol reaching out and holding onto Kyungsoo’s hand, gentle but firm, like a lifeline; Chanyeol’s eyes brimming with fondness whenever he’s looking at him, the softness in the corners of his lips when he says Kyungsoo’s name like it’s a special thing.

 

That clouded, glazed look on Chanyeol’s eyes when they kissed, and the sigh that tasted of yearning after their lips touched.

 

Shame is a pile of stones in Kyungsoo’s stomach and his heart, weighing him down and multiplying by the hundreds with each memory.

 

“Fuck,” Kyungsoo breathes, head dropping to the table. “How could I not know?”

 

“You’re very oblivious when you want to be,” Jongdae says, matter-of-factly. “You keep up with all the songs and covers he posts on Youtube and yet you still didn’t know he was head-over-heels for you.”

 

“What?” Kyungsoo rests his chin on the table, eyes tripled in size. “Those songs…”

 

Kyungsoo had always been the first person to listen to Chanyeol’s compositions, had been there with Chanyeol when he recorded the covers and even lent a hand with the camera on occasions. It had never crossed his mind that the words Chanyeol sang—sometimes chipper or sorrowful, but always about love—were meant for him.

 

“Especially Taeyeon’s song… I’m pretty sure it’s about you.” Jongdae’s voice is hesitant, taking careful steps over boulders in a river. “I mean, the lyrics… You’ve made me listen to it enough times to know.”

 

Taeyeon’s song, “Chance”, tells the story of a girl hopelessly in love with her best friend. In the end, the narrator comes to the decision that she’s happy with what she gets, his friendship and company, as long as she can share his happiness.

 

I get to say things with music that I can’t say out loud, Chanyeol had told him that time in his parent’s restaurant.

 

Kyungsoo’s lungs are full of water, as he sinks deeper in the sea. “He’s my best friend, how could I not notice before?”

 

“Well, he was the one who told me,” Jongdae says. “We got drunk one night we went out last year while you were still seeing Juhwan. You went on a date with him instead of going with us, and Chanyeol was sad, I guess, because he got so drunk he confessed it all to me. It was half-ramblings because he was shit-faced like I’ve never seen him, but I could tell it was true, and he never brought it up again.”

 

He thinks about Chanyeol’s silences back when he was dating Juhwan, and the tight-lipped smile he offers every time Kyungsoo brings up Jongin.

 

“That was almost two years ago,” Kyungsoo mumbles. I’m so fucking dumb. “What am I supposed to do now?”

 

Jongdae cocks his head. “What do you mean?”

 

“I don’t know if I should tell him I know or—”

 

“No, no, no, you can’t do that!” Jongdae shakes his head. “It’ll make things awkward between you two.”

 

“Things are already going to be awkward between us.” He drops his eyes to the table, fingers tapping lightly on the cold ceramic of the cup. “Because I don’t… I don’t feel the same.”

 

The words are strange as he forms them, and he doesn’t want to acknowledge how hollow they ring to his own ears once they’re out. He figured they would cement his feelings once he formulated them, but now he’s not so sure.

 

Jongdae draws his bottom lip between his teeth in rumination, and then, asks, “Do you really not feel the same for him?”

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t think he can muster the words one more time, so he shakes his head. Jongdae watches him for a couple of seconds and nods.

 

“I don’t want to lead him on,” Kyungsoo says quietly. “If I keep hanging out with him without acknowledging this, I won’t stop thinking about his feelings for me, and I—”

 

“Isn’t that what’s been happening already?” Jongdae interjects. “You have been friends for years and he’s probably had these feelings for you for just as long. So what’s the difference now?”

 

“Now I know, and I’ll feel guilty.” There had been the telltale knot of guilt when he hadn’t replied to Chanyeol’s texts and let his calls go to voicemail, and he isn’t sure if he can’t handle any more of it. “But I don’t know how to stop it.”

 

“I think even if you try your hardest to get Chanyeol out of your life, he’ll crawl right back in,” Jongdae notes. “He just loves you too much.”

 

In a split second, Jongdae’s mind catches up to his mouth, eyes widening in alarm. Kyungsoo tries to not let the ache in his heart show in his face.

 

“I mean—you know what I mean.” Jongdae huffs in exasperation, arms crossing over his chest. “This is all so complicated.”

 

“Tell me about it.” Kyungsoo scratches the side of his face with his index finger. “I think I’ll just… push him away slowly. Chanyeol is… he’s my best friend, you know.” Chanyeol, who cries when animals get hurt in movies, who gets teary-eyed whenever something remotely emotional happens in dramas. “I don’t want to hurt him.” Any more than I already am.

 

Jongdae folds in his lips, clearly biting back his words. “Do whatever you think is right,” he says in the end. “But you know Chanyeol will always do whatever he thinks will make you happy. He’s like a damn puppy. A very annoying one.”

 

A flash of Chanyeol’s curly hair and round eyes in his mind, and Kyungsoo can’t help the smile that blossoms on his lips. “Yeah. He is.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Jongin is waiting for him by the tickets booth at the cinema when Kyungsoo arrives on Saturday night. His tall, lean figure stands out among the crowd, an off-duty model in a cable-knit burgundy sweater and washed-out jeans. His smile is dazzling when he spots him, and Kyungsoo is slightly out of breath at the sight. It could also be that he’d spaced out in the shower until Jongdae had banged on the door, and he had to run from the bus stop to the cinema in order to make it on time.

 

“Hi, hyung.” Jongin’s eyes flicker up and down Kyungsoo, and his little smile is appreciative at whatever he sees. “You look really good tonight.”

 

Kyungsoo couldn’t agree; he’d spent a good portion of the night tossing and turning in his bed, replaying Sehun’s words and staring at the unanswered texts piled up in his phone. He’d caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror that afternoon, and the bags under his eyes, painting his pale complexion a sickly purple, were not very alluring.

 

Color pools in Kyungsoo’s face at the praise, grin bashful. “Thank you, Jonginnie.”

 

They both act more self-aware than the first time, and play accordingly to the nature of this date. When the movie is halfway through its plot, Jongin rests his head on Kyungsoo’s shoulder, and Kyungsoo tenses, the popcorn bucket suffering in his grasp. He waits for the tension to seep out of him as he spies Jongin’s smile shining in the darkness of the theater, but it doesn’t happen. Instead, a different scene rolls out in his mind’s eye: Chanyeol laying his head on Kyungsoo’s shoulder, despite their significant height difference, just like Jongin did.

 

The second time Kyungsoo had seen Chanyeol was the Saturday after they had met. There was a screening of Oldboy, and Kyungsoo had gone alone because Jongdae was out with a girl. He was halfway through his popcorn bucket, when Chanyeol plopped himself into the seat next to Kyungsoo, uninvited.

 

“Hey...” Chanyeol had said, eyes squinting as he tried to remember Kyungsoo’s name, “Kyungsoo, right?”  Kyungsoo had nodded, looking at Chanyeol with wariness, and Chanyeol had laughed, too loud for a theatre. “I was all alone like a loser in my seat over there, so I thought we could hang out instead.” Chanyeol raises his hands, his bucket in his lap. “But you can tell me to leave. It’s okay.”

 

Just like in the rehearsal, Kyungsoo hesitated. Chanyeol’s smile was honest and open, hiding nothing from him. And Kyungsoo… liked that.

 

Kyungsoo went back to watching the screen. A silent answer. Chanyeol settled into the seat, filling his mouth with his own popcorn, and planting his feet on the seat in front of him because he was too damn big.

 

They had spent the rest of the afternoon at a café nearby, talking about films and arguing over which of Park Chan Wook’s movie was his best. Kyungsoo had never met someone like Chanyeol before, and by the end of the evening, they were recorded in each other’s contacts.

 

(Kyungsoo had saved Chanyeol as simply “Chanyeol” in his phone, but Kyungsoo remains as “Cute Soo” adorned by heart emojis in Chanyeol’s phone until now.)

 

In the present, Kyungsoo doesn’t feel any of the easeness that Chanyeol brought him that first movie date together. He shoves a handful of popcorn into his mouth, and wills himself to stop thinking about Chanyeol.

 

As they leave the theatre, Kyungsoo doesn’t notice Jongin chattering away until there’s a hand on his shoulder.

 

“What did you think, hyung?” Jongin serves Kyungsoo a sweet smile. “Did you like it?”

 

Kyungsoo had spent a good portion of the movie thinking about Chanyeol and the unanswered phone calls that sat in his phone. It exasperates him, the fact that he’s here with the guy he’s been pining over for months and his mind is scattered over a million places. All because of Chanyeol.

 

“I… thought it was good.”

 

His Film Studies professor would scoff over his answer, but it seems to satisfy Jongin, judging by the way his smile widens. “I thought it was really good, too.” His hand slides down Kyungsoo’s arm. “Wanna grab something to eat?”

 

Kyungsoo chews on his bottom lip. This one, too, is a tradition he reserves for Chanyeol, washing their ardent discussions about a movie with cold cans of Cass. The last time was after a special screening of Wong Kar Wai’s films, and Chanyeol had butchered Tony Leung’s lines throughout the meal as Kyungsoo laughed across the table.

 

It seems a bit off, sharing this with someone who isn’t Chanyeol. But Kyungsoo is determined not to let his inner turmoil ruin this for him.

 

“Sure,” Kyungsoo agrees. “I know a good place a couple of blocks from here.”

 

The grin Jongin wears is easy and buoyant. “Lead the way.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Chanyeol finds him on a quiet Monday afternoon during his shift at the library. Kyungsoo had spotted Chanyeol first at the hall half an hour earlier, and he’d spun on his heels and stalked the other way before Chanyeol saw him.

 

He’s organizing books in alphabetical order in the Anatomy section, when Chanyeol appears by the end of the bookshelf.

 

“Where the hell were you?!”

 

Kyungsoo flinches, more at the distress in Chanyeol’s tone than the loudness of his voice in the all-too-silent place. The frown that drags down his mouth reminds him of the gloomy stickers in KakaoTalk Chanyeol uses get whatever he wants.

 

“Chanyeol, keep it quiet,” Kyungsoo stage-whispers. “This is a library, not a market.”

 

“Why weren’t you answering your phone?” Chanyeol asks, waving his own phone in front of Kyungsoo. “I called and left you messages and—”

 

Kyungsoo looks down at the book in his hand to avoid the concern in his best friend’s eyes. “I was busy with school and rehearsals. I’m sorry.”

 

“Busy enough to blow off your best friend?” He sounds doubtful, threading a knot in Kyungsoo’s chest. He’s several notches quieter when he speaks next, “I still reply to your texts whenever I’m busy in the studio.”

 

The accuracy of his words hits him with the force of a blow; even when he’s neck-deep in projects and stressing over deadlines, Chanyeol still makes it a point to answer his texts and hang out every week. The reminder breaks Kyungsoo’s heart a little now.

 

“I’m sorry,” he repeats lowly.

 

All the fight melts off Chanyeol’s face, like butter over heat, when he hears how miniscule Kyungsoo’s voice sounds. A hand rakes through his unkempt hair, the heavy exhale that escapes through his nose taking all the irritation in his expression with it.

 

“You could’ve told me, you know,” Chanyeol says, gruffly. “I could’ve given you a hand or left you alone. But instead I thought you were mad at me or something.”

 

Kyungsoo shakes his head. “You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just that…” An awful writhing in his stomach precedes the lie. “I had this paper due today and I was having a hard time focusing without you making noise with your guitar.”

 

“Okay, fair enough.” Chanyeol turns towards the windows on the other side of the room. “I was just… worried.” Kyungsoo is about reiterate his apology, when Chanyeol huffs a dry laugh. “And don’t apologize again. I got it.”

 

“Shut up,” Kyungsoo retorts, cheeks warming up. “I wasn’t going to.”

 

Chanyeol’s boisterous laugh is like the first droplets of rain after a long dry spell. There’s a smile threading at the corners of Kyungsoo’s lips, but the twinge in his chest at how much he’d missed Chanyeol is keeping it at bay.

 

“You so were!” Chanyeol’s grin is cheeky, digging a dimple into his cheek. It would be a cue for Kyungsoo to tug on his ear and call him dumb, if there wasn’t this heaviness in his heart weighing him down. “I know you too well, Do Kyungsoo.”

 

Kyungsoo slides the book into the shelf. He mutters, “Stop talking, Chanyeol,” without any bite to it.

 

A little laugh bubbles out of Chanyeol. “You know it’s true,” he ripostes. “So how did it go with Jongin on Friday?”

 

Kyungsoo looks up at that. Chanyeol is staring openly at him, but his smile is stilted and strained, like the words had taken effort to utter. How did I not notice that before?

 

“It was good,” Kyungsoo answers. The last thing he wants is to go on detail about it. “We had a good time.”

 

“Really? Will you guys go on another date?”

 

The fake cheerful tone is starting to grate on Kyungsoo’s nerves. “I don’t know, Chanyeol,” he replies tersely. “I didn’t ask him.”

 

Chanyeol’s lips flatten into a line. “I’m sorry,” he says, after a beat. “I shouldn’t pry.”

 

Kyungsoo’s heart clenches at the contrite tone, the frown on Chanyeol’s pretty mouth. He hates it, because Kyungsoo is the one being an idiot and Chanyeol has done nothing wrong.

 

“It’s okay, Chanyeol, I’m just tired,” he assures him. “Some kids messed up the alphabetical order here, and I have to redo it. For like the tenth time in a week.”

 

“You’re like the grumpy old man at the library all the kids are afraid of,” Chanyeol quips. “Is that how you make them return the books on time?”

 

Kyungsoo’s hand darts out to pinch Chanyeol’s hip, but he dodges it expertly, body moving loosely like the noodle he is.  The books next to Chanyeol shake with the force of his laugh. Kyungsoo is briefly concerned about the shelf toppling over and crushing them, but he’s more distracted by the way Chanyeol’s smile is almost blinding.

 

“Don’t you have work to do right now?” Kyungsoo asks. “You know, your fancy job as a junior producer at a recording studio?”

 

“Nope,” Chanyeol replies, with a pop. “I told Yixing I had stuff to do and he said it was no problem. They can survive without me for a day.”

 

“So you’re here to watch me organize books all afternoon?” Kyungsoo snorts. “You could’ve done something better with your time, Chanyeol-ah.”

 

“I just wanted to see you,” Chanyeol admits.

 

The unfiltered candor and tenderness is tangible. A book slips from Kyungsoo’s grasp and lands on the floor with a thud. Chanyeol bends down to pick it up and holds it out to Kyungsoo, eyes searching and brimming with something.

 

“I’m sorry for pressuring you to go with me to the studio that day,” Chanyeol says. “I knew it made you uncomfortable and I still asked you to go.”

 

Dread closes its fingers around Kyungsoo’s throat at the mention of that day at the studio. “Wha—why?”

 

“Isn’t that why you left?” Chanyeol inquires. “Because you didn’t want to sing…?”

 

After the shock of Sehun’s revelation, it had slipped Kyungsoo’s mind the primary reason for him being at the studio. A part of him had feared Sehun had told Chanyeol what they’d spoken when he returned from his coffee run with Junmyeon, so he hopes that his relief isn’t written all over his face.

 

“Oh, that’s right.” He doesn’t dare to look at Chanyeol when he pushes out another lie. “I guess I got stage fright.”

 

Chanyeol’s smile is kind and understanding, and Kyungsoo feels awful, because he hadn’t expected anything else.

 

“It’s okay, Soo.” He grabs Kyungsoo’s hand and draws it to himself. “You should’ve told me. I would never force you to do something you don’t want to do.”

 

Chanyeol traces circles into the back of his hand with his thumb, and the warmth of the contact spreads all over his skin like ripples of water. It’s even more disconcerting the way his heart jolts at the familiar touch.

 

He yanks his hand out of Chanyeol’s grip and rounds the cart to put distance between them.

 

“I have work to do,” Kyungsoo says. There are creases on Chanyeol’s forehead, so he softens his tone. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

 

Chanyeol plants his feet in front the cart, and stares at Kyungsoo resolutely, hands on both sides to stop it from moving. “Are we still on for dinner on Thursday?”

 

“I can’t this week, sor—”

 

Chanyeol doesn’t miss a beat. “What about next week, then?”

 

Chanyeol’s eyes are overflowing with expectation, and it plucks a string in Kyungsoo’s heart. “Fine,” he agrees. “Now, can you stop holding up my cart? Joohyun is going to come find me and you’re going to suffer the consequences of her wrath.”

 

Chanyeol grins, his trademark hundred watts smile, the one that pulls at Kyungsoo’s mouth until he’s mirroring a smaller version of it. Kyungsoo can see the winning gleam in Chanyeol’s eyes, and he leaves it be.

 

“Since I have all the afternoon for myself, I want to stay and help you around here,” Chanyeol proposes. Long lashes flutter coquettishly over sharp cheekbones. “Pretty please?”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, without malice. “You’re ridiculous. I swear you spend more time here than Baekhyun does in his classes.”

 

Chanyeol knows it’s as much of a yes that he’s going to get. His smile amplifies in wattage, following Kyungsoo as he drives the cart down the hallway.

 

Chanyeol nudges him with his elbow. “Don’t act like you hate having me around.”

 

Kyungsoo can’t argue with that. It’s what troubles him; he’s so used to having Chanyeol around.

 

“Just help me organize the Philosophy section, you giant.”

 

“Say no more!”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

 

“Are you done moping?” Jongdae asks on Tuesday morning. “Or do we have to get some sense into you?”

 

Kyungsoo munches on a cookie lazily, taking his time to answer. The scripts are open in front of them on the table, marked on the part where Jisung and Byungyeon, Jisung’s best friend and Jongdae’s character, talk about Sohyun and Kyunghyun’s blossoming relationship. Jisung realizes then, with the spike of jealousy that the conversation ignites, that his childhood best friend might mean more to him than he had thought.

 

In real life, though, Baekhyun has been scrolling through his phone for half an hour, and Jongdae has been too preoccupied with finishing his homework for the next class to bother practicing.

 

“I could take on both of you any day with my hands tied behind my back,” Kyungsoo retorts. “No offence.”

 

“None taken.” Baekhyun’s grin slips a little. “So, how are things with Chanyeol? Because I assume that’s the reason you’ve been moping all week.”

 

Kyungsoo slumps in his seat. “We’re good,” he mutters. “We’re going out for dinner next week.”

 

“What happened with avoiding him?” Jongdae asks. “Going out with him is the opposite of what you wanted to do."

 

“I don't know what I'm doing to be honest," Kyungsoo admits. "He showed up at the library while I was there, and he looked so upset that I couldn't say no.”

 

“He has that way about him,” Jongdae says. “Especially when he uses those puppy eyes, huh.”

 

Baekhyun’s grin turns sly. “Your boyfriend is looking good today.”

 

Kyungsoo’s heart skips a beat in the second it takes him to look over his shoulder. Jongin and Soojung are walking into the cafeteria, and the most bewildering thing is that he was expecting Chanyeol instead.

 

He turns back to pick on the scraps his cookie left on the tray. “He’s not my boy.”

 

“But he does look good,” Jongdae says. Kyungsoo doesn’t look up, but he can hear the smirk in his voice. “I might be only into girls, but even I can admit that.”

 

“Jongdae, you’re too straight for this,” Baekhyun says. “Do I wave Jongin over?”

 

Jongin is sitting a few tables over with Soojung now. His attention is solely focused on whatever Soojung is saying, her eyes vanished into slits and her delicate hands moving animatedly. Kyungsoo can’t make out what she’s saying, but Jongin’s high-pitched laugh carries over to their table. Then, he turns and catches Kyungsoo’s eye (and his friends’) and waves at them.

 

“Did you hear that Ms. Lee is planning a musical for the next play?” Baekhyun tilts his head at Kyungsoo. “You should audition for it.”

 

Kyungsoo looks between Baekhyun and Jongdae. “Are you going to audition for it?”

 

Jongdae’s smile says enough. “Of course we are.” He pats Kyungsoo’s back. “But we want you to try, too.”

 

“I’ll think about it,” Kyungsoo says.

 

Baekhyun squeezes his shoulder. “That’s what I wanted to hear!”

 

Jongin and Soojung arrive at their table. Jongin’s smile is pretty as ever when he sits next to him, and it serves to disperse some of the gloomy mood following Kyungsoo like rain clouds.

 

“Hi, hyung!”

 

“We were just talking about you!” Jongdae chimes in.

 

Kyungsoo panics. “No, we weren’t.” Then, to Jongin, “Don’t listen to them.”

 

“We were talking about this restaurant that Kyungsoo likes,” Jongdae says, giving Kyungsoo a pointed look. “And that he should take you soon.”

 

He and Jongin had been in a couple of dates since they started talking, but somehow, there hasn’t been any progression yet. Mild flirting, but no insinuations. Kyungsoo attributes it to their shyness, and that perhaps Jongin wants to take it slow. Kyungsoo’s fine with that, as long as he gets to sit and talk and laugh with Jongin.

 

Jongin’s plump mouth is shaped like a perfect ‘o’. “That sounds really nice, hyung.” He bumps their shoulders together, smile bashful and beautiful. “I can’t wait.”

 

Kyungsoo smiles, bumps back, and tells himself that this should make him happy. It doesn’t.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The cold bites at Kyungsoo’s cheeks as he waits outside the restaurant near Chanyeol’s apartment. October brought cloudy days in tow, and Kyungsoo had been too preoccupied about the fact he was seeing Chanyeol that day to spare a thought about whether his attire was appropriate for the weather.

 

Chanyeol tsks as he walks up to him. “You’re freezing.”

 

Chanyeol is bundled up in a thick, black coat, a dark grey scarf wrapped around his neck, curls covered by a black bomber hat. The smile tugging at his cheeks, rosy from the cold, makes his eyes crinkle, and Kyungsoo has to bury his hands in his coat pockets to stop himself from reaching out and touching Chanyeol’s face.

 

“It’s nothing.” Kyungsoo shakes his head resolutely. He’d forgotten his scarf back at the dorm, and had only realized when he was already on the bus. “I’m not really that cold.”

 

A strong breeze makes Kyungsoo shudder like a lone leaf. “Really now,” Chanyeol says, with a chuckle. “You’re shivering, and your nose is red, Soo.”

 

There’s that look in Chanyeol’s eyes that Kyungsoo can rarely say no to, so his protest dies before it’s formed when Chanyeol unwinds his scarf to wrap it around Kyungsoo’s neck. It’s so big it covers his chin, but Kyungsoo relishes in its warmth and the softness of the fabric, breathes in the strong scent of Chanyeol’s aftershave.

 

“There.” Chanyeol pats his shoulder, and Kyungsoo can feel its warmth through his layers. “That’s better, isn’t it?”

 

He hides a smile behind the scarf. Kyungsoo reaches to button Chanyeol’s coat all the way up, and Chanyeol, who was laughing, chokes and stops.

 

“It’s cold,” Kyungsoo says, when Chanyeol stares at him.

 

The satisfaction is palpable in Chanyeol’s tone. “Thanks, Soo.”

 

“You would freeze to death without me, wouldn’t you,” Kyungsoo teases, cheeks burning under the attention.

 

Chanyeol’s eyes crinkle with a grin. “I could say the same to you.”

 

They sit in their usual table at the back, pouring soju into glasses while the meat simmers on the grill. Kyungsoo takes careful sips, the alcohol burning his esophagus as it slides down. Chanyeol, in contrast, tips his head back to down the shot in one go, hissing and scrunching his nose when he slams the glass on the table.

 

“I really needed this,” Chanyeol says. “It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve gone out together, so to celebrate all the drinks are on me tonight.”

 

“Really, now?” Kyungsoo asks, eyebrow raised. “Since when do you like drinking?”

 

“I like drinking!” Chanyeol counters. “Or at least I don’t hate it. It’s just that sometimes it tastes awful, and it doesn’t start to taste better until I’ve had a few drinks and by then I’m already drunk.”

 

“You’re an idiot,” Kyungsoo chuckles, “but thanks anyway.”

 

“You don’t need to thank me.” Chanyeol’s smile is as soft as his scarf, and it makes Kyungsoo’s insides feel just as fuzzy and cozy. “I’m your hyung and I should buy you stuff.”

 

This is a beat he’s familiar with, the music to which both have learned to dance to since their friendship began. Kyungsoo has missed it dearly.

 

Kyungsoo sets his chin in his hand, watching Chanyeol amusedly. “And since when are you my hyung?”

 

“I am your hyung,” Chanyeol returns, with an uneven smile. “You should respect me as such.”

 

Kyungsoo’s eyebrows raise in tandem with one end of his mouth. “Oh, so am I supposed to call you ‘hyung’ now? Since when is this a thing?”

 

“I just decided it on a whim.” Chanyeol pops a piece of meat into his mouth. “All of my dongsaengs at work call me hyung. Everyone I know younger than me calls me hyung except for you.”

 

“You’ve never asked me to call you hyung.” Kyungsoo sips on his drink as he mulls over it, letting the rim of the glass sit against his mouth. “You don’t really feel like a hyung to me—” Kyungsoo’s smile grows a tad wider. “—hyung.”

 

There’s that look on Chanyeol’s face again, and this time it’s of pure tenderness. Kyungsoo flushes under it, like he’s just knocked back a shot of soju.

 

“I’ve changed my mind,” Chanyeol informs him, “I think it would be weird for you to call me anything other than what you already do.” A small twitch to his mouth, fondness thick in his voice. “Though, I must admit, it sounds nice being called hyung by you.”

 

Kyungsoo fixes his eyes on his plate, his flush deepening over the warmth in Chanyeol’s smile. He says, as straight-faced as he can, “Shut up, Chanyeol.”

 

“It’d be a nice change from ‘shut up’ or ‘I hate you’,” Chanyeol quips. He pretends to ponder again, fingers drumming over his chin. “Maybe I should make you call me hyung after all…”

 

“I can’t stand you.” Kyungsoo indulges himself in a reluctant smile at the deep rumble of Chanyeol’s chuckle. “I won’t call you hyung even if you ask me nicely.”

 

“Such a bratty dongsaeng.” Chanyeol clucks his tongue, eyes sparkling with playfulness. “What am I going to do with you.”

 

Chanyeol shakes his head in disapproval. Kyungsoo reaches across the table to smack his shoulder, and the laughter that tears from Chanyeol serves to thaw him.

 

“You’re so annoying.”

 

“I’m paying for your drinks and this is how you treat your hyung?” Chanyeol laughs, incredulously. “You’re so mean.”

 

Kyungsoo rolls his eyes, but he’s laughing into his hand, too. “I’m going to pay for my own drinks from now on, then.”

 

Chanyeol cups his chin in his hand, a tilt to his head as he regards Kyungsoo. His gaze is so fond, the smile tugging at his cheeks softening the sharp planes of his face. Kyungsoo wonders how many times he’s been on the receiving end of that look before, but never really noticed it.

 

“I really like it when you laugh like that,” Chanyeol says, grabbing his forgotten glass. “It’s even better when I’m the reason behind it.”

 

All the mirth peters out of Kyungsoo. His eyes drift to his food going cold in the table, and wishes that he could stop Chanyeol from speaking, stop this whole situation right now.

 

“I miss composing with you.” Chanyeol pours soju into his glass. “You can come over on Saturday. There’s this song I wrote that I think you may like.”

 

Guilt glides down Kyungsoo’s throat like a shot of soju, burning and stinging. Jongdae’s words at their dorm last week ring clear in his head. You keep up with all the songs and covers he posts on Youtube and yet you still didn’t know he was head-over-heels for you.

 

He grabs the tongs and focuses on turning over the meat in the grill to avoid facing the hopeful gleam on Chanyeol’s eyes. “I don’t know, I think I have a paper due next week.”

 

“Oh, you’re busy?” Chanyeol asks over the rim of his glass. “Maybe we can do it next week.” There’s a thud as the glass is placed over the table. “Or maybe you can stay over this week?”

 

Kyungsoo sucks his bottom lip into his mouth. “I don’t know if I can do that, to be honest.” He makes a feeble attempt for a smile. “I don’t want to leave Jongdae alone for too long. He can’t cook to save his life.”

 

Chanyeol laughs as he picks up a slice of meat from the grill and wraps it in lettuce. “He’s going to have to figure it out somehow. I’m sure he can survive without you for a week.” He places the lettuce in front of Kyungsoo’s mouth. “Open up!”

 

Kyungsoo complies, covering his mouth with a hand. “I’m gonna be busy all week, Chanyeol.”

 

“Aw, Soo.” Chanyeol’s brow slope in disappointment. “I miss it when you stayed over all the time.”

 

Kyungsoo misses it, too. He misses waking up with a blanket draped over him, his head nestled on Chanyeol’s chest, and body curled around Chanyeol in the couch after drifting off during a movie. But that was before he learned of Chanyeol’s feelings and the way his own actions affected them.

 

“I miss when you used to help me with my compositions,” Chanyeol goes on. “Maybe you could move in with me someday. It would solve all this.”

 

Kyungsoo can’t bare the excited lilt in Chanyeol’s tone, the hopeful glint in his eyes, the weight of guilt sitting on Kyungsoo’s shoulders that keeps mounting and mounting with every word slipping past Chanyeol’s lips and that Kyungsoo thinks will never go away.

 

Or maybe it will, once he stops dancing around the whole situation.

 

 “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Kyungsoo retorts.

 

“Why not?” Chanyeol pushes out his lips in a pout. He grabs a slice of meat and places it over a leaf of lettuce. “Did you know that the size of the wrap depends on how much you love the person? I’m gonna make this one real big for you.”

 

He winks, and Kyungsoo’s gut twists.

 

“Chanyeol, stop,” Kyungsoo mutters. It’s loud enough for Chanyeol to halt on his way to pour himself another shot. “Can you just stop?”

 

Chanyeol blinks once, twice. “What?” He’s not smiling anymore. “What’s wrong?”

 

Kyungsoo takes a deep, shuddering breath. He grips the edge of the table, trying to keep the quiver in his free hand out of his voice. “I know you have… you have feelings for me.”

 

A song plays through the speakers. It’s an old song, probably from the 80’s. The ahjumma at the counter is singing to it before she shouts another order to the kitchen. Meat simmers over grills. Metal clanks and bottles clink. Kyungsoo wishes he could pour himself another drink, if he was able to move at all.

 

Chanyeol’s eyelids shutter, then snap wide open in shock. “How—I mean—who told you that?”

 

“Sehun,” Kyungsoo answers, voice small as he feels. “He told me that time you brought me over to the studio.” 

 

There’s the slightest tremble in Chanyeol’s bottom lip. His adam's apple bobs as he looks down at the table.  “I...”

 

“So yeah,” Kyungsoo murmurs. He shifts in his seat, wanting nothing more than to disappear. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

 

Chanyeol nods, and then slowly, he smiles, but Kyungsoo knows, by the hunch in his shoulders and his glassy eyes, that it’s fake. “I thought you’d have figured it out on your own a long time ago… it’s not like I’m the most discreet person ever,” he says, trying to sound lighthearted. He fails miserably. “We’ve been friends for years and… I’m not expecting anything from you, Soo, I’m just your friend. That’s all I want to be.”

 

The song in the restaurant finishes, and Taeyeon’s song starts. A lump has lodged in Kyungsoo’s throat.

 

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea. Us, spending so much time together.” Kyungsoo wrings his hands in his lap and goes on before he can think better of his words.  “I don’t want to give you any ideas, because this is… this is how it’s always going to be and…” His sigh is hollow. “I’m sorry, Chanyeol.”

 

This is what he’d meant to say ever since he found out about Chanyeol’s feelings, but he can’t help but feel the words are all wrong, even as he says them. It doesn’t ease his ache, it doesn’t lift the weight off his shoulders as he’d hoped; it only makes him feel horrible, the hurt on Chanyeol’s eyes that he’s trying to mask with an easy smile, the knowledge that he’s the one who has torn Chanyeol’s heart apart like a piece of paper with his fingers.

 

“It’s okay, Soo. It’s just… I never imagined I would hear this from you.” Chanyeol’s voice wavers, as unsteady as his smile. “But if you think that keeping your distance is for the best, then…” He nods jerkily when words fail him, and a few strands fall over his forehead. He moves them aside with a shaky hand. “Then that’s what I’ll do.”

 

Kyungsoo sinks in his chair. Deep down, he’d expected Chanyeol to argue, to protest, but he’d known, just like Jongdae had also predicted, that Chanyeol would smile and do as Kyungsoo wished, even if there’s hurt painted in his features at the mere idea. After all, he knows Chanyeol like the back of his hand.

 

Chanyeol clears his throat, tearing through Kyungsoo’s thoughts. “I think I should go.” He takes the bottle and knocks back what was left. “One for the road,” he tries to joke, but it sounds choked and raspy, and Kyungsoo winces in response.

 

When Chanyeol gets up from his seat, Kyungsoo thinks he should say something, take back his words and maybe apologize again, say it was all a mistake—

 

Chanyeol stops before Kyungsoo, hesitant, a question poised in the pursing of his lips. “I’ll see you around, I guess?”

 

Kyungsoo sees right through Chanyeol’s grin, and it breaks his heart. “Right,” he says quietly. “I’ll see you around.”

 

Chanyeol nods again, and gives Kyungsoo another smile, a ghost of his beautiful smile, and Kyungsoo hates it. He wants to ask Chanyeol to stay, be the one who tugs on Chanyeol’s sleeve for once, beg for Chanyeol to still be there for Kyungsoo when the play’s premiere is close, and he’s so stressed he can’t sleep, but then Chanyeol is gone and Kyungsoo is left with an empty bottle of soju and Chanyeol’s unfinished meal.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

“Now you really fucked up.”

 

Kyungsoo grunts, unsticking his face from the pillow to look up at Jongdae through bleary eyes. “What?”

 

Jongdae stands before him in the couch, staring down at him with knitted eyebrows. Kyungsoo rubs his eyes with a fist, and suddenly all of the day’s events come tumbling down: Chanyeol’s smile falling at the restaurant, the dampness in his eyes and the quiver in his voice when he’d agreed to keep his distance from Kyungsoo.

 

He sits up in the couch with a jolt. He doesn’t know when he’d fallen asleep—he’d been so worn down by the afternoon’s events, he’d plopped face-down on the couch as soon as he’d gotten home, and by the light filtering in through his window he figures it must be noon.

 

“Chanyeol.” Jongdae plops down in the couch, and drags Kyungsoo’s legs over his own. “You really fucked up with his feelings.”

 

“I haven’t fucked up with anything,” Kyungsoo grumbles. He’s never in a good mood when he’s just woken up and he’s already wishing he could go back to sleep, preferably for the next three years. “You don’t know anything.”

 

“Oh, I do know,” Jongdae says. “I just came back from his apartment after he asked me, drunk off his ass, to come over and talk about you all night. It was awful.”

 

Chanyeol’s face appears in his mind, the glint in his eyes fading, but the smile that stretched his lips, empty and colorless, still intact.

 

Kyungsoo exhales heavily through his nose. “I feel terrible, Jongdae. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” He drags his legs towards himself and wraps his arms around them. “I don’t know what to do about this.”

 

“There’s nothing you can do, to be honest.” Jongdae’s voice softens the sharpness of his words. His fingers wrap over Kyungsoo’s ankle, thumb drawing circles over the skin above his sock. “Chanyeol will remain stupidly devoted to you no matter what.”

 

Kyungsoo groans, burying his face in his knees. “But you didn’t see the way he looked,” he mutters. “He’s probably not going to talk to me again.”

 

I’ve ruined everything, he muses, reminiscing Chanyeol’s laughter or his texts throughout the day. Their last text had been yesterday, an hour before their meetup, and now his phone sits eerily silent on the coffee table.

 

“You did ask him for distance,” Jongdae mentions. “I think it’s the best for him.” He pauses. “Because…”

 

Jongdae chews his lower lip, fingers drumming on his knee, and Kyungsoo knows he’s dying to say something. “Out with it,” he demands.

 

“Well, because you guys spent so much time together,” Jongdae says. “You stay over at his apartment so often he keeps a toothbrush and a towel for you. You meet up every week without fail even if you’re both swamped in work and text every day when you don’t see each other.” Jongdae’s eyes are accusing, and Kyungsoo looks away. “And because he looks fucking dumb when he rests his head on your shoulder at the movies because you’re two feet shorter than him, but you still let him.”

 

“You don’t get it,” Kyungsoo protests meekly. “I never meant for him…”

 

“I know you didn’t lead him on because you didn’t know,” Jongdae says. “But I get why Chanyeol would feel the way he does. You guys seemed like you were already dating. I mean, he even lets you listen to his demos and covers before anyone else. We’ve been friends for years, and he’s never let me do that.”

 

He remembers sitting with Chanyeol in front of his computer at the cramped room he uses as a studio. Chanyeol had offered him a tiny earphone, an excited grin spread on his face. I hope you like this, Chanyeol said, right before he pressed play, it made me think of you.

 

“He just likes to hear my opinion,” Kyungsoo mumbles, knowing, deep inside, that it’s a terrible lie.

 

Jongdae casts him a sidelong glance. “Let me ask you something.”

 

“Will it stop you if I punch you?”

 

“Did you know you listen to his songs before falling asleep sometimes, right?” Jongdae’s voice has become considerably gentler. “You play them on your computer right before you turn in for the night. Or when you’re cooking, and you sing along without realizing.”

 

“I feel like the worst person in the world,” Kyungsoo murmurs, hugging his legs tighter. “I never wanted this to happen.”

 

“It’s not your fault,” Jongdae says. “You were upfront with him, so all you guys need now is some space.”

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t voice how afraid he is that things might never be the same, no matter how much space they put between them and what happened.

 

“And I don’t know, Kyungsoo.” Jongdae eyes him pensively. “But I still wonder if you…”  

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t press and lets the conversation die, knowing that he might not want to hear the rest of that sentence.

 

“Anyways, I’m going to make some food,” says Jongdae after a while, “and then I’ll go check up on Chanyeol.”

 

Kyungsoo smiles, grateful. He doesn’t have the energy to do much today, and more than anything he’s glad Chanyeol has someone to keep him company.

 

Jongdae is opening a cupboard in the kitchen, when he calls, “I can tell Baekhyun to come hang out with us when I come back, if you want?”

 

Kyungsoo thinks of Baekhyun’s loud voice and his overwhelming affection whenever he notices one of his friends is feeling down. “No, thanks,” he says. “I think I’m just gonna practice my lines and catch up on homework today.”

 

It sounds good to Kyungsoo, some silence and isolation to work on all of his tangled thoughts, but at the same time, the last thing he wants is to be alone with them. Chanyeol would smile and sling his arm over his shoulders to press against him and whisper words of comfort in his ear. The mere thought now makes his heart squeeze with longing.

 

Jongdae gives him a knowing smile from the kitchen. “Suit yourself.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The tail-end of October leaves rain clouds in its wake, settling like a blanket over Seoul. Rehearsals are ongoing despite the pouring rain, but it makes the trek around campus a hazard, as all the paths are slippery. Jongdae had put on a sign to wipe their shoes before entering, but as expected nobody had paid attention, and more than a couple of underclassmen were nursing sore butts.

 

“Oppa, you look so handsome,” Seulgi says. “I really like this look on you.”

 

Kyungsoo’s wearing the hanbok that his character is supposed to wear, a white and blue attire with golden embroidery that makes him look royal. They’re trying on the costumes for the play, and Kyungsoo can’t wait to get out of his clothes. There’s a stale odor emanating from the fabric, the extensions are uncomfortable, and the back of the collar scratches his nape.

 

His mood is notoriously dampened, but as expected, Baekhyun is having the time of his life.

 

“What about me, Seulgi-ya?” Baekhyun flings his long ponytail with a flick of his head. “Don’t I look handsome, too?”

 

Seulgi frowns, but she’s smiling. “Not you, oppa.”

 

Baekhyun pouts, and Seulgi coos, pinching his cheek. They have a look on their faces that Kyungsoo recognizes with an ache. The fondness swimming in her gaze as she stares at Baekhyun. Baekhyun’s pout melting into a warm smile, like butter over heat. He recognizes it from all the times he’s been at the receiving end of it. Has he also looked at Chanyeol that way before?

 

Kyungsoo averts his gaze, rubs at his face and wills himself to focus on the rehearsal.

 

“Okay, everyone to your positions!” Ms. Kwon orders with a clap.

 

Jongin and Seulgi stand in the center of the room. They’re rehearsing the part where Kyunghyun confesses his love to Sohyun and vows to love her forever. The kiss scene.

 

“I know you loved Jisung for too long,” Kyunghyun says. “But I love you, too.”

 

“I did love Jisung with my whole heart,” Sohyun says, “to the point I didn’t think I would love anyone else in life.” She sighs, and Kyunghyun presses his forehead against hers. “But I was wrong.”

 

Jongin cups Seulgi’s face gently, tenderly, and leans down painstakingly slow. This time it doesn’t elicit the same spark of jealousy it had in Kyungsoo once.

 

When their faces are inches away, Jongin sputters, and his laugh is explosive in the quiet room.

 

“Jongin,” Ms. Kwon says with a weary sigh, “why do you always laugh during this scene?”

 

“I’m so sorry, professor,” Jongin says, laughter still spilling from his lips. “I’ll try harder next time.”

 

Ms. Kwon fans out her fingers, eliciting some chuckles from the other students, and goes back to her chair at the end of the room. “Kyungsoo and Seulgi now,” she orders. “The kiss scene in Sohyun’s room, please.”

 

Seulgi gives him a shy smile when he walks up to her, but her eyes are challenging. He forces himself not to be self-conscious, because this scene is important, and there are going to be more people watching them reenact it when the play opens.

 

“Action!”

 

Jisung and Sohyun have been discussing love and marriage in this scene, and how they’ve been brought up to believe that most of the time they aren’t inclusive. Jisung has just been rejected by the woman he loves from another kingdom, and his father has suggested marriage with a local noblewoman. Sohyun, in part, is still nursing this impossible love for her best friend, but she’s been accepting of his brother’s subtle advances.

 

Her thoughts and feelings are confused and confusing.

 

So, she lets her heart speak for itself for the first time in her life. She’d been talking about her unrequited love, letting Jisung advise her like a good friend—not knowing that that her love is meant for him. She pulls away from his embrace, and under the spell of the softness of his eyes in the glow of the candles, his lips parted around unformed words, she plunges in.

 

The kiss doesn’t last more than two seconds. Jisung is unresponsive, out of shock, but the new boldness that has taken over Sohyun won’t allow her to regret this.

 

“I’ve always loved you as more than a friend,” Seulgi—Sohyun—says, “but I know you will never see me as more than that kid who used to run around with you covered in mud.”

 

Seeing the distress in her friend’s expression, Jisung recovers himself. “You will always be my best friend,” he comforts her, tucking her hair behind an ear. “I will always love you no matter what.”

 

“I know that,” she tells him in a broken whisper. “But it’s not the love that I long for.”

 

“Perfect!” Ms. Kwon exclaims, hands clasped over her chest. “Did you see Jongin? That is the kind of focus that you need!”

 

“Hyung’s acting is amazing,” Jongin says, digging the heel of his palm into his eye. He looks sleepy, like he’s just woken up from a nap. “None of us can compare.”

 

Now, that does it. Kyungsoo smiles through the shade of embarrassment painted on his face, as some of the other students agree out loud. The praise would be more welcome, if the remainder that he hadn’t gotten the lead role didn’t hover in the background still. The sting had lessened as the weeks went by and rehearsals went on, but Kyungsoo doesn’t let himself forget. It drives him to work harder with the role he did get, and maybe, in the next play, his time will come.

 

The murmurs are broken up when Ms. Kwon clears her throat.

 

“Okay, let’s meet tomorrow at four,” Ms. Kwon calls out. “Please, prepare your lines overnight!”

 

Jongdae drags him and Baekhyun to a café near campus. He says he needs to get caffeine in his system, but Kyungsoo knows it has more to do with Sunyoung working afternoon shifts behind the counter.

 

 “Soo, have you thought about auditioning for the musical?” Baekhyun asks, mouth full of chocolate muffin.

 

Kyungsoo stops sipping his americano. “I’ve thought about it,” he answers, rubbing his neck, “but I don’t know if I’ll audition yet.”

 

“Why not?” Baekhyun looks to Jongdae, next to Kyungsoo, as if asking for support. “You’ll do great, and you can use one of Chanyeol’s songs—” Baekhyun stops speaking, eyes wide in terror. “I mean…”

 

For some reason, his immediate reaction is to grip his phone. There haven’t been any new texts or calls in the past few days. Chanyeol’s absence has finally started to sink in, truly sink in, with the harrowing echo of an abandoned home.

 

It doesn’t escape Kyungsoo the glare Jongdae sends Baekhyun’s way. “How did you know about Chanyeol’s songs? Did he tell you?”

 

“He told us that night in his apartment,” Jongdae explains, and Kyungsoo doesn’t need more details; he knows exactly which night he means. “That he had given you a mixtape of songs written for you.” Jongdae exhales, breaking into a laugh. “It sounds so cheesy, but that’s Chanyeol for you, I guess.”

 

“He just loves giving stuff to people,” Baekhyun says. “He’s too kind for his own good, almost to the point he acts like a fool.”

 

It’s like biting on ice, the feeling that runs down Kyungsoo’s body at this reminder. Chanyeol is the kindest person he’s ever met, but it breaks Kyungsoo’s heart remembering that his gift—a piece of his heart—has fallen on Kyungsoo’s hands, when he doesn’t feel deserving at all.

 

“I don’t know if I’ll audition,” Kyungsoo says, trying to steer the conversation away from Chanyeol, “but I’ll try, if I find the right song for me.”

 

“You have a nice voice, Soo,” Baekhyun assures him, squeezing his shoulder. “Any song would suit you, you just have to practice it.”

 

“Thanks, Baekhyunnie,” Kyungsoo says. “But I still have the play to think about.” He levels both of his friends a meaningful stare. “We all have the play to think about.”

 

“Tell that to Baekhyun,” Jongdae says, “who still forgets his lines when the play opens in less than a month.”

 

The comment gives way to Jongdae and Baekhyun’s usual bickering, and Kyungsoo watches them, amused, trying to ignore the ache that lingered after thinking of Chanyeol.

 

He isn’t so successful when he gets home, though. A Youtube notification from Chanyeol’s channel appears when he unlocks his phone, and Kyungsoo’s clicks on it with a lurch in his stomach. He sits on his bed and watches Chanyeol perched in his usual chair in front of his desk, holding his guitar over crossed legs. There’s no greeting this time; Chanyeol settles and goes straight to the song, a sad trum of his guitar filling the empty space, and then the low, deep crooning of his voice, undertow with a yearning that is almost as tangible as fingers on Kyungsoo’s skin.

 

Kyungsoo knows the song: it’s Bad Religion by Frank Ocean, and the lyrics hit him like a brick to the chest. Chanyeol glances briefly at the camera, and Kyungsoo recognizes that sad look, the same one he’d seen at the café.

 

When the song is over Kyungsoo puts down his phone and pulls Chanyeol’s navy blue scarf out of his backpack. He breathes in the scent of Chanyeol’s aftershave still lingering in the fold of the scarf, with another musky aroma, more uniquely Chanyeol. It’s temporary, he reminds himself. They will be friends again, maybe, once all of this is resolved. They’ll put this behind them, an amusing anecdote to reminisce over coffee someday.

 

That spurt of hope sticks to the back of his mouth, tastes metallic and forlorn and desperate. He presses the scarf to his chest, and wishes that he’d never found out he was capable of yearning like this.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

As November settles in, Kyungsoo stops waiting for a text. He’s busier with classes and assignments, helping with the stage props for the play, and stopping Baekhyun from drawing a dick on the court wall they were painting. It’s easier to forget about Chanyeol’s radio silence like this, even though he still catches himself checking his phone for new messages when he wakes up in the morning or in respites between lectures. It’s worst at night, which is when Chanyeol got home and started to ramble about his day, and sent Kyungsoo videos of puppies or new bands he discovered, and their idle chat would lull him to sleep.

 

Jongdae and Baekhyun had caught onto his mood quickly, and clung to him like a starfish, even more annoying and cloying than usual. They take him out for coffee after classes and noraebang in the weekends, and Jongdae had even taken up housekeeping duties for the entire week.

 

Baekhyun pays him a visit during his shift in the library on a Saturday.

 

“What do you want, Baekhyun?” Kyungsoo asks. “Did you get locked out of your apartment again?”

 

“I got my own keys now.” Baekhyun jingles a set of keys with a keychain of a mini corgi plushie. “But that isn’t the reason I came here today.”

 

Kyungsoo raises an eyebrow at him. “What is it then?”

 

“What if we go to Itaewon today?” Baekhyun beams at him, square-shaped. “There’s this club with live music that I know you’ll like.”

 

Seeing bands live was more like the thing he and Chanyeol used to do on weekends. Chanyeol loved to find new acts in bars and took Kyungsoo with him because he knew he would love the music style as much as he did.

 

“I don’t know,” Kyungsoo says. “I was feeling like staying in today.”

 

“C’mon, Soo, you’ve been skipping on us for a while!” Baekhyun exclaims. “You gotta stop sulking and go out with us for a change.”

 

“I’m not sulking.” Kyungsoo scowls, and sends Baekhyun a glare when he insists, “Yes, you are.”

 

Joohyun appears then, carrying a stack of books in her arms. Baekhyun hurries to help her with a huge grin.

 

“What are you doing here, Baekhyunnie?” Joohyun asks. “Did you come to see Kyungsoo?”

 

“Why is everyone so shocked to see me in the library?” Baekhyun pouts, then directs a charming smile at Joohyun. “Noona, you look so pretty today.”

 

“Baekhyunnie, you’re so sweet,” Joohyun says with a laugh. She is charmed, though, if the way she sets her hair behind her ear and her bashful smile are anything to go by. Kyungsoo’s eye-roll goes unnoticed.

 

“I came here to ask Kyungsoo to go out with us,” Baekhyun says, “but he says he’ll go only if you and Seulgi also go.”

 

“What? I never said—” Kyungsoo sputters as Baekhyun cover his mouth with a hand.

 

“You did, remember?” Baekhyun gives him a pointed look. Kyungsoo shoots him an unimpressed stare in response. “Anyways, are you ladies able to grace us with your presence tonight? What do you say, noona?”

 

Baekhyun flutters his eyelashes at her with an affected pout, and Joohyun laughs as she says she’ll ask Seulgi about it. Kyungsoo knows he doesn’t have a way out of it now; Seulgi will most likely want him to be there, just like Joohyun won’t go if her friend isn’t there. Sometimes he wonders why he’s friends with Baekhyun.

 

That Saturday night is chilly, but the rain has given Seoul a respite for the first time in days. They take a taxi to the club, and split the fare. Baekhyun’s wearing a leather jacket over a dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, and a choker wrapped snugly around his neck. Girls and guys turn in his direction. Kyungsoo had just thrown on a coat over a sweatshirt and spread some gel at the front of his hair before he went out, so he feels slightly out of place.

 

The club looks just like it did the last time he came here with Chanyeol, Jongdae and Baekhyun. His summer nights were spent hopping bars in Itaewon, and Chanyeol murmuring into his ear about how much he liked the live band playing.

 

“What about the band we’re seeing?” Kyungsoo asks, once they step out of the car. “Tell me about them.”

 

“They’re a jazz band.” Baekhyun shrugs. “I think you’re really gonna like the vocalist. She sings like Lim Kim.” He shoves his hands into his pockets. It’s colder out here. “We came here last summer—”

 

“With Chanyeol and Jongdae,” Kyungsoo finishes. Baekhyun’s smile turns a tad awkward. “I remember. Chanyeol likes these kinds of places.”

 

The girls are waiting outside the club, both wrapped in thick coats and scarves. Baekhyun sticks close to Seulgi as soon as they slide into a circle booth, and Kyungsoo is left to exchange knowing looks with Joohyun at the side.

 

They talk about work and the weird shit that people leave at the library sometimes—a plastic skull once and a dildo in another occasion, which Kibum had to get rid of after losing in rock-paper-scissors—until the stage is occupied by a man with a bass hanging around his neck, another behind the drums, and a small brown-haired girl behind the piano. The vocalist, a pretty girl with a blonde bob cut, stands before the mic, giving the crowd a shy introduction before she starts singing.

 

If Kyungsoo’s immediate impression was lukewarm, it completely changes after hearing the girl’s voice and the first verse from the song. Her voice is airy and sultry at the same time, dancing over a jazzy track with perfect melancholy and sweetness. The applause from the crowd is loud when the song wraps up, and Kyungsoo joins in with enthusiasm.

 

“I’m heading to the bar,” Baekhyun announces. “Do you guys want something to drink?”

 

“I’ll help you,” Kyungsoo offers.

 

They weave their way through the crowd, pressing close so as not to get separated. Baekhyun grabs his hand, putting his mouth over Kyungsoo’s ear to be heard over the band now playing.

 

“So, what did you think?” Baekhyun asks. “Did you like it?”

 

“It’s perfect,” Kyungsoo says, smiling. “I love them.”

 

“I knew it!” Baekhyun beams proudly. “It wasn’t me who found them, though.” Baekhyun’s about to say something else, but his attention is caught ahead.

 

When Kyungsoo looks up, his heart comes to a screeching halt. Chanyeol stands at the mouth of the hallway leading to the entrance, towering over most of the people around. His hair is curled into frizzy ringlets, just like it always gets when the weather is humid, the sleeves of his coat covering half of his hands. He’s talking to Yixing, gesturing with his hands while Yixing watches on, amused. Kyungsoo isn’t prepared for the longing that hits him like a tide, trapping him in its current and nearly dragging him under, so he holds onto Baekhyun’s hand like a buoy in the storm.

 

“Shit, I didn’t know they’d be here tonight,” he hears Baekhyun say. “I’m so sorry, Soo.”

 

“It’s alright,” Kyungsoo says. His voice sounds strange, far away, as if it belongs to someone else. “We don’t have to be dicks and ignore them. We should go say hi.”

 

He avoids the concerned look on Baekhyun’s face as he tugs his hand, and all but drags him towards the group. It’s Chanyeol who catches sight of them first, and his smile drops, along with Kyungsoo's stomach, as he fixes on their tightly clasped hands. In a second, he’s showing a row of a million teeth again, and paired with his untamed curls, it gives him a slightly manic air.

 

“Hey, Yeollie!” Baekhyun greets, loud over the noise. “Haven’t seen you in a while, man!”

 

He steps forward to pat Chanyeol’s arm, but doesn’t let go of Kyungsoo’s hand. Chanyeol’s gaze drops to where they’re intertwined again, his smile strained when he looks back up and meets Kyungsoo’s eyes.

 

“Sorry, I’ve been busy,” Chanyeol responds. “I’ve been holed up in the studio working on something these past few weeks.”

 

Yixing tilts his head, looking straight at Kyungsoo. “You’re Kyungsoo, right? I remember you!” A smile digs a dimple on his cheek. “Do you like the music here?”

 

Kyungsoo’s relieved—and surprised—when Yixing makes no mention of their “relationship,” as spurious as it was. Chanyeol must’ve told him they broke up long ago. Kyungsoo doesn’t know why that stings a little.

 

“Baekhyun brought me here,” Kyungsoo says. “We’re with a couple of friends. They’re waiting for us in our booth.”

 

It was a good cue to excuse themselves and go back to the girls, but Baekhyun speaks up. “Chanyeol told me about this place,” he says, and Chanyeol nods with a smile. “It has really nice music! Me and Kyungsoo really liked the bands, like Yeollie said we would.”

 

His spine tingles with barely-there delight. He looks to Chanyeol, whose eyes immediately shift away from Kyungsoo and back to Baekhyun. He can’t believe he didn’t make the connection earlier.

 

“I knew you guys would like it,” Chanyeol says, his smile lackluster. “One of the bands playing tonight signed to our company recently, so we came to see them.”

 

Chanyeol’s tone is flat. There’s nothing that indicates he’s happy to see Kyungsoo here, and whatever enthusiasm had surged within him evaporates.

 

“You should stop by rehearsals one of these days, so we can all hang out,” Baekhyun says. “I miss beating you at bowling.”

 

“Keep dreaming, Byun.” It pulls a real laugh out of Chanyeol this time, and Kyungsoo soaks in it. “I’d really like that.”

 

A man, tall and slender, ink-black hair swept to the side on his forehead, comes up next to Chanyeol and hooks an arm through his easily, as though it was always meant to be there. Chanyeol turns to the man with a smile, bright and wide, like the ones he reserved for Kyungsoo once upon a time.

 

“Sorry I took so long,” the newcomer says, sliding his phone into his pocket. He bows to Baekhyun and Kyungsoo in turns. “Hello, who are you?”

 

“They’re friends from college. Kyungsoo and Baekhyun.” Chanyeol’s smile broadens, gaze deliberately set on Baekhyun. “This is Taewoo—my boyfriend.”

 

Kyungsoo’s heart sinks to his knees, and his grip on Baekhyun’s hand tightens on instinct. Baekhyun shoots him a glance filled with concern, but his cheerful disposition doesn’t falter.

 

“That’s great, man!” He reaches out to pat Chanyeol’s arm, and nods courteously to Taewoo. “It’s nice to meet you. I hope you know what you’ve signed up for.”

 

Taewoo chuckles, and his voice is as sweet as honey, “He’s such a good boy. I have no complaints.”

 

Chanyeol’s smile softens when he looks at Taewoo. Kyungsoo’s smile is wane, but the ache in his chest blazes like a rekindled fire. “I’m very happy for you both,” he says meekly, but he’s heard still, because Chanyeol’s attention settles on him undivided.

 

“Thank you, Soo.” Chanyeol nods with a smile. “I hope you’re doing well.”

 

There’s a question in his eyes, lurking behind that unreadable look, and dancing around the lazy tug of his lips. Any other time, Kyungsoo would pull it out of him by tugging on his sleeve, tangling their fingers together, and teasing him until Chanyeol would confess what was on his mind.

 

This time, Kyungsoo’s fingers curl into a fist by his side, nails denting the flesh of his palm.

 

“I am, thank you.” Chanyeol’s smile grows at the corners, and warmth blossoms in Kyungsoo’s chest unbidden. “I hope you’re well, too.”

 

Chanyeol’s eyes linger on him for a moment. I miss you, Kyungsoo wants to say, more than anything, do you miss me, too? This is the first time Kyungsoo has felt like there’s an ocean between him and Chanyeol, despite being right in front of each other.

 

Then, like a bubble snapping, Chanyeol’s eyes drop to where Taewoo is lacing their fingers together, and the moment is gone.

 

“We should look for a table now,” Yixing reminds them, tugging on Chanyeol’s arm. 

 

“Right,” says Chanyeol. “See you guys around?”

 

Chanyeol doesn’t look at Kyungsoo as the group bids their goodbyes. Kyungsoo lets go of Baekhyun’s hand, at last, and weaves through the crowd and past the entrance into the chilly night air.

 

“Kyungsoo!” Baekhyun calls out, stopping in front of Kyungsoo on the pavement. “Are you leaving?”

 

“No,” Kyungsoo murmurs, a slight shake of his head, “I just needed some air.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Soo,” Baekhyun says, brows furrowed. “I didn’t know he was going to be here tonight. I wouldn’t have brought you here if I knew.”

 

“It’s not your fault, Baekhyunnie,” Kyungsoo reassures him. “I just… I didn’t know he was still seeing that guy.” Baekhyun’s lips are pulled down in a frown, so Kyungsoo looks away. “He…” He forgot about me.

 

A group of college girls climb out of a taxi some distance from them, laughing loudly as they shut the doors close. A couple of streets down the road, there’s a fish cake vendor that opens late into the night. He and Chanyeol used to sit in a bench to eat them and wipe the grease on each other’s faces when they were done.

 

“I don’t understand you, Soo,” Baekhyun says. His tone isn’t accusing, but it’s colored by helplessness. One of the girls shoves past Baekhyun, but he doesn’t lose his footing. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

 

A puddle on the pavement reflects the neon lights of the sign above the club’s doors. Chanyeol’s voice is strikingly clear in his head, recounting the promise he made back at the restaurant. If you think that keeping your distance is for the best, then… then that’s what’ll do.

 

“Yeah, it’s the best for him,” Kyungsoo acknowledges in a quiet voice. What he does want is Chanyeol by his side again, Chanyeol’s laughter filling an empty room, every corner of Kyungsoo’s heart. But he’s beginning to learn that what he wants doesn’t matter, as long as Chanyeol can be happy. “Maybe someday we can be friends again.”

 

It doesn’t sound right, even as he says it, and Baekhyun’s silence is loud enough in his ears. At length, Baekhyun nods, and drags Kyungsoo to himself by a hand on his waist. “Let’s go back inside, Soo.”

 

“I should go home,” Kyungsoo says, and Baekhyun doesn’t protest. “Tell the girls goodbye for me.”

 

“I will,” Baekhyun says, a small smile on his lips.

 

Kyungsoo catches the taxi that the girls arrived in. He spends the rest of the journey home thinking about the question in Chanyeol’s eyes, and how his gaze melted when he looked at Taewoo.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Autumn is in full swing, ushering in snowfalls and freezing winds, and Kyungsoo marches forward. He goes to class and rehearsals. He works his shifts at the library. He meets with Jongdae and Baekhyun and the rest for drinks and samgyeopsal and doesn’t go home until he’s drunk and sated.

 

There’s a song in Chanyeol’s mixtape that Kyungsoo can’t get out of his head. It’s the last track, the one Chanyeol wanted Kyungsoo to finish. He goes through his daily routine, but the song stays with him, like a tune playing to the beat of his heart.

 

He listens to other music, but it doesn’t drown out the melody.

 

“Is that scarf new?”

 

Kyungsoo looks down at the grey scarf wrapped around his neck, then back at Seungwan. They’re waiting for Ms. Kwon to start rehearsal, and she’d come over to go over their scene together.

 

“No, it’s borrowed,” Kyungsoo says, plucking at the soft fabric. Even after a month, he still gets a whiff of Chanyeol’s aftershave now and then.

 

“It looks very cozy,” she says. “Kinda like the one Chanyeol-hyung had.”

 

That day, they rehearse Jisung’s confession to Sohyun. She’s weeping for her best friend, because her heart belongs to another. His brother.

 

“You’re going to marry to my brother,” Jisung says, “but I wanted to let this out of my chest, or else, it was going to be stay buried there forever.”

 

Sohyun wishes, in part, that he had never said anything at all. It’s unbearable to break his best friend’s heart, just like he had done to her once.

 

“I’m so, so sorry,” she says. “Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t we have fallen in love at the same time?”

 

“Sometimes fate likes to play games,” Jisung says. “We’re all victims of timing.”

 

That scene had always stricken a chord within Kyungsoo. Now that he knows of the bittersweetness of loving someone who belongs to someone else, the pain simmers just beneath his skin.

 

“Hyung!”

 

Jongin walks towards him with a fuzzy smile, eyes puffy and hair mussed, like he’s just gotten out of bed. He looks so adorable.

 

“Wanna grab coffee with me?”

 

Kyungsoo buys a vanilla latte while Jongin picks a mint mocha, and doesn’t let Kyungsoo pay for his own drink. They sit in a table near the door, where Kyungsoo can see the crowds pulsing in the pavement, and the sun setting behind buildings. It’s warm and cozy inside, but Kyungsoo keeps the scarf around his neck.

 

“Are you nervous about the premiere, hyung?” Jongin licks the foam on his straw. “I know I am now that it’s getting closer.”

“Not really,” Kyungsoo replies, stirring his drink, “but I bet I’ll be a mess on the day of.”

 

“I meant what I said the other day,” Jongin says. Kyungsoo notes, with curiosity, the color painting Jongin’s cheeks. “Remember? About your acting being amazing?” His smile is crooked and wane. “You would’ve been a better Kyunghyun than me.”

 

“What?” Kyungsoo breathes. “Jonginnie, that’s not true.”

 

“It is, and I think everyone knows so,” Jongin contends. “For a while I felt like I stole the role from you or something.”

 

There’s heat in the base of Kyungsoo’s throat, because he had thought same thing once. But now he’s learned to accept that perhaps his role as Jisung was better suited for him than Jongin’s role was. Perhaps he wasn’t ready for the main role after all.

 

“I don’t know about everyone else,” Kyungsoo says, “but I know that it wasn’t meant for me. Ms. Kwon picked you for a reason, Jonginnie, and I trust her judgement.”

 

That does the trick. Jongin’s plush lips crack into a smile, like the sun breaking through the clouds.

 

“Thank you, hyung,” he murmurs, eyes on his drink. He’s so much like a kid, it makes Kyungsoo smile. “I’m glad I talked to you about this.”

 

It strikes Kyungsoo then the reaction that smile evokes. There’s no violence of emotion, no warmth blossoming in his chest; just plain and simple fondness, like what he feels for Jongdae and Baekhyun, when they aren’t exasperating him. Does this mean that I...

 

“It’s okay, Jonginnie,” Kyungsoo says. “You can talk to me about anything.”

 

In the bus, a notification pops up on his phone screen. It’s a new video on Chanyeol’s channel.

 

The frame is in black and white. Chanyeol sits in front of the camera, his guitar on his lap, and a black cap covering half of his face. His fingers are partially covered by his gigantic black hoodie as they strum the chords, and the tune that fills Kyungsoo’s ears is familiar.

 

I'll always be waiting for you

So you know how much I need you

But you never even see me

 

He remembers Chanyeol’s words almost two years ago, his smile as beautiful as ever. I get to say things with music that I can’t say out loud.

 

When he gets home, Kyungsoo grabs a notebook and starts writing. Just fragments of sentences that he scratches out, or turns into a loose verse. He ends up filling two entire pages, pouring all his feelings about Chanyeol and his life and the uncertainty of what’s to come.

 

He spends the night awake, thinking of all the years he had Chanyeol just within his reach, and had never noticed—or let himself notice—Chanyeol’s and his own feelings. Sleep finds him when the first streaks of dawn break through the sky, his chest heavy with the loneliness welled in his heart.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

On a Saturday night, Jongin takes Kyungsoo to a bunsik that doesn’t look like much, but it’s warm inside and the food is good for the price. Jongin talks about one of his professors, whose wig never sits quite right on his head, and the niece that he adores, but Kyungsoo is only half-listening. He’s thinking about how Chanyeol used to order enough spicy radish for Kyungsoo to steal from his plate, and he isn’t sure how Jongin would react to him suddenly reaching out to take some from his plate.

 

After dinner is done, they walk to the bus stop in silence.

 

“What’s wrong, hyung? You’re really quiet.”

 

“Nothing.” Kyungsoo shakes his head and smiles. “I’m fine.”

 

Jongin reciprocates the smile, but Kyungsoo spies the stiltedness in it, just before Jongin turns away. It makes his stomach roil with guilt, the care Jongin shows him, even though Kyungsoo hasn’t spoken more than two sentences together in the entire evening while Jongin shouldered most of the conversation.

 

Kyungsoo recognizes the symptoms, he’s interpreted them countless times on stage, in the voices of lovesick teenagers and lovelorn young men from high school to college. This one is strange in that he feels nothing at all, none of the heart-thumping feeling that used to electrify him all over in Jongin’s presence.

 

On a whim, he decides he wants to be sure.

 

When Jongin turns to him, mouth poised around a question, Kyungsoo plunges in, so quick there’s no room to second-guess himself. It’s a short press of lips, but enough to feel Jongin’s plush softness and the gasp that Kyungsoo tastes in his mouth. He feels more than sees Jongin tense next to him, and when he leans back, there’s a look of wide-eyed shock on Jongin that would have scared Kyungsoo shitless any other moment. But right now, all it does is make him burst into laughter.

 

“Are you okay, hyung?” Jongin asks. His hand hovers over Kyungsoo’s arm, but it retreats in the end.

 

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo responds, out of breath, once he’s sobered enough to speak. “I just… I can’t believe I was so scared of doing that.” When it meant nothing, he muses. He had felt nothing, and it’d been the most relieving, bewildering thing after months of fantasizing over this exact same moment. His crush on Jongin had faded like footsteps on the snow.

 

“Well…” Jongin scratches his neck, a faint blush on his cheeks that Kyungsoo still thinks looks cute, but doesn’t light in him the fire it once did. “I feel so bad, hyung, but I… I don’t feel that way about you.”

 

The admission doesn’t come as a snowball to the head or a brick in his chest, but more like a wave of relief washing over Kyungsoo. He doesn’t have feelings for me, and neither do I for him.

 

“It’s okay, Jonginnie,” Kyungsoo tells him, trying to convey calm in his voice. “It doesn’t have to mean anything. I was just making sure for myself.”

 

“That’s good, because I’m sort of…” Jongin plows on, “I’m sort of seeing Soojung now.”

 

Kyungsoo’s mouth falls open. “You’re seeing Soojung?”

 

“Yeah? It’s sort of happened recently,” Jongin explains. The set of his mouth is awkward, and his eyes keep flicking from Kyungsoo to the lamppost behind him. “I know you and I have been going out a lot this past month, but I… I don’t know, I felt like you were always thinking about someone else, hyung, so I realized nothing was going to come out of this. And you’ve looked so sad lately, so I just wanted to keep you company. As a friend.”

 

“Oh.” Those words do sink in his chest, like a stone in a pond. “I’m sorry, Jonginnie.”

 

“It’s alright, hyung.” Jongin’s smile is reassuring, voice treading carefully. “Chanyeol was the one who insinuated you had a crush on me, and I’d always admired you so much, hyung. I was so flattered. Now I know you and Chanyeol hyung… have something more special.”  His eyes are so soft and honest. “I hope you both work it out in time.”

 

He’s about to ask how Jongin knows, but it seems pointless. He doesn’t know when it happened, maybe in the time he’d learned how cold it was without the warmth of Chanyeol’s hugs and smiles, like his favorite coat in the winter, but his feelings had changed.

 

It reminds him of how Jisung fell in love with Sohyun, slowly and steadily, like autumn encroaches on the hot days of summer. These feelings had creeped on Kyungsoo stealthily—or more like they had always been there, it’s just that it had taken Kyungsoo a bit to catch up. The butterflies that fluttered wildly in his ribcage for Jongin are now reserved for someone with big, pointy ears and long, bow-legs, who walks like a baby giraffe taking its first steps. 

 

And like Jisung, Kyungsoo came to the realization when he lost the person he loves to someone else.

 

Kyungsoo smiles, but it’s feeble, just like his words. “I hope so, too, Jonginnie.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

He sees Chanyeol again during karaoke night with the rest of the cast a week later.

 

Jongdae had told him earlier Chanyeol would be coming, but it still doesn’t prepare him for the way his heart trips over itself when Chanyeol slides into the seat across from his, for the way his pulse quickens when their eyes meet and the sweet smile that blooms on Chanyeol’s lips.

 

“Hey, Soo,” Chanyeol says, fondness dancing in his tone. “It’s been a while.”

 

The longing that surges in Kyungsoo’s chest catches him unawares with its force, but he smiles, and says, “Hello, Chanyeol-ah.”

 

A beer is thrust into Chanyeol’s hand and the moment is lost, but the fluttering in Kyungsoo’s heart lingers. Seulgi and Jongdae push Chanyeol out of his seat to get him to sing, and Chanyeol, of course, chooses the cheesiest song in the repertoire. With a few beers in him, Chanyeol’s rendition is more hilarious than moving. His voice cracks during the high notes, and stops to look disgruntledly at the mic, as if it had failed him somehow.

 

There are tears in Kyungsoo’s eyes when Chanyeol finally slides back in the seat. His grin is blinding when he sees Kyungsoo.

 

“It’s Kyungsoo’s turn!”

 

Seungwan nudges Kyungsoo to go up next, but Kyungsoo clutches the seat, determined to not be moved. “I don’t want to go up!”

 

“Kyungsoo doesn’t like singing in public,” Chanyeol pipes in, ambling to Kyungsoo’s side. “Leave him alone, guys. He’s a little shy.”

 

Before Kyungsoo can get a word in, Chanyeol plops down next to him, scooting over to make space for himself. He presses to Kyungsoo’s side, reeking of beer, but Kyungsoo can’t say no to that goofy smile of his when he’s a little drunk.

 

“I’m not shy,” Kyungsoo protests, once he’s recovered his voice. He jabs Chanyeol in the ribs, and smiles at his little huff. “I just don’t like singing in front of people.”

 

“It’s such a shame,” Seulgi laments from across the table. Her pink lips are poised in a pout. “I’ve heard oppa sing and he has such a nice voice.”

 

Kyungsoo’s eyes widen in surprise. “When did you hear me sing?”

 

“That karaoke night last summer, remember?” Jongdae chimes from his seat next to Seulgi. “You got so drunk I had to carry you to the dorm.”

 

Chanyeol’s laughter is a rush of hot breath grazing Kyungsoo’s cheek, and it’s distracting enough that he can’t be that mad. He still manages a vaguely threatening, “Shut up, Jongdae.”

 

The rest of the evening goes by in a blur of drunken shrieks into mics and poorly executed dance moves. Chanyeol never moves from Kyungsoo’s side, and by the end of the night, Kyungsoo is more intoxicated with the scent of Chanyeol’s cologne and the solid press of his body than the cheap beer. The music and chatter are loud in the booth, but Chanyeol’s whooping laughter soars over all the noise.

 

Kyungsoo has missed him so much. Still misses him, even though he’s right next to him.

 

“I need some air,” Kyungsoo says, standing up from the couch. He wobbles a little, and catches himself with a palm on the table, knocking over an empty bottle.

 

Baekhyun whistles. “Who’s the lightweight now.”

 

 “I’ll go with you,” Chanyeol offers, standing as well. “It’s starting to feel a bit stuffy in here.”

 

Jongdae tugs on his shirt, sending Kyungsoo a worried look. The alcohol has made him braver than usual, so he nods.

 

They stand side by side, leaning against the wall of the noraebang. A light snowfall blankets the streets, whirling in a cold breeze that makes Kyungsoo shudder under his coat.

 

“It’s been a while since we all hung out,” Chanyeol says. He shifts closer until their arms are pressed together. “I missed everyone. Maybe not Jongdae, but I did miss everyone else.”

 

“I’m glad you could make it,” Kyungsoo says.

 

He has to crane his neck up to look at Chanyeol; he’d forgotten how tall he is. Chanyeol grins at him, and for a moment, Kyungsoo forgets how to breathe.

 

“Maybe next time you can sing,” Chanyeol teases, nudging him lightly. “If your stage fright isn’t so bad.”

 

“I’ve actually been practicing,” Kyungsoo tells him. “Singing. There’s going to a musical next semester, and I’m considering auditioning for it.” He indulges a half-smile. “Who knows, I might even get the lead.”

 

Chanyeol’s eyes widen, lips parting with surprise. It’s quickly replaced by a blinding grin, showing all thousands of his perfect, square teeth.

 

“That’s great, Soo!”

 

His huge hands land on Kyungsoo’s small shoulders, swallowing them up. He freezes, as if hesitating on hugging him, so Kyungsoo clutches his hoodie and draws him in. Kyungsoo presses his nose to the soft fabric of his coat, breathes in the smell of his aftershave, his hands sneaking under his coat and holding onto his sides. Chanyeol rests his cheek on Kyungsoo’s head, arms wound tight around him, and lets out a sigh that Kyungsoo ruffles his hair and rises his chest beneath his ear.

 

Chanyeol’s hugs are still so safe and comfortable, and it almost feels like no time has passed since their last hug outside Chanyeol’s workplace back in September. Kyungsoo wants to pretend everything is like it used to be, that they can be friends again.

 

They separate when they hear loud voices and laughter. Jongdae and Baekhyun come through the doors yelling over something, followed by the girls laughing loudly.

 

“We decided to call it a night,” Baekhyun informs them. “We’re all a bit too drunk to even finish a song.”

 

Jongdae walks on wobbly legs, so he leans against the wall where Kyungsoo and Chanyeol stood before. Seulgi and Seungwan hang off Kyungsoo’s neck to say goodbye, and Kyungsoo gives them awkward pats on the back until they break away, giggling and stumbling as they walk away. Kyungsoo rubs the lipstick stains printed on his cheeks disgruntledly, scowling at Chanyeol laughing at him.

 

“Such a player,” Chanyeol slurs, and pairs a sloppy impish grin with an even sloppier wink. Both of his eyes close at the same time, and it’s stupidly adorable. “Stealing all the girls’ hearts.”

 

“Chanyeol, you’re drunk,” Kyungsoo mutters. Jongdae is slumped against the wall behind them, laughing by himself. If he slumps any further, he’ll be eating snow on the ground. “Help me with Jongdae, would you? I wanna get home before I freeze to death.”

 

“I’m sorry, but I think…” Chanyeol squints at his phone, as though whatever was displayed on it was written in a foreign language. “I have to stop by Taewoo’s place. He’s waiting for me.” 

 

“Oh, alright,” Kyungsoo interrupts, not wanting to hear more about Taewoo. “Go on, then.”

 

Snowflakes twirl all around them, catching on Chanyeol’s hair and the hood of his sweatshirt. Chanyeol smiles that familiar goofy half-grin, and for a moment, Kyungsoo has the urge to press his lips to it.

 

Kyungsoo swallows the need, and it goes down thick as molasses.

 

“You’ll be fine taking Jongdae back to the dorm on your own?”

 

“Yeah, it’s not like it’s my first time doing it,” Kyungsoo replies. “Don’t worry, just go.”

 

“Alright,” Chanyeol concedes, with a nod.

 

It happens too fast for Kyungsoo to react in time: Chanyeol takes his hand and leans down to peck his cheek. It’s nothing more than a brush of skin on skin, but the touch stamps itself with the heat of a brand on his cheek, sending his heartbeat drumming on triple-beat.

 

Chanyeol’s smile is pleased, pink tongue peeking between pearly whites. “I had to do it, too.”

 

“Just go, you idiot,” Kyungsoo mumbles. He squeezes Chanyeol’s hand, and lets go to push him lightly. “I’ll text you when I get home.”

 

“Will I see you soon? We can go eat something this week if you want to.”

 

“We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?” Kyungsoo assures him, and a smile unfurls on Chanyeol’s lips. “Goodbye, Chanyeol.”

 

Chanyeol says, “See you, Soo,” and leaves him with a wave and a sloppy smile that digs a dimple onto his cheek.

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t want to reflect on how that single use of his nickname makes his heart flutter in a way it hadn’t before.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The next day Kyungsoo awakens to the trill of his phone on the bedside table. There’s a dull thud in his head, and it thrums as he grabs his phone without checking the caller ID.

 

“Hello,” Kyungsoo grunts. He blinks the bleariness out of his eyes, and squints at the sunlight filtering through his blinds. “Who is this?”

 

“Hello,” says Chanyeol on the other end. His voice immediately helps to clear Kyungsoo’s sleep-addled brain. “Did I wake you up?”

 

“What do you think.” Kyungsoo lies back on his bed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “What time is it?”

 

“A little past ten,” Chanyeol answers, too cheery for the time, and Kyungsoo curses Chanyeol’s ability to not get hangovers, no matter how much he drinks. He can hear the smile in Chanyeol’s husky voice, and the raspiness of it doesn’t help to ease the way his stomach keeps turning. “So you got home alright last night?”

 

“Yeah, I didn’t walk into any of my neighbor’s apartments by accident,” Kyungsoo quips. “What about you?”

 

“I got home alright. A little late, but fine.” His laugh is airy and tinny through the receiver, but Kyungsoo can’t help a smile at the sound. “Taewoo doesn’t like it when I drink, but I told him I was out with friends and they kept insisting…”

 

The name ties a knot in Kyungsoo’s chest, but he pushes past it. “Tell him you can’t do noraebang without having a few drinks first—it’s an unspoken rule.”

 

Chanyeol’s chuckle is quiet, but enough to send Kyungsoo’s heart stumbling. “Right.” An exhale rattles the line and, if Kyungsoo focused, he could feel it on his skin. “I’ll make sure to tell him that next time we go.”

 

He remembers Chanyeol’s expectant eyes when he’d asked him to meet again. He feels so selfish, because he wants Chanyeol in any way he can have him, but this could be a chance to rebuild their friendship. A do-over, like starting anew from the beginning of a scene after messing up his lines.

 

And Chanyeol has gotten over you, a little voice reminds him.

 

“So how about that dinner this week?” Kyungsoo asks.

 

There’s a pause that stretches too long in Kyungsoo’s mind, but probably doesn’t last more than handful of seconds. Then, Chanyeol’s voice, bright and cheery, breaks through his nervous reverie, “Sounds good. Tell me what day you’re free.”

 

They work out the details for the next half hour, and when Kyungsoo hangs up, with a smile and a little contented sigh, he turns to find Jongdae watching him from the doorway.

 

“Was that Chanyeol?”

 

Kyungsoo slides his phone under the pillow, schooling his face into neutrality. “Yeah, we’re having dinner this week.”

 

Jongdae hums vaguely, but something in his eyes tells Kyungsoo he’s holding himself back. “I’m glad you guys are talking again.”

 

Kyungsoo nods, and gets up from the bed before Jongdae decides to say what’s on his mind after all. “Do you want pancakes?” he asks, walking to the door. “I’m gonna make breakfast.”

 

“I could kiss you again,” Jongdae says, all seriousness forgotten. “You know what, come here, I’m gonna kiss you now.”

 

“If you do that I’ll punch you,” Kyungsoo warns, but his smile belies his words. “Go get changed, then. I won’t be cooking anything if you don’t make coffee first.”

 

“Right on!”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The midst of November finds Kyungsoo spending more and more time with Chanyeol. They’d started with one dinner with Jongdae and Baekhyun, and then it’d turned into sporadic meetups for coffee in the afternoons, and the resumption of texts in the morning and late at night. All the while treading carefully around the things that caused their separation in the first place.

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t mind, because it’s like nothing has changed. Chanyeol is still warmth and untamed curls and booming laughter. Even if while sitting across a table, all big smiles and light chatter, Kyungsoo knows that he can’t truly have him.

 

Chanyeol comes to see at the library on a Wednesday afternoon. He’s folded over the counter, blowing raspberries and watching Kyungsoo organize titles in the library’s ancient computer.

 

“Why do you never let me help you?” Chanyeol pouts. He’s wearing a red bomber hat today, and it compliments nicely with the blush on his nose and cheeks from the cold. His lips turn a deep red during cold days, and Kyungsoo’s caught himself staring more than once. “It would make your work so much easier.”

 

“Because you could delete our entire database or something,” Kyungsoo replies. “So, thanks but no thanks, Chanyeol.”

 

Chanyeol slouches further on the counter, his chin on the sleek wooden surface. “C’mon, Soo,” he whines. “Let me help you with something.”

 

“No, you’re not helping me with anything.” Kyungsoo continues to pretend to be busy, but really, he’s just been glancing at Chanyeol furtively and foregoing work since he arrived.

 

“You should let me do whatever I want,” Chanyeol whines, affecting a pout. “It’s my birthday month.”

 

“Really?” Kyungsoo asks. His disinterest is worth an Oscar; he’s had the date marked on the calendar over his desk for the past few months. “It’s in two weeks, right? What do you want?”

 

“Jongdae wants us all to get together and do noraebang or something,” Chanyeol replies. “But to be honest, I’m fine as long as I get to spend it with you.”

 

The words singe down Kyungsoo’s spine with their fondness. He looks up at Chanyeol, a blush creeping up his neck and settling on his face.

 

“We can hang out all of us together,” he says carefully. “It’s going to be more fun like that.”

 

“But I have a lot of fun with you, too,” Chanyeol says. “Remember when we went to Hangang Park and we got drunk for my birthday two years ago? We can do it again!”

 

“We’re doing what again?”

 

Baekhyun stands behind Chanyeol, eyes swiping from Kyungsoo to Chanyeol like a spectator at a tennis match.

 

“Baekhyunnie!” Chanyeol ruffles Baekhyun’s hair, who whines and pushes him off in a failed attempt to stop him. “What are you doing here?!”

 

“I came to return these books,” he says, hefting his backpack over the counter. “And to see my favorite library assistant.”

 

He winks at Kyungsoo, and gets an eye-roll in return. “Since when do you read, Baekhyun?”

 

“It’s for a project, alright,” Baekhyun says, defensively. He stabs a finger into Chanyeol’s abdomen, who guffaws and jumps away from him. “You two aren’t exactly the best-read people I know either.”

 

“I do read a lot,” Chanyeol says, tugging on Baekhyun’s right ear. “I have to read plenty of music sheets at work, you know.”

 

Baekhyun groans, “God, you’re so lame.” Then, he slips his hand into Chanyeol’s and laces their fingers together. Kyungsoo follows the action with the sensation of watching a car crash.  “I’ve missed you, you dork.” He drags Chanyeol closer with his grasp. “You shouldn’t hole yourself up in your studio so much and leaves us all to die.”

 

“I missed you, too,” Chanyeol confesses. His tone is warm and fond, but it slides down Kyungsoo’s throat like an ice block. “But it’s my job, Baekhyunnie, which,” he checks his wristwatch, “I have to get back to right now.”

 

“You should go now,” Kyungsoo puts in, mouth running on automatic. “You’re gonna be late if you stay any longer.”

 

He’s embarrassed as soon as a pair of eyes land on him. He doesn’t know the reason behind his words, or their harshness—only that a terrible feeling, a lot like jealousy, roils like acid in his stomach.

 

It’s dumb and stupid and senseless, because he knows he has no reason to be jealous.

 

Chanyeol blinks at him, creases appearing between his eyebrows. It’s as if he’s trying to figure something out, and Kyungsoo breaks eye contact. “You’re right.” A smile melts the frown on his mouth. “I should get going.” He gives Baekhyun’s hand one last squeeze before he lets go. “Bye, guys.”

 

He sends Kyungsoo a close-mouthed smile, so unfamiliar. When he’s gone, Baekhyun regards Kyungsoo inquisitively, placing his elbows on the counter to lean towards him. “When do you get off your shift?”

 

“In half an hour,” Kyungsoo answers. “Why?”

 

“Let’s talk afterwards,” Baekhyun says, ligther than his face would belie. “I have to meet someone at a café nearby, anyway.”

 

Baekhyun waits around for him by reading some of the book titles out loud and asking Kyungsoo what they mean. He laughs, embarrassed, when a group of guys shush him, and rounds the counter to try to fit in Kyungsoo’s chair, despite Kyungsoo pushing him away.

 

The shift ends with Kyungsoo on his chair and Baekhyun sifting through magazines on the floor. It’s been colder than usual, so Kyungsoo puts on a knit cap, and swats Baekhyun away when he tugs it down over his ears.

 

“What did you want to talk about?” Kyungsoo asks, when they leave campus. He searches Baekhyun’s face, which is now uncharacteristically serious. “Is it about Chanyeol?”

 

“You’ve been spending more time with him,” Baekhyun says, eyes straight ahead. “I know you want to be friends again, but you know how Chanyeol is. He can get too wrapped up in things.”

 

“I know,” Kyungsoo says. “But he has a boyfriend now.”

 

“Just be careful, okay?” Baekhyun tells him. “He’s soft-hearted, that idiot. He can get hurt easily.” He sends a significant glance Kyungsoo’s way. “And I know you don’t want him to get hurt. Again.”

 

“You’re right,” Kyungsoo murmurs.

 

Baekhyun considers him for a long moment. “Are you sure you…” He stops, shaking his head lightly. “Nevermind.” His smile resurfaces. “I was thinking of doing a movie night at my place this weekend. What do you think? You can bring Jongin, too.”

 

Ever since their last—and final—date, Kyungsoo’s contact with Jongin has been reduced to irregular talks during rehearsals, and watching him laugh with Soojung across the quad.

 

“He’s seeing Soojung,” Kyungsoo says, and the shock on Baekhyun’s face doesn’t seem fabricated. “Or he’s on his way to be seeing her at least.”

 

“Oh well, that explains why I’ve seen them together so often lately,” says Baekhyun. “He seemed pretty into you when you guys were going on dates, though.”

 

So was I, Kyungsoo thinks. It still mystifies him, how his crush on Jongin had fizzled out just like that, while other feelings he never noticed had only grown stronger.

 

“Things change,” Kyungsoo mumbles. “And we started hanging out when all the stuff with Chanyeol happened and my mind was all over the place. It wasn’t fair to Jongin.”

 

Baekhyun has that look again, like he’s trying to suss out a secret on Kyungsoo’s face. Kyungsoo drops his eyes, and studies his shoes for the rest of the trek.

 

They stop at a corner, and Baekhyun tilts his head to his right.

 

“I’m going this way,” he says. “You better not bail on Saturday.”

 

“I won’t.” Kyungsoo punches his shoulder lightly. “And don’t ever get that serious again. It doesn’t really suit you, Byun Baek.”

 

In a split second, Baekhyun beams, nose scrunched and eyes shut, throwing a V sign over his face. “I know I’m cute, Soo,” he teases. “No need to remind me.”

 

“Shut up and go,” Kyungsoo grumbles, pushing him towards the opposite direction. “I’ve had enough of you today.”

 

“You love me!” Baekhyun makes kissy-faces at him, and runs before Kyungsoo can get a hold of him. “See you on Saturday!”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

A few days later, Kyungsoo, Chanyeol and Jongdae pile into Baekhyun’s couch, each of them with a beer in hand. A movie plays on the huge tv, but all Kyungsoo can focus on is the warmth of Chanyeol’s body by his side and his arm draped over the back of the couch.

 

Once the credits roll in, Jongdae heaves a contented sigh as he stretches. Kyungsoo’s clueless about anything that happened in the last two hours, except for the way Chanyeol gasped at the most surprising parts, or curled around Kyungsoo halfway through the movie, just like in the old days. Unlike the old days, Kyungsoo’s heart had jumped and lodged in his throat at the contact.

 

“That was good,” Jongdae says. “I think we need to go buy more food now, and probably more beer since Chanyeol is going to drink it all.”

 

“You’ve been downing can after can, too, Kim,” Chanyeol rebuts. “You need to save some for Soo and Baekhyunnie.”

 

He turns to Kyungsoo, eyes expectant, but Kyungsoo only manages a vague hum. He’s all pins and needles, being this close to Chanyeol.

 

“I’ll go with you,” Baekhyun says, standing up from the single sofa. “I need to make sure you actually buy the food and not spend it all on jelly packets like last time.”

 

“I’ll stay here with Soo,” Chanyeol announces.

 

It falls unnoticed under Jongdae’s loud whining, as he and Baekhyun have begun their usual bickering. Kyungsoo wishes he could ignore it, too, and that sensation simmering under his skin, hot as lava, when he locks eyes with Chanyeol.

 

The silence that comes after they’re left alone is weighty. Chanyeol gets up from the couch with a jump, and stretches, his hoodie riding up until a sliver of his firm abdomen is visible. Kyungsoo tries hard not to stare.

 

“So, do you wanna watch another movie while we wait for the guys to come back?” Chanyeol asks, settling back in the couch.

 

“I was thinking of practicing my lines, actually,” Kyungsoo says, rubbing his palm over a knee. “I don’t know if you want me to stay around or do it in the kitchen…”

 

“Let me help you!” Chanyeol chirps in. He folds his legs under him, looking for all the world like an overgrown, excited puppy. Kyungsoo’s lost now. “I’ll be your partner.”

 

“Right,” Kyungsoo says. He grabs his backpack from the floor and pulls out his script to give it to Chanyeol. “Start reading from the beginning.”

 

Everything screams at him that this is a bad idea, a terrible idea, but his legs move on their own. He stands from the couch, and Chanyeol follows him. He clings to the familiarity of this situation to appease his nerves, because Chanyeol has helped him practice his lines ever since they became friends. It was how they met, and that tradition had persisted to the point where Chanyeol would remember his lines better than some of Kyungsoo’s classmates.

 

So Kyungsoo should’ve known better when Chanyeol clears his throat and asks in a weird, high-pitched voice, “Jisung, what are you doing here?”

 

Kyungsoo grabs the script from Chanyeol’s hands and whacks him in the arm with it. Chanyeol guffaws, clapping his hands with mirth. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help it!”

 

“Just use your normal voice,” Kyungsoo reprimands, handing back the script to Chanyeol. “Dumbass.”

 

“Alright, alright.” A dimple appears when Chanyeol purses his lips, going over the script. Kyungsoo smiles furtively. “Okay, your turn.”

 

It’s the part where Jisung has finally realized the extent of his love for Sohyun, whose affections his own brother has been trying to win over through the first and second act. Jisung’s father, the king, wants him to join the army, but that would mean a disadvantage in this race for Sohyun’s heart. So he plans to confess his love, and give his childhood friend an ultimatum of sorts: she accepts his love or loses him forever.

 

“I was looking for you,” Kyungsoo—or Jisung—says, an edge of desperation to his voice. “I needed to tell you everything before I go.”

 

“What did you need to tell me?” Chanyeol recites.

 

“I wanted to tell you that nobody has ever made me feel the way you do.” Kyungsoo looks into Chanyeol’s eyes, which have gone slightly wide, his mouth a slack. “Nobody has ever treated me with such kindness, nobody has ever been as gentle to me as you.”

 

Chanyeol blinks, seemingly flustered at the scene, and it takes him a moment to register that it’s his turn to speak. “Wha-what do you mean?” Chanyeol’s voice cracks at the last word. He clears his throat and tries again. “What do you mean, Jisung?”

 

“I mean that I love everything about you,” Kyungsoo says, and it doesn’t feel like it’s Jisung speaking anymore. It’s him, pure and candid, blushing a deep red as he looks straight at Chanyeol, who seems lost in Kyungsoo’s words. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve heard people say that love isn’t rational. I’ve read it in books, even in the romantic tales that you like. But for me, it was only rational that I would fall in love with you.”

 

Chanyeol’s eyes have gone dark, an intensity dancing within them that Kyungsoo has only seen twice; when they kissed in Junmyeon’s party, and the last rehearsal Chanyeol attended. He didn’t know what it meant then, but he’s fully aware of its weight and measure now, of how it singes down Kyungsoo’s spine like a shiver.

 

“What I mean to say is that I love—I love—”

 

Kyungsoo exhales, and gives up on trying to remember the rest of the dialogue. All of his focus is on Chanyeol’s handsome face, his pretty lips parted just slightly, his long lashes fanning over his perfect cheekbones with anticipation. Chanyeol’s throat hollows out with a breath, and it’s almost like he’s going to dive down, at the same time Kyungsoo stands on his tiptoes and cranes his head up, his heart pounding against his ribcage, because this is it, this is what it’s taken him so long to realize, just when they’re about to...

 

“I can’t,” Chanyeol says, suddenly. Then leans back and away from Kyungsoo. “I can’t do this.”

 

Kyungsoo stands back on his feet, just as his stomach drops and rolls over the floor. “What?”

 

“I can’t do this,” Chanyeol repeats, gesturing with his hands. “This.”

 

Before Chanyeol can elaborate, a sharp trill cuts through the tension. Chanyeol pulls his phone out of his pocket with clumsy hands. It’s like a bucket of cold water being dumped on him, the guilt he reads in Chanyeol’s gaze. “It’s Taewoo—I’m sorry, I have to take this—”

 

“It’s alright,” Kyungsoo assures, his voice so small. “I’ll probably keep practicing my lines anyway.”

 

Chanyeol nods, his lips flattened into a thin line, eyes bordering on hesitant like there’s something he wants to say. Kyungsoo wants nothing more than to drag him closer by his hoodie and wrap his arms around him, but he keeps his hands to himself and stares at his script to avoid reading too much into Chanyeol’s expressions.

 

Chanyeol walks to the balcony and closes the sliding doors behind him to talk. Kyungsoo stays in the couch, reading over the same sentences again and again, the memory of Chanyeol’s hooded eyes and pink lips, so close he could press his own lips to them, still fresh in his mind.

 

Jongdae and Baekhyun find him there when they get back, armed with takeout and six-packs of beer. Baekhyun plops down next to him in the couch, a beer in hand and another that he passes to Kyungsoo, and looks worriedly at Chanyeol still on the phone, pacing in his balcony.

 

Baekhyun gestures with a nod of his head. “Is that Taewoo?”

 

“Yup,” Kyungsoo answers, taking a gulp of his beer. “He’s been on the phone for twenty minutes.”

 

Jongdae sits on the other side of Kyungsoo, a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. “He looks like someone just ran over his guitar or something.” He shakes his head before taking a sip of his beer. “I swear that guy Taewoo likes that rod up his ass more than he likes having Chanyeol’s—”

 

“Jongdae, shut up!” Kyungsoo shoves Jongdae, spilling beer over the floor, and Baekhyun makes a fuss at them to clean up.

 

They’re fifteen minutes into Whiplash, a movie that he and Jongdae have watched hundreds of times, when Chanyeol finally steps out of the balcony. He looks like someone just told him his studio burned down along with all of his compositions, hair in disarray from where he’s raked his hand through it with frustration.

 

In a few strides, he crosses the living room to sit in the spare sofa without a word. He turns down Baekhyun’s offer of a slice of pizza, but grabs the nearest can of beer and knocks down half of it. Kyungsoo watches him down one beer after another for the rest of the movie, only looking away when Jongdae glances in his direction.

 

Chanyeol dozes off an hour later. His head is propped up on the armrest, mouth open and mumbling, long legs bent in a way that mustn’t be comfortable, but not even Fletcher’s constant shouts or the heart-racing drum solo in the finale rises him from slumber.

 

“Well, someone’s a goner already, it seems,” Baekhyun says, looking over Chanyeol with hands on his hips. “And Jongdae isn’t better off either.” Jongdae is currently curled up along the length of the couch, hand on his stomach and whining softly. “These dumb lightweights.” Baekhyun shakes his head with a cluck of his tongue. “How are we going to carry them upstairs on our own? Chanyeol is two sizes bigger than you.”

 

“And you, too, Byun,” Kyungsoo returns. “I’ll help you take Chanyeol to your room.”

 

It proves to be quite the fit, since he’s bigger than both of them together. They end up knocking their elbows and knees against the walls trying to haul him up the stairs, and Chanyeol doesn’t cooperate by slumping over Baekhyun; they have to stop a few times to adjust their grip on him lest he falls down the stairs.

 

Chanyeol slumps against a wall next to Baekhyun’s room while they wait outside for him to put blankets on his bed. Kyungsoo keeps a safe distance across him, watching as Chanyeol’s face contorts with a groan.

 

“Kyungsoo…” Chanyeol mumbles. He takes a step towards him and stumbles, as though the mere movement had ruined his balance. “Soo, come here…”  

 

Chanyeol is so wasted he can barely stand on his own two feet. He reaches for Kyungsoo, his hand closing over empty air and letting out a whine when he realizes that his spatial awareness failed him. It tugs at Kyungsoo’s heart. A beat passes where Kyungsoo considers holding Chanyeol to prevent him from falling on his ass, but Baekhyun returns before Kyungsoo can decide.

 

“C’mon, let’s get you to bed,” Baekhyun says, wrapping his arms around Chanyeol. Chanyeol submits his weight onto Baekhyun straight away. Baekhyun sighs as he looks forlornly at the slump of limbs that is Chanyeol, mouth twisted in the effort of not letting Chanyeol’s gigantic deadweight topple to the carpet.

 

“I’ll help you take him to the room,” Kyungsoo offers. He hopes it doesn’t come off as begrudging as it feels; all he wants is to go back downstairs and down the rest of the soju on Baekhyun’s coffee table.

 

Baekhyun laughs when Chanyeol shifts and he barely catches him before he falls face first to the floor. “I would really appreciate that.”

 

They manage to dump Chanyeol into the bed, and he goes easily, splaying his limbs over it like a starfish and smiling with satisfaction. Kyungsoo stands back and lets Baekhyun do all the work of undressing him, afraid that Chanyeol could catch him in his hold and Kyungsoo wouldn’t put much of a fight as he goes down.

 

Once Chanyeol is snoring softly under the covers, they go back downstairs. Jongdae is a clingy drunk, draping himself over Baekhyun and burying his head on Kyungsoo’s neck when they drag him to a bed. He gets whacked in the leg for pressing his foot into Kyungsoo’s face when he’s taking off his shoes, and Kyungsoo senses he does it on purpose, because he’s smiling afterwards.

 

“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Kyungsoo tells Baekhyun. “I’ll make you help me clean up in the morning.”

 

“What do you mean ‘I’ll make you’? We always clean up together like a team!” Baekhyun pinches Kyungsoo’s cheek and hurries downstairs before Kyungsoo can get a hold of him. “See you later and make sure Jongdae doesn’t throw up all over my bed!”

 

Jongdae is sleeping on his side placidly, judging by the faint curl of his lips. Kyungsoo takes off his pants, borrows one of Baekhyun’s sweatpants, and nudges Jongdae aside to slide under the covers. Jongdae rolls over to latch onto him, arms and legs wrapped around him, and face buried in Kyungsoo’s nape. He lets the familiar weight of his friend wash over him, and banishes all thoughts of Chanyeol from his mind as sleep claims him.

 

A few hours later, Kyungsoo wakes to the early morning light filtering through the crack in the curtains and the chirping of birds outside. He’s alone in bed now, but the warmth still lingering on his side tells him Jongdae must’ve been gone for too long. On his way to the bathroom, he hears Baekhyun shrieking downstairs, followed by Jongdae’s unmistakable cackle. Kyungsoo figures he’s probably not dying, so it doesn’t need his inspection.

 

He finds Chanyeol, with his sleep-mussed hair and cheeks puffy, leaning against the doorframe to Baekhyun’s room. Kyungsoo’s chest burns with nostalgia, reminiscing mornings in Chanyeol’s apartment where they would have breakfast together while playing games.

 

“Hey, you’re up,” Kyungsoo says. “Did you sleep well?”

 

He catches the distinctive whiff of alcohol as he ambles into the room and sits on the bed, facing Chanyeol. Chanyeol looks rough, like he’d barely gotten two hours of sleep. There’s a faint flush on his cheeks, expanding down his neck to his chest, exposed by the low neck of his oversized shirt.

 

“Yeah, I slept well.” His voice is so husky and deep and perfect. “Baek and Jongdae woke me up with their sounds. I don’t know what the hell they’re doing downstairs, but it sounds like they’re trying to cook.”

 

“They’re terrible everywhere,” Kyungsoo says, “but especially in the kitchen.”

 

Chanyeol’s puffy lips quirk into a tired smile, making that little dimple appear on his cheek. Kyungsoo used to pop his finger into it until Chanyeol caught it with his teeth, but that feels like a memory from a lifetime ago.

 

“I came in earlier looking for you, and saw you and Jongdae cuddling,” Chanyeol says, his pitch higher than usual. “I forgot how cuddly he is when he’s drunk.”

 

“Jongdae’s always been clingy.” It frustrates Kyungsoo, this strange need to explain himself. “You know that.”

 

“I know,” says Chanyeol, and the forced cheery tone doesn’t retreat. “How’s Jongin? I haven’t seen him in a while.”

 

There’s that look on Chanyeol’s face, like he’s trying to camouflage something. Now Kyungsoo knows very well what it is.

“He’s fine,” Kyungsoo replies. He can’t help the admission. “We’re not going out anymore. I don’t know if we ever were, really. But he’s seeing someone else now.”

 

Chanyeol draws in a breath. “Really?” His face pinches. “You were perfect for each other, I thought...”

 

“He’s seeing someone else now,” Kyungsoo says. “I’m happy for him.” He rubs his palm over his thigh, and has to push out his next words. “How’s Taewoo?”

 

Chanyeol blinks a couple of times. Kyungsoo’s almost expecting not to answer, until he does. “He’s angry with me.” His chuckle is so hollow. “We broke up yesterday.”

 

The news hit Kyungsoo like a blow, knocking the breath out of him. “What?” Kyungsoo’s heart is pounding. “Why did you break up with him?”

 

“He broke up with me,” Chanyeol corrects, monotonous. “I was always late and Taewoo was always pissed. We argued about things a lot. It just wasn’t fun anymore.” A wry laugh escapes him in an exhale. “I bought him white chocolate, and he got mad because he told me he liked dark chocolate,” another chuckle, “so that was it. Is it bad that I felt a little relieved when he broke things off? God, I’m terrible.”

 

“You’re not, Chanyeol.” Kyungsoo can’t imagine sweet, caring Chanyeol, who holds things he loves delicately in his big hands, who loves animals despite his terrible allergy, be cruel towards anyone. “If you weren’t happy with the relationship, then it was the right thing to do.”

 

“Yeah, I’ll get over it.” Chanyeol’s lips twitch into a smile, but it’s empty and insincere, a forgery of the ones Kyungsoo loves. “It’s not like…” His gaze drops, along with his voice. “It’s not like he’s you.”

 

Kyungsoo’s breath stills in his throat. “Chanyeol…”

 

“It’s not like Taewoo is you… because you’re so much harder to get over,” Chanyeol barrels on, louder and wistful. “I’m sorry I still haven’t moved on, even with all the space and time you gave me.”

 

Kyungsoo can only stare at him, the way people watch a car crash in progress. He feared it would come to this, but it doesn’t ease the ache in his chest when he hears it.

 

“I realized… I don’t think I can do this.” Chanyeol gestures vaguely between them. “Us, being friends. It’s harder than I thought it would be with you knowing how I feel.” Chanyeol scratches his jaw, where a five o’clock obscures the pale skin. “It hurts, Soo, and I want to stop pretending.”

 

Jongdae’s words back at their dorm echo in his head. You know Chanyeol will always do whatever he thinks will make you happy. It all comes back to him with a twinge that stabs him in the center of his lungs. Agreeing to Chanyeol’s deal so he could set him up with Jongin. Breaking his heart so it would ease his own guilt. Trying to be friends again, even though he knew it would hurt them both. Kyungsoo has been so, so selfish.

 

The back of his neck prickles with shame. He swallows around the thickness in his throat, and murmurs, “I understand.”

 

“I never confessed to you properly,” Chanyeol says. “Maybe it’ll be easier… to get over you after I, you know, get it off my chest.”

 

Kyungsoo’s eyes shoot up at that, panic rising like bile. “No, Chanyeol, you don’t need to—”

 

“I want to do it,” Chanyeol insists, tone firm and leaving no room for question. “Please let me do it and I promise I’ll never talk about it again.”

 

Kyungsoo doesn’t think he can form words, so he nods a response. He can’t stop the wreck now.

 

“Kyungsoo,” Chanyeol starts. “I saw you for the first time during junior year, when I was on my way to class. It was autumn, and you were sitting on a bench with Jongdae in the quad. You were watching the leaves fall, and you looked so happy. I’d never seen anybody so cute, so perfect before.” His voice lightens up ever-so-slightly. “So I made friends with Jongdae, and we met months later.”

 

Kyungsoo’s dizzy with the blood that rushes to his face, and pools on his cheeks. A weird cocktail of emotions swirls inside him; dread and trepidation but also endless endearment. He’s a melting ice cube under high noon sun.

 

“Soo, I love the way you laugh,” Chanyeol goes on, “that damn heart on your lips when you smile that I’ve never seen on anyone else and probably never will. I love the way you tease me and fret over me; when you zip up my jacket or fix my scarf for me, and then pull on my ears because I laugh at you. I love that you’re the last person I talk to at night, and the first one in the morning.” His laugh is garbled and wet, and it breaks Kyungsoo’s heart. “I love your acting so much, and how hard you work to learn your lines and practice for your plays. I love everything about you and I love—” The last words leave him in a quivery breath. “I love you.”

 

It’s frightening and heartrending, how strongly Kyungsoo wishes to hug Chanyeol, let his head rest in his shoulder and take all the pain in his voice away.

 

For lack of anything better, Kyungsoo whispers, “Thank you,” and immediately regrets it, cringing at its flimsiness.

 

Chanyeol skimps past it, as if he’d never spoken. “And it makes me so confused when you…” Frustration leaks into his voice, one hand roughly mussing his hair. “Yesterday when we were practicing in Baekhyun’s living room… What was that? I woke up in the middle night and I kept thinking about it, wondering if maybe I imagined it all, because it couldn’t be that you…”   

 

You didn’t imagine it, an inner voice replies, I did mean to kiss you. Chanyeol’s eyes are dark, searching. All Kyungsoo has to do is tell him. Tell him how he really feels.

 

Instead, Kyungsoo says, “Nothing happened, Chanyeol.”

 

“Right.” Chanyeol nods, with resignation, as if he already knew the answer. “So, I think it’s better we keep our distance again. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like your friendship isn’t important to me, because it obviously is. But I want more, so much more. I want you to love me the way I love you, and I know it will never happen.” His eyes are filled with hurt, and Kyungsoo would reach out and hold his hand, if he was a braver version of himself. “So please, give me a little more time to forget about this, okay?”

 

It goes unsaid, but Kyungsoo hears it loud and clear: give me a little more time to forget about you. It’s unfair that it pains him, when he had asked Chanyeol for distance first. But he’s hurt Chanyeol so much, and he deserves to be happy more than anyone.

 

“Okay,” Kyungsoo mumbles, voice drown out within all the longing and remorse. “Okay, Chanyeol.”

 

“That’s all.” Chanyeol exhales, weary and resignated. “You won’t hear another ‘When Harry Met Sally’ confession from me again.” He clears his throat, runs a hand through his hair again. It reminds Kyungsoo of the One Piece figurines at his makeshift studio. “I’ll go home now. Are you staying here?”

 

“I don’t know,” Kyungsoo answers. He doesn’t know much of anything, right now. “I guess I’ll stay around for a bit.”

 

Chanyeol hums, noncommittal. He looks tired, the dark areas under his eyes more pronounced, and older, like he had aged years in a matter of minutes. “Well, then, I’ll see you later, I guess.”

 

An alarm rings in Kyungsoo’s head at the vagueness in Chanyeol’s tone. “You’re not going to the play next week?”

 

“I have a gig that night.” He scratches the side of his neck. “It was a last-minute thing—the guy who was supposed to play cancelled, and they called me so I couldn’t get out of it, but you know I’ll be cheering for you anyway.”

 

His smile is bashful and apologetic, and Kyungsoo could never be mad at him, even though it’s a lie. Chanyeol had never missed one of his plays, ever since they became friends, but he doesn’t have the right to hold it against him.

 

“Thank you, Chanyeol.” It would’ve been better if you were there. One of the best parts about the end-of-semester plays is Chanyeol; Chanyeol’s broad grin in the crowd, and his hugs backstage when it’s over, crushing him against the bouquets that are always too big for Kyungsoo, but that he secretly loves smelling because Chanyeol knows exactly which flowers are his favorites. “I hope to see you later, though.”

 

Chanyeol’s voice is a tad firmer, like a promise. “You sure will.”

 

When Chanyeol is gone, Kyungsoo lies back in the bed and wraps himself with the covers until only his head peeks from the cocoon of blankets. He stays there until Jongdae comes shouting about food being ready, Kyungsoo, get your ass up, but when he sees him, he stops, and a moment later, the bed dips with a new weight, Jongdae’s arms locking firmly around him.

 

“It’s going to be okay,” Jongdae whispers into his hair. “You’ll see.”

 

Kyungsoo is no stranger to heartache and how time can mend any wound; he’s done it before, with his first boyfriend in high school and the one who left him without an explanation a year ago. But this is a different kind of ache, one that leaves him breathless with its force, unbalanced and lost, like being hit by wave after wave at shore, and Chanyeol isn’t there to anchor him and take him back safely to port.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Days sludge by, and Kyungsoo waits for Chanyeol’s texts without realizing, checking his phone from time to time during classes or rehearsals to find nothing.

 

Kyungsoo’s always been content with silence, the comfort that comes with being in one’s own, of submerging himself in things that he loves. But loneliness is something else, seeping into him like rain, and sticking to him like a second skin, chilling him to the bone.

 

The last official rehearsal happens on a Sunday, when it’s pouring outside, and the room is soaked on that lethargic state of rainy days.

 

Sitting at the rear corner of the room, Kyungsoo watches the ending of the play unfold. Sohyun has finally accepted Kyunghyun’s love under the same tree where Jisung had confessed years before, and plan to get married in the spring. Jisung, on the other hand, has decided to travel the world, and later dedicates his life to the army in order to forget his childhood friend and first love. He never marries, but learns to look on with joy and affection as his brother and sister-in-law’s love and family grow. His love for Sohyun never fades, and neither does the regret of losing her love.

 

He says goodbye to her in her quarters, having evaded the watchful eyes of her gungnyeo. In the glow of a dozen candles, she looks effortlessly beautiful.

 

“I guess you heard the news already,” Jisung says. “I’m going away to explore the world.”

 

“I’ve heard.” Sohyun sits with her back straight, but her eyes are glittering. “I wish you the best in your travels.”

 

Jisung chuckles, because this is all foolish. He reaches out to take her hand, and shifts closer when she doesn’t resist. “And I wish you the best in your life.” He rubs soothing circles over the translucent back of her hand to stop her tears. “Even if I will spend my whole wishing I were the man next to you.”

 

 It works like a cue. She surges forward and throws her arms over his shoulders to hold him. He presses his face in her neck, thinking of times when he used to hug her just like this while growing up, but never knew there was an end to their innocence.

 

“I love you so much,” she whispers, “but I must live my life as I’ve chosen it. He loves me, and I love him.”

 

“I know that,” Jisung tells her, stroking her back. “My brother is a good man, and I know he can take care of you well in my stead.” He kisses her head. “You will always be the love of my life, and my only wish is for you to be happy, even if we must go on different paths.”

 

The play ends with Jisung’s death in the war a week before Sohyun’s second child is born. The boy carries his late uncle’s name, and grows up under the same tree where Sohyun and Jisung used to play as children.

 

Kyungsoo is packing his things, vaguely listening to the chorus of see you tomorrows and you worked hards from the rest of the cast, when he hears a distinctive click of heels coming towards him.

 

“Kyungsoo, can I speak to you for a moment?”

 

Ms. Kwon is petite and elegant, and something in her posture and beautiful face strikes fear in even the coldest of people. It took Kyungsoo a long time to stop being tongue-tied in her presence during earlier years.

 

“Yeah,” Kyungsoo says, “Is something wrong?”

 

“I just wanted to congratulate you for your work in this play,” she says. “You continue to impress me more each time.”

 

“Thank you, seongsaengnim.” He bows repeatedly. “That means a lot from you.”

 

She smiles, a thin carmine line on her pale face. “I know you didn’t take well not getting the main role at first,” she says, “but I hoped you’d grow into your character. It fits you better, I’d say.” She looks up at him from under thick lashes. “That is not to say you shouldn’t keep striving to get the main role. I heard the next play is a musical.”

 

A wink punctuates her words. Kyungsoo’s pulse quickens with elation.

 

“I’ll work hard,” he mumbles. “I won’t disappoint you, seongsaengnim.”

 

She laughs, throwing her long, glossy hair over her shoulder. “I can’t wait to see your audition. I’m sure it will be amazing.”

 

With a pat on his arm, she parts towards the straggling students at the door. Kyungsoo stands there for a handful of seconds, not quite believing what’s just happened, before he grabs his bag and rushes out of the door.

 

Kyungsoo goes home that evening, and listens to Chanyeol’s songs. He lingers on the last one, the instrumental piece that Chanyeol had wanted him to write lyrics for. At his desk, he thinks of Chanyeol with his guitar, sending Kyungsoo teasing smiles, and begins to write.

 

He’s done with it near midnight.

 

The lyrics speak of a lost love, but the narrator holds onto the hope that his love will return and love him again. He’s so excited about it, his first thought is to text Chanyeol, but stops himself just as he opens the chatbox in his phone.

 

He starts practicing the next day, when Jongdae’s out, and presses on until late evening. He doesn’t realize Jongdae’s back until there’s a knock on his door.

 

Jongdae pops his head into his room, a cat-smile curling his lips.

 

“Dinner’s ready,” he says. “I already ate, but there’s enough for you.”

 

“Thank you, Dae,” Kyungsoo says, “I’ll eat after I’m done here.”

 

Jongdae remains there, staring back at him. Kyungsoo raises an eyebrow.

 

“I’m happy that you’re practicing,” he says. “You have an amazing voice.” His smile turns into a smirk. “I’m still gonna beat your and Baekhyun’s ass at the audition, but it’ll be fair game.”

 

“Go away, Jongdae,” he orders drily, trying to cover his laughter.

 

Jongdae laughs as he closes the door behind him. They both know he means it, but he lets that kind of competition drive him to work harder. Excitement and adrenaline thrum in Kyungsoo’s veins as he grabs the sheet and picks up from where he left off.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The play opens on a Friday at eight on the dot.

 

Baekhyun brought kimbap for him, but it sits uneaten on the beauty dresser in front of Kyungsoo. His stomach feels laden with nervousness, and he’s afraid of throwing up if he takes so much as one bite of food. Outside the dressing room, people are running up and down the hallway, shouting orders and doing last minute checks of costumes and stage props. Kyungsoo stares blankly at the mirror, blocking out all the sounds around him, thinking of all the different ways he could trip over his own feet or forget his lines, and make the entire audience laugh at him.

 

A hand on his shoulder startles him. “Hey, stop freaking out.”

 

Jongdae looks down at him with an amused curl to his lips and a tilt to his brow like Kyungsoo is a hopeless thing.

 

“I’m not freaking out,” Kyungsoo retorts lowly. “I’m just going through my lines.”

 

Jongdae rolls his eyes. “I can hear you thinking from here.” His hand squeezes Kyungsoo’s shoulder, giving way to a twitch on Kyungsoo’s lips. “It’s going to be great, man, don’t worry. Remember we’ve worked hard on this for months.”

 

It lifts some of the tension off Kyungsoo’s shoulders. They’ve rehearsed for months late into the night at Baekhyun’s home when they’d been kicked out of the auditorium near midnight. In the last practice, the only minor incident had been Baekhyun tripping over the carpet, but it had been such a normal occurrence, everyone felt content and confident enough to go eat right after finishing to celebrate.

 

“Yeah, it will be,” Kyungsoo says, with more conviction this time. “You didn’t break your ass in the rain for us to mess this up.”

 

There’s Jongdae’s loud whining filling the room, a sense of urgency and anxiousness enveloping the space as everyone rushes to finish preparations, but Kyungsoo’s eyes hone in on the person entering the room as soon as the door opens. Chanyeol stands there, a bouquet of flowers in his hands, mouth slightly agape and wide eyes taking in the place with timid, childlike wonder. He’s clad in black from head to toe, from his black sleek boots to the ripped skinny jeans and the hoodie under his leather jacket. He’s as handsome as Kyungsoo has ever seen him, and when he stands from his seat in a daze, his heart is doing impressive little flips as he walks to Chanyeol.

 

“Hey, Actor Do Kyungsoo.” Chanyeol’s smile is small, his eyes sparkling with playfulness, and Kyungsoo shivers at the deep tone of Chanyeol’s voice wrapping over his name. His hair is combed off his face, and Kyungsoo can tell he’s donned a smudge of BB cream on his face, and he’s vaguely disappointed he’d shaved from the last time he’d seen at Baekhyun’s house. “I bought these for you.”

 

“I can’t believe you’re here.” Snapping out of his surprise, Kyungsoo takes the bouquet and levels an unimpressed glare at him over the flowers. “Chanyeol, you didn’t have to,” he mutters. It’s mostly for show—gardenias are his favorites, and in the next moment, Kyungsoo leaves aside any pretense to relish their scent. He can’t help the grin that spreads on his lips when Chanyeol chuckles.

 

“Because I knew you’d make that face,” Chanyeol answers. His smile is like the sun appearing after endless days of cloudy skies, and Kyungsoo lets himself soak in the sunlight. “And they cost me some bucks, so you better not let Baekhyun destroy them like last time.”

 

“I won’t,” Kyungsoo laughs. He buries his nose in the flowers again and breathes in the sweet fragrance. “Thank you, Chanyeol-ah.”

 

Chanyeol’s smile softens, its edges fond and warm. “You’re welcome, Soo.” He pockets his hands in his jeans. “I just wanted to see you before the play and wish you good luck.”

 

Kyungsoo can’t count the times he’s corrected Chanyeol on this, and judging by his innocent smile, Kyungsoo thinks Chanyeol is aware of his mistake. But he misses their old banter, and the thought sinks like a stone in a pond within his chest. “You don’t wish someone good luck in theater, Chanyeol. It’s ‘break a leg’.”

 

The way Chanyeol’s eyes widen and his lips go round cracks a little smile on Kyungsoo’s lips. “Right, break a leg, then! Although, you don’t need it, right?” He leans down, a conspiratorial gleam to his eyes as he says, sotto voce, “You’re the best actor here, but don’t tell Jongdae and Baekhyun I said that.”

 

“Thanks, Chanyeol-ah.” Chanyeol’s grin bunches up his cheeks until the corners of his eyes crinkle, and Kyungsoo wishes, with an unbearable fierceness, that he could reach out and hold Chanyeol’s hand like he used to, once upon a time. The paper creaks when his grip on the flowers tightens. “I’m happy you came to see me.”

 

“I’m sorry I’m going to miss the actual show.” His smiles fades, and then his lips are dragged down at the corners. “I know you’re going to blow everyone out of the water, though. You’re amazing.”

 

Kyungsoo swallows, traces of their last conversation suddenly coming to his mind. “Shut up, Chanyeol.”

 

“You know you are!” Chanyeol laughs, so loud and deep Kyungsoo feels it reverberating through his bones.  Then, when his laugh has sobered into a quiet hiccup, two of Chanyeol’s fingers grab Kyungsoo’s sleeve, tugging gently on the fabric. The gesture is so minimal, but it makes Kyungsoo fuzzy all over inside. “You’ve worked so hard for this all semester, I’m sad I can’t see you perform it.”

 

“I’m sorry I’m going to miss your show,” Kyungsoo mumbles. He doesn’t know if he means it or not, because Chanyeol’s singing, with all of its sweet, raspy yearning, has a way of causing turmoil in his heart lately. “I’m sure it’s going to be great. The crowds always love you, for some reason,” he adds, with a slight quirk to his mouth.

 

“Thanks, Soo.” Chanyeol’s smile is crooked, but his voice radiates warmth, and Kyungsoo melts under it like an ice cube dropped in a cup of tea. In a moment, Chanyeol’s smile slips a fraction, and hesitation colors the planes of his face. “You can go with me some time, if you want to.”

 

It’s an open invitation, tentative, and Kyungsoo wants to hold onto it, but there’s a pang right in the center of his chest at the way Chanyeol looks troubled just asking. Not for the first time, he wishes he could drag Chanyeol closer and make his sadness go away, but the thing is—he’s at the root of Chanyeol’s heartache and he can’t make that go away, no matter how much he wishes he could.

 

“That would be nice,” Kyungsoo says. He hates how impersonal it sounds, as though he hadn’t gone to Chanyeol’s shows over a hundred times in the past. “Let me know when you play again.”

 

Chanyeol’s smile grows in width, showing a perfect row of pearly teeth. “I will,” he promises. “I’ll make sure to drag you with me and ask the bartender to give you free drinks. Just like old times.”

 

A freshman part of the staff appears next to them. “Kyungsoo-ssi, it’s time to get ready.”

 

Kyungsoo looks to Chanyeol, feeling a little helpless. There are so many things he wants to tell Chanyeol, but all of it gets trapped under the weight of his yearning. “I’ll see you sometime, then?”

 

Chanyeol nods. “I’ll see you.” He hesitates for a moment, but then, making up his mind, he opens his arms invitingly. “Come here.”

 

Wordlessly, he wraps his arms around Chanyeol and rests his head over his chest. Chanyeol’s heart thuds steadily against his ear, a harmonious rhythm that could lull Kyungsoo to sleep, like the melodies in Chanyeol’s videos that accompany Kyungsoo deep into the night. He wonders if Chanyeol can hear his own heart pounding, but he’s distracted from the thought when a hand rests on his head, caressing his hair tenderly.

 

“Good luck,” Chanyeol whispers into his hair. Kyungsoo begins to mutter, and Chanyeol cuts him off with a chuckle that Kyungsoo feels more than hears through his chest. “Okay, break a leg. An arm. Whatever part of your body you want, Soo.”

 

Kyungsoo is very tempted to forgo the play altogether and stay here with Chanyeol forever. Screw the play and all the hard work and Baekhyun falling on his ass during rehearsals. Chanyeol’s embrace is always like standing next to a furnace in the middle of winter, and it fills Kyungsoo with comfort and warmth, like putting on a thick coat and a scarf before stepping into the snow. Like Chanyeol’s scarf, with his distinctive scent, tucked away in a corner of Kyungsoo’s drawer.

 

It would be so easy, Kyungsoo thinks, to tilt his head up, use his thumb and index to tip Chanyeol’s chin down, and brush his lips against his. It would be so easy, and yet…

 

Chanyeol pulls away and Kyungsoo already feels cold at the loss of Chanyeol’s heat. “You’re going to do great anyway.”

 

“Okay.” Kyungsoo fists Chanyeol’s hoodie in a last attempt to keep him close. “I hope your set goes great, too, Chanyeol-ah.”

 

“It won’t be the same without you,” Chanyeol says. His knuckles brush Kyungsoo’s cheek, and heat spreads over Kyungsoo’s face at the words, the tenderness in his eyes. Then, Chanyeol drops his hand and takes a step back. “Now, go. They’re waiting for you.”

 

He wants to go to Chanyeol as he watches him leave, with that not-so-quite smile, the one that is a mere shadow of his bright and joyful smile. This one is so rueful Kyungsoo can’t stand it; he wants to go to Chanyeol, grab him by his hoodie, stand on his tiptoes and—

 

“Kyungsoo, hurry up!” Baekhyun hollers from the door.

 

“I’m going,” he mutters. The last thing he sees is Chanyeol giving him a thumbs-up, and he smiles, tight and unsure, just like his heart feels, when he exits the room.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

The play turns out to be better than he’d expected. The lights had paralyzed him for a second, but he’d slipped efficiently under Jisung’s skin, and soon it was Jisung’s words in his mouth and his emotions filtering through his voice and actions. Before he knew it, the last word had been said, echoing through the auditorium, but the applause that followed had shaken him to his bones, filling him with exhilaration and thrill. It must’ve been a collective feeling, because Seulgi’s hand had been shaking when he gripped it as the cast bowed to the audience, though her smile had been brilliant and exuberant.

 

He’s dabbing on the sweat dusting his forehead when Jongdae finds him backstage, throwing his arms over his shoulders and pulling him into a bone-crushing hug.

 

“We did it, man!” Jongdae hollers into his ear, and Kyungsoo wonders briefly if he’s gone deaf. “It was great! You were great! Everyone was gr—”

 

“Yes, everyone was fantastic,” Kyungsoo acquiesces. He pats Jongdae’s back gingerly, and Jongdae laughs louder, breaking away from Kyungsoo to hold his face and kiss his cheek with a loud smack. Kyungsoo’s face contorts in disgust, belying his begrudging smile. “Now let me go before I punch you.”

 

“Alright, alright.” Jongdae’s eyes search the room before they settle back on Kyungsoo. “Where’s Chanyeol? I thought he would be here by now.”

 

His disappointment pokes his head over his enthusiasm. He’d looked for Chanyeol, too, when he’d entered the room, even though he knew he wouldn’t be there. “He had a gig tonight,” Kyungsoo explains. “So he couldn’t stay for the play.”

 

Jongdae’s head tilts, brows furrowed. “So, what are you doing here? Why aren’t you on the way to the gig?”

 

“What—”

 

“C’mon, go!” Kyungsoo has a moment to blink in puzzlement before Jongdae pushes him towards the hallway. “You need to get your ass over there right this second!”

 

“What—what are you doing?!”

 

“You’re going to that gig and talking to Chanyeol,” Jongdae says once they’re outside the waiting room. “I’m tired of seeing you two dancing around each other like idiots.”

 

The words hit Kyungsoo hard. He feels his cheeks color at the idea that they have been that obvious—that he had been so obvious about his feelings to everyone else but himself.

 

“But… he said he was going to get over me,” Kyungsoo retorts. “What if he’s already made up his mind to move on? What if he’s already…” Forgotten me, he finishes in his head. The single thought makes his heart wrench in his chest, the idea that Chanyeol might not be there for him anymore, that Chanyeol might not…

 

“If there’s anything I know for sure is that Chanyeol getting over you is not likely,” Jongdae says, squeezing his shoulder. The curl of his lips is gentle and reassuring, just like the shape of his eyes, and that’s all Kyungsoo needs to smile. “So, now go.” Jongdae pushes him lightly towards the door again. “I’ll tell everyone you had to leave because of some sudden unexplainable family emergency.”

 

The chuckle Kyungsoo lets out is more a breath of relief than a sound of amusement. “Thanks, Jongdae.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Kyungsoo had never wished traffic moved faster before in his life. He’d been stuck in traffic for over forty minutes, seriously considering grabbing his money from the driver and running the rest of the way to Itaewon, when the car in front of them had finally started moving. Now he’s running to the pub where Chanyeol would be performing, and only stops when he notices the weird looks people are giving him. He fixes his hair and shirt as best as possible, and goes to find a seat at the bar. Not long after the bartender has handed him a bottle of beer, the stage is taken by a tall, familiar figure, clad entirely in black, and an acoustic guitar in hand.

 

“Good evening,” Chanyeol’s husky voice greets through the mic. He has to bend a little to speak, and it’s so endearing and funny, Kyungsoo can’t help a little laugh. “I’m Park Chanyeol and I’m here to play a few songs for you tonight.”

 

There’s some awkward, sporadic applause in the audience, but Kyungsoo can see that Chanyeol’s charm has already made an effect, as a group of women gush among each other and lean closer in their seats.

 

Kyungsoo’s stomach tightens with anticipation when Chanyeol settles on the stool behind the mic and balances his acoustic guitar on his lap by putting a leg over the other. He looks so handsome. A group of girls gather together and gush among each other at the front.

 

A soft melody starts as his fingers pluck on the strings, then a more melodic tune explodes as his fingers strum over the guitar. It's a song Kyungsoo has heard in Chanyeol's apartment before, and a few patrons whoop when they recognize it. Chanyeol’s deep, husky voice soars and fills every corner of the room, and Kyungsoo's almost tempted to close his eyes so he can only focus on Chanyeol's voice.

 

Coming down the world turned over

And angels fall without you there

 

Kyungsoo’s heart stumbles over itself at the intensity on Chanyeol’s face, how immersed he is in the song. When it ends, the cheers and applause of the audience are instantaneous. Chanyeol’s smile is bright and broad, just like Kyungsoo had missed it.

 

“Thank you, everyone.” Chanyeol shifts in the seat, adjusting the guitar over his leg. “This next song is one of my creations. I hope you guys like it.”

 

He recognizes the song with an intake of breath. It’s the last track in the mixtape Chanyeol gifted him. The one he had wanted Kyungsoo to finish.

 

The song is sweet and melancholic, perfectly suited for Chanyeol’s deep, scratchy voice. His lyrics are different from Kyungsoo’s, but the same wistful note runs through it, and it twines itself around Kyungsoo’s heart, so tight he’s breathless.

 

The applause erupts as soon as Chanyeol plucks the last note on the guitar, and then he’s saying thank you and goodbye, taking his guitar with him backstage.

 

Kyungsoo’s thumb hovers over Chanyeol’s contact name for a few good minutes, before he types in a message to meet him at the bar. He holds his breath until he spots Chanyeol weaving through the crowd, looking as breathless and bewildered as Kyungsoo feels.

 

“Hey,” Chanyeol greets, once he stands before Kyungsoo. There’s a sloppy, surprised smile on his lips, the twinkling of his eyes of pure wonder. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

 

“I skipped on the cast’s meal to come,” Kyungsoo says. “Your set was really good, your song is… fantastic.”

 

A grin stretches over Chanyeol’s lips, bundling up his cheeks until there are crinkles at the corner of his eyes. That smile steals the air straight from Kyungsoo’s lungs. “Thanks, Soo. I’m really happy you like it.”

 

“Is there a quiet place we can talk?” Kyungsoo asks. “Those guys who look like a Nirvana rip-off are going to start playing soon and I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to hear myself thinking.”

 

“Well, there’s the changing room, but I think there were people having sex in there when I walked past on my way here.” Chanyeol’s mouth purses while he ponders. “Maybe we could go outside? Follow me.”

 

Chanyeol takes Kyungsoo’s hand and leads him through the throng, past the door and into the alley next to the pub. Kyungsoo leans against the brick wall, taking in a lungful of air, but it doesn’t stop the feeling that his legs might give in on him any minute.

 

“Is everything okay, Soo?”

 

Chanyeol stands in front of him, lip caught under his teeth and brows furrowed, looking worried sick over Kyungsoo, and Kyungsoo is worried about himself, too; the way Chanyeol’s slicked comb has crumbled into a few strands falling over his forehead, the way his hoodie has been zipped down so it exposes his collarbones, and the pretty flush on his cheeks, as pink as his lips, makes him realize he’s a little bit in love with Chanyeol.

 

“I wanted to talk to you,” Kyungsoo starts, trying to ignore his fluttering chest. “I’m sorry for messing everything up.”

 

Chanyeol reaches out to take Kyungsoo’s hand, encasing his fingers inside his palm. “Kyungsoo…”

 

“Please, let me speak,” says Kyungsoo, not unkind. Chanyeol nods, his lips forming a thin line. “I’m sorry for messing up. I knew how you felt about me, but I still pushed you away, and I—I shouldn’t have done that.”

 

“You were doing what you thought was best,” Chanyeol retorts, trying to sound reassuring, but the ruefulness in his voice is almost as deep as its cadence. “It’s in the past, Soo.”

 

“You’re just too nice to me. You should’ve…” Kyungsoo shakes his head. “I still feel terrible about making you sad just because I didn’t want to feel guilty if I hang out with you. It wasn’t fair.” Kyungsoo clenches and unclenches his fist. “And I understand if you… if you don’t want me in that way anymore.”

 

Chanyeol’s fingers drape over Kyungsoo’s wrist, his thumb pressing against his quickening pulse. “What way?”

 

“That night at Baekhyun’s living room, it wasn’t just you who got carried away,” Kyungsoo says, “I did want to kiss you.” Chanyeol’s eyes widen, and a gasp escapes his lips. “I’m sorry for complicating things. I thought if you… stopped feeling what you felt about me we could go back to what we were before and I could stop feeling guilty. But I was just being selfish.” Kyungsoo shakes his head, looking down at the wet gravel beneath their feet. “I realized I don’t want distance if it means that you’ll… you’ll forget about me.”

 

“I’ve been trying so hard to get over you, to forget about you,” Chanyeol says. “But it just wouldn’t stick.”

 

“I don’t want you to,” Kyungsoo says, barely above a whisper. He fists Chanyeol’s hoodie loosely, unlike the clutch around his heart. “I don’t want you to forget me.”

 

“I won’t,” says Chanyeol.

 

Chanyeol takes a step forward, and it’s as though a barrier has been broken; he takes Kyungsoo’s face in his hands, and Kyungsoo automatically holds onto Chanyeol’s hips for dear life when Chanyeol uses his grip on his face to tip his head up and kiss him. The press of his lips it’s like breathing in new air after suffocating for too long, and Kyungsoo melts against him, both his hands catching on Chanyeol’s hoodie as his head tilts and Chanyeol kisses him deeper. Their mouths mold together perfectly, moving slowly and tenderly, and Kyungsoo’s heart swells and expands against his ribs.

 

He had known a fraction of this when he’d kissed Chanyeol at the party, but it’s nothing compared to the heady taste of Chanyeol’s mouth, the pleased sounds he makes at the back of his throat when Kyungsoo takes his bottom lip between his teeth that make Kyungsoo a little bit dizzy. Chanyeol moves away slightly, their lips still brushing, and Kyungsoo releases a shaky breath that grazes his chin. But it wasn’t the end, it seems, because Chanyeol cups the back of his neck and captures his his lips again, this time more fervently, almost bruising. His tongue swipes over Kyungsoo’s mouth and all he can taste is the sweet, warm taste of want and longing—a kiss long-overdue.

 

Chanyeol drops a lingering kiss on the corner of Kyungsoo’s mouth, holding his face with his hands. Kyungsoo sighs, his eyes fluttering, and his smile grows when Chanyeol breathes a laugh that brushes Kyungsoo’s lips.

 

“What?” Kyungsoo asks. He tries to sound defensive, but he can’t quell the smile unfurling on his lips at the giddiness bubbling in his chest. “What’s so funny?”

 

The smile Chanyeol wears is beautiful, so Kyungsoo leans in and kiss it, and tastes the little breathy laughs Chanyeol lets out. “It’s just that—I love this.” Chanyeol holds his face at a small distance and looks at him. “The way you look right now.”

 

Kyungsoo smiles lopsidedly. His hand fists Chanyeol’s shirt and tugs him closer. “It’s because of you.” His ears burn as if he says it, but he draws Chanyeol closer and kisses him to hide his blush. He swallows Chanyeol’s exhale and curls his tongue into his mouth, tangling his hand in his curls to tilt his face and give him more access. Chanyeol hums into his mouth, his hands dropping to his shoulder and another to his hips where it clings like a lifeline. Kyungsoo’s hand creeps its way up his abs, slowly but surely, and feels Chanyeol shudder underneath him. His hand finally settles over his chest, where he can feel Chanyeol’s heart thump steadily, in tandem with his own.

 

“Kyungsoo, we have to—” He sucks on Chanyeol’s lower lip before dropping open-mouthed kisses down his jaw and then to the column of his neck. Kyungsoo sucks on his earlobe and smiles when he feels Chanyeol shiver again. He bites down on Chanyeol’s pulse point, his grip on his hip going impossibly tighter. “Oh, god. I knew you were evil, but I never thought it would be on this level...”

 

Kyungsoo hums a laugh into Chanyeol’s neck before dragging his lips to his collarbones and sucking the skin there. Chanyeol whimpers and his hand snakes beneath Kyungsoo’s shirt, and it’s Kyungsoo’s turn to shiver.

 

“Kyungsoo, if we don’t stop right now, I don’t know—”

 

Feeling the bravery running through his veins, Kyungsoo asks, lowly, “What if I don’t want to stop?”  

 

Chanyeol whimpers again, his hand traveling upward under his shirt and settling over his ribs. “But I want us to take it slow—I want to take you on dates and—and it’s bad enough that our first kiss was in a dirty alley that smells a bit like piss, and I’m starting to suspect that thing moving behind the trash can isn’t actually a dog—”

 

Kyungsoo laughs and pulls away to look at Chanyeol. Something hot twirls in his stomach at Chanyeol’s messy hair and glassy eyes, the redness of his kiss-bitten lips, that completely fucked out look that he would like to see on Chanyeol more. It almost makes him hard in his pants.

 

“Haven’t we gone on enough dates?” He traces the lines of Chanyeol’s lips with the tip of his finger. “Isn’t that what we’ve been doing all this time?”

 

Chanyeol cups his face with his hand. There’s so much fondness, and something even softer and tender in his eyes, it almost feels like a caress, like the thumb stroking his cheek. “I know, but… I wanna do this right.” Chanyeol sighs and drops a kiss on Kyungsoo’s lips. “I wanna do everything for you. With you.”

 

There’s so much Kyungsoo wants to tell him, but he’s not in the best condition to string more than one sentence together. So he digs his hand in Chanyeol’s hair and drags him down for a slow, bruising kiss. “I want us to do all that,” Kyungsoo breathes into his lips, “but right now, I want you to take me home.”

 

Chanyeol’s eyes turn glazed at his words, and he doesn’t give Kyungsoo a moment to be embarrassed about the desperation in his voice, before he licks into his mouth in such a filthy way it’s Kyungsoo’s turn to whimper. He leans down to bite on the juncture between Kyungsoo’s jaw and ear, and then his tongue laves over it, wet and warm, and Kyungsoo melts like putty in his arms.

 

It’s answer enough for Kyungsoo, he decides, once his head is a bit clearer.

 

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Kyungsoo wants to hear it again, what Chanyeol said in Baekhyun’s room, but he doesn’t, that night.

 

It starts slow and clumsy—because they’ve known each other for too long, and this is different—but it soon builds into daring exploration into the places that pluck sweet sighs of pleasure out of each other. Their hips align, their caresses and kisses waxing into a frantic pace, perfuming the air with wanton moans and desire.

 

Chanyeol does whisper, “You’re beautiful,” into the crook of Kyungsoo’s neck when he’s grinding on Chanyeol’s dick. Kyungsoo buries his face on Chanyeol’s shoulder, biting the skin in retaliation for his sappiness. It only serves to spur Chanyeol on, because he plants his feet in the bed and pounds into Kyungsoo with abandon.

 

Then, he hears it—or parts of it—on the second round, when Chanyeol is under him, long legs wrapped snugly around Kyungsoo’s waist, whispering tendrils of love and you into his ear. Kyungsoo pulls on his hair and Chanyeol whines and finds his mouth to seal those words into his mouth in a desperate kiss. He swallows Kyungsoo’s groan when he comes, hard, all over his stomach, and Chanyeol strokes Kyungsoo’s hair through his orgasm, scratching Kyungsoo’s back as his hips come into a slow halt.   

 

After a while, he nudges Chanyeol’s cheek with his nose, and Chanyeol turns and kisses him softly. Kyungsoo can feel those words there, too, in the gentle way Chanyeol’s lips move, the way he holds him in his arms through the night.

 

He hears it clearer in the morning, when he comes padding into the kitchen and Chanyeol is sitting in a chair, tuning his guitar. He’s wearing a loose tank top that doesn’t do much to cover his torso, and god, it should be illegal the way his biceps flex. Or the fact that it’s a cold morning in November, but Chanyeol has always had a penchant for resisting logic.

 

Chanyeol puts his guitar aside when he sees Kyungsoo, and gives him the sweetest smile, accompanied by a silent invitation to take the place of the guitar on his lap. Kyungsoo complies, not without an eye roll first, that draws a chuckle out of Chanyeol.

 

“Hey, there,” Chanyeol says, kissing the tip of Kyungsoo’s nose. Kyungsoo scrunches his nose, cheeks burning under Chanyeol’s gaze, full of adoration. “I love you.”

 

His desire to hear it again doesn’t help the rapid tumbling of his heart. “Why are you so cheesy.”

 

Chanyeol’s laughter fills the small kitchen, and Kyungsoo’s sure no other melody in the world can quite compare to that sound.

 

Chanyeol presses a firm kiss on Kyungsoo’s cheek, the corner of his mouth, before making his way to his lips for a slow, sweet kiss. It’s warm and perfect and everything Kyungsoo has wanted for too long.

 

He cups Chanyeol’s face, and blushes harder when he meets his eyes to whisper, “I love you, too.”

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

It’s not like everything changes after they start dating—if anything, they realize they’ve been acting like a couple for years. The only changes to their routine is that Chanyeol can kiss him whenever he likes, and his friends make it a point to yell “ew” when they start (Kyungsoo knows is just for show, because he’s caught Jongdae and Baekhyun smiling like idiots at them). They still get together for dinner and coffee, watch movies and play video games, and Kyungsoo sleeps over at Chanyeol’s apartment. Though, they don’t necessarily sleep.

 

Chanyeol’s there when Kyungsoo stresses over his finals, like he’s always been, and plays the guitar sometimes to distract him. The difference is that now Kyungsoo crawls into his lap, and kisses him, slow and deep, so they can distract each other in other ways.

 

“What are you going to give me when I inevitably win?”

 

Chanyeol’s smirk is smug. Kyungsoo likes it, although he would never admit it.

 

“Why would you win?” Kyungsoo asks. “I have really good chances to win, too.”

 

With Chanyeol writing his own lyrics for the song he composed for Kyungsoo, they had made a bet for which of them had the better version. Chanyeol’s subscribers—or as he likes to call them, Chaniacs—had proposed the idea, after he kept mentioning Kyungsoo in his videos. The video in which Chanyeol taunted the idea of a duet had twice the view counts than usual, and the hype was so that people had dubbed them ChanSoo—a portmanteau of Chanyeol and Kyungsoo’s names. Kyungsoo had thought it was dumb the first time he caught their assigned couple name in a comment, but Chanyeol insists it’s cute.

 

Chanyeol purses his lips, pretending to consider it. “I don’t think so.” He drags Kyungsoo’s chair closer. “But it’s okay, I’m gonna make the reward be something beneficial to us both.”

 

There’s a lewd smile threading at the corners of Chanyeol’s lips. Kyungsoo levels him a deadpan look.

 

“Really,” he says flatly. “Like what?”

 

“Mm, I don’t know.” Chanyeol winds an arm around Kyungsoo’s waist. “Maybe a free full-course dinner at Viva Polo?”

 

“That isn’t fair,” Kyungsoo protests, but he’s smiling at Chanyeol’s cheekiness. “It’s your mom’s restaurant. You already get free meals there all the time.”

 

“We could eat with my parents,” Chanyeol proposes, then kisses his cheek. “What do you think?”

 

Kyungsoo is about to remind Chanyeol he already knows his parents—he’s eaten plenty of times with them, and Mama Park has unofficially adopted him—until he stumbles on the meaning of Chanyeol’s words. He’s never met any of his boyfriends’ parents. It certainly sounds frightening, but he knows, if anyone, Chanyeol’s parents will be accepting of them.

 

“That sounds good,” Kyungsoo says. “I’d really like that.”

 

Chanyeol kisses the corner of his mouth. He positions the guitar over his lap, and grins at Kyungsoo.

 

“Are you ready?”

 

Kyungsoo takes a breath. His stage fright has dissipated with all the practice for the audition, but it comes back in small waves sometimes. Now, though, he has the power to control the tide.

 

“I’m ready.”

 

Chanyeol smiles, then presses record on the camera.

 

“Hey, guys,” Chanyeol begins, “this is Chanyeol and I have Kyungsoo with me today.” He pinches Kyungsoo’s cheek, and gets a light slap in retaliation. “We’re going to perform his song as promised.” Something dawns across Chanyeol’s face. “Oh, but before that—”

 

Kyungsoo looks up at him. Chanyeol leans down and kisses him soundly on the mouth. 

 

“Okay,” Chanyeol snickers, “now we can start.”

 

Kyungsoo can’t help it. He’s laughing along, too. He’s too damn happy.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

Jongdae and Baekhyun arrive in time for dessert at Viva Polo. Chanyeol’s parents had excused themselves to tend to the restaurant, after they had gushed and fussed about young love during dinner, and left them to feed each other chocolate soufflé.

 

“Ugh,” Jongdae grunts, though his smile betrays his tone, “PDA.”

 

“Can you guys not be one of those gross couples who can’t keep their hands off each other, please?” Baekhyun says, taking a seat across from them. “I have enough trouble keeping my food down by watching Chanyeol eat.”

 

They’re only jesting, Kyungsoo knows, but he still blushes a deep red. Chanyeol’s hand squeezes his own under the table.

 

“Don’t mind those assholes,” Chanyeol tells him. “We’ll get back at them when we go out with the girls next week.”

 

“Is that what we do now,” Kyungsoo says, “go on joint couple dates?”

 

“It’s not lame if you’re there with me,” Chanyeol says. “So I don’t mind.”

 

Chanyeol bends down the rest of the way to kiss him. There’s an explosion of groans and whines from Jongdae and Baekhyun, but Chanyeol simply flips them off while continuing to pepper Kyungsoo’s face with kisses.

 

“I love you so much,” Kyungsoo laughs into Chanyeol’s mouth. “Did you know that?”

 

“I kind of had an idea.” Chanyeol nuzzles their noses together. “I love you, too.” He drops a kiss on Kyungsoo’s cupid’s bow. “I want to do it for a long time, if you let me.”

 

Any other time, Kyungsoo would have slapped Chanyeol to hide his own embarrassment. But now, Kyungsoo basks in Chanyeol’s honeyed tone, and the adoration overflowing in his gaze.

 

“Deal,” Kyungsoo whispers, burying fingers in Chanyeol’s hair to seal the word in a kiss.

 

 

✧✧✧

 

 

“It’s going to be fine,” Chanyeol whispers. “You’re going to be incredible.”

 

Kyungsoo’s hand rests over Chanyeol’s heart, where his heart thrums steadily. His own heart is thundering.

 

“What if I miss a note?” Kyungsoo’s words are rushed in a breath. “What if I forget the lyrics and my voice cracks and I get stage fright?”

 

Chanyeol chuckles, and its rumbling sound is a balm to Kyungsoo’s nerves. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” He strokes Kyungsoo’s back soothingly. “You practiced so hard for this. You’re going to blow them all out of the water.”

 

From where they stand backstage, Kyungsoo can hear the murmurs of students in the audience while the person auditioning awaits Ms. Kwon’s review. Above the stage, the lights are blinding and unforgiving.

 

“You can do this.” One of Chanyeol’s hands holds his own trembling one, and the other is splayed on the small of his back. “I believe in you.”

 

Kyungsoo lets out a shuddering breath. “Thanks. Really.”

 

Chanyeol rests his forehead against Kyungsoo’s, and the next words are whispered like a secret. “Don’t forget.” A bump of their noses. “I’m here with you.”

 

When he steps into the stage, he can barely make out the faces of the audience with the lights on his eyes. But he sees Chanyeol at the edge of the stage, giving him a thumbs-up and a broad grin, and thinks about all the time and practice they put together into this. He thinks about the mixtape, Chanyeol’s confession, the first time he kissed Chanyeol at that party and then again behind that bar. The song Chanyeol wrote for Kyungsoo, and that Kyungsoo also wrote for Chanyeol. The one Kyungsoo chose to sing for his audition. His old fears fade under everything that brought he and Chanyeol together and led them to this very moment, threaded within those lyrics and seared into his heart.

 

Kyungsoo breathes in, and starts singing.